Category Archives: Adam Pagnucco

Floreen Faces an Uphill Climb to Get on the Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

As has been previously written both here and in Bethesda Magazine, Council Member Nancy Floreen faces two hurdles in getting on the ballot as an independent candidate for Executive.  First, there is the question of whether she can change her registration from Democratic to unaffiliated in time to access the ballot as a non-Democrat.  That issue is playing out now.  Second, she faces a petition signature requirement.  That’s going to be tough.

State law requires that an independent candidate seeking to get on the ballot for a general election must gather a number of voter signatures equal to the lesser of 10,000 or 1% of registered voters by the first Monday in August (which is August 6th this year).  In Floreen’s case, the relevant number is around 6,500.  That might seem doable EXCEPT that state law is very exacting on how petition signatures are evaluated by boards of election.  Among the requirements are the following.

Petition circulators do not have to be registered voters or even residents of Maryland, but they must be at least age 18.

Circulators may be paid but petition signers may not be paid.

Circulators must sign an affidavit on each petition signature page attesting to the following:

All identifying information given by the circulator is true and correct;

Signatures were placed on the petition in the circulator’s presence; and

Based on the circulator’s best knowledge and belief, each signature on the page is genuine and each signer is a registered voter in Maryland.

The circulator must sign and date the affidavit.  Any signature on the page that is dated after the circulator’s affidavit is invalid.

Smudged and/or illegible signatures are rejected so signing in pencil is discouraged.

A voter may not sign a petition more than once.

Voters may not sign on behalf of their spouses.

Signers must provide the full month, day and year of signing.  The circulator should not fill in that information unless the signer asks for help.  Ditto marks are prohibited.

The signer’s current permanent residence address must be provided.  Business addresses are not permitted.  Post office boxes are permitted only if there is no street and house number designation for the voter’s residence and only if the post office box address is on record with the election office.

There are very specific requirements on how the signer’s name should appear.  According to the state’s FAQ document:

The name either has to match the registration list or include all parts of the name required in the statute. Section 6-203 of the Election Law Article states “To sign a petition, an individual shall: (1) sign the individual’s name as it appears on the statewide voter registration list or the individual’s surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names.”

For example, if a voter is registered as Margaret Hall Smith, it is permissible for her to sign as Margaret H. Smith or M. Hall Smith. But M.H. Smith or Margaret Smith is not permissible and will be invalidated. Additionally, the use of her nickname, Peggy Smith or her married name Mrs. John Smith will be invalidated. If a voters’ registered name has a suffix (i.e. Jr., Sr., III, etc.) the signature will not be invalidated if the signer fails to include it on the petition.

The State Board of Elections’ procedures manual for petitions provides further discussion of this.

If this seems daunting, well, it is.  Consider the recent experience of MoCo’s greatest petition circulator of all time, Robin Ficker, who has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures over the last four-plus decades.  It took Ficker more than a year to gather over 18,000 signatures for his 2016 term limits petition, of which 12,573 were ultimately verified by the county’s Board of Elections.  Yes, others besides Ficker gathered some of the signatures, but Ficker supervised the effort.  If the greatest of all time has an error rate of approximately one third, what would the error rate be for any new or paid circulators retained by Floreen?  She is going to need a LOT more than 6,500 signatures to survive scrutiny by the board of elections and, possibly, the courts to make it on the ballot.  Plus the fact that the petition is due on August 6 – less than a month away – puts immense pressure on the whole process.

Nancy Floreen needs a great election lawyer.  Now.  She needs a significant number of circulators who are trained in the State of Maryland’s petition requirements.  Now.  They need to be on the streets gathering signatures.  Now.  And she needs many thousands of dollars to pay for all this.  Now.

Or else she won’t be on the ballot.

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What We Learned About Public Campaign Financing

By Adam Pagnucco.

This past primary saw the first use of public campaign financing in local elections in Maryland.  Many people both inside and outside Montgomery County have been watching the system’s performance.  For the benefit of both MoCo policy makers as well as those in other jurisdictions who are considering adoption of this system, here are the things we have learned about public financing.

Public financing was heavily used and helped attract a record number of candidates.

Thirty-three candidates enrolled in public financing.  Four of them ran for Executive, nineteen ran for Council At-Large and ten ran in Council Districts.  Of these candidates, twenty-three qualified for matching funds – all four Executive candidates, twelve Council At-Large candidates and seven District candidates.  That’s a 70% qualification rate.  MoCo has never had as many candidates for county office as it had this year – not even close! – and public financing was partially responsible for that.  Several candidates told your author that they would not have considered running if public financing had not been available.

Candidates in public financing can win.

Of ten county-level seats, six – Council District 3, Council District 4 and all four Council At-Large seats – were won by candidates in public financing.  Three of these winners were incumbents and three were not.  The County Executive seat may also be won by a publicly financed candidate pending absentee and provisional ballot counts.

But did public financing change the outcome?

The three incumbents who used public financing and won did not need the system to win.  Of the three non-incumbents who won while using it, we predicted that two – Council At-Large candidates Evan Glass and Will Jawando – would be strong contenders more than a year ago because they had run credible races before.  The third non-incumbent public financing winner, Council At-Large candidate Gabe Albornoz, would have at least been a viable candidate in the traditional system because of his endorsement by the Washington Post and his networks in the party, the community and among Ike Leggett supporters.  The leading Executive candidate in public financing, Marc Elrich, has long outperformed his fundraising and benefited from significant outside progressive support.  In no instance can we point to public financing as THE reason a candidate who was otherwise not viable became a winner.  In fact, if all candidates had used the traditional system, it’s possible that the exact same group of them would have won.

It was cheaper than expected.

The county set aside $11 million in its public election fund on the assumption that there would be many new candidates and that a lot of them would max out in public matching funds.  Yes, there were a lot of candidates, but only four – Council At-Large candidates Evan Glass and Will Jawando, Council District 1 candidate Reggie Oldak and Council District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz – maxed out.  Two more Council At-Large candidates – incumbent Hans Riemer and Bill Conway – came close and County Executive candidate Marc Elrich was not far off.  As a result, the county spent $4 million in matching funds distributions through the end of June – waaaaaay less than the $11 million in the public election fund.

Incumbents did well in the system.

In his 2014 race, Council At-Large incumbent Hans Riemer raised $271,817.  Four years later in public financing, Riemer raised $326,866 through June – a 20% improvement.  Council District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz raised $135,589 in 2014.  Four years later in public financing, Katz raised $176,265 through June – a 30% improvement.  Council incumbent Marc Elrich, who ran for Executive, raised $851,602 through June, a higher total than he had raised before and enough to let him compete with a multi-million-dollar self-funder.  Fellow council incumbent George Leventhal, who also ran for Executive, had decent fundraising with $628,426 but his campaign was hurt by front-loaded spending and few endorsements.

The system did not produce credible challenges to district incumbents.

Council District incumbents Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker blew out little-known challengers.  In the latter case, Hucker’s challenger actually qualified for matching funds and sent out two negative mail pieces but was still wiped out by 45 points in early and election day voting.  In the only competitive district race, District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz used public financing to defeat Ben Shnider, who ran in the traditional system.  The lack of competitiveness in district races is a long-standing trend that public financing has not changed.

Public financing was administratively challenging.

While no users of public financing told your author that they regretted participating in the system, all of them complained about its cumbersome administrative requirements – especially showing proof of residency to obtain matching funds and dealing with filing issues in the state’s software.  The State Board of Elections has every right to verify in-county residency before authorizing release of public funds, but the system’s ease of use should be reviewed by the next County Council.

Raising money in public financing takes a long time.

We wrote about this during the campaign.  Because the system relies on a large volume of small contributions, contacting those MANY small contributors takes a long time to pile up serious cash.  Late entrants into public financing like County Executive candidate Rose Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate Jill Ortman-Fouse were unable to match competitors in fundraising who also used public financing.  The lesson here is if you are going to use this system, start running early.

Self-funders did not overwhelm the system.

In the County Executive race, public financing candidate Marc Elrich fought self-funding David Blair, who gave his campaign at least $2.9 million, to a virtual draw.  In Council District 1, Meredith Wellington – who gave her campaign $78,000 – is on her way to finishing fourth behind public financing candidates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Reggie Oldak.  Self-funding was not a major factor in the Council At-Large race.

Public financing did not stop interest group participation in the election.

Interest groups may not have been able to contribute large individual, corporate and PAC checks to candidates but they still played.  They spent significant amounts on TV and mail in the Executive race and some progressive groups canvassed for their candidates.  Just as importantly, institutional endorsements mattered as much as ever.  Marc Elrich could not have come close in the Executive race without them.  District 1 candidate Ana Sol Gutierrez benefited from them to finish second even though she had lackluster fundraising.  District 3 candidate Ben Shnider had many and came closer to winning than most people initially believed.  And all four winning Council At-Large candidates (incumbent Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz) had lots of them.  Candidates who lacked interest group support, like Executive candidates Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Hoan Dang, Bill Conway and Jill Ortman-Fouse did not come close to winning.  Savvy interest groups can exploit public financing by helping candidates of their choice raise money inside the system while using their own money to finance PAC and independent expenditure activity.  Here’s a prediction: all of the above will happen again.

Most women using public financing did not win.

Much has been said about the next County Council having just one female member.  District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro used public financing to defeat a no-name challenger.  But no other woman in public financing came that close to winning.  In early and election day voting, Gutierrez trailed traditionally financed candidate Andrew Friedson in District 1 by seven points.  Krasnow finished third in the Executive race by fourteen points.  And the highest-performing woman in the Council At-Large race was Marilyn Balcombe, who used traditional financing to finish fifth.

There are numerous reasons to explain these finishes.  Gutierrez’s primary voter base was in Wheaton, which is outside District 1.  Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate Jill Ortman-Fouse raised money quickly but started too late to raise a lot of it.  Council At-Large candidates Brandy Brooks and Danielle Meitiv were unknown in county political circles before running so they could not tap into preexisting donor networks.  We believe that female candidates can succeed in the system, but we admit that this cycle presents little evidence of that.

Public financing amplified the influence of the Democratic Crescent.

We have written before about the Democratic Crescent, the region of the county stretching along the Beltway from Takoma Park in the east to Cabin John and Bethesda in the West.  This area has a disproportionate number of Democratic activists, voters and political contributors and sent Jamie Raskin to Congress two years ago.  Back in March, we found that the Crescent accounted for a majority of public financing contributions to Executive and Council At-Large candidates and waaaaay out-paced contributions from Upcounty.  If we were to repeat that exercise today, we have little reason to believe that the result would be significantly different.

The impact of Crescent participation was clearly seen in the Council At-Large results.  Riemer, Glass and Albornoz live in the Crescent.  Jawando lives outside it but much of his base in Legislative District 20 is inside it.  All four oppose M-83, the Upcounty highway demanded by many in Clarksburg.

There has only been one At-Large Council Member from Upcounty since the current council structure was created in 1990.  That person – Gaithersburg resident Mike Subin – has an asterisk since he was originally elected in District 2 in 1986 and shifted to an at-large seat when the new structure was put in place four years later.  And so the trend of not electing Upcounty residents to at-large seats was well established prior to this year but we wonder if public financing will lock it in.

We have spent $4 million on public financing so far.  Was it worth it?

We laid out the pluses and minuses above.  Readers, this question is for you to answer!

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Maryland’s Recount Procedure

By Adam Pagnucco.

As the elections for the Montgomery and Baltimore County Executives are very close, as are a few others like the District 16 House race, Maryland’s recount procedure is relevant.  It is contained in Md. Election Law Code Ann. § 12-101 through § 12-107.

“A candidate for public or party office who has been defeated based on the certified results of any election conducted under this article may petition for a recount of the votes cast for the office sought.”  The petition must be filed within three days after the results of the election have been certified and may request a recount in all precincts or just some precincts.  An opposing candidate may file a counter-petition if the results of the election are changed or if the original petition only addresses some precincts and the opposing candidate requests that all precincts be recounted.  On a ballot question, a registered voter eligible to vote on the question may file a petition for a recount.  A registered voter may file a counter-petition on that ballot question if the original petition did not specify all precincts or the result is changed.  Bonds are due from the petitioner and/or counter-petitioner to cover the cost of the recount.

Recounts are conducted by the appropriate local board(s) of election.  The State Board of Elections will monitor and support the work of the local board(s).

Petitioners are responsible to pay the cost of the recount with the following exceptions laid out in § 12-107(b)(2).

(i)  the outcome of the election is changed;

(ii)  the petitioner has gained a number of votes, for the petitioner’s candidacy or for or against the question that is the subject of the petition, equal to 2% or more of the total votes cast for the office or on the question, in all precincts being recounted; or

(iii)  1. the margin of difference in the number of votes received by an apparent winner and the losing candidate with the highest number of votes for an office is 0.1% or less of the total votes cast for those candidates;

2. in the case of a question, the margin of difference between the number of votes cast for and the number cast against the question is 0.1% or less.

If the petitioners are not responsible for paying the recount cost, the county must pay.

In the case of the Montgomery County Executive candidates, the recount payment threshold, which is “the margin of difference in the number of votes received by an apparent winner and the losing candidate with the highest number of votes for an office is 0.1% or less of the total votes cast for those candidates” is approximately 70 votes since Marc Elrich and David Blair together received roughly 70,000 votes.  Our hunch is that either campaign would be willing to bear the cost of a recount if necessary although how Elrich would finance a bond while in the fundraising constraints of public financing is an interesting question for lawyers to consider.

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MoCo Democrats are Badly Divided

By Adam Pagnucco.

This may not be the most polite thing to say in the wake of the MoCo Democrats’ Kiss and Make Up Party, but it’s the truth: MoCo Dems are badly divided.  Consider the following.

The photo finish in the Executive race between Marc Elrich and David Blair is exacerbated by the fact that many Democratic activists are part of Anybody But Elrich or Anybody But Blair factions.  No matter who wins, that person will have 29% of the primary vote, far lower than any prior MoCo Executive.

That’s not the only divide in the Executive race.  The three incumbent Council Members received a combined 52% of the vote.  The three outsiders received 48%.  That suggests an even split between those who want more of what they have seen from the council and those who want something different.

Gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous won MoCo with roughly 36% of the vote, four points ahead of Rushern Baker and 22 points ahead of MoCo State Senator Rich Madaleno.  No one wants to talk about this publicly, but there are quite a few county Dems out there who will consider voting for Governor Larry Hogan.

Now Nancy Floreen has filed a declaration of intent to run for County Executive as an independent.  This is sure to attract the attention of some Dems who are upset that the nine-member County Council will include just one woman.  Floreen is one of the most prominent female Democrats in the county’s history.  No woman has been elected countywide more times than Floreen since charter government was established in 1970.  If she does indeed get on the ballot, a not-insignificant number of Dems – especially women – could vote for her.

All of this adds to county Democrats’ pre-existing divide about land use, the Upcounty vs Downcounty split, long-standing tensions between progressives and moderates and the Hillary vs Bernie disputes of two years ago (and the Hillary vs Obama disputes before that).  Throw that in with the fact that a majority of Democrats voted for term limits and there’s a lot of bubbling in the cauldron right now.

The county’s two most popular Democrats are U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin.  Neither is known for intervening in and settling local disputes.  County Executive Ike Leggett is widely respected but is leaving office.  The Governor is a Republican who is happy to see Dems fight Dems.

As for the Republicans, they must be kicking themselves that they couldn’t find anyone else to run for Executive other than Robin Ficker.

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Nancy Floreen Files Intent to Run for County Executive as an Independent

By Adam Pagnucco.

Bethesda Magazine just reported that Council Member Nancy Floreen has filed her intent to run for County Executive as an independent.  But getting on the ballot is not as simple as filing.

The magazine noted that Floreen is still a Democrat and that could present a legal difficulty.  But there is more.  According to § 5-703 of the state’s election law, Floreen has until the first Monday in August to submit petition signatures sufficient to place her on the ballot.  The law states:

A candidate who seeks nomination by petition may not have the candidate’s name placed on the general election ballot unless the candidate files with the appropriate board petitions signed by the lesser of 10,000 registered voters or 1% of the total number of registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office for which the nomination by petition is sought, except that the petitions shall be signed by at least 250 registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office…

The number of registered voters required to satisfy the requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be determined as of January 1 of the year of the primary election for which the nomination is sought.

The state’s voter registration report for January indicates that there were 644,179 registered voters in Montgomery County at that time.  So Floreen’s absolute minimum threshold would be 6,442 MoCo voters.  To be safe, she probably needs at least 10,000 signatures to account for inevitable disqualifications.

She has until August 6 to get them.

Following is Floreen’s statement.

Today I filed an Intent to Declare Candidacy with the Maryland Board of Elections to run for County Executive in the November general election.

Let me be clear: I would like to have waited for the final count of ballots in the County Executive race. However, State law sets July 2 as the deadline for declaring an independent candidacy.

I did not support either David Blair or Marc Elrich. Whichever candidate prevails in the count will do so with less than 30 percent of the third of Democrats who voted — a fraction of a fraction. That’s less than 40,000 votes in a County of more than a million.

I believe ALL Democrats, Republicans, and independents would benefit from a third, independent choice.

I will announce my final decision on candidacy once all the primary votes for County Executive have been tabulated and certified.

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A Pattern in the Absentee Ballots?

By Adam Pagnucco.

All eyes in political MoCo are on the County Executive race, which will be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  After the first absentee canvass, Marc Elrich’s lead over David Blair has declined from 492 votes to 149 votes, guaranteeing an absolute squeaker of a finish.  Lots of folks are asking why.  A preliminary analysis of absentee voting data suggests one reason: for the most part, candidates endorsed by MCEA, of whom Elrich is one, are performing slightly less well in absentee voting than in early voting and election day voting.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has historically been the most powerful interest group in MoCo elections.  Its political program has combined mail and poll coverage where its mighty Apple Ballot is distributed.  This year, its mail program has been partially diverted to the Governor’s race (where the union helped pay for three mailers on behalf of Ben Jealous) and Congress District 6 (where the union sent three mailers for Aruna Miller).  Its remaining mailers were one for its State Legislative District 16 endorsees (one of whom was teacher Samir Paul), one for its Council At-Large endorsees (one of whom was teacher Chris Wilhelm) and one with the Apple Ballot itself.  The latter mailer was the only one to include Marc Elrich, who was endorsed late.  In past years in which races for Governor and Congress were not an issue, MCEA’s mail program was entirely focused on state legislative and county races.

Alterations to the mail program may explain variations in absentee ballot voting.  People who vote early, on election day and through provisional ballots may encounter Apple Ballot poll coverage.  And it’s not just MCEA who distributes it; candidates who are featured on it often distribute it too.  But absentee voters do not go to a polling place.  They must be contacted through other means.  As stated above, MCEA’s mailers were drawn into races for Congress and Governor and if the union has a robust digital program, we have not seen it.  All of this means that absentee voters in General Assembly and county-level races are less likely to be influenced by the Apple.

The table below shows sixteen close performances in county races between Apple-endorsed and non-Apple candidates.  (We excluded incumbents to remove any incumbent effect on absentee voting.)  In each race, the margin between the two in election and early voting results is shown alongside the margin in the first absentee canvass.  (Both sets of results are unofficial and there will be another absentee canvass.)  In eleven of these sixteen races, Apple-endorsed candidate performance declined in absentee voting.

Now some of these races have other things going on.  In Congress District 6, Aruna Miller benefited from MCEA’s three mailers and her performance actually rose a tiny bit among absentees.  In the gubernatorial race, a clear outlier, Rushern Baker may have benefited from the Washington Post’s strong endorsement.  (This year, the Post did not endorse in Congressional or state legislative races.)  David Blair got not one, but two Post endorsements.  Elrich’s late endorsement from MCEA handicapped his ability to publicize it, which may have impacted absentee voters.  And so on.

The Apple Ballot is arguably the best endorsement in the county.  Blair would already have won the Executive race if Elrich had not received it.  But the data above, however tentative it is, suggests a pattern: the Apple has been slightly less effective in absentee voting.  The median performance drop is 1.4 points.  The mean performance drop excluding the outlier race for Governor is 1.3 points.  So let’s round it in rough terms to a point-and-a-half decline.  That’s not enough to affect most races but it is having an impact on the razor-thin contests for County Executive and House 16.  MCEA should consider this in designing its future political programs.

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Does Blair Have a Chance?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With early votes and election day votes counted, Marc Elrich leads David Blair by 452 votes to win the Democratic County Executive nomination.  This would be a close margin in a House of Delegates race but it’s incredibly close for a county-wide race.  The final outcome will now be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  Does Blair have a chance or will Elrich hold on to win?

According to Bethesda Magazine, the county’s Board of Elections received 4,900 Democratic absentee ballots as of Monday.  In addition, 3,614 provisional ballots were cast but that total includes all parties.  For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that 2,500 of those provisional ballots came from Democrats.  If there are only 5,000 Democratic absentee ballots received, that is 7,500 outstanding votes.  A higher end assumption would be that 7,500 Democratic absentee ballots come in, resulting in 10,000 outstanding votes.

Let’s do a math exercise on the final outcome of the absentee and provisional votes.  In the first scenario, let’s assume that the percentages of three categories – Blair’s percentage, Elrich’s percentage and the percentage of all the other candidates – exactly match the shares recorded during early and election day voting.  In this scenario, Elrich picks up between 30 and 40 votes more than Blair and he would win.

Now let’s do a scenario in which Blair wins.  Since Blair and Elrich are the top two and no one else is even close, it’s the margin between them that will determine the victor.  In this second scenario, we will hold the percentage of all the other candidates constant and merely adjust the totals for Blair and Elrich.  Adding 3.3 points to Blair and subtracting 3.3 points from Elrich produces a net gain for Blair of 465 votes in a 7,500 vote universe, enough to win.  That margin would go up to 620 votes in a 10,000 vote universe.  But note that this scenario requires Blair to lead Elrich by 6.2 points among these groups, a very different result than Elrich’s 0.4 point lead in early and election day votes.

We adjusted the percentage for the other candidates up and down and didn’t find much change in the margin Blair needs, which is more than six points over Elrich.  Again, this is a departure from the cumulative early vote and election day totals.

Will it happen?  Readers, you tell us!

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The Washington Post Ballots

By Adam Pagnucco.

Two ballots were handed out today announcing county-level endorsements by the Washington Post.

The first one shows all of the Post’s endorsements for County Executive, County Council and Board of Education.  It has an authority line from David Blair’s campaign.  We hear that several other Post-endorsed campaigns distributed it in addition to Blair’s people.  The presence of an authority line makes it legal and the fact that it included all the county Post endorsements, not just some, is fair.

The second one shows just four of the Post’s endorsements: County Executive (Blair), Council At-Large (Evan Glass and Marilyn Balcombe) and Council District 1 (Andrew Friedson).  The other two Council At-Large Post endorsees (incumbent Hans Riemer and Gabe Albornoz) do not appear.  It has no visible authority line.  This particular one was distributed in Bethesda but we have no idea how many were handed out.  If it indeed lacks an authority line, this ballot violated state election law.  It was also misleading because it only partially lists the Council At-Large endorsements.  No campaign has admitted responsibility for this flyer.

We have not seen a “Washington Post Ballot” in the past.  But if it continues, and if campaigns can agree on funding it, it could conceivably be turned into an alternative to the Apple Ballot.

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The Reasons For My Votes

By Adam Pagnucco.

Just like (hopefully) all of you, I am voting in the primary this year.  We talk a lot about candidates on Seventh State but not as much about what guides our voting decisions.  These are the factors guiding me.

There are two things in my background that weigh heavily on how I evaluate the county and its candidates.  First, I’m a native of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills in Upstate New York.  I admit bias, but these are two of the prettiest places on Planet Earth!  From the end of World War II up through the 1980s, this area was relatively prosperous.  The three pillars of the economy were agriculture, tourism and manufacturing with the Borscht Belt hotels and IBM acting as anchor employers.  Middle class jobs were common from Poughkeepsie through Monticello.  But by the end of the 1980s, the Borscht Belt began emptying out and IBM started layoffs a little later, closing its massive Kingston facility in 1994.  The area never recovered.  At a young age, I learned this lesson: there is no law of economics holding that a prosperous economy will remain prosperous forever.

There is more.  In 1989, I was a bell captain at one of those dying Borscht Belt hotels.  My crew was composed mostly of adults who lived paycheck to paycheck, so they were seriously put out when the paychecks started bouncing.  One Friday during check-in, my crew and I went into the management offices to demand timely payment of VALID checks.  When they refused, I led a walkout.  I was fired and about half my crew was too.  (That was the start of my interest in the labor movement.)  Within a couple years, the hotel was closed.  The former owners cashed out and moved to Florida.  The workers were out of jobs.  Here’s another lesson: economic decline doesn’t hurt the rich.  They will be just fine.  It’s working people who need a strong economy to live decent lives.

My beloved old hotel, the Stevensville Country Club of Swan Lake, NY, in its glory days.

The second relevant thing in my background is that I’m a corporate and economic researcher.  When I decided to move out of D.C. fifteen years ago, I picked MoCo because it had so much going for it: enlightened leadership, good schools, nice amenities, high-quality county services, access to transit and a decent economy.  But that was then.  Here is some of what I have published on Seventh State over the last two years.

1.  MoCo has had one of the worst job creation performances in the entire region since 2001. As of 2016, its employment has still not returned to its pre-recession peak.  (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

2.  MoCo’s real per capita personal income took a bigger hit than most of the rest of the region from the Great Recession. (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

3.  The county’s establishment growth is almost last in the region. It lags D.C. and Fairfax by huge amounts.  (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

4.  The outmigration of taxpayer income from the county has hit record levels for the last few years. (Internal Revenue Service)

5.  While wage and salary employment is flat, MoCo is creating lots of lower-paying proprietor jobs. Most other jurisdictions in the region are creating both.  (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

6.  Despite telling us that the economy is just fine, county leaders have grabbed tens of millions of dollars in health insurance money just to balance the budget two years in a row. That is despite the nine percent property tax hike of two years ago.  And where is the money going?  Since the recession ended, spending on education and transportation – two huge investment categories of paramount importance to voters – has increased at half the rate of everything else.  (Montgomery County budget documents)

Back in Upstate New York in the 1980s, those who were paying attention could see a little weakness.  But for the most part, we didn’t understand that we were in the middle of a tipping point.  So it is in MoCo.  We have enough strength left that a lot of people don’t feel the above trends in their wallets yet, though they did feel the big tax hike and many suffer long commutes to jobs in D.C. and Virginia.  Unless Donald Trump is worse than I think he is, the federal government won’t close down like IBM did.  But the data does not lie – we are slipping, folks.  And that’s a problem because we need strong revenue growth to fund progressive priorities.

The reaction of the governing establishment to the above posts and more has been disappointing.  Some have been indifferent.  Others have questioned the economic numbers.  (I guarantee that the federal economists downtown who produce those numbers have no hidden agenda to make MoCo politicians look bad!)  Some have interpreted discussion of this information as primarily an attack on their records.  A few even regard it as a personal attack.

Guess what, politicians?  It’s not about you – it’s about us.  And we need to do better.  Luckily, as one of the few jurisdictions in the nation that combines wealth, education, diversity, tolerance, good schools, low crime, a triple-A bond rating and no municipal corruption, there’s nothing we can’t deal with IF we decide to deal with it.

This year, I am only voting for candidates who understand the nature of the above challenges, have specific ideas for coping with them and – fingers crossed! – have the courage and strategic vision to lead us to our full potential.

And if you want a finer county, so should you.

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What Happens if There is a Tie?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With hundreds of races for state and county office all over Maryland this year, some of them are bound to be close.  In fact, it’s even possible that there could be a tie.  Don’t laugh, readers – that actually happened in a Virginia House of Delegates race last year, with the winner’s name plucked from a bowl and partisan control of the chamber resting on the outcome.  So if a tie occurs in Maryland, what would happen?

The issue appears in five sections of the state’s constitution.  Article II, Section 4 refers to a tie in a race for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.  If that happens, the election is decided by a vote of the General Assembly.

Article III, Section 13 refers to a tie in a General Assembly election.  If that happens, the party Central Committee of the same party as the last occupant of the office determines the winner.  The procedure is similar to filling legislative vacancies.

Article V, Section 2 states that if there is a tie in an election for the state’s Attorney General, the Governor decides the winner.

Article V, Section 8 states that a tie in an election for a State’s Attorney will be decided by the judges with criminal jurisdiction in the relevant county.

Other elections for state and county office are covered by Article XVII, Section 8.  If any of them results in a tie, “a new election shall be ordered by the Governor, except in cases specially provided for by this Constitution.”

Municipal elections are not mentioned in the constitution, but the issue came up in 2015 when a city council election in Aberdeen resulted in a tie.  Prior to that, the Maryland Municipal League found that there had been eight ties in municipal elections over the last decade.  Some municipalities had no procedures for resolving ties.  The incident led to the passage of a 2016 state bill specifying that municipalities must have tie-breaking procedures but leaving to them the decision of what to choose.

So there you have it, folks.  With all of the heavily contested races in the state this year, there’s a possibility that one of them could end in a tie – maybe even right here in MoCo.

Are you ready for another election?

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