Tag Archives: Montgomery County Council

Guest Blog: Representation Matters in Every Corner of the County

Guest blog by Delegate Eric Luedtke (District 14).

It should not be controversial to say that governments have a responsibility to address the needs of all of their constituents. I appreciate Adam’s thoughts and writing, and how much he relishes the role of provocateur, though I take issue with his characterization of my recent op-ed in Bethesda Beat as blasting county government. I think it’s more along the lines of constructive criticism among friends.

While the analysis of recent electoral outcomes in Montgomery County’s upcounty and downcounty regions are interesting to those of us who follow county politics closely, the average resident of the county is much more interested in having problems in their communities addressed. I believe that much of the support for Question D was driven by a feeling that upcounty does not get its fair share of attention from county government. I should add, by the way, that a similar feeling is prevalent in east county as well.

Of course, there are those in county government who take issue with that suggestion. I recall, for example, a pair of conversations I had with one former member of the County Council. In one conversation, I was told that the commercial blight at the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center was happening because, and I quote, “Burtonsville is not Bethesda,” and that the county shouldn’t waste money trying to help Burtonsville address the profound problem of a decaying town center. In another conversation with the same person, I was upbraided for suggesting that the county didn’t pay enough attention to Burtonsville. The irony was astounding.

I’ve had folks in county government suggest that this perspective is wrong, that residents of every community in the county feel that problems in their particular community are under-addressed. Perhaps. But, again, as just an example, I’ve been working on the Burtonsville crossing issue for more than a decade now, since before I was elected, and with the notable exception of Councilman Hucker, I’ve never seen county government writ large act on it with any kind of urgency. It’s been an afterthought, if that.

If folks in county government want to demonstrate that my critique is off base, they can do so relatively easily.

If the county can create significant incentives for new development around downcounty metro stations, why can’t they do so to incent redevelopment at Burtonsville crossing? Or, alternatively, after a decade of blight, why can’t the county find a way to fine the property owner for failing to maintain the property as a viable commercial site? Or use eminent domain to put the property to a use that will actually benefit Burtonsville residents?

If complaints that the county doesn’t pay enough attention to agriculture are wrong, will the next county budget include the miniscule amount of money necessary to reopen the venison donation facility in Laytonsville? Will it include a commitment of $1 million a year from the general fund for agricultural land preservation?

If concerns that upcounty transportation isn’t enough of a priority are misplaced, will the 97/28 interchange have a higher priority in the next county transportation priorities letter? Will the county commit to funding more bicycle and pedestrian improvements around upcounty schools, such as a better sidewalk network in Damascus so kids can get to Damascus High School and Baker Middle School more easily?

Most residents of the county don’t follow the precinct results of elections. They just want the potholes filled, the congestion addressed, the schools funded, and they want to feel like they have a chance to be heard. The feeling that their communities weren’t being heard drove a lot of well meaning people to support Question D. Those of us in elected office can choose to recognize that concern, and do something about it. Or, we can simply ignore it, pretend like the vote for Question C solved the problem, and move on. But if the latter is the reaction, then we will almost certainly see more Question D’s in the future. I should amend my earlier op-ed. Representation matters, in every corner of the county. And when it’s not provided, residents will demand it, one way or the other.

Delegate Eric Luedtke is the House Majority Leader and has represented District 14 since 2011.

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Does Downcounty Pick the At-Large Council Members?

By Adam Pagnucco.

It’s not every day that you see a senior member of MoCo’s state delegation blast the county government, but Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-14) recently did so. In an essay published in Bethesda Beat, Luedtke opined, “The lesson of Question D is that representation matters” and repeatedly criticized county leaders for ignoring his district, which hugs the Howard County border.

Luedtke wrote, “Bluntly, due to the political geography of the county, countywide elected officials in particular don’t need to spend much time in the upper reaches of the county to get re-elected. The vast majority of the votes in the Democratic primary are downcounty votes.”

Is that true?

Former county council candidate (and co-chair of the ballot issue committee that opposed nine districts) Marilyn Balcombe has written about low upcounty turnout in the 2018 primary on Seventh State. Her conclusion was, “The Upcounty doesn’t vote and nobody cares.” Let’s reexamine that premise and also ask another question: did upcounty vote differently than downcounty in the council at-large race?

First, let’s set our definitions. For the sake of this analysis, I am defining downcounty as the “Democratic Crescent,” a term I coined for precincts located in Takoma Park, Silver Spring (inside the Beltway), Chevy Chase, Kensington, Bethesda and Cabin John. This area was responsible for sending Jamie Raskin to Congress in the fiercely contested 2016 primary. I am defining upcounty as precincts located in Brookeville, Clarksburg, Damascus, Dickerson, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Laytonsville, Montgomery Village, Olney, Poolesville, Sandy Spring and Washington Grove, which also include less populated areas nearby (like Ashton, Barnesville, Boyds and Spencerville). The rest of the county is here referred to – artfully – as “everywhere else.”

Precinct results are reported by the State Board of Elections for election day voting. (Precinct data excludes other voting modes.) In the 2018 Democratic primary, 301,208 votes were cast on election day in the council at-large race. Each voter can vote for up to four candidates since there are four at-large seats. Here is the distribution of council at-large votes by broad region along with U.S. Census Bureau population estimates for 2014-2018.

Roughly speaking, the crescent accounted for a quarter of the county’s population but cast a third of the votes in the council at-large Democratic primary. The upcounty was the reverse – it accounted for a third of the county’s population but cast a quarter of the votes. So downcounty didn’t account for a majority of the votes as Luedtke said, but it accounted for a disproportionate number of them for two reasons: a higher than average share of its voters are Democrats, and downcounty Democrats turned out at a higher than average rate as Balcombe wrote.

This might not matter much except for one thing: do downcounty Democrats vote for different candidates than upcounty Democrats? Here is where it gets interesting. The table below shows the rank order of finish for council at-large candidates among upcounty Democrats only.

Hans Riemer (the only incumbent) and Will Jawando finished first and second in the overall vote. But if the decision was made by upcounty, Marilyn Balcombe (who finished fifth overall) and Brandy Brooks (who finished seventh) would also have been elected. The result for Balcombe, who lives in Germantown, is unsurprising. However, Brooks is a Democratic Socialist who lived in Wheaton at the time. That shows how progressive upcounty Democrats, who also elected DSA member Gabe Acevero to the House of Delegates, can be. Gabe Albornoz and Evan Glass, who were both elected, finished seventh and eighth in upcounty respectively.

The table below shows how the Democratic Crescent voted.

Not only did the crescent pick all four at-large winners, it picked them in their overall order of finish. The crescent also voted for Balcombe, Brooks and Chris Wilhelm in their overall order of finish. At least in the 2018 election, the pattern established by downcounty voters applied very closely to the total result.

Now let’s look at where each of the top ten at-large candidates drew their votes from.

The four candidates with the highest percentage of their votes coming from the crescent – Riemer, Jawando, Glass and Albornoz – were the ones who got elected. In fact, each of these four received at least twice as many votes from the crescent as they did from upcounty. Candidates who received a quarter or more of their votes from upcounty (Balcombe, Wilhelm, Brooks and Ashwani Jain) did not win.

Just as in 2004, MoCo voters chose to reject the abolition of the at-large council seats this year. Given the fact that these seats will remain on the ballot, and given the election results above, upcounty voters must increase their turnout to get any respect from county government. If they don’t, the issues described by Delegate Luedtke in his column will continue.

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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 Groups Declare Victory

By Adam Pagnucco.

The four ballot issue committees who worked on behalf of Questions A and C and against Questions B and D have issued a joint victory statement. The committees and their affiliated organizations had different focuses on the questions but still coordinated their activities when possible. Their statement is reprinted below.

*****

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MONTGOMERY COUNTY BALLOT COMMITTEES CELEBRATE SUCCESS AT THE BALLOT BOX

Broad coalition of religious, business, labor, and community groups thanks all the members and partners who worked tirelessly to protect the future of Montgomery County.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, November 5, 2020 — With a shared vision of a better Montgomery County that works for everyone, we successfully took our message to voters about the County ballot questions. Every vote counts and, as our County’s dedicated election workers complete the count, we take a moment to acknowledge the power of our community working together.

In a time when our country is so divided, Montgomery County showed how broad and diverse coalitions can work side by side to address tough issues. Whether it is tax policy or representation, the politics of lifting people up is more powerful than tearing people down. When we believe changes are needed, we are capable of coming together as a community to make it happen. We are confident in the opportunity ahead to build a better and stronger future for all Montgomery County residents.

Signed,

Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B
Press Contact: Daniel Koroma

Montgomery Countians For A & Against B
Press Contact: Scott Goldberg

Residents for More Representation
Press Contact: Marilyn Balcombe

Vote No on B&D
Press Contact: Susan Heltemes

Ballot committee coalition members:
● Baltimore-Washington Laborers’ District Council, LiUNA
● CASA
● CERG 2.0
● Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors(R)
● Jews United for Justice
● LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County
● MCGEO – UFCW Local 1994
● MoCoWoMen
● Montgomery Countryside Alliance
● Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
● Montgomery County Council of PTAs
● Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee
● Montgomery County Democratic Socialists of America
● Montgomery County Education Association
● Montgomery County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
● Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club
● Montgomery County Young Democrats
● Nonprofit Montgomery
● Progressive Maryland
● SEIU Local 500
● Sierra Club
● Takoma Park Mobilization
● The Association of Black Democrats of Montgomery County
● and many other organizations, county leaders, and engaged residents!

#

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How Many More Votes Will be Counted?

By Adam Pagnucco.

As of right now, here is the status of key election results in MoCo.

School Board At-Large: Lynne Harris 53%, Sunil Dasgupta 46%

School Board District 2: Rebecca Smondrowski 60%, Michael Fryar 39%

School Board District 4: Shebra Evans 66%, Steve Solomon 33%

Circuit Court Judge: Bibi Berry 23%, David Boynton 21%, Michael McAuliffe 21%, Christopher Fogleman 20%, Marylin Pierre 14%

Question A (Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson, freezes property tax rate with unanimous council vote required to exceed): For 62%, Against 38%

Question B (Authored by Robin Ficker, would limit property tax receipt growth to rate of inflation and remove council’s ability to exceed): For 42%, Against 58%

Question C (Authored by Council Member Evan Glass, changes county council structure to 4 at-large seats and 7 district seats): For 61%, Against 39%

Question D (Authored by Nine Districts for MoCo, changes county council structure to 9 district seats): For 42%, Against 58%

You can see the latest results here for school board and judicial races and here for ballot questions.

But all of this is subject to a HUGE caveat: not all the votes have been counted. How many more remain?

Three batches have yet to be counted. First are the remaining election day votes. As of right now, only 3 of 40 election day vote centers in the county have reported 80% or more of their results. At this moment, 6,474 election day votes have been cast for president. That suggests tens of thousands of votes more could come in.

Second are the remaining mail votes. According to the State Board of Elections, MoCo voters requested 378,327 mail ballots. At this moment, 177,628 mail votes have been cast for president. This suggests that roughly 200,000 mail votes are out there. Not all of them will ultimately result in tabulated votes but it’s still a lot.

Third are provisional ballots. How many are out there is not known right now. However, this will be by far the smallest of these three categories and they will make a difference only in tight races.

So let’s put it all together. At this moment, 312,452 total votes for president have been tabulated. (I don’t have an official turnout number, but since the presidential race has the least undervoting, this figure is probably reasonably close to turnout so far.) This suggests – VERY roughly – that 55-60% of the votes have been counted, with the vast majority of outstanding votes coming from mail ballots.

What does that mean for the results above? To determine that, we need to examine how different the election day votes and the mail votes were from the total votes tabulated so far since those two categories are where most of the remaining votes are coming from. And of those two categories, mail votes will be far larger than election day votes.

President

MoCo’s votes for president (as well as Congress) are not in doubt but the differential results by voting mode are suggestive of a pattern affecting other races. Former Vice-President Joe Biden has received 79% of total votes as of this moment. However, he has received 51% of election day votes, 65% of early votes and 90% of mail votes. That illustrates a strong partisan pattern associated with voting, with election day votes most friendly to Republicans and mail votes most friendly to Democrats. Keep that in mind as you proceed to the races below.

Circuit Court Judges

Challenger Marylin Pierre has so far received 14% of early votes, 14% of election day votes, 15% of mail votes and 14% of total votes. Each of the incumbent judges cleared 20% on all of these voting modes. This is a non-partisan race so the partisan pattern noted above has minimal effect here. With little reason to believe that the next batch of mail votes will be different than the mail votes already tabulated, it’s hard to see Pierre pulling ahead.

School Board

The district races are blowouts. Let’s look at the at-large race between Lynne Harris and Sunil Dasgupta. Harris has so far received 53% of early votes, 60% of election day votes, 53% of mail votes and 53% of total votes. These are not big leads but they are fairly consistent. For Dasgupta to pull ahead, he would need to pull at least 55% of the outstanding votes yet to be counted, more than flipping the outcome of the existing votes. Unless the next batch of votes – especially mail – is somehow fundamentally different from what has already been cast, it’s hard to see that happening.

Ballot Questions

There are two things to note here. First, none of these results are close at this moment. Second, while these are technically non-partisan, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party endorsed in opposite directions and both sides worked hard to make their views known. The partisan split seen in the presidential election had an impact on the ballot question results.

First, let’s look at election day voting. Judging by the presidential race, this was the most favorable voting mode for the GOP. Here is how election day voting (so far!) compares to total voting (again, so far).

Question A For Votes: Election day 51%, total 62%
Question B For Votes: Election day 60%, total 42%
Question C For Votes: Election day 52%, total 61%
Question D For Votes: Election day 60%, total 42%

This looks like good news for supporters of Question B (Robin Ficker’s anti-tax question) and Question D (nine districts). After all, there are probably tens of thousands of election day votes yet to be counted.

However, the big majority of outstanding votes are mail ballots. Joe Biden received 90% of mail ballot votes tabulated so far, a sign that Democrats dominated this voting mode. Here is what the mail votes (so far) look like.

Question A For Votes: Mail 68%, total 62%
Question B For Votes: Mail 34%, total 42%
Question C For Votes: Mail 65%, total 61%
Question D For Votes: Mail 33%, total 42%

The mail votes uphold the winning margins of Questions A and C and depress the results for Questions B and D. That’s not a surprise if 1. Democrats voted disproportionately by mail and 2. Democrats stuck with their party’s position on the ballot questions. Indeed, we know here at Seventh State that this post on the Democrats’ statement on the ballot questions got huge site traffic.

As a matter of fact, one could even go so far as to say that once the ballot questions turned partisan, it may have been the beginning of the end.

Plenty of votes remain to be counted so let’s respect that. We may know a lot more by the weekend.

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Early Results on MoCo Races

By Adam Pagnucco.

The first batch of votes on MoCo races has been reported. This is VERY early and VERY incomplete. So far, the reports include only early votes and less than half the mail ballots requested by MoCo voters with no election day votes tabulated. All of that means these races are FAR from decided, folks!

All of that said, here are the earliest results. Bear in mind that the final percentages are going to be different, but how different they will be cannot yet be said.

School Board At-Large: Lynne Harris 53%, Sunil Dasgupta 46%

School Board District 2: Rebecca Smondrowski 60%, Michael Fryar 39%

School Board District 4: Shebra Evans 67%, Steve Solomon 33%

Question A (Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson, freezes property tax rate with unanimous council vote required to exceed): For 63%, Against 37%

Question B (Authored by Robin Ficker, would limit property tax receipt growth to rate of inflation and remove council’s ability to exceed): For 41%, Against 59%

Question C (Authored by Council Member Evan Glass, changes county council structure to 4 at-large seats and 7 district seats): For 62%, Against 38%

Question D (Authored by Nine Districts for MoCo, changes county council structure to 9 district seats): For 41%, Against 59%

It is probably not a coincidence that these results mirror the recommendations of the county’s Democratic Party, but the results are far from final.

At some point tonight, the election day votes should be added in. You can refresh them here for school board races and here for ballot questions.

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Top Seventh State Stories, October 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

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

1. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions
2. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
5. Teachers Respond to Lynne Harris
6. Elrich Vetoes WMATA Property Tax Bill
7. State Audit: Thousands of MoCo Homeowners Overcharged on Property Taxes
8. Reopening Plans – MCPS is Behind
9. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
10. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard

The number one post by far was MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions. In fact, that post was one of the most well-read in the history of Seventh State. Most folks who saw it probably found it through Google – and that’s a meaningful piece of intelligence. If people are googling terms like Montgomery Democrats and ballot questions, then not only are they finding content here, they may find similar content at Bethesda Beat, the Democratic Central Committee’s website, the various ballot issue websites and elsewhere. This means that MoCo voters want to know what the county Democrats think about the ballot questions. That’s good news for supporters of Questions A and C and not such good news for supporters of Questions B and D.

The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre and her opponents, the sitting judges, are being aggressively circulated on social media. This is the fiercest MoCo judicial race in a loooooong time. Can Pierre break through?

One story that was big with readers and off the radar of politicians was State Audit: Thousands of MoCo Homeowners Overcharged on Property Taxes. It’s a massive scandal that state math errors resulted in overcharging of property taxes for thousands of MoCo homeowners and that the state is refusing to offer refunds. In addition to Seventh State, Fox 5 and WMAR (ABC) Baltimore covered it. As far as I know, no state or county politician has made a public statement about this. Maybe I will ask them!

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Crapshoot

By Adam Pagnucco.

At the national level, the big questions are who will control the presidency and the Congress. At the county level, the big question is which (if any) of four consequential charter amendments on the ballot will pass. This is an all-consuming question for most of the county’s power players.

What is going to happen?

First, a quick summary of this year’s 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.

Now to some history. The last time the county was embroiled in a ballot question battle this sweeping was in 2004. In that year, three charter amendments were petitioned to the ballot:

Question A: An anti-tax charter amendment by Robin Ficker removing the ability of the council to exceed the charter limit on property taxes. This amendment was similar to this year’s Question B.

Question B: A term limits amendment by Ficker that was similar to the amendment passed by voters in 2016.

Question C: An amendment to create nine council districts that was identical to this year’s Question D.

At that time, a coalition of business, labor, progressives and elected officials assembled to oppose all of the questions. The group had a simple name: the Vote No Coalition. The Post editorial board also urged a no vote on all three. In the end, the tax cap amendment failed by 59-41%, term limits failed by 52-48% and nine districts failed by 61-39%.

This year, the message isn’t simple because – unlike 2004 – the council placed competing amendments on the ballot. The message from most of the council and many of their supporters is vote for A and C, vote against B and D. The message from many opponents is vote for B and D, vote against A and C.

How many ordinary voters are going to keep track of the alphabet soup? At least the Post has stayed consistent with its message of 16 years ago, urging a no vote on everything.

Another difference between today and 2004 is that the groups are more fractured now. In 2004, labor was a powerful force in the Vote No Coalition. This year, three unions – MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police – gave thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions to Nine Districts for MoCo. (MCGEO now insists that they don’t support nine districts.) Developers, a major source of campaign funds in MoCo, are all over the place. The only real commonality with 2004 is that virtually every category of player is united against Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B, which has no ballot issue committee advocating on its behalf. Otherwise, the proliferation of competing committees and genuine differences of opinion, especially on council structure, make this year much more complicated than 2004.

In analyzing the questions’ chances of success, let’s first consider the electorate. It’s a presidential general election so the electorate is going to be huge. Four years ago, 483,429 MoCo residents voted in the general. This year, that number will probably be more than 500,000. A huge majority of them are voting primarily for president. A huge majority of them know little or nothing about county tax policy or the structure of the county council. No group has the resources to communicate with all of them.

It’s a crapshoot, folks.

Aggravating all of this is the complicated nature of the questions themselves. Question A, for example, is 148 words long and reads like it was drafted by a lawyer or a tax accountant. Do most voters have strong opinions on whether capping a tax rate or an increase in total receipts is an inherently better approach? As for the council questions, do most voters have strong opinions on which legislative structures are better? Politicians and advocates have strong opinions on all of the above but they won’t be deciding the outcome. A half million voters who know little or nothing about any of this will.

Despite all of the activities by the ballot issue committees, the two things most likely to be seen by voters are the ballot language itself and the recommendations of the county Democratic Party, which were mailed to all households with at least one Democrat in them. Question D’s ballot language, which tells voters it will reduce the number of council members they can vote for from five to one, is a huge problem for nine districts supporters and may have played a part in killing nine districts in 2004. As for the Democrats’ recommendations (supporting A and C, opposing B and D), it’s natural for Democrats – who historically comprise a big majority of MoCo general election voters – to seek guidance from their party on questions with which they aren’t familiar. Here on Seventh State, this post on the Democrats’ position was the runaway most-read post in October. Then again, the Democratic Party opposed term limits four years ago and it was passed with 70% of the vote anyway.

Finally, what happens if conflicting questions pass? That outcome can’t be dismissed, especially if voters have problems even understanding the questions. Since 2002, MoCo voters have approved 81% of all county questions that have appeared on the ballot. A state attorney general opinion from 2002 speculates that courts will reject directly conflicting questions passed by voters, although the opinion states, “The Courts in Maryland have not addressed the issue of which of two conflicting charter amendments would prevail if both received a majority vote in an election.” It’s not clear that the courts have resolved this question since then. So what happens if both A and B pass, or if both C and D pass? Will the courts reject both or impose whichever of them gets more votes?

Again, it’s a crapshoot.

Regardless of what passes and what doesn’t, we all have to ask ourselves this.

Is a crapshoot any way to run a government?

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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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Nine Districts Shows What They’re All About

By Adam Pagnucco.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the group trying to abolish at-large seats on the county council, posted the following graphic last night.

After getting pushback, the group deleted the image and posted a new graphic.

Readers, I leave it to you to determine whether this is legitimate political discourse in Montgomery County.

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