Category Archives: Policy

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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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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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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Franchot’s bad idea: sanctions against Alabama

Comptroller Peter Franchot is normally one of the more level-headed Maryland electeds, but this latest idea of his, to adopt state sanctions against Alabama after its enactment of a sweeping ban on abortion, is quite bad. (Included in the sanctions would be restrictions on pension investments and travel by employees of the Comptroller’s office.) Boycotts by states of other states damage national unity, operate like internal trade barriers, invite retaliation, and these days nearly always fail. (Admittedly, they might make sense as a tactic for use in scenarios of impending civil war.)

For those of us who favor lifting trade sanctions against, say, Cuba, a regime that is 1) anti-American, 2) Communist, and 3) not even part of our own country, the wrongness of official sanctions and divestment against other U.S. states should be an easy call. See more at Overlawyered here, here, and here.

Culture War Tomorrow, Comity Tonight.

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Maryland: sixth best state to live in, but absolute worst to retire?

The good news: Maryland has jumped to 6th from last year’s 13th in U.S. News’s best-states rankings, with abundant amenities now united with a reasonably prosperous economy.

The bad news: Maryland ranks absolute last as a place to retire in MoneyWise’s 50-state survey, abundant amenities or no, because of tough tax treatment of retirement income as well as high living and health care costs. According to that story, “both Bankrate and Kiplinger rank Maryland the No. 48 state, and WalletHub ranks it No. 41.”

That’s one reason to support Gov. Hogan’s proposals to begin lightening the tax treatment of retirement income, as well as to refrain from costly new legal mandates that work to drive up living and health costs yet further. Ours should be a multi-generational state.

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On Jennifer Charlton’s WFMD “Success Happens”

Jennifer Charlton and I talked about the work of the upcoming Frederick County Charter Review Commission, along with other topics, on her WFMD show last weekend. You can listen here. More on the charter review process at the FNP.

I forgot to post it at the time, but you can also listen to a recent appearance I did on Jerry Rogers’s new WBAL show. We discussed among other topics the then-pending nomination of Judge Neomi Rao as a judge on the D.C. Circuit; she has since been confirmed.

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Should Frederick take Gov. Thomas Johnson’s name off TJ high school?

Peter Samuel’s letter to the editor in the Frederick News-Post hits the right points: it’s not wrong to memorialize founders and framers whose historical notability lies in their works of positive benefit to the nation, and that goes for Frederick’s Gov. Thomas Johnson as well as for figures like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. In a Twitter thread, I get into some of my disagreements with the original front-page FNP piece by reporter Wyatt Massey.

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Grace’s Law 2.0: Maryland doubles down on criminalizing online speech

“We’re not interested in charging children or putting them in jail or fining them,” says a campaigner for Maryland’s “cyber-bullying” law, “Grace’s Law 2.0,” which is drafted to do exactly those things. “What we want to do is change the behavior so the internet is more kind,” says the same campaigner regarding the new law, which would encourage online users to turn each other in for potential 10-year prison terms over single instances of certain kinds of malicious, abusive speech, and is being billed as going farther than any other law in the country, as well as farther than the earlier Maryland law passed in 2013.

Bruce DePuyt at Maryland Matters reports that Senate Judiciary Chair Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County):

said the 2013 law required that abusive comments be sent to the individual and be part of a pattern of conduct. With the rise of social media, that proved to be too high a hurdle, he said.

Under the new law, “a single significant act can land you in trouble,” he told reporters.

Due credit to the ACLU of Maryland, which called out this dangerous venture in speech regulation:

Toni Holness, the group’s public policy director, said in February that the bill fails to adequately define what constitutes a “true threat.”

Holness also was concerned about other words in the bill that had not been defined: encourage, provoke, sexual information, intimidating, tormenting.

“There’s way too much prosecutorial discretion in these terms that are not defined,” she said.

I criticized the bill in February and noted language from Zirkin suggesting that the Court of Appeals, as distinct from the legislature, would sort out its constitutionality. Before that, I criticized the 2015 law as itself going too far (more). DePuyt reports that Zirkin may approach U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) about introducing a similar bill on the federal level. Let’s hope Raskin says no to that bad idea.

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Sixth District remap panel wraps up its work — and a word from Arnie

Our Emergency Commission on Sixth Congressional District Gerrymandering sent a proposed new Sixth and Eighth District map to Governor Hogan last week, which he immediately introduced as legislation. On Monday morning, again by a unanimous vote, we approved our final report to send to the governor, which was published yesterday. The core of the report, summarizing the public hearings and map submissions and explaining our choices and recommendations, is not long: pp. 14-25. So check it out.

You should also listen to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the subject:

More coverage, mixing the Supreme Court case from last week with mentions of our remedial efforts: Samantha Hogan, Frederick News Post (with picture) and earlier, Bruce DePuyt and Robin Bravender, Maryland Matters (also with good pictures), Tamela Baker, Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), Jennifer Barrios, Washington Post, Kimberly Eiten/WJZ, Dominique Maria Bonessi, WAMU; Maryland Association of Counties, Conduit Street podcast (redistricting segment is c. 21.30-30.00).

Also, Nina Totenberg’s approach to Schwarzenegger on the Supreme Court steps became a viral meme and I’m in it:

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The rush to spend Kirwan bucks

The majority party in Annapolis is rushing to appropriate a “down payment” of more than $1 billion over two years to implement the lavish spending proposals of the latest blue-ribbon commission on education issues. They’re in no similar rush to implement the Kirwan Commission’s supposed accountability proposals, maybe because those were just pretend anyway, intended as cover for the resource grab. In fact, the same majority party is moving to close down, rather than expand, choice options for parents and families seeking to escape the monopoly system.

The editorialists at the Washington Post have this figured out:

There seems to have been a headlong rush to embrace the commission’s recommendations, with most state politicians swearing fealty to them in last year’s elections. That should give serious pause to Maryland taxpayers. It’s not only that they will be footing the bill with higher taxes or cutbacks in other services. The state’s previous experience also demonstrated the shortcomings, if not outright failure, of increased education expenditures to produce better outcomes.

A previous educational commission, called the Thornton Commission, prompted a historic boost in school spending after 2002. Yet less than 40 percent of Maryland high school graduates can read at a 10th-grade level or pass an Algebra 1 exam. … Rather than simply rubber-stamping a push for massive new school spending, lawmakers should be asking the hard questions of whether Maryland families and children will really be helped.

If only Maryland voters had it figured out too.

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