Howard County delegation stages bizarre BoE power grab

HoCoWatchdogs, in November:

In their 2023 Proposed Local Legislation, the Howard County State Delegation has proposed a bill (Ho. Co. 10-23) that will disenfranchise Howard County voters by giving the Howard County Executive the right to bypass the electoral process and directly appoint two HCPSS Board of Education members every four years.

The Howard County Executive would appoint these two “from a list of candidates provided by the Howard County State Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.”

That sounds like an old-fashioned power grab, with the Assembly delegation seeking to muscle into control of what had been up to the county’s voters. The bill would cut short the terms of two existing elected members so as to replace them with appointees. The chairs of the delegation, incidentally, were Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Courtney Watson.

In fact the scheme was even more cockamamie. Rather than have the remaining ordinarily elected members of the Board run in apportioned districts, as now, it would have had them be elected by state senate district — increasing the likelihood that the members of the legislative delegation could put pressure on them, perhaps by threatening to “de-slate” them if they didn’t cooperate.

Bear in mind that state senate districts routinely spill across county lines; the boundaries of one current senate district lie entirely within Howard County, while two others are shared with Anne Arundel County and Montgomery County.

This means that the three members elected from senate districts would represent electorates of three completely different population sizes. Yet they’d each get an equal voice on the board, in defiance of the Supreme Court’s longstanding “one person, one vote” guidance.

A widespread public furor ensued. Aside from the sheer audacity of the move — evidently based on the notion that board of education governance was too apt to go the ‘wrong” way under simple representative democracy unless guided from above by seasoned pols — it hardly accorded with the rhetoric of democracy that prevails in the state generally and Howard County in particular.

Proponents are talking about a “cleaned up” version of the bill that would fix some of its most glaring problems. But for reasons pointed out by HoCoWatchdogs, the sponsors have at this point earned the voters’ distrust.

P.S. Here’s an update by Frank Hecker, who points out an additional difficulty with basing school board districts on senate districts: since the latter sprawl across county boundaries, “it’s possible that four of the members of the ‘Howard County’ delegation may not even live in Howard County. What business would they have picking candidates for the Howard County Board of Education?”

And Hecker brings a bit of much brighter news: Dels. Chao Wu and Jen Terrasa (both D, as are Sen. Lam and Del. Watson) have introduced Ho. Co. 16-23, a bill authorizing the county to use ranked choice voting to elect members of its board of education. That’s more like it!

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In miniature, January 21

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When a spoils system backfires

The new left-leaning majority on the Prince George’s County council is keen to reserve construction work for union firms. But black-owned contractors are often non-union. Did they think this through? [Lateshia Beachum, Washington Post]  

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MC-GOP hosts Peroutka group seminar

Note: it’s not actually a good idea for the Montgomery County GOP to sponsor seminars from Pastor David Whitney of Michael Peroutka’s crackpot Institute on the Constitution — not that this is the first time Maryland Republican Party organizations have made this mistake.

P.S. Some readers get an “insecure site” warning clicking on the above link. (The warning shows up for me in a tablet app, but not on my desktop browser). That warning strongly suggests the MCGOP needs to fix vulnerabilities in its website, all Peroutka issues aside.

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Ron Young on his years as Frederick mayor

I’ve got a new piece in Maryland Reporter on urbanist lessons from Ron Young’s memoir of his years as mayor of Frederick. Among highlights: the time he told off a roomful of not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) homeowners:

“Early in his second term, Young writes, he ‘agreed to meet with a group of Frederick residents on the newly developing west side of the city. Almost every one of them had moved to Frederick, mostly from Montgomery County. It became apparent, quickly, that they wanted no one to follow them. Many bought houses across the street from where the pipes for water and sewer were sticking above the ground. They had to know that it was going to be built on. Entire developments that had been through planning, site approval and were already partially developed.’

“He tries to explain the problem: they want development stopped, period.

“Finally, ‘I said, “I am going to call the City Attorney in the morning and ask him to draw up an ordinance that will not allow anyone else to move into Frederick.” Amazingly, they broke out in applause. I then said, “I am going to ask them to make it five years retroactive and I want all of you to get out of my town.”‘ Reaction was mixed, with some attendees laughing and others angry, but ‘I have to confess, it made me feel better and got better results than I was getting before’ – the latter because a few of the critics decided to throw in the towel and work with him.”

Also, why festivals had to be self-supporting; what happened when a delegation of bar and restaurant owners showed up at his office demanding that the number of liquor licenses be frozen; and what it took to get that historic look.

There’s also a lot in the book about politics and personalities, but I didn’t try to evaluate that in my piece since I wasn’t around here at the time.

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In miniature, January 1

  • Recommended: Geoff Kabaservice’s interview with pollster Mileah Kromer ranges among topics like Larry Hogan’s highly successful use of Change Maryland as a vehicle, the salience of property taxes as a issue with suburban black voters, and why private colleges like Goucher are home to so many influential polls [Vital Center podcast]
  • Dan Cox’s 32-point loss, in which he received only half as many votes as Larry Hogan had in 2018, decimated the Maryland GOP in close races as well as the Republican bench [Brian Griffiths, Duckpin, more, yet more]
  • Gee, who’d have predicted that? Crank AG nominee Michael Peroutka, who lost to Anthony Brown by 20 points as of election night and 30 points in the final count, wasn’t inclined to concede [more from Griffiths, see also]
  • It’s not a great idea for vacancies that open up in the Assembly to be filled by party central committees, especially not if the committee members can appoint themselves. A revolt against the idea among some Montgomery Democrats was quickly put down, though [Adam Pagnucco]
  • Metro’s glaring operational and safety deficiencies can be traced to its weak management structure [Christian Britschgi, Reason]
  • Jack Hogan interviewed a dozen people for this retrospective on Jan Gardner’s eight years as Frederick County Executive, and included my two cents [Frederick News Post]

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No, Sen. Cardin, there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment

Sen. Ben Cardin, speaking from his committee chairman’s chair, Dec. 28: “If you espouse hate, if you espouse violence, you’re not protected under the First Amendment. I think we can be more aggressive in the way that we handle that type of use of the internet.”

This is flatly wrong. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Advocacy of violence is usually protected when not inciting imminent lawless action.

That Maryland’s senior senator would not understand this is shocking.

UPDATE: Sen. Cardin made a gesture at clarification today which unfortunately leads on to further errors. Contrary to his assertion in a Dec. 17 letter, speech that motivates another to crime or violence does not lose protection unless the link is both intended and imminent.

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Maryland has the nation’s worst emergency room wait times. Why?

I’ve got a new piece at Maryland Reporter on the question.

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In miniature, December 12

  • From early this year but I didn’t note it here at the time: guess who made “The Duckpin 100” in Maryland politics and government? [Brian Griffiths, The Duckpin]
  • Catching up again after the fact, but on June 3, 2021 I spoke before the Wicomico County Charter Review Commission to share some lessons from our work at the Frederick County Charter Review Commission. If you’re interested in the work of these commissions — test-tube constitutionalism, as I’ve called it — do give it a watch. [YouTube]
  • And catching up from even further back: “If conservatives do not stand completely against the mob that stormed the Capitol, then we have let the mob hijack our values.” – State Sen. Michael Hough in the Frederick News Post, Jan. 14, 2021. Hough just lost a super-close race for Frederick County Executive to Jessica Fitzwater, but he is someone who should (and, I fearlessly predict, will) return to public service in the future.
  • Now you’re not cooking with gas: Montgomery council follows through and passes ill-advised new law requiring buildings to be all-electric [Adam Pagnucco, earlier]
  • Del. Gabriel Acevero, notable as a profile in courage on two different issues (LEOBR and redistricting) survives an effort to purge him from the Montgomery County delegation by de-slating [Pagnucco again]
  • See you at the MACo winter conference in Cambridge, first time I’ll be attending the Winter one after a couple of times at the Summer.

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In miniature, November 22

  • The week in blame-shifting: Baltimore files lawsuit against tobacco companies seeking to recoup the cost of dealing with cigarette butt litter [CBS News]
  • A lot of people warned at the time that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation digital ad tax was unconstitutionally drawn, and now Judge Alison Asti has struck it down [Callan Tansill-Suddath, DCist; an earlier instance in which courts struck down a media law after the General Assembly ignored warnings of likely unconstitutionality]
  • Montgomery County will make a costly mistake if it goes forward with plans to ban most gas hookups in new buildings [Adam Pagnucco, Montgomery Perspective, more]
  • To my list of favorite Maryland place names I can now add Tippity Wichity Island in St. Mary’s County [Baltimore Banner, more, it’s for sale]
  • Frederick Magazine profiles Landmarks Foundation of Frederick County, which just had its biggest attendance ever for Oktoberfest at Schifferstadt [Kate Poindexter]
  • Baltimore needs to change, part 783: Bridgeport, Newark, Detroit, and Baltimore in that order are the cities that place the highest tax burdens on households, and that’s true both at $75K and $150K/year household income levels. Among the lowest: Las Vegas, Houston, Jacksonville, Fla. and Manchester, N.H. [Chris Edwards, Cato]

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