All posts by David Lublin

$6.7 Million Embezzled from the County

Montgomery County prides itself on its good government reputation. So it’s a bit of a shock to hear from the Washington Post that a county employee managed to steal $6.7 million:

A local official embezzled $6.7 million from Montgomery County through a years-long scheme of diverting county money meant to grow local businesses, federal prosecutors said in court filings unsealed Friday.

Byung Il Bang, the former chief operating officer for Montgomery’s Department of Economic Development, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and making a false statement on a tax return at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md.

He is set to be sentenced Feb. 2, and agreed in court to seek treatment for a “gambling addiction.”

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Evaluating Floreen’s Run

A Mason-Dixon poll done for outside groups at the end of September shed some light on why Councilmember Nancy Floreen’s independent campaign for county executive was ultimately unsuccessful.

Specifically, gender played far less of a role than people focused on it thought. She did little to split either the Democratic or Republican bases. Finally, her inability to take public financing didn’t hurt Floreen much. Reliance on developer money was a greater issue.

The Gender Argument Didn’t Work

Voters found gender a largely unpersuasive reason to vote for Floreen. In response to learning that she was the only female candidate, 22% were more likely to support her, 16% were less likely to support her, and 62% didn’t care. In other words, Floreen didn’t win or lose due to her gender.

More tellingly, Elrich had higher rates of support among women (58%) than among men (52%). In contrast, Floreen had more support among men (17%) than among women (12%). There is often a gender gap in favor of Democratic candidates, but Floreen was unable to close it as the sole female candidate.

Splitting the Vote?

In a guest blog post, Seth Grimes argued that Nancy Floreen split the Republican rather than the Democratic vote. The poll suggests that she didn’t really split either party’s vote. According to the survey, Floreen did far better among independents (26%) than either Democrats (12%) or Republicans (7%).

Both Elrich and Ficker had support of roughly three-quarters of their party’s voters. In heavily Democratic Montgomery, that worked to Elrich’s great advantage. Perhaps highlighting her history as a Democrat and photos with Hillary Clinton limited Floreen’s ability to make inroads into Republicans.

Does Campaign Financing Matter?

It has always been hard to get the public interested in the role of money in political campaigns. Elrich’s participation in public financing made 39% of voters more likely to support him but 29% less likely and didn’t matter to 32%. It’s a net positive but not a huge one.

The public, however, is much more interested in who donates to a candidate. Telling voters that Elrich “will take no contributions from the real-estate development industry” made 64% more likely to vote for him and just 17% less likely.

In contrast, telling voters that Floreen “will raise over 1 million dollars for their campaign with over 90% coming from the real-estate development industry” made 76% of voters less likely to support her and only 7% more likely. No wonder Elrich’s campaign worked hard to promote that story in the media.

As the following graph shows, the impact of linking her contributions to messages that Floreen has been too favorable to developers at the expense of taxpayers had an extremely negative impact on support for Floreen, especially among undecided voters.

Note that the messages were tested after initially gauging support for the candidates, so as not to taint these results.

Conclusion

Nancy Floreen has long been one of the most adept members of the county council. She has unquestionably been one of its leaders. For example, she led the fight to revamp the zoning code. This is a major accomplishment.

On the good news front, gender just didn’t matter much in the election. It was a slight positive, if anything, for Floreen and voters appeared more focused on other concerns. This should encourage more women to run in the future. After all, we want candidates to be judged on the merits.

In this political cycle, Floreen’s past advocacy for developers wasn’t advantageous. Her arguments that we need to give them freer rein and not make them pay more in order to have stronger economic growth didn’t gain traction. By running on them, she helped turn County Executive-Elect Marc Elrich’s decisive 64% victory in a mandate for his side of the argument.

Regardless of what you think of her issue positions, Councilmember Nancy Floreen has been exactly the type of smart and hardworking official we need in public office. I’ve always appreciated her willingness to be direct and defend her positions. Running and serving in public office is not easy. She has done it more than ably for four terms on the Montgomery County Council and one term as Mayor of Garrett Park. I wish her well.

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Mary-Dulany James Catching Up

In District 34, Republican Sen. Bob Cassilly’s lead over former Del. Mary-Dulany James has narrowed. Yesterday, MDJ trailed Cassilly by 446. After today’s count of provisionals, she now trails by 259. There is still one more round of absentee ballots to count.

Meanwhile, in District 34A, Republican Del. Glen Glass now lags 129 votes behind Democrat Steve Johnson. Seems small but several multiples more than his lead yesterday.

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Marc Elrich Has a Mandate

Mason-Dixon conducted a poll for outside groups supporting Marc Elrich’s campaign for Montgomery County executive at the end of September. Beyond predicting the outcome accurately, it indicates that Marc Elrich not only won the election but also a mandate for his development agenda.

One of Marc Elrich’s central issues has long been making developers pay more towards the county infrastructure needed to support the expanded population that development brings. Indeed, voters are quite mistrustful of the existing relationship between government and developers.

Developers Have Too Much Influence

Mason-Dixon asked voters, “Do you feel there is or is not a ‘quid pro quo’ relationship between county politicians and the development industry, where campaign contributions from developers result in county approval of development projects without proper planning for infrastructure, such as roads and schools?”

Notwithstanding the endless handwringing by the Washington Post as well as Councilmember Nancy Floreen that Elrich would kill economic growth in Montgomery, voters were far more worried about developer influence than limitations on them. Fully, 60% said there is a quid pro quo compared to just 14% who said there is no and 26% who weren’t sure.

As the following graph shows, this is a widely shared belief with far more people thinking that there is a quid pro quo relationship among all groups, including Republicans and supporters of both Nancy Floreen and Robin Ficker.

Infrastructure is Overburdened

Unsurprisingly, 72% of all voters agreed that the “current pace and type of growth in Montgomery County has overburdened our roads, schools and other infrastructure and public services.”

Again, there was wide agreement on this question across gender and party lines with 68% of Republicans and even 56% of Floreen supporters concurring.

Developers Need to Pay their Fair Share

Fifty-four percent agreed that “developers don’t pay their fair share.” Here, there was greater disagreement:

At 67%, Elrich supporters were much more likely to think developers need to pony up more than the 50% of Ficker supporters, and 35% of Floreen supporters. Sixty percent of Democrats agreed as opposed to 51% of independents an just 37% of Republicans. There was also a gender gap with women agreeing 5% more than men.

Conclusions on Development

Marc Elrich ran on this issue directly, highlighting it in campaign literature and his campaign commercials. Voters strongly agree with County Executive-Elect Elrich that insufficient infrastructure in a major problem and a majority like the idea of developers kicking in more money to help pay the costs associated with development.

People who disagree with Elrich need to ask why they have utterly failed to convince voters. It’s especially striking because incredible sums of money have been spent trying to persuade them otherwise. Even leaving aside the millions spent to support pro-developer candidates in the primary and the general, blogs like Greater Greater Washington, lobbyists, the region’s dominant newspaper, politicians and many others have argued mightily against far less well-funded opponents.

One problem is the false narrative about Elrich regarding development. As he regularly points out, there is plenty of buildable space in Montgomery County already under existing Master Plans. He supports higher density and smart growth development centered near transportation.

Elrich’s BRT plan will greatly expand development opportunities by easing transportation bottlenecks. It’s a positive sum solution that helps expand economic growth, get people – especially poorer residents – around the county, and helps take cars off the road – good for the environment and traffic. It’s also spending smart because it is just a fraction of the cost of either light rail (e.g. the Purple Line) or heavy rail (e.g. Metro).

So maybe it’s time to throw the “Elrich hates development” meme into the bin along with all those campaign flyers.

The idea that voters want developers to chip in more for the infrastructure needed to maintain the high quality of life that makes Montgomery County so attractive strikes a majority of voters as utterly reasonable. Here’s a radical thought: if we have more of that infrastructure, then voters would be less likely to oppose additional development.

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Several State Legislative Races Remain Very Tight

The counting continues of absentee and provisional ballots. Right now, several elections remain very close.

In District 33 (Anne Arundel), the gap has already narrowed. Republicans are in danger of losing one of the three delegate seats. Democrat Heather Bagwell trails Del. Tony McConkey by just 196 votes. In 2012, McConkey attracted unwanted attention:

McConkey, an Anne Arundel County Republican, was ordered to pay $75,000 for what an administrative law judge called “fraudulent and unethical” behavior in real estate transactions. In one instance, the state found McConkey promised to help a woman keep her home, then didn’t return her calls, bought her property in foreclosure and sought to evict her.

He then sponsored legislation to make it easier for him to get his real estate license back.

District 34A (Havre de Grace) remains a nail biter. Incumbent Del. Glen Glass current trails Democrat Steve Johnson by just 19 votes. Del Mary Ann Lisanti appears to have a lock on the second seat.

District 34 (Harford) appears to have been a bit of a sleeper in the Senate as well as the House. Four years ago, Democratic Del. Mary-Dulany James sought to move from the House to the Senate, and got caught in the undertow, losing to now Sen. Bob Cassilly by 43% to 57%.

James tried a comeback this year. I figured that Cassilly was safe as an ensconced incumbent in tough territory for Democrats. But James sure is doing her best to prove me wrong. She trails Cassilly by 446 votes. Not such an easy catch up in a district where absentee ballots don’t lean especially Democratic but still intriguing.

Meanwhile, over in District 9 (Howard/Carroll), Democrat Katie Fry Hester has claimed victory over incumbent Republican Sen. Gail Bates. Hester’s victory has grown to 531 votes as more ballots have been counted.

If I’m missing any other close ones, let me know.

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Precinct Results Map for Governor’s Race

The Baltimore Sun has released a cool interactive map showing Maryland’s results by precinct from the gubernatorial election. One major caution is that it only includes votes from election day, as we cannot currently allocate early and absentee votes back to precincts. Darker indicates higher density as well as a higher vote share, so it’s a bit tricky.

While you need to go to the site to check votes for individual precincts, the screenshot above still shows some revealing patterns. Specifically, it appears that Gov. Larry Hogan carried large swaths of the county normally won easily by Democrats.

Republicans usually do well in Laytonsville, Damascus, Clarksburg and Poolesville. On the western side of the county, Hogan also won in Potomac, Chevy Chase and much of Bethesda. The B-CC area is normally a Democratic bastion, so this is quite a shift.

On the east side of the county, Republican support extended much further south than usual, including Olney, Colesville, Sandy Spring and portions of Burtonsville. Hogan also did well in much of Rockville.

Of course, Hogan’s vote share was also up in the portions of the map colored blue. For example, Jealous carried the precinct including the Town of Kensington by just seven votes. In Silver Spring, Hogan won around one-third of the vote in the precincts I checked. In diehard Democratic Takoma Park, a quick scan of precincts suggests that Hogan scored in the 18-33% zone.

In terms of state legislative districts, Hogan clearly won areas of the county encompassing Districts 14 and 15, as they appear uniformly red. It looks like he may have also carried District 16, as much of it is red and the blue areas were not usually won by Jealous by large margins. I’d also be curious to see the results for District 19.

 

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Turnout Way Up in 2018

Prof. Michael McDonald’s United States Election Project has released turnout estimates for 2018. How does turnout compare to the past? How does Maryland compare to its sister states?

VEP v. VAP

McDonald’s estimates are for the voting eligible population (VEP) as opposed to the voting-age population (VAP). The VAP includes non-citizens and disfranchised felons who can’t vote, and excludes expatriates who can.

VEP adjusts VAP for these differences, as the proper way to calculate turnout is voters/VEP, not voters/VAP. The immigration waves over the past few decades mean that failure to adjust leads to serious underestimates of voter turnout.

National Midterm Turnout Very High

As the graph at the top indicates, national turnout regularly rises in presidential elections and drops in midterm elections. But look at 2018. The 49.2% of eligible voters who cast ballots this year is higher than in any midterm since at least 1960.

It’s a full 12.5% higher than turnout in the 2014 elections held just four years ago. Polarization in Congress has been increasing for some time. The injection of Trump into the political scene combined with the continued close division in the country has spurred similarly activated division in the electorate.

How Does Maryland Compare?

At 51.1%, VEP turnout in Maryland was 1.9% higher than in the country as a whole. Maryland ranked 23rd among the 50 states and DC – not too bad for a state with neither a competitive gubernatorial nor senatorial election.

On the other hand, education is highly correlated with turnout, so maybe Maryland doesn’t do so great for such a highly educated state. We rank third among states in terms of the share of residents with college degrees and second based on the share with advanced degrees.

Maryland Turnout Way Up Too

According to McDonald, the estimated 2018 VEP turnout of 51.1% for Maryland is fully 9.1% higher than the VEP turnout of 42.0% in 2014. It not only marks a reversal from the abysmal turnout of four years ago but also a jump 4% higher than the more typical 47% turnout in 2002, 2006, and 2010.

MARYLAND MIDTERM VEP TURNOUT
2002: 46.8%
2006: 47.2%
2010: 46.7%
2014: 42.0%
2018: 51.1%

2020 really ought to be something.

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Autopsy Part I: Poor Explainers for Why Ben Jealous Lost

After a losing campaign, people are often looking for someone to blame. Racism and a lack of party support are two reasons that some of Ben Jealous’s more zealous supporters think explain his loss. Today, I take the bull by the horns and argue that neither can explain why Ben Jealous lost the governor’s race so badly.

Racism

Democrats are often quick to turn to isms when their preferred candidate loses or someone is supporting someone else. But identity is a poor explainer here.

It doesn’t explain why Jealous is down 4.4% from Anthony Brown’s vote share in 2014. Remember also that Brown ran in a year far more hostile to Democrats that resulted in a lower share of Democratic voters at the polls. In the primary, over 80% of Democratic voters cast ballots for nonwhite candidates.

Equally important, much of Hogan’s strongest gains appear to be among minority voters who Jealous thought would propel him to victory. Hogan’s vote share was up 10% in Baltimore City and 13% in Prince George’s County.

The same electorate in Howard that rejected Hogan elected Calvin Ball as county executive over a white incumbent. In Montgomery, Hogan’s share of the vote jumped 8% to nearly 45%. These are the same voters who elected Ike Leggett to three terms as county executive and just elected Will Jawando to an at-large seat on the county council.

Race and party are intertwined with views on racial issues playing a significant role in shaping party identification. But partisans seem increasingly willing to vote for their party’s candidates regardless of race. In Florida, Andrew Gillum lost by just a little more than Bill Nelson. Even if the difference is due to racism, it’s not a huge one.

Lack of Maryland Democratic Party Support

President Donald Trump certainly did a lot to motivate Democratic voters. The Maryland Democratic Party at the state and local level worked hard to promote Democratic turnout and, by all accounts, worked closely with the Jealous campaign. There was no hostility or effort to throw him under the bus. Don’t forget that Susie Turnbull formerly chaired the MDP.

Based on the results, they did a great job in taking advantage of a favorable political environment. Not a single Democratic delegate lost, and the party managed to take seven new seats. Democrats lost two Senate seats narrowly in very hostile turf but managed to pick up another. Democratic candidates scored upsets in the Anne Arundel and Howard county executive races.

In short, the party delivered. Jealous was simply unable to take advantage of it for a variety of reasons, some of which were simply beyond his control and for which no one is to blame. I plan to discuss these problems in Part II.

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Democrats Poised to Take Control of Frederick County Council

On election night, Republicans led in four of the seven Frederick County Council seats. But the counting of absentee ballots has flipped District 1. Right now, incumbent Democratic Councilmember Jerry Donald leads Republican Kevin Grubb by 209 votes.

This lead looks likely to hold up in the final count due to the disproportionate share of Democrats among absentee and provisional ballots. If it does, Democrats will gain unified control of Frederick County’s government, as Democratic County Executive Jan Gardner was reelected over Republican Del. Kathy Afzali.

This would make Frederick the third county council that Democrats flipped in this election along with Anne Arundel and Dorchester. Democrats also picked up county exec seats in Anne Arundel and Howard, bringing their total to six of the eight elected around the state.

The council seat gain brings the net number of county council or commission seats gained by Democrats to nine. The Republicans have lost just seven as two of the gains were new at-large seats in Prince George’s. Republicans still lead Democrats by 74 to 70 in seat totals thanks to their domination of Maryland’s smaller counties.

h/t to Walter Olson.

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Kittleman’s Class Act

Allen Kittleman and Calvin Ball

In today’s America, too many politicians are teaching the lesson that when you lose an election, the proper response is cry fraud and accuse nefarious dark forces of stealing the election.

On election night, Howard County Executive Allen Kittleman (R) showed the content of his character when he not only conceded but came to Councilmember Calvin Ball’s (D) victory party to concede in person and give him a hug.

Way beyond what is required but Kittleman has always been a class act and respectful man. What a wonderful service for the outgoing county executive to provide his constituents. What a powerful image of how politics can be.

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