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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If Mike Miller is an NRA Tool, He Hides It Well

Senate President Mike Miller has been attacked for accepting donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The last donation to Sen. Miller from the NRA occurred in 2009. As Senate President, Miller has a lot of power to derail initiatives he doesn’t like. So what has happened since then?

Maryland now has some of strictest gun control laws on the books. Here are some of the gun safety initiatives that not only passed the Senate on Miller’s watch but also received his vote.

Since 2012, he voted against one bill, HB 209, which was a crossfile of SB 640 listed above. It nonetheless passed the Senate.

In short, characterizing Miller as an enemy of gun safety laws isn’t accurate. Miller has not been a barrier to the passage of new gun safety laws and has supported many of the key provisions.

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Final MoCo Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

Here is our final list of MoCo institutional endorsements.  Don’t ask us to list more because the font is small enough now!  We’re not sure what to make of MCGEO’s semi-endorsements of House candidates Gabe Acevero (D-39) and Julian Haffner (D-17) but we will leave them in this chart.  One more note: the Washington Post has chosen not to endorse in General Assembly races, something we don’t recall happening in the past.

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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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Voter Registration Fiasco Expands. Dems Call for MVA Head’s Resignation

The other day, officials at the Motor Vehicles Administration (MVA) revealed that 18,700 voters may have to cast provisional ballots because MVA failed to transmit updated voter registration information to the Board of Elections.

Turns out the problem is much worse than we thought, as up to 80,000 voters could be affected. That’s around 2% of active registered voters. The problems echo the glitches with the voter registration check-in system that plagued the 2006 primary election.

Democrats are hopping mad on this pre-primary fiasco:

Madaleno Statement Regarding the New Revelations of  Voter Registration Mismanagement

Kensington, MD – State Senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Madaleno, Jr. released the following statement in response to the new revelations that over 81,000 – not 18,000 – voting Marylanders may be incorrectly registered:

“18,000 voting Marylanders being incorrectly registered is dysfunctional management.  81,000 voting Marylanders being incorrectly registered is a catastrophic failure.  I call on the Hogan Administration to take effective action on the following items:

  1. Immediately and urgently take the steps necessary to ensure that ALL polling locations have enough provisional ballots to handle the thousands of voters who will be going to the polls under the belief they are correctly registered;
  2. The Hogan campaign should immediately pull off the air ANY paid advertising until a Democratic opponent has been officially declared;
  3. The resignation of Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer should be submitted immediately.  In addition, any Hogan Administration staff that share responsibility for this egregious failure of basic democratic processes should be immediately dismissed.

    “The chaos being created by this failure subjects real harm to our most cherished democratic values.  Literally hundreds of decisions of who are nominees will be have been needlessly put in limbo.”

Conway and Kaiser Statement on Announcement from MVA

Over 80,000 Voters Now Expected to Encounter Problems Due to MVA Data Mismanagement
 
Annapolis, MD – Yesterday, the Governor’s office brushed off criticism of the MVA as a “clerical error” and a “conspiracy theory.” Today, they revealed the problem is exponentially worse than they told us, affecting 80,000 Marylanders that we know of.

Their initial failure was bad, and their explanations are worse.  We demand the immediate resignation of Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer and anyone else who was part of the Hogan administration’s attempt to sweep this under the rug, leaving Marylanders with concerns about their constitutional right to vote on the eve of an election.
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Hit Piece Against Mary Washington

The above mailer makes the highly dubious claim that Del. Mary Washington, a candidate for the Maryland Senate, tried to take away $63M from K-12 school kids, and cites HB 1203 as evidence.

HB 1203, the Maryland Education Opportunity Act of 2018, was the House bill to provide free college tuition for Maryland residents who enroll at a community college as a candidate for a vocational certificate or an associate’s degree within two years after graduating from a high school in the State or successfully completing a GED. The fiscal note on the bill states that the initiative is likely to cost at least $63.4 M per year, and that the funding used to reimburse a community college for foregone tuition revenue will be paid from gaming proceeds diverted to the Education Trust Fund.

The mailer makes the leap that since K-12 education is also paid from the Fund that Mary wants to take away $63M from K-12 schools.

The Maryland Alliance for Progress PAC paid for the mailer. Other than aiding Washington’s opponent, incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway, nearly every contribution made by this PAC has been in direct support of former Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, current candidate for PG County Council.

The PAC has received donations from entities like KHM Limited Partnership LLC, Thrift Manor LLC, Lanham LLLP, GKG Partnership, and HMH Partnership.

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Voting for Change

In this county executive race, I’ve been looking for someone who can shake things up a bit. This doesn’t mean that I think Montgomery County is a bad place to live or that Ike Leggett has done a bad job. On the contrary, County Executive Leggett saw us through a deep recession and protected key county services by making tough choices. I grew up and love living here.

But Montgomery County is not on a sustainable path. We need to do more to encourage employment and economic growth. The current model of county government cannot continue as it relies on ever greater expenditures that we still have trouble meeting even now that the recession is behind us.

As a result, I’ve been looking for a candidate for county executive who recognizes our many manifest strengths but is unafraid to try new solutions. I’d like our new county executive, whatever their political perspective, not to feel trapped by how we’ve handled matters in the past.

We have a number of excellent candidates this year. As we head down the home stretch of what has been an unusually hard fought and negative campaign by Montgomery County standards, tempers are beginning to fray. I hope we can all take a deep breath and recognize that just about all of the candidates have the skills required to serve ably as county executive.

Rose Krasnow is a triple threat in terms of experience working on Wall Street, having lead a major city government in Rockville, and holding a senior position at the Planning Board. If you speak with her, it rapidly becomes clear that she is extremely fluent – more than most sitting politicians – in the complex issues of the budget and planning. At the same time, her campaign’s emphasis on experience has left me wondering how she’d be innovative beyond favoring growth.

I have long made clear that George Leventhal is temperamentally unsuited to be county executive. Nonetheless, I’d regard it as a sign from above that this blog should continue for another four to eight years if he won, as he and Robin Ficker provide more than enough copy. George is already wearing Superman outfits. Can we get him into cheetah shorts? Seriously though, his support from a group that wants massive new development on River Road, despite no plan for transit there, and for rezoning single-family neighborhoods for apartment buildings gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Bill Frick knows how politics works from his experience in the House of Delegates. Yet he is outside county government and has a real zest for restructuring it, as his leadership in taking on entrenched interests supporting our county’s liquor monopoly demonstrates. Like Rose, he’d like to get the county’s growth engine moving again. Unfortunately, his campaign just doesn’t seem to have taken off.

In my view, Roger Berliner has the strongest “insider” case to make. He has a number of nice accomplishments under his belt, including good work on the environment. Compared to many, he has a far more intuitive understanding of the perspective of ordinary residents on issues such as PEPCO service and the impact of federal tax changes on county residents. He has been making the case that he knows how to innovate (think evolution, not revolution) and has had good success at building coalitions on the Council. Roger has struggled because it’s an anti-establishment year and David Blair has taken much of the oxygen his campaign needs.

That leaves Marc Elrich and David Blair, who are seen as the leading two candidates despite the absence of any public polling data. Despite having served on the Council for three terms, Marc Elrich is unquestionably still an outsider who is not part of the Rockville consensus. He has never been elected council chair. While some might see this as a sign he doesn’t play well with others, it is more of a badge of honor in a year when voters are highly critical of the Council.

Marc makes many happy but others quite nervous because of his strong progressive viewpoint. But he simply is not Montgomery County’s version of Hugo Chavez. More importantly, he is not some ideologue who is all hat and no cattle. This is a candidate who has thoughtful, practical, concrete ideas on how to make meaningful change that benefits all county residents. His plan for countywide BRT remains the best, biggest idea proposed to combat transportation problems that cause development-limiting and soul-killing traffic in a long time.

In Marc’s case, his professed desire to help “all residents” is not simply a code for only the poorest, though his passion for politics stems from working to help people who are struggling.  Marc gets that the middle class face increasing burdens. Unlike some progressives, he also understands fully that the county cannot flourish without its share of successful businesses and upper class residents, so demonizing them is not the solution.

Marc hasn’t held executive positions previously but has clear ideas about how he would restructure county government from day one. One concern has been that he has a progressive candidate would cause skittish business to shy away. Except that I think business would quickly see that, while we’d have some real change, the People’s Republic is not upon us.

David Blair has burst on to the political scene thanks to the political ads that he has been able to self-fund and two editorials endorsing his candidacy from the Washington Post. I’ve met David but since he hasn’t previously had a high local profile or been active in politics, he is less of a known quantity to me.

As with Marc Elrich, I would ignore stereotypes that suggest David Blair is the boogeyman is disguise. His having been a Republican many years ago should not be disqualifying. Yes, he is a businessman running for office but he is not Trump II. Though it’s a low bar, I see no sign that he shares any of Trump’s repulsive bigoted narcissistic tendencies. People who know Blair think he is a terrific guy and would be a great county executive.

At the same time, I have some concern with plutocratic politics. I admire successful businessmen but don’t know that his success always translates into political acumen and am uneasy with the idea that the ability to spend a lot of money on a political campaign is a qualification for public office. But not all wealthy businessmen are the same. Jim Shea, a trailing gubernatorial candidate, has been deeply involved in the Baltimore community for years, and has lots of thoughtful ideas for Maryland.

David Blair brings some real assets to the table. He would have instant credibility with the business community. Unquestionably, he has executive skills. Unlike many executives, he seemingly has the ability to hear people and listen to them, as well as give marching orders. If elected, he’ll need to develop them further in order to work with a Council that doesn’t work for him. I think he’ll have the ability to run with good ideas even if they didn’t pop out of his own head.

I’m still wondering how much of a change agent David Blair would be as county executive. On the plus side, he’s an outsider who is not wedded to current perspectives and has articulated various fresh policy ideas. Nevertheless, it’s unclear to me how much change this would mean in practice. I’ve heard that he wants to retain much of the current administration. When I asked the campaign about this, they replied:

We are committed to ensuring the best and brightest lead our departments and are fortunate that many of these leaders are already in place. We will evaluate each position and our approach will be comprehensive, transparent and inclusive.

Voters can view this as a sensible process for ensuring orderly turnover and acknowledging that many good people are already in place who would know how to carry out needed reforms. Alternatively, others will see this as someone who isn’t quite ready to hit the ground running and is still learning about county government departments.

The other concern from my perspective is the need for more business versus residential development. Though there is a lot of residential development slated to go ahead, developers want more density and development for the same reason that government employees want higher salaries.

Except residential development is different from other kinds of business because it brings new residents who demand a welter of more expensive services. In particular, few residents are net contributors to the county budget while they have kids in school, as education takes up half of the county budget.

Our infrastructure is already strained. We need more business beyond residential development to bring in the revenue to pay for it. As a businessman, I think David Blair grasps that idea well and has emphasized business in his campaign. But his major outside funding and backers comes from the development industry.

Final Thoughts

Like many candidates, I’m grateful that the primary will be over tomorrow night. Not to flail a dead horse, but remember that we have a lot of good people running for office and respect the choices of our fellow citizens. Let’s also comfort and thank those who run but don’t win. Running for office isn’t easy and Montgomery is fortunate to have so many willing to put themselves out there.

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