Category Archives: Politics

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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The election morning after

Post-election thoughts.

Nationally, Republicans came in far short of their hopes and what would be expected for the out-party in a midterm, especially one with high public discontent over issues like inflation. It’s still unclear whether they’ll take even the House, let alone the Senate. While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and New York Republicans had a good night, figures promoted by MAGA-world crashed in flames in one competitive race after another, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to Arizona.

Statewide, as expected, the Democratic ticket in Maryland cruised to an easy win against the likes of Dan Cox and Michael Peroutka. Two Republican candidates I did like, Barry Glassman (Comptroller) and Allan Kittleman (Howard County Executive), ran well ahead of those two but still lost by wide margins.

Here in Frederick County, Republicans have jumped off to a strong lead based on combined Election Day and early voting tallies. But most mail ballots will not be counted until Thursday and later, and those votes are likely to enable Democrats to catch up and overtake them in a number of races. The number of mail ballots left to count stood at 16,164 as of Wednesday afternoon but could go even higher, and most will break for Democrats. Among the strongest R countywide candidates, Michael Hough (CE) is currently ahead by 8,798 votes, Sandy Dalton (Clerk of the Court) by 12,594, and Chuck Jenkins (Sheriff) by 11,255. [NUMBERS CORRECTED AND UPDATED WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON] If Democrats catch up by 6,257, they could take both council at-large seats, while a shift of 8,706 would potentially let them shut out conservative challengers from taking at least one school board seat.

* * *

A few observations:

I think the country is better off if the Biden administration is held in check by losing control of at least one House, even if narrowly. I also think voters should reject candidates who wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election, who spread conspiracy theories, or who are extremist nutballs generally. While many votes remain to be counted, voters might manage to thread the needle to achieve both these goals. Rep. Lauren Boebert is even behind in her race in Colorado!

Election reform appears to have had a good night, with Final Five/RCV reform ahead in Nevada, ranked-choice voting winning everywhere I’ve seen so far, and Alaska’s RCV working smoothly (expect a return to Washington for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Pertola.)

As for the Republican Party, I put it this way last night:

If you want a functional conservative party in this country, fire the MAGA crowd, freeze out the Entertainment Wing, and recruit competent candidates of good character.

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Dan Cox as “Constitutional Attorney”

On January 6th, 2021, Maryland Del. (and now gubernatorial candidate) Dan Cox infamously tweeted “Pence is a traitor.” Brian Griffiths has a few things to say about that in a new Duckpin post this morning, but I wanted to add a further thought of my own.

Dan Cox styles himself a “Constitutional Attorney.” The problem here is not that there’s anything wrong with being a constitutional attorney — quite the contrary! — but that, on the available public evidence, Cox simply isn’t a very good one. His apparent notions of how the U. S. Constitution sets forth the presidential succession process proved embarrassingly wrong, which is why not a single federal judge or state legislative chamber was willing to go along with his side in January 2021, any more than Mike Pence was. His notions of how state and local public health powers fit in with constitutional law, again, are at variance with those of Justices Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch, not just those of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

If nominated, Cox would continue to run around Maryland making untenable claims about constitutional law, but now as his party’s official standard-bearer. And he would drag the Maryland Republican Party down to ignominious defeat in November.

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Jim Shalleck deserves nod in GOP AG primary

Amid other interesting primary battles it’s easy to lose sight of the one for the Republican nomination for Maryland Attorney General. But it’s important. Everyone in favor of a sane and relevant GOP should back Jim Shalleck of Montgomery County, an experienced prosecutor who’s campaigning primarily on the crime issue. Shalleck’s primary opponent is the appalling Michael Anthony Peroutka, the “wackypants theocracy buff” (as I’ve called him) whose crank constitutionalism and bizarre views on “Biblical law” I’ve written about for years.

Jim Shalleck is a credible figure who’d be an asset to a statewide Republican ticket. Michael Peroutka is working the Dan Cox circuit while somehow managing to be even more extreme than Cox himself. It shouldn’t even be a contest, but in today’s political atmosphere, you never know.

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Cox’s Hogan suit bombs out at Fourth Circuit

I’ve written a new piece at Maryland Reporter on last month’s ruling by a federal appeals court confirming the demise of Del. Dan Cox’s suit against Larry Hogan claiming that the governor’s emergency COVID-19 orders had violated the law and the constitution. A few excerpts:

“Then there were the signs of hasty lawsuit drafting… One subhead in the original filing cited ‘Irreparable Injury To Plaintiffs From Governor Northam’s Gathering Orders,’ comically echoing a suit filed earlier in a different state – Virginia — against Gov. Ralph Northam.”…

“The suit was decked out with rhetorical flights and what you might call ambitious theories of constitutional law, such as that [Gov. Hogan’s pandemic] orders had had the effect of depriving Marylanders of a republican form of government. As the appeals court noted last month, Cox’s subsequent briefing did not go on to argue the merits of many of these theories, leaving Judge Blake free to dismiss them without discussion….

“Del. Cox will undoubtedly continue to work the campaign trail making strongly worded claims about the U.S. and Maryland constitutions as he understands them. Just remember that the actual federal courts keep making it clear that his ideas about the Constitution are not theirs.”

I covered the initial dismissal of Cox’s suit two years ago for the Frederick News-Post.

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Jim Swift on the GOP gubernatorial primary

At the Bulwark, Jim Swift sounds the alarm about the prospect that voters in the Maryland Republican gubernatorial primary might be seriously divided between a proponent of stolen-election craziness and one with a record of solid administration and sober conservative views. While much of the piece is good, I must disagree with Swift on several points. In particular, he’s far too credulous about a super-dodgy poll about Maryland GOP primary preferences put out by the *Democrats* (and not as far as I know as part of some wider poll release). It’s a blatant effort to mess with the other party’s deliberations by undercutting the candidate with a real chance to win a general election, Kelly Schulz, while boosting the candidate with no such chance, Dan Cox. Swift should have ignored this poll, and so should everyone else.

Schulz is not only ahead, but overwhelmingly so, in garnering endorsements from GOP electeds in the legislature and important county officeholders. The statewide business community knows her well from the 7 years she spent touring workplaces around the state as labor, regulation, and commerce secretary. She’s vastly outraised Cox financially.

Now, obviously, candidates who sweep the table on money and endorsements still lose sometimes to ideological fever chartists. (Swift has some chapter and verse on Cox’s erratic and conspiracy-prone thinking, and much more could be and has been said about that.) But personality counts too. Schulz was much liked and respected during her years in the legislature. She hasn’t become personally entitled or arrogant, despite her success in high-profile state jobs. Nor has she gone around picking needless fights.

Swift posits a rural/urban split that is overdone as far as the tensions in play here. Schulz has plenty of strength around rural areas, and, to be fair, Cox has fans among the GOP base in some more urban parts of the state. At any rate, the center of gravity of the Maryland GOP electorate remains in suburban counties. (The article is also way out of date in its implicit view of Frederick County, but that’s another story.)

In short, I know it can be tempting to warn Bulwark readers “See, practical/sane Republicanism is on the ropes even in Larry Hogan’s backyard — clearly its final doom is near.” But this piece allows itself to get way out ahead of the available evidence. We’ll see come July.

P.S. One final point. Cox’s calling card is his hard-line rejection of Gov. Larry Hogan — I don’t think I have yet met a vocal Cox supporter who wasn’t also a Hogan critic. Having earlier struck out in suing Hogan, Cox is perhaps best known for filing an attempt to impeach the governor that lasted all of six minutes and drew no colleague support. If Cox-ism were predominant among the state’s GOP voters, you’d expect the governor’s rating among them to have sagged. But the respected Goucher Poll, which does show its methods, last month found Hogan to be running 71 percent favorable and 23 percent unfavorable among Maryland Republicans. Cox and his Democratic Party well-wishers can’t take any comfort from those numbers.

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He’s back: Peroutka files for AG nomination

Wackypants theocracy buff Michael Peroutka, who served one term on the Anne Arundel County council, has filed to run for the GOP nomination for Maryland Attorney General to succeed two-term Democrat Brian Frosh. Brian Griffiths at The Duckpin is first with the report, which takes note of Peroutka’s involvement with the separatist League of the South and his involvement in R. J. Rushdoony’s Christian Reconstructionism movement.

I’ve written about Peroutka’s crank constitutionalism and bizarre views on “Biblical law” a number of times, including here and here at this site. He’s made noises about running for Maryland AG in the past.

Speaking at an Annapolis rally against COVID measures in 2020, reported by Len Lazarick at Maryland Reporter at the time, “Peroutka maintained that Gov. Larry Hogan had violated the constitution and effectively removed himself as governor.”

Fortunately, Peroutka’s will not be the only name on the GOP primary ballot for Maryland AG. Jim Shalleck of Montgomery County, a former prosecutor and U.S. Department of Justice official, is qualified for the position and well known in Maryland GOP circles.

Shalleck has been running a mainstream conservative campaign; you can read a candidate interview with him here. It’s also possible other candidates will file before the Feb. 22 filing deadline.

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The Democrats’ lone dissenter

I’d like to write a few words just to salute first-term Maryland delegate Gabriel Acevero (D-19; Germantown, Montgomery Village), someone whose politics differ widely from mine. I knew Del. Acevero’s name because last year he took a principled stand at likely cost to himself. Now he’s gone and done that again.

This week, Del. Acevero was the only Democrat in the Maryland legislature to vote against the leadership’s super-gerrymandered map of Congressional seats. He saw the principle of the thing.

You might guess that Del. Acevero would get primaried over that. But here’s the thing: he’s already being primaried in his three-member District 39 following the principled thing he did last year.

In 2020 Del. Acevero led the fight to repeal Maryland’s very bad police-tenure law, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. His day job, however, was with MC-GEO, a powerful public employee union that represents some LEOs. It fired him.

In the event, LEOBR was modified, though not repealed. Meanwhile, a VP of the union that fired Acevero, MC-GEO, is running in his district, and the union says it’s “all in” on supporting the candidacy of its officer, who’s run before.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next to Del. Acevero in electoral politics. But I do know that at age 31, he’s already taken more meaningful stands on principle than many lawmakers get around to taking in their whole careers.

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An Electoral College floor challenge four years ago, and the Maryland angle

On Jan. 6, when Congress meets to count electoral votes, some members may object from the floor on whether or not to accept each state’s electoral college submission, and if there is such an objection from at least one member of each House, the members will go on record on whether to approve. The result appears to be a foregone conclusion; in practice neither House will agree to overturn a certified state outcome (Democrats will organize the House, while in the Republican Senate only a minority of Trump ultras at most will contest Joe Biden’s victory.)

Whatever you think of this, much of it is not new; a version of it happened four years ago. Even though Donald Trump had obviously won a lawful victory in the 2016 electoral college, a few left-wing Democrats insisted on mounting a floor challenge. What followed is choice enough to quote, from a 2017 account in Slate:

Senate President Joe Biden oversaw the proceedings. On the Democratic side of the aisle, a half-dozen or so members, including Reps. Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee, Raúl Grijalva and freshman Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jamie Raskin, switched seats to take turns raising objections. The objections varied from state to state. In North Carolina the objections hinged on the state’s effective disenfranchisement of black voters. But most objections referenced Russia’s interference in the election.”

Biden was having little of it, and banged the gavel loudly, because none of the members were able to find a senatorial co-signator, thus voiding their objections. The much more populated Republican side of the aisle booed or called out “order!” following each denied objection. When Rep. Jayapal gave her objection, Biden finally said, “It is over.” Republicans gave him a standing ovation.

I am pained to record that lefty Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), one of the loopy few that day, represents my own community in the House of Representatives. If circus-like proceedings do unfold this coming Jan. 6, Raskin will be one of the few Democratic members not in a good position to complain.

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“Never Trump, Now More Than Ever”

[My opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2020]

Never Trump, Now More Than Ever


Mr. Trump erodes public trust and embarrasses his office. Join me in not voting for him.


By Walter Olson

*

Four years ago I was a “Never Trump” voter. Now, I’m more set than ever in that view: No Trump, doubled. That’s even though I far prefer his economic policies to those of the Democrats. I’ve written many times to defend his administration’s policies against unfair attacks from the left, and I’ve applauded his judicial appointments. But I won’t vote for him, for reasons of Constitution and character.

No modern president has shown so little care for or grasp of how government works—for instance, what powers the president does and doesn’t have. None have found it as hard to put the nation’s well-being above his own, on matters as basic as setting aside the interests of his family business.

Especially vital is that a president set aside personal interest in relations with foreign powers. He should present a united front with his domestic political rivals against foreign meddling in U.S. politics, and he should refrain from using U.S. leverage over weaker countries to seek personal electoral advantage. In the Russia and Ukraine affairs, it’s true that some of his opponents went beyond the available evidence in charging him with misconduct. But even shorn of exaggeration, his conduct fell short of what Americans should expect.

At the start I was happy to allow the man a honeymoon, thinking the shock of great responsibility might lead him to put away childish things, that he might mature as did Shakespeare’s Hal (in Henry IV) and banish his internal Falstaff. Mr. Trump didn’t change. He won’t change now.

I’m no foreign-policy interventionist, but it is wrong to envy the methods of overseas strongmen. Friends who plan to vote for him don’t deny the lack of impulse control, the vindictive meanness of spirit, the Niagara of lies. Don’t fuss so much about the man himself, they say. Follow the policies.

But the presidency—unlike the Senate, where self-absorbed talkers can sail by for years without notice—has executive responsibility. It is charged with delicate relations with rival foreign powers, and with responding to crises.

When the crisis came as a pandemic, a different president, conscious of his limitations, might have stepped back to let Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx do the talking. But Mr. Trump has bluffed his way through life claiming to know more than the experts. He needs to be the groom at every wedding and the infant at every christening.

Stories abound of how zany ideas are quietly tamped down, or ignored entirely, by appointees around the agencies. But that’s not a stable situation. In time he will insert more personal loyalists into agency jobs.

Remember the “character counts” conservatives? The classicists who went back beyond the Federalist Papers to the Greeks and Romans to ground conservatism in civitas and virtue? Who thought deeply about the dangers to the republic from a man on horseback, a demagogic flatterer of the people, who preaches “I alone can fix it”?

“But he fights.” He is a litigious man who has openly boasted of using losing lawsuits to harm his critics. Yes, a president needs some combative spirit, but it should be discerning—especially when aimed at fellow Americans—and give way in due season to a spirit of reconciliation.

We don’t know when the next crisis will come. It might be a close election in which Mr. Trump needs to accept the decision of the judiciary. We might need national unity. Instead, this man’s tweets are the ground glass in the national milkshake.

A high degree of social trust is needed both for a dynamic economy and for the rule of law. But as legal scholar Orin Kerr puts it, “the president’s signature move is to attack the legitimacy of everyone and every institution who is not in lockstep with him.”

Some offer the “Flight 93 election” theory, in which every four years we face a last-chance, bet-the-country abyss. I don’t buy it. Our country has a system of rotation in office. The other party gets its turn, and the country survives. It will survive Donald Trump, too. But the country should not have to face four more years of him.

*

Mr. Olson‘s books include “The Litigation Explosion.”

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