Category Archives: Bill Frick

County Executive Candidates on the Liquor Monopoly

Question: The county’s liquor monopoly has come under heavy criticism–not least from Seventh State. If at all, how would you reform or change, or press the state legislature to change, the Department of Liquor Control?

Roger Berliner

At the county level, I have been the chief advocate for ending our unique – and counterproductive – liquor monopoly.  As someone who has fought monopolies most of my professional life, I know in my bones that monopolies are rarely, if ever, in the public interest.  Government monopolies are generally even less efficient.  And a government monopoly that tries to do a job that the private sector does in the rest of the country is almost always less efficient.  That is true in MoCo.  As a result, our residents vote with their feet.  Almost one-third of our purchases of liquor are made outside Montgomery County.  Our restaurants hate it.  Top flight restaurants have said that they would never come here. Bottom line: our monopoly needlessly perpetuates the reputation of our county being anti-business and anti-consumer and stunts our economy.

However, the state is a critical partner in this conversation.  It is state law that created our monopoly, and state law must be passed to change it.  The positive side of this dynamic is that the state would be the principal, direct beneficiary of increased liquor sales.  I would work with the Governor and our legislature to split the savings that the state would derive and hold the county harmless as it weans itself from this monopoly.  The dollars are not that significant given that our retail operations should continue to do well – assuming that they can compete!  And in the long run, our county will prosper more without the monopoly than with it.

Marc Elrich

Any discussion of the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) must acknowledge that the Montgomery County budget relies on over $30 million in liquor revenue per year.  That is no small amount of money, and it supports critical county services, including almost $11 million for bond payments.  Nobody who has proposed privatizing the county’s liquor supply has a workable plan to fill the budget hole privatization would create, likely because there is no way to do so that doesn’t create other problems for the state.

Privatization proposals thus should not be taken seriously; instead, we should continue to look for ways to make the DLC more efficient and effective than it has been in the past, and to increase sales so that we can increase the revenue that the DLC generates.

We’ve already changed the way the DLC is run by bringing in industry professionals, including the director and the warehouse manager, who have improved the operations of the liquor system and brought in a philosophy of continuous improvement.  I’ve also encouraged introducing lower markups for more expensive items, which they did, and I’ve supported and will continue to support efforts to help local breweries and wineries sell and distribute their goods.  Both the new director and I want to hear and consider other ideas for helping transition the DLC from something that the county has long taken for granted into a professionally run system.

In fact, if a private-sector business had a division that produced a substantial profit but was identified as having management problems and customer service issues that prevented it from being more profitable, its most likely course of action would be to change management, work to improve services, and strive for greater profits.  That is exactly what we have been doing with the DLC.

Bill Frick

I have been the state’s leader on fixing this abysmal broken system.  My “end the monopoly” effort, helped immensely by the Seventh State’s Adam Pagnucco, fell short in 2016 in large part because of vigorous opposition from the Council and County Executive.  We agreed to let the Executive lead a work group on the issue, but that work group served no real purpose other than to push the issue onto the desk of the next Executive.

This is a great opportunity.  The DLC has value, and I have proposed to ensure that the value stays with Montgomery County by selling off the DLC’s assets, such as its franchise rights to beer distribution, its stores and warehouse, to generate millions in capital dollars that can be spent on school construction.  Because the elimination of the DLC will generate millions in repatriated sales and excise tax dollars, I would work with my colleagues in the legislative leadership to help return some of those revenues to the County.  Finally, we all know that the work of alcohol distribution will not disappear with the end of the DLC, rather, those jobs will migrate to the private sector and will likely grow in the County as our consumers come home to buy their beer, wine and spirits here.  I will work with the private sector distributors and unions to find the best outcomes for current DLC employees as we get the County out of the liquor business.

George Leventhal

I am willing to entertain serious negotiations with parties who are willing to make a serious offer to purchase the right to distribute beer, wine and spirits in Montgomery County. In FY 2018, that enterprise generated more than $33 million in surplus revenue over expenses to the county’s general fund, of which $11 million was spent on debt service for approximately $100 million in Liquor Control Revenue Bonds, which were issued more than a decade ago to pay for transportation improvements, including the Montrose Parkway. I think we should commission an independent economic analysis of the present value of a guaranteed revenue stream of more than $30 million each year. My understanding is that it would come to hundreds of millions of dollars – more than enough to retire the bonds. I do not think the county should simply give away these valuable rights, which belong to the people of the county. However, serious offers from serious buyers should be considered. Simply giving the rights (and the associated revenues) away would require that the bonds be retired or refinanced through other means. If general obligation bonds were used to refinance the Liquor Control Revenue Bonds, it would reduce the county’s ability to construct new schools and other capital projects by $100 million.

In the absence of a serious offer to buy the rights to the entire enterprise, I continue to support the County Council’s 2015 proposal to privatize special order sales of beer and wine. Problems with delivery of special orders comprise the vast majority of complaints from restaurants, but the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis declined to take up the County Council’s proposal in the 2016 session after County Executive Leggett asked for more time for study.

The Montgomery County delegation also declined to take up proposals for immediate privatization or for a voter referendum. Candidates for County Executive who have concerns about the Department of Liquor Control’s shortcomings should remember that liquor laws are made in Annapolis, not in Rockville. I would also support action by the state legislature to allow sales of beer and wine in grocery stores. Beer and wine stores will soon be able to sell spirits under legislation that passed in the 2017 session, which I supported.

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Bill Frick: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

For too long, Council members have used the County budget as a piggy bank to fund their pet projects and ideas, often ones that could not survive a serious cost/benefit review.

As we reorient County government to be a constituent-consumer focused organization, we can find savings.  For example, the county employs nearly 40 personnel in its 311 call center, despite the dramatic shift in technology away from phone calls and towards electronic communications.  If Montgomery County complemented this with a constituent service app, as exists in neighboring jurisdictions, many constituent services would be routed directly to the relevant agencies instead of going first through bureaucratic call centers, and we could save taxpayer money.

Finally, the County should not be a leader in corporate welfare.  I would end our tax credits for investors, money that goes from everyday taxpayers straight to the pockets of wealthy investors, often to reward them for making investments they would have made regardless.  This is a fight I led at the state level as the architect of the Tax Credit Evaluation Act, legislation to spotlight and reform our runaway subsidies, and by going toe-to-toe with Hollywood to make sure our tax dollars were being spent productively.

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Bill Frick on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

For far too long, our Council has been complacent with the status quo and at times even outright hostile to the private sector.  Resting on the expectation of stable employment from the federal government, the Council has been largely indifferent and even averse to growing the private sector economy.  We can no longer afford to talk about the need for job and wage growth and yet show no interest in facilitating business growth that creates those jobs.  As Norm Augustine likes to say, “you can’t be for jobs and against employers.”

From our notorious permitting process to our burdensome tax policies, we need to stop treating small business as the enemy.  Small businesses are the vital engine that will drive our middle class growth.  We need to reorient our administration to recognize that being punitive to businesses isn’t actually in our interests.

We must also foster and facilitate growth and entrepreneurship.  We benefit from an amazingly well-educated and creative workforce. But our women and men often find DC or Virginia or Baltimore to be more promising environments in which to grow and create businesses.  I want to enhance access to capital by building on our programs to keep local and state dollars in the community banks that are most likely to lend to small businesses, like I did at the state level. And I will help jump-start our hospitality, service, and restaurant economy by reforming or eliminating the Department of Liquor Control, a broken system that has functioned as a repellent to restaurants and consumers alike. I led this fight in the legislature, and will win this fight as County Executive.

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In Their Own Words, Part III: Bill Frick

We continue with our County Executive questionnaires today with Del. Bill Frick (D-16).

What was your most important achievement in your current or past office? How do you think it demonstrates your leadership ability?

During my career in Annapolis there have been many legislative successes that I am proud of, and each highlight different approaches to leadership.  For many, I have been a negotiator and dealmaker. I was the lead legislator in creating a state-sponsored retirement plan to help low-income workers save for a secure retirement. When I started on this path, the bill was seen as a fringe liberal proposal, but I worked with colleagues in the House and Senate of both parties and carried the bill to a bipartisan success that has been held out by AARP as a national model.

There have also been times when I have served as an unapologetic warrior for our values.  I was the lead house sponsor on legislation to increase the state’s reliance on clean renewable energy, an issue that enjoys little Republican support.  For two years, I championed this legislation until it passed the House and Senate in 2016, only to have Larry Hogan veto the bill.  As a part of the leadership team, I led the override vote that finally allowed the Clean Energy Jobs Act to become law, despite the united objection of the Republicans.

Different circumstances call for different leadership styles, and I am proud that I’ve been able to adapt my role and style to promote and protect Maryland’s values.

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Bill Fricks Up the Executive Field, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Bill Frick’s candidacy for Montgomery County Executive raises a number of questions that will impact both him and his rivals.  Here’s our shot at asking them and teasing out some answers.

Question 1: The Path Not Taken

Four years ago, the higher office Frick really wanted was Attorney General.  His path at that time was blocked by his district’s Senator, Brian Frosh, but it could be much more viable in the near future.  Frosh will be 76 years old at the end of his second term.  If Frick were to remain in the House and raise money, expand his connections and build a statewide network, he would be a strong contender to succeed Frosh.  Frick would also have a great rationale for an AG candidacy: his legislative history on consumer issues demonstrates that he would be an aggressive crusader against predatory banks, rapacious credit card companies and sleazy Internet scammers.  That’s a politically powerful message.  But a losing race for Executive would let other candidates jump ahead of him for an AG run.  It’s a huge opportunity cost that should not be paid lightly.

Question 2: Geography

How much are Frick and Council Member Roger Berliner handicapped by the fact that they represent much of the same area?  Berliner’s District 1, which includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Potomac and Poolesville, contains 31% of all Super-Democrats (Dems who voted in all three of the 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries).  Frick’s Bethesda-based District 16, which is inside District 1, contains 19% of all Super-Dems.  These areas are excellent bases from which to launch a countywide campaign.  But Frick and Berliner could split these votes, hurting both of them.  Also worth considering is that Council Member Marc Elrich will get votes in this region as well owing to his criticism of unpopular master plans passed by the County Council.

Question 3: Prior Races

Consider this.  In the last four years, Frick has run for four different offices: Attorney General, Delegate, Congress and now Executive.  No other MoCo politician can say that.  Accordingly, there is some skepticism in the political community that he will be in the Executive race to the end.  That is going to play itself out with large contributors, who are critical since Frick will be using traditional campaign financing and there are only nine months left until the primary.  The last thing a big donor who cares about county government wants is to go all in for a candidate who drops out and runs for something else.  This is huge considering that Frick reported a balance of $45,818 in his state account in January and he cannot transfer funds directly from his federal account.  Frick needs to have a convincing argument to address this with donors or he will be unable to fund a competitive campaign.

Question 4: Counter-Attacks

Frick’s early strategy is to attack the County Council, a message that should get some traction among the majority of county Democrats who voted for term limits.  Frick told the Washington Post, “Our demands exceed our capacity, on our roads and in our classrooms… Too often, local leaders have been complacent, content to raise taxes and resist vital reforms, and our small businesses and parents grow more and more frustrated.”  In Bethesda Magazine, he criticized the “Rockville bubble” and blasted the council for protecting the liquor monopoly.  (Berliner is the one Council Member who agrees with Frick on that issue.)

But Frick has a record too and his new rivals are sure to bring it up.  While Frick attacks the county’s giant property tax hike, he voted for numerous state tax increases during the O’Malley years, including a 2012 state income tax hike of which MoCo residents paid 41% of the increase.  The Council Members will grill Frick on the state’s anemic performance in financing school construction in MoCo, a major issue for voters.  And Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, both of whom have co-sponsored a bill establishing a $15 minimum wage in MoCo, will ask Frick why he was not a co-sponsor of the state’s $15 minimum wage bill in the last General Assembly session.  In politics, no one gets to throw a sharp elbow without taking one in return.

Question 5: Other Candidates

We suspect that Frick may not be the last non-Council Member to enter the race.  Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) is sure to look at a field that includes four men and think, “In a primary electorate that is roughly 60% female, maybe there’s room for a woman in this race!”  Former Council Member Valerie Ervin, who polled an Executive race in 2013, might think, “Yeah, I got that, plus I have a base that no one else has!”  Businessman David Blair, who can self-finance, is polling and would be a true outsider candidate – even more than Frick.  Elrich, who has an immovable base of true believers who could be a fifth of the electorate or more, would no doubt welcome a large field.

And there could be even more surprises in an election that is shaping up to be one of the wildest in MoCo history.

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Bill Fricks Up the Executive Field, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) has dropped out of the Congressional District 6 race and is running for County Executive.  This is the biggest story so far in the Executive race.  Council Members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal have been preparing to run for Executive for years but Frick has never before expressed interest in county office.  Additionally, Frick is the first person who is not a term-limited Council Member to declare for Executive and he may not be the last.

So  who is Bill Frick?  He’s a MoCo native who went to Northwestern and Harvard and is an attorney with Akin Gump downtown.  He was little known to the MoCo political community until he stunned the establishment by defeating a formidable field for a Delegate appointment in 2007.  He worked his way up in the House to become Parliamentarian and later House Majority Leader.  After first serving on Ways and Means, he joined the powerful House Economic Matters Committee, which decides all issues connected to alcohol, public utilities, insurance, banking, economic development and workers compensation.  He is the Chair of the Property & Casualty Insurance Subcommittee.  Frick is generally liked by his colleagues, often pranking them by stealing their phones and typing worshipful Facebook posts (“Bill Frick is my hero!”), but he is also respected as a substantive lawmaker.  His multiple, aborted runs for higher office (Attorney General in the prior term and CD6 until just recently) have raised questions among some of his colleagues about his political savvy but have not dented his popularity in Annapolis.

Frick has been a busy legislator over the years with a focus on consumer issues.  He has attracted news by introducing legislation to crack down on credit card companies and Internet scamming.  His bill to tighten renewable energy standards was vetoed by the Governor but passed after an override by the General Assembly.  Frick achieved countywide renown by introducing legislation in 2015 to allow MoCo voters to decide whether to end the county’s liquor monopoly.  It was a tremendous act of political courage that few MoCo politicians can match.  It provoked the county government employees union, which represents liquor monopoly workers, to target his wife and call for an investigation, none of which went anywhere.  The union may never endorse Frick in a future race, but for those who want to End the Monopoly, Frick is an eternal hero.

One more thing:  He is one of the most witty, charming and likable humans on Planet Earth. No one other than George Clooney, Bill Clinton or Bono is going to win a personality contest with Bill Frick.

Frick holds court in 2010.  Is this how MoCo voters will react to him?

For all of his undeniable assets as a candidate, Frick’s entry into the race provokes more questions than answers.  We will examine those questions in Part Two.

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Could Anyone Stop David Trone in CD6?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The future plans of Congressman John Delaney remain unclear, but that has not stopped some potential candidates from expressing interest in his seat.  Two have filed paperwork to start raising money – Delegates Bill Frick (D-16) and Aruna Miller (D-15).  It’s time to examine what a potential open seat race in Congressional District 6 might look like.

Let’s begin by asking the obvious question: could anyone stop David Trone?

Trone, a co-owner of Total Wine and second-place finisher in the 2016 CD8 Democratic primary, is known to be looking at races for both Montgomery County Executive and CD6.  Trone shares certain characteristics with Delaney: both are successful, center-left businessmen who live in Potomac and have been active political contributors at the national level before running for office.  Delaney’s 25-point victory in 2012 over establishment favorite Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) is no doubt encouraging to Trone because it provides a model for his own potential candidacy.  So far, five Montgomery County state legislators – Frick, Miller, Delegates Kirill Reznik (D-19) and Andrew Platt (D-17) and Senator Roger Manno (D-19) – have told the Sun that they would consider running in CD6.  There may be others as well as several Republicans.  But let’s start with the MoCo Five.  How do they compare to Trone?

Money

This is the elephant in the room.  Trone set a record for a self-funding candidate for Congress last year.  Here is how his potential MoCo rivals stack up to him in lifetime campaign receipts.

Money doesn’t make Trone invincible.  Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20) raised $2 million in the CD8 primary, was outspent by Trone by more than 6-1 and still defeated him by 7 points.  But money is a big advantage for Trone and none of these MoCo legislators has proven that they can raise anywhere near as much money as Raskin.

Geography

Unlike Trone, the five MoCo legislators represent legislative districts and presumably have relationships with their constituents.  Here is the number of Democratic voters in the portions of their districts that overlapped with CD6 during the last mid-term primary, which occurred in 2014.

None of these legislators represents a dominant share of CD6’s Democratic electorate.  Two of them – Miller (20%) and Reznik (16%) – represent a larger share of CD6 than Raskin did of CD8 (14%).  But Raskin’s in-district supporters were intensely invested in him and he was able to reach into other districts through many surrogates.  These legislators would have to do something similar in order to acquire an advantage over the others.

Now, what of the 43% of CD6 Democratic voters who do not live in any of these districts?  Aside from the handful who reside in four precincts in Legislative District 14, they live in the district’s four Western Maryland counties.  In the CD8 primary, Trone won absolute majorities of the vote in both Carroll and Frederick Counties.  Trone also won pluralities in Damascus, Gaithersburg, Glenmont/Norbeck, Potomac and Rockville.  The implication is clear: if each of these legislators gets in and holds most of their home territory, Trone could still win by running up big margins in Western Maryland and picking up pockets of votes in UpCounty MoCo.  Let’s remember that MANY of these residents were exposed to Trone’s millions of dollars in broadcast TV commercials last year.

Electoral Experience

Most of Trone’s potential rivals have not won an intense, hard-fought election like last year’s race in CD8.  Frick and Reznik were originally appointed to their seats.  Miller was inducted onto the District 15 incumbents’ slate in 2010 prior to winning an open Delegate seat.  The exception is Manno, who withstood some of the most depraved political attacks in recent MoCo history when he took out incumbent Senator Mike Lenett (D-19).  But CD6 is much larger than D19 and the potential reach of Manno’s prodigious door knocking – his favorite campaign tactic – is in question.

And then there is Trone himself.  After three months of all-out campaigning, Trone eclipsed a field of initially better-known candidates to finish on the brink of victory.  Our interview with Trone last year is instructive.  As a self-made man, Trone has a swagger that is off-putting to some who meet him.  But he has also endured significant tragedy and failure in his life that was key to his later triumphs.  Trone has an almost preternatural ability to reflect, learn and adapt.  His cover picture on Twitter even advises visitors to “Try Things… Get Comfortable with Failure.”

The thought of a wiser, more experienced and more strategic Trone should inspire dread in potential opponents.

And yet, Trone can be beaten.  Let’s look at the man who did it.  Jamie Raskin started out as one of MoCo’s best-ever challengers when he defeated twenty-year incumbent District 20 Senator Ida Ruben.  He spent the next ten years building progressive networks at both the national and local levels.  The former helped him raise millions of dollars; the latter gave him a grass-roots army that has been seldom seen in this county.  No prospective CD6 candidate checks all those boxes.

It will take two things to stop Trone if he runs for an open seat in CD6.  First, most of the MoCo legislators mentioned in the Sun would have to not run, thereby giving the remaining candidates room for electoral growth.  And second, one of Trone’s rivals would have to run the race of his or her life, far exceeding previous performances.

Raskin proved that it can be done.  But can it be done again?

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Poll Launched in CD6

By Adam Pagnucco.

A poll has been commissioned in Congressional District 6.  Congressman John Delaney currently represents the district, but he is considering a run for Governor and many potential candidates are mulling a run for what would be his open seat.  The pollster called Merry Eisner Heidorn, a former General Assembly staffer and school board candidate, and she kindly provided details of the call.

The call was made by a live caller and lasted twenty minutes.  The first three minutes collected demographic information, including age, gender, zip code, county and party.  This was followed by questions on voting tendency, including whether the respondent understood what primaries were, voted for candidates or only on party label, had voted in gubernatorial as well as presidential elections, intended to vote in the 2018 primary and had voted in past primaries.  Then the caller asked about the respondent’s opinions on Donald Trump, Larry Hogan, the economy and other issues.

Next, the caller asked, “So if John Delaney runs for Governor, would you support his run for Governor?”  This was followed by five to seven minutes of favorability questions on three potential candidates to succeed him – Total Wine co-owner David Trone, State Senator Roger Manno (D-19) and Delegate Bill Frick (D-16).  The caller then zeroed in on Trone, asking about a series of issues pertaining to him and then asking how each impacted the respondent’s favorability towards Trone and the likelihood to vote for him.  The specific issues raised about Trone included the fact that he had never held office, had contributed money on behalf of his business to politicians of both parties, had run for office before and was a “successful businessman from Potomac.”  At the conclusion of the call, the pollster asked, “Now that we have talked about David Trone, has your desire to vote for him changed?”

This is a fairly standard bio- and message-testing poll.  The pollster is attempting to gauge support for a possible run in CD6 both across the entire sample and among a number of key sub-groups.  Trone is known to be considering a run in CD6 and has polled previously on the Montgomery County Executive race.  This poll along with Trone’s establishment of campaign office space will fuel further speculation on what race, if any, he will enter.  The entire Montgomery County political class is watching.

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Possible CD6 Candidates Gather in Western Maryland

By Adam Pagnucco.

With District 6 Congressman John Delaney telling the Sun he is considering a race for Governor and Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) starting a Congressional campaign account, the chatter around CD6 is picking up.  And that chatter is going to reach a fever pitch at the end of the month.

That’s because the Western Maryland Democratic PAC is holding a “summit” event in Flintstone on April 28 and 29.  The event (which requires registration) is described as “charting a progressive course in Western Maryland.”  And top billing in the email announcement goes to two familiar names: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Total Wine co-owner David Trone.

Kamenetz, of course, is running for Governor.  But what of Trone?  His website says he is considering a run for Montgomery County Executive.  But his attendance at the Western Maryland event (and the money he must have contributed to be listed as a “Presenting Sponsor”) suggests that he is keeping a CD6 option open.  Trone’s self-funding capacity allows him significant timetable flexibility.

But that’s not all.  The solicitation states that Delegate Frick and Senator Roger Manno (D-19) will also be attending.  Manno is a labor favorite and is known to be interested in the CD6 seat.

Congratulations to the Western Maryland Democratic PAC for setting up such a juicy event.  Get your tickets here, folks!

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