No Wonder Republicans Love the Idea of Redistricting Reform

CompliantThe Governor’s Redistricting Reform Commission has hashed out a set of recommendations for redistricting reform. No doubt Common Cause, the Washington Post, and Gov. Larry Hogan will hail them as major progress toward a fairer redistricting process.

I look forward to reading the detailed, final recommendations but, based on reports in the media, the Democrats would be committing political malpractice to accept them.

According to Maryland Reporter, “The commission will recommend that any new independent commission apply current state standards for legislative districts to congressional redistricting.” As they note, current requirements for state legislative districts include:

  1. Equal populations
  2. Adherence to the Voting Rights Act
  3. Contiguity and compactness
  4. Minimize disruption of political subdivisions.

Congressional plans already have to adhere to the first two requirements as well as create contiguous districts. Compactness and minimizing the disruption of political boundaries would be new. Both would likely hurt Democrats, particularly the command to minimize disruption of political subdivisions.

Consider the above map, which I drew quickly as a plan that might comply with the Commission’s recommendations. The districts are about equal in population and it still contains two districts in which blacks form a majority of the voting-age population.

Due to Maryland’s geography and the need to minimize disruption of County boundaries, it is a virtual certainty that Republican districts would have to be drawn in both Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

Unsurprisingly, as indicated in the table below, both would be safe Republican territory. President Obama won just 41% of the vote in each of them in 2012. That one change alone would take the current delegation from 7-1 Democratic to 6-2 Democratic.

CompliantStatsDemocrats are highly concentrated in certain portions of Maryland. That fact combined with the requirement to minimize crossing county and municipal boundaries would make more likely the inclusion of yet a third Republican district. In this plan, the Eighth District (Anne Arundel, Calvert, and St. Mary’s County) would favor Republicans, as President Obama won only 47% of the vote there.

This would take the overall delegation from 7-1 to 5-3–a real victory for Republicans. No doubt advocates for redistricting reform will say that this is very fair, as this would more closely match the partisan division of the state.

Except that parties usually receive a significant bonus in seats when they have as solid an advantage as the Democrats do in Maryland. The current plan has very erose boundaries. But the results are not unusual for states where one party is highly dominant at the federal level, as Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Utah demonstrate.

Democrats might try to force the creation of at least six Democratic districts. However, Republicans would be sure to sue if they could produce a plan that violated fewer county and municipal boundaries while complying with other provisions.

Unilateral Disarmament?

In 2010, Maryland was one of the few states in which Democrats controlled redistricting. Unquestionably, Maryland’s lines squirm around the State–more for incumbency protection than necessary for partisan reasons.

Republicans, however, have zero problem drawing odd lines or using their power to advantage their party when they control the process. In 2012, Democrats won a majority of the U.S. House vote in North Carolina but only won 3 of 13 congressional districts.

If Gov. Hogan could bring the gospel of redistricting reform to more large Republican states, it would be easier for Maryland Democrats to follow. Right now, it is hard to imagine why the Democrats would assent to a reform that assures Republican gains–possibly as many as if they got to draw the lines.

Fundraising in Congressional District 8

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

Money talks and people are talking about money. That’s the vibe in CD8, which could turn out to be the most expensive congressional race in Maryland history. Bethesda Magazine’s Lou Peck and the Washington Post’s Bill Turque have written about the overall numbers and individual donors in the race. Today, I dig deep into the data to reveal more details of the Democratic candidates’ fundraising.

First, the top-line numbers through the third quarter reported by Kathleen Matthews, Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20), Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17), Will Jawando, Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), David Anderson and former Montgomery County Council Member Valerie Ervin (who has withdrawn). Much of this has already been reported and it shows Matthews first, Raskin a close second and Barve third. With almost $3 million raised and more than two quarters to go, this race looks like a record breaker.

CD8 Top LineUnlike state and county contributions, federal contributions must be designated for the primary or the general. Among primary contributions, Matthews’ lead over Raskin grows slightly.

CD8 Primary GeneralBurn rate is the percentage of money raised that has already been spent. Matthews’ burn rate (16%) is far lower than Raskin’s (25%) or Barve’s (35%). That reflects her strategy of saving up for television.

CD8 Burn RateMatthews leads in big contributions. Her average individual contribution is nearly twice the amount of the rest of the field. Almost half of her fundraising has come from maximum individual contributions of $2,700 each. So far, Matthews has received more maximum checks than the rest of the field combined.

CD8 Avg Individual ContributionWhile Matthews has raised the most money, Raskin has a big edge in money raised in Maryland. In-state contributions have accounted for half of Raskin’s total, much higher than Matthews’ 23%. Barve’s in-state 45% ranks second, though he has raised less than half of Raskin’s total in Maryland.

CD8 Contributions by StateHere’s a look at fundraising from individuals in selected communities. The top seven locations are the largest population centers in CD8. Matthews leads in Chevy Chase and (narrowly) in Potomac, but Raskin has the lead in most other places. The bottom seven locations are major sources of contributions outside CD8 and Matthews leads everywhere (including in D.C.). Interestingly, Matthews has raised more money from New York City than from Bethesda. Also, Matthews has raised more money from Los Angeles than from Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Rockville and Kensington combined. That reflects her ability to tap into the Democratic establishment’s national donor network.

CD8 Individual Contributions by CommunityHere are a few takeaways from this data.

  1. Kathleen Matthews’ campaign was predicated on blowing away the rest of the field in fundraising. That is happening with the notable exception of Senator Jamie Raskin, who has so far remained close to her. One factor that could change that is if Matthews’ wealthy supporters open a Super PAC on her behalf. Super PACs are not supposed to coordinate directly with candidate campaigns, but they can raise unlimited contributions and spend them on both positive and negative communication. One can easily imagine twenty Matthews supporters each chipping in $100,000, thereby instantaneously bringing an extra $2 million into the race for their candidate.
  1. Senator Raskin’s strategy of community organizing is paying off big-time for his fundraising. He is leading or nearly tied in fundraising in every populous CD8 community except Chevy Chase and his relatively low average contribution rate leaves plenty of room for repeat contributions. His two biggest challenges are countering Matthews’ likely appeal to women and what happens to his campaign once he has to go back to Annapolis for session next January.
  1. The other candidates are either plainly non-viable or on the verge of getting there because they have not been able to keep up in the money race. That may have been a factor behind the Sierra Club’s endorsement of Senator Raskin. Delegate Barve is the Chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee and that gives him enormous ability to shape state environmental legislation. He has been a serious player on a wide range of environmental issues that long predates Senator Raskin’s service in the General Assembly. The Sierra Club faced a tough choice between the two candidates from the perspective of policy and record, but they chose to jump in for Raskin. That’s not a knock on Barve, but more likely a judgment that Raskin is a stronger choice to take on Matthews. If more progressive groups make that kind of decision, the race will consolidate into a two-person contest between Matthews and Raskin.

And if that happens, here is the key question that will determine who wins. What will matter more? Senator Raskin’s large, enthusiastic and growing grassroots network? Or Kathleen Matthews’ fundraising prowess, media skills and membership in the electorate’s largest sub-component, white women? Your guess is as good as mine!

Mayor Newton’s Planning Commission Nominee Will Moderate Tonight’s Mayoral Debate

Attorney Don Hadley, who was nominated by Mayor Bridget Newton to the Planning Commission and has been a business associate of her husband, will moderate a debate tonight featuring both mayoral and council candidates being held tonight at the King Farm Community Center. The debate will be telecast live on Rockville’s public television channel starting at 7:30, though there is a live meet-and-greet at 7:00.

Hadley, now the Chair of Rockville’s Planning Commission, served as an agent on a property owned by Newton’s husband.  Unfortunately, the questionable choice of Hadley to moderate tonight’s debate is probably the least of the challenges regarding transparency and the role of developer interests in the the City of Rockville.

It follows past cozy practices. When then-Councilmember Newton nominated Hadley to the Rockville Planning Board in 2010, she did not disclose the business relationship in the public session. but merely said “I think he’ll do a wonderful job,” as shown in the video clip below (click here for the the full session and minutes).

Moreover, Newton’s husband may have benefited from the Council’s decision in 2010 not to consider historic designation for the property at 408 Great Falls Road–the same property development which involved Hadley as well as Newton’s husband.

What happened? The then-owner of 408 Great Falls Road applied to have the property rezoned in a manner more favorable for its development (from R-90 to R-90 HD). Staff recommended that the historic designation for the property, so the city council had to decide whether to initiate the process for public consideration of historic designation. Note that this initial step was not to designate the property as historic but only to start the public process of consideration of the idea.

As is common, the property owner opposed designation and thus did not want the Council to move forward with the public process. At this meeting, after first pushing for the property owner to be given a chance to speak, Newton announced that “I need to recuse myself from this vote” because her husband had “made an offer on the property last Spring. The offer was not accepted. I want to be above board and let you all know that that happened.” (See the video below at 12:58 and click here for the full meeting and minutes).

So far, looks like the action of a good public official. Indeed, one of her colleagues, John Britton, wondered publicly why Newton needed to recuse herself, stating: “I understand your recusal and I guess that’s your personal choice. I understand your interest in the property but it’s a past action with no current interest.” (See the video at 15:19.)

Newton responded by saying that “she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” This statement and her decision makes Newton appear even more transparent and careful–seemingly avoiding any taint on the the Council decision not vote to pursue historic designation.

Newton’s stated desire to avoid “the appearance of impropriety” renders it all the more surprising when she informed her colleagues that her husband had “recently secured the property under contract. She disclosed this information just nine days after her silence regarding Britton’s assumption that her husband had no ongoing interest in the property.

The people of Rockville may not think any of this a problem. After all, it was water under the bridge when Newton was elected mayor two years ago. Nevertheless, it serves as an example of the powerful role development interests can end up playing in a process in which they have a keen interest–and why true transparency rather than its appearance matters.

In any case, I still wonder why Don Hadley, someone who Bridget Newton nominated to the Planning Commission and has done business with her husband, is thought to be the right choice to moderate the debate tonight including Newton.

Early Voting Glitches

Rockville, like Gaithersburg, is currently conducting early voting for its municipal elections. According to a report I received, the City of Rockville is trying out new election systems for the state. A glitch in the system could influence results for Council candidates.

Apparently, only seven of the nine candidates appear on the first page of Council candidates. In order to vote for either of the two on the second page (Clark Reed or Patrick Schoof), voters have to go to the second screen before competing their ballot. Voters may cast up to four votes for city council members.

These sorts of seemingly minor ballot design issues can have a real impact on elections. Indeed, they were at the center of a dispute over a close congressional race in Sarasota, Florida in 2008.

UPDATE: Watch this demo video for the new machines and it will become clear rapidly why this problem occurs.

MoCo Consumers Flee from the Department of Liquor Control

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Adam Pagnucco:

Last week, Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer wrote a guest blog on the reasons why county residents opposed the county’s alcohol system in a recent poll by Comptroller Peter Franchot. Council Member Riemer wrote:

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because if the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that MoCo consumers are fleeing the county’s alcohol monopoly and it has nothing to do with the availability of alcohol in grocery stores. Consider the following.

  1. Sales of alcohol are low in MoCo.

Data from Gallup and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services link alcohol consumption to income and education. In other words, as income and education levels rise, alcohol consumption tends to rise too. Since MoCo is one of Maryland’s highest-income and best-educated jurisdictions, the county should be one of its leaders in alcohol consumption. However, that is not reflected in per capita sales data collected by the Comptroller’s office. In terms of per capita sales deliveries to retail licensees inside each county, MoCo ranks 13th of 24 jurisdictions in wine, tied for 23rd in spirits and dead last (by far) in beer. Among the counties out-ranking MoCo in per capita wine sales are Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford and Kent, all mostly rural jurisdictions with far less disposable income than MoCo. Does anyone believe that MoCo residents drink less wine than people in Western Maryland? Grocery stores cannot explain this discrepancy because the huge majority of counties in Maryland have restrictions on grocery store sales of alcohol. As Comptroller Peter Franchot has said, MoCo residents simply cross the border to buy liquor.

  1. MoCo residents flee the county to go to Total Wine.

Total Wine, which is headquartered in MoCo and owned by MoCo residents, is one of the nation’s largest alcohol retailers and is famous for its big stores, huge selection and low prices. The company refuses to open a store in MoCo because the county’s alcohol monopoly “doesn’t favor the free market.” But Total Wine has plenty of MoCo residents among its customers. The company estimates that over 20% of its McLean store sales and nearly 25% of its Laurel store sales are accounted for by MoCo customers. David Lublin’s price comparison explains why: Total Wine blows away county liquor stores on both price and selection. Other jurisdictions gain at our expense.

  1. The Department of Liquor Control’s own consultant found major problems in its operations.

A consultant hired by the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) found a host of problems in county liquor stores. Here are three from the consultant’s 2014 report.

Lack of administrative flexibility – Unlike most County functions, DLC operates in a wholesale/retail sales environment. In many instances, it lacks the flexibility and ability to respond quickly, which is necessary for it to best serve its customers and do so profitably. This lack of control over key decisions also manifests itself in other identified weaknesses.

Staffing – The DLC often lacks the ability to apply normal staffing techniques found in private retail. For example, there are generally two peak seasons for liquor retail operations: the Winter Holiday season and Summer Fourth of July season. Most DLC stores would, for comparison purposes, be similar to an independent liquor retail store (as opposed to a ‘Big Box’ chain store or grocery store). In these establishments, it would be likely that rather than adding permanent full-time staff to handle these peak seasons, the business would hire temporary staff. However, because of County collective bargaining agreements, they generally do not have this flexibility, which either leads to staffing shortages (which can negatively impact sales) or a working environment for existing staff that hampers morale and productivity.

Older stores/locations/rental contracts – In several instances, stores are in obvious need of basic repairs or refurbishment – including scarred floors and counters, old racks, lighting and entrances. Given that the DLC leases all of its locations, in many instances it has little leverage to demand improvements prior to the end of the lease.

Lack of flexibility, staff shortages and sub-standard stores. Is this what MoCo consumers deserve?

  1. D.C. liquor stores camp out at our border.

The graphic below shows seven liquor stores in D.C. within four blocks of the MoCo border. If MoCo consumers were happy with the county’s alcohol system, why would this be happening?

DC liquor stores

  1. The only county liquor store with true competition is losing money and will close.

Most county liquor stores are insulated from competition because they are the only suppliers of spirits in their vicinity. The one exception is the store in Friendship Heights, which is adjacent to the D.C. border. Since the surrounding area is affluent and wealthy people often buy up-scale beverages, one would expect this store to be a strong money maker. But the store lost $278,431 in 2013 – the only county liquor store that lost money – and will soon close. It’s not a coincidence that D.C.’s Paul’s Wine and Spirits is just three blocks away. The county’s decision to close this store is an admission that its stores can’t compete with the private sector. And if that’s the case, why should they be protected by a state-ordered monopoly?

MoCo’s alcohol monopoly and its accompanying fleet of county liquor stores are unacceptable to county consumers and that was clear long before this blog released the Comptroller’s poll results on the subject. So what is the county doing about that? Why, it’s opening more county liquor stores. That’s like promising Kirk Cousins more playing time with every interception he throws.

Look folks. Our system’s premise is that MoCo residents are children, inferior to our fellows in the rest of the region, and that we must be controlled by the heavy hand of government for our own good. Well, guess what? We’re not children and we know what we want: the same freedom of choice that everyone else in the region has. We don’t want excuses. We don’t want tweaks. We don’t want vague promises of improvement.

We want to End the Monopoly.

Good Solution on Early Voting

The Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) has agreed to reinstate the original nine early voting (EV) centers, instead of closing ones in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase to relocate them to more Republican Potomac and Brookville.

In return, the all-Democratic state legislative delegation has agreed to support legislation to open a tenth EV center in Montgomery. My guess is that this one would be in Potomac, since that location was preferred by the BOE over Brookville when they agreed to reopen the Burtonsville EV center.

Here is the communication from MCDCC:

The Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) voted to reinstate 8 of the original early voting centers from the 2014 election and the Wheaton Firehouse to replace the Wheaton Community Center, which is undergoing rennovation. This includes the Praisner and Lawton centers advocated by the MCDCC, County Council, and State Legislators, as well as numerous community members and non-partisan community groups. The decision means that they will submit the 9 centers to the State BOE for approval at their special meeting on Friday October 23.

A critical part of this decision is that the MCDCC and State Delegation made a commitment to submit legislation at the beginning of the Legislative Session in January to add a 10th early voting center in Montgomery County for the 2016 election. The County Council also made a commitment to establish a 10th early voting center.

Although the decision by the Board today will not be final until it is approved by the State BOE, voters in Montgomery County should be pleased with the outcome.

We will be in touch after the State BOE meeting on Friday to report on the final decision.

Darrell Anderson
MCDCC Chair

Shame on American Airlines II

On Thursday, the Washington Post published a story (“Shame on American!”) about how a woman was bullied by an American Airlines flight attendant to the point of tears and forced off the plane for doing nothing wrong according to the other passengers.

Earlier the same week, American Airlines showed off its shameful company values when it blamed someone else in a sad effort to cover up its own incompetence and poor security (The events occurred on USAirways, owned and operated by AA. Indeed, USAirways ceased entirely to exist as a separate carrier this weekend.)

On USAirways Flight 1718 from Orlando MCO to Washington DCA on October 12th, the plane taxied to the runway but then returned to the gate and asked a passenger to leave the plane. It then took off around an hour after its scheduled departure time.

Roughly 15 minutes into the flight, the pilot announced that we had to return to Orlando because the passenger who was removed from the flight had “faked a ticket” but his luggage was still on the plane. The pilot explained that he did not believe that there was any significant security threat, but as we were heading to “DC,”  he didn’t want to take any chances.

I contacted American Airlines after the flight to investigate. After all, faking your way on to a plane is a serious matter. Was anyone arrested? How did this occur?

Turns out that no one “faked a ticket.” There were two people with the same name. Apparently, both were headed to DCA (or AA thought they were both going to DCA). An AA agent issued a boarding pass mistakenly for “John Smith” #2 after checking his driver’s license, according to AA.

Both passengers managed to board the plane. Indeed, when they had the same seat, the airline announced an overbooking situation and offered vouchers to induce someone to leave the plane. We ended up returning to the gate the first time because the wrong John Smith was still on the plane.

At this point, one wonders how two people with the same seat could be allowed to board the same flight without the second one being flagged since the first had already boarded. Additionally, why did AA fail to sort out the problem properly before we left the gate?

We had to return to Orlando after takeoff because only then–after we had already returned to the gate one time and finally left for DC– did AA realized that the wrong John Smith’s luggage was still on the plane.

The pilot’s announcement that a passenger had “faked a ticket” was “incorrect” according to Alexis Coello, AA’s Corporate Communications Manager at American Airlines Miami Hub. She explained that the pilot had made a safety call to return to Orlando because the wrong man’s luggage was still on the plane.

Of course, this doesn’t explain why AA did not remove Smith’s luggage after we returned to the gate the first time. When I asked if AA should have removed his luggage at that point, Coello stated “I’m not going to answer that question,” which is a nonetheless a very revealing answer.

Letting the wrong person get on a plane is bad enough but failing to sort out whether his luggage was on the plane after he had already been removed was flat out negligent. It also doesn’t explain why the passengers were misinformed about a faked ticket or why AA has not corrected the record.

While Coello says that pilot did not have complete information, “faked a ticket” comes across as an attempt to evade responsibility for poor security and why the flight that took more than twice as long as scheduled on a clear, sunny day with no traffic issues at either airport.

No apology for either the incompetence or the incorrect information has yet been issued by AA. When I asked Coello if AA had plans to do so, she sounded shocked by the very idea and asked: “How would we be able to do that?” Um, perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult because AA has the addresses and phone numbers and probably email addresses of the passengers.

So AA doesn’t just bully customers off its planes, it mishandles security issues and then tries to mislead their customers in order to minimize responsibility.

Hans Riemer Responds on Opposition to the County Alcohol Monopoly

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), author of the proposed changes to the County liquor laws. (You can read a counterpoint in a previous post by Adam Pagnucco.)

I was very interested to see the results from the survey question commissioned by Comptroller Franchot. I expected to see that residents of Montgomery County are deeply dissatisfied with the alcohol regulations they endure under the county and state. That is why I led the effort to raise these issues and end the DLC’s wholesale monopoly as chair of the Council Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control.

I strongly believe our county alcohol regime holds back the vibrancy of our restaurant and nightlife economy and negatively impacts the choices residents get in stores. Our state regime, which denies the convenience of shopping for beer and wine at grocery stores or other large chain retailers, is also badly out of touch with our residents.

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because of the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

Most importantly we don’t know from this poll how much support would exist for getting rid of county stores if it means having less funds available for schools, police, parks, and the like. Because the warehouse would have to move to the capital budget if the DLC were eliminated, the plan would also affect school construction and other capital needs.

After six months of council work sessions with stakeholders, and detailed survey work with stores and restaurants, the Council proposal focuses on something we know factually to be true.  We can come up with an efficient and effective distribution regime by allowing the private sector to deliver craft beer and fine wine. This ends the monopoly by giving the private sector 25,000 boutique brands to distribute, while the county retains only the 4,500 big brands.

The statewide policies of course can only be addressed at that level.

In conclusion, this one poll question does not tell us all very much about the complicated decisions that together our county and state must make. So we will need to use our best judgment.

My belief is that if the county can accomplish what it has proposed and if the state can reform the statewide policies that need to be addressed, the combination — a huge change from the status quo — will bring our residents what they want and deserve.

You can read more about our proposal here, which was unanimously supported by my Council colleagues, and the County Executive, as well as restaurants, stores and the county employee union. It will be before our county delegation for their consideration this coming session.