Tag Archives: Phil Andrews

The Towering Legacy of Phil Andrews

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s 2018 primary is now roughly a year away.  Many uncertainties have yet to be decided.  But one thing is for sure: the two most influential people in the election are not on the ballot.  One is the current occupant of the Oval Office.  The other is a retired County Council Member whose towering legacy will affect everyone running for county office one way or another.  He is the last person who would ever make such a claim, so we will do it for him.  He is Phil Andrews.

Andrews was a former Executive Director of Common Cause who ran unsuccessfully for council at-large in 1994 but was elected after defeating an incumbent in District 3 four years later.  Early in his career, Andrews was a progressive darling, passing a living wage law and a restaurant smoking ban in his first term.  Later, he became known for fiscal prudence and authored the county’s public campaign financing law in his last year at the council.  Andrews finished third in the 2014 County Executive Democratic primary with 22% of the vote and is now employed by the State’s Attorney’s office.

Andrews’s shadow looms large over the coming election in three ways.

Public Campaign Financing

During his career, Andrews never accepted campaign contributions from PACs or developers.  He wrote the county’s public campaign financing law in part to allow candidates following his example to be competitive with traditionally financed rivals.  The growing number of candidates who are using it testifies to its popularity.  One at-large council candidate, MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, even has a petition demanding that all county candidates enroll.  One thing is for sure: all county candidates, whether they use it or not, will have to deal with its political implications.

During his time in office, Andrews was surrounded by colleagues who freely accepted money from PACs and developers.  Now some of those same people are enrolling in public financing.  Andrews must feel like a country pastor welcoming reformed sinners to church.

Opposition to Tax Hikes

After having been in office for a few years, Andrews became concerned that growth in the county’s budget was unsustainable.  He began opposing what he viewed as excessive spending, especially on union contracts, and started working against tax hikes.  In 2008, Andrews teamed up with at-large Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg to reduce the size of a proposed property tax hike.  Two years later, he voted against a county budget partly because it raised the energy tax.

The conventional wisdom is that opposition to the 2016 tax hikes was responsible for passing term limits, although the truth is probably more complicated than that.  Still, the majority of Democrats voted for term limits and that fact is not lost on new candidates for office.  Several of them are leery of more tax hikes and more than one will make an issue of it during the next election.  One potential at-large candidate recently told your author, “I will be the hardest vote to get for any tax hike.”  Reggie Oldak, running in District 1, has said, “We can’t keep increasing property taxes.”  Neil Greenberger, the County Council’s now-former spokesman, openly denounces the 2016 increases.  There will be others making similar arguments.

How many components of Phil Andrews’s 2014 message will show up in next year’s election?  Our bet: lots.

Temperament and Demeanor

In our conversations with those who are running or thinking of running for county office, we have often asked who their favorite Council Member is.  Hands down, the winner is Phil Andrews.  That choice is made regardless of ideology and even whether the candidate is using public financing.  The most common reason cited is his temperament and demeanor in office.

“Phil was a grown-up,” said one candidate.  Another said, “He could disagree without fighting.  It was never personal.”  A third said, “He never BS’d you.  He told you what he thought and that was it.”  That’s all true.  His lack of pretentiousness is also mentioned.  Indeed, Andrews chose to conduct his first interview with your author years ago in the most humble venue imaginable: the council cafeteria.  No steak or cocktails for him (or sadly, for me)!

Andrews looks particularly good in comparison to those politicians who argue with constituents or block them on Facebook.  In one respect, that was easy for him: Andrews was almost never on social media.  Even so, your author has yet to find a constituent who describes Andrews as being anything other than polite and cordial.  Regardless of his personal feelings – and there were certainly some who tried to get his temperature up – Andrews never took the bait.

While some candidates will cite Andrews on the campaign trail and perhaps even seek his endorsement – probably fruitlessly – there will never be another one exactly like him on the council.  His combination of tax skepticism, willingness to do battle with labor, resistance to factionalism, total invulnerability to peer pressure and raw humility is an unusual one in local politics.  But Andrews will be able to look at the next council and see fragments of his influence everywhere, with different pieces appearing in different members.  Somewhere deep in the rectory, the country pastor just might smile.


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

By Adam Pagnucco.

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

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

Steve Silverman

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

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

Phil Andrews

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

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

Roger Berliner

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

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

Hans Riemer

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

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

Marc Elrich

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

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

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


The Case Against Public Financing: A Manifesto

To a certain type of Goo-Goo liberal, public financing of elections seems like a splendid idea.

It isn’t. Here is why:

The New York Example
I’ve worked perhaps even more extensively in New York politics, where City Elections are publicly financed, than in Maryland. From my reading of the bill, it appears based upon the system used to finance New York City Council races. This isn’t a good thing.

In New York State Assembly races, you can effectively finance a campaign with the support of four donors. If you happened to be running for New York City Council, you need the support of hundreds of small donors to reach the match threshold to run an effective campaign. So candidates for City Council are forced to do congressional candidate level hours of call time (20-30/week).

I remember one of the most successful fundraisers in Democratic Politics once asked me whether I’d rather ask a  thousand people for a dollar, or one person for a thousand dollars. The answer for a candidate is obviously the second one.

I’m sure that if any sitting council members truly understood that come 2018, if they pass this, they will be spending six hours a day in a windowless room calling small time activists to beg for fifty dollar donations, this bill would die a swift death.

The New York State Legislature understands this perfectly well.

I remember having a long phone conversation with one of the head lawyers for the New York Senate Democrats on this topic. He vividly related to me the story of how he told the children of Billionaire Financier George Soros that no amount of money was going to buy him a public financing law. Why you ask?

Because most term limited New York City Councilman end up in Albany and will never go back to the nightmare that is raising small dollar donation for matching funds.

The Colorado Example
In Colorado, the max out donation is $400. Typically, a targeted State Senate race in Colorado maxes out at $200,000. (This cycle they will likely hit $225,000). However, $750,000-$1,000,000 is typically spent by the Colorado Senate Democratic Majority Fund in independent expenditure. This means that the real fundraising campaigns happen outside of the campaigns themselves.

Divorced of a candidate’s name or approval, this translates into lots of nasty, negative, no holds barred political advertising. To me this bill seems like a final attempt by Phil Andrews to kneecap Montgomery County business and union interests. While I find this a vile prospect, Phil’s plan is doomed to failure. At the end of the day, Real Estate Developers and Labor Unions are savvy people. They shall do in Montgomery and circumvent the system through independent expenditures.

The Second New York Example
Mike Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York City as a Republican because his Democratic opponents were capped at $5  million dollars in spending while he dropped nine figures on his campaign. If you want Dana Buyer, Lou Simmons and Jonathan Shurberg on the Council–the top three self funders in Montgomery County in the 2014 Democratic Primary–please vote for this bill.

The Annapolis Example
Maryland Democrats consistently win districts that should send Republicans to Annapolis (with Democratic Performance indices giving Republicans up to a ten-point edge in many seats long held by Team Blue). This is not because we run better campaigns on the Democratic side in Maryland than anywhere in the country. We’re a decade behind New York, Virginia, California and dozens of others in that regard.

It’s because in Maryland’s one-party environment, traditional economic donors that would be inclined to support Republicans (think Comcast) donate to Democrats. Which explains why Jim Mathias, the most vulnerable Democrat in Maryland’s Senate, will face a Republican with less than $50,000 all in to spend. Mathias will have north of $300,000.

If you have Republican County Council candidates with $125,000 in the bank, Democrats should expect to have competitive general elections in districts 1, 2 and 3.


Public Financing in MoCo

PF AtLarge PF DistrictPF Exec

The Cost and Impact of Public Financing

Montgomery County has moved closer to adopting a public financing system for county elections with approval of the bill by the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee. As the Council packet explained, the bill proposed by retiring Councilmember Phil Andrews would encourage candidates to raise money in small amounts.

A candidate would need to obtain a specific number of small contributions from a County resident of between $5 and $150 in order to qualify for public funding. Each of these qualifying contributions must be received within 365 days before the primary election and at least 45 days before the primary. A candidate for Executive would need to collect at least 500 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $40,000 to qualify. A candidate for At-Large Councilmember would need 250 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $20,000. A candidate for District Councilmember must collect at least 125 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $10,000.

A candidate for Executive certified to receive public funding would be eligible for a matching contribution of $6 for each dollar of a qualifying contribution for the first $50 of the contribution; $4 for each dollar of the second $50; and $2 for each dollar of the third $50. The match for a candidate for Councilmember would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50, $3 for each dollar of the second $50, and $2 for each dollar of the third $50. . . . The maximum public contribution for a candidate for Executive would be $750,000 for the primary and $750,000 for the general election. The maximum public contribution for At-Large Councilmember would be $250,000 and the maximum public contribution for each election for District Councilmember would be $125,000.

A candidate who voluntarily accepts a public contribution must pay for all campaign expenses with the qualifying contributions, the matching public contributions, and a personal loan from the candidate and the candidate’s spouse of no more than $6000 from each.

But the really interesting part–the impact on the candidate funds–was placed at the far end of the report and has been highlighted in the screenshots at the top of the post. A key caveat in any examination of the Council analysis–and indeed, the point of the system–is that some candidates would change their behavior in response to the new incentives. So take these projections of its impact with a dollop of sour cream.

Would the Bill Achieve Its Goals?

The reason that the presidential public financing system died was the ability of candidates to raise far in excess of the amount available through the system. The rise of expenditures by outside groups and their legalization by the Supreme Court has also contributed to the demise of the system.

Not all candidates would necessarily want to participate in the system. The Council Staff report explained that only two district candidates and one executive candidate could have raised more through the proposed system than they raised without it. On the other hand, three of four at-large candidates could have raised more through the public financing system. Over time, the incentive to participate could decline and even disappear as in presidential elections. It will have no impact on candidates who can afford to self-finance their own campaigns.

Another issue that the bill cannot address is the participation of outside groups. Though the incentives to participate in the public financing system could constrain large donations and the total amount spent, it has no impact on expenditures by outside groups from MCGEO to the Koch brothers.

Moreover, it is not fully clear to me that it would necessarily level the playing field for candidates. In some cases, it might increase the advantage of incumbents or the person who has raised the most money. Challengers or less-well funded candidates might still like it because the initial dollars are the most crucial to viability. The marginal impact of expenditures tends to decline as the amount spent rises.

Some final potential quirky effects. First, potential donors might like if they cannot give such large amounts because they would not be asked to write such large checks. Second, candidates may perversely have to spend more time raising money if they have to raise it in small amounts rather than in large chunks from fewer people. The problem will get worse over time unless the limits are adjusted for inflation, like the federal limits in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold).