David Blair’s Entry Raises More Questions Than Answers

Businessman David Blair became the sixth candidate to announce for county executive. However, beyond a willingness to open up his wallet (more on campaign finance below), there is little evidence that he is ready to run. Right now, this tech entrepreneur has no campaign website. (Correction: He does! It just doesn’t show up in the top Google searches yet.)

You May Have Questions. Does Blair Have Answers?

While it can be refreshing to see a politician who doesn’t claim to have all the answers, David Blair takes it a bit far. Based on his interview with Bethesda Beat’s Andrew Metcalf, he is neither ready nor willing to answer questions:

Asked if he’s always been a registered Democrat, Blair responded, “I believe so. I believe that’s a true statement.”

However, Maryland Board of Elections voter information indicates Blair was a registered Republican before he switched his registration to the Democratic Party in 2003.

Asked about that, Blair responded, “I don’t remember that. That could be accurate. … That could be.”

Blair refused to answer a question about taxes:

He declined to take a position on the County Council’s decision last year to raise property and recordation taxes.

“There will be a lot of opportunities to talk about specific policies,” Blair said.

And this was one of them.

He did seem ready with the political pablum:

“One of the ways to generate new revenue is through business,” Blair said. “We need more jobs here.”

“I have a vision to take Montgomery County to the next level.”

If Blair wants to enter the political arena, that’s great. But he needs to be ready to talk about issues when asked about them. I look forward not only to hearing more specifics but also more openness and willingness to answer questions from journalists and voters.

No on Public Financing. Will Empower Montgomery Launch an IE Campaign?

Unsurprisingly for someone from a very wealthy family, Blair said he will not participate in the public financing system. Bobby Lipman of MoCoVoters.org has already dinged him for this in the comments section of the Bethesda Beat article.

But why on earth would Blair want to waste his time asking people for small checks? Why would people want to give them to him? Why would he want to limit his spending when facing several better-known candidates?

More interesting from a campaign finance perspective is his decision to distance himself from Empower Montgomery:

When told he has been publicly referred to as a co-founder of the group, Blair said he contributed money.

“I would not consider myself a co-founder of that group, no,” Blair said.

Empower Montgomery’s website lists him as one of the founders of the group. . .

Empower Montgomery has now removed his name as one of the founders of the group.

If this pro-business group is planning an independent expenditure (IE) campaign on his behalf, Blair would not want to look like he is helping to direct it, as independent expenditures have to be independent to avoid legal troubles. And Empower Montgomery clearly plans to be active:

We are set up as a non-profit, tax exempt organization in Maryland, which allows us to perform a wide range of public education and advocacy activities and even participate in elections when key issues get elevated in the voter’s mindset.

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Roger Berliner on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

Increasing prosperity — and having that prosperity shared more broadly — is the central platform of my campaign.  As in most things, achieving this will be a multi-prong effort:

1.  In our county, small business is big business. And for far, far too long, businesses in Montgomery County have seen our county as a foe, not a friend.  We need to be a partner to business, not an obstacle.  That is what prompted me to be the lead sponsor on legislation that created both the Small Business Navigator and the Business Solutions Group in county government — to put in county government resources that are intended to make life easier for our small business community. When we adopt new programs and regulations in our county, we need to make sure we are doing so in a manner that will not harm small businesses.  That is how I have done my work on the Council and it is how I will do my work as County Executive if I have the privilege of leading our great county.

2.  We need to attract businesses to Montgomery County. We have extraordinary assets. Amazon’s request for proposals for its new H2Q brought that home:  Montgomery put checks in all the important boxes.  Smart, skilled work force — check. Transit — check.  Vibrant urban amenities – check.  Awesome quality of life — check.  Diverse population- check.  Good government-check.  Strong, national business leaders-check.  We need to do a better job of promoting our county.  As County Executive, I will be a passionate, ceaseless champion of our county.

3.  What are the fundamentals that create economic growth and opportunities? A skilled workforce, which is why I have been the leading champion of workforce development; world class transit, which is why I have championed fixing Metro, building the Purple Line & Bus Rapid Transit and supporting Ride On Extra; affordable housing, which is why I sponsored legislation that requires our county to consider co-locating affordable housing on county property and increases the obligation of developers to provide affordable housing; creating vibrant urban nodes, with world class architecture, that attracts millennials and businesses like Marriott and Fox 5 to Bethesda; embracing innovation, which is why I led the way to create the Office of Innovation in our county government — we either lean forward or fall back.

4.  Build a “green economy”. Under my leadership, our county has become one of the most sustainable communities in our country.  Those efforts have not only led to our county government being “carbon neutral”, but to creating good green jobs.  Solar companies are thriving; energy efficiency firms are flourishing; composting and organic farming is growing; and our commitment to storm water management should increase jobs and job training opportunities.  A green economy is a healthy economy.

5.  Support our immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrant-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the county’s economy. Often, these businesses need only a little help to get started. That is what motivated me to lead the effort to create our county’s first micro-loan program, modeled after successful programs around the world.

6.  Pay people a decent wage, which is why I support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour consistent with the County Executive’s proposal.

My record on creating a more favorable economic climate in our county has led four Montgomery County Business Hall of Famers, past presidents of local chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs of the year, minority business leaders and green business leaders to endorse me.

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M-83 Supporters Get a Win

By Adam Pagnucco.

Back on November 3, David Lublin wrote that the County Council had placed the planned Upcounty highway M-83 “in the freezer.”  We agree with that take with one addition: if and when M-83 comes out of that freezer, it will be ready to serve.  That’s because instead of killing the road, the resolution passed by the County Council has preserved it for a future county government to build.

To understand what has happened, one has to consider the goals and challenges of road supporters and opponents.  The supporters want to fund its construction.  That’s tough because the road will cost roughly half a billion dollars and the county is reducing its annual issues of general obligation bonds to trim future debt service.  Opponents want to remove the road from the county’s master plans.  They believed they had a chance to do that since six Council Members said they opposed M-83 during the 2014 elections.  But that has not happened.

The council’s resolution, passed on Halloween, did not implement the agendas of either side.  Its action language is worth reading word for word.

The County Council for Montgomery County, Maryland approves the following resolution:

  1. The Council supports expanded capacity on I-270, the Corridor Cities Transitway, Bus Rapid Transit on or near MD 355, and improvements on MD 355. These improvements will provide significant, immediate relief for Upcounty residents. These improvements align with our economic development strategies, providing the broadest and most diverse benefits, and minimize impervious surface, stormwater runoff, carbon emissions, and other environmental impacts.

  2. The Council directs the Montgomery County Planning Board not to assume additional road capacity from the northern extension of Midcounty Highway when calculating the land use – transportation balance in future master plans, including but not limited to the upcoming Gaithersburg East Master Plan and the Germantown Plan for Town Sector Zone. This step ensures that any new development allowed under these plans does not rely on the northern extension of Midcounty Highway, while retaining the right-of-way for this extension in these plans.

Road supporters did not like the omission of M-83 from the list of projects supported by the council.  They should have no argument with the idea of not including M-83’s capacity in calculating infrastructure needs for future development.  That could help prevent the road from filling up immediately after it’s built (if it’s built).  But the last sentence referring to “retaining the right-of-way for this extension” is a big win for supporters of M-83.

Why does this matter?  A casual perusal of land ownership maps from the State Department of Assessments and Taxation shows massive county land holdings in the vicinity of M-83’s preferred alternative.  Identifying every one of the dozens of parcels owned by the county and county-affiliated entities there would be a time-consuming research project.

A sample of county-owned land for M-83 near Watkins Mill Road and Great Seneca Creek.

Instead, we asked the county Department of Transportation’s project manager for M-83 how much of the right-of-way for the road’s preferred alternative was currently owned by the county and state.  We received this response.

Dear Mr. Pagnucco:

Thank you for your interest in the Midcounty Corridor Study (M-83) project.  Per our preliminary assessment, approximately 60% ROW for M-83 has been dedicated or reserved and another 24% is in parklands owned by the County’s Parks.

Should you have any questions, please contact me.

Best regards,

Gwo-Ruey (Greg) Hwang, P.E.

Capital Projects Manager

That’s right, folks – the county and Park and Planning together control 84% of the right-of-way for M-83 right now.

Why does this matter?  Let’s remember the history of the Intercounty Connector.  The highway had been in master plans for decades.  As of 1997, the county and state owned more than half the right-of-way for the ICC.  The following year, Governor Parris Glendening announced he was killing the project and later told the state government to sell part of its right-of-way.  But the state did not sell off all its right-of-way and in fact purchased some of it after Glendening’s announcement.  Continued state ownership of the ICC’s right-of-way made it much easier for Glendening’s successor, Governor Bob Ehrlich, to reverse his decision and begin construction.

So it may be with M-83.  The county’s holdings of right-of-way for the project may be even greater as a percentage of its acreage than the state’s holdings of the ICC were a decade before its construction.  The resolution by the council explicitly calls for “retaining the right-of-way” in the master plans, suggesting that the county’s holdings will not be sold.  And the road has not been removed from any master plans, a key goal of opponents.

M-83 supporters should have hope.  M-83 opponents should beware.  Both sides have a lot of work to do in next year’s elections.

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Republican Civil War Comes to Maryland

Maryland Republican Party Secretary Mark Uncapher is challenging Montgomery County Party Chairman Dick Jurgena. Red Maryland reports and gives their anti-Jurgena spin on the race:

The current Montgomery GOP Chairman, Dick Jurgena, has had a controversial year as Chairman. He elevated Amie Hoeber to a prominent fundraising position and also publicly attacked Governor Hogan and other Congressional Republicans.

Uncapher, a former MoCo party chair, leveled his own attacks on Jurgena:

[I]nstead of focusing on MCGOP’s party building responsibilities, too much time and resources have been frittered away this past year on gadfly advocacy and fringe issues.

Just three months ago, the MCGOP’s Executive Committee voted to reverse the decision of Dick Jurgena and Ann Hingston gutting our participation in the Nation Builder/ Digital Toolkit data management program that the Hogan campaign and the Maryland Republican Party had asked us to use. . .

So far, this year only about a dozen new people have completed our monthly precinct training program. With over 250 precincts, that is not enough to replace the natural attrition from people dropping out, let alone fill our previously existing vacancies. . .

We must end this “closed meeting, private club” approach that has led to MCGOP’s failure to recruit new blood into the party.  Closed meetings have meant that hundreds of enthusiastic Trump Montgomery volunteers were never welcomed into our party this year.  We need break out of a mindset that Republicans will only be competitive in the highest income zip codes of Bethesda and Potomac, especially since that’s not where either Trump or Hogan have done the best in our county.

Uncapher’s capacity to engage in doublethink is perfect for the Trump administration. First, Republicans are not competitive in Bethesda or Potomac, as a glance at the District 16 election results shows clearly.

Even a strong, moderate state legislative candidate like Rose Li could only make so much headway. Trump received a whopping 21% of the vote in District 16. Apparently, this is what passes for “competitive” to Maryland Republicans.

Equally weird is his notion that there are legions of enthusiastic Trump supporters waiting to be welcomed into the party. Trump received less than 20% of the vote in Montgomery – an impressive seven points less than Mitt Romney in 2012.

Democrats will welcome the idea that the Republicans needs to emphasize Trump love in order to grow in Montgomery. Almost as much as party stalwarts enjoy Red Maryland’s steady castigation of Amie Hoeber as a Republican heretic.

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Diving Into Virginia Results Reveals Depth of Republican Woes

Examining data more closely suggests strongly that Democrats were more energized than Republicans in 2017. The above graph shows changes in turnout from 2016 to 2017 as it relates to the share of a county or independent city that voted for Democratic Ralph Northam as a share of the two-party vote. In general, the more a place voted for Northam, the smaller the decline in turnout from the presidential election.

Analysis of the Virginia results does not suggest a bright future for Republicans. Democrats are doing well in fast-growing places and Republicans in shrinking places. This first map shows which counties are growing fastest.

Source: Cooper Center.

Suburban areas continue to show strong growth. In the DC suburbs, Loudoun and Prince William Counties, along with Alexandria and Arlington are on pace for greater than 10% growth.  The same is true in the Richmond, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg areas, as well as Chesapeake and Suffolk Counties outside of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Slow growth areas are centered in more rural Appalachian and Southside Virginia.

Next up, a map that shows where Northam and Gillespie each made gains relative to 2013.

Source: Washington Post.

Notice that the blue is concentrated primarily in almost the exact same fast-growing areas. In contrast, places with declining industries where people leave are trending Republican. Not too surprising when one considers that the Trump coalition was based on people who fear change and look to the future with foreboding.

It is a fascinating shift, however, as Republicans used to do incredibly well in precisely the sort of exurbs that are among the fastest growing places in the state. Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined that places like Henrico (Richmond suburbs) along with Prince William and Loudoun would anchor Democratic victories. Indeed, Republicans once expected growth in these areas to carry them to power. Not any more.

The shifts are even more dismal if one compares 2017 to the presidential election:

Source: New York Times.

 

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George Leventhal on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

We have seen good news on job growth recently. County Executive Leggett’s office reported in January that the county had added 7,163 jobs since the previous January and in May that resident employment had increased by 10,900 jobs (not all located in the county) since the previous May. High-profile business location decisions recently have included Marriott’s decision to keep its headquarters in the county, Discovery’s decision to keep 230 jobs in Silver Spring rather than relocate them to Virginia, and WTTG/Fox 5’s decision to relocate to Bethesda from Northwest Washington.

Montgomery County has a great story to tell, but we need to do a better job telling it. Our quality of life is high; we have great public schools; honest and effective government; excellent cultural and recreational opportunities; beautiful natural features; proximity to airports, shipping routes, interstate highways and public transportation; high family incomes; a low crime rate, and a low unemployment rate. I supported creating the new Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and am glad to see it is investing more than ever before in marketing our county’s excellent attributes to grow our job base and retain existing employers.

We have one of the smartest, most diverse work forces in the United States. We should advertise ourselves as the International Gateway to the Nation’s Capital, to attract employers from around the world and entice the talent our employers need to compete in the global marketplace. While our workforce already possesses more graduate degrees than any other community, and a wider array of language skills than most, we must make language education a higher priority in our schools. Language immersion should be expanded, especially in languages critical for global trade and national security, like Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, Russian, Farsi, and Portuguese.

To appeal to the millennial generation of workers, and the generations that will follow them, we must continue our placemaking efforts, to build great urban communities in locations well served by transit, including Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, Wheaton, and Glenmont, and we must expand transit options to economic opportunity hubs like Gaithersburg, Germantown and White Oak.

We should increase vocational training in our schools. The courses available at Edison High School are insufficient. Not all students will, or need to, attend college. Many good-paying jobs in industrial, manufacturing, information technology and other sectors can be filled by high school graduates with additional technical and vocational training.

We need to continue focused efforts to streamline our planning, permitting and procurement processes to see where they can be made more efficient and business-friendly. We must also strengthen our efforts to keep Montgomery County tax dollars in our local economy, by strengthening programs like the Local Small Business Reserve (which I originated), and minority, female and disabled business purchasing preferences.

I support designating Enterprise Zones to attract investment to areas that are struggling, like Glenmont and Burtonsville. I have also supported tax credits for investors in life science, environmental technology and cybersecurity, and I am currently exploring a county add-on to federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. I will seek to reduce our county energy tax, which puts our high-tech and data-intensive businesses at a particular disadvantage.

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Marc Elrich on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

Most job growth comes from new businesses expanding in the location in which they were founded.  Surveys indicate that the quality of life and the quality of public goods in an area – including transportation systems and schools – matter far more when businesses are making their initial location decisions than the taxes and other financial incentives they might be offered.

While there is a lot about the economy that is beyond our control – there’s no silver bullet for job growth – there is much that the county can do to create the conditions for businesses to start and thrive.  To the extent that we have cumbersome and inappropriate regulations, we need to change them, and to the extent that regulatory costs are excessive, we need to lower them.  More importantly, I would focus on incubating new local-grown businesses, nurturing their growth, and improving the county’s economic infrastructure.  Other jurisdictions have creative small business incubators and we can learn from their successes to grow a stronger local economy.  The empty spaces in shopping centers and office buildings were once filled with small businesses, and we need to nourish a new generation of entrepreneurs to refill them.

The bus rapid transit (BRT) system proposal that I initiated and have been advocating for during my time on the County Council also holds real potential as a tool for job growth.  Businesses have made an issue of the lack of transit as an impediment to growth.  If we want people to create startups or expand existing businesses, we need entrepreneurs to feel confident that their employees have a reliable way of getting to and from work, that their customers can get to their stores, and that they will be able to transport the goods and services they need to stay in business.

A well-implemented BRT system would reduce future congestion and move more people than roadways alone, making the county a more attractive location for businesses of all sizes.  It would greatly benefit residents as well.

We also need to work with the school system, including Montgomery College, to make sure our students are prepared for jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree but do require post-high-school education.  And we should expand apprenticeship programs in cooperation with the building trades organizations that need the next generation of skilled workers.

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Floreen on Krasnow

I asked retiring Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) – the first councilmember to endorse a candidate for county executive – why she has endorsed former Rockville Mayor and Deputy Planning Director Rose Krasnow for County Executive:

Rose is a remarkable person. I think she’s just what Montgomery County needs to move us forward. Consider her background. She started her life of activism at age 11 in Memphis during the civil rights movement, then protested the expressway through Overton Park (which ultimately resulted in a famous land use decision by the Supreme Court), worked in Wall Street, ran a homeowners’ association, moved into City of Rockville politics as councilperson then Mayor, and on to managing a branch of United Way, then on to Park and Planning.

Rose has great financial and managerial experience, knows the county through and through, and will bring a fresh leadership style to lead the county into the future. She’s tough and will call things as she sees them.

Plus, Rose has a terrific sense of humor and is a huge sports fan. Strong, knowledgeable, and independent. What’s not to like?

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Bill Frick on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

For far too long, our Council has been complacent with the status quo and at times even outright hostile to the private sector.  Resting on the expectation of stable employment from the federal government, the Council has been largely indifferent and even averse to growing the private sector economy.  We can no longer afford to talk about the need for job and wage growth and yet show no interest in facilitating business growth that creates those jobs.  As Norm Augustine likes to say, “you can’t be for jobs and against employers.”

From our notorious permitting process to our burdensome tax policies, we need to stop treating small business as the enemy.  Small businesses are the vital engine that will drive our middle class growth.  We need to reorient our administration to recognize that being punitive to businesses isn’t actually in our interests.

We must also foster and facilitate growth and entrepreneurship.  We benefit from an amazingly well-educated and creative workforce. But our women and men often find DC or Virginia or Baltimore to be more promising environments in which to grow and create businesses.  I want to enhance access to capital by building on our programs to keep local and state dollars in the community banks that are most likely to lend to small businesses, like I did at the state level. And I will help jump-start our hospitality, service, and restaurant economy by reforming or eliminating the Department of Liquor Control, a broken system that has functioned as a repellent to restaurants and consumers alike. I led this fight in the legislature, and will win this fight as County Executive.

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Five Quick Takeaways from Last Night

Very Bad News for Maryland Republicans

If there was one lesson from last night, it’s that local Republicans cannot insulate themselves from this wave. It is a very strongly partisan era. No matter how much they tied themselves to the Trump mast or sailed away from his message they suffered.

In Maryland, Republicans went down big in Annapolis and Frederick. Republicans with strong local followings lost in Virginia. The areas in Virginia most like those that Maryland Republicans depend upon to win here – Loudoun and Prince William Counties – swung enormously against the Republicans.

Democrats win statewide in Virginia when they win these counties narrowly. Last night, they annihilated Republicans by 20 points. Neither Fairfax nor Prince William may have any more Republican delegates. Democrats also picked up seats in Loudoun.

This is terrible news for Maryland Republicans. Republican expectations of major gains in outer suburbs just got rolled back. Equally important, Larry Hogan now looks a lot more vulnerable than he did yesterday. It probably doesn’t help that he went down to Virginia to campaign for losing fear-mongering Trumpy candidate Ed Gillespie.

Organization is Important

Social media is not enough. Progressives talking to each other about how awful Republicans are doesn’t accomplish much. As much as I love blogs, action in the hard work of politics such as knocking on doors and other forms of meaningful voter contact to get out the message and the vote created the victory.

The effective deployment of huge numbers of Maryland volunteers played a critical role in getting out the vote in northern Virginia. Together with local volunteers, they helped create both impressive statewide victories and completely unexpected massive gains in the House of Delegates, which is utterly gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans.

Unquestionably, Trump fired up Democrats. There was a huge organic component of volunteers from resistance organizations that cannot be manufactured. But that surge needed to be channeled into effective organization. People need to go where they’re need, so kudos to people like Sens. Rich Madaleno and Roger Manno who spent yesterday in Frederick.

Yes, Trump and Federal Republicans are a Problem

There is no secret silent majority hidden from pollsters. Trump and the national Republicans are incredible millstones. As Todd Eberly explained, “Even if they don’t take the House, this was the stuff of nightmares for the GOP. A president at 36% and a Congress that can’t legislate is one helluva weight around the neck of the party.”

The Republicans face a legislative trap of their own making. They’ve promised their base wildly unrealistic, terrifically bad radical ideas that scare the public. Right now, they face a choice of disappointing their supporters or enacting them and angering the public – and possibly their own supporters when they discover what really happens.

Trump compounds these problems. His total unreliability and disloyalty toward legislative partners combined with his fecklessness and lack of knowledge about policy make him a terrible dealmaker. As it turns out, government by tweet doesn’t work.

Junk the Litmus Tests

Purity tests have become depressingly in vogue in the Democratic Party. Increasing numbers want to support only candidates they regard as meeting their litmus test and discarding others as heretics from the true faith.

Democrats spend too much time parsing candidates who are all progressive with the same goals. When elected, people like Ralph Northam and Tom Periello – both fine Democrats – face the same barriers to achievement. Don’t get mad at Democrats who compromise to push the agenda forward. It has worked very well for unquestionably progressive politicians like Chris Van Hollen and Jamie Raskin. Sure beats getting nothing done in order to remain untainted.

Ralph Northam was derided by many as too centrist. Whether or not he was a great campaigner, he was the right person in the right place. His moderation and reputation may have played a key role in reaching out to highly educated women who gave Democrats an important edge.

Medicaid expansion may come to Virginia as a result. Even if you regard single payer as the desired long-term solution, don’t knock providing health care to thousands more Virginians. That’s what the Democratic Party is all about. In short, stay focused on the goal, not comparatively small ideological differences. That’s how the Republicans got into this mess.

Authentic Diversity is Good for Democrats

Beyond major victories, the first two Latinas ever won election to the Virginia House. The very first transgender candidate ever won election to the state legislature, defeating a heinous politician who thrived on bigotry in the process. At the statewide level, an African American won election as Lieutenant Governor.

Authentic diversity occurs not because party leaders carefully balance tickets or pave the way for candidates from particular identity groups. It happens because candidates from various backgrounds jump into the political arena and do the same hard work of politics to build coalitions and support, as that is how nominations are won.

For example, Lt. Gov.-Elect Justin Fairfax ran four years ago and surprised by almost winning the nomination for Attorney General. Though he lost, he set himself up nicely to win the nomination and then the general election for Lt. Gov. this year. The two Latino winners sought office and ran hard in tough areas.

The key role for party leaders is not to downplay the chances of a candidate from Group X. In our partisan era, people seem very willing to vote for members of their party regardless of a different group. As Democrats have a diverse coalition, visible organic expression of it helps affirm the value of participation in it and fires up Democrats.

Postscript on Charlottesville

The citizens of Charlottesville sent  a powerful message in the wake of the horrific events foisted on their community. In 2017, 31% more people voted than four years ago, as compared to 16% across the state.  A stunning 85% voted for Northam and against Gillespie’s shameless stoking of racial tensions. A lopsided 64% did the same in surrounding Albermarle County.

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