Category Archives: Adam Pagnucco

Acevero Claims an Endorsement He Doesn’t Have

By Adam Pagnucco.

District 39 House candidate Gabe Acevero sent out a mailer claiming an endorsement from a prominent MoCo organization yesterday.  The problem is that the group never endorsed him.

Below is the mailer sent by Acevero.  Note the logo in the top row, second from right.  It belongs to International Fire Fighters Local 1664, which represents career fire fighters employed by the Montgomery County Government.

Acevero also claims the fire fighters’ support on his website.  Their logo appears in the second row, second from right.

In fact, the fire fighters’ endorsements in District 39 include Senator Nancy King, Delegates Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson and new House candidate Lesley Lopez, who is running with the incumbents.  The union notified us of these endorsements via email on June 13.  Their list of General Assembly endorsements appears on their website.

IAFF Local 1664 President Jeffrey Buddle sent us the following official statement upon learning about Acevero’s claim.  The union repeated the statement on Facebook.

The Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association -IAFF Local 1664 conducted a vetting process of candidates for the Maryland General Assembly.

In District 39 we endorsed the following candidates:

Nancy King – Senate

Lesley Lopez – Delegate

Kirill Reznik – Delegate

Shane Robinson – Delegate

Gabe Acevero did not receive our endorsement and does not have permission to use our IAFF organization logo on any campaign materials.

We asked Acevero for an explanation of this yesterday.  As of this writing, he has not responded.  If he does respond, we will update this post.

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MoCo Early Voters Are Not Who You Think

By Adam Pagnucco.

Early voting wrapped up yesterday and the State Board of Elections has posted results.  Folks, we can say this: a wild race just got a whole lot wilder.

First, as we saw from the first day of early voting, turnout is waaaay up.  Here is the distribution by party in the 2014 and 2018 primaries.

Early voting is up for everyone but especially for Democrats.

Now here is the early voting by Congressional, State Legislative and County Council districts.

The biggest increases in early voting have occurred in State District 15, State District 16, Council District 1 and Congressional District 6.  The lowest increases – by far – have occurred in State District 20 and Council District 5.

Below we show early voting by gender and age group.

Women have an edge here but not a huge one.  The age group results are astounding.  Turnout is up by a gigantic amount for people aged 18 through 24.  It went up by the least amount for people aged 45 through 64.

Additionally, one of the campaigns analyzed the voting patterns of those who voted early for us.  Roughly half the Democratic early voters had voted in at least two of the last three mid-term primaries (2006, 2010 and 2014).  The other half had voted less regularly or not at all.

We draw the following tentative conclusions from this data.

1.  Voters in Congressional District 6 and nearby areas turned out more strongly than the rest of the county.  This might reflect the intense campaigning of the congressional candidates there and especially the massive spending by David Trone.  This is good news for countywide candidates who run strong in those places.

2.  Voters in District 20 – the liberal heart of MoCo that includes Takoma Park and inside-the-Beltway Silver Spring – did not turn out to the same extent.  This is not a great thing for countywide candidates whose base is in that area and is especially bad for County Executive candidate Marc Elrich.

3.  Tons and tons of voters who are not targeted by most campaigns – especially young people, irregular voters and new voters – have come out and are roughly equal to the super Dems.  This adds an element of unpredictability to the race.  For the most part, these voters are not getting overwhelmed by mail, door knocks and phone calls as are super Dems.  How are they getting information on local races?  Television is one source.  Those campaigns with the resources for a huge target universe (like Trone and David Blair) are communicating with them while others are not.  If they are using Google to research candidates, they are encountering sources like Bethesda Magazine and the blogs since few other sites write about down-ticket races.  Some of them may not be voting down-ticket at all and may only be casting votes for Governor and Congress.

4.  And finally, we offer our standard caveat: we don’t know if higher early voting will cannibalize from election day voting or add to it.  We won’t know that until Tuesday night.

This is a helluva race, folks.  Every time we think we might be starting to figure it out – BAM! – something unexpected happens.  If you’re a MoCo political junkie like we are, this election is one for the ages!

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On the District 18 House Race

By David Lublin and Adam Pagnucco.

Folks, this is an unusual joint post from the two of us.  David and Adam both live in District 18 and we’ve seen a lot of action here over the last few cycles, so we decided to write this one together.  Each of our remarks are labeled so you know who is saying what.  We begin by printing the June financial summary and the endorsements below.  We include the Senate candidates in that data but today’s post is on the House race.

Update: The original totals we reported for Emily Shetty were incorrrect.  The correct ones are below.

David

District 18 is blessed with eight (count ‘em!) candidates for the three delegate seats. How is the race shaping up as we head into Election Day?

Helga Luest created one of the real moments of the campaign when she attacked Del. Jeff Waldstreicher, a candidate for Senate, as sexist for trying to recruit her into the Senate race. Her “low carb” campaign is catchy but makes me think about the Atkins Diet rather than carbon emissions and the environment.

Regardless, Helga is not likely to come in the money because she just hasn’t raised enough of it to engage in sufficient voter contact. Ron Franks has run an earnest campaign and made a positive impression on voters who have met or seen him but faces the same fundamental problem. Like Helga, Ron has raised less than $15K, which is just not enough to win.

That leaves six other candidates, including incumbent Del. Al Carr. (Disclosure: I am supporting Al.) Maryland Matters sees Al as highly vulnerable, pointing to his past victories as part of a slate and that he has raised less money than several other aggressive, hungry candidates.

I see it differently. Though he has less money, he has raised just a hair under $100K, plenty of money for a delegate race and well over the threshold needed for sufficient voter contact. A former municipal official, Al has cultivated a network of support among local municipal, civic and environmental activists.

This is Al’s fourth time on the ballot with two previous victories under his belt, so he has greater name recognition. I also note that Al has managed to do just fine even when opposed by the Washington Post and the Post isn’t making endorsements this year. Finally, he has far more endorsements than the other candidates. In a crowded race, he has consistent support.

Adam

I agree with David that Helga Luest and Ron Franks don’t have the resources to compete.  I think Al Carr will probably win but I am less confident of that than David.  In 2010 and 2014, Al ran as part of a united slate of incumbents headed by Senator Rich Madaleno.  (I was the slate Treasurer from 2008 through 2012.)  In the one race that he ran by himself – 2006 – he finished seventh of eight.  Times are different now because Al is the only incumbent running for one of three seats.  That’s a huge advantage.  But the Delegate field is very strong this year with several well-financed and hungry new candidates.  I think Al will win but if he doesn’t I won’t be shocked.

David

Emily Shetty came in a strong fourth in 2014 and worked very hard to maintain visibility since the last election. She was a leader in the D18 Democratic Caucus and now on MCDCC as a gender-balance appointee. She has raised more than last time, though less than anyone besides Luest or Franks, and doesn’t face a slate of incumbents. Emily has tried to position herself as left wing and a new mom, succeeding better at the latter.

Word on the street is that Emily has been working very hard at the doors and run a good, focused campaign. Though she missed out on the Apple Ballot, Emily has secured a number of nice endorsements, partly because organizations perceive her as a likely winner. The one major downside: she was endorsed by the Washington Post last time and used the endorsement well to close strong. She won’t have that advantage this time.

By all rights, Leslie Milano ought to be out of the mix. She entered the race late, has fewer endorsements and has raised less money than all but Shetty, Franks and Luest. Nevertheless, Leslie has managed to make herself a strong contender. Though still relatively young, she is a bit older than several candidates and has made a consistent impression as someone with a real edge in terms of experience and maturity. Combined with authenticity, she strikes many voters as trustworthy and with the potential to be a strong delegate. At least in my area, she has sent out unusually strong neighbor letters with grassroots support. Still, she is making up ground.

Adam

I like Emily and Leslie very much.  Emily should be a model for politicians who lose their first race.  The temptation is to say, “Never again!” and go back to a sane life.  That’s totally understandable!  But Emily decided to stay involved, joining the Central Committee and working with both Action Committee for Transit and the Wheaton Hills Civic Association.  She has many more relationships now than when she first ran and is a stronger candidate.  I think she will win.

Leslie is one of my favorite new candidates in the entire county.  She is a very smart, charismatic and experienced person who is also a hard worker and a good listener.  Most of my friends in the D18 activist community love her to death.  She’s also versatile.  If you’re a progressive, you will love her work to pressure sweatshops to clean up their acts earlier in her career.  If you’re more of a moderate, you will love her emphasis on jobs and the economy.  But as David noted, she got in late and that hurt her ability to garner institutional endorsements.  If Leslie doesn’t win this time, I would like to see her come back and try again.

David

Jared Solomon is a young teacher and I hear repeated whispers from many that he’s extremely nice and seems on track to win one of the delegate seats. While his fundraising is lower than some at $93K, it is certainly well above the threshold for a strong campaign and Jared has run a very hard, engaging campaign. Among the non-incumbents, only Emily can go toe-to-toe in endorsements and he is on the Apple Ballot.

If this election were about signs and money, Joel Rubin would win a walk. In the Town of Chevy Chase, where he won election to the Town Council in 2017, I see about twenty of his signs as I walk into Bethesda. At $152K, he has also raised more money than anyone else in the field. As my mailbox indicates, he is closing with a lot of mail. A former political appointee in the State Department, Joel has real communication skills and a lot of foreign policy experience.

Joel sought the Democratic nomination for Congress in 2016. In terms of votes, it didn’t go well but he acquitted himself well and it turns out his donors were still ready to help fund his state legislative campaign just two years later. This previous campaign expanded his name recognition but his emphasis on national politics, including in some campaign videos, and running for offices at different levels of government, may not play well with all voters. On the other hand, his videos about his family are among the best and a great, authentic American story. He’s on the Apple Ballot but has few other endorsements from groups.

Mila Johns has made a real presence on social media. She speaks her mind both on Facebook and in forums, coming across as an opinionated, honest, straight shooter – welcome characteristics in an age where people are tired of canned politicians. At the same time, though social media is important, nothing beats meeting voters and our Facebook circles are often tighter loops than we realize.

Mila is also just a bit behind Joel in terms of having raised money and started sending mail out earlier than other candidates (i.e. before we started getting ten pieces a day). Like Leslie, she could use a few more endorsements but has accomplished the difficult feat of standing out in a crowded field in a very busy election year.

Adam

Jared is one of the strongest candidates in the race.  He has done everything right – he’s on more doors than an encyclopedia salesman, he makes a great impression, he has raised decent money and he has a bunch of endorsements.  He is also the only candidate who has ever mailed me a personal, handwritten thank you letter after a round of drinks.  I love old school manners like that!  Mila and Joel are good candidates who have enough money and support to be in the mix too.

Overall, this field is outstanding and is a result of the electoral spigot finally opening after three straight terms of the same four incumbents.  I wouldn’t trade our House candidates with any other district in the state.  I expect Emily, Jared and Al to win with Leslie having a chance to break through and Mila and Joel also getting big shares of votes.

David

This is a great field of candidates and District 18 is guaranteed to have turnover in at least one-half of its state legislative delegation. The newbies may be in office a long time, so make your choices thoughtfully.

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What Will Term Limits Voters Do?

By Adam Pagnucco.

MoCo Democrats are not monolithic.  There are several segments of them.  There are the 40,000 or so Super Democrats, the ones who vote in every mid-term primary.  Then there are the sixty percent of MoCo Dems who are women.  There are the voters who live in the Democratic Crescent – the area from Takoma Park over to Bethesda and Cabin John – who disproportionately turn out to vote.  And of course there are people over age 60, who account for a majority of regular voters.  Candidates are aware of all of these groups and target their communications to them.  But there’s one group – potentially a big one – which few people are talking about.

Term limits voters.

In the 2016 general election, 70% of voters approved term limits.  We know that a majority of the Democrats who voted in that election supported term limits because of simple mathematics.  In that election, 62% of the voters were Democrats.  If all 38% of the voters who were Republicans, third party members or independents voted yes, then the other 32% must have come from the Dems.  Divide 32% by 62% and you get 52% of Dems voting for term limits.  If a few of the non-Dems voted no, the Dem percentage goes up.

The other thing we know about term limits voters is where they live.  Every part of the county voted for term limits except Takoma Park.  In most Downcounty areas, term limits support ranged from 60% to 70%.  Upcounty areas were more supportive with term limits getting 80% or more of the vote in Clarksburg, Damascus, Derwood, Laytonsville, North Potomac and Poolesville.  Upcounty areas have greater concentrations of Republicans than elsewhere.  We ran a correlation coefficient between Republican voter percentage and term limits vote percentage at the precinct level and it worked out to 0.6 – meaning that partisan status was associated with most, but not all, of term limits variability.  In other words, other things were at work too.

That’s about all we know about term limits voters from public data.  There’s a whole lot we don’t know, including:

How many people who voted for term limits in that general election are going to be voting in this mid-term primary?

We have said it before and we will say it again: MoCo Dem primary voters are not the same people as MoCo general election voters.  Just because a majority of presidential general election Dems voted for term limits does not mean that a majority of this year’s mid-term primary Dems will have voted for them.  In fact, we bet it will be a lot less purely because the 40,000 or so Super Dems will be somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of this year’s electorate and we are skeptical that they disproportionately voted for term limits.  That said, the number of term limits voters this year won’t be zero – they are definitely out there.  Even if you split the difference and assume that a quarter of this year’s Dem primary voters supported term limits, that’s a big enough chunk to swing an election.

Why did people vote for term limits?

This is another question to which there is no answer outside of polling.  We tend to agree with former Council Member Steve Silverman, who told Bethesda Magazine, “It was a combination of interests that created the perfect storm that led to the passage of term limits.”  In other words, there were many factors that drove those votes: anger with the nine percent property tax hike, concerns over land use, unhappiness with traffic and cost of living or maybe a simple desire for change, however nebulous that might be.  While we believe that the Dem primary electorate is indeed different from the general electorate of two years ago, we don’t believe those concerns have gone away.

Who will they support this time?

That’s an easier question.  Whatever the reason, it’s hard to interpret the vote for term limits as anything other than a call for change of some kind.  The current Democratic field for Executive contains three term-limited Council Members and three people who are not term-limited Council Members.  That’s a little simplistic – Marc Elrich is running as a progressive change candidate despite his 31-year history of elected office.  But since Takoma Park is Elrich’s home base and that is the only area in the county which voted against term limits, we are hesitant to believe that many term limits supporters are Elrich voters.  Rather, we believe they will lean to the three outsiders – Delegate Bill Frick (D-16), former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and businessman David Blair.  And of those three, Blair has by far the most resources with which to communicate with them.

Speaking of Blair, we found his recent exchange with Washington Post reporter Jennifer Barrios fascinating.

When asked about his political base, David Blair considers the question then poses one of his own.

“My political base,” he says after a pause. “So does that mean who’s going to come out and support me?”…

“The people that tend to gravitate to me are the ones that believe Montgomery County is a great place to live but we’re slipping,” Blair said. “And there’s a level of frustration, and it could be related to transportation, schools, social services and this — why can’t a county with this level of wealth pay for the services that we need? — and a recognition that a healthy community needs a vibrant, growing business community.”

Those people sound like term limits voters and they have the makings of a political base.  Marc Elrich knows exactly who his base is: progressives, development opponents and people who live in and around Takoma Park.  Elrich’s messaging smartly concentrates on those voter segments.  His troops’ ability to get out those votes is a major reason why he might be the next Executive.

Term limits voters won’t be a majority of the Democratic mid-term primary electorate.  But they might be large enough in numbers to rival the size of Elrich’s base.  If Blair can organize them – and if there are enough of them – we might be staying up late on election night.

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Unger Fires Campaign Manager for Stealing Lit

By Adam Pagnucco.

District 20 House candidate Darian Unger has fired his campaign manager for stealing and destroying literature belonging to his opponents.  Unger terminated him immediately upon seeing video of the act.

Unger’s campaign began paying John Rodriguez as a campaign manager in November 2017.  Rodriguez was profiled by the Washington City Paper’s Loose Lips in 2016 for his work with a firm called District Political in D.C. political campaigns, including fundraising.  The article ends with these paragraphs.

Apparently, Rodriguez still has some money to splash out. While LL was reporting this column, Rodriguez called, unbeknownst to his partners, to ask the name of the City Paper employee in charge of ad sales. He went on to ask whether LL would be aware if City Paper suddenly received a lot of money, and pondered how much he would have to spend in ads to gain more “power” to kill stories like this one.

It’s one more offbeat scheme from an outfit that tried to make its name with unlikely candidates. Unluckily for District Political, though, the problem with underdogs is that they tend to lose.

Update, 10 a.m.: According to a District Political statement released shortly after this article was published, Rodriguez is no longer a partner at the firm.

Now to the matter at hand.  The video below is security footage from the Silver Spring Civic Center on June 17.  At the beginning of the video, Senator Will Smith, Delegate David Moon and House candidate Lorig Charkoudian can be seen delivering lit to a storage area.  Smith, Moon and Charkoudian are running as a team in District 20 along with Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins.  Unger is a House candidate in the same race.  Smith deposits a box of lit on top of other materials and the group departs.  Soon after, a man matching Rodriguez’s description enters the room, looks around, grabs the lit box and places it in a dumpster outside.

The District 20 team all went on the record and identified the man as Rodriguez.  The team said the lit was worth $600.  Your author sent the video to Unger and asked him for comment.  Unger replied, “I just saw your email and the video.  I spoke with the campaign consultant and fired him immediately.  I consider such behavior to be completely unacceptable.”

As of this writing, we are unaware of an apology by Unger to the District 20 team.

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Evaluating the Allegations Against Blair

By Adam Pagnucco.

Businessman David Blair is the only candidate in the County Executive race to be targeted by both negative mail and two negative TV ads.  The combined expenditures for these mailers and TV ads now total over a half million dollars, making Blair the only Executive candidate to take fire on that financial scale.

How do we evaluate these attacks?

First, your author has a background in evaluating evidence of corporate conduct.  For sixteen years, I was a strategic researcher in the labor movement.  One of my jobs was to investigate companies who were targets of union organizing campaigns.  I performed dozens of these investigations and it was painstaking, tedious work.  The basic descriptives of the company – its business lines, affiliates, history, executives, finances, work locations, project experience, client lists, political contributions and so on – were a necessary predicate for researching its safety, labor, environmental, legal and media records.  Some of the dossiers I compiled were over a hundred pages and required months of travel to assemble.  I had three primary tasks: gather the information, determine its utility and craft it into communication pieces that were truthful, relevant and avoided the risk of defamation litigation.  Over the years, I uncovered extraordinarily bad behavior on the part of employers including but not limited to sexual harassment, racial discrimination, threatening deportation to block union organizing campaigns, environmental destruction, bid rigging, intentionally exposing employees to lethal working conditions to save money and a LOT more.  That research background gives me a standard of comparison for some of the allegations against Blair and it is partially through that prism that I write today’s post.

Here are the main allegations against Blair.

He is a former Republican with a spotty voting record.

This is true and Blair has admitted to it.  Blair is one of two former Republicans running for office in MoCo this year.  The other is Council District 1 candidate Meredith Wellington, who was a Republican member of the Planning Board as recently as 2007, four years after Blair became a Democrat.  Those who would pass judgment on Blair for this should hold Wellington to the same standard assuming that either is to be judged at all.

He is a self-funder who has not held political office.

This is also true.  Blair is one of MANY self-funding Democrats who have run for office, including Senators Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Herb Kohl and Jon Corzine and House members John Delaney, Jane Harman and Jared Polis.  Then there is party-hopping, self-funding former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who now spends millions to promote gun control and plans to spend $80 million to elect Democratic House candidates, acts for which he is praised by the left.  And liberal self-funder Ned Lamont, who famously challenged Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman from the left in 2006, was just endorsed by the Democratic Party for Governor.  All of these politicians self-financed millions in their races so if Blair is to be criticized, so must all the rest.  In any event, only one self-funder above the $200,000 level has won office from MoCo in the last twelve years.  Our county’s history demonstrates that money can never substitute for a real agenda that connects with voters.

One of his former companies settled a class action over disability insurance.

There was indeed a settlement and there is a website documenting the lawsuit.  The complaint alleges a variety of violations related to disability insurance sold by one of Blair’s companies that was endorsed by former actor Christopher Reeve.  But Blair himself did not settle the case: he sold the company in 2012 and the suit was settled five years later.  That means one or more of the successor entities and/or co-defendants made the decision to settle, and if Blair thought the suit was without merit, he did not get to decide whether to fight it at trial.  Finally, a settlement does not equate to a trial verdict in determining the truth of a complaint – indeed, the whole point of a settlement is to avoid trial and a finding of fact either way.  The Blair campaign commented on the suit here.

“Blair’s company jacked prescription drug prices.”

This is a key claim in Progressive Maryland’s TV ad and it is based on one 2012 opinion article in the Daily Kos.  Now let’s reflect on the nature of the Daily Kos.  It’s a liberal opinion blog that allows content submissions from thousands of people without the editorial standards of traditional journalistic organizations like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  The site’s terms of use state:

We are an Internet Service Provider, e.g., We are Not Responsible For and Do Not Necessarily Hold the Opinions Expressed by Our Content Contributors.

It should go without saying that with hundreds of thousands of registered users, and tens of thousands of diarist/bloggers, there is great diversity in thoughts and opinions. So just because you read it on the site doesn’t mean “the site” said it or thinks it. That would make for a very schizophrenic site.

The Daily Kos itself does not represent its content as fact-based.  Accordingly, without further investigation, an opinion article of this kind does not automatically deserve the presumption of truth.

A still shot from Progressive Maryland’s ad.

As a corporate researcher and a political writer, your author is acquainted with the standards of defamation when applied to public figures.  Briefly put, a public figure (like a celebrity or politician) can only win a defamation judgment against a defendant if the defendant knowingly made a false statement or made a statement with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

This came up all the time in my work for the labor movement as fortifying our communications against defamation suits was a very high priority.  For everything we said about a targeted employer, I had reams of paperwork (usually court records) to back it up.  I am confident that my union’s attorneys would have blocked me from using something like the Daily Kos article unless I had interviewed the author and acquired documents to back up his or her statements.  And even then, our attorneys probably would have still blocked it as unverified by a traditional media organization, government entity or court.

Finally, the way in which Progressive Maryland’s ad characterizes the settlement and the Daily Kos post is very problematic.  The ad said, “Blair’s company jacked prescription drug prices and another company sold virtually worthless disability claims.”  It would be truthful to say that Blair’s companies were accused of these things.  But allegations from settled claims that were not decided in court and an opinion blog post should not be characterized as objective facts.  It’s these kinds of loose standards that make people so skeptical of political ads.

David Blair is equivalent to Donald Trump.

This one has been made in both negative TV ads and by Blair critics too numerous to count.

Another still shot from Progressive Maryland’s ad.

Equating Blair to Trump fundamentally misjudges the nature of Trump.  If Trump’s sole failings were his wealth and inexperience, he would be no different from all the many other self-funders who run for office.  The real reason why Trump is the Anti-Christ of progressive politics is that he is a vicious racist, misogynist and xenophobe whose narcissism is matched only by his greed and stupidity.  He is literally separating children from their parents and jamming them into detention centers.  And that’s just a start!  Saying that Blair is the same as Trump is over the top.

Trump is holding immigrant children in cages like this one.  David Blair is not Donald Trump.

Our judgment on Blair is that he has his liabilities, especially being a former Republican and desiring high office without prior elected experience.  It’s understandable that voters might choose to oppose him on those grounds alone.  But critiques of his business record pale in comparison to the dozens of investigations your author conducted in the labor movement.  And his critics’ claims that he is equivalent to Trump are out of bounds.  Furthermore, we give him credit for highlighting economic competitiveness as one of his core themes as it aligns with our many concerns on that issue.

Whatever its outcome, we eagerly await the end of this increasingly brutal campaign.

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Campaign Finance Reports: Council At-Large, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Let’s look at the June campaign finance reports for the Council At-Large candidates, the last ones available prior to the primary.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the Council At-Large candidates.  We are including only those who have qualified for matching funds in the public financing system or have raised at least $100,000 in traditional financing.  With a field this deep and talented, candidates who have not met either of these thresholds will struggle to compete.

Four candidates are bunched at the top: incumbent Hans Riemer and Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Bill Conway.  Two more – Hoan Dang and Gabe Albornoz – have raised enough money to compare with past candidates who have won.  Then there is MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, who is working as hard as anyone and has an entire side of the Apple Ballot to himself.  That has to be worth the equivalent of an extra mailer or two.  Finally, school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse is not a money leader, having entered the race very late, but she does have a base of loyalists who could be very useful in working the polls on Election Day.  Overall, our view is that Riemer will be reelected, Jawando and Glass are in good positions and one – maybe two – of the others named above will likely also be elected.

Here’s a question for the readers: why are the female candidates not raising more money?  Danielle Meitiv (who ranks 10th on the chart above), Marilyn Balcombe (11th), Brandy Brooks (12th) and Ortman-Fouse (14th) are all good candidates running in an electorate that is 60% female.  Not only do their totals lag the above men – they also lag the amounts raised by Beth Daly (2014), Becky Wagner (2010), Duchy Trachtenberg (2006 and 2010) and of course four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen.  Public financing was supposed to equalize the influence of small contributors, including women, with corporate interests that are overwhelmingly male dominated.  And yet the nine top fundraisers are men.

Let’s remember that the best-financed candidates don’t always win.  Exhibit A is the chronically underfunded Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two at-large races and could be the next County Executive.  The at-large race also has produced surprises in the past, including the defeats of incumbents Blair Ewing (2002), Mike Subin (2006) and Trachtenberg (2010).  As soon as your author thinks he has the at-large race figured out – BAM! – something different happens!

This is probably the best at-large field in MoCo history.  It’s sad that only four of them will win.  But so it is.  On to Election Night.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The June campaign finance reports are in and they will be the last ones available prior to the primary. Today, we’ll look at the County Executive race.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the County Executive candidates.  The numbers for Robin Ficker presume he has qualified for public matching funds but we have not heard definitively whether he has.

It’s official: David Blair has broken Steve Silverman’s 2006 spending record of $2 million in an Executive race.  (Sorry Steve but you knew it wouldn’t last forever!)  Blair’s $3 million in spending, mostly self-financed, exceeds the $2.1 million combined total so far reported by the other candidates.

Marc Elrich has excelled in public financing and has also had the good fortune to see the second-best financed candidate (Roger Berliner) going negative in TV and mail against the best-financed candidate (Blair).  Combine that with the attack strategy of Progressive Maryland and Elrich can use his own money to promote himself and let others do the dirty work of bringing Blair down.  It couldn’t get any better for Elrich.

Speaking of the attacks on Blair, the scale of them is becoming clear.  Berliner has spent $51,048 on mail and $391,234 on TV, all of which had negative messaging about Blair.  The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC has so far raised $100,000, most of it in union money, to oppose Blair.  The combined amount between the two – $542,282 – is likely the most money ever spent on attacking a candidate for County Executive and the race is not over.  To our knowledge, none of the other Executive candidates has been targeted by negative TV commercials or negative mail.

The other three Democratic candidates – George Leventhal, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick – are struggling to compete with limited resources.  Leventhal has had money problems for the entire campaign but he is working his heart out.  That plus his longevity and diverse base of supporters get him into the mix but he is still a long shot to win.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about labor polling and MCGEO President Gino Renne confirmed them to Bethesda Magazine on Friday.  Renne said that Elrich and Blair were “neck and neck” in a number of polls and said, “When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on… I would say it’s statistically insignificant [between Elrich and Blair]. It’s all about who can get their voters to the polls. If the election were today, I’d have to call it a toss-up.”

We have written about Elrich’s base before: it’s a combination of anti-development activists, progressives and people living in and near Takoma Park.  But Blair is developing a base too by consolidating those who want a different direction in county government.  Frick and Krasnow have a similar message but they don’t have the money to make it stick like Blair does.  And so this election is turning into a contest between different visions of change: a move towards greater progressivism or a move away from tax hikes and towards more economic development.

Who knows which side will win?

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The Wilhelm Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

Here is something we haven’t seen before: a mid-term year Apple Ballot with one candidate occupying one side of it and a list of others on the other side.  This Apple, still in wrapping, is customized in favor of Council At-Large candidate Chris Wilhelm.

Here is another one spotlighting District 16 House candidate Samir Paul.

The Apple we were given at the Wheaton early voting site was not like these.  It had county candidates on one side and state candidates on the other, a typical format used in the past.

Wilhelm and Paul are MCPS teachers.  We totally get why MCEA would like to elect its own members to office, although that has not always been their top priority.  For example, the union endorsed County Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage over MCPS teacher Marc Elrich in 1998.  In Elrich’s 2002 and 2006 races, he did appear on the Apple but we don’t recall him getting an entire side of it to himself.

The races involving Paul and Wilhelm are very different.  In District 16, the two incumbent Delegates – Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are endorsed by MCEA and a lock for reelection.  Paul is in a tight contest with fellow new candidate Sara Love for the open seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick.  He needs every edge he can get.

The Council At-Large race, on the other hand, is extremely competitive and unpredictable.  MCEA has endorsed incumbent Hans Riemer, Brandy Brooks and Will Jawando in addition to Wilhelm.  Riemer seems likely to be reelected but that’s about all that can be safely predicted in this race.  What will Riemer, Brooks and Jawando think of the Wilhelm Ballot?

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How to Spend More on Education and Transportation Without Raising Taxes

By Adam Pagnucco.  

It’s election season and that means it’s time for lots of promises from politicians.  And boy are they promising a lot, especially on the county’s two big issues of education and transportation.  The mailbox’s “progressive leaders” have “plans” to guarantee every child a great school, invest in transportation – especially transit – and to do all of the above without raising taxes.  Sounds great, yeah?

Time to get real, folks!

Education and transportation each have two virtues.  First, each of them generates direct economic returns.  Education spending yields a return on human capital while transportation spending yields a return on physical infrastructure.  Both are important for attracting and retaining residents and jobs.  Second, each of them is popular with voters.  For as long as anyone can remember, education and transportation have been two of the top issues in our elections – and they might possibly be THE top two.  Happily, on these two issues, good policy and good politics come together!

Paying for them is another matter.  MCPS accounts for a greater percentage of the budget than any other agency with a $2.5 billion budget in FY18.  Montgomery College received more than $300 million.  The Department of Transportation’s operating budget was $56 million.  Funding increases with meaningful impacts on these agencies need to be in the tens of millions of dollars – at least.  That kind of money far exceeds a spreadsheet rounding error.

And yet, there is a way to increase spending on MCPS, the college and transportation without massive tax hikes.  The catch is that it’s not quick or easy.

Let’s do a simple (and yes, admittedly simplistic!) exercise with the operating budget.  First, let’s identify the combined local dollar spending on MCPS, the college and the Department of Transportation (DOT).  Next, let’s segregate out intergovernmental aid, which plays an important role in the budget but is not controlled by the county government.  Then let’s segregate debt service.  Yes, over long periods of time, the county can adjust debt service.  But much of the debt service is being paid on capital projects already completed, and furthermore, a huge chunk of it goes to school construction and transportation projects.  Boosting education and transportation operating budgets by cutting their capital budgets is not the best idea in the world!  Finally, let’s subtract out local dollar education and transportation spending, intergovernmental aid and debt service from total spending and what we get is a great big category that we shall creatively name “Everything Else.”

Here’s what happens when we do that for FY11, the trough budget year of the Great Recession, and FY18, the budget that ends on June 30 of this year.

What the above data shows is that the total county budget grew by 28% over this period.  Intergovernmental aid grew by 26% and debt service rose by a whopping 58%.  (We have previously written about the county’s rapidly growing debt.)  Now let’s contrast the two remaining broad categories: the local dollars spent on MCPS, the college and DOT and everything else.  The education and transportation budgets grew by a combined 18%.  Everything else grew by 37%.

That’s right folks – spending on everything else has been growing twice as fast as local dollar spending on education and transportation operating budgets.  That’s a strange fact in a county in which education and transportation are arguably the top two political issues.

Now what would have happened if the everything else side of the budget was restrained to grow at the same rate as inflation?  The average annual growth rate of the Washington-Baltimore CPI-U since 2011 has been 1.3%, meaning that prices have grown by 9.8% over that period.  When we hold the total budget, intergovernmental aid and debt service constant and assign a growth rate of 9.8% to the everything else category, here’s what happens to local dollars available for education and transportation.  For the purposes of discussion, let’s call this Scenario 1.

In Scenario 1, $2.4 billion is available for education and transportation because of spending restraint on everything else.  That’s $383 million more than the $2 billion that was actually available in the real world FY18 budget.

Holding a big chunk of county government to the rate of inflation for seven straight years is tough medicine and very unlikely.  So let’s create a Scenario 2 in which the everything else category is restrained to twice the rate of inflation, or 19.5% growth since FY11.

In Scenario 2, $2.2 billion is available for education and transportation, $244 million more than the real world FY18 budget.

For the sake of comparison to both of these scenarios, let’s recall that the 9 percent property tax hike was supposed to raise $140 million a year.  (It probably raised a little less than that.)  So under both scenarios, the county could have avoided the giant tax hike and still had lots of money left over for more education and transportation spending.

Yes folks, we understand the radical nature of what we are proposing – namely that liberal Democrats should deliberately and strategically restrain the growth in some forms of spending to boost growth in other spending.  This is likely to be an unpopular concept in a county that has multiple jam-packed budget hearings every year with groups of all kinds requesting money.  But here’s the benefit to concentrating on education and transportation: both forms of spending are investments that generate returns for the economy.  And when those returns boost economic growth, they generate tax revenue that bolsters the entire budget.

What is necessary to pull this off?  Simply put, this requires strategy, discipline, patience and leadership.  Without those traits, given the huge number of constituencies that want their piece of the budget, it would be impossible to focus it on education and transportation.  The natural outcome of a budget process without strategy is that everything gets funded, a tax hike follows, voters tire of it and then they pass restrictive charter amendments and vote for politicians like Larry Hogan.

So what are we going to get?  Spending on everything followed by tax hikes?  Or a budget that is strategically focused on generating economic returns from education and transportation?

Folks, that depends on your decisions in the voting booth.

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