Category Archives: Apple Ballot

A Pattern in the Absentee Ballots?

By Adam Pagnucco.

All eyes in political MoCo are on the County Executive race, which will be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  After the first absentee canvass, Marc Elrich’s lead over David Blair has declined from 492 votes to 149 votes, guaranteeing an absolute squeaker of a finish.  Lots of folks are asking why.  A preliminary analysis of absentee voting data suggests one reason: for the most part, candidates endorsed by MCEA, of whom Elrich is one, are performing slightly less well in absentee voting than in early voting and election day voting.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has historically been the most powerful interest group in MoCo elections.  Its political program has combined mail and poll coverage where its mighty Apple Ballot is distributed.  This year, its mail program has been partially diverted to the Governor’s race (where the union helped pay for three mailers on behalf of Ben Jealous) and Congress District 6 (where the union sent three mailers for Aruna Miller).  Its remaining mailers were one for its State Legislative District 16 endorsees (one of whom was teacher Samir Paul), one for its Council At-Large endorsees (one of whom was teacher Chris Wilhelm) and one with the Apple Ballot itself.  The latter mailer was the only one to include Marc Elrich, who was endorsed late.  In past years in which races for Governor and Congress were not an issue, MCEA’s mail program was entirely focused on state legislative and county races.

Alterations to the mail program may explain variations in absentee ballot voting.  People who vote early, on election day and through provisional ballots may encounter Apple Ballot poll coverage.  And it’s not just MCEA who distributes it; candidates who are featured on it often distribute it too.  But absentee voters do not go to a polling place.  They must be contacted through other means.  As stated above, MCEA’s mailers were drawn into races for Congress and Governor and if the union has a robust digital program, we have not seen it.  All of this means that absentee voters in General Assembly and county-level races are less likely to be influenced by the Apple.

The table below shows sixteen close performances in county races between Apple-endorsed and non-Apple candidates.  (We excluded incumbents to remove any incumbent effect on absentee voting.)  In each race, the margin between the two in election and early voting results is shown alongside the margin in the first absentee canvass.  (Both sets of results are unofficial and there will be another absentee canvass.)  In eleven of these sixteen races, Apple-endorsed candidate performance declined in absentee voting.

Now some of these races have other things going on.  In Congress District 6, Aruna Miller benefited from MCEA’s three mailers and her performance actually rose a tiny bit among absentees.  In the gubernatorial race, a clear outlier, Rushern Baker may have benefited from the Washington Post’s strong endorsement.  (This year, the Post did not endorse in Congressional or state legislative races.)  David Blair got not one, but two Post endorsements.  Elrich’s late endorsement from MCEA handicapped his ability to publicize it, which may have impacted absentee voters.  And so on.

The Apple Ballot is arguably the best endorsement in the county.  Blair would already have won the Executive race if Elrich had not received it.  But the data above, however tentative it is, suggests a pattern: the Apple has been slightly less effective in absentee voting.  The median performance drop is 1.4 points.  The mean performance drop excluding the outlier race for Governor is 1.3 points.  So let’s round it in rough terms to a point-and-a-half decline.  That’s not enough to affect most races but it is having an impact on the razor-thin contests for County Executive and House 16.  MCEA should consider this in designing its future political programs.

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The Wilhelm Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

Here is something we haven’t seen before: a mid-term year Apple Ballot with one candidate occupying one side of it and a list of others on the other side.  This Apple, still in wrapping, is customized in favor of Council At-Large candidate Chris Wilhelm.

Here is another one spotlighting District 16 House candidate Samir Paul.

The Apple we were given at the Wheaton early voting site was not like these.  It had county candidates on one side and state candidates on the other, a typical format used in the past.

Wilhelm and Paul are MCPS teachers.  We totally get why MCEA would like to elect its own members to office, although that has not always been their top priority.  For example, the union endorsed County Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage over MCPS teacher Marc Elrich in 1998.  In Elrich’s 2002 and 2006 races, he did appear on the Apple but we don’t recall him getting an entire side of it to himself.

The races involving Paul and Wilhelm are very different.  In District 16, the two incumbent Delegates – Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are endorsed by MCEA and a lock for reelection.  Paul is in a tight contest with fellow new candidate Sara Love for the open seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick.  He needs every edge he can get.

The Council At-Large race, on the other hand, is extremely competitive and unpredictable.  MCEA has endorsed incumbent Hans Riemer, Brandy Brooks and Will Jawando in addition to Wilhelm.  Riemer seems likely to be reelected but that’s about all that can be safely predicted in this race.  What will Riemer, Brooks and Jawando think of the Wilhelm Ballot?

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MCEA Endorses Council Incumbents

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has endorsed four County Council Members running for reelection: Craig Rice (District 2), Nancy Navarro (District 4), Tom Hucker (District 5) and Hans Riemer (At-Large).  The only Council Member running for reelection this year who has not been endorsed by MCEA is Sidney Katz (District 3).  The union has previously endorsed Katz’s opponent, Ben Shnider.

Also, MCEA has not endorsed in the County Executive race and may ultimately not do so.  That would echo the 2006 Executive primary, when neither Ike Leggett nor Steve Silverman could reach the union’s 58% threshold for support in its Representative Assembly.

We reprint MCEA’s press release below.

*****

For Immediate Release:

May 3, 2018

Contact:  Nikki Woodward

Anzer.woodward@gmail.com

MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION ANNOUNCES NEW COUNTY ENDORSEMENTS

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents more than 14,000 classroom teachers, guidance counselors, speech pathologists, media specialists, and other non-supervisory certified educators in the Montgomery County Public Schools system, has endorsed several candidates for elected office in Montgomery County.  Endorsed candidates will appear on MCEA’s “Apple Ballot” for the 2018 primary and general elections.

COUNTY COUNCIL AT LARGE:

Hans Riemer (new), Brandy Brooks, Chris Wilhelm, Will Jawando

COUNTY COUNCIL (DISTRICT):

District 1: Ana Sol Gutierrez

District 2: Craig Rice (new)

District 3: Ben Shnider

District 4: Nancy Navarro (new)

District 5 Tom Hucker (new)

BOARD OF EDUCATION AT LARGE:

Karla Silvestre

BOARD OF EDUCATION (DISTRICT):

District 1:  Dr. Judith (Judy) Docca

District 2:  Patricia (Pat) O’Neill

District 5:  Brenda Wolf

MCEA has not yet endorsed a candidate for County Executive for the June primary.

-30-30-30-

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Teachers Make New State Legislative Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has made a new round of endorsements in state legislative races, conferring the influential Apple Ballot on the following House candidates.

District 15: Kevin Mack

District 17: Kumar Barve, Julie Palakovich Carr, Julian Haffner

District 18: Jared Solomon

District 19: Marlin Jenkins, Vaughn Stewart

District 20: Darian Unger

District 39: Gabriel Acevero

Combining these endorsements with those previously announced, the teachers are now supporting non-incumbents Mack, Palakovich Carr, Haffner, Solomon, Jenkins, Stewart, Unger, Acevero and District 16 House candidate Samir Paul (who is an MCPS teacher) along with all the state-level incumbents running for reelection except for Delegates Jim Gilchrist (D-17) and Marice Morales (D-19).  At the county level, the union has endorsed Ana Sol Gutierrez in Council District 1, Ben Shnider in Council District 3 and Brandy Brooks, Will Jawando and Chris Wilhelm (another MCPS teacher) for Council At-Large while postponing action on most county incumbents.

We find it interesting that Gilchrist (who the teachers endorsed in 2010 and 2014) and Morales (who was not endorsed in her first race last time) were the only two incumbents running for reelection who were not supported.  Also, the teachers have left one vacant slot in the strongly contested District 18 House race that may or may not be filled and chose not to support Board of Education Member Rebecca Smondrowski, who is running for Delegate in District 17.  Depending on what is said about those issues, we may have further comment soon.

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MoCo Endorsements: March 9, 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

We have entered the thick of endorsement season and a big one just came out: a partial decision by MCEA, holder of the mighty Apple Ballot.  We have updated our institutional endorsement matrix and offer some comments below.

First, a note.  Many of the listed endorsing organizations have not finished their processes and may be announcing more decisions in the future.  Other important organizations (like the Washington Post, the Realtors and the Volunteer Fire Fighters) have not endorsed yet at all.  So this list is a work in progress.

That said, here are a few impressions.

Senator Roger Manno, who might be the most pro-union member of the entire General Assembly, is sweeping labor endorsements in his run for Congress District 6.  How far will that take him against Delegate Aruna Miller and Total Wine co-owner David Trone?

Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive, has put together an impressive string of progressive endorsements and he will be getting more of them.  He is definitely the favored Executive candidate of the left.

Ben Shnider, who is challenging District 3 County Council candidate Sidney Katz, has also become a darling of the left.  Will that be enough to take out Katz, who has been the most prominent politician in Gaithersburg for decades?  We will have an opinion on that in the near future.

Will Jawando, who is running for Council At-Large, has had a great six weeks.  He is the only non-incumbent who has assembled four influential institutional endorsements, including the Apple.  (Chris Wilhelm has three and Danielle Meitiv and Brandy Brooks have two each.)  Combine that with Jawando’s fundraising success, electoral experience and natural charisma and he is looking strong right now.

The good news for Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher, who is running for the District 18 Senate seat being vacated by Rich Madaleno, is that he is dominating the institutional endorsements over Dana Beyer and Michelle Carhart.  The bad news is that his dispute with House candidate Helga Luest is escalating.  Women are 60% of MoCo Democrats and this is a particularly bad cycle to run afoul of them.

While MCEA has made some county-level endorsements, it has postponed its decision on the incumbents (except for Sidney Katz).  The teachers are unhappy with recent MCPS budget decisions made by the County Council, especially with the breaking of their collective bargaining agreement two years ago.  With Ike Leggett’s recommended budget coming next week, we will learn more about what might happen to MCPS this year and that will affect the union’s thinking.  The remaining non-incumbents in the Council At-Large race will be paying rapt attention!

Speaking of the At-Large race, we wrote last April that the sole incumbent running, Hans Riemer, was going to be reelected.  We still believe that will happen and so do most of the folks running in his race.  But what happens if he is passed over by both the Apple Ballot and the Post?  The Apple is skeptical of council incumbents right now.  As for the Post, the newspaper endorsed Riemer in the 2014 primary in part because it said challenger Beth Daly was “dead wrong.”  But it dumped Riemer for a no-name Republican in the general election, saying he was “a first-termer with modest achievements.”  The Post has a lot more options in the 2018 At-Large field than it did last time.  Then throw in the facts that there are a lot of good folks in the At-Large race and Riemer’s name will be appearing near the end of a VERY long ballot.  If Riemer loses both the Apple and the Post and the hungry field of non-incumbents continues to impress, is he still a lock to win?  (Disclosure: your author used to work for Riemer.)

That’s it for now.  We’ll have more when the next wave of endorsements comes in!

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Where Will the Apple Drop?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Many moons ago, when your author was young and blissfully new to the county, we wrote our very first blog post on the mighty Apple Ballot.  It was unimaginatively titled, “The 800 lb Gorilla of MoCo Politics.”  Then as now, the Apple was one of the most coveted endorsements in MoCo.  But my oh my, so much has changed.

Back in the Age of the Golden Apple, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) was the centerpiece of a powerful political organization created by then-Superintendent Jerry Weast.  Weast was not a pro-union progressive by nature, but he understood that politics is a team sport and it was necessary to play it to get money.  So the Weast Machine included the education unions (MCEA, SEIU and the principals), the PTAs, the Washington Post editorial page and the school system’s internal Ministry of Propaganda.  (That was not its title, but you get the point!)  Weast traded real input in the MCPS budget for stakeholders in return for absolute loyalty in joint combat against the outside – especially the County Council.  Anyone who messed with the school system didn’t take on Weast alone – they had to go against the entire Machine.  Weast capitalized on his organization as well as productive relationships with County Executive Doug Duncan and County Council Education Committee Chair Mike Subin to get substantial and regular budget increases.  The whole system was greased by strong revenue growth and occasional tax hikes.

The District 18/Silver Spring version of the Apple Ballot from 2006.  This is the document that began your author’s career in blogging.

Those days are long gone.  Three major changes have occurred over the last ten years.

First, Weast jumped the shark – not once, but twice.  His first big sin was calling union leaders to his house to ask them to endorse Nancy Navarro in the 2008 Council District 4 special election.  That attracted criticism from multiple Council Members as inappropriate conduct by an appointed non-partisan administrator.  His second big sin was threatening to sue the county over a budget disagreement two years later.  These kinds of behavior helped convince Weast’s adversaries that he was not merely an irritant, but an actual threat, and prompted some to brand him a Rogue Superintendent.  That set the stage for the bitter budget battles to come.

Second, the county and regional economies were greatly weakened in the wake of the Great Recession.  The chart below shows growth in county revenue (excluding intergovernmental aid) over the last twenty years.  Red bars indicate years in which major tax hikes were passed.  From FY98 through FY09, a generally prosperous economy helped county revenues grow by an annual average of 6.2%.  But from FY10 through FY18, the days of the Great Recession and beyond, county revenues grew by an annual average of 3.1%.  (That does not include the recent $120 million budget shortfall.)  There is simply not as much money to go around as there used to be.  Accordingly, revitalizing the economy should be a huge policy objective for all of the county’s employee unions and everyone else who cares about funding local government.

Third, the local money that was available was not as directed to MCPS as it once was.  There are many reasons for that: the Holy War that broke out between the County Council and the school system in Weast’s final days; dissatisfaction with changes to the state’s Maintenance of Effort law; the state’s execrable decision to shift part of the teacher pension burden down to the counties, which is costing MoCo tens of millions of dollars every year and stifling funding for other priorities; and the growth of many other needs in the county’s budget.  Council Member Nancy Floreen defended the county’s record on MCPS funding and your author offered a reply.

Whatever the reasons, MCPS has not received operating fund increases commensurate with most of the rest of the government in recent years.  The chart below shows budgetary growth by major department and agency from FY10, the peak year before the Great Recession, through FY18.  The effects of the recently approved mid-year savings plan are shown at right.  Note that the time period includes the recession itself, the recovery years afterwards and the FY17 9% property tax hike which was marketed as a boost for education.  MCPS’s total funding increased by 13% over these eight years, roughly half the 25% increase for the total county government.  Non-local funding for the schools, the huge majority of which is state aid, went up by 33%.  But local funding for the schools went up by just 6% as the county spent its own money disproportionately on other activities.  Meanwhile, MCPS’s enrollment went up by 15% during this period.

The Weast Machine has been shattered.  Its demise was due to the decline of the economy, conscious policy choices by county decision makers and, ironically, because of the school system’s own leadership as well.  The key moment came in the spring of 2016, when the County Council conditioned its offer of a substantial increase in MCPS funding on a requirement that it go to reducing class size and not to increasing teacher compensation.  The Weast Machine would have resisted that condition, but the system’s leadership agreed to it.  And so the council voted unanimously to instruct the school system to shift $37 million from employee compensation to class size reduction and the school system reduced teacher raises to comply.  The legacy of this moment is that there is no longer a united front between MCPS leaders and their unions – a major loss of leverage in the school system’s dealings with county electeds.  The end result was not so great for the council either as voters, displeased by the big tax hike that year and not mollified by the compensation changes, went on to overwhelmingly approve term limits.

MCEA runs a Facebook ad against the $25 million mid-year cut to MCPS.  The union flooded a town hall meeting with the County Executive to protest it but the County Council approved the cut unanimously.

MCEA will be deciding its 2018 endorsements for county office in the weeks to come.  In the contested races for County Executive, Council At-Large and Council Districts 1 and 3, the mighty Apple Ballot could play a huge role.  Where will the Apple drop?  That depends on how MCEA answers the following two questions.

What to Do With the Incumbents?

Incumbents usually win and MCEA has endorsed the majority of them, including ones who were lukewarm on their issues, in the past.  But in this case, most of the incumbent Council Members voted for multiple very tough budgets, all of them supported reducing teacher raises as a condition of approving more MCPS funding and all of them just voted for a $25 million mid-year cut to MCPS.  Can those strikes be offset by other considerations?

How to Find Someone Better?

Let’s be fair to the incumbents: the recession, the new Maintenance of Effort law and the partial shift of teacher pension funding to the counties created very hard choices.  No matter what they did, the incumbents would have offended someone.  Would the legions of challengers now vying for the Apple’s attention really have done better?  Which ones among them understand the very real and very complicated budget issues that face policy makers?  Which ones will aggressively pursue economic revival, which is necessary for financing all county services – not just MCPS – and supporting justified raises for county employees?  Which ones have the competence to deliver and the character to fight for teachers, parents and students alike?

When those questions are answered, we will know where the Apple drops.

End Note: For those who wish to study MCPS’s funding history, we reprint the following graphic from the County Executive’s recommended FY18 budget below.

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MSEA Makes Early Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) has made early endorsements in state legislative races.  The endorsement of MSEA and its local affiliate, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), deploys the mighty Apple Ballot, one of the most powerful tools in MoCo politics.  The endorsements below are just the first batch and more will follow later.

In MoCo, the teachers are now supporting:

District 14: Senator Craig Zucker, Delegates Eric Luedtke, Pam Queen and Anne Kaiser

District 15: Senator Brian Feldman, Delegates Kathleen Dumais and David Fraser-Hidalgo

District 16: Senator Susan Lee, Delegates Marc Korman and Ariana Kelly and MCEA member Samir Paul

District 18: Delegate Al Carr

District 19: Delegate Bonnie Collision

District 20: Senator Will Smith, Delegates David Moon and Jheanelle Wilkins

District 39: Senator Nancy King, Delegates Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson

All of the above are incumbents except Samir Paul, who is an MCPS teacher and MCEA member running in District 16.  None of them are surprises.  The teachers’ endorsement decisions on open seats and contested races will be very interesting.  We are sure that every candidate is waiting with bated breath!

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