Tag Archives: Hans Riemer

A Troublesome Situation

By Adam Pagnucco.

By running for an at-large County Council seat and retaining his position as the council’s spokesman, Neil Greenberger is creating a troublesome situation for both the council and the public.  That situation is rooted in the significant conflicts that Greenberger will now have between his two roles.

As we have previously written, the position of spokesperson for an elected official – or in Greenberger’s case, nine of them – is a position of trust.  Elected officials must believe that their communications personnel will represent their positions and actions fairly towards members of the public, who after all will determine if those officials are reelected.  That’s hard to believe when the spokesperson is a candidate who is running for the same office held by the elected officials he is supposed to represent.  In at least one case – incumbent Council Member Hans Riemer – Greenberger is running in the exact same contest.  (Disclosure: your author is Riemer’s former Chief of Staff and regularly worked with Greenberger.)  That means Greenberger is supposed to be trusted to represent Riemer fairly during his day job while he could very well criticize him or his positions on the campaign trail after hours.  The same situation could apply to District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker, who may run at-large.

This is not a hypothetical scenario.  Greenberger is already running against last year’s tax hikes, telling MCM, “This county cannot take another property tax hike… I will guarantee no budget in the four years I’m in office will exceed the charter limit. That’s a guarantee.”  He also told the Sentinel, “The number one thing is, no matter what their incomes, people are still feeling the pain of the big tax increases – actually the two tax increases of last year… And I don’t think they need any more tax increases in the next four years.”  Your author has some sympathy for Greenberger’s opinions.  But the fact is that all nine of the Council Members Greenberger represents in his day job voted for the tax hikes and those who are running again will be defending them on the campaign trail.  And yet their own spokesman is contradicting them.

There is more.  Greenberger runs the council side of the county government’s cable channel, County Cable Montgomery (CCM).  He even hosts his own county TV show.  He is also a liaison between the council and Montgomery Community Media (MCM), a non-profit that covers the county and receives county funding.  In those capacities, Greenberger will be in a position to influence the coverage his opponents – including those who employ him – receive.  It’s a huge conflict.  But Greenberger ignores that.  According to the Sentinel, “Greenberger said he plans to continue to work his job while he campaigns for County Council, saying there is not a conflict of interest because his job is not political nor is he required by law to quit.”  That’s a questionable contention at best.  Many communications from elected officials to the public have a political dimension to them.  Elected officials who issue communications making themselves look bad may not be elected for long!

Neil Greenberger interviews one of his nine employers – and future political rival – Hans Riemer on his county television show in 2011.

The natural reaction of elected officials who face the prospect of their own spokesperson publicly critiquing them is to stop using the spokesperson altogether.  Think about it – who on Earth would want to employ a critic or outright opponent to write press releases about them?  Here’s where the situation becomes problematic for taxpayers.  Greenberger was paid $148,091 in 2016.  If Council Members stop going through him and start relying exclusively on their own personal staff for communications, there is a possibility that his ability to perform his day job would be impaired.

These are not garden-variety conflicts, folks.  Greenberger’s compensation as well as the media outlets he influences directly and indirectly are publicly funded.  That leads us to ask what safeguards will be put in place to prevent any potential use of public resources to benefit a specific candidate, especially if it comes at the expense of others.

Greenberger has as much right to run for office as anyone else.  He is also a merit staffer and can’t be fired for political activity after hours.  But given the above facts, Greenberger should request a transfer to a less politically sensitive position and the job of council spokesperson should be converted to an at-will appointment.  Should he fail to act accordingly, voters should consider his sense of judgment on this issue when they decide how to cast their votes.

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Hucker, Riemer Targeted by Enviros

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), one of Maryland’s major environmental organizations, is targeting County Council Members Tom Hucker (D-5) and Hans Riemer (At-Large) for not supporting a bill that would have required the county’s benefits funds to divest their holdings of fossil fuel company stocks.  The bill, lead-sponsored by Council Members Roger Berliner (D-1) and Nancy Navarro (D-4) and co-sponsored by Council Member Marc Elrich (At-Large), was converted into a non-binding resolution because it could not gather five affirmative votes.  The resolution was passed today.

Hucker has received numerous environmental endorsements during his history as a candidate.  The Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave him a 99% lifetime score when he was in the House of Delegates.  Riemer was endorsed by the Sierra Club in 2010 but not in 2014.

Following is the text of the blast email from CCAN Executive Director Mike Tidwell.  CCAN is also asking its supporters to email Hucker.

*****

Subject Line: Time to keep up the divestment fight.

Dear ,

First, the good news: We made real progress today in divesting our county’s massive pension funds from dirty fossil fuels. The Montgomery County Council just passed a resolution encouraging the employee pension boards to finally STOP buying and holding stocks in companies like ExxonMobil and Arch Coal. This is a positive step.

However, it’s only a resolution. It’s not the stronger legislation – an actual bill – that CCAN and many of you had asked for.

By a vote of 8-to-1, the Council approved today the carbon divestment resolution sponsored by Council President Roger Berliner (thank you, Roger!). It asks the county pension boards to report in six months (and every 12 months after that) on efforts to divest from the 200 biggest global warming polluters. With record high temperatures, rising seas, and ExxonMobil basically running our nation’s foreign policy, it is outrageous that our county pension funds hold over $70 million in mega-pollution stock. It’s YOUR county money, after all.

Please thank your Councilmember Tom Hucker for voting for the divestment resolution. But remind Tom he’s pledged to get real results from this resolution. We need action, not delay, on dirty energy investments.

Over the past several months, many of you have attended town hall meetings and contacted the MoCo Council on this issue. You demanded that actual legislation – not just a resolution – be passed to move our county toward divestment. Thank you for your citizen activism! And big thanks to Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Nancy Navarro, and Marc Elrich for sponsoring and supporting this legislation!

But Councilmembers Tom Hucker (D-Silver Spring) and Hans Riemer (D-at large) never supported the stronger bill. And because they were swing votes, the bill died. Instead, Councilmember Hucker repeatedly told CCAN and other advocates that a nonbinding resolution was his preference. He pledged to use the resolution as leverage and then lead the fight to demand that the county’s two pension boards actually divest in the coming months.

Our message to Tom Hucker: Thank you for your efforts and we look forward to the real results you’ve said could come from your preferred resolution approach. We now want to invite Councilmember Hucker to a countywide town hall meeting exactly six months from now, where he and Hans Reimer will have the opportunity to update citizens on their efforts to persuade the pension boards to voluntarily divest from high-polluting companies.

Please thank your Councilmember Tom Hucker for voting for the divestment resolution. But remind Tom he’s pledged to get real results from this resolution. We need action, not delay, on dirty energy investments!

A little background now. For too long, our county has sought to lead on climate change policy while also investing tens of millions of dollars in the very companies whose business plans and actions are causing the climate crisis. It’s wrong to profit from these companies – and we don’t need to. The evidence is clear that properly diversified funds perform as well or better without fossil fuel companies. We don’t need to invest in ExxonMobil to have a healthy pension system.

The good news is that pension divestment can be accomplished, as we have seen from just a few miles away. The D.C. Retirement Board eliminated direct investments in the 200 most harmful fossil fuel companies shortly after a divestment resolution passed the D.C. Council in 2014.

But we’ll need real commitment from Montgomery leaders like Hucker and Riemer – and pressure from citizens like you – to replicate the D.C. success here.

So, on we go. Change is never easy, even in a progressive county like ours. We’ll be in touch in the coming months to update you on the next phase of the divestment fight in Montgomery County. And in November we’ll invite you to the big town hall meeting where we hope our leaders can confirm the real progress they’ve said is possible in the coming months.

And thanks again for all you do!

Best,

Mike Tidwell

Executive Director

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Mixing It Up in Kensington. All Quiet in Washington Grove.

Kensington

Three candidates are vying for the two Council seats up for election this year: Darin Bartram, Connor Crimmins, and Tom Rodriguez. (The Mayor and other two councilmembers are elected in even-numbered years.)

Bartram and Rodriguez are incumbents with Bartram seeking his third term and Rodriguez his second. Reports indicate that challenger Crimmins is running a strong campaign, complete with website. Crimmins is the Chief Operating Officer at Spider Stratagies, a technology an consulting company.

Like in most Maryland towns, elections in Kensington are nonpartisan. However, while Crimmins is an unaffiliated voter (UPDATE: Crimmins is a Democrat), Bartram and Rodriguez are Republicans who are active in national Republican politics through their jobs.

Bartram is a partner at Baker Hostetler who works in environmental and constitutional law. Specifically, he has provided counsel to a utility company that failed to comply with federal environmental regulations and also was part of the team that challenged unsuccessfully the constitutionality of the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act.

Rodriguez works as a communications advisor at Luntz Global, the firm run by Republican Pollster Frank Luntz. He has worked as a fundraiser for Republican Members of Congress and also served as a consultant on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Former long-time Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, now a Democratic Candidate in Council District 1, has endorsed Bartram. Fosselman and Del. David Moon (D-20) jousted over Fosselman’s support for Bartram on Facebook:

Moon and Bartram had tangled on Facebook. Moon, a former campaign consultant, expressed his lack of surprise at Bartram’s criticism of General Assembly Democrats in light of Bartram’s past defense of Trump and Scalia’s critique of the Voting Right Act along with Bartram’s Facebook post proclaiming “I think Sarah Palin is awesome.” Drawing the County Council into the debate, Bartram accused Councilmember Hans Riemer of feeding Moon shots from Bartram’s Facebook page. (UPDATE: Riemer had not seen the page and literally had no idea what Bartram was talking about.)

Washington Grove

Washington Grove, an adorable small town with its own MARC stop, will hold elections on May 13th from 4 to 7pm. The Town elects its mayor annually and two of the six members of the Town Council every year. In contrast to Kensington, all is very quiet in Washington Grove this year. All of the positions are uncontested:

Mayor
Joli McCathran (incumbent)

Council
Audrey Maskery (incumbent)
John Compton

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Two Tiers in the At-Large Council Race, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part One, we spotlighted five losing candidates who went on to be elected to multiple terms on the Montgomery County Council.  That illustrates a key point: candidates with electoral experience often come back stronger in future races, even if they lose their first elections.  The top tier of potential at-large council candidates includes the following people who have earned lots of votes in prior races for council and the General Assembly and presumably know how to earn them in the future.

Hans Riemer

49,932 votes in the 2014 at-large primary, third place

Your author admits to being partial to Riemer as a former member of his staff.  That said, he is the only incumbent in the race as his three current colleagues have been tossed out by term limits.  Back in 2010, we ran a series on why MoCo incumbents lose and identified four reasons: they were Republicans, they were lazy, they made lots of enemies (especially in their districts) and they had great challengers.  Riemer is not a Republican, he’s not lazy and he has no more enemies than most other local politicians.  Great challengers are rare, and because Riemer is the only incumbent running for one of four seats, four great challengers would have to get in to knock him out.  That’s just not going to happen.  The only certainty in this race is that Riemer will be reelected.

Beth Daly

39,642 votes in the 2014 at-large primary, fifth place

Dickerson activist Beth Daly ran a solid at-large campaign in 2014.  Her support crossed over with incumbent Marc Elrich and she got many valuable endorsements from the labor and environmental communities.  Daly’s problem had less to do with her and more to do with the field as she was running against four incumbents.  So did Riemer in 2010, but he benefited from incumbent Duchy Trachtenberg’s blowing up her relationships with labor and sitting on a huge unspent campaign balance.  None of the 2014 incumbents committed mistakes of that magnitude, and Daly, despite all the things she did right, could not break through.  We don’t know if she has any interest in running again, but if she does, she would be a strong contender in a wide open race.

Tom Hucker

7,667 votes in the 2014 District 5 primary, winner

If Hucker stays in District 5, he will be defending a safe seat.  Pay no attention to his close victory in 2014; Hucker and his super-duper staff led by MCDCC Chair Dave Kunes have locked down the district.  But there are rumors that Hucker could run at-large.  If he does, he would be formidable.  Hucker has a true-blue progressive voting record in both Rockville and Annapolis, and with more than 20 years of political experience, he knows how to win.  Labor and the environmentalists will be there for him, too.  Note: it’s misleading to compare the vote totals of Hucker and his 2014 opponent, Evan Glass, to the other candidates on this list.  Hucker and Glass ran in a vote-for-one race whereas most of the others ran in multiple-vote races.

Evan Glass

7,445 votes in the 2014 District 5 primary, second place

Former journalist and uber-activist Evan Glass nearly shocked the world by coming close to beating heavy favorite Hucker in 2014.  Since then, he has kept busy by running youth film non-profit Gandhi Brigade and serving on Committee for Montgomery’s board.  He has well-wishers in many parts of the county’s political community and could be a consensus candidate in whatever election he enters.  It’s important to note that Glass and Hucker won’t be in the same race.  One will run in District 5 and the other will run at-large.  Our prediction: there is a strong possibility that the two former rivals will be council colleagues in December 2018.

Will Jawando

5,620 votes in the 2014 Legislative District 20 primary, fourth place

5,634 votes in MoCo in the 2016 Congressional District 8 primary, fifth place

Former Obama aide Will Jawando is the kind of candidate you could fall in love with.  He’s handsome, well-spoken and ridiculously charismatic.  He’s also good at raising money.  But after running strong for a District 20 House seat in 2014, he inexplicably ran for Congress in 2016.  Our prediction is that Delegate Sheila Hixson, who just gave up a committee chair she held for more than twenty years, will retire and Jawando will run for her seat.  But if Jawando runs for council at-large instead, he will get more than his fair share of votes.

Charles Barkley

4,896 votes in the 2014 Legislative District 39 primary, first place

Note: the above race had no challengers

District 39 Delegate Charles Barkley was first elected in 1998 as part of a slate of Democrats who took out three Republican Delegates.  He has coasted to victory in the district ever since.  Something of a maverick in Annapolis, Barkley has told Bethesda Magazine that he will likely be running for council at-large.  Barkley’s problems are that he has never run a modern campaign including social media and blast email and his district has the smallest number of regular Democratic voters of any legislative district in the county.  But he reported a $205,478 campaign account balance in January 2017, and if he doesn’t enroll in public financing, he can spend every cent of that in a race for council.

That’s the top tier.  The second tier is everyone else.  There are some noteworthy candidates stepping forward.  Chris Wilhelm is a progressive MCPS teacher who has worked for Delegate David Moon (D-20) and is off to a fast start.  Marilyn Balcombe, President/CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, is well-known in the business community and is smart and pragmatic.  School board members Rebecca Smondrowski and Jill Ortman-Fouse have not publicly said they’re interested in the council – yet – but both of them ran against MCEA-endorsed opponents and won.  Would any of them, or any of the many other people thinking about running, be top-notch candidates?  There’s no way to tell right now.  But given the number of at-large openings and the high probability that some of the top-tier people won’t get in, at least one new candidate will probably win.

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Two Tiers in the At-Large Council Race, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The race for Montgomery County Executive is starting to draw some attention from the press, but relatively little has been written about the upcoming election for the County Council’s four at-large seats.  That’s too bad considering the historic nature of the race.  The council has never had three open at-large seats since its current structure was created in 1990, but it does now thanks to term limits.  Combined with the open District 1 seat, the council will have four openings in 2018.  Whoever wins those seats, along with the next County Executive, will be running the county for as long as the next twelve years.

We are fourteen months out from the election and the race is just now beginning to form, but we are reasonably sure of one thing: candidates who have run before, even if they lost (respectably), will have an advantage over those who have not.  That’s because of two reasons.  First, they have electoral experience and don’t have the often-steep learning curve of brand-new candidates.  Second, they will have leftover support, relationships and name recognition from their prior races.  Why do we emphasize this?  MoCo electoral history is full of candidates who lost and later came back to win.  Consider just a few examples.

Steve Silverman

Silver Spring attorney Steve Silverman took on all three incumbent District 20 Delegates in 1994 and lost by more than 2,000 votes.  But he captured a council at-large seat four years later and finished first for reelection in 2002.  Silverman, as shrewd and canny as they come, is still a player in county politics as a co-founder of the advocacy group Empower Montgomery and as a successful lobbyist.

A 1994 Silverman mailer about school construction.  Some things never change.

Phil Andrews

Former Common Cause of Maryland Executive Director Phil Andrews ran for an at-large council seat in 1994 emphasizing his work on curbing lobbyists and big campaign donors.  He finished sixth, but came back four years later to knock out District 3 incumbent Bill Hanna.  Andrews would go on to serve four terms on the council.

A 1994 Andrews mailer.  Reading his comments on his time at Common Cause, it is no surprise that he would create the county’s public campaign financing system twenty years later.

Roger Berliner

Energy sector lawyer Roger Berliner ran in the 2000 District 1 special election primary and lost to Pat Baptiste, who subsequently was defeated by Republican Howie Denis for the seat.  Berliner came back six years later to beat Denis and has represented the district ever since.

A Berliner mailer from 2000.  He has much better glasses now!

Hans Riemer

Former Rock the Vote political director Hans Riemer lost a 2006 open seat race in District 5 to school board member Valerie Ervin.  Four years later, Riemer finished second in the at-large race and is the only incumbent eligible to run again.

Riemer vows to build the Purple Line in 2006 or die trying.  For the sake of his wife and two kids, we hope the project is allowed to proceed!

Marc Elrich

Former MCPS teacher and Takoma Park City Council Member Marc Elrich is the patron saint of persistent candidates.  Elrich ran four straight times for County Council before being elected at-large in 2006 and has finished first in the last two elections.  Elrich’s longevity, tenacity and consistency of message will make him a formidable candidate for Executive.

An Elrich mailer from 1994.  What did we say about things never changing?

We love history like many Seventh State readers.  But what does this have to do with 2018?  We’ll explore that in Part Two.

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Snowzilla Communication Breakdown

Thanks to Adam Pagnucco for this guest post:

Snowzilla has turned out to be a historic storm. Every local jurisdiction from the City of Baltimore to Northern Virginia has struggled to recover from it, and Montgomery County is no exception. While MoCo residents complain about the pace of snow removal, with and without justification, there is no evidence that the county has performed worse than comparable jurisdictions. But one area in which it has fallen short is communicating with its residents.

Most residents have one question on their minds: when can I escape from my neighborhood? Let’s be fair: during a mega-event like Snowzilla, that’s a really hard question to answer. The county is coordinating a large fleet of employees and contractors, as well as working with other agencies like the state, Metro, Park and Planning and MCPS. A great deal of the equipment being used is not GPS-enabled. The most honest answer is also the least satisfactory: we don’t know.

The county chose to rely on its snow removal map to deal with resident questions. The county’s Department of Transportation repeatedly directed residents to the map on Twitter.

MCDOT map tweet 1-23 MCDOT map tweet 1-25The problem is that the map wasn’t showing any useful information. Below is an image of the map as of Tuesday, January 26. The map shows that every county street in Glenmont, Wheaton and unincorporated Kensington was “in progress.” It showed similar information all over the county. That’s physically impossible. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to be everywhere at once and residents know that.

Snowmap 1-26-2016Faced with a non-functioning map, residents overwhelmed MC 311. Some called only to hear a recording. Even if they got through, no answers were available. Again, the county simply didn’t know when individual neighborhoods would be cleared, even though they claimed the map would say so.

Meanwhile, municipalities appeared to be doing a better job. Consider the Facebook posts of Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman. On Saturday, January 23, the Mayor reported that all city streets had received a first pass. He then reported that all streets would receive a second pass the following morning. This is a period during which county plows had not reached neighborhood streets at all. Residents of unincorporated areas, for which the county has responsibility, have friends in municipalities and were aware of their performance. This only increased their frustrations.

Jud first pass Jud second passCouncil Member Hans Riemer (my former employer) nailed it in a post on Facebook. Noting his work on securing funding for an upgraded snow map and planning for pedestrian mobility during snow storms, he wrote: “Better communications technology would save our residents a lot of anxiety during snow events, and enable them to more adequately plan for their work and family lives. If technology answered more questions, it would also take pressure off of our 311 call center, which has been completely overwhelmed by the volume of calls they’ve received during this storm.” And he’s absolutely right.

Hans snowSnowzilla was a gigantic storm and public employees across the region deserve tremendous credit for their recovery efforts. But MoCo had a communication breakdown that made a stressful event worse. Here’s hoping that Council Member Riemer and his colleagues can help the county prepare to do better next time.

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MoCo Consumers Flee from the Department of Liquor Control

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Adam Pagnucco:

Last week, Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer wrote a guest blog on the reasons why county residents opposed the county’s alcohol system in a recent poll by Comptroller Peter Franchot. Council Member Riemer wrote:

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because if the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that MoCo consumers are fleeing the county’s alcohol monopoly and it has nothing to do with the availability of alcohol in grocery stores. Consider the following.

  1. Sales of alcohol are low in MoCo.

Data from Gallup and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services link alcohol consumption to income and education. In other words, as income and education levels rise, alcohol consumption tends to rise too. Since MoCo is one of Maryland’s highest-income and best-educated jurisdictions, the county should be one of its leaders in alcohol consumption. However, that is not reflected in per capita sales data collected by the Comptroller’s office. In terms of per capita sales deliveries to retail licensees inside each county, MoCo ranks 13th of 24 jurisdictions in wine, tied for 23rd in spirits and dead last (by far) in beer. Among the counties out-ranking MoCo in per capita wine sales are Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford and Kent, all mostly rural jurisdictions with far less disposable income than MoCo. Does anyone believe that MoCo residents drink less wine than people in Western Maryland? Grocery stores cannot explain this discrepancy because the huge majority of counties in Maryland have restrictions on grocery store sales of alcohol. As Comptroller Peter Franchot has said, MoCo residents simply cross the border to buy liquor.

  1. MoCo residents flee the county to go to Total Wine.

Total Wine, which is headquartered in MoCo and owned by MoCo residents, is one of the nation’s largest alcohol retailers and is famous for its big stores, huge selection and low prices. The company refuses to open a store in MoCo because the county’s alcohol monopoly “doesn’t favor the free market.” But Total Wine has plenty of MoCo residents among its customers. The company estimates that over 20% of its McLean store sales and nearly 25% of its Laurel store sales are accounted for by MoCo customers. David Lublin’s price comparison explains why: Total Wine blows away county liquor stores on both price and selection. Other jurisdictions gain at our expense.

  1. The Department of Liquor Control’s own consultant found major problems in its operations.

A consultant hired by the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) found a host of problems in county liquor stores. Here are three from the consultant’s 2014 report.

Lack of administrative flexibility – Unlike most County functions, DLC operates in a wholesale/retail sales environment. In many instances, it lacks the flexibility and ability to respond quickly, which is necessary for it to best serve its customers and do so profitably. This lack of control over key decisions also manifests itself in other identified weaknesses.

Staffing – The DLC often lacks the ability to apply normal staffing techniques found in private retail. For example, there are generally two peak seasons for liquor retail operations: the Winter Holiday season and Summer Fourth of July season. Most DLC stores would, for comparison purposes, be similar to an independent liquor retail store (as opposed to a ‘Big Box’ chain store or grocery store). In these establishments, it would be likely that rather than adding permanent full-time staff to handle these peak seasons, the business would hire temporary staff. However, because of County collective bargaining agreements, they generally do not have this flexibility, which either leads to staffing shortages (which can negatively impact sales) or a working environment for existing staff that hampers morale and productivity.

Older stores/locations/rental contracts – In several instances, stores are in obvious need of basic repairs or refurbishment – including scarred floors and counters, old racks, lighting and entrances. Given that the DLC leases all of its locations, in many instances it has little leverage to demand improvements prior to the end of the lease.

Lack of flexibility, staff shortages and sub-standard stores. Is this what MoCo consumers deserve?

  1. D.C. liquor stores camp out at our border.

The graphic below shows seven liquor stores in D.C. within four blocks of the MoCo border. If MoCo consumers were happy with the county’s alcohol system, why would this be happening?

DC liquor stores

  1. The only county liquor store with true competition is losing money and will close.

Most county liquor stores are insulated from competition because they are the only suppliers of spirits in their vicinity. The one exception is the store in Friendship Heights, which is adjacent to the D.C. border. Since the surrounding area is affluent and wealthy people often buy up-scale beverages, one would expect this store to be a strong money maker. But the store lost $278,431 in 2013 – the only county liquor store that lost money – and will soon close. It’s not a coincidence that D.C.’s Paul’s Wine and Spirits is just three blocks away. The county’s decision to close this store is an admission that its stores can’t compete with the private sector. And if that’s the case, why should they be protected by a state-ordered monopoly?

MoCo’s alcohol monopoly and its accompanying fleet of county liquor stores are unacceptable to county consumers and that was clear long before this blog released the Comptroller’s poll results on the subject. So what is the county doing about that? Why, it’s opening more county liquor stores. That’s like promising Kirk Cousins more playing time with every interception he throws.

Look folks. Our system’s premise is that MoCo residents are children, inferior to our fellows in the rest of the region, and that we must be controlled by the heavy hand of government for our own good. Well, guess what? We’re not children and we know what we want: the same freedom of choice that everyone else in the region has. We don’t want excuses. We don’t want tweaks. We don’t want vague promises of improvement.

We want to End the Monopoly.

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Hans Riemer Responds on Opposition to the County Alcohol Monopoly

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), author of the proposed changes to the County liquor laws. (You can read a counterpoint in a previous post by Adam Pagnucco.)

I was very interested to see the results from the survey question commissioned by Comptroller Franchot. I expected to see that residents of Montgomery County are deeply dissatisfied with the alcohol regulations they endure under the county and state. That is why I led the effort to raise these issues and end the DLC’s wholesale monopoly as chair of the Council Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control.

I strongly believe our county alcohol regime holds back the vibrancy of our restaurant and nightlife economy and negatively impacts the choices residents get in stores. Our state regime, which denies the convenience of shopping for beer and wine at grocery stores or other large chain retailers, is also badly out of touch with our residents.

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because of the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

Most importantly we don’t know from this poll how much support would exist for getting rid of county stores if it means having less funds available for schools, police, parks, and the like. Because the warehouse would have to move to the capital budget if the DLC were eliminated, the plan would also affect school construction and other capital needs.

After six months of council work sessions with stakeholders, and detailed survey work with stores and restaurants, the Council proposal focuses on something we know factually to be true.  We can come up with an efficient and effective distribution regime by allowing the private sector to deliver craft beer and fine wine. This ends the monopoly by giving the private sector 25,000 boutique brands to distribute, while the county retains only the 4,500 big brands.

The statewide policies of course can only be addressed at that level.

In conclusion, this one poll question does not tell us all very much about the complicated decisions that together our county and state must make. So we will need to use our best judgment.

My belief is that if the county can accomplish what it has proposed and if the state can reform the statewide policies that need to be addressed, the combination — a huge change from the status quo — will bring our residents what they want and deserve.

You can read more about our proposal here, which was unanimously supported by my Council colleagues, and the County Executive, as well as restaurants, stores and the county employee union. It will be before our county delegation for their consideration this coming session.
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Five Myths About MoCo’s Department of Liquor Control

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Adam Pagnucco.

Few issues in county government have received more attention over the past two years than the operations of its Department of Liquor Control (DLC). In most parts of the United States, the alcohol industry has been divided into three tiers since the end of Prohibition: producers, distributors and retailers. DLC, which is a county department but derives its authority from state law, inserts itself into this structure as an extra middle-man between distributors and retailers. Instead of being able to sell directly to Montgomery County-based retailers, distributors must sell their products to DLC which in turn sells them to stores and restaurants. DLC then charges an extra mark-up which, after paying for its cost of operations, is returned to the county’s general fund as revenue. DLC also has a complete wholesale and retail monopoly on hard alcohol and sells it through county stores.

A sure way to increase costs, delays and inefficiencies in any distribution system is to add more middle-men, especially ones who do not add value to compensate for their fees. DLC is no exception and has been the subject of complaints for years. But mounting problems, growing press interest and the emergence of the agency as a political issue in last year’s election have brought DLC to the forefront of public attention.

It’s time for a hard look at the myth and reality of DLC.

Myth 1. The county needs DLC’s net income to function.

In Fiscal Year 2016, DLC is expected to transfer $24.5 million in net income to the county’s general fund. That amount represents 0.48% of the county’s total $5.1 billion in projected revenues.

The county regularly adapts to revenue shortfalls of much larger amounts. Its six-year fiscal plans contain revenue estimates that vary up and down by tens of millions of dollars before actual revenues are recorded. The council just approved a $54 million reduction in its recently passed operating budget. The Silver Spring Transit Center is $50 million over budget (and counting). Between Fiscal Years 2013 and 2015, the council reduced energy tax revenues by a cumulative $31 million per year. And in 2010, the council approved a $191 million reduction from the prior year’s tax-supported budget. None of these adjustments were painless, but the county got through them and the world did not end.

The county government can survive without DLC’s money. It simply chooses to collect it because it can.

Myth 2. DLC’s monopoly is needed for public safety.

Last year, Council Member Craig Rice claimed that “county control of liquor sales promotes safety, particularly when it comes to sales to those who are under age 21.” The DLC does indeed vigorously regulate alcohol licensees. It has an eleven-person Licensure, Regulation, and Education program that conducts 400 minor consumption compliance checks annually and trained more than 1,300 licensees in safe alcohol service last year. Additionally, the county’s Board of License Commissioners issues liquor licenses and can revoke and suspend them for violators. But these functions are separate from the county’s role as an alcohol merchant and do not depend on a sales monopoly to be effective. In fact, there is no evidence that the county’s monopoly itself contributes one way or the other to regulatory efficacy. In Washington State, which gave up its alcohol sales monopoly in 2012, both DUI arrests and drunk driving collisions actually FELL a year later.

Myth 3. Without DLC, high paying union jobs will be lost.

This claim is frequently made by MCGEO (Municipal and County Government Employees Organization), the union which represents more than 300 DLC employees along with many other rank-and-file workers in county government. The union has a responsibility to protect its members and generally does an excellent job of it, so its position is understandable. But if DLC’s operations are eventually eclipsed by the private sector, there is no guarantee that union employment will suffer a net loss. That is because many private wholesalers are organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, another union noted for its aggressive defense of its members. MCGEO may prefer that wholesale alcohol employees pay dues to its treasury rather than the coffers of the Teamsters, but that is not a public policy concern that warrants large-scale extractions from county residents.

Myth 4. DLC is getting better.

George Griffin, the long-time Director of DLC, is a happy warrior and tireless defender of his agency. In 2005, Griffin was elected President of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), a group of public alcohol organizations. He told NABCA of his efforts to continually improve DLC’s operations, including its new Enterprise Resource Planning program to increase efficiency and its installation of security cameras in warehouses. Griffin said, “POS (point of sale), inventory control, accounting, the warehouse, licensee ordering, buyers: they’ll all be tied together… from the retail stores, which will have running inventories, to our drivers, who will be equipped with handhelds.”

Years later, subsequent investigations revealed DLC to be anything but a model of efficiency. This past February, the county’s Inspector General found that DLC employees used “informal, handwritten notes” to track inventory, resulting in “significant decreases in the recorded quantities of warehouse inventories in FY2013 and FY2014.” NBC4 discovered DLC employees drinking and driving on the job and skimming cases of beer to sell on the black market. Restaurant owners have gone on the record with searing complaints about DLC’s service, with one even calling the agency an “evil empire.” Even Gino Renne, leader of the union that represents DLC’s employees and one of its biggest defenders, concedes, “This department needs to be more nimble.”

Myth 5. The County Council has called for “historic reform” at DLC.

On July 28, the County Council passed a resolution calling for a procedural change concerning some of DLC’s sales. The resolution is not binding but may be the basis for a future state-level bill, which is required to affect DLC. County Council Member Hans Riemer called the resolution “historic” in a mass email. But is it really?

The resolution addresses “special orders,” or products that are requested by DLC customers that are not part of its regular stock. These products are often specialty wines or craft beers that have not yet developed wide distribution in the county. Restauranteurs have complained for many years that DLC special orders are subject to long delays, big markups and substantial shortages, particularly when compared to the service offered by private wholesalers. The council’s resolution would allow customers to bypass DLC and deal directly with the private sector when requesting these items.

That sounds great except when considering the actual details of the resolution itself. Among other things, the resolution authorizes the county to establish a fee to “replace DLC estimated revenue lost by allowing the sale of special order beer and wines by private wholesalers.” That’s right, DLC would earn money on alcohol it does not even deliver. Multiple distributors testified at the council’s hearing on this resolution that the size of the fee, along with the additional cost of direct delivery to customers, might deter them from participating in this program. In other words, there would be no effective change.

DLC’s fee for doing nothing is reminiscent of Pepco’s “bill stabilization adjustment,” under which the utility was allowed to charge customers for power it did not deliver during outages. Many people condemned Pepco’s ability to charge for a service it did not provide. But Pepco is not part of county government. Perhaps that explains why what is unacceptable for Pepco is apparently acceptable for DLC.

The biggest myth of all is that DLC can be reformed from within by a series of small tweaks like this one. The idea resembles former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s concept of “perestroika,” under which his communist government was expected to reform itself. The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed. But with its powerful protectors, DLC goes ever on.

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CD8 is Wide Open

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Adam Pagnucco:

Long-time District 8 Congressman Chris Van Hollen is now running for the U.S. Senate. Who will succeed him? No one knows because this race is wide open. That’s right, wide open.

Announced or potential candidates include At-Large Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, District 20 State Senator Jamie Raskin, District 17 Delegate Kumar Barve, District 16 Delegate Ariana Kelly, former District 5 County Council Member Valerie Ervin, former District 20 Delegate candidate Will Jawando and former WJLA anchor and current Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews. All except Matthews have campaign records. None have run campaigns that approach anything close to the scale of a congressional race.

Consider the following data.

CD8 Comparison

Campaign Spending

In the CD8 2002 primary, Chris Van Hollen spent $1.1 million and won. Mark Shriver spent $2.6 million and lost. None of the prospective candidates in the current CD8 have demonstrated that kind of monetary capacity. Raskin, Riemer and Floreen spent between 200k and 300k on their competitive races. Barve came close to that level in 2014. Ervin has never spent more than 100k in a campaign. All of these candidates would need to dramatically increase their fundraising activity and it’s hard to see that any one has a significant advantage over the others. Matthews, who may be able to draw on self-financing, national Dem money and corporate money, may be an exception.

Size of Electorate

It’s tricky to forecast the size of the CD8 Dem primary electorate because the district was changed radically in 2012 and it does not have a recent experience of primary competition. Van Hollen faced no-names in both the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections. In the 2002 primary, when the district was almost entirely in MoCo, 86,000 Dems voted. That was a high turnout year for Dems in terms of gubernatorial elections, but 2016 is a presidential year and many more Dems could turn out. In 2012, a presidential year, just 39,000 Dems voted in the primary, as Van Hollen clobbered an opponent without a federal account and there was no meaningful competition in the Presidential and U.S. Senate races. A combination of competition in the U.S. Senate and CD8 races, plus support for Hillary Clinton, could drive turnout in the 2016 CD8 Dem primary north of 100,000.

Among the possible candidates in the CD8 primary, only Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer have experience running in an electorate that large. State legislative races tend to draw out 7,000-16,000 Democratic primary voters. But Floreen and Riemer don’t necessarily have an advantage because their races are fundamentally different from congressional contests (more below).

Multiple-Vote vs One-Vote Races

A congressional race has one similarity to a State Senate race: voters only get to vote for one candidate. In House of Delegates races (at least in MoCo), voters can vote for up to three candidates. In Council At-Large races, they can vote for up to four. These are very different dynamics.

In a multiple-vote race, a candidate can be no one’s first choice, but can be the second or third choice of a lot of people and still win. Such a candidate would do poorly in a one-vote race like Congress. Even though Floreen and Riemer have won countywide, many of their voters are not voting for them. In 2010, 113,653 MoCo Democrats voted in the primary. Riemer received 40,493 votes (36%) and Floreen received 39,500 (35%). In 2014, 91,046 MoCo Democrats voted in the primary, which was notably less competitive than it was in 2010. Riemer received 49,932 votes (55%) and Floreen received 52,924 votes (58%). The number of voters who would rate either Riemer or Floreen as their first choice would be FAR fewer and would be closer to the total of one of the State Senators.

For what it’s worth, Floreen finished first in 32 of the 138 CD8 precincts located in Montgomery County in 2014. Riemer finished first in 11. At-Large Council Member Marc Elrich, who finished first in 90 CD8 precincts, has shown no interest in a Congressional race.

Delegates have similar problems. Barve and Kelly finished first in their respective House races, but the number of their voters who would have picked them as a first choice is unknowable short of a contemporaneous poll.

District Overlap

State legislators do not enter this race on equal footing. District boundaries and voting patterns give some an advantage over others. Delegate Ariana Kelly benefits from the fact that her district has more actual primary voters in CD8 than any other MoCo state legislative district. In terms of cards cast on 2014 primary election day by residents of CD8, Kelly’s District 16 led with 14,114, followed by District 18 (12, 072), District 20, home of Senator Jamie Raskin and Will Jawando (9,331), District 19 (6,948), District 17, home of Delegate Kumar Barve (4,929), District 14 (3,302) and District 15 (442). Barve is handicapped by the fact that 42% of voters in his district reside in CD6, not CD8.

Women

Fifty-nine percent of MoCo Democrats are women. That figure applies to registered Dems, voting Dems and “super-Dems,” or Dems who always vote. This is not necessarily a prohibitive advantage for female candidates. But if one or two strong women face off against a male-dominated field, it’s possible that this factor could act as something like a tiebreaker. A savvy female candidate might point out that with U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski’s retirement and Rep. Donna Edwards’ entry into the Senate race, the state could be facing the very real prospect of an all-male congressional delegation.

Presidential Year vs. Gubernatorial Year Turnout

Presidential year Democratic primaries tend to attract higher turnout than gubernatorial year Dem primaries. Below are stats on how many MoCo Dems voted in the primary over the last six elections (both presidential and gubernatorial). With the glaring exception of 2012, when there was little or no competition in the presidential, U.S. Senate and CD8 races, presidential year turnouts tend to be higher. That means in a presidential year CD8 race, there will be tens of thousands of Democratic voters who have not voted in gubernatorial races and do not know their state senators, delegates or councilmembers. Communicating with these people will be a significant challenge for any candidate. Also, anywhere from a sixth to a fifth of the CD8 primary electorate will be residents of Carroll and Frederick Counties.

MoCo Turnout Dem Primary

Bottom Line

There are no favorites in this field. No candidate has proven that he or she can raise the money for a congressional campaign. The at-large County Council candidates run across a big geography but not in one-vote races. State legislators have small districts (at least compared to CD8) and delegates run in multiple-vote elections. Tens of thousands of non-gubernatorial and non-MoCo voters will have no idea who any of the candidates are and they will need some attention.

Wide open, folks. This contest is wide open.

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