Eagles Fly. Gansler and Brown Attack.

First gay eagle

I had a Town Council meeting last night so this post will be short.

Before getting to the negative, I thought a bit of positive news was in order.  I was thrilled to see that the Nation’s first openly gay eagle scout lives around the corner in Kensington. Many congratulations to Pascal Tessier. Let’s also thank his older brother Lucien Tessier (and the clearly terrific Tessier parents) for showing him the way even though even though Lucien was not allowed to be out when he became an eagle scout. What a wonderful achievement and family.

But on to the gubernatorial race. . .

Doug Gansler’s campaign has rolled out a surprisingly chirpy looking attack on Anthony Brown (see below). The question is whether Democrats will simply conflate any criticism of the functioning of the health exchange as an attack on Obamacare. On the other hand, the figures are pretty embarrassing for Brown, who has been left scrambling due to problems with the State exchange.

Meanwhile, Brown has launched a snark twitter attack on Gansler (see way below), suggesting that the MoCo candidate is demeaning Prince George’s following on a letter from Brown supporters condemning Gansler essentially for lamenting that the level of retail and restaurants in Prince George’s does not match the economic success of the County.

Gansler on Health

brown on rest

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Outbidding

Political scientists in their studies of American politics often focus on the median voter–the voter who just perfectly positioned so that one-half of the electorate is more liberal and the other half is more conservative. In theory, both major parties jostle to move close to this mythological voter to win the election.

Despite the seeming incentives for the parties to act like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, they also face pressures to distinguish themselves. Parties that become too centrist get pressed by third parties. In New York, the Conservative Party can threaten to refuse to cross-endorse Republican candidates who are too moderate. Democrats can similarly face challenges from the Green Party.

From a branding perspective, a little distinctiveness also helps. No one would go to Five Guys if their advertisements said “We’re just like McDonald’s!” Distinct issue positions are also a much cheaper way for parties to attract votes than political patronage–now severely limited by civil service laws.

But the real pressure to move away from the center comes from party primaries. In Democratic bastions like Baltimore City, and Montgomery and Prince George’s County, the Democratic primary is the election for all intents and purposes. Of course, the same applies for Republican primaries in Republican jurisdictions.

Pols running in these places naturally orient their campaigns to the primary rather than the general electorate. Voters have become increasingly well sorted into the parties based on ideology so composition of each party’s adherents is increasingly starkly different. Primaries accent this effect as they tend to attract the more diehard voters.

The result is parties that radically rather than mildly disagree, especially since so many politicians run in safe seats. Republicans take extreme positions utterly out of the mainstream on any number of issues from immigration to LGBT equality to the minimum wage because their primary electorates demand it. This is why we got to watch the long spectacle of Mitt Romney turning himself inside out as an ideological pretzel during the 2012 primary season.

Democrats have not moved as nearly as far to the left as Republicans have moved to the right (see Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein’s argument and the statistics on voteview.com). Democrats, however, are hardly immune to same effect. Conservative Democrats are basically gone and moderate Democrats are fewer in number.

Maryland, surprisingly, despite its liberalism retains somewhat greater diversity among elected Democratic legislators. This is most certainly not from a failure to elect liberals from liberal districts but from Democratic Party savvy at running  and then supporting more moderate candidates in places where needed–historically a real party strength. Combined with Republican electoral ineptitude, this strategy has helped balloon Democratic numbers in both houses of the General Assembly.

Nonetheless, Maryland is increasingly going to see efforts by candidates in liberal areas to play leapfrog and out-progressive other candidates. After all, that’s where the voters are in Democratic primaries. Witness Del. Heather Mizeur’s efforts to distinguish herself as the left-wing Democrat in the gubernatorial race. The result can be a war of outbidding–try to prove one is more truly left-wing, progressive, liberal (pick your poison) than the other other candidates.

Of course, there are smarter and dumber versions of this strategy. Heather takes the smarter one by emphasizing progressive issues that attract a broad spectrum of Democrats even as she smartly proves her relative liberalism. She had a nice coup when Lt. Gov. Brown said “me-too” in shifting towards her position on medical marijuana (h/t Maryland Juice).

While the candidates will stress these differences, they are small in the broad scheme of things. Recall the Clinton-Obama magical mystery tour of debates, which one can pretend came down to profound issue differences but really divided people based on who you thought ought to be president. (Perhaps we’ll get both in the end?)

Outbidding can be deleterious in a number of ways. First, it encourages candidates to adhere to the shibboleths of each party rather than deal with practical issues. It makes politics feel more like praying at an especially fervent denomination rather than a way to solve problems. I can already envision some candidates accusing others of heresy because they happen to disagree in a minor way how to move forward on this or that issue.

Unlike when shopping for water, this should not be a purity test. Yep, we want someone who agrees with us on the issues. But we also want someone who we think is up to scratch in running the State and has the vision to move us forward in a positive direction.

In sum, Democrats can be liberal and not stupid (I think Barney Frank said it or something similar originally) by not following the Republicans into our own version of teahadism without giving up our core values.

Progressive Neighbors Debates Maryland’s Foreign Policy

Lots of issues came up at the Progressive Neighbors Forum in Takoma Park yesterday but the issue that generated the most heat was American Studies Association boycott (ASA) of Israeli scholarly institutions.

Two bills have been cross-filed in the Maryland General Assembly directed at undermining the ASA boycott. Montgomery Del. Ben Kramer has filed HB 998 with a number of cosponsors: Delegates Barkley, Barve, Bates, Boteler, Cardin, Cluster, Costa, Cullison, Eckardt, Frank, Fraser, Hidalgo, Frick, Gaines, Gilchrist, Glenn, Haddaway, Riccio, Hogan, Hucker, Impallaria, Jacobs, Kach, Kaiser, A. Kelly, Kipke, Lafferty, Luedtke, McComas, McConkey, W. Miller, Morhaim, Myers, Olszewski, Otto, Pendergrass, Ready, Reznik, B. Robinson, S. Robinson, Rosenberg, Serafini, Simmons, Stein, Stocksdale, Szeliga, Valderrama, Vaughn, Waldstreicher, M. Washington, Weir, Wood, and Zucker.  Due to timing, Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway did not have time to seek cosponsors for the parallel bill in the Senate, SB 647.

Peace Action Montgomery distributed flyers at the forum (see page 1 above with 2 and 3 below) arguing strongly against the bill as unconstitutional and just plain wrong. Although many in the audience opposed the bill–no one in the audience expressed support–the bill is not on Progressive Neighbors’ very lengthy priority list.

Sen. Roger Manno was in the line of fire at the meeting. He attacked the boycott and defended the bill’s central goal in the Washington Jewish Week:

In an interview after the hearing Manno explained, “My responsibility as a lawmaker and as a member of the Senate budget and taxation committee, which writes that check, is to ensure that the dollars are spent wisely and that it reflects the values of our community. … And we don’t support [the boycott that the ASA is supporting].”

The same article notes that UMBC has issued a statement condemning the ASA boycott, as have many academic institutions.

There is a certain irony to Peace Action Montgomery’s opposition to the bill. The boycott’s proponents handed out flyers lauding the long history of boycotts to promote social justice from India to South Africa . . . in order to condemn the proposal that the State of Maryland boycott ASA as a statement in support of its view of a more just world.

Thought experiment: What would Peace Action Montgomery’s response be to a proposed ASA boycott of HBCUs?

The arguments that the bill violates academic freedom are specious. The proposed legislation would not ban any professor from supporting ASA’s boycott, attending ASA conferences, or membership in ASA. It just wouldn’t permit Maryland institutions to pay for it. Universities regularly decide which scholarly activities they deem worthy of support. We may not agree with them but the State has a right to decide how to spend its money and which endeavors to support.

In political science, we are experiencing this up close. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Coburn successfully amended the bill that funds the National Science Foundation so that grants may only go to proposals that aid national security. As you might suspect, this has not gone down well with most political scientists. But no one questions its constitutionality or claims it violates the First Amendment.

This issue has a profound potential to alienate Jewish Democrats and other supporters of Israel. I believe heavy majorities of Jewish Democrats strongly support, even yearn for, a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry is working doggedly to address the real barriers to a workable and lasting peace despite extreme difficulties. Nonetheless, ASA’s efforts to isolate Israel offend deeply and undercut them. Jews may not be unanimous on this issue (we seem incapable of it; just watch either the Knesset or Life of Brian) but the vast majority strongly oppose efforts to boycott Israel.

Not to mention that Israeli universities are often the center of efforts to build peace within Israel, which makes one suspect that the academic body of scholars focused on studying America perhaps doesn’t know too much about it. Regardless, I imagine that I am not the only one amazed at the idea that the world awaits with bated breath the opinion of academic organizations on various issues of the day, particularly those completely outside that organization’s area of expertise. (OK: irony of blog-writing academic condemning pronouncements on issues of the day by academics is duly noted.)

Jews are passionate for peace and for Israel. Trying to make them choose is a losing strategy. I don’t think legislators or candidates are going to find it easy to straddle this issue.

Duchy Trachtenberg For?

In this pre-filing period, some are still making up their mind whether to jump in the political pool and in which race to take the plunge. Former one-term at-large County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg is not just the object of speculation but clearly thinking about it.

Duchy has a long history of running for office in Montgomery County. In 2002, Duchy lost the general election for Council District 1 to Republican Howie Denis by 1.8% of the vote–Howie was the last Republican to serve on the County Council and had significant Democratic support. (Sidenote: GOPers would call Denis a RINO as they stand perplexed wondering at why they cannot win in MoCo.) Running at-large in 2006, Duchy came in third and secured one of the four Democratic nominations, easily won the general, and joined the County Council.

But in 2010, Duchy fell to fifth place in the Democratic primary and lost the nomination and her seat. Not only did newcomer Hans Riemer leap over her to take second place, Becky Wagner in sixth came much closer to beating Duchy than Duchy did to slipping past incumbent George Leventhal in fourth. Duchy launched a campaign for the Sixth Congressional District that lasted only a few months when she ended her “underdog” campaign on January 4, 2012 due to a recurrence of breast cancer.

Duchy is thinking again about running for something in 2014. She wrote top-drawer campaign consultant Joe Trippi a check for $9250 in December 2013 out of her state political account. I’m assuming it was not a Chanukah or Christmas gift. Duchy’s last congressional report from April 2013 similarly showed a $12,000 payment to Trippi.

Her past interest in Congress suggests she–along with the rest of MoCo pols–may be waiting to see if Rep. John Delaney decides to enter the gubernatorial race. On the other hand, her last federal campaign finance report showed just $644 cash left while her state campaign account has a more impressive $122,575 so perhaps another county council race is in Duchy’s future.

As John Gallagher reminded me after my last post, she cannot transfer more than $1000 from the state to the federal account. And the state report indicates no loans that would allow her to repay herself and then donate the money to her congressional account. If she ran for Congress, Duchy would need to tap into her own resources and her network, though her past problems with Maryland NOW may impede her efforts despite her long connection.
 

Duchy may have ambitions but she’d have to make many changes to her campaign and personal approach to win. As Adam Pagnucco outlined in his must-read dissection of her previous loss, she has a lot of fences to mend:

First, she alienated most of her supporters in 2006 – and not just in the unions – through her conduct as a Council Member. Second, she was unable to build a new base because of her ineffective staffing, failure to build relationships and non-existent constituent service. And third, she made very bad resource decisions during the campaign.

Adam’s post is the number two Google hit for “Duchy Trachtenberg” on Google–another problem that Duchy will need to address if she runs.

UPDATE: Adam Pagnucco’s post on why Duchy lost her reelection bid is now the #1 Google hit for “Duchy Trachtenberg” — beating out the Maryland Manual.

Mr. Delaney Leaves Washington?

Congressman John Delaney gives not-so-subtle signs of wanting to enter the gubernatorial race. He has leaked a poll that shows many undecided voters and the three current contenders with low support. Delaney took a jab at Doug Gansler for “suggesting a sensible solution on the Maryland Exchange which is the same solution we have been proposing for months” (h/t Maryland Juice).

Hardly the words of someone who plans to be Gansler’s BFF. (While Anthony Brown endorsed Rob Garagiola, Gansler stayed out of the congressional race.) Josh Kurtz argues that these political feints are part of an effort by Delaney to get Gansler to leave the race, opting for the Sixth District congressional seat that Delaney would have to vacate to run for governor. Until the filing deadline, after all, nothing is truly settled so political animals can fight over the pecking order.
 
Delaney’s entry into the race would indeed probably hurt Gansler more than Heather Mizeur but Brown has the most to gain. Delaney’s profile is similar to Gansler’s demographic and political profile. Delaney would have to work harder to attract either the hard-core progressives that are Mizeur’s base or the O’Malley supporters who have flocked to Brown.

But this doesn’t work for Delaney unless Gansler exits stage west. To the extent that Brown can consolidate the African-American vote and O’Malley supporters, Delaney’s entry benefits Brown. And this matters a lot because African Americans make up a larger share of Democratic primary voters than in the overall population.

Make no mistake: all candidates are working hard for both black and white votes. Gansler’s ability to attract Jolene Ivey to his ticket–a very well-liked, savvy African-American delegate with a high profile–was a real coup and Gansler has courted black voters for years. Mizeur similarly attracted first-time pol Delmon Coates who reinforces her outsider progressive message. And Brown got a great, experienced running mate in Ken Ulman who should help Brown, especially in Howard County.

Having said that, a passel of white candidates seems most likely to benefit Brown and make it an uphill battle for either Delaney or Gansler. Call it a mutual political suicide pact unless one can so completely marginalize the other–unlikely–as to render them irrelevant. Delaney would likely run a strong campaign–his focused and well-run congressional race demonstrated that–and he may view Gansler as bloodied but Gansler has run twice statewide and has the funds to stay in the race. Moreover, he has passion and a vision for the state with primary day still several months away.

Delaney may entice Gansler into the congressional race but that is no sure thing either for Gansler. Let’s leave aside that Gansler doesn’t live in the district–this seems oddly common among candidates for this juicy Democratic morsel. A bunch of other high profile candidates would surely also jump in the pool for that nomination. Gansler would have his sizable gubernatorial campaign fund but otherwise the same political problems. Maybe a better bet but definitely not a sure one.

Meanwhile, the other candidates still have to keep an eye on Mizeur. Unquestionably, the two-term delegate is a longer shot candidate. But she is staking out the most left-wing territory–not usually a bad place to be in a Democratic primary. She is the only woman in a Democratic primary in which women invariably make up a disproportionate share of voters. And despite having less money, she is the candidate who knows the most by far about how to run a campaign. Her delegate campaign from eight years ago probably belongs in a textboo.


UPDATE: John Gallagher kindly wrote and explained to me that Doug Gansler could not transfer more than $1000 from a state into a federal account. That gives them a lot more of an incentive to stay in the gubernatorial race. This professor is always happy to learn, so thanks!

UPDATE on Sam Arora

Sam Arora replies to my earlier post on his ruminating about running for reelection:

The oblique snipe at me seems understandable (or at least unsurprising) in light of my post and earlier posts on this blog (here, here and here) calling Sam out for his changing stance on marriage equality. Regardless, I’m glad to hear that Sam was just talking large to a few people in Annapolis and for him to reaffirm his decision to exit the House.

And hey, I’m now legally married and Sam is retiring.

And He’s Back? Sam Arora

Delegate Sam Arora is very good at reconsidering. After campaigning on a strong-pro marriage equality platform in 2008, he then changed his mind and voted against the bill that he had originally cosponsored. Sam thus had the singular dishonor of being the only delegate from liberal Montgomery County (66% voted for marriage in the referendum) to vote against marriage equality.

After announcing on November 1 that he will not run for reelection to the House of Delegates–most likely after having been tossed off the incumbent slate (kudos to them) and realizing that support given by many liberal groups had evaporated–Sam Arora is rumored to be reconsidering. Perhaps he thinks that the many primaries in Montgomery County will distract the locals he angered with his vote from his race. Perhaps he believes that LGBT and other progressive activists will be blindsided if he runs and have moved their focus in the wake of his retirement announcement.

Wrong again, Sam. Very wrong.

And We’re Back. . .


After a long hiatus, I’ve decided to start blogging again. I’m hoping to move to a new platform and URL so watch this spot to follow Maryland Politics Watch. For now, I’m not going to publish comments because I just don’t have the time or desire to moderate them. Enjoy!

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