Tag Archives: Jeff Waldstreicher

Beyer Rejects Waldstreicher Slate Offer

I’ve heard from multiple sources, and Dana Beyer confirmed, that Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) offered to run on a slate with Dana if she would run for delegate instead of senate. Instead, Beyer is pressing ahead full-steam with her Senate campaign. When I mentioned the rumored offer in passing when I saw Jeff, he neither confirmed nor denied it.

Waldstreicher’s Offer

Jeff’s offer makes perfect sense from a political perspective. While Jeff is the favorite against Dana, why not get a candidate with a fair amount of name recognition from previous races and very deep pockets – Dana has self-funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars – out of the way?

It’s reminiscent of Jeff’s first run for delegate, as James Browning reported that an MCEA political operative tried to talk him out of running in 2006 as part of his effort to ease the path for Jeff, who had been endorsed by the teachers union. (Browning used pseudonyms in his write-up of the race.)

Jeff’s offer makes it somewhat more awkward for him to attack Dana in the Senate race. After all, if she is so awful, why was he willing to run on a ticket with her? It probably won’t stop Jeff’s campaign from sending out negative mailers attacking his opponent but should make people a bit more cynical about them.

Dana’s Rejection

While Jeff’s offer makes sense, Dana’s rejection is more perplexing. Having spent a fortune running thrice previously, she is clearly extremely intent on winning election to the General Assembly. Running on a ticket with an established incumbent with two open delegate seats would seemingly put her on a strong path towards that goal. So why joust with Jeff? Why not take yes for an answer?

First, Beyer has long been no fan of Waldstreicher. She ran against him not just in 2006 but also in 2010. Jeff strongly supported Rich Madaleno in 2014 when Dana challenged him. Beyond there being no love lost, Dana undoubtedly views herself as a stronger progressive leader with better credentials as both a doctor and an activist. Alliance building has never been her strong suit and she’d would have had to swallow hard to make the strategic decision to accept Jeff’s offer. In any case, Dana wants to conduct the orchestra – not play second violin to Jeff.

Second, my guess is that Dana thinks she can win. She was utterly convinced that she was going to win in 2006 and angry and flummoxed when she came in a strong fifth. In each new campaign, Dana has believed that she has identified the silver bullet– be it more professional polling or spending buckets more money – and come back again. Jeff may be an extremely focused campaigner but one cannot overstate Dana’s determination.

Finally, having run for the Senate last time, I suspect that Dana would view it a step down to run for the House. Running for Senate, moreover, gives Dana the opportunity to become the first transgender senator, as Danica Roem has stolen Dana’s thunder with her fairy-tale story of a David versus Goliath victory over an incredibly bigoted incumbent in Virginia, instead of the second delegate.

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District 18 Senate Battle by the Numbers

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last week, David Lublin broke the news that former District 18 candidate Dana Beyer is planning to run for Senate against Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher.  Both Beyer and Waldstreicher have run three times in the district.  Let’s see how their past performances stack up.

Electoral Results  

Beyer and Waldstreicher first ran for office in 2006 when both ran for the House.  Waldstreicher, aided greatly by the Apple Ballot, won a close contest with attorney Dan Farrington to claim the open seat vacated by Rich Madaleno.  Beyer ran a credible campaign but finished fifth of eight candidates.  Waldstreicher would never be seriously threatened in his two reelection contests while Beyer lost another House race in 2010 and a Senate challenge to Madaleno in 2014.  One fact apparent in the electoral data is that Waldstreicher’s performance has improved over the years while Beyer has consistently received between 5,000 and 5,500 votes.

Fundraising

In 2006, both Waldstreicher and Beyer were primarily self-financed candidates.  Since then, Waldstreicher has successfully raised outside money while Beyer has continued to mostly self-fund.  Beyer’s loans to her 2014 campaign against Madaleno constituted one of the largest self-financing performances in the history of MoCo General Assembly elections.  Drawing on her own money, she is easily capable of matching Waldstreicher dollar for dollar.

Major Endorsements

Waldstreicher has been endorsed by virtually every major progressive group over the course of his career as well as by the Washington Post in 2014 and the Gazette in 2010 and 2014.  Beyer was endorsed by the Post, the Gazette and Equality Maryland in 2010 and by MCGEO in 2010 and 2014.

Beyer vs Madaleno for Senate

In 2014, Beyer ran against incumbent Rich Madaleno for Senate.  It was a steep uphill climb.  Madaleno is beloved by nearly all District 18 activists and is arguably the most prominent Senator in the district’s history other than the immortal Chris Van Hollen.  Despite all of that, Beyer lost by a 58-42% margin, coming closer to winning than many people believed she would.  She outraised the incumbent by more than 2-1 (if you count her epic self-financing), won the precincts in Rockville and Wheaton and was competitive in Silver Spring and Garrett Park.  Her loss was due to Madaleno running up margins of close to 30 points along Connecticut Avenue.  Still, this was a loss and not a disaster.

So what does all of this mean?  Your author agrees with David Lublin and sees Jeff Waldstreicher as the favorite in this race.  He owns most of the advantages that come with incumbency: fundraising capability in Annapolis (especially with those who have business before his powerful House Economic Matters committee), relationships in the district built through constituent service and relationships with many influential progressive groups who have endorsed him in the past.  He is also a hardworking, adept campaigner who has survived three straight competitive elections.

But Dana Beyer will present a real challenge.  She could wind up spending more than Waldstreicher due to her self-funding capacity.  She has shown some strength in the less wealthy parts of District 18.  And she is more than willing to get tough to win, burying Madaleno in waves of negative mail in 2014.  She is definitely going to bring it against Waldstreicher.

This is gonna be one hell of a race!

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BREAKING: Dana Beyer Running for Senate

Looks like Jeff Waldstreicher isn’t going to waltz into the Democratic nomination for the open seat being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno, who is running for governor. Dana Beyer let it be known last night that she’s running.

A former eye surgeon and aide to one-term Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, Dana has sought election unsuccessfully before in District 18, twice for delegate and last time challenging Rich for Senate. She’s built name recognition, is independently wealthy and willing to spend it on a serious campaign. There is no love lost between Dana and Jeff, so expect this to be tough-fought contest at the very least.

Jeff will expect interest groups to go with him as the established incumbent legislator and work aggressively to persuade them that he will win so they should back him, Dana’s entry provides interesting opportunities for groups that feel Jeff has been insufficiently supportive or doesn’t have their back when push comes to shove and want to send a warning.

Dana has been working hard to organize a slate with candidates for delegate. It will be interesting to see if Jeff does the same and whether and how candidates for delegates choose to plump. I’m sure many will be watching Del. Al Carr, who has built a constituency the district’s municipalities–he was formerly a Kensington Councilman–as well as neighborhood associations and civil activists. There are dangers in joining either camp but also in remaining unaligned.

Fasten your seatbelts District 18, it’s going to be a wild ride!

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Correction: Raskin Did Not Endorse Waldstreicher

In an analysis earlier this week, I stated mistakenly that Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD 08) had endorsed Del. Jeff Waldstreicher in his effort to win the open District 18 Senate seat. Since then, I’ve learned that Rep. Raskin has told numerous candidates that he not endorsing, at least for now, in open seat races.

I contacted Jamie to confirm this. He explained that he had attended Del. Waldstreicher’s event, organized originally when Jeff was running for reelection to the House, and said some nice things about him but had not endorsed him or any other open-seat candidates at this time. I apologize to Rep. Raskin for the error.

The reason I thought Jeff had been endorsed was a multiplicity of Facebook posts and emails like this:

Del. Waldstricher did not contact me to correct the record after I posted that he had been endorsed by Rep. Raskin. Jeff is certainly not the first candidate to use quotations that make it easy for voters to infer stronger support than exists. But it does feed into criticisms of Jeff voiced by his General Assembly colleagues.

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Can Waldstreicher Nail Down the D18 Open Senate Seat?

Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) has acted fast to lock down the open senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18), who is running for governor. Jeff is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and thus this very safe blue district, but openings nevertheless remain for the right candidate.

Advantages

Jeff has a solid advantage in name recognition. He has won three terms to the House. More voters begin to recognize state legislators, who often remain obscure to their constituents, after three campaigns and ballot appearances.

No one I know is more tenacious or focused when it comes to campaigns. Jeff won his first election in 2006 against a very tough field with just one open seat. Besides successful fundraising, Jeff won the endorsement of MCEA, in part by arguing convincingly that he was going to win and they should back him.

Jeff is also fortunate in having an extremely supportive family. In past races, they have had his back not only financially but also doing whatever they can to help out from cheering him on at debates to volunteering on the campaign.

Jeff possesses enviable fundraising skills. I have never met anyone more relentless in pursuing a campaign donation and the results show in his impressive bank account balance of $165,491 according to his last campaign finance report. This sort of war chest not only aids victory but deters potential opponents.

Jeff has already secured and vocally touted the valuable endorsement of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), a local progressive icon. No doubt he is also pursuing the endorsement of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, which he has received in the past for the House.

Interest groups are likely to back Jeff, if only because he is an incumbent with a record they can assess. They also tend to want to back the winner to avoid alienating a future senator and will naturally perceive him as the heavy favorite. Jeff will not be afraid to pressure any groups that may hesitate.

Potential Openings for Challengers

For all of these advantages, Jeff has vulnerabilities that could tempt a well-funded candidate.

Jeff does not have an especially strong political base in the district. While he has easily gained reelection as part of the D18 team, I have yet to identify groups within the district who passionately support him and see him as their champion.

The perception that Jeff is unwilling to take firm stands on controversial issues hinders his ability to win avid supporters. Politicians naturally desire to avoid offending voters, but taking stands in tough fights is precisely how many politicians gain supporters who stand by them through thick and thin.

The same problem plagues Jeff’s relationships within the General Assembly. Even in a business known for back-stabbing, inhabitants of Annapolis-land are astonishingly willing to volunteer privately their lack of trust, and even dislike. They see Jeff as very transactional and attentive to his own ambitions but not especially hardworking or responsive to his colleague’s needs.

These weaknesses, however, give opponents less of an opening than may appear. Challenging a legislator on the basis of his effectiveness, rather than issues, is a proven way to lose a campaign. Moreover, regardless of their opinion, viewing him as the probable winner, his colleagues will likely line up to offer support and give a friendly quote for the press.

Like all politicians, Jeff is good at touting his support for popular positions and claiming credit on having voted for broadly supported bills passed by the General Assembly from marriage equality to additional funding for school construction. Occasionally, however, he takes it a bit far. Jeff routinely boasts that he is “fiscally responsible” because he “voted for a balanced budget.” Jeff never had the opportunity to do otherwise because the Maryland Constitution mandates balanced budgets. While this sort of false piety grates, opponents will only be able to use to their advantage if they can find a way to use it to feed into a larger portrait of Jeff as yet another inauthentic long-term politician.

Moreover, as a three-term legislator, Jeff has a couple of substantive achievements under his belt. His website mentions that he was the lead sponsor on legislation making possession of child porn a felony, and a ban on texting while driving. Both are easily understood, popular positions, and thus highly amenable to quick, effective campaign communication.

I asked Jeff last week via email how he got interested in these issues and to detail the leadership he showed in passing these bills, or on other issues not mentioned on the website, but did not receive any written answers for quotation.

Though I don’t think campaign websites matter a heck of a lot, his current website could nevertheless punch up his message, as it now highlights banal boilerplate that is about as convincing as ersatz coffee such as “As a father, husband, and life-long resident of Montgomery County, I am committed to the safety of our neighborhoods. I will continue to be a strong advocate for our families.” – Jeff on Safety.

Potential Opponents

Dana Beyer is the obvious candidate. She is seriously considering entering the race and rumor has it that she is trying to put together a slate.

A former eye surgeon and aide to one term Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, Dana has been hungry to win a seat in the General Assembly, seeking appointment twice and running three times. In 2014, Dana challenged Sen. Rich Madaleno and lost with 41.7% of the vote after spending in excess of $350,000 on her campaign.

Dana is one candidate who could easily bring to bear more money than Jeff. Like Jeff, she’s also smart, hardworking and extremely determined. While she has not won election, she has been on the ballot a number of times and built name recognition. She has gained valuable experience in running past campaigns.

On the other hand, though Dana has tried to build ties with left-wing progressives, she does not have a personal base of supporters in the district and has difficulty in recruiting or working with allies. She would also have a lot of fences to mend with Madaleno supporters. A decisive and opinionated person, she needs to articulate an authentic voice while at the same time remembering that voters want to be heard and not lectured—a skill that Jeff already possesses . In short, she’d have to figure out how to grow her support.

Of course, a candidate who is not currently on my radar could still emerge. The best bet for someone else to challenge Jeff is a candidate with very deep pockets who wants to run as a fresh, authentic face and argue that we need new ideas and new leadership in Annapolis. Even if it would likely remain an uphill battle to defeat Jeff, I could imagine such a candidate gaining traction and making him sweat to win the seat.

The bottom line is Jeff is well positioned to become District 18’s next senator. That doesn’t mean he won’t have to fight for it. However, if his luck continues, it may even occur with ease, as when Rich Madaleno won in 2006 without opposition.

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Waldstreicher Announces Supporter List for Senate

Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher has announced his suppporter list for his run for State Senate in District 18.  His press release appears below.

*****

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WALDSTREICHER RELEASES LIST OF COMMUNITY LEADERS IN SUPPORT OF STATE SENATE CAMPAIGN

KENSINGTON, Md., July 27, 2017 — Today, Maryland Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher, a Democrat, released a list of community leaders supporting his campaign for State Senate.  The release follows Waldstreicher’s official announcement that he is running for State Senate, which occurred last week.  The senate seat is being vacated by Sen. Rich Madaleno, who formally announced his candidacy for Governor.

“The list of key supporters is a diverse one,” said Henriot St. Gerard, a community activist in Wheaton.  “African American, Latino, Asian American, disabled, and LGBT leaders are well represented.  The list includes men and women from all corners of Legislative District 18, including Wheaton, Silver Spring, Lyttonsville, Kensington, Chevy Chase, Rockville, Garrett Park, and Bethesda.”

Waldstreicher stated: “I’m humbled that these community leaders are supporting my campaign for State Senate.  These diverse activists represent a broad racial and geographic cross-section of our County.  Together, we’ll join together to fight for our community’s values, stand up for justice, and resist the Trump administration at every turn.”

The full list of supporters, which also includes important leaders from outside District 18, follows:

Allison L. Alexander, Kensington

Linda Amendt, Wheaton

Loretta Argrett, Silver Spring

William Astrove

Anne Balcer, Kensington

Mackie Barch, Kensington

Valarie Barr & Roger Paden, Silver Spring

Marilyn Bracken, Chevy Chase

Jennifer Burton, Chevy Chase

Mollie Byron

Jessica Chertow, Kensington

Charlotte Coffield, Lyttonsville

Gail Dalferes & Bailey Condrey, Kensington

Vinny DeMarco

Eden Durbin, Kensington

Susie Eig

Susan Esserman

Amanda Farber, Bethesda

Leslie Fried, Kensington

Marian Fryer, Wheaton

Tracey Furman, Kensington

Susie & Michael Gelman, Chevy Chase

Aviva Goldfarb, Chevy Chase

Natali Fani Gonzalez

Henry Hailstock

Karen Jackson-Knight

Devala Janardan, Wheaton

Brian Kildee, Silver Spring

Steve Lawton, Chevy Chase

Minh Le, Chevy Chase

Sean McMullen, Kensington

Sara Moskowitz, Rockville

Jen Pauliukonis

Kim Persaud, Wheaton

Erwin Rose, Silver Spring

Abe Saffer, Silver Spring

Esther Schrader, Chevy Chase

Joyce Schwartz, Chevy Chase

Jenilee Keefe Singer, Chevy Chase

Aimee Smart & Shefa Gordon, Silver Spring

Henriot St. Gerard, Wheaton

Jennifer Stein, Chevy Chase

Alec Stone

Paul Tiao, Kensington

Matt Tifford, Rockville

Sylvia Tognetti & Thomas Colbert, Silver Spring

Pat Tyson, Lyttonsville

Marisa Van Saanen, Bethesda

Lorna Virgili & Daniel Menendez, Wheaton

Janet Wegner, Garrett Park

Carrie Witkop, Chevy Chase

Janet Yu, Wheaton

#  #  #

Press Contact:

Name:  Duwane Rager

Email:  Duwane.Rager@gmail.com

About Jeff Waldstreicher:

Elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010 & 2014, Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher represents Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Silver Spring, Lyttonsville, Wheaton, Rockville, and Garrett Park.  A Democrat, he is Chair of both the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and the Special Committee on Alcohol Abuse.  He authored landmark legislation to end the subminimum wage for people with disabilities, and was a leader in the historic fights to recognize gay marriage and end the death penalty.  Recently, he has been at the forefront of resisting the Trump administration.  Born and raised in Montgomery County, he lives with his wife and three young children in Kensington.

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More Giraffes Than Black People

UPDATE: Visit Maryland has now removed the video from YouTube. Twitter reports that it is also gone from Baltimore’s Penn Station. @visitmaryland is so far quiet on the subject.

Visit Maryland has air-brushed African Americans out of Baltimore. If the above official tourism promotion video, playing on an endless loop in Baltimore’s Penn Station, is to be believed, more giraffes live in Baltimore than African Americans.

Black people should not be deemed too scary to feature in videos touting any part of Maryland. Nevertheless, their absence is especially glaring–and I imagine galling–in a video about majority-black Baltimore City.

Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) noticed the video during a visit to Charm City and has written the Commerce Secretary to demand its removal from public circulation:

Letter to Secretary GillBeyond the blatant racism, the video is also economically foolish. African Americans have a lot of tourism dollars to spend. As Del. Waldstreicher points out, there is enormous cultural and historical richness in Baltimore black history. Don’t we want African-American tourists to think of Baltimore as a potential destination?

Whitewashing Baltimore is not going to make Baltimore more appealing or its well-known problems go away.

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D18 Democratic Delegate Forum

D18DebateAl Carr, Ana Sol Gutiérrez, Jeff Waldstreicher, Emily Shetty, Natali Fani-Gonzalez, Elizabeth Matory, and Rick Kessler

I live tweeted last night’s delegate debate hosted by the D18 Democratic Caucus. Not all went through as the Bushey Theater, formerly Roundhouse Theater, has no wifi and is almost a cell phone dead zone.  Heaven for a theater but the enemy of the twitterati.

These events are great not because they change minds but because they give people a chance to know the candidates as real people and better understand what motivates them and where their real political passion lies.

DEBATE MOMENTS

Oblivious Conservatism on Education: Amazing to hear vocal criticism of basing education funding on a county’s wealth and support for directing it based on the number of students from candidates trying to outdo one another as the most progressive. So two counties with the same number of students should receive the same funds from the State even if one is twice as wealthy?

This populist railing against overcrowded schools will likely fly well with the voters. But conservatives will quite rightly roll their eyes at the incoherent pairing of this call for “fairness” with simultaneous demands for more taxes on the wealthy to pay for services for people striving their way up the ladder.

Smackdown! Moderator Charles Duffy saying to Jeff Waldstreicher “I guess we can move on if you’re not going to answer the question” after Jeff’s answer on school construction. Natali Fani-Gonzalez also took Jeff to task for expressing pride helping to bring an insufficient $40 million back to MoCo for school construction.

Boom. Liz Matory stated “our delegation in the House of Delegates is considered the weakest in the State of Maryland” in arguing her case for a new, more effective delegation. Direct contrast with Ana’s highlighting her seniority on the Appropriations Committee and Jeff doing the same on the Judiciary Committee.

New D18 Drinking Game: Drink when Rick Kessler says “ATM” or anyone says “bringing people together.” Seriously, I was getting worried that someone was going to break out singing “People. People who need people.”

Taxes and Economic Justice: Repeated calls for more taxes on high-income earners and big corporations in this district with some of the wealthiest precincts in the State, though also areas that need a hand. Much support for combined reported and closing the achievement gap. Liz Matory provided a contrast with her concern that current tax rates are making it more difficult to attract business to Montgomery.

No Discussion. Environment. Health Care.

CHALLENGERS

Natali Fani-Gonzalez Strengths: Unquestionably in command when she had the mike, Natali articulated a strong passion for economic justice backed by business and lobbying experience along with an inspiring personal story. Clear winner of the first half of the debate.

Elizabeth Matory Strengths: Forceful and willing to call it as she sees it and aware of the need to attract business to Maryland. Many  with business experience sound arrogant and windy as they talk about how they’ll bring it to bear on government. Not Liz. She communicated well how she’d marry her business smarts to politics.

Rick Kessler Strengths: On message as any presidential candidate, Rick drilled into my head that Montgomery County should not be the State of Maryland’s ATM. Rick clearly gets that candidates must repeat, repeat, repeat to get their message across.

Emily Shetty Strengths: Harnessed her personal history effectively to help show the grounding for her agenda. Drove home her support for more money for schools in Montgomery. @AbeSaffer is her not-so-secret Twitter weapon.

INCUMBENTS

Al Carr Strengths: Calm and relaxed, Al sounds like a real person doing his best to work pragmatically on problems rather than a pol. He highlighted concrete achievements in making our state government more genuinely transparent despite opposition.

Ana Sol Gutiérrez Strengths: Still passionate after twenty years in elected office. No one gets to the left of Ana in a debate–not a bad place to be in the Democratic primary. A very American immigrant story that paved the way for others on the stage.

Jeff Waldstreicher Strengths: No constituent problem is too small. Proud to be Delegate Pothole, Jeff’s opening statement highlighted his success in getting the A/C turned on in a county facility so a Bar Mitzvah could move ahead even though his child was sick. Gave out his cell number.

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How Marijuana Decriminalization Passed the House

As the session drew to a close, the prospects for marijuana decriminalization looked grim despite its passage by an overwhelming majority in the Senate. Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario had once again put the kibosh on the bill.

At Vallario’s behest, the Committee amended the bill to replace it with one that would create a task force to study the issue. As we say in Montgomery County, paralysis by analysis. So how did a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana end up passing the House on Saturday?

First, Vallario made a critical mistake by passing any bill out of Committee at all. Though probably necessary to mollify committee members, it also provided decriminalization supporters a key opportunity to amend the bill back to its original intent.

Various advocates, including Dan Furmansky who has been lobbying on this issue, began to press legislators to put up a fight on the floor. Del. Eric Luedtke agreed to sponsor an amendment to overturn the Committee’s decision and restore the original intent of the bill.

Luedtke was a good choice. Del. Heather Mizeur has been active on this issue but her name on the amendment would have immediately doomed it due to gubernatorial politics in this election year. Ditto for Del. Jolene Ivey. Their willingness to step back and allow others to take the lead aided the effort greatly.

Bill advocates quickly began talking with Del. Keiffer Mitchell and Del. Nat Oaks who reached out to the Black Caucus. As this was going on, time passed and decriminalization proponents made the call not to offer their amendment on second reading, as it would have received only a couple dozen votes and died.

Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis gave the effort a major boost when he advocated fighting for decriminalization on the floor to the Black Caucus and made a statement to that end in the media. Support from a respected member of leadership helped propel the amendment forward.

Key legislative advocates, such as Dels. Luedtke, Oaks, Mizeur, Ivey, David Fraser-Hidalgo, and Alonzo Washington, organized a whip operation supported by various advocacy groups like the ACLU. Republican Del. Mike Smigiel agreed to work on libertarian members of his party.

By the time they had close to 40 supporters, Vallario dug in his heals and made clear that he expected members of his committee to stick with him. But the House leadership forced him to ask the House to special order the bill, which it did, so he could negotiate with decriminalization advocates.

Del. Kieffer Mitchell agreed to sponsor the amendment, which was another good move to move matters forward, as attaching this junior but prominent African-American legislator’s name helped to emphasize the racial disparities associated with current enforcement of criminal penalties for marijuana possession.

By the end of the day on Friday, it became clear that Speaker Busch had released senior leadership to vote how they wished (i.e. to vote against Vallario), as Dels. Maggie McIntosh, Sheila Hixson along with Dereck Davis expressed their support. Like Davis, McIntosh proved especially helpful in gaining new supporters. The whipping operation was also highly visible on the floor.

Some Judiciary Committee members, like Dels. Curt Anderson and Luiz Simmons, began to rebel against sticking with Vallario. However, he still had support from others, such as Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais who has genuine reservations and Del. Jeff Waldstreicher who did not want to harm his excellent relationship with his committee chairman.

In the midst of all this, Vallario finally sued for peace. Good timing, as amendment supporters had received 66 firm commitments of support and he was about to get rolled publicly. Vallario and Dumais met with Bobby Zirkin, the Senate sponsor who had also been very active, to draft a new amendment. Mitchell and Luedtke were brought in later that night to help organize the plan for the floor.

Judiciary met on Saturday morning to ax the task force plan and recommend favorably the original bill as modified in small ways. Mitchell withdrew his amendment and matters proceeded according to regular order. As the bill was now a committee bill, it became critical for it to pass for the House leadership, particularly after all the contretemps surrounding it. And it did.

A few quick thoughts on the outcome. First, it showed that junior backbench members both can and will exercise influence on critical issues when committee chairs flout the will of the bulk of the Democratic Caucus. This was already a moderate, compromise bill. Remember it accomplished mild decriminalization–not full-scale legalization. Vallario’s repeated noes were not acceptable.

Second, Speaker Michael Busch did not have Vallario’s back. The Judiciary Committee Chair has simply opposed his Caucus too often on priority issues. Leaders don’t last long in power if they don’t listen to their members–something Speaker Busch and Senate President Miller understand far better than many realize.

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Marijuana Saturday

The General Assembly is meeting today as the session rushes to its Monday night close. Many days the General Assembly does not attract much attention, even if its decisions have a large day-to-day impact on Marylanders.

This is not one of those days. The heat and light will revolve around the fierce debate in the House over marijuana decriminalization. Washington Post Reporter John Wagner and Frederick Kunkle have a fine article summarizing the state of play.

The Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin to decriminalize marijuana on March 14 by a vote of 36-8 with 7 Republicans joining 29 Democrats in voting green. The 8 red votes were split evenly between the two parties.

Led by Chairman Joe Vallario, the Judiciary Committee proceeded to gut the bill by replacing it with text that created a task force to study the question. They then voted 14-5 to report on the bill favorably to the full House.

The decision to report favorably on any bill at all was an interesting one. Last year, the Committee let a similar bill die last year without a vote. This year, they did the same to another decriminalization bill and also killed off a legalization bill.

The favorable report on the bill appears to have provided a vehicle for decriminalization proponents to attempt to roll the Judiciary Committee in the full house. (Perhaps a sign of a crack in Chairman Vallario’s control?) Del. Kieffer Mitchell has offered an amendment to strike all of the House changes.

At the request of Del. Vallario, the House special ordered the bill for today when the House will take it up again. Wagner and Kunkle report that the vote in the House is expected to be close with negotiations occurring to tighten the bill in order to attract enough supporters to pass:

Closed-door discussions late in the day Friday focused on ways to tighten several provisions in the Senate bill, according to several delegates. For example, the Senate bill would require young people caught with marijuana to appear before a judge, who could order treatment and counseling. Delegates were considering making the age that triggers that provision under 21, rather than under 18.

Interestingly, at least some committee members, such as AG Candidate Aisha Braveboy, appear inclined to break with tradition by voting against their committee’s decision. Several other delegates face a similar choice, such as Del. Jeff Waldstreicher who has good relations with his chair. No doubt his constituents–and his primary opponents–will look with interest which way he jumps.

You can listen to the House proceedings online if you’re so inclined.

Thinking for the long term beyond this particular bill is the issue of Joe Vallario’s future as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Speaker Busch keeps a delegate who not only votes against his caucus but works repeatedly to thwart its goals at his peril.

Similar situations in Congress in which conservative Democrats used their seniority to control committees inspired a revolt that led to rules reform in the 1970s. All Democratic committee chairs must now be approved by the full Caucus.

Vallario has chaired this committee for over two decades. But this long tenure generates frustration as well as respect from younger delegates restless to advance. Seems like an opportunity for the Speaker to satisfy some pent up ambition. Might solve two problems at once.

 

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