Category Archives: Politics

Senate bid to deny Trump ballot access in Maryland

My letter to the editor at the Frederick News-Post:

I have myself been critical of President Donald Trump’s refusal to divulge his tax returns, but the bill advanced in the Maryland Senate purporting to make that a requirement for the next presidential ballot in Maryland is partisanship at its most inane. [Sponsors] are here attempting to (1) impose a new qualification on presidential candidates not found in either the U.S. constitution or federal law; (2) do so by means of denying ballot access in their own state, which means by restricting the choices of their own electorate; and (3) do so with the open aim of opposing a single particular candidate.

We may pause for a moment to imagine how this sort of stunt could be pulled by other partisans against other candidates, should it catch on.

No wonder California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill because of the obvious constitutional concerns.

Related: in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1994), a Supreme Court divided 5-4 held that Arkansas could not add to the qualifications for election to Congress enumerated in the Constitution by disqualifying candidates who had already served a set number of terms in office; it also specifically rejected the view that a restriction on ballot access does not act as a bar to office because it leaves open the possibility of running as a write-in.

Note also that the Arizona legislature in 2011, under the influence of “birther” sentiment, passed a measure requiring presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship in order to get on the state’s ballot. Although natural born citizenship unlike the release of tax returns is of course a genuine constitutional prerequisite for serving as president, the interference with the appropriate distribution of federal-state power, as well as the intent to target one particular candidate, namely birther target and incumbent President Obama, was evident enough that conservative Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the measure. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]


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“Is your child texting about partisan gerrymandering?…”

My bit of Twitter humor from the other day:

Is your child texting about partisan gerrymandering? Know the language:

IDC: Is district compact?
SMDH: Splitting more Dem households
OMG: Omigod, Maryland’s gerrymandered
HBD: Hilariously bad district
LOL: Less outrageous lines
OMW: Our map wins
FFS: Friend/foe spread

On a more serious note, I’m visible in this photo of Gov. Hogan’s press conference last month on redistricting reform:

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Public employee unions as Montgomery County kingmakers

Arnold Kling reviews recent rounds of political hardball in Montgomery County, including the ouster of officials who had been at odds with the teachers’ and other unions. As for the vaunted quality of public services, it’s not all it might be:

An increasing share of that budget is going to pensions and non-teaching staff who are union members. Actual classroom teachers are badly over-worked.

Because spending per student is by far the highest in the state, the WaPo constantly refers to Montgomery County as a high quality school system. However, the average outcomes in the County schools are mediocre. Students from the wealthiest parts of the County (three high schools in particular) produce good test scores, and the rest do not. Other school districts in Maryland get similar outcomes with students of similar backgrounds while spending much less money per student.

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ACLU blasts Hogan education plan

I wish we had a civil liberties group in Maryland that focused on civil liberties, rather than going to bat for the legislative agenda of the teachers’ union.

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In miniature, August 27

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Szeliga, on the marriage battle: “It’s definitely been settled.”

At the WBFF debate for Republican Senate candidates in March, interviewer Kai Jackson (at 35:30) asked a question on same-sex marriage. This might have seemed a set-up for candidate Chrys Kefalas to volunteer something about his own pathbreaking role as a candidate who was gay (and engaged to be married, to radio personality Tommy McFly). But Kefalas didn’t personalize his answer; while indicating his support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage, he also emphasized that he took seriously conservative concerns that legal changes might curtail the liberty of religious institutions, and would work to uphold religious liberty if elected.

Equally interesting was the answer of Minority Whip Del. Kathy Szeliga, who was to go on to win the primary in a runaway, and was generally perceived as running to Kefalas’s right. “This has been a divisive issue in the past but it’s definitely been settled. It was settled on the ballot here in Maryland and it’s been settled in the courts.” Del. Szeliga then added that the voters whose concerns she was running to address were worried not about gay marriage but about the troubles of the U.S. economy and the poor performance of federal programs like the Affordable Care Act.

Del. Szeliga’s answer, it seemed to me, would not have been out of place in an interview response by Gov. Larry Hogan or presidential candidate John Kasich. It signaled that she intends to go after the votes of independents and moderate Democrats this fall, a smart strategy for a Republican running statewide in a state like Maryland.

That wasn’t the only favorable portent on Maryland Republicans’ ability to move beyond past divisions on the marriage issue. Two years ago I wrote with some dismay (“An endorsement no one should want”) about how dozens of Maryland Republican candidates had received (though it was less clear whether they had sought) high ratings from “the group associated with Robert Broadus called Protect Marriage Maryland,” which “stands out for its intense hostility toward gay people, its very explicit grounding of that hostility in religious doctrine, and its willingness to use invective seldom found in polite company any more.” This time around, whether because Protect Marriage Maryland was less active or because fewer candidates pursued its endorsement or filled out its questionnaire, its endorsement page limited itself to endorsing a single Republican, Senate candidate Dave Wallace, who came in fifth. Robert Broadus himself ran for the Republican nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives in District 4, but finished third, behind George McDermott and David Therrien.

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Campaigning works: some primary numbers from my county

Getting out there and campaigning for your candidate can make a difference. How do I know? In part, by scanning Frederick County’s precinct-by-precinct unofficial results from Tuesday’s low-profile GOP Senate primary.

As politically aware Maryland readers may know, I was rooting for my friend Chrys Kefalas in his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination, but he fell short, running third after the winner, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, and Chris Chaffee. Chrys (the one I know, the one with the “y”) campaigned several times in Frederick County and ran about a point higher here than his statewide average, almost but not quite enough to take second place.
Frederick County map
I had a close view of some of the campaigning Chrys’s friends did for him in my part of the county in recent weeks and on election day. To see whether this campaigning made a difference, I decided to check out various precincts from the more suburban parts of the county, where Chrys ran stronger than he did in the rural sections.

In suburban precincts where we made no special campaign efforts, a typical outcome would be for Chrys to finish neck and neck with Chris Chaffee for second place, but well behind Szeliga, with from 30% to 80% as many votes as she got. Thus Orchard Grove, Kemptown, Linganore High School, Monocacy Middle School, North Frederick Elementary, and so forth. At some of these polls Kefalas had good sign displays, others not, but it didn’t seem to matter much.

In a few precincts, efforts were made in the weeks leading up to Primary Day but nothing special other than signs was done on the day itself. These generally outperformed the norm a little: thus Spring Ridge (where Chrys’s literature had been included in a door-to-door literature drop) registered Szeliga 113-Kefalas 78-Chaffee 69 (combined A and B), while New Market Middle came in at Szeliga 117-Kefalas 74-Chaffee 51.

On Primary Day itself, while Chrys’s campaigners swung by a number of other polling places over the course of the day, they targeted two in the southeastern part of the county for sustained efforts in which more than one volunteer distributed literature and talked to voters: Deer Crossing Elementary School, in the Lake Linganore vicinity, and Twin Ridge Elementary School, in Mt. Airy. And these wound up in a class by themselves results-wise. Here are the results from those two precincts:

  • Deer Crossing (covered by Kefalas workers tag-team-style over much of the day): Szeliga 153, Kefalas 152, Chaffee 80.
  • Twin Ridge (one Kefalas worker for most of the day with a second joining in during the evening rush): Kefalas 190, Szeliga 140, Chaffee 53.

Your results, as they say, may vary. In this particular race, candidates tended to lack strong name recognition and many voters had not formed strong opinions; that makes it different from, say, a presidential race, in which few voters arrive at the polls with minds not made up. But if you were wondering if you can make a difference by getting out to canvass in person to help your candidates, the answer is: you bet you can.

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The Maryland primary vote

Despite Maryland’s geographic diversity, the Donald Trump sweep last night was convincing and across-the-board. According to preliminary results, he ran up crushing margins in the parts of the state where he was known to be leading, including the Eastern Shore, with Worcester his best county at 73%, Dorchester at 71, and Somerset, Caroline, Wicomico, and Queen Anne all in the 64-68 range. In Western Maryland, he carried Allegany with 65 percent and Washington with 60. He broke 60 percent in Harford, Charles, Cecil, and Kent.

Equally impressive was Trump’s performance in carrying every suburban county as well as Baltimore City. Although one poll had showed him lagging Kasich by 20 points in the D.C. suburbs days before the election, he won both Montgomery and Prince George’s and even succeeded in carrying Howard County by four points over Kasich. Those three counties, plus Baltimore City, were his only under-50-percent showings; Frederick County, at 51 percent, was his next weakest. (Disclosure: I did some volunteering with Kasich’s effort in the final weeks of the contest.)

Despite talk of strategic voting for Kasich by Cruz supporters, Kasich finished only 4 points ahead of Cruz. And despite talk of a highly regionalized race between the two, Cruz was not as weak in the D.C. area, nor as strong in rural Maryland, as all that. Cruz did top Kasich by 5 to 10 point margins in Hagerstown and points west, and led him by modest margins in Southern Maryland. But Kasich’s vote exceeded Cruz’s in five of the nine Eastern Shore counties. Of the big suburban counties, Cruz managed to beat Kasich by 4 points in Frederick and one point in P.G., and otherwise trailed him by margins of 4-10 points in Baltimore, Harford, and Anne Arundel, 13 in Montgomery, and 17 in Howard.

My friend Chrys Kefalas’s bid for U.S. Senate proved no match for that of House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, whose well executed campaign occupied much the same ground Kefalas had tried to stand on, combining plucky biography with Larry-Hogan-style cheerful problem solving. Between a fund-raising edge, broadcast, 5 mailings, a raft of endorsements from influentials, and solid debate performances, Szeliga did exactly what she needed to do to lock down the nomination, and will now face the heavily favored Democrat Chris Van Hollen in November.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s convincing win is not unexpected, nor is that of Democratic Senate nominee Chris Van Hollen. It’s worth remembering that Van Hollen was deeply involved in the partisan Democratic push for an IRS crackdown on conservative-leaning nonprofits that led to the Lois Lerner scandal.

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On the “Transgender teen asked to leave Frederick Ted Cruz rally” story

Organizers of yesterday’s Ted Cruz rally in Frederick, Md. asked a 16-year-old high school student and his mom to leave the rally because the student was wearing a cape and shirt bearing a message challenging Cruz’s opinions on an issue in the news. According to reports, the organizers cited a rule against bringing into the rally visible messages other than those of the Cruz campaign. The student was wearing a transgender pride cape and a t-shirt with the logo of the National Center for Transgender Equality. In a Facebook post shared more than 1,300 times since the rally, he is seen holding a sign that reads, with perhaps a hint of irony given his complaints, “Human Rights Are Not Up For Debate.”

Some persons I know in the Frederick area are raising a fuss about this. I’m not. That’s not because I’m voting for Cruz on Tuesday (I’m supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich) and not because I agree with Cruz on the group of issues in question (I mostly don’t) but for the simple reason that it’s his rally and his rules. Each presidential campaign reserves similar rights and each campaign enforces them. That’s why persons with messages, even not-necessarily-antagonistic messages, have been required to leave rallies for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and the rest. That’s why the ACLU, not exactly hostile to protesters, acknowledges that each “campaign has the right to control its own political theater” and can mandate the use or non-use of signs.

Happily, we live in a free country in which there are plenty of ways to express disagreement with Ted Cruz’s opinions. Neither Cruz nor the management of the Weinberg Center are obliged to guarantee that you get to do so from inside a Ted Cruz rally.

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For eight senators, even a tiny income tax break is too much

The Maryland Senate late last month by a 37-8 vote approved a very modest cut in income tax rates for higher earners (a quarter of a point to .15 point, depending on bracket), which is being paired with an expansion of EITC and the personal exemption benefiting lower earners. The eight senators who opposed even this very modest gesture of relief were all Democrats from Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties:

Susan Lee
Rich Madaleno
Roger Manno
C. Anthony Muse
Paul Pinsky
Victor Ramirez
Jamie Raskin
Jim Rosapepe

Raskin, regarded as one of the most left-wing lawmakers in Annapolis, is now trying to succeed Chris Van Hollen as U.S. Congressman from my district, CD-8. I can only imagine how high tax rates would be if Raskin were setting them.

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