Franchot Chief of Staff Blasts Wilkins

By Adam Pagnucco.

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s Chief of Staff, Len Foxwell, has been in state politics for decades and has seen his share of hard knocks. (Len is famous for once calling MCGEO President Gino Renne “the Greg Hardy of Montgomery County politics.”) So when someone like Foxwell characterizes a politician’s statement as “one of the most irresponsible and potentially harmful public statements I’ve seen from an elected official in my 25 years in this business,” that gets my attention.

The fracas began after Maryland Matters published an article in which Franchot suggested that consumers, tenants and utility customers ask for extensions in paying rent and fees. Franchot said, “Don’t write checks to your creditors until you talk to your creditors… It allows consumers to preserve what’s in their pockets in a normal time.” The article quoted a bankers association executive and a utility executive encouraging customers to contact creditors, claiming that some would be flexible.

Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20) wasn’t having it. She fired off a tweet that said, “For some reason, I don’t think this will go over well. ‘Excuse me landlord, may I have a 3-month rent holiday?’ This is a joke. Executive action is needed to provide relief to consumers.”

That prompted the eruption below from Foxwell, who – among other things – said, “So many of the financial institutions we’ve spoken to over the past week understand the uncharted territory our country has entered, and are able and willing to work with their borrowers to help them through this period of trauma. Instead of supporting this sound, proven advice, which could save people’s homes, cars, credit ratings, and cash reserves, Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins has gone the other way. She would, apparently, rather indulge hazy, long-forgotten old political grudges against the Comptroller for the sake of banking a few likes and social media fist bumps.”

It’s worth noting that the Comptroller has no statutory or regulatory authority to force creditors to extend terms for debtors. But the General Assembly may have authority to intervene. Delegate Wilkins may wish to draft legislation on the issue.

Finally, let’s consider the view of Denizens Brewing Company co-owner (and former Lieutenant Governor candidate) Julie Verratti, who replied to Delegate Wilkins’ tweet and essentially said, “Why not do both?”

Makes sense to me. How about you, dear readers?

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MCPS Distributes Chromebooks Safely

Despite the difficult conditions, MCPS is working to make sure learning continues. The following are photos from outside Chevy Chase Elementary School showing how MCPS arranged the safe distribution of Chromebooks to people in autos and on foot.

Drive through lane
Instructions: don’t roll down the window but do pop the trunk
You’re almost there. . . Pedestrians near the head of the line
Lining up social distancing style on Rosemary Lane
Pedestrian instructions
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Riemer Proposes Liquor Monopoly Payment Holiday

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich, Council Member Hans Riemer has proposed that liquor licensees be allowed to defer payments owed to the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS). Specifically, Riemer wrote, “I am writing to request that ABS allow restaurant licensees to defer payments or make partial payments on all products purchased from ABS for the next 12 months.” Riemer notes the extreme financial losses being experienced by licensees and suggests that the county “explore options that could allow the County to smooth the revenue impact of this proposal over a longer period of time.”

We reprint Riemer’s letter below. We intend to print the executive’s response when we receive it.

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MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. Before you complain about it, just remember – these lists are not my lists. They were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. If you have a problem with that, take it up with them!

And now let’s get started. Today, we will begin listing the most influential elected officials on MoCo’s state and county politics. The criteria include elected officials who appear on our ballots even if they don’t live here. Quotes attributed to sources are not mine and come from our voters.

15. Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17) – 12 votes

Source: Leading voice on Beltway/270 proposal in Annapolis and calls the shots on many environmental initiatives.

Source: Stops a lot of stupid sh*t in the county delegation.

AP: The sources really got this one wrong as Kumar deserves a higher rank. He chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee and is a former House Majority Leader. He has been in the house since some of today’s delegates were in elementary school. Kumar is brilliant, hilarious and knows the General Assembly as well as anyone. Other delegates need to learn from him as long as he remains in Annapolis.

13 (tied). Council Member Tom Hucker (D-5) – 18 votes

Source: One example, look at 495/270: press conferences, meetings, petition, relationships with SHA, Governor (which he finessed) — got results. He has a deep understanding of relationships and communication partnerships. Knows how to whip up/work with constituents to get things done.

AP: Tom Hucker’s secret for political success is that he knows who he is as a politician. You don’t see him hemming and hawing in public, flip-flopping or trying to figure out where the political winds are blowing. He just pushes ahead with his brand of practical, meat-and-potatoes progressivism and never strays too far from his base. That and his expertise in the outside ground game make him one of the most focused and effective elected officials in MoCo. Bonus points: his Chief of Staff, Dave Kunes, is one of the best.

13 (tied). Council Member Nancy Navarro (D-4) – 18 votes

Source: Nancy has become the moral leader of county government. She boldly spearheaded plans to re-shape how county government leaders understand structural racism, view our community, and even perceive themselves. She’s also helped create a platform for the County Council to engage on economic development issues. She’s done both of these things while overseeing a Council Presidency that saw a new administration, four new Councilmembers, and many new faces on central staff.

Source: Navarro has stepped up on every major issue and gathered the “council troops” to take the reins of county government at a time when the County Executive’s leadership is sorely lacking. She has exquisite timing and strategically lays out a vision for getting things accomplished in this leadership vacuum.

AP: No one wants to take on Nancy directly. She makes people who cross her pay a price! That’s why she usually gets her way, especially in directing money towards her district. Also, the fact that she is the only council member left from the 2010 budget crisis will amplify her influence in the coming weeks.

12. Governor Larry Hogan – 19 votes

Source: Completely driving the transportation priorities for the county. Officials deride but residents adore his proposals to expand highways even if the county proposal is utterly more sensible.

Source: Strong, capable and bold. Leading on the coronavirus when counties were still contemplating how to respond. He inspires trust and I can’t tell you how many people say, “I love Hogan.” A true leader at a difficult time.

AP: Governor Hogan deserves to be ranked higher. He doesn’t live here, but how many state initiatives have had a bigger impact on county politics than his I-270/Beltway proposal? It’s a short list.

10 (tied). Delegate Anne Kaiser (D-14) – 20 votes

Source: Quietly behind the scenes, she has become MoCo’s most influential state legislator by a mile, writing legislation that pushes progressive priorities in a practical way. Others get more press. She gets it done.

Source: One of the most prominent Kirwan and education voices, and a mentor to lots of (especially female) electeds.

AP: If I were going to advise a young delegate on how to get ahead in Annapolis, I would tell that person to watch Anne Kaiser. She is not flashy or fancy. She doesn’t seek out press attention. She just does her job, works hard, listens to others, plays on the team and picks her spots to move the team forward. Now she has the ways and means committee chair that once belonged to the legendary Sheila Hixson and she is not done. Don’t be surprised if you are calling her Speaker Kaiser in a few years.

10 (tied). Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-14) – 20 votes

Source: Decent amount of helium in Annapolis, arrow will probably continue to point skyward within the House.

Source: Put together the arrangement that made Adrienne Jones speaker. Influential enough to float tax proposals that can mobilize widespread opposition.

Source: Kaiser would be more obvious choice here given the gavel but no one made more of an impact for good or ill with service tax proposal this session, dominating the conversation.

AP: Smart, outspoken, intellectually honest and ready for combat with right-wingers, Eric has become one of the go-to guys for taking point in House leadership. Underneath all that, he is still the person I first met a long time ago: a socially progressive teacher out to push for the common good. Who knows how his career will progress, but I guarantee it won’t be boring!

More to come in Part Three!

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Maryland Needs to Do Much Better to Protect the 2020 Elections

Yesterday, the State Board of Elections made a bad decision. They decided to switch to all-mail voting for this year’s elections (fine) but doing so without putting in standard protections (definitely not fine) taken by states like Oregon that conduct all of their elections by mail:

Board members questioned how the state will verify that ballots are being cast by the actual voters they sent them to. Charlson said the state’s current absentee ballot procedure is to check for a signature.

“We’re not actually looking at the signatures, are we?” asked Howells. “In vote-by-mail states, I think they used software to compare the signatures.”

“Our problem is we are not a vote-by-mail state, so we have no real safeguards built into it,” Cogan said.

The board quickly moved on from the topic.

Read my op-ed piece online now or in the print edition of tomorrow’s Baltimore Sun to learn more on why this is a problem and more generally what the State needs to do to make sure the 2020 elections come off well despite challenges posed by coronavirus. Otherwise, close elections like the upcoming Baltimore City mayoral primary could go bad surprisingly fast.

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MoCo’s Most Influential, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

Are you tired of reading about the coronavirus?

Are you tired of staying locked up in your house?

Are you tired of having to fight for toilet paper like it’s the Zombie Apocalypse (strangely without zombies)?

Well so am I, so let’s have fun.  This is Part One of a series.  It’s something we have not done since 2009.  It’s a grand survey, the grandest of all on MoCo’s political stage.  And YOU get to see the results!

We call this event MoCo’s Most Influential.

I have been writing about state and county politics off and on for 14 years and during that time I’ve picked up a lot of sources.  They tell me useful things, like where money gets wasted, who blew up his or her own campaign, who really killed that bill and – nowadays – where toilet paper can be found.  So this time I went back to them with a question:

Who are MoCo’s most influential people in state and county politics?

Here are the rules I sent to my sources:

1.  You may nominate up to 10 elected officials in government who you believe most influence state or county politics and represent all or part of Montgomery County.  This includes statewide officials and officials who represent other jurisdictions in addition to MoCo (like members of Congress).

2.  You may also nominate up to 10 non-elected people who you believe most influence state or county politics in Montgomery County.

That’s right, there are two lists: elected and non-elected.  You get up to 10 nominations for each of them.

3.  You don’t have to agree with your nominees, you just have to believe that they are influential.

4.  You may nominate yourself – if you judge it necessary!

5.  You may provide comments justifying your picks but you don’t have to.

6.  No nominations or comments will be attributed.  No one besides you and me will know how you voted or what you said.  I PROMISE.

7.  Responses are due in two weeks.

A total of 85 people made nominations.  They come from all over the county, from Damascus down to Takoma Park.  A few live outside the county but have business and/or political interests here.  Almost half (40) are elected officials, former elected officials or government staffers.  Thirty-two are women.  They are active throughout the county’s many communities – civil rights, civic activism, progressives, environmentalists, education folks, business leaders and more.  Many of them are household names that would be immediately recognized by every Seventh State reader.  Others operate behind the scenes.  I didn’t get responses from everyone I asked, but on a collective basis, I am confident that these people know this county as well or better than any other respondent pool that could be accessed.

Any one of these folks could have developed a compelling list of influential people all on their own, and most of them did.  But what makes this exercise interesting is that it sums up their cumulative judgment.  To have a large group of influential and knowledgeable people pick the folks that they truly believe are the most influential is quite a thing to behold.

So let’s do some beholding!  Part Two – coming to your inbox soon – will get us started.

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Elrich Sends Budget Letter to the Council

By Adam Pagnucco.

Facing severe crises to public health, the county’s economy and its budget, County Executive Marc Elrich sent the letter below to the county council about the budget.  The main takeaways are:

1. The executive has instituted freezes on hiring and procurement for functions not related to COVID-19 response.  Overtime has also been restricted to COVID-19 response departments.

2. The finance department has begun estimating the crisis’s impact on county revenues.

3. The executive has begun talking to the county’s unions about “a range of compensation issues.”  No further details were provided.

4. Office of Management and Budget Director Rich Madaleno has been designated as the liaison to the council on “issues related to fiscal response and recovery.”  When Madaleno was a State Senator, he was a key player in working on the state’s budget problems during the Great Recession.  Few people in Maryland understand the state budget better than Madaleno.

We reprint Elrich’s letter below.  Bethesda Beat has reactions from some members of the county council.

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Montgomery Leads Maryland in Social Distancing

Unacast has used data from smartphones to grade states and localities on how much social distancing is occurring. Their major measure is change in average mobility based on the distance traveled. So how’s Maryland doing? Overall, we get an “A” on their scoreboard.

Average distance traveled has declined 43% in Maryland. That still leaves us behind the following 14 jurisdictions: DC (60%), Alaska (52%), Nevada (51%), New Jersey (50%), Rhode Island (50%), California (48%), New York (48%), Massachusetts (47%), Connecticut (46%), Minnesota (46%), Vermont (46%), Louisiana (45%), Michigan (45%), and Pennsylvania (45%).

Here are the trends in average mobility as well as the number of reported cases. Remember that the number of reported cases is lower than the number of cases and depends a lot on testing.

There are substantial variations in social distancing by county:

Teal/turquoise indicates more social distancing (“A”) while orange indicates very weak social distancing (“F”). Forest green rates a “B” while army green indicates a “C” rating. No Maryland counties received a “D” rating. Here are the specific numbers for Maryland jurisdictions:

Change in Average Mobility
1. Montgomery (52%)
2. Carroll (47%)
2. Calvert (47%)
4. Anne Arundel (45%)
5. Baltimore County (43%)
5. Howard (43%)
5. Prince George’s (43%)
5. St. Mary’s (43%)
9. Dorchester (42%)
9. Frederick (42%)
11. Baltimore City (41%)
11. Harford (41%)
11. Talbot (41%)
11. Worcester (41%)
15. Charles (40%)
16. Wicomico (38%)
17. Kent (37%)
17. Queen Anne’s (37%)
19. Caroline (33%)
20. Somerset (29%)
21. Allegany (28%)
22. Cecil (25%)
23. Washington (21%)
24. Garrett (4%)

How does Montgomery compare to the rest of the metro area?

1. District of Columbia (60%)
2. Alexandria (55%)
2. Arlington (52%)
2. Fairfax City (52%)
2. Montgomery (52%)
6. Fairfax County (47%)
7. Loudoun (46%)
8. Prince George’s (43%)
9. Frederick (42%)
9. Prince William (42%)
11. Charles (40%)
11. Falls Church (40%)

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Liquor Monopoly Ends Takeout Cocktail Ban

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Members Andrew Friedson and Evan Glass have announced that the liquor monopoly has ended its ban on takeout cocktails.

Friedson announced the news on Twitter.

Glass announced it on Facebook.

The official announcement from Alcohol Beverage Services appears below.

And here is a link to the application form for licensees.

Thank you to Council Members Friedson and Glass, Comptroller Peter Franchot and everyone else who worked to turn this around!

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Franchot Blasts Liquor Monopoly

By Adam Pagnucco.

After reading our post on the county liquor monopoly’s takeout cocktail ban, Comptroller Peter Franchot has come out swinging against the monopoly.  The Comptroller wrote on his Facebook page:

As your Comptroller and as a Montgomery County resident, this story makes me viscerally frustrated. There is no constructive purpose served by the continued existence of our government-run alcohol monopoly. It is inefficient, costly and unresponsive to the needs of its customers.

Now, at a time when our restaurants, bars and taverns are looking at possible financial ruin as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are fighting a daily battle simply to survive, we get this tone-deaf ruling from the Department of Liquor Control. By prohibiting the sale of liquor and mixed drinks for carryout and home delivery, the DLC is acting in violation of both Governor Hogan’s Executive Order and a basic standard of common sense.

If there ever was a time for an outdated government agency to flaunt its administrative prerogatives, this certainly isn’t it. Hoping the DLC will reverse this ruling and do everything it possibly can to support our local, community-based businesses. Or, failing that, at least get out of the way while the rest of us help them #KeepTheLightsOn.

Franchot even took out a Facebook ad for this post.  At the moment, his post has 116 reactions, 40 comments and – most critically – 27 shares.  The original blog post has been shared countless more times across Facebook.

With outrage growing against the monopoly, it must lift the ban or face a renewed push to abolish it.

What will it do?

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