11.16.13 It’s 2014 in Maryland Politics – D20 Candidates Forum
2013’s leaves haven’t even finished falling, but the Democratic campaigns for next June’s primary are well underway. This past Thursday evening, Takoma Park City Councilman Jarrett Smith (Ward 5) and progressive activist Terrill North (who is running for county council), put on a Maryland District 20 candidates forum at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park. The district, which includes Takoma Park and Silver Spring, is currently served in Annapolis by Democrats Senator Jamie Raskin and delegates Sheila Hixson, Tom Hucker, and Heather Mizeur. With Mizeur’s candidacy for governor (more on that another time), there will be one open delegate seat. The event this week featured nine contenders (along with Hucker, who offered a few remarks in the mode of elder statesman).
This was a mostly impressive line-up. Six or seven of the wannabes are capable of running viable campaigns and serving competently in Annapolis. As one would expect in D20, there is nary a centrist or conservative in the bunch (all hands up for marijuana legalization!). The district’s voters will have a dilemma of riches, enough to make one wish the talent could be distributed across the county for knocking out retrograde forces from MoCo’s state delegation.
I entered the forum knowing and being positively inclined toward two hopefuls: attorney Jonathan Shurberg and blogger/policy wonk David Moon, whom I knew from Raskin’s first campaign. And I had heard positive things about Will Smith, another Raskin alumnus. (You can expect Raskin to remain studiously neutral in the race, given the number of “family members” competing!)
From my perspective, Shurberg did not disappoint. As another attendee put it, Shurberg came off as the adult in the room. A passionate fighter for progressive causes, he is the only candidate to have written state legislation. He clearly gets Annapolis and would hit the ground running. He also has 20 years of experience of winning cases for individuals and families in need. If I were to vote today, Shurberg would be my choice. (This is not yet an endorsement – I have more to learn about other candidates.)
Moon also made a positive impression – giving perhaps the most compelling performance of the night. He is passionate and articulate, exciting lefties like me with his sharp rhetoric about the powers and policies that be. His Maryland Juice blog has had proven impact on public opinion and policy outcomes.
The question raised by Moon critics is whether he could get anything done as a legislator. They cite, for example, the number of enemies he has made through his blog. This blogger gets the difference between speaking truth to power and actually putting together legislative victories. I have chosen to have a big mouth rather than run for office. The roles are most definitely not the same. Does David realize that?
As much as I like David personally, here is why I oppose his candidacy: his ties to County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, probably the most venal and destructive politician in the county. Ervin provides the first endorsement quote in Moon’s printed lit and is front and center on the piece’s biggest photo. I’ll discuss Ervin in more detail another time, but the bottom line is that I cannot support any politician who is beholden to her and who will serve to increase her power. It is a shame that Moon has hitched his wagon to hers.
Smith was disappointing at the forum. He is clearly smart and capable, but so was nearly everyone else. He provided no rationale for his candidacy, no passion, no driving issue. My sources tell me that his strong suit is how hard he works – among other things, he is one of only two candidates in this race who has already been out knocking on doors, doing this essential job of sinking roots on the ground (added to those he has from being born and raised here). It is early. There is time for Smith to impress. My mind remains open.
D’Juan Hopewell is the new (to me) face who made the most positive impression this week. He was the only candidate to speak – and speak passionately – about poverty, hunger, and a progressive economic agenda. His primary issue – supporting small business – doesn’t light my fire, but I get the connection between commerce and jobs for those who need them. Count me intrigued.
One candidate left a distinctly negative taste in my mouth. White House staffer Will Jawando is clearly already running for Congress and beyond, with our district as stepping stone (ala Mizeur, who abused Takoma Park in her rush toward glory). He may well care about national policy, but gave no hint (apart from being raised here) of any insight into the district or Annapolis. He came off as somewhat arrogant and slick, assuming that his ties to Barack Obama automatically qualify him for this seat. (Being tied to Obama in 2013 provides zero value in my book – this ain’t 2007 or 2008.) His repeated pabulum about “raising two daughters” in the district was as nauseating as it was empty. Further, he proudly touted Valerie Ervin’s endorsement. If this is a black mark against someone I’d love to support (Moon), it is doubly so against someone who probably has no business wasting our time in this race.
Justin Chappell, the only disabled person in the race, has a track record of advocating those (not only the disabled) who need it. He is also already working hard, including door knocking. He is not a compelling speaker or visionary, though.
The issue of diversity came up, as it should have, for one of the most diverse areas in the state. Our current delegation is all white. Of the nine candidates at the forum three are African American (Hopewell, Jawando, Smith) and one is Asian American (Moon). Should progressives in D20 be favoring a minority candidate?
Look, I believe in affirmative action. I’ve proudly supported black candidates since Carl Stokes of Cleveland because the first African-American mayor of a major US city in 1967. Ultimately, though, I’d rather support someone who can get the job done on behalf of the dispossessed than look like them. Will I continue to regret that we have an all-white delegation if I end up backing a white candidate? Yes. Will that stop me from backing a white candidate if I decide she or he is likely to be most effective? No.
Speaking of she or he, it ain’t gonna be the former this time: not a single woman appeared on Thursday evening. (There evidently is a declared female challenger, but she chose not to show up, with the explanation that she doesn’t speak on Thursdays. ‘Nuff said.) But in gender terms, our delegation is more than balanced: Sheila Hixson – chair of the House Ways and Committee – is arguably the most powerful woman in Annapolis. I used to call her my favorite politician whom I wouldn’t vote for, because I found her too centrist. Well, she has moved left in recent years and I have come to respect how important her political power is to the big causes I care about the most. (She is also just plain nice, which doesn’t hurt.)
And I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to praise Tom Hucker, who has been working hard for us and for the greater good. There is no doubt in my mind that this choice is about filling one empty seat: D20 should absolutely stick with Raskin, Hixson, and Hucker! (To you term-limit supporters: how soon do you want these guys arbitrarily kicked out? The solution to bad elected officials is not term limits, but rather campaign-finance reform and voting against them!)
Big credit goes to Jarrett Smith and Terrill North for getting nine challengers out for a forum this early in the race and for the large audience that showed up in a part of Takoma Park that is practically famous for low political participation. This speaks to why I so enthusiastically supported Smith for city council and why I will be an active backer of North’s campaign for county council.
© 2013 Keith Berner