Category Archives: 2018 Governor’s Race

National Insider Ben Jealous on the Outside in Maryland

Ben Jealous is the latest in a long line of national political figures with little to no experience running for office who try to parachute into Maryland politics and find the landing rocky.

Republicans often tried this strategy in the past due to the dearth of local talent. Barbara Mikulski easily dispatched Linda Chavez to win her Senate seat in 1986. Paul Sarbanes defeated Alan Keyes with little trouble in 1988 and Mikulski trounced him in 1992.

More recently, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Bob Ehrlich. While Townsend had developed Maryland roots, her strong links to the Kennedys undermined perception of her as a local. Moreover, her only successful previous run for office was as lieutenant governor on Parris Glendenning’s ticket.

Though many Marylanders hail from elsewhere, especially in the DC area, Maryland identity remains strong. Candidates perceived as having stronger national than local ties don’t do well.

The relatively unknown Jealous smartly likes to tout his Maryland roots. His bio page on the campaign web page states he “has lived in Maryland throughout his career as a civil rights leader and businessman.”

Unfortunately, it’s a four Pinocchio. Jealous only began voting here in 2012. He was touted as a candidate for mayor of Oakland (California not Maryland) in 2008, and voted in California in 2006 and 2008. Even when Jealous headed the Baltimore-based NAACP, he lived in DC, where he voted from 2000 to 2004, and in 2010 to 2011.

His running mate, Susie Turnbull, has been active in Maryland much longer, including as head of the Maryland Democratic Party. Like Jealous, she has not run previously for local office. Instead, she was Vice Chair of the DNC and worked for Members of Congress.

It didn’t help when Jealous began his campaign by talking about removing Larry Hogan from “the White House” and Turnbull spoke about when she moved to “Washington” and meant Maryland.

Jealous’s primary campaign had far more backing from national than local Democratic officials. He touted endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

Meanwhile, he did not tout a single endorsement by a local official during the primary on the endorsement page on his web site. Jealous’s primary campaign benefited heavily from an independent expenditure campaign by one-percenter Californians.

As the Democratic nominee, Jealous now has the backing of most elected Democrats, though many expect him to lose and are not heavily invested in his campaign. Jealous’s tendency during the primary campaign to make Sanders-like attacks on the Annapolis Democratic establishment yet simultaneously take credit for so much of their work, understandably grated and hasn’t been forgotten. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett have not endorsed him.

Jealous has felt lots of love from the national political establishment and from ultra-progressives. Not so much from Maryland officials or Maryland general elections voters.

Share

Franchot Tacitly Supports Hogan

While Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot says he wants to remain “neutral” in the gubernatorial race, it’s a big win for Hogan that the statewide official won’t endorse the Democratic nominee. Moreover, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, Franchot’s comments make his true feelings clear regardless of his nominal neutrality:

Franchot said he considers Hogan a friend.

Jealous and Franchot represent different ideological wings of the Democratic party, even though both claim the anti-establishment mantle and share many views on social issues. Jealous, who won the Democratic primary last week, is a strong progressive on economic issues, while the comptroller has positioned himself as a fiscal conservative.

Without directly referring to Jealous, Franchot said voters want Democrats to offer them something other than the type of expansive social programs Jealous is proposing.

“The don’t want higher taxes, they don’t want higher fees, they don’t want pie-in-the-sky programs that sound great” but are too expensive, Franchot said.

It’s fascinating that Franchot is now seen as a fiscal conservative, as he not too long ago cast himself as a leading progressive. In any case, Franchot is coasting to reelection and just did his buddy on the Board of Public Works a solid.

Share

The Democrats Gamble on Jealous

The Democratic have placed a bet with the nomination of Ben Jealous that a more left-wing progressive candidate will energize voters, especially the growing share of minority voters, and beat Gov. Larry Hogan. As Barry Goldwater once said, Jealous “will offer a choice, not an echo.”

Will it work? It’s an interesting test for the progressive wing’s thesis that the Democrats need to run more vocal, left-wing candidates. If it doesn’t work in blue Maryland in what is shaping up to be a very good Democratic year, where and when can it work?

This strategy runs counter to the 2014 gubernatorial post-mortem. Many argued that then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s 2014 campaign needed to deliver a message more clearly. But few thought his defeat resulted from an insufficiently left-wing platform. After all, the O’Malley-Brown administration had raised taxes to protect against the decimation of state services during the recession and to fund transportation infrastructure. O’Malley led the successful referenda fights on the Maryland DREAM Act and marriage equality.

The Jealous Agenda

Nevertheless, Jealous will run on the most left-wing platform in living memory. Jealous wants to enact single-payer health care, raise teacher pay by 29%, fund full-day pre-K education, make college free, staff schools with mental health professionals, spend significant dollars fighting the opioid epidemic, provide summer youth employment, expand public transit substantially, and offer public sector jobs when no private sector work is available.

Jealous has also attacked incrementalism or half measures, telling voters how his grandmother said that if you solve half of a problem, you still have a problem. As a result, it’s now hard for Jealous to backpedal and talk gradualism. It runs counter to his whole message.

How Hogan Will Attack Jealous

In a previous post, I looked at Jealous’s advantages heading into the general election. But what vulnerabilities will Hogan exploit?

Jealous’s agenda is expensive. Very expensive. Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign will go after Jealous, as they would any Democratic opponent, as wanting to raise taxes. Jealous says it will only be on the top 1% of taxpayers and on legalized marijuana. Combined with savings from criminal justice reform and building fewer roads, that will pay for everything.

The list of extremely expensive services Jealous wants to add to the state budget may render voters doubtful of these claims. Many voters will also be concerned about the impact of another tax hike and an indexed $15 minimum wage on the economy. Unlike in a Democratic primary, attacking Hogan (and thus voters on the fence) as needing a stronger commitment to social justice if they have qualms will alienate rather than impress.

Hogan will undoubtedly try to use fear of major tax hikes to divide the Democratic coalition, and to pick off economically successful voters, disproportionately white and Asian, who may be more liberal on social than economic issues. Jealous will attempt to frame the debate as the 1% versus the rest of us. Hogan will alternatively style himself as a protector of taxpayers.

Jealous’s embrace of altering school funding formulas to take more money from wealthier counties to give more to needier counties will aid Hogan’s efforts. In Montgomery, for example, Hogan can position himself as a protector of the county’s prized school system, against Jealous’s efforts to send yet more MoCo money elsewhere.

It’s hard to imagine an issue more likely to pry Democratic voters away here. In Maryland’s secular heartland, lots of people have an ambivalent relationship with organized religion but everyone believes in education with fervor.

Jealous’s characterization of the violence in the wake of Freddie Grey’s death due to injuries inflicted during his arrest as an “uprising” rather than “riots” will also to raise eyebrows. Few would dispute that the Baltimore City police is in dire need of radical reform. But Hogan may well ask Jealous how senseless destruction advanced the causes of police reform and racial justice?

One building that burned down was a nearly finished project to provide affordable housing for seniors and a community center with job training and HIV counseling among other services. (Rev. Donte Hickman’s tireless efforts resulted in the project’s completion despite these daunting setbacks.) Again, attacking Hogan or voters for being insufficiently woke or committed to racial justice seems an unlikely vote-winning strategy.

Will Linking Hogan to Trump Work?

Beyond his own message, Jealous will relentlessly link Hogan to Trump and the need to send a message to the Republicans. However, Hogan hasn’t touched the hot-button social issues and hasn’t stopped gun control legislation. Despite his loud grumbling about taxes, Maryland has not undergone anything like the disastrous state downsizing in the name of tax cuts that has failed so miserably in Kansas and Louisiana.

Even O’Malley’s gas tax remains in effect with Hogan happy to travel around the state announcing new roads. Jealous promises to refocus the money, which also seems likely to displease the many voters who favor the new road projects. Hogan’s pie-in-the-sky plan to widen I-495 and I-270 gains fans from people who like that he is at least thinking about addressing to their traffic woes and don’t think transit will get them there.

Conclusion

Jealous has an exciting vision to sell. It also provides a buffet of avenues for a Republican to attack. By running as a left-wing progressive, Jealous has also left open centrist turf that Hogan will be eager to occupy as a mainstream problem solver. It will be up to Jealous to prove skeptical political observers, who rate the race as Likely Republican, wrong.

Share

Looking Ahead for Jealous-Turnbull

Today is a day for winners to celebrate and the Ben Jealous-Susie Turnbull ticket is certainly entitled to do that after an impressive win with just under 40% of vote in a crowded field, according to preliminary returns. (I don’t expect absentee or provisional ballots to change the results much.).

Perhaps most impressively, Jealous carried 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. The exceptions were Prince George’s, Rushern Baker’s home base, and Calvert, which is right next door. Even in Prince George’s, Jealous did respectably. Baker won 50% to 38% for Jealous – not far off his statewide percentage.

While not a majority, it sets up Jealous well as the clear winner and better positioned than eking out a narrow statewide win as he pivots to the general election. One might also note that the top two candidates were both African Americans and together won 88% of the vote, which should perhaps quiet talk that Democrats are unwilling to vote for black candidates for a bit.

The biggest advantages Jealous has going into the general election are the political nature of the state and national trends. Maryland is one of the few states that voted slightly more for Hillary Clinton in 2016 than for Barack Obama in 2012. Places Clinton won with 60% of the vote are not looking good for Republicans lately.

Even more crucially, the political climate is utterly reversed from four years ago. In 2014, the Democratic vote was depressed as a Republican wave crossed the country. Today, Maryland Democrats are hopping mad and energized in opposition to Trump and his supine Republican supporters.

Hogan will try to distance himself from his party label but in a Democratic state in a Democratic year, waves can overtake even the best efforts. Regardless, the popular Hogan will have to continue to run a good campaign to stay in office.

So today is a day for Jealous and his supporters to celebrate. Next up, what challenges does Jealous face as he looks to become Maryland’s governor?

Share

The Jealous Speaking Fee File

Today, a list of Ben Jealous’s compensated speaking engagements popped into my email inbox. Apparently, Jealous has frequently charged high fees at public universities that contrast uneasily with his demands to make college tuition free.

Read the full file, entitled “Jealous Charged Public Universities & Community Colleges Over $85,000 In Speaking Fees Amid Tuition Hikes & University Budget Crises” below:

Share

The Ups and Downs of Jealous’s Financial Stewardship of the NAACP

Ben Jealous likes to tout his leadership at the NAACP. Managing the State’s budget is a central responsibility of the governor. How did he handle the NAACP’s finances?

Examination of the organization’s tax returns reveals that Jealous’s leadership at the NAACP had a major impact on the organization’s finances. He increased the revenue – and expenditures – of the NAACP dramatically.

NAACP revenue rose from $24.7 million in 2008 to $43.2 million in 2012, an impressive 75% increase. However, it dropped back to $31.0 million in the last year of Jealous’s tenure before his abrupt departure after the first year of a new multiyear contract. (Jealous refused to explain the reasons for his leaving in an interview with The New Republic.) Revenue has since continued to decline, falling to $24.4 million in 2016.

Expenditures tracked revenue closely, and rose from $21.5 million in 2008 to $42.6 million in 2012 before falling back to $36.8 million in 2013. Since Jealous left the NAACP, spending has continued to fall, reaching $24.8 million in 2013.

My sense that Jealous did an amazing job at the start of expanding the organization’s revenue, and thus activities, but that it did not prove sustainable. Both revenue and expenditures dropped substantially in the last year of his leadership. Jealous did not leave the organization able to maintain even this level of revenue or expenditures, as both continued to fall.

The net impact of Jealous’s financial stewardship is overall less impressive than his ability to increase the organization’s profile. In the first four years of his leadership, the NAACP’s largest surplus was $0.6 million and its largest deficit was $1.3 million. However, the deficit jumped to $5.8 million in his final year – the largest in the 16 year period examined here.

The impact on net assets is more disturbing. After increasing the organization’s assets from $12.7 million to $17.3 million, Jealous then oversaw their fall to just $8.0 million in the final year of his leadership – a drop of 37% from his arrival and 54% from the best position under his leadership.

Assets continued to fall after Jealous left, reaching a low of $3.0 million in 2015 before rising to $3.8 million in 2018. Again, this doesn’t present a picture of an organization left on very stable footing when Jealous left.

Ironically, this progressive tribune presents a great example of how the well off have continued to do well even as the incomes of ordinary people have stagnated. Jealous’s compensation rose from $285,000 in the first full year of his tenure to $375,114 in his final year, an increase of 32%.

Share

Delaney Endorses Baker

Here is the press release from the Baker campaign:

U.S. CONGRESSMAN JOHN DELANEY ENDORSES RUSHERN BAKER FOR GOVERNOR

Baltimore County, MD – Today, U.S. Congressman John Delaney (D-6) announced his support for Rushern L. Baker III, Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland. The announcement comes a day after Valerie Ervin announced she would be joining the Baker/Embry ticket. Over the weekend, Rushern Baker announced a wave of Baltimore County and Baltimore City support, including Julian Jones, the Chair of the Baltimore County Council; Delegate Adrienne Jones, Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates; and two former Baltimore County Executives: Dennis Rasmussen and Ted Venetoulis.

Congressman Delaney will join Rushern Baker for an event next week. Time and location are TBD.

“I’m proud to endorse my friend Rushern Baker for Governor of Maryland. Rushern is a deeply good man and brings the perfect combination of experience, vision, optimism, grit, and decency to the job. I am particularly impressed with Rushern’s unwavering commitment to improve public education and he has a track record of working to do just that in Prince George’s County.  There is nothing more important to the future of a country than a strong and innovative public education system focused on maximizing the amazing potential inherent in our children and Rushern is committed to that mission, which is why he has my full support,” said U.S. Congressman John Delaney.

“I am proud to have the support of my good friend, Congressman Delaney. Congressman Delaney is deeply respected as an advocate for his constituents and a leader in promoting environmental progress and job growth. I look forward to working with Congressman Delaney to improve education and create economic opportunities in Maryland’s 6th district and across the state,” Rushern Baker said in a statement.

Congressman Delaney joins a growing list of Maryland elected officials in endorsing Rushern Baker, including former governor Martin O’Malley, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, U.S. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Governor Parris Glendening, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and over 50 state senators, delegates, mayors and sheriffs. Additionally, The Baltimore Afro, Jmore Baltimore Jewish Living and The Washington Post endorsed Rushern Baker. The Washington Post calling him, “by a wide margin, the strongest candidate in the primary field.”

Share

Rushern’s Run

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker

After serving in the House of Delegates and two terms as Prince George’s County Executive, Rushern Baker is making a bid for Maryland’s top office.

He has a serious claim. Prince Georgians should remain grateful that Baker fought against corruption before it was fashionable. Despite opposition from the county establishment, Baker took on sitting Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson in 2006. During the campaign, Baker showed he was willing to take the fight directly to Johnson notwithstanding Jesse Jackson’s endorsement of his opponent. Baker nearly won.

Had Baker won, Prince George’s would have been spared the humiliating spectacle of the arrest of both Johnson and his wife, Councilmeber-Elect Leslie Johnson, who infamously tried to flush ill-gotten gains down the toilet and hide them in her bra. In contrast, no such scandals or anything remotely close have tainted the Baker administration and Prince George’s is vastly better off for his leadership against corruption.

The more one looks into Rushern Baker’s personal life, the more impressive his accomplishments look. Baker’s wife suffers from debilitating memory loss that requires a great deal of care. Until the Washington Post wrote about it long after this family tragedy started, it wasn’t known in the Maryland political world. One might contrast this approach with that of Gov. Larry Hogan, who has tried to turn the serious lemons of his cancer treatment into lemonade not just by comforting other sufferers but by also milking it for every drop of publicity in the public eye and his social media accounts.

Baker has one Achilles heel: the public schools. Laudably, Baker recognized that the school system was not providing the education that Prince George’s kids need and deserve. He managed to gain a much more power over the system with a great deal of political assistance from Annapolis. Baker tried to raise property taxes by 15% in a tax allergic county to fund education but was ultimately only able to obtain a 4% raise that went to fund teacher pensions. Reforming schools is a long-term task, not prone to producing short-term gains, which makes the endeavor all the more commendable.

Unfortunately, a number of scandals have emerged on Baker’s watch. The county lost its federal Head Start grant in 2016.  Grade manipulation led to many students obtaining diplomas that they didn’t earn in violation of county policy. Ben Jealous attacked Baker scathingly for this problem yesterday on Twitter, though Jealous has never had to actually run a county or a school system. Ultimately, the superintendent has been forced to go.

The Washington Post’s editorial page’s response in their endorsement to give Baker a pass and say essentially “Well, at least he tried.” I don’t know that Maryland voters will be as forgiving of these problems on an issue for which Baker has taken ownership. Troubling for Democrats, education is Hogan’s weakest issue according to surveys but he might be able to switch from defense to offense if Baker is the Democratic nominee.

Notwithstanding this significant problem, even though Baker is not my candidate, he would be a very solid Democratic nominee. Baker has been notably successful at building cross-racial support during an era of increased racial political polarization, as his endorsements from a variety of prominent Democrats attest. Based on the last gubernatorial election, we need a nominee who knows how to reach out.

As county executive, Baker has valuable experience has grappled genuinely with issues, like the school system, not in theory but in practice. Most importantly, Rushern Baker is an honorable person who has restored stature to Prince George’s County government.

Share

Update on Vignarajah Eligibility Case / Renewed Racism and Sexism Claims

My blog post from yesterday faithfully reports the information online and that I confirmed with the Anne Arundel Circuit Court at the time. I also tried to speak with the Vignarajah campaign but they would not discuss in advance of their press conference.

Since then, there have been some updates. The case was dismissed on grounds of timeliness. As a result, the petition for declaratory judgement has been dismissed. Mr. Horn has just notified the media that he intends to appeal. I don’t know if he can get a hearing before the primary election or his chances for success.

In a press release, Vignarajah did her best to claim vindication and that she was “absolutely eligible,” though she neglects to mention why the petition was dismissed and that no decision was reached on the merits. When I spoke with her campaign’s chief of staff, Aryn Frazier, she promised someone would get back to me on this question but no one ever did.

Vignarajah’s press release goes on to claim that the evil nefarious establishment is trying to stop her:

It’s not a surprise that the establishment and political operatives are trying desperately to stop women of color from disrupting the old boys club in Maryland, but as a lifelong Marylander, I’ll continue fighting to support our schools, curb violent crime, and build a more inclusive economy for our state.

I asked Aryn Frazier for any evidence backing up these inflammatory claims of racism and sexism. Again, Ms. Frazier promised that someone would get back to me, but no on ever did.

Vignarajah’s serious charges undermine the causes for which she claims to be fighting. They are exactly the sorts of spurious claims that cause people to take a jaundiced view when serious claims of sexism and racism are made. Her constant waving of these banners jars all the more when one considers her voting record.

Vignarjah couldn’t be bothered to vote in the 2014 primary, when she could have helped the first black woman win election from Maryland to the U.S. Senate. She also didn’t vote in the 2014 general election, when she could have aided Anthony Brown’s quest to become the first African-American governor in Maryland. Indeed, this “lifelong Marylander” never voted here before 2016.

Share

MCEA’s Awkward Alliance

This year, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) – the teachers union – decided to support Ben Jealous for governor. Fine, so far.

But this just got very awkward after last night’s education forum. Except for Rich Madaleno from Montgomery, all of the other candidates, including Ben Jealous, embraced a new wealth based formula for education funding that just kills Montgomery.

I imagine it also does little for affluent Howard. The new formula  zeros out funding for Talbot, Kent, and Worcester counties. Not only would it eliminate all no state aid for these three Eastern Shore jurisdictions, it also would require all that money to be made up in local taxes. Every penny cut would be required by state law to be replaced by local funds.

If there is one thing MCEA opposes, it’s cutting funds for Montgomery County Public Schools. Now, they’re supporting a candidate who wants to siphon large sums of money away from Montgomery to other jurisdictions.

Beyond the large number of portable classrooms, Montgomery faces a growing number of students who need extra help for a variety of reasons but who don’t come from families with a lot of extra money to help pick up the slack.

In the past, Adam Pagnucco has written about state funding formulas are already skewed against Montgomery, even as we face burgeoning problems in the public schools. Separately, a hike in the millionaires tax, paid primarily by Montgomery, has helped fund a burst of construction in Baltimore and elsewhere in the State.

The changes endorsed by all candidates except Madaleno would massively undermine efforts by Montgomery to address the achievement gap here. Indeed, the County would be hard pressed to maintain its current commitment with the size of cuts proposed, as Adam has explained well in a piece aptly titled “Hell, No!”

While this is awkward for Montgomery advocates of greater state school funding who support a variety of candidates, I imagine it might dismay county officials who support Rushern Baker at least partly in the hope that the D.C. area would get more attention to its increasingly serious needs.

But the problem is particularly acute for MCEA. They’ve found themselves behind a candidate whose platform would result in enormous pressure on the salaries and pensions of their members or force major cuts elsewhere in an already pressed county budget despite county efforts for years to protect education funding.

Share