Notes from the MACo summer conference

I was glad to attend the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City this past week, a grand opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. I attended sessions on topics from the 2020 census to affordable housing, and took some running notes in the form of the tweets below.

One of the most talked-of sessions was the town hall featuring Ben Cardin, Maryland’s senior U.S. senator. Cardin has a reputation as one of the more cautiously spoken and temperate members of the Democratic caucus, and some of his comments indeed struck a centrist tone:

On firearms, Cardin forthrightly sides with liberals, and mentioned that he and his wife were soon to attend what he called an “anti-gun rally” in Baltimore:

What really lifted me out of my chair was when a questioner asked about redistricting and Cardin said “don’t blame the Maryland legislature” for gerrymandering. It would be “naive.” Yes, he stood right there before a bipartisan audience and said that.

I had a back-and-forth with Todd Eberly about it:

On First Amendment issues, unfortunately, Cardin stuck to a theme that free speech should not be seen as unlimited. He sounded the alarm about foreign interference in elections and jumped directly to a scheme to outfit social media with legally mandated “guardrails”:

MACo posts big signs saying that it’s a nonpartisan group and campaigning at the event is forbidden, but as Danielle Gaines noted afterward at Maryland Matters, audience members during Q&A ignored this, especially after one questioner referred to the present Senate majority leader as “Moscow Mitch”:

For most of the panels I attended, however, audience questions provided helpful focus. At the session on agritourism, for example, one audience member offered a cautionary tale from Anne Arundel County: well- meaning nonfarmers drew up rules laying out rules for many activities that farmers have been doing since time immemorial, such as hosting community picnics. Regulation got worse.

Apparently the electrified third rail of agritourism politics is “the W word” — farmhouse weddings. Heaven forbid people should get married and be happy if it means more vehicle traffic!

The food safety and packaging regulation panel included a discussion of how the state’s modest new cottage-food law opens up room for home-kitchen providers of a relatively short list of super-safe products, including cookies, jams (but not pickles), and baked goods. There may be some connection here with MACo’s celebrated “Taste of Maryland” reception, in which cookies, along with locally made beer and wine, were the stars. (I liked Cynthia Ann Desserts’s Black-Eyed Susan shortbread cookies at the Charles County booth.) A long line snaked up to the booth of Talbot County, which more ambitiously than its sister counties offered oysters on the half shell.

The Q&A at the food safety panel also led to a back-and-forth on the regulation of kids’ lemonade stands. Jessica Speaker, an assistant commissioner with the Baltimore City Health Department, had some warnings:

The discussion of the state’s Styrofoam ban seemed to take for granted that it would be the jumping-off point for many further restrictions in years to come:

State pre-emption of local legislative power is the sort of topic I really warm to (and talked back on):

While I disagreed with some of the policy perspectives (as I expected to), the conference was an invaluable chance to learn about multiple and varied aspects of Maryland government up close.

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Montgomery County eases building of accessory dwelling units

As population and the job base in the Washington, D.C. area continue to expand, households face a crunch in the price of housing, made worse by the reluctance of local governments to permit residential construction near most of the major employment centers. A unanimous county council in Montgomery County, Md. has now made it slightly easier for homeowners to create in-law units or backyard cottages, but along the way had to face down noisy opposition. I tell the story in a new Cato post (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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Baltimore’s high tax rates

Baltimore is a city with really high tax rates, much higher than those in most of the cities it competes with. “What are city officials doing with all that money?” asks my Cato colleague Chris Edwards. Accompanying graphic:

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Maryland’s gun permit system is challenged — and it’s probably unconstitutional

Maryland law still does not acknowledge any individual right of gun ownership, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, which recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns and determined that it applies to states and not solely the federal government. It’s time for that to change — and if the legislature won’t act, the courts will have to.

Allen Etzler reports at the FNP:

Maryland is one of 10 states considered a “may issue” state, which means it requires a permit to carry a concealed gun, and granting that permit is at the discretion of local authorities. It’s a restrictive law that prevents most average citizens from being able to obtain a permit, said Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll).

“It’s an undue burden on people,” Hough said. “The vast majority of people that get this permit are armed security or private [investigators]. It’s very difficult for the average citizen to get one.”

Now Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights organization, is challenging the state’s permit regime as inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings in Heller and McDonald. My colleagues at the Cato Institute filed briefs in support of Second Amendment rights in both of those earlier cases.

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WDVM “Issues and Insiders” on gerrymandering

I joined News Director Mark Kraham of western Maryland’s WDVM on “Issues and Insiders” to discuss gerrymandering and the Sixth District. You can watch on two video clips, from before and after the break.

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Redistricting reform from here out

I’m not in any mood to despair, as I explained to Bethesda magazine’s Dan Schere:

“I’m glad the suspense is over, because waiting is hard and not knowing what the options are is hard,” said Walter Olson, who lives in Frederick County who co-chaired the commission.

Olson, who is a fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute think tank, said he thinks public opinion in Maryland is strong enough against gerrymandering that the state legislature will decide to follow the example of the redistricting commission.

“It is up to Annapolis, after being shamed by the whole country by how bad its gerrymander is, to change it,” he said.

Asked if he felt the commission’s effort had been in vain, Olson replied that none of the nine members felt so.

“Our process produced a map that did what the court said,” he said. “We had strong marching orders to behave like good citizens, just the opposite of how the state had behaved in the past.”

Olson added that he was encouraged by the turnout at the public hearings, particularly at the ones in Western Maryland, which featured residents who feel gerrymandering reform is overdue in the state.

“It’s hard to ask them to be patient, because they’ve been asked to be patient for a long time,” he said.

By way of clarification I should add that I didn’t hear from everyone who served on the commission, but all those I did hear from appeared glad of what we accomplished and agreed that our work had not been in vain.

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“It’s supposed to be a rainbow, not a strip of litmus paper.”

My letter to the editor (with Steve Pippin) in the June 27 Frederick News Post responds to a local resident’s letter advising that people shouldn’t attend Frederick Pride

…if you vote for the wrong sorts of candidates, if you keep your views to yourself rather than being outspoken about LGBT issues, or if you fall short of his standards of correct belief on gender politics, “classism,” and many other issues.

Here’s another point of view. Pride is for everyone of goodwill. It’s OK to come to see friends, or be entertained, or meet new neighbors, or just listen and learn. It’s OK to dress as you like, not in some obligatory uniform. It’s OK to march to the beat of a different drummer, whether or not it puts you in the majority. You should feel welcome whether or not you agree with this or that political party, movement, or candidate. You’ll see Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, Greens, and others at Frederick Pride. They’re all welcome, and so are you, if you bring goodwill.

It’s supposed to be a rainbow, not a strip of litmus paper.

Steven Pippin and Walter Olson

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Supreme Court nixes gerrymander challenges

My take at Cato on the Supreme Court’s decision:

… If partisan gerrymandering is a substantial evil worth fighting – and I believe it is – we should now get serious about finding that remedy through other means. The Constitution’s Elections Clause provides that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations,” and in fact Congress has in the past prescribed to the states standards for districting. These include standards on compactness, a vital principle of good districting that all by itself would disallow many of the most garish gerrymanders by which U.S. House members reach the Capitol. Countering the gerrymandering of state legislatures is a tougher challenge, but even in states without a process for ballot initiatives it is a natural issue for reformist governors and others who run in non-districted races.

Around the country, machine politicians must be thinking they’ve got a free hand to draw maps even worse than the ones last round. We shouldn’t let them.

A few clips: Doug Tallman/MC Media, Dan Schere/Bethesda Magazine, Ryan Marshall/Frederick News Post.

On Saturday I joined Jennifer Charlton and Michelle Perez Newman for “Success Happens” on WFMD along with board of education president Brad Young. (He talked about school redistricting and I talked about legislative redistricting — two completely different issues.) You can listen here. And I joined Allen Etzler and Heather Mongilio at the Frederick News-Post’s podcast series Frederick Uncut on the same topic (more).

P.S. Spot the contrast here between incoming House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones, who says she’s disappointed at the Court’s refusal to remedy gerrymandering, and Senate President Mike Miller, who sounds maybe a bit jubilant [Maryland Matters]

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Did Maryland’s lawyer mislead the high court in the gerrymander case?

Prof. Michael McDonald says that’s what happened at oral argument when the state’s lawyer characterized McDonald, an expert for the Republican plaintiffs, as having found the Sixth District “competitive.” [Medium, McDonald on Twitter]

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Today’s welcome vote on I-270 capacity (with a note on “induced demand”)

Maybe Frederick and upper Montgomery commuters won’t have to wait in endless traffic on I-270 for the next 20 years, with today’s favorable vote from Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot to proceed with a public-private partnership.

Virginia got a head start on these ideas and polls indicate most users take a positive view of the road improvements there, toll options and all. Existing law forbids reductions in current free lanes.

By the way, watch out for misuse of the transportation concept of induced demand. In proper context, it’s an uncontroversial concept: planners should be aware that expanding a highway can increase demand (whether by stimulating more trips from existing users or encouraging development) which means that congestion will not be relieved by as much as a static analysis of current vehicle flow per minute would suggest. That’s all it says. It does not, by itself, predict that the induced demand will be so big as to absorb all the new road capacity. If it always did that, there would be no such thing as unclogged newer thoroughfares.

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