By Adam Pagnucco.
Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) and Delegate Marc Korman (D-16) make the case for County Executive candidate Roger Berliner in this email sent out by the Berliner campaign.
By Adam Pagnucco.
Today kicks off a series of reports on fundraising in MoCo’s state legislative districts. Incumbents are marked in red.
This is by far the easiest MoCo state legislative race to figure out. All four incumbents – Senator Craig Zucker and Delegates Anne Kaiser, Eric Luedtke and Pam Queen – are going to be reelected. The end.
Senator Brian Feldman has achieved every politician’s dream: a complete deterrence of credible competition. Since he first won a House seat in 2002, he has never been at risk of losing an election. Meanwhile, four of his MoCo Senate colleagues (Cheryl Kagan, Rich Madaleno, Roger Manno and Nancy King) have endured tough races in recent years to gain or hold their seats. Will any serious candidate ever run against him? Of course, your author would be the first to sing Feldman’s praises as a public official and any challenger stupid enough to run would lose, but – dang it – Feldman is not doing his part to keep political bloggers busy!
Incumbent Delegates Kathleen Dumais and David Fraser-Hidalgo will be reelected despite their somewhat anemic fundraising. Of the candidates seeking to succeed Delegate Aruna Miller, who is running for Congress, Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Lily Qi looks like the strongest contender. Your author worked with Qi during his time in county government and found her to be smart, competent and forward-thinking. She was one of the uncommon people who could deal with the day-to-day tribulations of working for the county while also possessing the capacity to assume a perspective from 30,000 feet. Qi has done well at raising money, and with her standing in the local Chinese-American community, her admirers in the business community and the support of her boss, County Executive Ike Leggett, she has had a good start.
Kevin Mack, who is Congressman John Delaney’s constituent service lead, is well regarded by those who have interacted with him and is the principal alternative to Qi. But it’s not helpful that he trailed political consultant Andy VanWye in fundraising. Hamza Khan, who switched from the District 39 House race, has not yet filed his campaign finance report and is being fined by the Board of Elections. Republicans were once competitive in this district and held a Delegate seat here as recently as 2006, but they will not win any seats in the age of Trump.
The Big Question: will the incumbents slate with Qi as they slated with Miller, then a new candidate, in 2010? If they do, this race will probably be over.
Politicians often have trouble finding major issues that they can use successfully in campaigns. The Montgomery County Liquor Monopoly provides a rare opportunity for politicians who wish to advance or outsiders who want to crash the incumbent party.
Good campaign issues have several key attributes. First, they have to divide you from your opponent. Voters cannot differentiate between candidates when they agree. Put another way, “I’m even more pro-choice” is usually not going to unseat an incumbent. Montgomery County’s liquor monopoly is an easy issue for candidates to differentiate themselves.
Second, the subject has to be easy to communicate. If an issue requires jargon, like Maintenance of Effort, to explain it, it is not going to work. Clear and concise are critical. Opposition to the monopoly is the rare issue that works well on a postcard.
Finally, voters have to care about the issue and favor the candidate’s position. Unlike with many issues, many voters have direct experience of the monopoly and have formed opinions about it. Put simply, they don’t like it and would like to see it go away. Recently, a poll confirmed the well-known widely shared antipathy for it.
The existing Department of Liquor Control monopoly over the distribution of all alcohol and the sale of hard liquor provides a fat, juicy target. Through personal experience, many County voters know that the DLC assures higher prices in unattractive stores.
Comptroller Peter Franchot has already raised the issue’s profile.
The natural coalition favoring reform is powerful. Consumers receive no benefit from the monopoly, as it raises prices and forces them to travel farther to find greater selections at lower prices. They just don’t get why the County needs to be in this business. In short, they’ll only benefit if perestroika arrives in MoCo.
Business also hates the monopoly because it makes it much harder for the critical restaurant sector to thrive. More broadly, it is a barrier to expanding business around the County’s nightlife. Getting rid of the monopoly is a leading priority for the Chamber of Commerce. Fighting the monopoly looks like an excellent way to open doors to an untapped source of campaign donations.
Moreover, the defenders of the monopoly make excellent foils. Its main supporter is MCGEO–the union that represents the current DLC stores. While they claim to protect union jobs, the industry is highly unionized, so their real fear is that the workers would be represented by other unions.
Moreover, MCGEO acts like a union out of Republican central casting, attempting to bully its opponents into submission. Union President Gino Renne is not just a character but a caricature of the well-paid union boss. MCGEO slings mud in a way that attracts bad publicity rather than support.
Moreover, MCGEO is incredibly ineffective. It tried to take down numerous incumbents in the last election and failed all around. Unlike the Teachers (MCEA), MCEGO just doesn’t carry much weight with voters or show an ability to accomplish much on behalf of its candidates. Councilmember Roger Berliner wiped the floor against MCGEO’s well-funded candidate in 2014.
This is a rare bipartisan opportunity. Opposition to the monopoly is shared among Democrats and Republicans. It’s great issue for either primary or general challengers to wield against local or state incumbents who don’t join those who have gotten out in front on this issue.
Six members of the General Assembly–Del. Kathleen Dumais, Sen. Brian Feldman, Del. Bill Frick, Sen. Nancy King, Del. Aruna Miller, and Del. Kirill Reznik–are sponsoring a bill so that Montgomery voters can decide the issue in a referendum.
You can sign the petition, launched yesterday, to support their efforts.
The Central Committee appointed then Del. Brian Feldman to the Senate when Sen. Rob Garagiola resigned the seat. There was some controversy over the appointment but it seemed inevitable to many as Brian is a well-regarded legislator who had the strong backing of his colleagues in the district.
Sen. Feldman is unopposed in the Democratic primary but faces perennial candidate Robin Ficker in the general. While he won one term as a delegate in 1978, he is better known for his antics at Bullets games back in the 1990s. Ficker will provide lots of fun spectacle but Feldman is a lock.
In the delegate races, Dels. Kathleen Dumais and Aruna Miller should also be sure shots for reelection. Both are perceived as serious legislators. Del. Dumais is currently Vice Chair of Judiciary and would be a logical choice to replace current Chairman Joe Vallario when he goes or gets pushed out.
In the meantime, she faces the unenviable job of navigating the tricky waters between her conservative chair and more liberal caucus. If she gets too close to Vallario, she risks demands that a stronger progressive will get the appointment. However, I’d be surprised if that happens because Dumais is respected, smart, and deserves the position in the eyes of many.
David Fraser-Hidalgo won the delegate appointment to replace the vacancy caused by Brian Feldman’s move to the Senate. Labor was not thrilled with this selection, compounding their frustration with MCDCC over other issues.
Consequently, newly minted Del. Fraser-Hidalgo has faced a harder fight to consolidate his hold on the seat than many appointees. However, despite the brevity of his tenure, he has already started to impress as intelligent and earnest, particularly through his hard work on the legislation decriminalizing marijjuana.
And his hold on the seat is starting to look stronger. He has won the endorsements of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and CASA. Most crucially, he has earned the support of his colleagues, who are including him now on a slate of all of the incumbents.
The other remaining Democrat in the race is Bennett Rushkoff. MCEA decided belatedly to endorse him after they completed their other legislative endorsements. Some were surprised as Fraser-Hidalgo voted with MCEA during the session. Regardless, the apple is a great endorsement to receive and should energize Rushkoff’s campaign.
Both Fraser-Hidalgo and Rushkoff will run campaigns with sufficient funds. Rushkoff likely has the jump on Fraser-Hidalgo because the latter could not raise funds during the legislative session. Rushkoff also loaned his campaign $50K before the January filing.
Nonetheless, this is the unusual case in which I don’t think MCEA has placed a good bet. Even without their endorsement, Fraser-Hidalgo is building a good reputation and his linkage with the other three incumbents will make him difficult to beat. Other factors, such as the Post endorsement or Rushkoff’s greater access to funds, could alter the equation but Fraser-Hidalgo has shown a steady ability to move the line in his direction.
On the Republican side, Flynn Ficker is running for the House alongside his father, Robin. Indeed, they have a joint website, so I guess they have identical positions. Interestingly, they oppose construction at Ten Mile Creek, which flies in the face of their more general opposition to government regulation. Their more general platform appears to be the unhappy, classic Republican combination of don’t tax but spend.
The other Republican, Ed Edmundson will likely garner much less attention than the ever colorful Fickers. However, he is actually more politically interesting. Edmundson is the only Republican in the State to have received NARAL’s endorsement. In some ways, he seems like a Democratic stereotype. How many Republicans advertise their belief in the importance of fair trade and that they run HempSisters.com and EarthDivas.com?
Though undoubtedly more conservative than the Democrats, Edmundson appears to have a similar socially liberal, economically moderate profile to the sort of Republicans who used to regularly win elections in Montgomery County. Unfortunately for him, they just don’t anymore. Changing demographics and the toxicity of the national Republican brand render it hard for candidates like Edmundson.
Fortunately for District 15, Feldman, Dumais, Miller, and Fraser-Hidalgo compose a very strong delegation in Annapolis. No weak links in this team.
Senate Rating: Safe Feldman.
House Ratings: Safe Dumais, Safe Miller, Lean Fraser-Hidalgo in the primary. Safe Fraser-Hidalgo or Rushkoff in the general.