No Longer Waiting for a Starr to Fall

MCPS Superintendent Josh Starr and the School Board put the school system out of its misery with his planned exit. Starr leaves in two weeks and all involved have agreed never to speak of it again. It’s all so Downton Abbey.

At this point, figuring out exactly why Starr needed to go remains a mystery. Lou Peck helpfully put together that Judy Docca, Michael Durso, Jill Ortman-Fouse, and Rebecca Smondrowski demanded that he go. Puzzled Montgomery residents may still wonder why. Here is the Washingotn Post‘s explanation:

Montgomery County is a consistently high-achieving district with improving graduation rates and strong SAT scores. County officials familiar with school board deliberations told The Washington Post that Starr’s exit was not the result of a single issue; instead, a series of perceived missteps added to a simmering concern about Starr’s ability to build on the success of Jerry D. Weast, who retired in 2011 after a 12-year run.

County officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were describing private conversations, said the board members who lost faith in Starr cited concerns with his approach to closing the school system’s achievement gap and his candidacy for the chancellorship of New York’s public schools after a little more than two years in Rockville. They said his personal style was at times remote and dismissive, and they mentioned the lack of coherent vision for principals at the district’s 202 schools.

After reading this, I’m still wondering, Improving graduation rates and strong SAT scores sound not too shabby. The negative phrases of “perceived missteps” and “simmering concern” read like verbiage that could appear in almost any bureaucratic porridge. Doesn’t exactly reek of the polarization associated with Michelle Rhee or utter failure of many of her predecessors.

The concerns about his candidacy to be New York Chancellor make me shrug. It might be seen as a sign that we were on the right track the school system of America’s largest city considered him a good candidate. Would we prefer a superintendent that no one else wants to hire?

There is also a certain double standard in demanding total loyalty that we are clearly unwilling to reciprocate. Someone who wants to move up also has a real incentive to make the system he currently runs function well.

I’m still trying to figure out what the “coherent vision for principals” concern means. It could suggest a lack of clear marching orders. On the other hand, it might indicate a welcome lack of interest in wrapping up the job in the latest educational fashion. As someone who works in academia and has seen trends come and go, that wouldn’t bother me. Is it just bad relations with the School Board?

We’ll never know, though many theories will circulate widely. Less of a problem for the public’s right to know–I’ll manage in this case–than that it may leave potential good candidates wondering why he went and if they want to follow.


Tom Schaller’s New Book: The Stronghold


I don’t know any political scientist than Tom Schaller who does a better job of accurately assessing where American politics is headed and writing smart, coherent (read: non-academic) work about current American. Besides being Chair of the Political Science Department at UMBC, Tom writes a regular column for the Baltimore Sun.  Tom is smart, witty, and insightful. Heck, he was even on Colbert.

So if you’re around Baltimore on Wednesday, February 3rd, go see him talk about his new book, The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House, at The Ivy Bookshop (6080 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21209) at 7PM. You can RSVP here. You’ll be glad you did.

P.S. While Tom is a staunch Democrat, Republicans could learn a lot by listening to him.


Ready in for Senate, Frazier to House?

Towards the end of last month, the Carroll County Republican Central Committee (CCRCC) acceded to Gov. Larry Hogan’s request to nominate three people for the District 5 Senate seat left vacant by Sen. Joe Getty’s move to the administration:

The Carroll County Republican Central Committee recommended former County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, Del. Justin Ready, R-District 5, and David Wallace for the now-vacant Senate seat in District 5.

Wallace was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House against Chris Van Hollen and has run for other public offices in the past.

So other than Del. Justin Ready, recently easily reelected by the voters, the CCRCC confirmed its penchant for selecting political losers, hardly a necessity in a county filled with Republicans who have actually won office. Once again, the process was completely secret, likely to protect the innocent from having to watch how the CCRCC makes decisions.

To no one’s surprise, Hogan appointed his preferred choice: Justin Ready. He has now been appointed and sworn into the Senate, much to the relief of all concerned. Many were adamantly opposed to the CCRCC’s original sole nomination of loopy Robin Frazier, who lost reelection to her county commission seat in the primary and the general–so don’t blame Carroll voters.

But is Robin Frazier Still in the Mix for Delegate?

Justin Ready’s move to the Senate now leaves open his House seat. And by now you can probably guess what benighted group of Addams Family values Republicans gets to nominate his replacement: the CCRCC.

Rumors are circulating around State Circle that Gov. Larry Hogan agreed to appoint Robin Frazier to the House of Delegates in exchange for getting his choice of Ready for the Senate. If so, this is a true Faustian bargain, as Frazier will be the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats every time she opens her mouth. And she has no love lost for the Hogan administration after they torpedoed her Senate appointment, so her crazy fire would go off in all directions. I look forward to the  founding of her YouTube channel.

Moreover, such an appointment would show incredible weakness on the part of Hogan. Less than a month after his inauguration, the Republican who carried his party to victory in deep blue Maryland would show he can’t even get his own party, let along the Democratic General Assembly, to go along with him.

Hogan has aspirations to build the Maryland GOP. If Robin Frazier is the answer, what was the question? Let’s hope that the rumor mill is, once again, wrong.


Israeli Election Forecast: More Netanyahu Likely

Israeli politics is divided along multiple cleavage lines. Americans are most keenly attuned the divide between proponents and opponents of the two-state solution but there are several other divisions that do not always split Israeli society on the same line. Beyond the increasingly powerful between religious and secular Israelis, ethnic divisions between Askhenazim and Sephardim persist. Of course, the Arab minority has its own internal divisions.

Latest Developments

Israeli parties move fast, especially during election campaigns, and there have been two developments since last week’s post. First, Avigdor Lieberman has ruled out the possibility of Yisrael Beitenu joining a coalition led by Zionist Union. Second, Eli Yishai has hooked up his tiny breakaway party from Shas (Ha’am Itanu) with MK Yoni Chetboun, who quit Bayit Yehudi, into a new list called Yachad (Together). Yachad will run on a joint list with extreme right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) under the Yachad name.

Current Polls

Leaving aside these latest last minute hookups before the deadline for finalizing lists, the key question is whether incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his opponents will possess enough strength in the 120-member Knesset to form a coalition. (Check out Jeremy’s Knesset Insider for polls and more analysis.)

Here is the average predicted seats from last week’s gaggle of polls according to Jeremy:

25.2 Zionist Union
24.4 Likud
14.7 Bayit Yehudi
12.0 United Arab List
09.4 Yesh Atid
07.7 Kulanu
07.1 United Torah Judaism
07.1 Shas
05.4 Yisrael Beitenu
05.3 Meretz
03.3 Yachad

Netanyahu starts out with a good base of 39-43 seats from his own party and close allies. His Likud party has been polling around 24 seats. Bayit Yehudi, an even more right-wing party, has little choice but to support Netanyahu and is on course to gain about 15 mandates. If Yachad makes it past the 3.25% threshold, he will contribute another 4 seats to a Netanyahu coalition.

Bibi can get to the magic 61 MKs in a number of ways. First, he can join up with the two major religious parties: Shas, and UTJ. They exist to be in government, as otherwise they cannot threaten to leave it to gain more funding for their schools or to block anti-religious legislation.

Adding on either Yisrael Beitenu or Kulanu–and more likely both would join–would put him over the top. This right-religious coalition would resemble previous right-wing coalitions, such as the one led by Yitzhak Shamir. It would be reasonably cohesive, though only by the standards of Israeli politics.

The core anti-Bibi Zionist parties–Zionist Camp (Labor and Hatnuah), Yesh Atid, and Merez–together start with a relatively impressive 40 seats. The problems start when one tries to add on other parties to get to 61. Think of it as being like junior high where A won’t talk or sit next to B unless C isn’t there.

While Shas and UTJ usually prefer right-wing governments, they will also join left-wing governments, as they too can provide access to the state treasury. However, it is hard to imagine the diehard secular Yesh Atid sitting in government with Shas or UTJ.

Similarly, United Arab List will never support Bibi. But it also likely would not support any coalition formed by Zionist parties. Excepting possibly Meretz, the Zionist parties reciprocate the feeling because of concerns regarding security–always a central issue in Israel–and being close to anti-Israel Arab MKs like Haneen Zoabi, which would alienate the Jewish center.

Opposition parties would pounce, claiming that a coalition dependent on United Arab List MKs cannot defend Jewish interests in negotiations with the Palestinians. In short, United Arab List can help keep Netanyahu out but it is not clear that they would or could serve in government. (Note: UAL has one Jewish MK and Arab MKs also win off of predominantly Jewish lists.)

Finally, adding Kulanu would not bring a Zionist Camp-Yesh Atid-Meretz coalition even above 50 without either the religious or Arab parties. Thought the left has performed better in recent polls, a left-led government is still much harder to envision than a right-wing one led by Netanyahu.

Disunity Government

Finally, Likud and Zionist Camp could join up to form a “unity” government. Together with Kulanu and various other willing participants, it could easily possess far more than 61 votes. This would give Netanyahu the opportunity to give Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett the old heave-ho. Even better for Netanyahu, either Yitzhak Herzog or Tzipi Livni would become foreign minister, likely easing the building European pressure on Israel and the current discord with the Obama administration.

In some ways, this seems the most likely combination due to the opportunities it provides Netanyahu and many others. But either this or another right-wing government feels like a rerun of earlier Israeli government reality shows.

Wild Card: The Threshold

Israel has always had very low thresholds to enter parliament. The last Knesset raised it, however, from 2% to 3.25%. Three parties–Yachad, Meretz, and Yisrael Beitenu, face serious danger of failing to pass it and receiving no seats. Any failure by them would redound to the benefit of other parties.

If Meretz made it past the threshold but Yachad and Yisrael Beitenu fell short, it would be a great boon to the left, as right-wing voters will have wasted a disproportionate number of votes. Of course, the reverse could also occur.

Another reason Israel’s election night in March will be fun to watch.


My New Book: Minority Rules

Lublin Cover

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Minority Rules: Electoral Systems, Decentralization and Ethnoregional Party Systems by Oxford University Press.

Everyone loves to write about failure. There are shelves of books about ethnic conflicts in Bosnia, Israel, and Rwanda. But wouldn’t it be easier to try to keep Humpty Dumpty up on that darn wall rather than having to put him back together again? Minority Rules eschews the usual focus on failure to study the representation of minorities in free democracies in roughly 80 countries around the globe from the tiniest nations in Polynesia to India and the U.S.

Contrary to theories that emphasize sources of minority discontent–such as disputes over natural resource wealth–Minority Rules demonstrates that electoral rules play a dominant role in explaining not just why ethnic and regional parties perform poorly or well but why one potential ethnic cleavage, like language, emerges instead of another, like religion. Unlike past studies, Minority Rules finds that decentralization does not augment the success of ethnoregional parties.

This matters because the emergence of ethnic and regional parties along with the failure to incorporate them meaningfully into political systems has long been associated with ethnic conflict. As a result, the findings, which derive from a rich empirical foundation, have important implications not only for reaching successful settlements to such conflicts but also for preventing violent majority-minority conflicts from breaking out in the first place.

David Lublin is Professor of Government in the School of Public Affairs at American University. He is the author of The Paradox of Representation and The Republican South.