Jones and Miller Appoint Former Pharmaceutical Lobbyist to Drug Affordability Board

Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Mike Miller have appointed Van Mitchell, one of the most experienced and trusted Marylanders on health care policy, to the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. Unfortunately, Mitchell also has conflicts of interest that would give most pause before making the appointment.

Van Mitchell is awash in valuable experience for his new position on the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. A former Democratic legislator from Charles County, Mitchell served on the appropriations committee and understands the importance of health care in balancing the state budget. Known as a bipartisan, straight shooter, Mitchell also served as principal deputy health secretary under Gov. Bob Ehrlich and later as secretary of health during the first two years of Gov. Larry Hogan’s first term.

But Mitchell worked as a lobbyist between his two stints at the Department of Health. He joined Cornerstone Government Affairs shortly after leaving the Hogan administration. Records reveal that Mitchell represented Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, in 2014 and 2015.

Though Mitchell is not currently representing drug companies, one of his colleagues at Cornerstone, former Montgomery Sen. P.J. Hogan, does. Hogan currently represents AstraZenaca, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and Johnson & Johnson. As a result, Mitchell is part of a firm that has a financial interest in pro-pharma outcomes.

None of this means that Mitchell might not be an outstanding member of the Board. He has direct political, administrative and legislative knowledge on this issue. He is also seen by a variety of different actors as someone who is trustworthy and tells it like it is.

At the same time, these are the sort of conflicts that normally raise red flags. No doubt it is exactly these sorts of connections that make progressives suspicious about the health care industry’s tentacles in health care public policy. Nevertheless, Mitchell made the right noises about drug prices in Jones and Miller’s press release.

Some might make the case that these sorts of problems plague anyone who has been deeply involved with an issue for decades. Many would argue that this shows why these officials should be prohibited from lobbying but others would contend that these limits drive people out of public service.

Except that not everyone becomes a lobbyist for the industry they used to oversee after they leave the legislature or administration. While Mitchell knows a lot and is trusted by Democrats and Republicans alike, Democrats would go banana cakes, to borrow one of Adam Pagnucco’s favorite expressions, if Republican Gov. Hogan appointed someone with these conflicts.


Redistricting’s Biggest Losers

The current crop of state legislators is just one year into their current term. But after next year’s session they’ll have to begin grappling with redistricting—one of the most potentially divisive issues that the General Assembly faces. The State Constitution gives Republican Governor Hogan the upper hand in theory. However, the Democratic supermajority can impose their own plan if they remain united.

Population shifts along with Maryland’s requirement to adhere to county and municipal boundaries where possible without violating the federal Voting Rights Act create clear winners and losers in the process.

Which districts are most below the ideal population for a district? Once again, Baltimore City looks set to play an evil game of musical chairs, as its districts will be below the ideal district population. Here are the districts falling shortest in population according to the 2013-2017 American Community Survey estimates:

  1. Baltimore City District 40, 86.5% of ideal.
  2. Baltimore City District 45, 90.6%.
  3. Baltimore City District 41, 91.0%.
  4. Baltimore County District 44B (2 delegates), 92.5%.
  5. Baltimore County District 43, 93.0%.
  6. Allegany/Washington Counties 1C (1 delegate), 93.3%.
  7. Prince George’s District 25, 93.4%.
  8. Baltimore City District 44A, 93.8%.
  9. Prince George’s District 23A (1 delegate), 94.0%.
  10. Garrett/Allegany Counties 1A (1 delegate), 94.8%.
  11. Prince George’s District 24, 94.8%.
  12. Allegany County 1B (1 delegate), 95.7%.

As these estimates are based on surveys conducted between 2013 and 2017, they likely indicate only 50% of the decade’s changes. Unless population dynamics change a lot towards the end of the 2010s, these areas will likely be farther below the state requirement by the 2020 Census.

When possible, Maryland reallocates prisoners back to their home last place of residence, which may aid some districts a bit but will further hurt districts where prisons are located. For example, prisoners housed at Frostburg located in District 1, already one of the biggest losers, will be allocated back to their previous residence where possible. As in past decades, District 1 will have to continue its steady march east into Washington County with Garrett’s share of District 1A declining again.

Baltimore City faces a much greater challenge. It currently has five full legislative districts along with a one delegate subdistrict. However, based on the survey, it only now merits 4.85 districts. One delegate is already gone with Subdistrict 44A the obvious nominee to take the hit.

My guess is that, even after adding prisoners back, population figures could make the case for taking one more delegate away (i.e. straddling one district into Baltimore County as now). No doubt Baltimore legislators will fight fiercely to keep the whole district within the City in the name of respecting municipal boundaries. Republicans won’t like this idea but will be ill-positioned to stop it if Democrats can remain united around a plan.

Assuming Baltimore City succeeds in staunching the hemorrhage, Districts 40 would slide west and District 41 would ooze south to eat up disappearing District 44A. Districts 43, 45 and 46 would then move west a bit into current Districts 40 and 41 to even out population across the City a bit. Other line changes could occur if, for example, a powerful legislator wants to draw the home of a possible challenger or successor out or into the district.

The fun and acrimony are just getting started.


Create Gridlock Now?

In an unusual move, three members of the Montgomery County Council wrote the Planning Board to ask them to reverse their decision regarding the Capital Crescent Trail crossing at Little Falls Parkway. The Planning Board made the right call. Retaining the status quo both increases traffic and reduces biker and pedestrian safety.

In the wake of a tragic accident that took the life a recumbent cyclist trying to cross Little Falls on the CCT, the parkway was changed to reduce it from two lanes to one between Hillendale and Arlington Rds, located close by the trail. Unsurprisingly, taking away a lane and forcing a merge before busy Arlington Rd. has increased traffic in this area. More cars have also started cutting through residential Kenwood to avoid the new tie-up.

Instead of calling it an “intentional traffic jam” by cutting off use of an already existing and paid for road, proponents use the creative euphemism of a “road diet” to put a positive spin on it. Voters don’t much like sitting in traffic but diets connote virtue and health.

The major argument for the created traffic is biker and pedestrian safety with proponents arguing that fewer accidents have occurred than under the previous configuration. This might be a very good argument if it were truly needed to improve safety. Except it’s not. The Planning Board didn’t vote for a return to old trail crossing but to move it just a few yards away to a traffic light at Arlington Rd.

This is a much better solution all around for safety because it forces everyone to stop. Cars that face a red light have to stop and won’t even be allowed to turn right. Bikers and walkers will know they need to stop when they don’t have the light. Sounds simple, easy and cheap. Also a lot safer than a crosswalk even across one lane of traffic. Whether or not they see you, cars have to stop at red lights but, as in the case of the tragic accident, cars won’t stop if they don’t see you.

The people most unhappy with the Planning Board’s sensible solution are commuter cyclists. Instead of being able to race through at a straightaway if they see no traffic, fast moving commuter bikes will now have to slow down and stop as they bike a few yards down to light. Of course, if bikes have to slow down, one would think that would help reduce accidents.

The head of the Washington Area Bicyclists association has spoken out vehemently against the change, calling it unsafe because cars won’t stop at the traffic signal and make illegal right turns on to Arlington Rd., while pedestrians will be tempted to race across—either at the light or at the existing crossing even if the trail is moved.

In short, he is arguing that people will violate the law so we shouldn’t bother. I look forward to the county jacking up speed limits and eliminating speed cameras for the same reason. It also puts the county’s relatively recent anti-jaywalking campaign in a perplexing light. Pedestrians and cyclists also have responsibilities when it comes to safety and reducing the number of accidents. Drivers face significant penalties for making illegal turns.

The idea that people cross where it’s easiest is also more complicated than presented. People do sometimes jaywalk. But jaywalkers or jaycyclers tend to be selective about it. Otherwise, we’d have way more accidents at the many intersections without lights or crosswalks at the intersections of the county’s grand avenues like Georgia, Wisconsin, and Connecticut.

Beyond danger and the law, jaycycling could also be easily disincentivized by restoring the original terrain and putting up a few 3-foot concrete barriers where the CCT meets Little Falls. Like the red light, this tells people that you must stop and is certainly no harder or uglier than the bollards cutting off a lane of traffic.

I’m not unsympathetic with the idea that we don’t want to impede people unnecessarily. But it also seems to make sense to place this “minor inconvenience” on the vastly smaller number of commuter cyclists than on the far greater number of parkway users. Maybe we could call it a “speed diet” to make it more appealing?

The final argument for the “road diet” is that it has cut accidents by one-half so we shouldn’t make any changes. Except that the Planning Board isn’t going back to the old configuration. Putting the trail where motorists and cyclists must stop, as opposed to a crosswalk where they can drive through if they don’t spot anyone, should improve safety. Unlike the three councilmembers, the Board held a public hearing and heard from all sections of the community.

Traffic is also about to get much worse if “road diets” are now our preferred solution. According to the county database, for example, many pedestrian accidents occur in a short section of Georgia Ave. in Aspen Hill. I bet if we forced cars there to merge from three lanes into one, it will indeed be safer as no one will be going anywhere.

Pedestrian and cyclist safety are important. But induced traffic jams seem a dubious solution at best and benighted, when perfectly good alternatives exist. Indeed, the current solution got a two-year test, so why not give the Planning Board’s considered idea the same?