Marijuana Decriminalization Advances in Senate

On March 7, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 8-3 to report favorably on SB 364, a bill to make possession of marijuana a civil rather than criminal offense, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D 11, Baltimore). Sens. Frosh (D), Brochin (D), Forehand (D), Jacobs (R), Muse (D), Raskin (D), Shank (R), and Zirkin (D) voted in favor. The three opposed were Gladden (D), Hershey (R), and Stone (D). Not a very partisan vote.

Today, the Senate accepted two amendments offered by Chris Shank (R 2, Washington). The first amendment allows courts to sentence offenders to drug treatment programs. The second requires any monies collected to go toward drug treatment and education. Both were accepted by the sponsor and the bill passed second reading in the Senate without a recorded vote.

The marijuana decriminalization bill now moves towards third and final reading in the Senate. At this point, no more amendments may be offered, so third reading will likely consist of an up or down vote on the merits of the bill as it stands. Obviously, the House of Delegates would need to pass the same bill for it to become law.

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Alternative to Inheritance Tax Cuts

estate_inheritance_large

Much ado has been made of the necessity of cutting inheritance taxes in Maryland in order to avoid driving away wealthy people from Maryland looking to leave their assets unencumbered by state taxes. Sounds like a reasonable theory. And it’s a priority of Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch.

Except that there is only anecdotal rather than systematic evidence that these specific taxes actually drive people away. The more thorough analyses indicate little impact. In any case, it’s not clear that even if it were so, that the changes will accomplish the goal, as other states have no inheritance taxes at all.

Since revenue estimates keep declining, it’s not at all clear that tax cuts are advisable at all at this time. If we’re not careful, the State may end up having difficulty paying its bills. Alternatively, the General Assembly would need to identify spending cuts to match the tax cuts. After all, tax cuts are another form of expenditure.

If the State desires to cut taxes, there is a better way. Instead of cutting a tax that does designed to accomplish the illusory problem of preventing wealthy taxpayers from fleeing the State, let’s simply raise the minimum amount on which state income taxes are paid.

This alternative has many virtues. First, it puts more money directly in the pocket of ordinary people who need the money and whose incomes have stagnated for some years. Second, people with less money are more likely to spend it and stimulate the economy.

As it turns out, lots of poor, working, and middle-class people can generate jobs just fine with their spending power. Contrary to propaganda that only the rich are job creators, basic economic theory says that everyone generates jobs through their consumption and savings (i.e. investment).

Finally, this sort of tax cut benefits everyone who pays taxes. The wealthy get a sum too–the same amount as most who pay taxes. It nonetheless remains a smaller amount of their income. A fairer way to reduce the burden on all of the people who are bear it rather than a select few who don’t need a break. More crucially, there is no solid evidence that doing so will aid our State’s economy.

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M-D James Strong in Harford D34

D34Harford County District 34

Links to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series on top Senate primaries.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R) is stepping down, so District 34 is an open seat. The Democratic primary features Del. Mary-Dulany James, who has served four terms, against former Sen. Art Helton, who served two terms from 1975-83. He also served for two years on the Harford County Council before entering the Senate.

Helton sought to regain his Senate seat in 2002 but incumbent Sen. Nancy Jacobs beat him with 60% of the vote. He challenged Jacobs one more time in 2010 but she won again with 56%, though Helton narrowly carried the Harford portion of the district. His 2014 bid nearly came to an early end when the Board of Elections found he did not reside in District 34. However, they reversed their decision. Similar issues arose during Helton’s 2010 race.

James comes from a political family. Her father, William James, served in the General Assembly for three decades, including as Senate President from 1963-74. After he left the Senate, James served three terms as State Treasurer. The James Senate Office Building in Annapolis is named after him.

James and Helton were nearly evenly matched in campaign funds at the beginning of the year with $50K for James and $48K for Helton. But while James raised $84K, Helton raised less than $1K and loaned his campaign $60K. His campaign finance entity owes him $297K in loans.

I suspect slates matter less here than in other parts of the State because Harford Democrats have a strong incentive to develop a personal brand due to the County’s Republican lean. James has come in a very strong first in all four Democratic primaries for delegate, winning almost every possible vote after the first.

It is hard to see how Helton competes with this level of electoral strength. Moreover, James has shown a consistent willingness to work hard to keep a firm hold on a tough delegate seat. Her fundraising ability also indicates a depth of support even if she may well envy Helton’s ability to self finance. Moreover, she has Senate President Mike Miller on her side.

Redistricting greatly altered District 34. Previously, District 34A included south Harford and a tiny piece of Cecil around Manor Heights, and District 34B was north Cecil (see below). The new District 34 (see above) no longer includes any portion of Cecil. Instead, it pairs most of 34A with former District 35B centered on Bel Air in Harford County.

D34Old2010 Senate District 34

The new district has roughly the same partisan balance as the old district. The old District 34A has a slight Republican lean–O’Malley and Ehrlich were in a virtual tie though O’Malley won handily statewide. The old District 34B and District 35B were both carried by Ehrlich over O’Malley by roughly 2-1.

So the overall district has a Republican lean but is as Democratic as possible in Harford. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will still have to fight hard to win the general election. Republican Bob Cassilly is a former Bel Air Mayor and Harford County Councilman who left office in 2006 when called up to serve in Iraq.

However, Cassilly has only $15K in his campaign account–not a sign that the Republicans feel encouraged about the race despite the district’s Republican tilt. It also seems telling that the two Republican delegates filed for reelection rather than for the Senate.

James’ electoral record likely intimidates. In her first general election in 1998, she came in first. In 2002, James came in a close second even as the other Democratic incumbent went down to defeat. She easily outdistanced the rest of the field in both 2006 and 2010. Her willingness to work hard for votes no doubt helps–she claims to have knocked on over 10,000 doors already.

Primary Rating: Likely James.

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The Election and the Future–MCDCC Part IV

Check out Part I, Part II, and Part III of this four part series on the contretemps at MCDCC.

The Election

In the June Democratic Primary, voters will choose the new members of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC). There are no challengers to the self-named unity slate formed after the serious challenge from labor and the Young Democrats in Districts 17 and 18. But other candidates are running in the remaining districts and for the at-large seats.

Perhaps most interestingly, Brian Anleu is trying to unseat incumbent Arthur Edmonds in District 14. Edmonds has fallen out with the D14 state legislators who consequently support Anleu. Should be one of the more interesting of these invariably little heralded contests for seats on MCDCC.

Two non-slate candidates, Anis Ahmed and Kris Verma, are seeking seats in District 15. Ahmed received no votes when he sought the appointment to the delegate vacancy created by Brian Feldman’s move to the Senate. The City Paper recently ran a long piece with the subtitle “Why did D.C. let a disbarred lawyer serve as a workers’ comp judge?” about Verma.

In District 19, Harold Diamond won as an insurgent candidate in 2010 and is seeking reelection despite his failure to win a slot on the slate. As I explained in Part III, Diamond’s performance on the ballot questions advisory committee left many unhappy:

He had the nice sounding but dreadful in practice idea of populating the committee with essentially anyone who volunteered. Not the best means to recruit a group of volunteers who are particularly sensible, representative, or sensitive to the variety of interests and trends within the party. The meeting of the precinct officials also left several key issues until very late in the evening and Diamond repeatedly tried to steer matters in the direction he favored.

In District 20, Ed Kimmel, an attorney specializing in bankruptcy law and frequent political photographer, did not interview for the slate but has filed for MCDCC. Similarly, Loretta Jean Garcia, a Bethesda attorney, has filed for a District 16 seat.

Three non-slate candidates are seeking at-large seats. Steve Boliek has more money than most MCDCC candidates to support his bid. Natalia Farrar went through the Emerge program that promotes leadership by women. Pavel Sukhobok is the final candidate not on the ticket who has filed for an MCDCC at-large seat.

The Future

So labor spearheaded by MCGEO and the Young Democrats have engineered at least a partial takeover of MCDCC. Now that they have the keys to the car, where will they drive it?

The key problem is that there is a desire to regenerate MCDCC but no clear plan to do so or what it means. There will undoubtedly be degrees of suspicion between old and new members. Almina Khoraiwala is tipped to be the new MCDCC chair and will have her work cut out to establish her authority and a new direction for MCDCC. Fortunately, she’s talented and is as likely as anyone to have the intelligence and focus to achieve these goals.

The new MCDCC’s first steps should be to put one together. It needs to focus less on policy but the less sexy hard work of politics–the precinct organization and GOTV–that is the staple of party organizations. Of course, policy motives are often powerful ways to achieve these goals.

The danger is that many of the new members have expressed interest in policy rather than party building. Will they be ready to roll up their sleeves and not just develop renovation plans but carry them out so that MCDCC becomes a more vital organization? Will they also prove to be the reformers as advertised? Or will they simply serve as the arm of the labor unions?

Change to the membership of MCDCC is coming. Whether it will lead to real change at MCDCC remains to be seen. In other words, I look forward to seeing if they can walk the walk.

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Kessler Main Threat to D18 Delegates

kessler

This morning, I profiled the incumbents in the District 18 delegate race. Now, I assess the strength of the four challengers.

CHALLENGERS

Rick Kessler has $69K in his campaign account after having raised $84K last year. $5K came from people with the Kessler surname. Rick’s donor list reads more national and Capitol Hill than the incumbents, though he has many local donors.

His donors tended to have the opposite profile of Al’s, as many gave larger amounts of $250 or more. Another $6K arrived from PACs, including $4K from Dow Lohnes, a law firm. $1K from Rep. John Dingell’s (D MI) PAC, and $1K from Rep. Frank Pallone’s  (D NJ) PAC. Dingell is a past boss.

Rick strikes me as the greatest threat to the sitting delegates. He has been active in the district for a long time and is well-liked with Central Committee Member Vic Weissberg chairing his campaign. Beyond raising the second-highest sum of all candidates, Rick knows how to run a campaign and will do well at the doors. The sitting delegates will no doubt be unhappy at the thought that he can raise even more money during the legislative session but they can’t.

Elizabeth Matory has $16K left in her campaign account, though she has raised $26K. Relatives account for a little less than one-fifth of all of her donations. Liz has received some support from two in-district local elected officials, Kensington Mayor Fosselman and Kensington Councilmember Paul Sexton.

She has a degree from Columbia, a law degree from Howard, and is completing her MBA at Maryland, and works in nonprofit fundraising. Nevertheless, I suspect that the main problem for this otherwise appealing candidate is a lack of funds. Liz has yet to raise enough to mount a competitive campaign against three incumbents.

Emily Shetty has just $10K in her campaign account. Roughly one-quarter came from people who share her surname. Emily works at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with Lisa Fadden, extremely talented, well-liked, and well-connected in Montgomery politics. She also served recently as the Program Director for the MoCo Young Democrats and previously worked as the legislative director for now retired New York Rep. Ed Towns.

Unfortunately for Emily, she is not well-known in the district and does not have the funds to compete. On Facebook, she has been friendly with Rich Madaleno’s opponent but seems reluctant to turn it into a slate, likely because it would close off a lot of avenues not just in this campaign but the future.

Natali Fani-Gonzalez has raised essentially no money–she filed an affidavit attesting to having raised and spent under $1K. A Latina, she filed in the mistaken belief that Ana was not going to run and would support her bid. Natali attends a lot of events but there is no sign of a campaign that would raise her profile among voters.

UPDATE: I have learned once again not to estimate age based on photos (face palm). Natali Fani-Gonzalez may be unhappy not to be described as young (as in the original version of this post) in our youth-oriented culture but she is older than I realized.

Also more successful. Natali is a businesswoman who heads a public relations firm that works for a variety of progressive organizations from unions to promoting healthcare. Perhaps most prominently, she previously worked as a lobbyist for CASA de Maryland on the highly successful push for the MD Dream Act.

She still needs a lot more money that she reported in January if she wishes to run a viable campaign for this seat but also has the resume of a potentially strong candidate.

BOTTOM LINE

Only Rick Kessler seems positioned to have a real shot at toppling an incumbent. The other challengers may influence the outcome by taking votes from this or that candidate but it’s hard to see their path to victory.

Even Rick has a tough road because he has not only to attract votes but also see one incumbent’s votes reduced sufficiently to become endangered. But Rick has key ingredients–an attractive candidate, sufficient funds, and knowledge about how to campaign–to capitalize on opportunities. Rick’s chances will rise if the three incumbents ultimately fail to form a united slate as it would render the situation more fluid.

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Gutiérrez Entices Competition in District 18

D18Montgomery County District 18

This is the first of a two part post on the delegate race in District 18. This morning, I profile the incumbents in the race. In the afternoon, I’ll take a look at the challengers and make an overall assessment.

District 18, centered on Chevy Chase, Kensington, Wheaton and part of Silver Spring, is economically and racially diverse. Redistricting moved it a bit west, dropping a couple of Silver Spring precincts and picking up Garrett Park and areas around White Flint. D18 includes many of Montgomery’s mini municipalities.

The Senate race is not a top primary to watch, so I’ll focus on the more interesting delegate race. All three incumbents, Al Carr, Ana Sol Gutiérrez, and Jeff Waldstriecher are seeking reelection. Ana’s repeated public musings about retirement enticed other good candidates into the race and made it more competitive.

The fundamental question about this race is whether any challenger can pick off one of the incumbents if they run as a united slate. The challengers will likely pick off some votes from each of them. But will enough come from any single incumbent or go to any single challenger to cause an incumbent to fail to win reelection?

I review the incumbents first before turning to the challengers. They are discussed in descending order of funds raised.

INCUMBENTS

Jeff Waldstreicher has $114K in his campaign account. In the last fundraising report, Jeff reported $14K in PAC donations, including big donations from MCGEO ($2K), the Firefighters ($2.5K) and the Trial Lawyers ($5K).

Jeff also received $33K in contributions in the past year. The largest is from Big Boyz Bail Bonds in Baltimore for $1K. However, most are from individuals, many of whom are local residents and activists whose names I recognize. He also received a donation from Joe Vallario, his committee chair.

Jeff is seeking his third term in the legislature and sits on the Judiciary Committee. His strength is that he is a disciplined and focused campaigner. Jeff is just relentless about knocking on doors and has substantial funds to aid his efforts at voter contact.

Al Carr has $42K in his campaign account. Al raised $20K over the past year. (Note: I am listed as one of the donors.) His donors generally gave smaller amounts than Jeff’s. Many are local names that I recognize with a particular accent on environmental activists.

Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman was Al’s most generous donor, giving over $1K. Before serving in the House, Al was a Kensington Town Councilman. Al also loaned his campaign $29K. Only $200 came from a single PAC donation.

Al’s great strength is that he has a core base of strong supporters among environmentalists and municipalities in the district. He is very attentive to neighborhood concerns, which gives him a very nice base of volunteers and local advocates.

Ana Sol Gutiérrez has $28K in her campaign account. She raised close to $5K in individual contributions. She has more donors with Latino surnames and fewer from Kensington or Chevy Chase than Jeff or Al. I also noticed $50 from at-large County Councilmember George Leventhal.

Ana received $1600 in in-state PAC donations–$1K from AFSCME and $600 from the United Food and Commercial Workers. And another $4K from out-of-state PACs–$3K from the Laborers International Union and $1K from SEIU NY/NJ. Ana had to pay a $500 fine for accidentally continuing to solicit contributions on her web site during the session when fundraising is banned.

Ana’s great strength is simply that she has appeared on the ballot in every state election in this area since 1990, first for School Board and then for the House of Delegates. The senior Latino elected official in Maryland, she has a strong Latino base.

The real question for the incumbents is whether they will slate together. They dissolved the District 18 Democratic Team campaign account at Ana’s insistence. It seems clear that Jeff and Al will join incumbent Sen. Rich Madaleno on a common ticket. Despite reluctance, I suspect Ana will also slate with the other incumbents, as the advantages, particularly for a candidate with little money facing a strong challenge, are just too great to ignore.

This afternoon, I look at the challengers.

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Weekend Recap

If you’re a weekday reader, here is what you missed this weekend:

I looked at how the Purple Line moved forward at FTA but the costs increased by another 10%. The feds won’t pay additional money because the costs rose and it’s suspicious that the estimates are always off in the same direction–too low.

Montgomery County Council District 5 Candidate Terrill North replied to my post that he shouldn’t be using a quote from Sen. Jamie Raskin on his lit that indicates and endorsement.

On Sunday, 7S profiled two hot Democratic primaries in Baltimore City. While Sen. Joan Carter Conway seems likely to hold her seat in District 43, Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell is in deep trouble from a challenge by Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam.

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Charm City Senate Primaries–Challenger Favored in D44

D44New2014 Baltimore City and County District 44

Links to Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of this series on top Senate primaries.

District 43 (D): Incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway faces Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry, whose city council district overlaps with this legislative district. Although the likeable, smart Henry is a strong challenger, key factors render Conway the favorite, as I detailed previously in my overview of this district. Despite some bad press, Conway has far more money and has formed a tight slate with strong delegate incumbents. Rating: Likely Conway.

District 44 (D): As usual, Baltimore City state legislative redistricting was a game of political musical chairs. The City had to lose representation and two-thirds of District 44 has shifted out of the City into the County (see map above). County District 44B will elect two delegates to one from City District 44A.

Virtually all of the new territory was formerly part of District 10 (see map below). In truth, the new District 44 is more the heir to District 10 than to District 44. The new District 10 has taken in much new territory further north in Baltimore County. No wonder Sen. Delores Kelley (D 10) joined Sen. Jim Brochin in filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against the new plan.

Redistricting has set up one of this year’s toughest Senate primaries. Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D 10), who lives in the portion of the old District 10 that is now part of the new District 44, is challenging incumbent Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D 44). The new district contains roughly twice as many people from Nathan-Pulliam’s old district, though it bears Jones-Rodwell’s district number.

D10and44old2010 Baltimore City District 44 and Baltimore County District 10

Besides more past constituents, Nathan-Pulliam has more money in her campaign account–$80K to $63K for Jones-Rodwell. Neither can raise money during the session, so these are the amounts with which they will enter the final two months of the campaign.

Nathan-Pulliam has served in the House since 1995 and has been Deputy Majority Whip since 2003. Sen. Jones-Rodwell served one term in the House before winning election to the Senate in 2002 where she chairs a subcommittee of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee.

Endorsements and slating can help either candidate. Nathan-Pulliam shows little sign of losing her base. Sen. Delores Kelly (D 10) has endorsed Nathan-Pulliam, her former delegate. Nathan-Pulliam also won the support of the 10th Democratic Club, much of which presumably now lives in District 44.

So far, I have not heard of any slates being formed (post on Facebook if you know otherwise). Nathan-Pulliam is older than Jones-Rodwell, who may find it easier to do the aggressive door knocking that she will need to do to introduce herself in Baltimore County.

Jones-Rodwell has fewer former constituents and less money than her opponent. Races like these often turn out to be friends-and-neighbors contests, especially when they straddle jurisdictional boundaries like District 44, so the incumbent is in real trouble. This is the first district I’m rating as favoring the challenger. Rating: Lean Nathan-Pulliam.

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MoCo Council District 5 Candidate Terrill North Replies

In a post yesterday, I pointed out that Terrill North, a candidate for Montgomery County Council District 5, included a quote from Sen. Jamie Raskin on his campaign literature that indicated an endorsement that he did not have.

Here are Terrill North’s thoughts on the matter:

I was sharing comments that Sen. Raskin made at a campaign fundraiser last fall, much of it has been posted online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42CwihDTBis since November.  My goal was to share what Jamie has said publicly about my work helping over 750 at-risk youth in District Five each year through M.A.N.U.P. and Impact Silver Spring (which was the context of his remarks).  I didn’t mean to imply a formal endorsement, just to share what Jamie has said about me with people that are just now getting to know me.  I assume he has positive comments about most of the folks running for office this year because 1) it’s hard to work for progressive change without getting to know Jamie and 2) that’s the type of person Jamie is.  My apologies for any confusion and feel free to contact me directly at info@terrillnorth.com anytime with any questions or concerns.

 

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