Category Archives: Progressive Maryland

LIUNA’s Endorsement of Hogan is a Big Deal

By Adam Pagnucco.

In politics, it’s an iron law that unions always endorse Democrats, yeah?  Labor is known for supplying money and manpower to the Democratic Party in an alliance dating back decades.  But the truth is more complicated owing to the complexities within the labor movement little appreciated by outsiders.  And that truth just erupted in the Governor’s race in a big way.

Recently, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), one of the largest unions in the country, endorsed Republican Governor Larry Hogan.  As the Washington Post noted, LIUNA had supported Hogan’s 2014 opponent, then-Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, and gave him a last-minute $500,000 loan.  Why is this such a big deal?

First, LIUNA is in part a building trades union.  A big chunk of its half a million members work in the construction industry alongside unions representing carpenters, electricians, operating engineers, iron workers, bricklayers and more.  Accordingly, it has an interest in landing construction projects for its members.  The Post reported, “A spokesman for the union said it is backing Hogan because of his emphasis on building roads and bridges – particularly his $9 billion proposal to add toll plans to Maryland’s most congested highways.”  LIUNA Mid-Atlantic Vice President Dennis Martire added, “Transportation infrastructure continues to take a back seat for many elected officials… It’s refreshing to see Governor Hogan’s proposed plans for Maryland’s roads and highways.”  Local organizations affiliated with two other building trades unions – the Roofers and the Plumbers and Pipefitters – have also endorsed Hogan.  Don’t be surprised if more trades climb on board.

Second, LIUNA is one of the most diverse unions in the country.  It represents large numbers of African Americans and Latinos who are not as socially conservative as the other trades and public safety unions that are supporting Hogan.  Many LIUNA members are government employees, and in Montgomery County, the union represents trash haulers who are employed by county contractors.  The union’s legislative agenda goes beyond traditional building trades issues.  In endorsing Rich Madaleno in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the union cited his work on earned sick leave and the $15 minimum wage.  LIUNA also endorsed Marc Elrich for County Executive.  That’s right, folks – here is an organization that supported Madaleno, Elrich, Brown AND Hogan.

Third, LIUNA spends massive amounts on Maryland political campaigns.  From 2005 through June 2018, the union contributed $2.2 million to Maryland candidates, PACs and independent expenditure committees.  Its biggest expenditures were $678,065 to the Clean Slate Baltimore PAC opposing 2016 Mayor candidate (and former Mayor) Sheila Dixon; $528,500 to Anthony Brown’s 2014 campaign for Governor; $150,000 to the One State One Future Super PAC for Brown; $78,250 to the state Democratic Party; and $35,000 to the Progressive Maryland PAC that ran negative TV ads against County Executive candidate David Blair.  There is no indication that the union will spend any money promoting Hogan, who – Lord knows! – doesn’t need more money.  But LIUNA’s resources are now off the table for Democratic nominee Ben Jealous, who could have used them.

Speaking of Progressive Maryland, LIUNA is one of their dues-paying affiliates.  That didn’t stop Progressive Maryland from criticizing LIUNA’s endorsement of Hogan on Facebook, an almost unheard-of act by an umbrella group against a member.  That’s how much LIUNA’s choice stings the left.

Finally, consider this.  One of the most remarkable findings in the recent Gonzales poll showing a sixteen-point lead for Hogan over Jealous was its estimates for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County.  Those are two jurisdictions Jealous needs to win by big margins, but the poll shows him leading Hogan by six points in the City and thirteen points in Prince George’s.  We are skeptical that those margins will hold.  But to the extent that middle-class African Americans are a key to the election, it’s hard to think of many labor unions that represent more middle-class African Americans than LIUNA.

There’s a long way to go to Election Day and Jealous still has some large and powerful groups behind him.  But none of this is good for the Democrats.  Hogan must be smiling all the way to the hiring hall and beyond.

Disclosure: The author worked for LIUNA in 1994 and 1995 and spent sixteen years working for building trades unions.


Evaluating the Allegations Against Blair

By Adam Pagnucco.

Businessman David Blair is the only candidate in the County Executive race to be targeted by both negative mail and two negative TV ads.  The combined expenditures for these mailers and TV ads now total over a half million dollars, making Blair the only Executive candidate to take fire on that financial scale.

How do we evaluate these attacks?

First, your author has a background in evaluating evidence of corporate conduct.  For sixteen years, I was a strategic researcher in the labor movement.  One of my jobs was to investigate companies who were targets of union organizing campaigns.  I performed dozens of these investigations and it was painstaking, tedious work.  The basic descriptives of the company – its business lines, affiliates, history, executives, finances, work locations, project experience, client lists, political contributions and so on – were a necessary predicate for researching its safety, labor, environmental, legal and media records.  Some of the dossiers I compiled were over a hundred pages and required months of travel to assemble.  I had three primary tasks: gather the information, determine its utility and craft it into communication pieces that were truthful, relevant and avoided the risk of defamation litigation.  Over the years, I uncovered extraordinarily bad behavior on the part of employers including but not limited to sexual harassment, racial discrimination, threatening deportation to block union organizing campaigns, environmental destruction, bid rigging, intentionally exposing employees to lethal working conditions to save money and a LOT more.  That research background gives me a standard of comparison for some of the allegations against Blair and it is partially through that prism that I write today’s post.

Here are the main allegations against Blair.

He is a former Republican with a spotty voting record.

This is true and Blair has admitted to it.  Blair is one of two former Republicans running for office in MoCo this year.  The other is Council District 1 candidate Meredith Wellington, who was a Republican member of the Planning Board as recently as 2007, four years after Blair became a Democrat.  Those who would pass judgment on Blair for this should hold Wellington to the same standard assuming that either is to be judged at all.

He is a self-funder who has not held political office.

This is also true.  Blair is one of MANY self-funding Democrats who have run for office, including Senators Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Herb Kohl and Jon Corzine and House members John Delaney, Jane Harman and Jared Polis.  Then there is party-hopping, self-funding former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who now spends millions to promote gun control and plans to spend $80 million to elect Democratic House candidates, acts for which he is praised by the left.  And liberal self-funder Ned Lamont, who famously challenged Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman from the left in 2006, was just endorsed by the Democratic Party for Governor.  All of these politicians self-financed millions in their races so if Blair is to be criticized, so must all the rest.  In any event, only one self-funder above the $200,000 level has won office from MoCo in the last twelve years.  Our county’s history demonstrates that money can never substitute for a real agenda that connects with voters.

One of his former companies settled a class action over disability insurance.

There was indeed a settlement and there is a website documenting the lawsuit.  The complaint alleges a variety of violations related to disability insurance sold by one of Blair’s companies that was endorsed by former actor Christopher Reeve.  But Blair himself did not settle the case: he sold the company in 2012 and the suit was settled five years later.  That means one or more of the successor entities and/or co-defendants made the decision to settle, and if Blair thought the suit was without merit, he did not get to decide whether to fight it at trial.  Finally, a settlement does not equate to a trial verdict in determining the truth of a complaint – indeed, the whole point of a settlement is to avoid trial and a finding of fact either way.  The Blair campaign commented on the suit here.

“Blair’s company jacked prescription drug prices.”

This is a key claim in Progressive Maryland’s TV ad and it is based on one 2012 opinion article in the Daily Kos.  Now let’s reflect on the nature of the Daily Kos.  It’s a liberal opinion blog that allows content submissions from thousands of people without the editorial standards of traditional journalistic organizations like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  The site’s terms of use state:

We are an Internet Service Provider, e.g., We are Not Responsible For and Do Not Necessarily Hold the Opinions Expressed by Our Content Contributors.

It should go without saying that with hundreds of thousands of registered users, and tens of thousands of diarist/bloggers, there is great diversity in thoughts and opinions. So just because you read it on the site doesn’t mean “the site” said it or thinks it. That would make for a very schizophrenic site.

The Daily Kos itself does not represent its content as fact-based.  Accordingly, without further investigation, an opinion article of this kind does not automatically deserve the presumption of truth.

A still shot from Progressive Maryland’s ad.

As a corporate researcher and a political writer, your author is acquainted with the standards of defamation when applied to public figures.  Briefly put, a public figure (like a celebrity or politician) can only win a defamation judgment against a defendant if the defendant knowingly made a false statement or made a statement with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

This came up all the time in my work for the labor movement as fortifying our communications against defamation suits was a very high priority.  For everything we said about a targeted employer, I had reams of paperwork (usually court records) to back it up.  I am confident that my union’s attorneys would have blocked me from using something like the Daily Kos article unless I had interviewed the author and acquired documents to back up his or her statements.  And even then, our attorneys probably would have still blocked it as unverified by a traditional media organization, government entity or court.

Finally, the way in which Progressive Maryland’s ad characterizes the settlement and the Daily Kos post is very problematic.  The ad said, “Blair’s company jacked prescription drug prices and another company sold virtually worthless disability claims.”  It would be truthful to say that Blair’s companies were accused of these things.  But allegations from settled claims that were not decided in court and an opinion blog post should not be characterized as objective facts.  It’s these kinds of loose standards that make people so skeptical of political ads.

David Blair is equivalent to Donald Trump.

This one has been made in both negative TV ads and by Blair critics too numerous to count.

Another still shot from Progressive Maryland’s ad.

Equating Blair to Trump fundamentally misjudges the nature of Trump.  If Trump’s sole failings were his wealth and inexperience, he would be no different from all the many other self-funders who run for office.  The real reason why Trump is the Anti-Christ of progressive politics is that he is a vicious racist, misogynist and xenophobe whose narcissism is matched only by his greed and stupidity.  He is literally separating children from their parents and jamming them into detention centers.  And that’s just a start!  Saying that Blair is the same as Trump is over the top.

Trump is holding immigrant children in cages like this one.  David Blair is not Donald Trump.

Our judgment on Blair is that he has his liabilities, especially being a former Republican and desiring high office without prior elected experience.  It’s understandable that voters might choose to oppose him on those grounds alone.  But critiques of his business record pale in comparison to the dozens of investigations your author conducted in the labor movement.  And his critics’ claims that he is equivalent to Trump are out of bounds.  Furthermore, we give him credit for highlighting economic competitiveness as one of his core themes as it aligns with our many concerns on that issue.

Whatever its outcome, we eagerly await the end of this increasingly brutal campaign.


The Most Negative TV Ad in MoCo Executive History

By Adam Pagnucco.

As chronicled by both Seventh State and the Washington Post, this is the attack ad being run by a group of unions and Casa in Action against County Executive candidate David Blair.  Unlike Roger Berliner’s ad, this one has no positive component to it.  We have consulted many of our sources who have been in MoCo politics for decades and none can recall a more negative TV ad ever run in a Montgomery County Executive campaign.


Labor Pumps Money Into Anti-Blair Super PAC

By Adam Pagnucco.

Four labor unions and an immigrant advocacy organization have contributed a combined $90,000 to a Super PAC which opposes the election of David Blair as Montgomery County Executive.

The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC is a Super PAC affiliated with Progressive Maryland.  The Super PAC’s Chair, Larry Stafford, is Progressive Maryland’s Executive Director.  The group has previously distributed anti-Blair flyers but now has the money to do a lot more than that.

The Super PAC’s campaign finance filings indicate that it was organized for the purpose of supporting gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, State Senate candidates Jill Carter, Antonio Hayes and Mary Washington, State’s Attorney candidate Victor Ramirez and Delegate candidate Melissa Wells and opposing State Senator Bobby Zirkin, State’s Attorney candidate Ivan Bates and Blair.  But the labor contributions to the Super PAC were explicitly designated to opposing Blair.  Those contributions included $35,000 from MCGEO, $35,000 from the Laborers, $10,000 from UNITE HERE Local 25, $5,000 from SEIU Local 500 and $5,000 from immigrant advocacy group Casa in Action.  All of these organizations except for UNITE HERE Local 25 have endorsed Marc Elrich for Executive, as has Progressive Maryland.

Of these contributions, $10,000 has been spent on a video opposing Blair.  We imagine MoCo voters will be seeing that video soon.

With $80,000 remaining, the Super PAC has enough money to finance mailers and more.  What’s unclear is how much more money it can raise with labor spending almost a million dollars to elect Ben Jealous as Governor and more than $600,000 to elect Donna Edwards as Prince George’s County Executive.  Still, they are playing in MoCo and we expect them to play hard.


Progressive Maryland Endorses for County Council

By Adam Pagnucco.

Progressive Maryland, an umbrella organization containing several influential progressive groups, has announced it is endorsing the following candidates for County Council.

At-Large: Brandy Brooks, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv and Chris Wilhelm

District 1: Ana Sol Gutierrez

District 3: Ben Shnider

District 4: Nancy Navarro

District 5: Tom Hucker

Progressive Maryland has previously endorsed Marc Elrich for County Executive and Ben Jealous for Governor.  Brooks is an employee of the organization.  Hucker founded the group’s predecessor, Progressive Montgomery.

Two things strike us as interesting here.  First, this is the first major institutional endorsement not received by at-large incumbent Hans Riemer.  (SEIU Local 500 has endorsed three non-incumbents in the at-large race but left a spot open for Riemer contingent on further events in Rockville.)  Second, Progressive Maryland’s affiliates include MCGEO, UFCW Local 400 (grocery store workers), the SEIU Maryland/D.C. council, NOW and ATU Local 689 (WMATA), all of whom play in MoCo elections.  Does Progressive Maryland’s decision provide insight on which candidates may be endorsed by these other groups?


Assembly Electeds Dis Progressive Neighbors


Progressive Neighbors, an organization originally formed to support the candidacy of Sen. Jamie Raskin, now has a separate life of its own and says that it endorses candidates in four of the eight Montgomery County legislative districts: 14, 18, 19, and 20.

However, most elected officials are just not interested. Only two of the four Senate incumbents bothered to return PN’s questionnaires, including Sen. Raskin. Among the nine delegate incumbents, just three responded.

If the organization was the NRA or Marylanders for Life, this would not be shocking. But Progressive Neighbors aspires to be an endorsement that Democratic candidates covet. Indeed, they made repeated efforts to get electeds to submit questionnaires.

PN sent the following odd note–sort of like a rejection letter for a job to which you never applied –to Del. Anne Kaiser:

Dear Anne; [sic]

We are writing to inform you that the Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee did not vote to recommend an endorsement of your candidacy to our membership in the June 2014 Primary election for House of Delegates Legislative District 14. Per our bylaws, endorsements must be reviewed by the membership and reaffirmed by the Steering Committee after member review. That process is beginning now with a mailing to our membership, and we believe it more considerate that you hear of our actions directly from us, rather than indirectly.

Thank you for completing our questionnaire, which the Steering Committee carefully considered. We also thank you for your willingness to serve our community and your efforts to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. While we are not endorsing you at this time, we welcome the opportunity to work with you in the future to help bring about a more equitable and just society for all. Unless you object, we will be adding you to our email list, if you’re not already on it, so you’ll continue to be informed about our positions and issues. (If you’d rather not be added to our email list, please let us know.)

Del. Anne Kaiser shared with me her reply:

Dear Wally,

Thanks for your email. I must admit that I am a little confused by it, and would hate for you to inadvertently misinform your members.  I find it curious that you mention that you have “carefully considered” my questionnaire: I did not submit one for your consideration.

I am a proud progressive, who in my 12 years in office has been on the vanguard of the progressive movement in the State of Maryland. I have been a key leader on issues including: making the Dream Act a reality, supporting tougher gun laws, raising the minimum wage, promoting transgender and marriage equality, repealing the death penalty, advocating for clean energy and the protection of our bay.  I am a passionate supporter of our unionized brothers and sisters and fiercely fought for their collective bargaining rights.  As a member of the Ways & Means committee I have worked tirelessly to make our tax code fairer for all and as chair of the Education Subcommittee, I have advocated and promoted policies to enhance our nation leading K-12 system.

I hope that you’ll carefully consider the points that I have made when communicating my position, more honestly, to your members.

Anne Kaiser