Category Archives: Robin Ficker

These Public Financing Candidates Are Done

By Adam Pagnucco.

Update: Even though the deadline is May 12, the State Board of Elections said on March 30 that they will allow a candidate to file for matching funds as late as tomorrow (May 15) provided that all qualifying contributions were received by May 12.  We will see if any of the above candidates file reports by tomorrow night.

Original Post: According to Montgomery County’s public campaign financing law, candidates have until 45 days before the primary election to qualify for public matching funds.  Since the primary is on June 26, the qualifying period ended on Saturday, May 12.  According to filings with the State Board of Elections, the following candidates did not qualify for matching funds by then and will not be receiving them.

Rosemary Arkoian – At-Large

Richard Banach – District 1

Craig Carozza-Caviness – At-Large

Bill Cook – District 1

Robin Ficker – County Executive

Lorna Phillips Forde – At-Large

Richard Gottfried – At-Large

Neil Greenberger – At-Large

Kevin Harris – District 5

Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd – District 5

Jim McGee – District 1

Melissa McKenna – At-Large

Darwin Romero – At-Large

In addition, Bethesda Magazine reported that these candidates were ruled ineligible for matching funds because their submissions to the State Board of Elections did not meet the thresholds of either in-county contributors or in-county money received to qualify.

Shruti Bhatnagar – At-Large

Loretta Garcia – At-Large

Paul Geller – At-Large

Michele Riley – At-Large

Tim Willard – At-Large

These eighteen candidates represent almost half of the thirty-eight active candidates in public financing.  Starved of resources and unable to get their messages out, none of them will be elected.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Christmas morning is over and your blogger is done opening the presents – errrrr, campaign finance reports.  Now we get to share them with you!  And we will start by breaking down the Montgomery County Executive race.

Before we start playing with the toys, let’s clear away the wrapping and discuss a few data issues.  Our numbers are different from what you will read in other outlets.  That’s because Seventh State readers are special and we are going to give you only the best!  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Many candidates, particularly in other races we will discuss, have been campaigning for more than a year and we want to capture that.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Total raised does not include in-kind contributions.  Third, for self-financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in cash on hand (which we call adjusted cash balance).  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

And now, we reveal the numbers you all have been craving: the first round of fundraising reports for the seven people running for County Executive.

This is exactly the kind of race Council Member Marc Elrich wants.  He is up against five other candidates, only one of whom has run countywide before, who are nothing like him and cannot steal votes from his progressive and anti-development base.  Better yet, because of public financing, he has the resources to be financially competitive.  (The thought of Elrich with money is almost as strange as the sight of Elrich wearing a suit and tie.)  Elrich has been building a grass roots base for thirty years and he will be able to combine it with substantial labor, progressive and environmental support.  This election is starting to turn into Elrich and a competition to become the non-Elrich alternative.

Council Member Roger Berliner has to feel good about his report.  He leads the field in total raised for the cycle and cash on hand, and also has the lowest burn rate.  Berliner can now start making the case to those who are not inclined to support Elrich that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  Doing that is essential for his path to victory.  (Disclosure: your author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner and has done work for him in the past.)

Businessman David Blair is sometimes compared to fellow businessman David Trone, but he is not using a Trone-like strategy.  When Trone entered the CD8 race last year, he staffed up rapidly and began spending millions on television within weeks.  Accordingly, some observers expected Blair to write himself a million dollar check, putting opponents on notice and perhaps intimidating one or two of them to withdraw.  But while Trone plays to win, Blair looks like he’s playing around.  He gave himself just enough money ($300,000) to equal the formerly penniless Elrich in cash on hand and trail Berliner.  As for private sector fundraising, Berliner has raked in almost three times as much as Blair.  Blair needs to sharpen his message, learn more about the county and show a hunger to win.

Council Member George Leventhal is plenty hungry.  He might be the hardest-working candidate in the race and he clearly believes he’s the best person for the job.  But Leventhal is killing his campaign with his sky-high burn rate (46%), which is more than double the burn rates of Elrich (19%) and Berliner (18%).  Like Berliner, Leventhal needs to show to non-Elrich folks that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  To do that, he needs to tighten up his spending and get some big endorsements – sooner rather than later.

Bill Frick, you know we love you.  We admire your heroism on the liquor monopoly and we appreciate all the great fodder you have given us over the years.  But you showed a cash balance of $150,753 – less than half what Berliner, Elrich and Blair reported.  Why are you doing this, Bill?  We want many more years of you in public office, so please take our advice: stay in the House and run to succeed Brian Frosh as Attorney General when the time comes.  We will help you do it!  We will even write dozens of blog posts just like this one.

Former Planning Department staffer and Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow is an appealing, substantive and competent candidate with fans in both the business and smart growth communities.  The fact that she is the only female candidate running against five men in a Democratic primary electorate that is almost 60% female is a big plus.  Her numbers are not in yet, but she told Bethesda Magazine that she had raised $39,800 from small contributions in the public financing system.  If that’s true, it means she is on pace to qualify for public matching funds much faster than either Elrich or Leventhal did.  Still, we don’t understand why she entered public financing.  It takes a long time to raise money that way and it prevents her from tapping into what could be substantial business support.  Even if she qualifies for matching funds, she could very well trail all the other Democrats in fundraising except maybe Frick.

Republican Robin Ficker appears roughly halfway to qualifying for public matching funds.  That means the county’s most infamous anti-tax activist could wind up campaigning on the public dole.  And all of you MoCo residents will be paying for that!

Next up: the council at-large candidates.

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Stop Giving Robin Ficker More Ammo

By Adam Pagnucco.

Right about now, the happiest man in Montgomery County lives in Boyds.  He is 74, a huge sports fanatic, a long time attorney, a former state Delegate, a perpetual candidate and a tireless activist.  He loves the County Council because some of its members give him endless material for use in his never-ending demagogic campaign to weaken and ultimately paralyze county government.

Yes folks, we are talking about the notorious political heckler Robin Ficker.  And he must be jumping for joy at the news that some members of the council are considering a possible new soda tax.

Ficker has been running for office and placing charter amendments on the ballot, mostly intended to limit taxes, since the 1970s.  The huge majority of his amendments have failed, often because the political establishment labeled them “Ficker amendments” to exploit the national infamy of his heckling at Washington Bullets games.  One exception was the razor-tight passage of his 2008 charter amendment mandating that all nine Council Members vote in support of exceeding the charter limit on property taxes.  But Ficker has never had more ammo than in the last four years and he has used it to push his anti-government agenda.  Consider what has happened.

The council’s approval of a large salary increase for its members in 2013 and its passage of a 9% property tax hike in 2016 gave Ficker’s term limits charter amendment momentum.  Some Council Members then used their campaign funds to finance a lawsuit to keep term limits off the ballot, which failed.  Council Member Nancy Floreen’s “exasperated” and “defensive” performance in a television debate with Ficker and Council Member George Leventhal’s comparison of term limits supporters with Brexit voters didn’t help.  Ficker predicted term limits would pass by twenty points; instead, they passed by forty.

Robin Ficker thanks MoCo voters for giving him his biggest political win ever.

That’s not all.  Ficker has enrolled in the public financing system established by the council for his latest Executive run.  And he requested the county government’s email lists after another resident obtained them under the Public Information Act.  Any competent campaigner – maybe even Ficker – should be able to use those thousands of emails to raise enough money to qualify for public matching funds.

And now we have news of the soda tax, which prompted gleeful self-promotion by Ficker in Bethesda Magazine’s comment section.  Expect a Facebook ad soon.

Your author does not enjoy writing this column because we find merit in this particular tax.  Sugary drinks and soda are public health menaces, especially to children.  The intended use of the money for early childhood programs is a good idea.  And the current tight budget does not give any quick or easy options for funding undeniable, but expensive, priorities like early childhood education.  But the counter-argument from Ficker, who calls Council Members “tax increase specialists,” is obvious.  “They’re not listening to you,” Ficker will tell the voters.  “You told them no more tax hikes and they’re going to do it anyway.”  Even Leventhal, who has voted for numerous tax hikes and has done as much to promote public health as any Council Member ever, has come out against the new tax.

The danger here is not that Ficker will be elected.  Voters made that mistake once all the way back in 1978 and have never come close to repeating it since.  The real problem is the next charter amendment that Ficker will inevitably introduce after his latest election campaign fails.  Whatever else Ficker is, he is an astute student of Maryland county tax policies.  He is fully aware of the taxation and spending limits in the Prince George’s County charter, such as the requirements that the property tax rate may not exceed 96 cents per $100 of assessed value and that bond issues, new taxes, other tax increases and some fee increases be approved by voters.  He is also aware of provisions in the state constitution and several county charters that forbid legislative bodies from adding spending to executive budgets.  Indeed, some of his past charter amendments have been variants of such policies.

It’s one thing to raise taxes during terrible economic downturns as the county did in 2010.  That simply had to be done.  It’s a very different thing to discuss new discretionary tax hikes in times when voters are not convinced that they are absolutely needed.  If the council would like to have more money available for worthy programs, it should focus on growing the economy, stop adding ongoing miscellaneous spending financed by one-shot revenue sources, redirect cable fund money to purposes that actually benefit the public and restrain some parts of the budget to finance expansions of others.  Doing those things will free up tens of millions of dollars, and maybe more, over time.  But constant talk, and occasional passage, of discretionary tax hikes will only help Ficker place a Prince George’s-style anti-tax doomsday charter amendment on the ballot.  Should such a thing pass, no soda tax will save us.

Hence a warning.  If you give Robin Ficker enough ammo, even he will eventually hit the target.

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Perennial Candidate Ficker Reprimanded for Ethics Violation Again

Ficker Reprimand by David Lublin on Scribd

Robin Ficker has been reprimanded yet again by the Maryland Court of Appeals for a legal ethics violation. Specifically, he failed to show up for court and left his client unrepresented, and also employed a disbarred lawyer without the appropriate required notice.

Ficker blamed a conflict and communication problems with the judge’s office for why the judge didn’t know that he wouldn’t appear. Did the client know that Ficker was leaving in the lurch? On the second violation, Ficker plead ignorance of the law as his excuse:

“I did not know about that rule. There was not a single Maryland case which had ever mentioned that rule or any ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals,” Ficker said, adding that he stays up to date on developments in the state’s highest court.

Ficker is a frequent flier at the Court of Appeals for ethics violations and has been previously suspended from the practice of law. When Ficker was suspended in 2007, one judge wrote:

If disbarment is not warranted in this case for these types of issues, with a respondent with this history, it will never be warranted. If it is never going to be warranted in these types of cases, we should modify the rules to say so. I would disbar.

Taking into account his history, Ficker was lucky to once again get away with just a reprimand.

This will not affect his chances of being elected Montgomery County Executive, as those remain nil.

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Will Taxpayers Fund Ficker’s Next Campaign?

By Adam Pagnucco.

As MCM and Seventh State have reported, MoCo political heckler Robin Ficker is running for County Executive.  That’s not shocking – Ficker has a long history of running for office and almost always losing.  What’s new is that Ficker is planning on acquiring a new source of campaign funds.

You, the public.

Ficker’s campaign website explicitly refers to the county’s new public financing system, under which the county matches campaign contributions made by individual residents (but not PACs, corporate entities or non-residents).  The system is opt-in; candidates can use the traditional financing system if they wish.  Ficker created a public financing account to run for Executive on February 8.  But that doesn’t mean he will necessarily get public funds.

Ficker’s campaign website home page.

The county’s system does not distribute taxpayer money to everyone who participates.  Instead, it sets up a number of thresholds candidates must reach before they are eligible for public matching funds.  Under the law, a candidate for Executive must receive at least 500 contributions of $150 or less from county residents totaling at least $40,000 before he or she is eligible for public funds.  The candidate cannot accept money from PACs or businesses and cannot take individual contributions of higher amounts.  Once eligible, the candidate can collect up to $600 in taxpayer funds for each $150 contributed by an individual.  Lesser matching amounts apply to smaller contributions on a sliding scale.  Lower thresholds and different match levels apply to those running for County Council at-large and district seats.

Could Ficker get public money?  Ficker has used two campaign accounts over the last decade, the Robin Ficker for Homeowners Committee (which he used in two runs for County Council) and the Fickers for 15 Slate (which he used to run for the General Assembly along with his son in 2014).  The two accounts together raised $262,762.  Of that amount, Ficker self-financed $259,108, or 99% of his take.  A total of 33 individuals other than Ficker gave to the two accounts.  So Ficker has a long ways to go to get public money.  However, he does plan to use his term limits petition information to raise contributions.  Ficker gathered 17,649 signatures.  If just three percent of those folks contribute $150 or less to his campaign, Ficker will qualify for public matching funds.

And so here is the cost of public campaign financing.  If taxpayers are to fund the campaigns of candidates they might support, they may also have to fund the campaigns of those they do not.  Even the clown prince of political hecklers.  Even Robin Ficker.

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Did Ficker Commit Election or Tax Fraud?

Bethesda Beat caught local gadfly and perennial Republican candidate Robin Ficker in a shocking admission the other day:

[In 2009], Ficker lost to council member Nancy Navarro, 7,364 to 4,263, in a special election for the council’s District 4 seat. Ficker said Friday he used his parents’ Silver Spring address to run in that race.

However, the Montgomery County Charter says that you’re supposed to reside in the Council District in which you run:

Each of the five other members of the Council shall, at the time of Nomination and election and throughout the member’s term of office, reside in a different Council district, and shall be nominated and elected by the qualified voters of that district. Any change in the boundaries of a Council district after a member is elected shall not render the member ineligible to complete the term for which the member was elected.

You’re supposed to use your own address, not that of your parents, when you run for office, so did Ficker violate the law? Notice that Ficker did not say that he moved to his parents’ house to establish residency but that “he used his parents’ address.”

According to the Montgomery County property tax database, Ficker has paid property tax on his home in Boyds since at least 1999. As Adam Pagnucco covered at the time, Ficker was still claiming the homestead exemption on his principal residence–his home in Boyds.

How did Ficker establish residency in Council District 4? Was his parents’ home his domicile? Did he live with his parents or with his wife in their home? Did Ficker file taxes at his own home or that of his parents? Did he obtain a new driver’s license with his parents’ address? Did he switch his voter registration, and if so, was that also done legally?

Put bluntly, did Robin Ficker establish legal residency in Council District 4? In light of the obvious evidence and Ficker’s public admission, does the State’s Attorney intend to investigate violations of either tax or election law?

Additionally, do Ficker’s actions violate the Maryland Code of Legal Ethics? The Code states:

A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. . . .

A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office. . . .

Robin Ficker is an attorney and would no doubt claim that he complied with the law. Some might hesitate to take his word for it, as “Ficker has been a frequent flyer in disciplinary matters” related to ethical requirements for the practice of law:

ATTORNEY GRIEV. COMM’N OF MARYLAND v. FICKER, 319 Md. 305, 572 A.2d 501 (1990). Reprimand.

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND v. Robin K.A. FICKER, 349 Md. 13, 706 A.2d 1045 (1998). Law license suspension.

Private reprimand (1998).

Private reprimand (2002).

ATTORNEY GRIEVANCE COMMISSION OF MARYLAND v. Robin K.A. FICKER, 399 Md. 445, 924 A.2d 1105 (2007). Indefinite law license suspension.

Although Ficker’s law license was reinstated after a year in the last case, the dissent in the opinion stated:

If disbarment is not warranted in this case for these types of issues, with a respondent with this history, it will never be warranted. If it is never going to be warranted in these types of cases, we should modify the rules to say so. I would disbar.

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MoCo Revolts

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a thundering rebuke to Montgomery County’s governing establishment, voters have passed term limits by a 38 point margin with early votes and election day votes counted.  Folks, let’s call this what it is.

A Revolt.

This year will see one of the largest electorates in Montgomery County history.  While the absolute number of voters may be declining in our mid-term elections, it has been steadily rising in presidential general elections.  County residents voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump (by 54 points as of this writing).  But they also voted for term limits despite the fact that most county voters are Democrats and all county elected officials are Democrats.  This year was reminiscent of the 2008 general election, during which MoCo voted for Barack Obama by 45 points but also approved Robin Ficker’s charter amendment restricting property tax hikes by just 5,060 votes.  This demonstrates the capacity of county voters to keep national issues and local issues separate when they so desire.  The big difference between 2008 and now is that the margin of term limits’ passage was so titanic that it’s possible that half of all Democrats voted for it.

The scale of this upheaval is virtually unprecedented.  Sure, County Council incumbents have been defeated here and there and a sitting County Executive was beaten in 1990.  But the voters voted against all the incumbents this year, or at least put an expiration date on their services.  To find something comparable, you would have to go back to 1962, when five of seven Council Members were ejected, and 1966, when six Council Members were defeated.

Former County Council Member Steve Silverman astutely characterized term limits supporters as “a convergence of strange bed-fellows.”  County employees upset about reduced raises, business people unhappy about what they see as an unfriendly business climate, residents opposed to new master plans with more density, Republicans and unaffiliated voters angry about being marginalized, opponents of the county’s liquor monopoly, people upset about the recent Giant Tax Hike and nanny state laws, and those who genuinely regard term limits as facilitating good government came together as they never have before.  As David Lublin wrote, these groups may have had incompatible visions of what county government should be, but all of them believed the way to get there was to get rid of the incumbents.

Term limits opponents made two primary arguments.  First, they described term limits as “an attack on progressive government.”  This had the effect of making the term limits question a referendum on current county elected officials, a perspective actually shared by many supporters.

term-limits-opposition-fundraiser

And second, they tried to make term limits toxic by emphasizing their support by figures like Donald Trump, Robin Ficker and Help Save Maryland.

term-limits-trump-ficker

That strategy didn’t work for two reasons: the opponents were vastly under-funded as they were going uphill and the message itself was not calibrated for a general electorate that is less liberal than Democratic primary voters.  Social media proved to be the weapon of choice for both sides, and in terms of Facebook likes, supporters outgunned opponents by a ratio of 13-1.  Opponents were counting on the Democratic sample ballot and the Apple Ballot, both opposing term limits, to win.  But whereas the sample ballot is often mailed to all county Democrats, this time around it was mailed only to those who had newly registered.  And the teachers union did not supplement its Apple Ballot poll coverage with multiple mass mailings as they do in mid-term years.  Accordingly, the impact of both ballots was blunted.  Opposition organizer Tom Moore made a valiant effort, but this was an unwinnable campaign from the start.

To be fully understood, this year’s vote must be put into the context of recent history.  Since 2008, county voters have decided four major ballot questions and each time they took what was arguably the less progressive position.  Put those four votes together and here is the message from the voters:

We don’t want more property taxes.  We don’t want more government fees.  We don’t want a labor union running the police department.  And even though most of us are Democrats, we are telling the Democrats who run the county government that twelve years in office is long enough.

This is pretty much the opposite of the long-standing posture of the county’s political establishment.  And it’s not just coming from flakes, fanatics and fringe types like Robin Ficker and Help Save Maryland – it’s coming from a majority of county voters.  If there was ever a moment for the governing class to do some soul searching, this is it.

Opponents of term limits may be right about one thing – they may change the names of elected officials, but not the type of them.  Democrats, often very liberal ones, will continue to be elected because of our closed primary system.  But the combined message of the last four ballot questions imposes a hard choice on the elected officials of today and tomorrow.  They can try to balance the interests of various constituencies across the political spectrum at the possible cost of losing the progressive support that influences Democratic primaries.  Or they can stay the course and watch more moderate general election voters pass even more restrictive ballot questions, including perhaps the ultimate bane of progressivism – a hard tax cap.

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Term Limits Opposition in Shambles

By Adam Pagnucco.

With the challenge to Robin Ficker’s petition signatures having failed in court, the opposition to term limits has hit a new low.  Opponents have less than three weeks left and over 400,000 prospective general election voters to reach.  Tick tock says the clock.

How do you win on term limits?  Here’s a theory: voters will vote in accordance with their perceived self-interest.  Whoever wishes to sway them must address their self-interest and take account of how they see it.  Failure to do so means losing the argument.

So far, the opponents’ arguments against term limits seem to be that they are unfair to elected officials, that Robin Ficker is a baaaaad man (he is), that county Republicans favor them, that nativist extremists were involved in gathering petition signatures (they were), that Nancy Navarro would be denied three full terms under Ficker’s language, that Donald Trump favors term limits and that term limits supporters are like Brexit supporters.

Well, OK.  But what do any of these arguments have to do with the voters’ self-interest?

And then this happened.

“Oh wait a minute.  Never mind, voters.  Forget about what we told you.  We are going to court so you won’t be able to vote!  What’s that?  You will be voting after all?  Oh.  Well, remember what we were saying…?”

Adding to the above is that most prominent opponents of term limits have a personal self-interest in the issue.  Several incumbent Council Members have spoken publicly against them.  Tom Moore, the opponents’ organizer, is a former Rockville City Council Member who ran for County Council in 2014 and might do so again.  Almost all of the scanty funding for the anti-term limits committee came from Council Members, their staff, their family and a non-profit receiving county money.  Are there any non-politicians (aside from Charter Review Commission Chair Paul Bessel) who are willing to work to defeat term limits?

Ficker, on the other hand, does have a narrative aimed at voters.  His sales pitch is that, according to him, current elected officials are “self-serving” by awarding themselves large salary increases and voting for big tax hikes filled with goodies for interest groups that help them get reelected.  The costs of all this are passed on to taxpayers.  Ficker proposes breaking this cycle by instituting term limits and getting new people elected with “fresh ideas.”  Put aside for a moment that there are numerous problems with his theory, including that there is already substantial competition in county elections and that the 2014 public financing law could promote even more competition.  Ficker is speaking directly to the pocketbook interests of voters while the other side is currently not.

Right now, all the momentum is with term limits supporters as many factors are working in their favor – especially the council’s Giant Tax Hike.  Opponents are going uphill, with a tremendous amount of work to do and very little time.  At this point in the 2000 term limits battle, legendary Duncan operative Jerry “Darth Vader” Pasternak had put together a massive coalition to fight Ficker, and the opponents ultimately won by just eight points.  In contrast, little of this work appears to have been done this time around. The opponents’ Facebook page has just 69 likes (FAR less than the 4,699 likes on Ficker’s page) and there is no money for a mail budget.  The opponents are relying on the Apple Ballot, the Democratic sample ballot and prayer.  Compare this to the 2000 effort, during which Darth Pasternak’s Empire did at least three mailings plus 130,000 robocalls.

Paul Bessel’s scholarly dissertation on term limits is helpful, but is anyone other than a handful of insomniac college professors going to read it?  Opponents need a direct, relevant message.  Something like this:

Come on, voters!  Is it really in your self-interest to disenfranchise yourselves?  Do you want to prevent yourselves from reelecting an official whom you believe is doing a good job?  Do you benefit from a government that is run by bureaucrats and lobbyists?  Do you really think a County Council jam-packed with lame ducks is going to act on your behalf?  What exactly are YOU getting out of all this?

There’s nothing here about Ficker, Help Save Maryland, Trump or Brexit.  It’s about the voters, stupid!  Just like it’s supposed to be.

Term limits opponents need message, resources and scale – and they need those things yesterday.  Because at this moment, Ficker is on pace to win, perhaps by double digits.

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Help Save Maryland, GOP Push Term Limits

By Adam Pagnucco.

Brad Botwin, Director of the anti-immigration group Help Save Maryland, has sent out the following email promoting term limits.

*****

UPDATE ON THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY TERM LIMIT PETITION – CITIZENS WORKING TOGETHER CAN SUCCEED!

Recent e-mail I received on the status of the Term Limit Petition which will revitalize the MoCo County Council and County Executive if passed this November 2016 by the voters.  The professional politicians are getting nervous!

Dear Concerned Voter:

Thank you for signing the non-partisan term limits petition for Montgomery County.

We did it!  You and nearly 18,000 registered voters in Montgomery County signed the term limits petition (only 10,000 signatures were required).  The signatures were submitted on August 8, which means you’ll be able to vote on the term limits question on the November 2018 general election ballot.   When passed — and we need your vote to pass the measure — it will limit County Council members and the County Executive to serving no more than three consecutive terms, or 12 years.

One week from today, on Wednesday, August 24, you will have an opportunity to support term limits at a Montgomery County Charter Commission hearing.

Here is information about the hearing: http://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcgportalapps/Press_Detail.aspx?Item_ID=16281

In order to testify, you must notify the commission in advance by e-mailing them at: charterreview.commission@montgomerycountymd.gov

If you can’t attend, but still want to convey your support for the term limits petition; email the commission at the same e-mail address in the previous sentence.

If you don’t want to speak out publicly on the 24th, please come to the hearing and stand with your neighbors in support of term limits for the County Council and County Executive.

If you want to know how you can help or need more information, let us know.

Thank you,

Montgomery County Citizens group in support of Term Limits   sohenc@gmail.com

*****

The gmail account above belongs to Sharon Cohen, a member of the Montgomery County Republican Party’s Central Committee.  This reinforces the central role played by both Help Save Maryland and the Republicans in pushing Robin Ficker’s terms limits charter amendment.

The state’s election law requires groups advocating on ballot questions to register with the State Board of Elections and file campaign finance reports.  According to the state’s summary guide on campaign finance laws, “Once the petition process to place a question on the ballot is completed, a ballot issue committee must be formed before money is collected or spent to promote the success or defeat of the ballot issue.”

So far, no committee on Montgomery County term limits has registered with the state.  Hopefully, any group advocating on the issue will obey the law, file reports and show their funding.  Voters may find that information useful as they consider whether to support term limits.

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Targeting Navarro


By Adam Pagnucco.

It was the spring of 2008.  Five-term County Council Member Marilyn Praisner, who had represented District 4 since 1990, had passed away and eight candidates were running for her seat.  One of them was a woman.  One of them was a person of color born in another country.

Her name was Nancy Navarro.

At that time, District 4 included most of US-29 north of Downtown Silver Spring to the Howard County border and the areas south of Olney, east of Rockville and north of Wheaton.  It had little in the way of restaurants or shopping.  There was the aging, emptying business district in Burtonsville.  There was the decrepit, asphalt-covered shopping center in Glenmont.  Here and there, small and mid-size retail strips clung to the sides of New Hampshire Avenue and other major roads.  A tiny colony of fast food and lowbrow restaurants had just sprung up on US-29 at Tech Road.  Walkable urban shopping was nowhere to be found.  If residents wanted that, they would have to drive to Downtown Silver Spring to get it.

None of this was an accident.  For years and years, the civic leaders and activists who dominated the district’s politics had worked hard to keep development out.  Mrs. Praisner was their champion.  They regarded development as a bad thing, attracting both traffic and “undesirables.”  But newer residents, including people of color, wanted the restaurants, jobs and shopping that most other people around the county had.  Colesville resident Nancy Navarro was one of them, and soon she became their champion.

Navarro stood out during the 2008 special election, and not just because of her gender and heritage.  The other seven candidates running for Mrs. Praisner’s seat, including her husband Don, adhered to her vision of little or no growth.  (Don Praisner’s campaign slogan was literally “Fulfilling the Vision.”)  Navarro instead talked about the benefits of economic development, such as creating jobs for residents and giving them amenities that they had not previously had.  Navarro was also supported by many in the business and real estate communities and the public employee unions.  None of this sat well with the old guard, who regarded developers as evil and unions as tax-happy.  Navarro quickly became a target.

The March debate at the Aspen Hill library typified the direction of the campaign: nearly every other candidate concentrated their fire on Navarro.  Their attacks centered on the allegation that she was allegedly a “tool” of developers and unions.  (It didn’t help that MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast invited union leaders to his house to get them to endorse Navarro.)  But there was more to it than that.  To Navarro’s supporters, the implication of this “tool” argument was that women and people of color were supposedly not intelligent or strong enough to make up their own minds, and that when they made common cause with others, they would inevitably fall under their “control.”  Furthermore, while Don Praisner’s supporters criticized Navarro for taking contributions from developers and businesses, Mrs. Praisner had done the exact same thing for years.  Later, it was revealed that Don Praisner himself accepted money from a property owner in the district seeking redevelopment.

Much of this is par for the course in the rocky world of political campaigns.  After all, opposition to change frequently arises in politics and outrage can be selective.  But with Navarro on the ballot, it mutated into something far darker: a toxic stew of racism and xenophobia.  Don Praisner defeated Navarro in the 2008 Democratic primary and would serve on the council for less than a year before he passed away.  When Navarro returned to run again in the 2009 special election, the forces of extremism were prepared.

First came the illegal anonymous robocalls, a repeat of a tactic used against Navarro in 2008.  Then came rumors circulated both on-line and off linking Navarro (who was born in Venezuela) to the Hugo Chavez regime.  Help Save Maryland, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “nativist extremist group,” began targeting Navarro for her alleged support of “illegal aliens.”  Their challenge to Navarro was posted on a racist website equating President Obama to Satan.

Most bizarre of all was an email sent to Navarro’s campaign asking about her immigration status.  The author wrote, “I am informally involved with a group of Independents and we are trying to identify a candidate that we feel comfortable endorsing. It would be great if you could put the rumors to rest and provide information as to when (what year) and where, which state, Ms. Navarro received her naturalization or citizenship. Thank you.”  In fact, the author – who used a fake name – was a GOP activist who wrote for the party and had testified against drivers licenses for illegal immigrants.

Robin Ficker was involved too.  The 2008 GOP nominee, Mark Fennel, was a Ficker protégé, had spread the Hugo Chavez rumors and threatened to unleash “the Dogs of War” on Navarro.  In 2009, Ficker “moved” to District 4 to run for the seat and promptly began sending out illegal flyers.  During a televised campaign debate, Ficker waved a set of decade-old tax liens against Navarro and her husband in his opponent’s face.  Ficker did not use Help Save Maryland’s race-baiting tactics directly, but he did not repudiate them either.

Given this history, it’s no surprise that Help Save Maryland’s participation in Ficker’s term limits initiative was spurred in part by a desire to knock off Navarro.  The group has never made its peace with Navarro’s election and has sent out numerous emails slamming her over the years.  Supporters of term limits have many motivations, but Help Save Maryland is quite clear about theirs: they want to slam the county’s gates shut to “illegal aliens.”

Will any of this make a difference in the current debate over term limits?  Probably not.  Few voters have heard of Help Save Maryland and understand what the group believes.  Even Ficker is less infamous now that his NBA heckling days are mostly over.  In any event, voters are more likely to see term limits through the prism of their own perceived self-interest rather than how they impact specific elected officials.

But make no mistake: the treatment of Nancy Navarro during the 2009 special election is a shameful blot on the county’s political history.  It must not be forgotten.  It must not be repeated.  And hopefully, her successors will be treated with the honor and respect that all upstanding candidates deserve.

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