Tag Archives: Ike Leggett

Winners and Losers of the Ballot Question War

By Adam Pagnucco.

This year, MoCo saw its biggest battle over ballot questions in sixteen years. Most county players lined up on one side or the other and victory has been declared. Who won and who lost?

Winners

Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson
Friedson authored Question A, which liberalized the county’s property tax system to allow receipts to increase with assessments. Wall Street applauded its passage. Even progressives, who don’t love Friedson but owe him big-time for opening up the county’s revenue stream, have to admit that his Question A was the real deal.

Council Member Evan Glass
Glass authored Question C, which added two district council seats and defeated the nine district Question D. Lots of wannabe politicians are going to look at running for the new seats. Every single one of them should kiss Glass’s ring and write a max-out check to his campaign account.

County Democratic Party
It’s not a coincidence that MoCo voters adopted the positions of the county Democratic Party on all four ballot questions. With partisan sentiments running high and information on the questions running low, MoCo Democrats went along with their party and dominated the election.

David Blair
Blair was the number one contributor to the four ballot issue committees that passed Questions A and C and defeated Questions B and D. By himself, Blair accounted for nearly half the money they raised. Whatever Blair decides to do heading into the next election, he can claim to have done as much to pass the county Democrats’ positions on the ballot questions as anyone. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I was not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Ike Leggett
The former county executive was key in leading the fight against Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. Thousands of MoCo voters still like, respect and trust Ike Leggett.

Jews United for Justice
While not having the money and manpower of many other groups who played on the questions, Jews United for Justice played a key role in convening the coalition that ultimately won. They have gained a lot of respect from many influencers in MoCo politics.

Facebook
Lord knows how much money they made from all the ballot question ads!

Losers

Robin Ficker
At the beginning of 2020, MoCo had one of the most restrictive property tax charter limits of any county in Maryland. For many years, Ficker was looking to make it even tighter and petitioned Question B to the ballot to convert it into a near-lock on revenues. But his charter amendment provoked Friedson to write Question A, which ultimately passed while Question B failed and will raise much more money than the current system over time. Instead of tightening the current system, the result is a more liberal system that will achieve the opposite of what Ficker wanted – more revenue for the county. This was one of the biggest backfires in all of MoCo political history.

Republicans
The county’s Republican Party did everything they could to pass Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. In particular, they gave both cash and in-kind contributions to Nine Districts and even raised money for the group on their website. In doing so, the GOP provoked a fierce partisan backlash as the county Democrats rose up to take the opposite positions on the ballot questions and most Democratic-leaning groups combined forces to support them. With President Donald Trump apparently defeated, Governor Larry Hogan leaving office in two years and little prospect of success in MoCo awaiting them, where does the county’s Republican Party go from here?

This tweet by MoCo for Question C from a voting location explains all you need to know about why Question D failed.

Political Outsiders
It wasn’t just Republicans who supported the failed Questions B and D; a range of political outsiders supported them too. What they witnessed was a mammoth effort by the Democratic Party, Democratic elected officials and (mostly) progressive interest groups to thwart them. Even the county chamber of commerce and the realtors lined up against them. Whether or not it’s true, this is bound to provoke more talk of a “MoCo Machine.” Machine or not, outsiders have to be wondering how to win when establishment forces combine against them.

Push

MCGEO, Fire Fighters and Police Unions
These three unions are frustrated. They have not been treated the way they expected by the administration of County Executive Marc Elrich and they are also upset with the county council for abrogating their contracts (among other things). They wanted to show that they could impose consequences for messing with them and that was one reason why all three made thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions to Nine Districts. On the negative side, the nine districts Question D failed. On the positive side, the passage of Friedson’s Question A will result in a flow of more dollars into the county budget over time, a win for their members. So it’s a push. On to the next election.

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MoCo Ballot Issue Committee Campaign Finances, October 18

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed their final campaign finance reports before the general election, covering the period through October 18. Let’s see where the money is coming from.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of finances for the committees for the entire cycle through October 18.

To understand why these flows of money are occurring, it’s useful to recall the genesis of these questions. This year’s ballot question fight was joined when two questions were placed on the ballot by petition: Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and Nine Districts for MoCo’s Question D, which would eliminate council at-large seats and remake the council into 9 district seats. In response to those ballot questions, the county council put two of its own questions on the ballot to compete with them: Question A (a different tax limitation measure) and Question C (which would keep the at-large seats and add two district seats). It is believed by some that if two directly conflicting ballot questions pass, they will both get thrown out, though that is not 100% certain.

Once it became clear that both Ficker’s anti-tax question and the nine districts question were going to appear on the ballot, no fewer than four new ballot issue committees were created to stop one or both of them and/or to promote the council’s alternatives. In short order, many of the county’s power players took sides in an uncommon off-year ballot question war. The players’ positions are at least as interesting as the committees’ activities themselves.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the oldest of the committees, has by far the most individual contributors but 82% of its cash funding has come from the real estate industry. In its most recent report, MoCo GOP Central Committee Member Ann Hingston made 6 more in-kind contributions totaling $993, thereby providing more evidence of the links between Nine Districts and the county Republican Party. Nine Districts’ fundraising pace has slowed as they have collected just $154 since October 4.

The competing committees have rapidly closed the gap. Three groups have paid for mail: former County Executive Ike Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D, former executive candidate David Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B and Residents for More Representation, a group supporting Question C and opposing Question D. These groups are also paying for websites and online advertising. But they got off to a late start while Nine Districts has been campaigning for more than a year.

Below are all the major players who have contributed at least $10,000 to one or a combination of these ballot issue committees.

David Blair – $165,000
Supports Questions A and C, opposes Questions B and D
Businessman and former executive candidate David Blair is the number one spender on ballot questions. He has contributed $65,000 to Legget’s group opposing Questions B and D, $50,000 to his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B, and $50,000 to Residents for More Representation, which supports Question C and opposes Question D. Blair’s positions mirror the positions taken by the county Democratic Party. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I am not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Charlie Nulsen – $123,500
Supports Questions A, C and D, opposes Question B
Nulsen is the president of Washington Property Company. On June 4, he contributed $50,000 to Nine Districts to help get Question D on the ballot. On October 13, he contributed $23,500 to Residents for More Representation to defeat Question D. Nulsen could have saved more than $70,000 and achieved the same outcome by simply doing nothing. He also contributed $50,000 to Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine Districts.

Willco – $40,000
Supports Questions C and D
On August 5, this Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine Districts which was used to pay Rowland Strategies (their campaign firm). On October 9, Willco gave $25,000 to Residents for More Representation, which is seeking to pass Question C and defeat Nine Districts. Folks, you can’t make it up.

MCGEO – $30,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Question B, Gave Contribution to Question D
The Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) has made a $20,000 contribution to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine Districts. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

MCEA – $20,000
Opposes Question B
The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has contributed $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party recommends voting for Questions A and C and voting against Questions B and D. The Montgomery County Republican Party recommends the exact opposite. The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four ballot questions.

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Who is Spending Money on the Ballot Questions?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed campaign finance reports through October 4. Let’s see who is paying for all of this – so far.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of committee finances for the entire cycle.

Nine District for MoCo, by far the oldest committee, has raised and spent the most money. It has had far more individual contributions (252) than Ike Leggett’s Vote No on B and D (30) with no other committee reporting any. Real estate interests have accounted for 83% of Nine District’s cash contributions. Interestingly, while Washington Property Company president Charlie Nulsen and the three county employee unions were major Nine District contributors in prior reports, they have not contributed any more since July. Nine District has collected contributions from leaders of the county’s Republican Party, which has raised money for the group on its website. The group has spent money on fees for Baltimore consultant Rowland Strategies, legal fees, robocalls and advertising (especially on Facebook).

Vote No on B & D, Leggett’s committee, spent $9,610 on graphic design for printing and campaign materials and $58,437 on direct mailing. So far, this is the only expenditure by any committee on mail. (Where’s my mailer, Ike?) Two other committees have collected money but not spent it and two more have collected less than $1,000.

Here are the biggest contributors to these committees and their positions on the ballot questions.

David Blair – $100,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Questions B and D
The former county executive candidate has given $50,000 each to Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D and his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Charlie Nulsen – $50,000
Supports Question D
The president of Washington Property Company made one $50,000 contribution to Nine District for MoCo on 6/4/20. This was a critical boost for the group as it was in the home stretch of gathering signatures to appear on the ballot.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine District for MoCo.

MCGEO – $30,000
Opposes Question B, Supports Question D
The largest county government employee union gave $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and made a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine District for MoCo. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

Willco – $15,000
Supports Question D
The Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine District for MoCo which was used to pay Rowland Strategies.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

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Leggett Responds to Seventh State on Question B and School Funding

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former County Executive Ike Leggett sent us the following statement about this morning’s post on Question B and school funding.

*****

Thanks to Seventh State for providing a public service by describing the state maintenance of effort law on school funding (“Would Question B Harm Schools?”). You accurately conclude: “… the bottom line is that Question B would do far less to hurt MCPS than the rest of county government.” Trust me, no one understands that point more than I do. As County Executive, I had to make deep cuts to county government to get us through the great recession of a decade ago. The fact that Question B would harm the county government more than it would harm the schools does not make the case that Question B would not harm the schools. Your article confirms the point that Bruce Adams and I have made that Robin Ficker’s Question B could harm our schools and public services. I urge Montgomery voters to vote against Question B.

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Top Seventh State Stories, September 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in September ranked by page views.

1. Free-For-All
2. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening
5. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
6. Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety
7. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard
8. Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments
9. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
10. Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

Free-For-All, which called into question the county’s strategy for dealing with the police department, was the runaway leader this month. That suggests that there is considerable unease about the county’s approach to MCPD which goes far beyond the groups the county hears from regularly. School board candidate Lynne Harris’s criticism of MCEA, for which she later apologized, produced a flood of site traffic. The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre were circulated by her opponents on the sitting judge slate. The rest of the posts were mostly about MoCo’s charter amendments, on which voting has already begun.

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Leggett Speaks Against Questions B and D

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former County Executive Ike Leggett, who is chairing a ballot question committee opposing Question B (Robin Ficker’s tax limiting charter amendment) and Question D (a charter amendment for nine council districts), gave the interview below to MCM. Leggett previously wrote a guest blog for Seventh State on the subject.

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Ballot Question Committee Scorecard

By Adam Pagnucco.

Over the last few weeks, a spate of political committees have formed to support or oppose the four charter amendments on the ballot. At this writing, six have filed paperwork with the State Board of Elections. This post summarizes their information. First, let’s recall what these ballot questions are.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

These are the ballot question committees that have formed to advocate for or against at least one of the above charter amendments. Only one (Nine District for MoCo) has filed campaign finance reports so far, but that will change on October 9, when the next round of reports is due.

Nine District for MoCo

Formed: 7/24/19
Supports Question D (9 council districts), opposes Question C (7 council districts and 4 at-large seats)
Chair: Kim Persaud (Wheaton activist)
Treasurer: Mark Lautman
Contributions so far: $ 128,959 (includes in-kind of $37,286)
Website: https://ninedistrictsformoco.org/
Supported by MoCo Republican Party, Greater Olney Civic Association, Town of Laytonsville. Contributors include MCGEO, police union, fire fighters union, developers.
See Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts.

We Support Nine Districts

Formed: 5/7/20
Supports Question D (9 council districts)
Chair: Robinson Sean Rowe
Treasurer: Serina Cheung Moy (former candidate for Republican National Convention)
Contributions so far: NA (has only filed affidavits)
Website: https://ninedistricts.org/

Vote No on B & D

Formed: 9/11/20
Opposes Question B (Ficker amendment) and Question D (9 council districts)
Chair: Ike Leggett (former county executive)
Treasurer: Larry Rosenblum
Contributions so far: NA
Website: NA
Supported by former congresswoman Connie Morella, business owners David Blair and Carmen Ortiz Larsen.
See Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against.

Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B

Formed: 9/14/20
Opposes Question B (Ficker amendment)
Co-Chairs: William Jameel Roberts (former Jamie Raskin staffer), Jill Ortman-Fouse (former school board member)
Treasurer: Daniel Koroma (business liaison officer, Montgomery County Government)
Contributions so far: NA
Website: https://www.mocoagainstb.org/
Supported by CASA, Metro D.C. DSA, Jews United for Justice, LIUNA, MCEA, MCCPTA, MCGEO, Progressive Maryland, Progressive Neighbors, MoCo Women’s Democratic Club, SEIU Local 1199, SEIU Local 500, SEIU Local 32BJ, MoCo Women, Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.
See JOF, Progressives Take on Ficker.

Montgomery Countians For Question A & Against Question B

Formed: 9/14/20
Supports Question A (Friedson amendment), opposes Question B (Ficker amendment)
Chair: David Blair (businessman, former candidate for county executive)
Treasurer: Marjorie Anne Nemes Galarza (Latino Economic Development Center)
Campaign Manager: Scott Goldberg (Democratic central committee member)
Contributions so far: NA
Website: NA

Residents for More Representation

Formed: 9/17/20
Supports Question C (keeps at-large council seats and adds 2 districts), opposes Question D (9 council districts)
Co-Chairs: Marilyn Balcombe (Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, former candidate for council at-large), Michelle Graham
Treasurer: Deborah G. Williams
Contributions so far: NA
Website: https://mocoforc.org/
Supported by MoCo Democratic Party, MCEA, Jews United for Justice, Association of Black Democrats of MoCo, Latino Democratic Club of MoCo.
See Balcombe Co-Chairs New Group Opposing Nine Districts.

The MoCo Democratic Party supports Question A (Friedson amendment on taxes) and Question C (Glass amendment on county council structure). The party opposes Question B (Ficker amendment on taxes) and Question D (9 council districts).

The MoCo Republican Party has taken the opposite position on the ballot questions from the Democrats.

The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four questions.

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Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against

Guest column by Isiah Leggett.

Since leaving public office after 12 years as County Executive in December of 2018, I have been doing some travelling (pre-COVID), enjoying my family, and serving on a number of boards and commissions including as a member of the University of Maryland Board of Regents.

What I have not been doing is involving myself in County politics.

Until now.

Why now? Because I believe that two measures on the November ballot will seriously impact this County in significantly negative ways.

Question B is the latest offering from Robin Ficker. Question B would prohibit any increase beyond inflation in property tax revenue. The County already has the 1990 Fairness in Taxation law, which I authored to avoid a referendum with even more draconian limits a la Proposition 13 in Calfornia. That 1990 law limited property tax revenue from one year to the next to inflation plus the value of new construction, unless overridden by a super-majority of the County Council.

Additionally, a 2008 referendum approved by the voters upped the requirement to a unanimous vote of the nine-member Council to override the Charter limit.

I was elected County Executive just as the Great Recession hit this County. Over my 12 years, I closed budget gaps of over $3.5 billion. In 2011 alone, our budget gap was over one billion dollars. What did we do? We reduced the County workforce by 10 percent – 1,254 positions. I remember that number because it seemed to me that most of those folks contacted me personally. I furloughed employees – including myself. We restructured County employee benefits and retirement to save the County hundreds of millions of dollars. We renegotiated promised labor agreements. While maintaining critical services, we tightened the belt on all other County spending.

Some of our surrounding jurisdictions did some of these things. We did them all.

And, yes, after all that, we had to exceed the Charter limit on property taxes to help close those gaps.

Exceeding the limit was a last resort, not a first. That’s the way it should be in effectively managing a budget.

Given all this, I am proud that over my 12 years, property taxes only went up a total of one percent over inflation. And all County taxes as a percentage of County residents’ income actually decreased by five percent. That didn’t happen by accident. I truly needed all the tools at my disposal.

Under most circumstances, the Charter limit in property tax increases is practical. But there are those years where circumstances mean it isn’t.

Under Question B, even if we had four years in which the County didn’t even go to the maximum allowable tax, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, we could not — in a fifth year, when we were not so lucky — exceed the Charter limit by even a nickel.

That’s not penny-wise and pound-foolish. That’s just foolish.

Such a cap critically compromises our ability to deal with emergencies, whether natural or man-made. It could adversely affect the ability of our public safety agencies to protect our lives and property. It could compromise our Triple-A bond rating, increasing our annual borrowing costs by tens of millions of dollars.

Keep in mind that about half of the County budget goes directly to the schools. Public safety spending is 10 percent. Debt service on borrowing for things we build is about eight percent. That means over two-thirds of the budget already spoken for – without including Montgomery College, health and human services, transportation, libraries, housing, and more.

Forty-seven percent of County revenue comes from the property tax. Forty-two percent comes from the County income tax, which is at the legal limit and cannot be raised. An additional five or six percent comes from energy taxes. Add this all together and that’s about 95 percent of the money we take in.

Question B is a bad idea at any time. Right now, given the pandemic, it is totally nuts.

Question D is likewise a bad idea. In a previous referendum, some years past, it lost overwhelmingly. And rightly so.

Now we have a mixed system — four at-large seats and five geographical district seats. This mix helps ensure local representation, plus it builds in and strengthens an overall County perspective. County residents are represented by their district member and four at-large members. Each citizen gets five votes. Question D would limit that number to only one.

Jurisdictions across America are finding that this blend of at- large and district seats works best – better than all at-large and, yes, better than all district as proposed in Question D.

Change can be a good thing. Or not. Our job, as voters, is to separate change that moves us forward versus change that undermines common sense and practicality. Questions B and D will both throw a wrench into the operational machinery of local government – to no good end.

#

The writer served on the Montgomery County Council from 1986 to 2002. He was County Executive from 2006 to 2018.

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Anti-Ficker, 9 Districts Charter Amendments Group to Speak on Monday

By Adam Pagnucco.

A new group formed by former County Executive Ike Leggett, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, businessman and former county executive candidate David Blair and business owner Carmen Ortiz Larsen is holding a press event on Monday to discuss their plans to oppose charter amendments by Robin Ficker and Nine Districts for MoCo. Maryland Matters discussed the group in broad terms today but did not name its leaders. The group’s news advisory (listing Leggett’s former public information officer Patrick Lacefield as contact) appears below.

*****

COUNTY LEADERS LEGGETT, MORELLA, BLAIR, LARSEN TO ANNOUNCE LAUNCH OF “NO ON QUESTIONS B & D COMMITTEE”

Former County Executive Isiah Leggett, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, non-profit leader David Blair, and Latina tech business owner Carmen Ortiz Larsen will speak out against November Montgomery County ballot questions B and D and urge a “NO” vote on both. Question B would put an inflexible cap on County property taxes, on top of already existing limitations on increases, severely hampering the County from responding to crises such as COVID-19 and sustaining critical services such as education and public safety. Question D would eliminate the County’s four at-large Council seats and replace it with nine individual districts. The impact would reduce the number of Councilmembers each voter can vote for from five to one.

WHEN: Monday, September 14 at 10:15 AM
WHERE: Outside of the Dennis Avenue Health Center, 2000 Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring
CONTACT: Patrick Lacefield

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Private Schools Caught in Elrich-Hogan Feud

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last November, I wrote about the growing feud between Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Governor Larry Hogan. Back then, the issues were the governor’s proposed Beltway widening project, the dispute about how to fix MoCo’s crumbling public safety communications system, the thin blue line flag that was delivered to a MoCo police station and transportation funding. Some of those issues have faded over time but the general radioactivity between the two men can still melt hazmat suits. And now the feud is threatening to blow up MoCo’s private schools.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were roughly 190,000 people age 5 through 18 living in MoCo in 2018. MCPS K-12 enrollment was 158,101 in the 2018-19 school year, suggesting that about 30,000 students, or almost one-sixth of all MoCo kids, were in private school or home school. The Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns series identified 108 private school establishments in the county with 6,610 employees in 2017. Their combined annual payroll was $322 million.

Private schools are a big deal in MoCo.

Right now, private school employees, parents and students are caught in a tit-for-tat power struggle between Elrich and Hogan. This isn’t the typical sparring that the two do over social media. With the county saying one thing and the state saying the opposite, what are these families and employees supposed to do? If you’re a school and you open, the county could fine you. If you don’t, your own parents could sue you and/or pull their kids from your school.

It’s the worst of all worlds!

The situation calls for the low-key tactics of former County Executive Ike Leggett. Hogan, a good old boy developer and son of a Republican politician, and Leggett, a soft-spoken law professor who had risen from a childhood of poverty, couldn’t be more different. But despite their different backgrounds and beliefs, Leggett understood the powers of the governor and learned how to work him. Leggett succeeded in getting Hogan to back off a campaign promise to cancel the Purple Line and the two worked hand-in-hand to lure Amazon to MoCo. If Leggett had any criticism of Hogan, he kept it private. Leggett took a loooooong time to endorse Hogan’s general election rival, Democrat Ben Jealous, and never campaigned against Hogan. The two became peas in a pod – and an odd-looking pod at that!

The lesson of Leggett is not one of capitulation but of continuing to talk despite areas of disagreement. Leggett never made things personal even when other people wanted to. I wrote many tough pieces on his administration and Leggett would respond by seeing me at an event, shaking my hand and saying, “How are you? Is everything OK? Let me know if you need something.” Then I would feel bad about being so hard on him and I would go beat up someone else for a while!

Leggett, who originally hired current health officer Travis Gayles, would have found a way to work this current dispute out. Working the phones with Hogan and state health secretary Bobby Neall, Leggett and his people would have devised a stringent network to regulate private school reopenings without provoking a legal war with the state. And he would have kept it out of the press. The only sign of discussion would have been mutual praise between Leggett and Hogan of what a great job each was doing on handling COVID. As for the private schools, many would probably have opted for distance learning rather than deal with cumbersome county bureaucracy and plan approvals, thereby producing a similar result to the one desired by Elrich. It just would have happened without yelling and screaming.

Leggett is happily retired from elected service now and is probably laughing as he reads this column. He is still around. Maybe Elrich and Hogan should bring him back, always the calmest guy in the room, to settle their increasingly bitter feud.

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