Category Archives: Progressive Neighbors

Progressive Neighbors. . . Again

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I only intended to write two posts about PN (this one and that one).

Really.

But then PN reversed itself on a previously inexplicable decision, which led to another post. And now, people have sent in yet more stories about PN that merit reporting:

(1) School Board Member Judy Docca (District 1) did not win endorsement from PN at least in part because of her “health issues” as the email from PN’s co-chairs to Docca explained. Docca was sick and now uses a wheelchair.

Maryland law prohibits discrimination on the basis of “physical disability” but Progressive Neighbors has, of course, an absolute First Amendment right to decide whether or not to take physical disabilities into account in its endorsement process.

I would hope people would pause before deciding to shove me out the door because I faced new health challenges. Betty Ann Krahnke served ably on the County Council even as she fought Lou Gehrig’s disease.

PN does not mention physical disabilities as part of their commitment to fairness and equality:

Fairness and equality for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, income, sexual orientation or immigrant status.

Still, PN’s general commitment to civil rights would make me think that most of its members would strongly oppose such discrimination despite the Steering Committee’s decision to take Docca’s “health issues” into account in its reconsideration its earlier decision not to endorse her for reelection.

(2) PN has withdrawn its endorsement of Republican Laurie Halverson in her race against Pat O’Neill in District 3. This is the second reversal of an endorsement decision by PN. In the past, Halverson has forcefully opposed to the individual mandate to buy health insurance that is a critical part of the Affordable Care Act.

More related to the job, she testified in favor of allowing the Boy Scouts to distribute flyers in student backpacks even when they still discriminated against gay scouts. The organization still prohibits gay scoutmasters. As noted above, PN opposes discrimination the basis of sexual orientation.

In this case, it is more surprising that PN endorsed Halverson in the first place due to the seeming clash of values.

Progressive Neighbors Caves

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In a previous post (“Not So Progressive Neighbors“), I detailed PN’s problematic, unethical endorsement process. Among other criticisms I made was their inexplicable decision not to endorse incumbent Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez:

Other choices seem as bizarre. In District 18, Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez has long been a stalwart staunch progressive. How on earth can she, the first Latina elected to public office in Montgomery County who passionately favors left-wing policies to reduce economic inequality, not be progressive enough?

They’ve quietly changed their mind and endorsed Del. Gutiérrez “after input from our supporters and reconsideration by the Steering Committee.” Disgruntlement with their flawed process has gone beyond the many Democratic incumbents who wouldn’t even respond to their questionnaire.

Looks like PN has taken the first step towards the first step of admitting that they have a problem.

Not So Progressive Neighbors

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Last Friday, I explained how Progressive Neighbors just isn’t attracting the love from incumbent Democrats. A majority of incumbent legislators didn’t even return their candidate questionnaire.

They aren’t the only ones.

Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman didn’t fill one out either. The MO of this campaign has been to seek aggressively virtually every endorsement around the State, so their decision to decline to seek that of Progressive Neighbors speaks volumes.

Surely, the lack of interest from the man who may be the State’s first African-American governor must have caused some navel gazing in this progressive organization even if the policies of Heather Mizeur and Delman Coates better fit their profile.

Brown-Ulman are not the only ones who appear to have made a calculated decision to give PN a pass. Is anyone really surprised that Council President Craig Rice did not bother to fill out the questionnaire when his 2010 opponent–a perfectly nice woman in my experience–sits on the Steering Committee that votes on endorsements?

One major reason for the antipathy expressed by many for Progressive Neighbors’ endorsement process is that 5 of the 19 members of their Steering Committee are running for either the state legislature or the county council. Boards often have a member seeking office but I’ve never heard of five at once.

Not only that but the PN endorsement questionnaires were unbelievably sent out by one of these candidates–even to her opponent. Progressive Neighbors views this as a minor hiccup that was corrected less than a week later after it was pointed out. But it is far more than an oopsy daisy.

Portions of the questionnaire attack corporate cronyism and call for public financing. How can people so concerned about inappropriate influence on politics think it was a good idea for a candidate to send a questionnaire to her opponent?

PN’s endorsement questionnaire goes on at great length about transparency:

Progress has been made in improving transparency in the General Assembly over the past four years, with greater access to online tools for the public, the posting online of committee votes, and increased audio and video coverage of legislative deliberations. Much still remains to be done, however, including posting of subcommittee votes, committee amendments and votes, and the institution of a system to allow constituents to sign up to testify online the day before a committee hearing so they don’t have to spend all day in Annapolis waiting to testify. Do you support these improvements, and do you have others you’d like to offer? Are you willing to support special elections to fill legislative vacancies? Do you support stripping the party central committees of the power of appointment, which ultimately lies with the Governor?

But the structure of the organization and its endorsement process is less open than might appear at first glance. The PN Steering Committee is elected by . . . the Steering Committee. The same committee–the one with five members running for office–also controls the endorsement process.

In this process, PN doesn’t model the open behavior it would like to see in the General Assembly:

The Steering Committee may choose to have a secret ballot on certain concerns and some meetings may be closed. Steering Committee members will be encouraged to keep individual Steering Committee members’ votes in confidence.

Surprisingly, the Steering Committee did not endorse two of their own members. In News of the Weird, Jonathan Shurberg and Will Smith were progressive enough to serve on the Steering Committee but not to be endorsed. I imagine that PN would argue that it somehow proves the integrity of their process but it is also just odd since both are credible, progressive candidates.

Other choices seem as bizarre. In District 18, Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez has long been a stalwart staunch progressive. How on earth can she, the first Latina elected to public office in Montgomery County who passionately favors left-wing policies to reduce economic inequality, not be progressive enough?

On the other hand, the organization endorsed both Steering Committee Member Terrill North and Del. Tom Hucker for the open District 5 County Council seat. Apparently, PN decided to give Hucker, generally viewed as a solid left winger, a pass on his recent vote against indexation of the minimum wage in the House (Gutiérrez along with Mizeur and Ivey voted yea) despite having pressed that the County adopt this stand.

Progressive Neighbors has a nice sounding name and provides another decal that endorsed candidates can stick on their literature. Beyond that, especially outside of District 20, they cannot provide anything meaningful with the endorsement. As one liberal legislator explained to me, “Nobody fills out their questionnaire because they demand extreme positions and offer nothing of value.”

Progressive Neighbors Debates Maryland’s Foreign Policy

Lots of issues came up at the Progressive Neighbors Forum in Takoma Park yesterday but the issue that generated the most heat was American Studies Association boycott (ASA) of Israeli scholarly institutions.

Two bills have been cross-filed in the Maryland General Assembly directed at undermining the ASA boycott. Montgomery Del. Ben Kramer has filed HB 998 with a number of cosponsors: Delegates Barkley, Barve, Bates, Boteler, Cardin, Cluster, Costa, Cullison, Eckardt, Frank, Fraser, Hidalgo, Frick, Gaines, Gilchrist, Glenn, Haddaway, Riccio, Hogan, Hucker, Impallaria, Jacobs, Kach, Kaiser, A. Kelly, Kipke, Lafferty, Luedtke, McComas, McConkey, W. Miller, Morhaim, Myers, Olszewski, Otto, Pendergrass, Ready, Reznik, B. Robinson, S. Robinson, Rosenberg, Serafini, Simmons, Stein, Stocksdale, Szeliga, Valderrama, Vaughn, Waldstreicher, M. Washington, Weir, Wood, and Zucker.  Due to timing, Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway did not have time to seek cosponsors for the parallel bill in the Senate, SB 647.

Peace Action Montgomery distributed flyers at the forum (see page 1 above with 2 and 3 below) arguing strongly against the bill as unconstitutional and just plain wrong. Although many in the audience opposed the bill–no one in the audience expressed support–the bill is not on Progressive Neighbors’ very lengthy priority list.

Sen. Roger Manno was in the line of fire at the meeting. He attacked the boycott and defended the bill’s central goal in the Washington Jewish Week:

In an interview after the hearing Manno explained, “My responsibility as a lawmaker and as a member of the Senate budget and taxation committee, which writes that check, is to ensure that the dollars are spent wisely and that it reflects the values of our community. … And we don’t support [the boycott that the ASA is supporting].”

The same article notes that UMBC has issued a statement condemning the ASA boycott, as have many academic institutions.

There is a certain irony to Peace Action Montgomery’s opposition to the bill. The boycott’s proponents handed out flyers lauding the long history of boycotts to promote social justice from India to South Africa . . . in order to condemn the proposal that the State of Maryland boycott ASA as a statement in support of its view of a more just world.

Thought experiment: What would Peace Action Montgomery’s response be to a proposed ASA boycott of HBCUs?

The arguments that the bill violates academic freedom are specious. The proposed legislation would not ban any professor from supporting ASA’s boycott, attending ASA conferences, or membership in ASA. It just wouldn’t permit Maryland institutions to pay for it. Universities regularly decide which scholarly activities they deem worthy of support. We may not agree with them but the State has a right to decide how to spend its money and which endeavors to support.

In political science, we are experiencing this up close. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Coburn successfully amended the bill that funds the National Science Foundation so that grants may only go to proposals that aid national security. As you might suspect, this has not gone down well with most political scientists. But no one questions its constitutionality or claims it violates the First Amendment.

This issue has a profound potential to alienate Jewish Democrats and other supporters of Israel. I believe heavy majorities of Jewish Democrats strongly support, even yearn for, a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry is working doggedly to address the real barriers to a workable and lasting peace despite extreme difficulties. Nonetheless, ASA’s efforts to isolate Israel offend deeply and undercut them. Jews may not be unanimous on this issue (we seem incapable of it; just watch either the Knesset or Life of Brian) but the vast majority strongly oppose efforts to boycott Israel.

Not to mention that Israeli universities are often the center of efforts to build peace within Israel, which makes one suspect that the academic body of scholars focused on studying America perhaps doesn’t know too much about it. Regardless, I imagine that I am not the only one amazed at the idea that the world awaits with bated breath the opinion of academic organizations on various issues of the day, particularly those completely outside that organization’s area of expertise. (OK: irony of blog-writing academic condemning pronouncements on issues of the day by academics is duly noted.)

Jews are passionate for peace and for Israel. Trying to make them choose is a losing strategy. I don’t think legislators or candidates are going to find it easy to straddle this issue.