Not So Progressive Neighbors

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Last Friday, I explained how Progressive Neighbors just isn’t attracting the love from incumbent Democrats. A majority of incumbent legislators didn’t even return their candidate questionnaire.

They aren’t the only ones.

Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman didn’t fill one out either. The MO of this campaign has been to seek aggressively virtually every endorsement around the State, so their decision to decline to seek that of Progressive Neighbors speaks volumes.

Surely, the lack of interest from the man who may be the State’s first African-American governor must have caused some navel gazing in this progressive organization even if the policies of Heather Mizeur and Delman Coates better fit their profile.

Brown-Ulman are not the only ones who appear to have made a calculated decision to give PN a pass. Is anyone really surprised that Council President Craig Rice did not bother to fill out the questionnaire when his 2010 opponent–a perfectly nice woman in my experience–sits on the Steering Committee that votes on endorsements?

One major reason for the antipathy expressed by many for Progressive Neighbors’ endorsement process is that 5 of the 19 members of their Steering Committee are running for either the state legislature or the county council. Boards often have a member seeking office but I’ve never heard of five at once.

Not only that but the PN endorsement questionnaires were unbelievably sent out by one of these candidates–even to her opponent. Progressive Neighbors views this as a minor hiccup that was corrected less than a week later after it was pointed out. But it is far more than an oopsy daisy.

Portions of the questionnaire attack corporate cronyism and call for public financing. How can people so concerned about inappropriate influence on politics think it was a good idea for a candidate to send a questionnaire to her opponent?

PN’s endorsement questionnaire goes on at great length about transparency:

Progress has been made in improving transparency in the General Assembly over the past four years, with greater access to online tools for the public, the posting online of committee votes, and increased audio and video coverage of legislative deliberations. Much still remains to be done, however, including posting of subcommittee votes, committee amendments and votes, and the institution of a system to allow constituents to sign up to testify online the day before a committee hearing so they don’t have to spend all day in Annapolis waiting to testify. Do you support these improvements, and do you have others you’d like to offer? Are you willing to support special elections to fill legislative vacancies? Do you support stripping the party central committees of the power of appointment, which ultimately lies with the Governor?

But the structure of the organization and its endorsement process is less open than might appear at first glance. The PN Steering Committee is elected by . . . the Steering Committee. The same committee–the one with five members running for office–also controls the endorsement process.

In this process, PN doesn’t model the open behavior it would like to see in the General Assembly:

The Steering Committee may choose to have a secret ballot on certain concerns and some meetings may be closed. Steering Committee members will be encouraged to keep individual Steering Committee members’ votes in confidence.

Surprisingly, the Steering Committee did not endorse two of their own members. In News of the Weird, Jonathan Shurberg and Will Smith were progressive enough to serve on the Steering Committee but not to be endorsed. I imagine that PN would argue that it somehow proves the integrity of their process but it is also just odd since both are credible, progressive candidates.

Other choices seem as bizarre. In District 18, Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez has long been a stalwart staunch progressive. How on earth can she, the first Latina elected to public office in Montgomery County who passionately favors left-wing policies to reduce economic inequality, not be progressive enough?

On the other hand, the organization endorsed both Steering Committee Member Terrill North and Del. Tom Hucker for the open District 5 County Council seat. Apparently, PN decided to give Hucker, generally viewed as a solid left winger, a pass on his recent vote against indexation of the minimum wage in the House (Gutiérrez along with Mizeur and Ivey voted yea) despite having pressed that the County adopt this stand.

Progressive Neighbors has a nice sounding name and provides another decal that endorsed candidates can stick on their literature. Beyond that, especially outside of District 20, they cannot provide anything meaningful with the endorsement. As one liberal legislator explained to me, “Nobody fills out their questionnaire because they demand extreme positions and offer nothing of value.”

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Ramirez Heavily Favored in D47

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Most of Prince George’s District 47

District 47 is a majority black district in Northeast Prince George’s County with an exploding Latino population. As of the 2010 Census, the voting-age population of the district was 50% African American and 37% Latino. Subdistrict 47A (two delegates) was 62% black while subdistrict 47B (one delegate) was 61% Latino.

Two-term Del. Victor Ramirez ousted corrupt African-American Sen. David Harrington to become Maryland’s first Latino State Senator in 2010. Now, Ramirez faces long-time Bladensburg Mayor Walter Lee James. Ramirez has money ($122K while James hasn’t filed a financial report) and the power of incumbency.

James has a strong base in Bladensburg that he’ll need to turn out in large numbers to overcome what are sure to be extraordinarily high percentages for Ramirez in Langley Park. But even that seems unlikely to be enough as Bladensburg composes just 7% of D47. James would need to somehow unify and rally African-American voters behind him to defeat Ramirez– very difficult without money against an active and energetic senator like Ramirez.

Rating: Safe Ramirez

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Montgomery County District 3 Round Up

council_districtsThree major candidates are fighting for the Democratic nomination for the open seat in Montgomery County Council District 3: Ryan Spiegel, Sid Katz and Tom Moore. Spiegel is likely the early favorite but Moore and Katz both have a decent chance as well.

Spiegel has served on the Gaithersburg City Council since 2007. He is also a partner at Paley Rothman, one of Montgomery County’s largest law firms. Previously, he worked as an associate at the national powerhouse firm of Winston & Strawn. Spiegel ran a strong delegate campaign in 2006 in District 17, narrowly losing to Jim Gilchrist. He has the support of much of the Democratic establishment for his county council bid. In particular, he received the endorsement of MCEA, a particularly useful endorsement that also signals he is seen as a good bet.

Sid Katz has served as Mayor of Gaithersburg in 1998. If he can mobilize his base within the City of Gaithersburg, which makes up roughly one-third of the district, and appeal to seniors in Rockville and Leisure World, he may be able to pull off a win.

Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore’s candidacy bears watching. He is the only candidate from the City of Rockville. If he can solidify his constituency within Rockville, which makes up the majority of the district, the seat is his. It remains to be seen if he can do that. I also hear good things about Moore from my spies in the business community, although the same is true of Spiegel and to a lesser extent Katz. Interestingly, Moore’s business support is also paired with a Progressive Neighbors endorsement. Pleasing both constituencies will be quite a juggling act if he is elected.

A fourth candidate, Community Activist Guled Kassim, is also running. He is not seen as a serious threat presently. However, Kassim has a compelling personal story as an immigrant who served in the Marines and been active in the County.

Interestingly, it seems likely that none of the candidates will have six figure budgets in this race, increasingly unusual in open seat races in this populous and expensive county.

Rating: Lean Spiegel

Disclosure: Guled Kassim is a former client of mine. I have pitched Ryan Spiegel on Direct Mail Services in the past but am not working with him this cycle.

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McCutcheon Comes to Maryland

Today, the State Board of Elections lifted the aggregate limits on the total amount that any individual could donate on state races in Maryland. Previously, donors could give only $10,000 total in any four-year election cycle. That is no longer the case.

This change is not due to a shift in Maryland law but to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which invalidated the federal limits from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The $4000 limit on the amount that can be donated to a single state candidate in Maryland remains in place–for now. This limit will increase to $6000 after the 2014 elections.

Lobbyists and wealthy people can expect to be hit up even more as they can no longer plead that they’ve maxed out. It’s also an invitation to extremely wealthy individuals who want to expand their influence in Maryland politics. Common Cause (h/t) outlined their view in a statement:

The State Board of Elections issued guidance today that eliminates the aggregate limits for campaign donations. This guidance was anticipated as the state grapples with the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon, which was released last week.

“Before this guidance came out, donors could only give $10,000 for all their political spending – to candidates, political action committees, and slates,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “Eliminating that limit will have a direct and alarming influence on Maryland’s political landscape starting with this year’s election. The cost to run for office – particularly for down-ballot races, such as Delegate and County Council, will increase exponentially as a result.”

“The last defense we have against big money influencing our elections is the individual limit on donations to candidates,” said Bevan-Dangel. “We are very concerned about how the Board’s guidance will be implemented to ensure that donors do not use slates and political action committees to skirt that last line of defense.”

Individual limits are currently $4,000 but will increase to $6,000 starting in 2015.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC was Citizens United round two, further opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us,” said Bevan-Dangel. “This decision makes alternative fundraising mechanisms, such as public funding for elections, even more critical. Public funding empowers more diverse candidates to run because it gives an alternative to major donor fundraising. And it empowers everyday citizens to engage in the political process because it leverages their small donations and turns them into major donors.”

“We hope that the McCutcheon case spurs Montgomery County to act quickly on the public funding bill under consideration and encourages other counties and the state to establish alternate funding sources to ensure that the extremely wealthy cannot drown out the voice of everyday citizens in our political process.”

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More on the D16 Poll

After my post about the poll testing Jordan Cooper’s name came out, a highly placed spy close to the District 16 Race alerted me that Hrant Jamgochian also has a poll in the field. The pollster of record is PPP (Public Policy Polling).

PPP only does robopolls and are therefore prohibited from including cell phones in their surveys, which skews their samples a bit. Nonetheless, they are a top tier, reputable pollster. The survey was in the field a few weeks ago. It tested descriptions of Marc Korman, Hrant Jamgochian, Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Jordan Cooper. It also tested issues.

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Assembly Electeds Dis Progressive Neighbors

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Progressive Neighbors, an organization originally formed to support the candidacy of Sen. Jamie Raskin, now has a separate life of its own and says that it endorses candidates in four of the eight Montgomery County legislative districts: 14, 18, 19, and 20.

However, most elected officials are just not interested. Only two of the four Senate incumbents bothered to return PN’s questionnaires, including Sen. Raskin. Among the nine delegate incumbents, just three responded.

If the organization was the NRA or Marylanders for Life, this would not be shocking. But Progressive Neighbors aspires to be an endorsement that Democratic candidates covet. Indeed, they made repeated efforts to get electeds to submit questionnaires.

PN sent the following odd note–sort of like a rejection letter for a job to which you never applied –to Del. Anne Kaiser:

Dear Anne; [sic]

We are writing to inform you that the Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee did not vote to recommend an endorsement of your candidacy to our membership in the June 2014 Primary election for House of Delegates Legislative District 14. Per our bylaws, endorsements must be reviewed by the membership and reaffirmed by the Steering Committee after member review. That process is beginning now with a mailing to our membership, and we believe it more considerate that you hear of our actions directly from us, rather than indirectly.

Thank you for completing our questionnaire, which the Steering Committee carefully considered. We also thank you for your willingness to serve our community and your efforts to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. While we are not endorsing you at this time, we welcome the opportunity to work with you in the future to help bring about a more equitable and just society for all. Unless you object, we will be adding you to our email list, if you’re not already on it, so you’ll continue to be informed about our positions and issues. (If you’d rather not be added to our email list, please let us know.)

Del. Anne Kaiser shared with me her reply:

Dear Wally,

Thanks for your email. I must admit that I am a little confused by it, and would hate for you to inadvertently misinform your members.  I find it curious that you mention that you have “carefully considered” my questionnaire: I did not submit one for your consideration.

I am a proud progressive, who in my 12 years in office has been on the vanguard of the progressive movement in the State of Maryland. I have been a key leader on issues including: making the Dream Act a reality, supporting tougher gun laws, raising the minimum wage, promoting transgender and marriage equality, repealing the death penalty, advocating for clean energy and the protection of our bay.  I am a passionate supporter of our unionized brothers and sisters and fiercely fought for their collective bargaining rights.  As a member of the Ways & Means committee I have worked tirelessly to make our tax code fairer for all and as chair of the Education Subcommittee, I have advocated and promoted policies to enhance our nation leading K-12 system.

I hope that you’ll carefully consider the points that I have made when communicating my position, more honestly, to your members.

Sincerely,
Anne Kaiser

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NARAL Pro-Choice’s Unique Endorsement Strategy

NARAL_logoNARAL Pro-Choice Maryland’s PAC is following an endorsement strategy this year that bears comment even leaving aside the controversy over its endorsements raised earlier today here in the exchange between District 18 Candidate Natali Fani-Gonzalez and NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland’s PAC.

Most interest groups endorse up to as many candidates as there are seats to be filled. Occasionally, groups will endorse more candidates that there are seats available. For example, the League of Conservation Voters endorsed four candidates for the three House of Delegate seats in District 18.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland’s PAC has taken a unique two-tier approach. The PAC endorses up to as many candidates as there are seats up for election. At the same time, they all give a “100% Pro-Choice” rating to other eligible candidates that do no receive the endorsement.

Like the endorsement, candidates are free to tout this 100% Pro-Choice rating in the literature and other communications. I already received a blast email from Jordan Cooper proudly touting his rating in strongly pro-choice District 16.

Is the PAC devaluing NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland’s endorsement? After all, voters are unlikely to distinguish easily between the endorsement and the 100% Pro-Choice rating. Candidates are less likely to sweat their endorsement process since the consolation prize is such a good one.

While this strategy encourages all candidates to take strong pro-choice positions even if they are unlikely to receive the PAC’s official endorsement, it somewhat weakens the incentive for incumbents to cultivate their support during the legislative session that makes policy.

I suppose it also makes the endorsement process a bit easier as the decision makers know that good candidates who don’t get the endorsement won’t walk away empty handed. We’ll see how it goes and if other organizations follow NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland PAC’s lead.

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NARAL Pro-Choice MD Responds

NARAL_logoNARAL Pro-Choice Maryland PAC sent me the following statement in response to the earlier post on Seventh State regarding their endorsements in District 18:

The NPCM PAC recently made a clerical error that had a large and unfortunate impact. We understand the magnitude of our error and apologize for the confusion it has caused. We have reached out to each of the candidates, including Ms. Natali Fani-Gonzalez. The NARAL PAC board endorsed the incumbent candidates from District 18. We mistakenly issued an endorsement to a fourth candidate who was intended to receive a 100% Pro-Choice rating, which is used for candidates who do not receive an endorsement but reflects their Pro-Choice values.

I would have been very surprised if the PAC had not endorsed the incumbents, as they all are very supportive of reproductive freedom and I am not aware of any actions they have taken that would cause disgruntlement from NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.

When I received, Natali Fani-Gonzalez’s communication, I thought perhaps their PAC had intended to endorse her either as a fourth candidate or in place of one of the incumbents because they thought she would be an exceptionally strong leader on the issue.

You can read Natali Fani-Gonzalez’s thoughts on the matter as well as the PAC’s response above and draw your own conclusions.

 

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