All posts by David Lublin

Julius Henson will Run from Jail

I haven’t yet had time to profile this year’s legislative elections Baltimore City D45 but had to pass along this News of the Surreal. Julius Henson will be running for the Maryland Senate against incumbent Sen. Nathaniel McFadden from jail.

Henson is a former political consultant who was convicted of election fraud for doing robocalls to African-American voters telling them to stay home and not to worry about the election. He was working for former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich in a transparent attempt to suppress the black and heavily Democratic black vote.

Clearly, a “vile” and “corrupt” individual as one of my informants (not his opponent or anyone who works for him) described him to me. His apparent unending willingness to “play the race card loud and long” only adds to his lack of charm.

A Baltimore City judge has now convicted Henson of violating his probation by running for office. But Henson, who will no doubt revel in his notoriety while cooling his heels for four months in jail, has nonetheless decided not to drop his Senate bid. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham Jail he is not.

Fortunately, the entire Baltimore establishment has lined up behind longtime incumbent Sen. McFadden who should win if only because he is not corrupt. Meanwhile, more fodder for those who would mock politics as a honorable endeavor.

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More Health Exchange Troubles for Brown

The Washington Post has the story:

A single flaw in Maryland’s troubled online health insurance system will cost the state an estimated $30.5 million in excess Medicaid payments over the next 18 months because the system cannot accurately identify recipients who should be removed from the rolls, a report by state budget officials said.

The State has fired the contractor for its health exchange website but this problem just does not seem to want to go away. If anything, the increased functionality of the federal website just heightens the glare of Maryland’s continuing problems. Not a good news day for Lt. Gov. Brown who would like the focus to turn elsewhere.

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Moving Forward with RTS in Montgomery

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Proposed Rapid Transit System Map

Montgomery County has adopted plans for a bus rapid transit system (RTS) of nearly 96 miles. This system includes not only the long planned Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) of 15 miles but a separately planned system of nearly 81 miles.

Proposed and pushed relentlessly by at-large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich, the plan to add 81 miles is the most ambitious effort to expand public transit in the area since Metro. While other jurisdictions, including DC and Alexandria, are ahead of Montgomery in moving ahead with RTS, Montgomery’s is the most extensive network.

The above schematic map shows the proposed routes as well as the planned light-rail Purple Line and CCT. The map produced by Communities for Transit, an RTS advocacy group, uses the familiar Metro system design, which makes it look attractive but also misleadingly suggests that RTS is heavy rail like Metro. It’s not. Repeat: map looks like Metro; system is not Metro.

On the other hand, I understand the drive by proponents to avoid the word “bus.” In the DC area, people associate the buses with Metrobuses–the slowest still moving form of transportation ever invented. Drivers perceive buses as barely moving hulks to avoid and to pass. Though RTS is not heavy rail, it is also definitely not Metrobus.

RTS buses move much faster and are much nicer, more analogous to light or heavy rail cars. These buses are also designed to approach platforms at level–again like Metro or light rail–so there is no climbing up or down.

Greater speed than conventional buses is achieved because RTS buses usually travel in their own dedicated lanes. There can be two lanes on either side of the street along the curb or two in the median. Alternatively, in tighter areas, there may just be one lane that switches direction. Buses traveling in the direction of heavy traffic use the dedicated lane while buses going in the other direction travel with regular traffic.

In some areas with little room, the buses may have to travel in regular traffic in both directions. However, even in these areas, RTS buses can go faster than regular buses because they communicate to hold the traffic lights so that they can make the lights if they are close to the light but it’s about to change.

People often wonder why we don’t just expand Metro, like the delayed Silver Line in Virginia, or build light rail, like the planned Purple Line, instead. They reason is cost. RTS is far cheaper than either of these methods. This item from the Communities for Transit presentation caught my eye:

SLC BRT

In Salt Lake City, light rail would have been ten times as expensive as the RTS alternative. The price difference means that Montgomery can get far more bang for the buck with RTS. Indeed, the CCT was originally planned as a light rail but is now expected to be a bus rapid transit system, so that it is financially feasible.

The low cost is critical because, even with the Governor’s successful  drive to take measures to expand Maryland’s transportation fund, there is not nearly enough money for all of the State’s transportation priorities from roads and Baltimore’s Red Line to MARC and Metro (those elevators. . . ).

One of the most appealing aspects of RTS is the potential, and it remains just potential, to help weaken the battles between civic groups and developers. Developers want greater density while civics worry about the impact on infrastructure, especially the increased traffic.

The Montgomery RTS plan allows more growth to occur in the context of a system designed to address heightened traffic and also to spread development, along with its benefits and problems, around a much larger area rather than one or two nodes. It recognizes that Montgomery remains a spread out suburban area even as we develop multiple new urban centers.

According to Communities for Transit, RTS does produce additional investment:

Cleveland

And growth needs to occur to provide jobs and income, as well as to pay the taxes to regenerate our aging infrastructure and expand it. The key is to invest the public transit money wisely.

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Howard D13: Shenanigans!

Niece against uncle. Husband against wife. It’s All in the Family Howard County style in District 13.

In honor of the downright News of the Weird aspects of the District 13 Democratic delegate primary, the usual district map has been moved below and replaced by nostalgia brought you by the MD Republican Party. (It’s all Alex Mooney’s GOP could afford for his last media buy.)

Nevertheless, today I focus on the Democrats. Incumbent Del. Guy Guzzone is running for the open senate seat. He has an astonishing $410K in his campaign account because he was thinking of running for Howard County Executive. This nice guy with vast funds in a Democratic  district should have no problem against the sole Republican who lost the GOP primary in 2010.

District 13

Howard County District 13

Guzzone has formed a slate with three delegate candidates, incumbent Dels. Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner and School Board Member Janet Siddiqui. Pendergrass has a robust $112K in her campaign account while Turner has $56K and Siddiqui has $45K.

All perfectly normal except that also running are Nayab Siddiqui, Janet Siddiqui’s husband, and Vanessa Atterbeary, Frank Turner’s niece. Nayeb Siddiqui filed an affidavit attesting that he raised and spent last than $1000. Vanessa Atterbeary has not filed a campaign finance report, or at least I cannot find it when I search for it.

Surely, not everyone related is related in District 13? Someone should call Shenanigans! on this play.

In 2010, Vanessa Atterbeary ran for the House of Delegates in District 18 in Montgomery County. The district encompassed Chevy Chase, Kensington, Wheaton and part of Silver Spring. She came in fifth–2509 votes behind the third place nominee, Del. Al Carr, and 989 votes behind the fourth place finisher.

Vanessa came across as a highly personable but politically inexperienced young woman. Her campaign used the hackneyed slogan “Now is the Time.” Even worse, one mail piece had the wrong district number (see below). Another featured pictures of Vanessa with elected officials that did not endorse her, leading them to repudiate the piece.

In short, she was young and had interest and potential despite having much to learn about both policy and campaigns. She hosted a fundraiser for Ken Ulman in 2012, so she dived back into politics quickly after she moved to Howard County.

Atterbeary

Campaign Mail Piece from 2010 District 18

One other Democrat, Fred Eiland, has also filed for the delegate race. Like Nayab Siddiqui, he has filed an affidavit, which makes me wonder if he is somehow related to Shane Pendergrass. The only other question remaining is whether N. Siddiqui, Atterbeary, and Eiland form a counter slate.

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Hoskins Confirmed to PSC 43-3

Powerupmoco reports that the Maryland Senate voted to confirm Anne Hoskins to the Public Service Commission. Unusually, the nominee attracted opposition from the Governor’s own party with Sen. Rich Madaleno (D 18, Montgomery), who special ordered the nomination, voting no along with Sen. Karen Montgomery (D 14, Montgomery) and Sen. Ron Young (D 4, Frederick). All are strong progressives. See here for more information on why the nomination was controversial.

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Dems Way Ahead in GA after Filing Deadline

The votes are not in. Not a single ballot has been counted. Even in the primary. But the Democrats are already well on their way to retaking the General Assembly in 2014.

The filing deadline has passed. Democratic senatorial candidates face no Republican opponent in 18 legislative districts compared to just 5 Republicans without Democratic opponents. Democrats have to win just five more LDs to regain their majority.

On the House side, Democrats have effectively already won 52 seats, as Republicans have filed too few candidates in many districts to gain seats even if they won. In contrast, Democrats have left Republicans unopposed for just 5 seats. Democrats need just 19 more House seats for a majority.

In short, Democrats have already won 38% of Senate seats and 37% of House seats due to the lack of opposition. Republicans have won 11% of Senate seats, meaning that just under one-half of all LDs lack two major party candidates. The Republicans have won fewer House seats–under 4%–by default. Nearly 60% of seats for the House of Delegates will have full competition in the general election.

(Note: I’ve ignored third-party candidates here as none of them seem to have any possibility of victory.)

 

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Reforming MoCo Council Elections

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As previous posts have highlighted (here, here, and here), Democrats dominate Montgomery County elections with vanishingly small hope for Republicans. They don’t even bother to field candidates for a majority of the seats.

While Montgomery Democrats may cherish Republican-free Montgomery, it creates other problems for democratic governance. Relatively few people actually elect the Council. It is difficult to hold officials accountable when there is essentially no viable “out” party. It increases factionalism on the Council and makes it easier for councilmembers to shift positions without consequence.

This post suggests two reform methods, one simple and one more radical. The key to assessing any reform is to examine not just how it affects fairness or representation but also governance. While fairness is great, one needs to keep in mind the impact of changes on other aspects of our democratic system.

The first reform is very straightforward: abolish all of the at-large seats except one and increase the number of districts by three so the Council remains the same size. This change would reduce the ratio of constituents to councilmembers from roughly 200,000 to 125,000, the same as the state legislature, and make it easier for constituents and councilmembers to keep in touch.

The at-large member could be the council chair, eliminating the  jockeying for this visible post. Alternatively, all of the members could be elected from districts and continue to select the council chair from among their membership.

Advantages of this reform include a reduction in the cost of campaigns. Districts would be smaller so candidates would have to spend less money to campaign in them, possibly making it easier for less well-heeled candidates to enter races.

Opponents would argue that it eliminates councilmembers who take the whole county into account. But all councilmembers have their bases of support and three out of four at-large councilmembers currently hail from Silver Spring. Upcounty and West County folks might welcome additional representation in Rockville.

The real disadvantage is that it might leave us in much the same boat as now. It is virtually impossible to draw a Republican district in Montgomery, so we’d still have a single-party council with no representation of the permanent “out” party.

The second reform would address this issue. Voters would cast ballots just as now in the five districts. The votes in these districts would then be aggregated to distribute the remaining four at-large seats such that the overall allocation reflects this total, taking into account the number of district seats won by a party.

An example helps to illustrate. Suppose that the general election results fell on the following lines:

MoCoElectionDemocrats would win all five districts and receive those seats immediately. The allocation of the remaining four seats would occur in a manner designed to produce a proportional distribution among all of the seats.

In this simulated election, Republicans received 26% of the vote. A proportionate allocation would award the Republicans two of the nine total seats (at least based on the Ste. Laguë method of PR which I used here since it is considered very fair). As a result, the Republicans should receive two of the four at-large seats with the others going to the Democrats for a 7-2 Council.

This reform would have several positive consequences. First, it would encourage the Republicans to regularly run candidates for all district seats, increasing the political competition vital to democracy. After all, the Republicans might have garnered a third seat if they had run a candidate in District 3.

Additionally, it encourages all parties to work to increase turnout even in safe seats to make sure that they win as many seats as possible. In short, it eliminates advantages gained through winning seats in low-turnout district elections. This might even augment Montgomery’s influence in statewide races as we increase our relative voter muscle compared to the rest of the State.

This change would also create a majority and minority party in Rockville. Voters could thus reward or punish the performance of each party, increasing accountability, even if the Democrats continue their overall dominance. Parties instead of Democratic factions would help give coherence to Montgomery politics.

Critics would likely contend that it emphasizes party at the expense of candidates. First, let’s be up front and acknowledge that few county residents can identify many of their councilmembers and certainly do not know enough about them to make particularly informed judgments.

Second, candidates would still be very important as each party would want to run its most attractive candidates in order to increase its overall vote. Smart Republicans would want to nominate relative moderates to maximize their vote.

Of course, neither reform seems likely to be adopted. Incumbents love the status quo because, after all, it chose them. And I cannot say that I especially blame them. People in all walks of life like to keep their jobs and systems that work for them.

 

 

 

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Frick Upends D16 Race

bfrickBanner122012

In a surprise just before the filing deadline, Del. Bill Frick (D 16) changed his plans and abandoned his bid for attorney general:

Today I will withdraw my candidacy for the Democratic Nomination for State Attorney General and file for re-election to the Maryland House of Delegates.

My two terms in the House have been exceptional.  I’ve been a part of a team that has enacted marriage equality for all Maryland couples, repealed the death penalty, protected consumers from abuses, and begun the task of reforming our tax code.

While I know that I could have been a valuable asset to the State as Attorney General, there is still much to be done as a member of the House representing District 16.

Bill was always a long shot for AG. His withdrawal from that race can’t help but aid Sen. Brian Frosh from the same legislative district in his bid to beat Del. Jon Cardin and Del. Aisha Braveboy for the Democratic nomination for AG.

Rumor had it that Bill might retire from politics if he didn’t win election to AG, so the switch to the delegate race is a bit of a double surprise–at least to your gentle correspondent. In this case, a politician staying in office is good news.

Bill is a terrific delegate: smart, effective, and well-liked by his colleagues. He is a shoo-in for reelection to the House of Delegates and I assume he will slate with incumbent Sen. Susan Lee and Del. Ariana Kelly.

In possibly the understatement of the year, Marc Korman, Hrant Jamgochian and Jordan Cooper have to be mighty unhappy tonight. In my recent preview of the D16 race, I gave Marc and Hrant a strong edge to win (though left Jordan in the hunt) and hinted that Susan and Ariana might slate with them.

Bill’s reentry changes that. Only one delegate seat is now open, though all three are up for reelection. Choosing between Marc and Hrant for a slate is not an easy call. We’ll see if the incumbents make a choice or just leave it up to the voters.

If I had to bet, I’d say they do the latter. In Montgomery County, incumbents don’t often slate with non-incumbents, though there are signs that this tradition is falling by the wayside. Neither Marc nor Hrant has such a clear edge that it makes it easy for the incumbents to opt for one over the other.

The D16 race for the third slot just got much more competitive and interesting.

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