“Frederick’s Forum” on the Sixth District remap

I joined hosts Darren Wigfield and Dave Schmidt on WFMD’s “Frederick’s Forum” on Saturday for a two-hour (!) show on gerrymandering and the Sixth District, with a little bit of unrelated talk about law and the Supreme Court toward the end. You can listen here: first, second portion.


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Emergency Commission on Sixth Congressional District Gerrymandering

On Monday Gov. Larry Hogan announced an executive order creating an emergency commission to redraw Maryland’s Sixth District to comply with a federal court order. (Coverage: WBALMaryland ReporterWashington PostBaltimore Sun and Capital GazetteAP/ABCFrederick News PostHerald Mail (Hagerstown), WMARMaryland Matters, and many others. ) I’m honored to serve together with Judge Alex Williams as a co-chair of this commission, which will also include Ashley Oleson (no relation) and six more members.

This nine-member commission will be drawn equally from among registered Maryland Democrats, Republicans, and voters affiliated with neither of those parties. Qualified persons of all party affiliations are encouraged to apply. Applications close December 10.  Some restrictions apply as explained at the link; for example, employees of the legislature and governor and officials of political parties are ineligible to serve. This is a unique opportunity for civic-minded persons to make a difference for the better in our state.

Shortly before being asked to be part of this effort, I discussed the Sixth District ruling in a podcast with the Frederick News Post’s Emma Kerr and Colin McGuire, as well as an interview with host Sheilah Kast at WYPR’s “On the Record”. I also joined West Coast-based libertarian radio host Bob Zadek for an hour-long show on the national aspects of redistricting reform.


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Frederick County: April Miller best choice for school board vacancy

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner will have the chance to fill a vacancy on the eight-member Frederick County Board of Education with Ken Kerr’s advancement to the House of Delegates. Those interested in serving have been invited to submit their names.

I myself am hoping that Gardner sees fit, despite party differences, to appoint incumbent April Miller to renewed service on the board, should Miller apply. The most obvious reason is at the ballot box: Miller ran fifth of eight for the four posts available, with 35,489 votes (unofficial), fewer than 2,000 votes short of what proved the cutoff. By comparison, Camden Raynor, the 20-year-old (as of September) college student who made a bid for a seat and is said to be a prospect for the vacancy appointment, received 27,701, even with the powerful endorsement of the teachers’ union (“Apple Ballot”).

The strongest reasons to support Miller, however, are substantive. To begin with, she has done a fine job on the board over her two terms, winning praise for constructive engagement even from board members with different priorities. Like colleague Elizabeth Barrett, sometimes seen as her opposite number on the board, Miller is known for thinking for herself and asking uncomfortable questions.

The wider question is whether it is a healthy development, in a county where conservatives make up around half the electorate, to wind up with a school board with no conservatives on it at all. The alternative is one consisting pretty much exclusively of present or past Apple Ballot endorsees. (The union declined to endorse Barrett this time around; she won anyway.) On many issues, absent Miller, there will be no voice raised in dissent, no one to ask certain types of questions or frame objections. In short, there will be a shortage along a very relevant dimension of ideological diversity.

Though nominally non-partisan the school board is all but partisan in practice, so this means asking CE Gardner, a Democrat, to overlook party lines and appoint a known Republican. On the other hand, that’s the sort of thing successful managers do: Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed Democrats to many high posts, part of the centrist appeal that has enabled him to win over Democratic moderates. At a moment where eager Democrats are no doubt applying for the spot, it might take a magnificent gesture on Gardner’s part. But it’s one we could use right about now.

More: Tom Neumark letter to the editor in the FNP.

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In miniature, November 10

Midterm campaign edition:

  • An issue in some races: “Critique of Maryland Congestion-Relief Plan Rests on Very Bad Logic [Austill Stuart] So much for the “Lexus Lanes” epithet: “Congestion pricing is not just slanted toward the elite” [Tyler Cowen]
  • Brian Frosh is part of a state-AG task force that subpoenas and investigates private groups and individuals for having promoted erroneous opinions on environmental questions. Which should have been more controversial during the campaign [Mark Uncapher]
  • Republican mailers assailed Dems on this issue, yet “supervised injection facilities save lives” [Jacob Sullum, Reason]
  • Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick), at 12:55: stop saying we raised taxes 46 times, I counted and we only raised them 15 times [FNP podcast debate with Craig Giangrande]
  • In Maryland as elsewhere, “single payer in one state” is more of a political stunt than a practical program [Todd Eberly]
  • Poor showings at Tuesday’s polls for many lawmakers rated highly by Maryland Business for Responsive Government could spell trouble ahead on business issues [MBRG]

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Frederick County: Union shouldn’t control school board

Tom Neumark says many of the things I had been thinking about the county school board races. We really shouldn’t want a board entirely consisting of members raised to office through the political clout of the teachers’ union with its Apple Ballot. Yet that’s what we may soon find ourselves with.

Two incumbents were denied the union’s endorsement this year, namely April Miller and Elizabeth Barrett. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two — though differing from each other in many ways — are both known for thinking for themselves, asking hard questions, and standing up for parents and families not always represented otherwise.

It raises all sorts of conflict of interest for the education unions to place their members, retirees, and close associates in public offices regularly called on to resist union demands. Yet Frederick County is already much of the way down that road. Let’s not proceed further.

Related: two school board hopefuls aren’t FCPS employees, but still have a less direct stake in compensation decisions, per this LTE from Stephanie Covati of Middletown.

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Frederick County: NO on Question D

My letter to the editor in the Frederick News-Post opposing Question D, on mandatory binding arbitration and collective bargaining for career firefighters:

Please vote NO on Question D, a charter amendment promoted by the firefighters union at the intended expense of taxpayers and the general public. The provisions of D expanding collective bargaining are bad enough, but even worse are those subjecting the county to mandatory binding arbitration whose outcome — get this — must be funded in the county budget, no matter what the people’s elected representatives may think of it.

Mandatory binding arbitration in the public workplace takes fiscal decisions away from those who are accountable to voters. It gives unions an artificial incentive to arrive at a bargaining impasse so as to call in an arbitrator who will always give them at least as much as management’s offer. It is also unfair to other employees who don’t get such privileges. In states like Connecticut and California, this system has done much damage to the finances and flexibility of local government, resulting in high property tax levels, cuts to other services, or both.

News-Post reporter Samantha Hogan writes that, ‘At a forum for nearly all the county council candidates at the Brunswick Fire Department, each one said they didn’t support Question D, given the binding arbitration aspect.’ They’re right to oppose a measure that is D for damaging, destructive and defective.”

Walter Olson
New Market

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Scott Beyer’s Market Urbanism Report looks at Baltimore up close

Scott Beyer’s Market Urbanism Report has an active presence on Facebook and has just used it to devote a month’s worth of attention to the problems, challenges, and quirks of Baltimore, from policing good and bad to Formstone to the money-sink Hilton project to eminent domain to housing abandonment to the upkeep of public spaces. Check out the whole group as well as its associated website for a treasure trove of analysis and information about city and development issues, informed by market reasoning.

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Maryland’s (and its counties’) unfunded pension obligations

As Carol Park notes in this Maryland Reporter write-up, the Maryland Public Policy Institute has published a report and interactive map by which Maryland residents can check the funding status of county public employees in their counties. There is a wide spread between how well funded the counties are, with five in the healthy situation of being 90 percent or more funded (Montgomery, Frederick, Charles, Calvert, Cecil), and at the other end ten counties in the less enviable position of being less than 70 percent funded, including Baltimore City and County and Prince George’s as well as many rural counties.

Meanwhile, the state legislators’ group ALEC has published Unaffordable and Unaccountable 2017, which

surveys the more than 280 state-administered public pension plans, detailing their assets and liabilities. The unfunded liabilities (the amount by which the present value of liabilities exceeds current assets) are reported using the investment return assumptions used by states, along with alternative measures more consistent with prudent risk management and more reasonable long-term market performance expectations. This report clearly illuminates the pervasive pension underfunding across the nation and details the assumptions and trends contributing to this crisis.

Maryland is around the middle of the pack among the 50 states, which is not good enough. It did improve its ranking slightly from 27th best to 23rd best state between 2016 and 1017, but the absolute amount of unfunded liabilities per capita in Maryland actually rose, from $15,570 to $16,481. And its funding ratio sank from 33.1% to 32.5%, this at a time of economic recovery. Wisconsin is the most strongly funded state and Connecticut the worst. The report, by Thurston Powers, Elliot Young, Bob Williams and Erica York, is here.

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In miniature, August 24

  • So embarrassing for Maryland that Attorney General Brian Frosh signed onto this turkey of a lawsuit challenging Congress’s curtailment of the SALT deduction [Howard Gleckman]
  • I was a guest of Jerry Rogers on WBAL to talk about the showdown between conservative religious adoption agencies and LGBT rights groups and you can listen here (background);
  • Baltimore politicos move to save city from non-threat / non-horror of private water supply [Joe Setyon, Reason]
  • Sen. Ben Cardin, sometimes painted as cautious or even moderate, throws red meat to Left on Brett Kavanaugh nomination [Bruce DePuyt, Maryland Matters]
  • “Among the questions about Mr. Elrich is one he raised himself by pledging to invite the president of the largest county employees union into interview and hiring deliberations ‘for any and all department heads’ in the county. That is an extraordinary promise…also unwise.” [Washington Post editorial]
  • How a machine based on the schools lobby ran politics for years in Montgomery County [Adam Pagnucco, The Seventh State]

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Frederick County’s June 26 Republican primary

I had been planning to write up the precinct results of the Republican primary vote for Frederick County Executive (data) but this map by Jordan Tessler tells the story in a picture. Councilman Kirby Delauter ran competitively in in-town Frederick and Brunswick as well as winning the county’s northernmost towns, which he has represented on the Council. That left him 10 points behind Del. Kathy Afzali, who swept suburban developments from Ballenger Creek to growth-vexed southeastern areas like Monrovia and Kemptown, as well as easily carrying Jefferson and her home of Middletown. Regina Williams showed localized strength, carrying five or six precincts east of Frederick around Libertytown and New Market. The overall lesson: the suburbanized areas are now where the Republican primary is won or lost in the county.

In the 3rd District Senate primary, in which Delauter’s frequent ally Billy Shreve was far outdistanced (77-23) by businessman Craig Giangrande, it was once again the suburban and newer-home vote that had its way. Giangrande ran best in outlying parts of the district such as Jefferson, Oakdale, and Worman’s Mill, while Shreve tended to fare best in in-town districts.

The four-way primary contesting two at-large seats, won by Phil Dacey and Danny Farrar, did not draw a strongly regionalized vote.

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