The GOP Bench, Part II

The following is a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

The Maryland Democratic Party’s top goal is defeating Governor Larry Hogan. The Maryland Republican Party’s top goal is getting him reelected. But the context of the next election is not simply about Hogan and his Democratic opponent. The context also includes other state and local offices, and in that arena, the GOP is on the march.

To demonstrate that, we compiled data on party identification of office holders at the state and local levels in 2003 (the first year of Governor Ehrlich’s term) and 2015 (the first year of Governor Hogan’s term). The offices we examined are State Senate, Delegate, County Executive (including the Mayor of Baltimore), county councils and commissions, State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs. For Senators and Delegates we compiled results at the regional level (large individual counties and groups of small counties) because state legislative districts often cross over county lines. All local offices are reported by county.

Let’s look at State Senators first.

State Senators

The party split of Senators is identical for both 2003 and 2015: 33 Democrats and 14 Republicans. There were no major regional changes between the two years. The imbalance in favor of Democrats is preserved in this category. (Note that the change numbers in the right column don’t add to zero because some regions overlap each other.)

Now let’s look at Delegates.

Delegates

The GOP won a record number of Delegate seats in 2014, but their total (50) is not that much more than it was in 2003 (42). A few regional trends are apparent. The Democrats are down to one Delegate on the Eastern Shore. They are close to an even count in Southern Maryland, although that is because one of the area’s three legislative districts is split with heavily Democratic Prince George’s County. The two Democratic Delegates in Western Maryland come from a district that is narrowly drawn around the City of Frederick. Baltimore City has lost two Delegates who would normally be Democrats because of population shifts.

Despite these changes, the Democrats are firmly in control of the General Assembly and proved it by overriding all six of Governor Hogan’s vetoes. The REAL changes are taking place in local governments, far from the attention of Annapolis and Democratic officials in the party’s strongholds of the City of Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s.

We’ll illustrate that in Part Three.

The GOP Bench, Part I

The following is a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

Competition between Governor Larry Hogan and General Assembly Democrats has been hot and heavy since the Governor’s first State of the State speech and his first budget. The Governor has alternated between calling for bipartisanship and landing heavy partisan blows against his opponents. The Democrats have responded by holding up some of his legislative agenda and overriding all six of his vetoes. Battle lines are clearly being drawn for 2018.

Hogan is sometimes compared to his former employer, Governor Bob Ehrlich. When Ehrlich won the 2002 general election, Democrats chalked it up to the lackluster campaign run by their nominee and regarded him as a fluke. They soon rallied around Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and kicked out Ehrlich after one term. O’Malley decimated Ehrlich in their 2010 rematch by 14 points. Senate President Mike Miller promised to bury the Republicans and predicted it would take them forty years to recover. And then Hogan was elected.

Like Ehrlich, Hogan ran against an underwhelming Democratic Lieutenant Governor. Like Ehrlich, Hogan has positive job approval ratings (although Hogan’s are a bit higher for the moment.) And like Ehrlich, Hogan has problematic relations with the General Assembly. But there is one major difference between the two: the Maryland Republican Party is stronger now than it was in Ehrlich’s day.

Prior to Ehrlich, the last Republican Governor was former Baltimore County Executive Spiro Agnew, elected in 1966. Four straight multi-term Democratic Governors (and one Acting Governor) separated Ehrlich and Agnew. In that time period, the GOP had two U.S. Senators (John Glenn Beall and Charles Mathias) but those offices have both been held by Democrats since Barbara Mikulski’s election in 1986. The Democrats held most U.S. House seats and controlled most of the large local governments during the majority of this period. The GOP was rarely a factor in either politics or government.

Ehrlich was criticized by some for not doing enough to change this imbalance. During his time in office, the GOP’s voter registration percentage fell slightly and the party did not substantially increase its reach around the state. After his defeat in 2006, Ehrlich conceded Democratic dominance. He told WBAL, “It’s clear in Maryland that there is a direction people are more comfortable with… It’s the way it’s always been. And then we had this four-year sort of off-course thing, and people are clearly more comfortable with a single-party kind of deal here. They did not like the conflict.”

That is not Governor Hogan’s point of view. He is happy to battle Democrats through his dominant social media machine and uses them as whipping boys for all that ails the state. And Hogan has something that Ehrlich did not: a growing GOP bench. Whatever happens in the next election, that bench is something that demands attention from the Democrats for the foreseeable future.

What does the GOP’s bench look like? We’ll find out more in Part Two.

Chump Change for the Middle Class

In 2020, when the tax cuts proposed in the Senate bill supported by the Governor and Senate President have been completely phased in, an individual that earns $375,000 will receive enough money annually to be able to pay for this brand new iPad Air 2 with 64GB of storage (price: $524 including tax):

ipadAn individual who earns $50,000 to $100,000 will receive nothing (price $0) unless they have exemptions. For each additional exemption, an individual will be able to buy this Chipotle Chicken Burrito (Barbacoa is too expensive) along with Chips and Guacamole:

chipotle1Good news! This middle-class taxpayer will also be able to buy a large coke (total price: $15.68, including tax).

chipotle sodaI suppose the good news is that the 2127 calories are more than enough for one person for the entire day.

Senate Votes Tax Cut for the Wealthy

The Maryland Senate has adopted a bill that provides significant tax cuts for wealthy Marylanders.

Marginal Tax Rates

Changes in marginal taxes rates for individual taxpayers:

First, there is no change in the lower rates:

2% on income of $1 through $1000
3% on income on $1001 through $2000
4% on income on $2001 through $3000
4.75% on income on $3001 through $100,000

All of the change is in the higher brackets:

Rates were previously set at 5% on income $100,001 through $125,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 4.975% in 2016, 4.95% in 2017, 4.925% in 2018, 4.90% in 2019, and 4.875% after that.

Rates were previously set at 5.25%  on income $125,001 through $150,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 5.20% in 2016, 5.15% in 2017, 5.10% in 2018, 5.05% in 2019, and 5.00% after that.

Rates were previously set at 5.5% on income $150,001 through $250,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 5.45% in 2016, 5.40% in 2017, 5.35% in 2018, 5.30% in 2019, and 5.25% after that.

Rates were previously set at 5.75% on income in excess of $250,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 5.725% in 2016, 5.70% in 2017, 5.675% in 2018, 5.65% in 2019, and 5.60% after that.

Changes in marginal taxes rates for joint taxpayers are similar except that the brackets are different. Again, there is no change in the lower rates:

2% on income of $1 through $1000
3% on income on $1001 through $2000
4% on income on $2001 through $3000
4.75% on income on $3001 through $150,000

All of the change is in the higher brackets:

Rates were previously set at 5% on income $150,001 through $175,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 4.975% in 2016, 4.95% in 2017, 4.925% in 2018, 4.90% in 2019, and 4.875% after that.

Rates were previously set at 5.25%  on income $175,001 through $225,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 5.20% in 2016, 5.15% in 2017, 5.10% in 2018, 5.05% in 2019, and 5.00% after that.

Rates were previously set at 5.5% on income $225,001 through $300,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 5.45% in 2016, 5.40% in 2017, 5.35% in 2018, 5.30% in 2019, and 5.25% after that.

Rates were previously set at 5.75% on income in excess of $300,000. The Senate bill reduces them to 5.725% in 2016, 5.70% in 2017, 5.675% in 2018, 5.65% in 2019, and 5.60% after that.

Impact of Marginal Tax Rate Reduction

Here is the net change in what individuals will pay at different income levels due strictly to the Senate’s proposed changes in marginal rates:

Tax Changes

As you can see, people who earn $500K will see their taxes go down by $719, while people who earn $100K or less get no break.

Benefits to Lower and Middle Income Marylanders

No doubt its advocates will point out the the bill also increases the value of each exemption from $3200 to $3250 in 2016, $3300 in 2017, $3350 in 2018, and $3400 in 2019. Of course, wealthy people can claim these exemptions too, though they will comprise a lower share of their incomes.

More importantly, the bill will increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to the benefit of the poorest set of working Marylanders. So poor Marylanders will pay less in taxes and even see increases in refunds if they owe no taxes.

Bad Legislation

The bill reduces the already modest level of progressive taxation in Maryland’s tax code. The largest gap in the marginal rates was only 1% between low and high income earners. That will decline to 0.85%. The difference in the overall rate (shown in the table) paid by low and high income tax payers will decline by roughly 10%.

Moreover, I don’t see why we need to give wealthy people significant tax breaks in order to increase the EITC. As the economy has picked up, the wealthy have seen the lion’s share of the benefit. Affluent Marylanders hardly need a break not only because they already have more but because they’ve gained a lot lately.

In contrast, working and middle-class Marylanders have seen their earnings stagnate or decline. The money used to give high-end tax payers a break could instead be used to augment the EITC or give a break to middle-income tax payers.

The economic rationale is poor as well. No one who earns $500K a year is going to pick up stakes and move for $700 per year. And the talk about helping the “job creators” is pure hokum. As anyone who took basic economics knows, we’re all “job creators” when we spend money whether rich or poor. Indeed, the poor likely do more to help stimulate the economy precisely because they will spend more of it to meet daily needs.

Who Opposed the Tax Cuts for the Wealthy?

Lee
Madaleno
Manno
Muse
Pinsky
Ramirez
Raskin
Rosapepe

The eight liberal legislators are all are from Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

Senate Unveils Portrait of Sen. Gwendolyn Britt

Britt PortraitPortrait of Sen. Gwendolyn Britt

Yesterday, the Maryland Senate unveiled a portrait of the late Sen. Gwendolyn Britt. She represented Prince George’s County in the Senate from 2003 until her death in 2008. However, Britt’s public service began long before her election to the General Assembly:

In 1960, at the young age of 18, Gwendolyn Green became a leader with the Non-Violent Action group out of Howard University, where she was a student. She traveled to lunch counters throughout Maryland, D.C. and Virginia protesting segregation. . . .  In June of that year, she staged a sit-in protest on the carousel of segregated Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County. Gwen and four others were arrested and convicted of criminal trespass. Those arrests were appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court found the convictions unconstitutional. . .

During the Civil Rights Movement, Sen. Britt took part in Freedom Rides and joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) voter registration drive under constant threat of violence:

In Jackson, the group of Freedom Riders used the whites-only facilities at the train station. Police attempted to evict them, leading to mass arrests where officers herded the Riders onto paddy wagons with billy clubs, spitting on them. She spent forty days in the maximum security Parchman Penitentiary for her arrest.

Britt could have rested on her laurels but her passion for civil rights for all people continued in the General Assembly:

During her tenure as a state senator, Gwen helped shepherd a bill through the General Assembly that restored voting rights to ex-offenders, telling The Baltimore Sun that “a person’s right to vote is his or her badge of citizenship, and without it all other rights are in jeopardy” . . . She also worked to ensure ensure emergency shelter for victims fleeing domestic violence in the home, and was honored by the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County with a fund named in her honor. . .

One of Gwen’s last signature issues was working to achieve marriage equality for same-gender couples. In the days prior to her passing, she was soliciting co-sponsors to the marriage bill she planned to file.

Gwendolyn Britt was survived by Travis Britt, her husband of 46 years, who passed away at the end of last year before he could see his wife’s portrait unveiled. A great example and leader from early in life until her untimely death, I hope the General Assembly places Sen. Britt’s portrait in a prominent place in the legislative complex.

Pagnucco on Trone

The following is by Adam Pagnucco:

The shadow of Total Wine co-owner David Trone has loomed large over CD8 since the day he got in the race.  Rivals fear his apparently limitless self-funding.  His opponents say they are “fighting big bullies” and “under fire from big money.”  Their supporters perceive Trone as a Potomac plutocrat bossing, blustering and buying his way into office.  Laptops and smartphones groan under the weight of his omnipresent digital ads, begging their owners to be shut off until after the election is over.

So who is this guy and why is he running for Congress?

In person, David Trone is a disarming character, far different from what one might expect of a wealthy, Wharton-educated CEO.  He is by turns ebullient, gregarious, intense, and blunt.  He possesses all the nuance of a nose tackle on the goal line.  Argue with him and you will get a roaring laugh and a jabbing index finger.  Trone’s political mastermind, Andrew Friedson, is no doubt trying to smooth out these edges.  Earth to Friedson: it’s not gonna take!

Understanding Trone requires appreciation of two key aspects of his life experience.

  1. He sees himself as an underdog even if others do not.

Trone called himself an underdog as he launched his campaign despite his nearly unlimited self-financing capacity.  This is a recurring theme in his life.  Trone’s father held a number of occupations before buying a farm and ultimately losing it due to alcoholism, leading to divorce and economic hardship for his family.  Later, Trone put himself through Wharton with a combination of loans, selling eggs and running his first beer store when he was not in class.  (Once his chickens caught avian flu and died, Trone concentrated solely on beer.)  These were clear disadvantages compared to Trone’s privileged, blue-blood classmates who aspired to be the next Gordon Gekko.  Trone may be wealthy now, but his mentality remains that of the I’ll-show-you Pennsylvania farm boy who surpassed his supposed betters.  That mentality gives him the edge he uses to win.

  1. He relishes disruption.

In certain localities, the alcohol retail industry behaves like a political-economic oligopoly in which trade associations collude with politicians to draft anti-competitive laws, thus benefiting both of them.  Trone ran into this shortly after he opened his first beer store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and began advertising his low prices.  His competitors persuaded the state legislature to outlaw the practice and Trone was arrested.  The law was thrown out when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a similar law in Rhode Island.  Trone is frequently opposed by native competitors when he attempts to expand into new markets, including Minnesota, Texas and Connecticut.  One local trade association even drafted a handbook on how to compete with him.  A state bill designed to keep him from expanding is now pending in Tennessee.

Trone is detested by his competitors across the nation, and he wears that as a badge of honor.  His business model combining low prices, large selection and highly trained customer service is massively disruptive, forcing his competitors to step up their game or shut down.  Trone’s view of the American political system is shaped by this experience.  Like local alcohol markets, he sees Congress as a place that is dominated by an iron cartel of special interests and venal politicians that ultimately does not deliver on behalf of constituents.  Trone has disrupted the alcohol business, and now he wants to disrupt politics.

How would he do this?  Trone waxes nostalgic for the days when members of Congress formed friendships with each other regardless of party and figured out how to move the ball forward.  He estimates that he has stores in 101 Congressional Districts and engages in significant charitable activity in all of them, thereby creating some commonality with colleagues on either side of the aisle.  Impervious to the constraints of fundraising and party hierarchy, he is not subject to the typical factors that whip House members into line behind their leadership.  Trying to intimidate him would be like trying to stop a rhino with a peashooter, as many competitors have learned to their detriment.  Trone’s beliefs in independence, relationship building, working with the opposite party, negotiation and common interest may seem naïve by today’s standards, but does anyone believe that the perpetual partisan warfare now in Congress benefits the country?

Trone is vulnerable on the issue of money and political influence.  Trone the businessman frequently hires lobbyists and makes political contributions to battle his competitors, who of course do the exact same things.  A notable example is in Connecticut, where he is trying to throw out a state law that sets minimum prices for alcohol.  (Can there be anything more odious to consumers?)  Trone the candidate takes credit for helping consumers in his mail, but decries the use of lobbyists and political contributions which he himself has employed as a businessman.  Trone declares on his website without a trace of irony, “I have learned firsthand the problems with political donations.”  We bet he has!  Trone’s opponents are sure to accuse him of wanting to have this issue both ways and he needs a convincing comeback to use in his defense.

In the eyes of the local political establishment, perhaps the most disquieting aspect of Trone is that he has defied the customary ways of moving up in MoCo politics.  Most people who aspire to elected office here rise up through the party precinct structure, the civic community, county advisory committees and/or political-governmental staff positions.  They go to event after event, network with the similarly ambitious, defer to those who require it and go for smaller positions before trying for bigger ones.  Congress is regarded as at or near the top of the heap.  Trone the disrupter eschews all of this, preferring to spend millions on TV and mail rather than kissing political rings.  A not insignificant portion of anti-Trone sentiment from local Democratic activists derives from his failure to pay his dues.  “You can’t do that!” they say.  But David Trone does what he wants and it has been that way ever since he was a young man, selling eggs and dreaming of better things.

David Trone has disrupted the alcohol business.  He has disrupted the CD8 race.  Will he get a chance to disrupt Congress?  That’s up to you, the voters, to decide.

Senate Votes $15 Million in Private School Vouchers

The Maryland Senate tacked in a conservative direction last week when it voted 25-18 to allow corporations to write off their taxes 60% of donations to authorized private school voucher programs. The Department of Commerce can award up to $15 million in credits to qualifying businesses per year.

The Department of Legislative Services estimates that it will cost an additional $140,355 to implement the program and then $108,400 annually to administer it beyond the ongoing $15 million in revenue lost to the State’s General Fund.

Democrats Split

All Senate Republicans voted for the bill. Among Democrats, 19 voted against the bill while 11 supported the legislation. Democrats who voted for the bill are:

Miller (D-27, Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert)
Astle (D-30, Anne Arundel)
Brochin (D-42, Baltimore County)
Currie (D-25, Prince George’s)
DeGrange (D-32, Anne Arundel)
Mathias (D-38, Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico)
McFadden (D-45, Baltimore City)
Middleton (D-28, Charles)
Muse (D-26, Prince George’s)
Peters (D-23, Prince George’s)
Zirkin (D-11, Baltimore County)

The bill is supported by Governor Larry Hogan and Senate President Mike Miller. The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) strongly opposes it.

Who Will Get the Extra Funding?

The short answer is not the public schools. MSEA also points out that the program allows corporations, rather than parents or school boards, to decide which schools get the donations. It remains unclear whether the money will allow more poor kids to attend private schools, as advocates claim, or help subsidize kids who already attend them at the expense of public schools.

At this point, the bill’s fate is up to the House of Delegates.

 

Politics After the Gazette, Part IV

This post concludes this week’s series by Adam Pagnucco:

For politicians, operatives, advocates and basically everyone seeking to get out a message, the new era without abundant mainstream media has both good news and bad news.  Let’s start with the latter.

The Bad News: You have to work a lot harder to get your message out and be noticed.

For those of you who long for the days when legions of press would show up to hear about your new office furniture, those days are forever gone.  Consider one of the most infamous figures in recent Montgomery County political history: Ruthann Aron.  The trials of this former politician and planning board member who was accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband transfixed the County in the late 1990s.  Recently, Aron called a press conference to trot out her new book in which she alleges betrayal by her defense lawyer.  Only one reporter from Bethesda Magazine showed up.  Horrified, Aron squealed, “Where’s the Associated Press, where’s The Washington Post?”

There are 188 members of the General Assembly and many more city, county and municipal elected officials in Maryland.  In its current shriveled condition, the mainstream media might have fewer than a dozen reporters who regularly cover government and politics in the entire state.  There simply aren’t enough reporters to go around.  Unless they are doing something extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad, elected officials below the statewide or executive levels are unlikely to get much attention from the mainstream press unless they work hard to get it.

The Good News: You have more control over the content of your message and who receives it.

For those elected officials, operatives and candidates who are prepared for the new world, the absence of mainstream media is not so much a problem as it is an opportunity.  An unprecedented number of tools are now available for direct communication with the public: email, Twitter, Facebook, blogging and digital ads, to name a few.  Many of these tools can be targeted to very specific audiences.  None of this was possible fifteen years ago when politicians had to rely on newspaper reporters to get out news about their activities.

The gatekeepers to the public are almost gone.  In a way, it has never been a better time to be a politician.

The key to truly excelling in this new environment is to understand how the remnants of the old regime and the tools of the new world interact.  The old regime was top-down: politicians and the press at the top sending news down to the public at the bottom.  The new system is more organic, interrelated and even amoebic in form.  Everything affects everything else.  There is little structure.  Unpredictability is the rule.  What used to be big might have little impact now.  What used to be small can become big VERY quickly.

Consider the following alternative scenarios for how information can flow in this new world.

  1. An article about Politician A and an issue he is working on shows up on Bethesda Magazine’s website. It circulates on Facebook and Twitter.  Politician A blast emails it and gets an advocacy group to do the same, which gets the attention of the reporter.  This generates a follow-up in Bethesda Magazine.  A gets a two-fer.
  1. Politician B is working on another issue but can’t get any reporters to pay attention to it. So B takes out a Facebook ad on the issue and gets hundreds of likes and dozens of supportive comments.  A blogger also covers it and B tweets and reposts it.  B goes back to the reporters and says, “See?  It’s hot!”  Stories are written and reposted on Facebook with more ads to beef them up.  Now the issue is starting to move – and so is B.
  1. Advocacy Group X is all over Issue Z, starting up an online petition and Facebook page to push it. Politician C finds out and gets on board.  Boom – Group X lets their supporters know that C is their hero, and C gets both supportive Facebook posts and good press.  Other politicians get jealous and jump in to grab pieces of the pie.
  1. A group of politicians decides to team up against a common rival. The rival has a larger social media presence and official communications staff than any one of them.  But the group has regional diversity, many Twitter and Facebook followers between them, several blast email lists and a willingness to coordinate.  Each of them puts up social media posts that take on the common enemy.  The rest of the group then retweets and reposts, rotating between lead and supporting roles.  Coordinated blast emails carrying the content go out.  The group members take turns buying Facebook ads and digital ads promoting their statements.  Particular issues get hashtags.  Helpful activists, party sites and other groups pitch in and spread the messages even further.  The official media picks up on it and spotlights the campaign, amplifying it further.  Soon enough, the T-Rex is surrounded by velociraptors and the pack closes in.

Dealing with reporters is still necessary since they haven’t (yet) entirely disappeared.  But success in the new era depends on integrating the old tools with the new, amplifying the effects of both and building communication scale.  Those who master these arts will inherit the new world.  Those who don’t will fade away with the old, just like the ill-fated T-Rex above.

Politics After the Gazette, Part III

What are the consequences of the disappearance of the Gazette and much of the local media?  Here are a few.

1. An Information Vacuum

This is the most direct and obvious consequence: there are fewer objective news stories produced about state and local government.  Many things happen now without any public attention.  That’s a challenge for both elected officials and the public.  Here are a few comments from our sources about this new era of media darkness.

Elected official: “I think the lack of local coverage creates a huge disconnect between state and local elected officials/government and the governed.  It is particularly problematic in our area where there is such attention paid to the federal government.  I believe the lack of coverage is affecting voter turnout because people don’t know who their councilmembers or legislators are or what they do, so they don’t care enough to vote.  It is also difficult to publicize good initiatives or issues with no press coverage.”

Elected official: “The most immediate impact is the simple fact that our constituents, particularly the less social media savvy folks, simply don’t know what’s going on in Annapolis and what we’re doing here as their elected representatives, good and bad.  This is particularly problematic in the DC media market. The Sun still has some meaningful coverage of Annapolis, the Post does not.  The Gazette was helpful in bridging that gap to some extent. If folks don’t even know what we’re working on, the ability to have any meaningful political dialogue with the community takes a big hit.”

Elected official: “An already opaque legislative process is becoming even harder to follow. To be sure, The Baltimore Sun still provides political coverage, and websites like Bethesda Magazine and Maryland Reporter are filling some of the void. Even so, there are fewer media eyes on Annapolis these days, and so lots of important legislation dies without any discussion and bad legislation advances without scrutiny. This also means that lobbyists who are paid to closely follow legislative activities have new advantages, especially if the bills they are working on are relatively low key. The upshot is that all this puts a premium on legislators directly talking to constituents through social media and other means.”

Advocate: “The State Highway Administration recently pulled the RFP for the construction of the Watkins Mill Interchange. This is a road project that has been on the books and fully funded for many years and the number one road priority of the County. This would have been front page news for the Gazette and at least one letter to the editor.”

2. Less Accountability

With fewer stories produced, there are fewer opportunities for voters to read about eyebrow-raising activities by public servants.  Stories like the Gazette’s report on tax liens against County Council Members, an allegedly secret contract circulated inside the council and a questionable, high salary job in county government are less likely to be written.  What’s going on now that we don’t know about?

3. The Rise of Government Media

The Montgomery County Government now spends over $5 million a year on County Cable Montgomery (CCM), its in-house cable channel, and Montgomery Community Media (MCM), a non-profit providing public cable access.  CCM’s full-time equivalent employee count (15.9) likely exceeds the size of Bethesda Magazine’s reporting staff.  Both of these outlets provide a mix of public information and what are essentially public relations pieces for county elected officials.  Neither of them would dare to undertake the investigative reporting described above for fear of funding cuts.  While they provide some useful information to the public, they are no substitute for an independent press.

4. Falling Voter Turnout

Voter turnout declined in MoCo gubernatorial general elections in both 2010 and 2014.  Turnout fell in the primaries too, from 138,914 in 2006 to 113,173 in 2010 to 110,602 in 2014.  The latter year had contested primaries for both Governor and Executive.

Could declining state and local news coverage be contributing to this?  There are probably several factors responsible, including increasingly targeted election campaigns.  But if voters don’t know their elected officials, don’t know what they’re doing and don’t know their rivals, they are going to be less likely to show up at election time.  Or if all they hear are negative things spread through social media and attack websites, they could react by passing term limits.

5. It Might Not Be All Bad

One journalist who covered the county many years ago told us this.

“Hmmm … I guess it could go either way: 1. There’s a reason it’s called the fourth estate. The media is there to keep politicians accountable and make sure they are being truthful, etc. 2. Without all of the grandstanding and manipulation of the media that I witnessed in MoCo, things may actually run more efficiently!”

And you thought we were spreading doom and gloom!

We’ll discuss how to adapt to this new world in Part Four.

Hogan’s Think Tank Says It’s Time to Shut Metro

In the wake of yesterday’s blue skies Metro shutdown, the Maryland Public Policy Institute says it’s time to “end Metrorail”:

The closure will prompt yet another round of calls for increased government funding of the system. But instead of forcing federal, Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. taxpayers—most of whom scarcely use the rail system—to further subsidize Metro and its riders, public leaders should be discussing how to wind down and ultimately close the failed transit system. . . .

Dauntingly, Metrorail is about to face enormous new expenses. The core of the system is reaching the end of its 40-year functional life. WMATA officials can try to nurse it along, but that will be costly and riders will face many more disruptions like today; ultimately, costly and environmentally damaging reconstruction will be needed. And after all that expense, the system will still be a high-cost, low-capacity, inflexible failure.

The Maryland Public Policy Institute is the think tank arm of the Hogan administration with Hogan serving as an Emeritus Director of the group along with former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Hogan’s brain trust proposes that we shut Metro even as Hogan moves forward to build the Purple Line to connect its defunct branches.

Beyond its modest proposal, the piece raises the issue of how Hogan plans to help fix Metro and to cover the State’s share of the ever increasing costs of fixing its aging and ailing infrastructure. So far, the Governor and the General Assembly, as well as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, have been silent on this question.

This lack of direction continues even as riders long ago grew tired of the decline of the system with no sign of management or leadership able to address the serious problems. The Purple Line increases the pressure, as its commits the State to a large but ultimately unknowable sum of money (estimated at $5.6 billion). Conveniently, the bill comes due only after Hogan has long skedaddled out of the Governor’s chair.