Israel Election 2015: Likud is Now a Lock

Jeremy’s Knesset Insider informs that not just Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu but the two major religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have ruled out joining a coalition led by Zionist Union and excluding Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. This news takes a Zionist Union-led coalition from a highly unlikely outcome to impossible.

Additionally, the polls indicate that Likud is up 1 seat and Zionist Union down 1 or 2 seats in the polls, though the shift between the various major camps of Israeli politics is smaller. Unlike last week, Likud is the largest party, increasing its claim on government.

The question now is whether Netanyahu will choose a right-wing religious-nationalist coalition or a more centrist coalition with Zionist Union. The current seat math renders either possible. While the right-wing coalition is likely a more natural fit for today’s Likud, there are also real advantages for Netanyahu in the centrist coalition, as I outlined previously.


Crossing Swords on Education

The battle has already been joined between Democrats and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on education:

Fissures between Hogan and Democrats had already started to emerge over a budget proposal he submitted Jan. 23, two days after being sworn in. Hogan has stressed that his proposal includes record funding for K-12 education, even though it would provide counties with $144 million less than expected under existing education formulas.

Gov. Hogan says that education is his “first priority” and brags that his budget spends more than ever on education. Only addled Democrats who want to increase spending at out of control rates could think that his mild slowing of spending increases could constitute a cut. Democrats say he is taking an ax to schools.

So Who is Right?

Unfortunately, Hogan’s claims are so much political pap and every bit as reheated as the annual credit taking by legislators and governors alike for having balanced the state budget–something required by our Constitution.

Due to inflation and an expanding student population, spending on education always increases. One has to spend more just to stay even in real terms. This year, Gov. Hogan’s budget proposal reduces spending per pupil by $189. That’s no small amount.

Taking from Public to Fund Private

Hogan wants to further cut spending by making donations to parochial and private schools tax exempt. Sounds nice except that by reducing the tax take, Hogan cuts the funds available for education, effectively shifting spending from public to private schools. How letting me make a tax deductible gift to a DC private school benefits Maryland children remains a mystery to me.

Impact in Montgomery

Hogan would like to become the first two-term GOP governor in a very long time. Towards that end, he wants to appeal to small business owners and people sensitive on taxes in order to chip away further at Democratic margins in Montgomery. Hogan has also targeted Asian Americans, heavily concentrated in Montgomery, through his wife and family as well as substantive appeals.

Except that attempts to cut education will undercut all of these efforts, so he has to mask the cut as an increase. Education is Montgomery’s brand and there is universal commitment to maintaining it. Some may rail against immigration but when people move from around the world and struggle to live here to send their children to our schools, we’re doing something right.

In Montgomery, Hogan’s cuts will drop per pupil spending by $144–a cut that will reverberate through an already burdened school budget. Many moderate Montgomery voters who might be attracted to Gov. Hogan’s other proposals will have trouble getting past that one to even take a look at them.



More State of the State Reax

More reactions to Governor Hogan’s inaugural State of the State address:

Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-46, Baltimore):

Early in his speech, the Governor talked about a “disconnect” during the past Administration between Annapolis and the rest of Maryland, but from what I have heard from my constituents, this Governor seems to be the one who is disconnected.  I have had a full email inbox every day with notes from Marylanders who understand the need for a balanced budget – indeed, the State cannot by law pass a budget with a deficit – but also demand that we not balance the budget on the backs of Maryland’s school children, on the backs of our middle-class state employees and community service providers, or by gutting environmental programs.  Governor Hogan today shared a vision for fiscal policies that will lead to a dirtier bay, more crowded classrooms, and a Maryland with greater inequality.  That is not a vision I share.  As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I want to pass a fiscally prudent, socially responsible budget that moves our state forward.  Governor Hogan’s budget fails on both accounts, and his speech today only highlighted that fact.

Montgomery County Planning Board Member Natali Fani-Gonzalez:

I was pleased to see Gov. Hogan highlight the need to build a stronger and more competitive Maryland. He mentioned the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, which was just created last year.  There is no better way for Gov. Hogan to put his theory into practice than by supporting the immediate creation of the Purple Line.  Let’s build a light rail that creates jobs, promotes sustainable communities and attracts businesses to spearhead a more prosperous Maryland.


The Senate President Pans the State of the State

On Governor Hogan and his speech:

I was disappointed. I like him personally. I know his father, I know his family. Maybe he’ll grow into the job. I hope he will. I hope he’ll understand what’s doable and he’ll tell the truth to the people that this is what we can achieve working together. But the responsible thing is to say Governor we can’t do these things until we can afford them. And so it’s going to take adults to tell him that.

On the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the rain tax:

OK, fine. Let’s eliminate the rain tax. Who pays for it? It’s a federal mandate. So guess what. The counties are going to have to pay for it by themselves. The counties are supported by the taxpayers.

On the Governor’s proposal to eliminate personal property taxes:

He says he wants to eliminate the personal property tax. Guess what. That goes to the counties, not the State. One of my counties has got five Republican county commissioners. They’re going to resist that. They need that $3 million in personal property tax to pay for education. Again, it’s campaign promises brought into his State of the State speech—campaign promises that he knows can’t be kept by either himself or the General Assembly until prosperity comes.

Is Maryland in as bad a shape as the Governor describe?

Maryland is in great shape. We have the highest income of any state in the Union. We have the lowest poverty of any state in the Union. We have either the 1, 2, or 3 best schools of any state in the Union. He’s described the State like Arkansas or Alabama or Mississippi. I don’t know what state he’s talking about. This is a great state. We’re very proud of our state. We need just to move forward. We need a governor that wants to work with the General Assembly to move us forward, not backwards.


State of the State Reax

Here are a few early reactions to Governor Hogan’s State of the State address earlier today.

Delegate Cory McCray (D-45, Baltimore):

Marylanders won’t stand for balancing the budget on the backs of our children. We should be concerned about the cuts to higher education which will increase tuition for our students, cuts to Medicaid which will have an adverse effect on our vulnerable families, and the 2% salary reduction to State Workers who are our neighbors, our friends, and our family.

Common Cause Executive Director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel:

We agree with the Governor that people feel a real disconnect between Annapolis and the rest of Maryland, and we believe that special interest influence in elections and a broken redistricting process are fueling that divide. We look forward to working with him on these critical reforms.

Delegate David Moon (D-20, Montgomery):

After striking a partisan tone in his State of the State, Governor Hogan today outlined a series of tax cut proposals without explaining how he plans to pay for them. To me this raises questions about the administration’s commitment to reining in the long-term structural deficit, and the announcement seems strangely timed given that the Governor has signaled his first priority is to bring our fiscal house in order. There are obviously tough choices that will need to be made in the coming session, but our county’s first priority has been and remains restoring school funding and keeping the Purple Line on track. This is not an appropriate time to be considering further reducing the state’s revenues, when we’re deleting hundreds of jobs in our school system.



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.


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