04.27.14 Seventh State blog takes cheap shots at Progressive Neighbors

I began following Maryland Politics Watch (MPW) in 2009. What I found there was unmatched coverage of the state political scene, great statistical analysis, and some just-the-facts reporting, including posts of candidates’ campaign lit, without comment or alteration. What I also found, was that Adam Pagnucco, who was then running the site, was providing biased coverage, without acknowledgment. As I reported in 2010, Pagnucco was acting as an undeclared front for Hans Riemer’s campaign for county council, at large. (Please remember, Hans Riemer is a liar. We owe it to future generations to end his political career right here and right now!)

When I called Pagnucco on this, his response was, “How many page views do you have?” which translates roughly to “How big is your dick?” Shortly thereafter, he banned me from commenting on his site. Shortly after that Riemer (the liar) won and Pagnucco became his chief of staff. He stopped writing for MPW after that.

This past February, David Lublin relaunched MPW as Seventh State. In its new incarnation, the blog seems to continue in Pagnucco’s footsteps: Great and thorough coverage. Even better writing and analysis than Pagnucco ever produced. And a mix of opinion and just-the-facts presentations that, again, may end up showing implicit biases that are not acknowledged.

(By comparison, this blog never claims to be anything but my opinion. I try to base my opinion on facts, but my readers know that if I say nice things about a politician, it means I am supporting her/him and vice versa.)

Lublin is clearly hostile to Progressive Neighbors (PN), the grassroots organization that has been endorsing Montgomery County candidates since 2006. (Full disclosure: I have been a PN member since its founding and briefly served on its steering committee.) On April 14, under the headline “Not So Progressive Neighbors,” Lublin claims that “a majority of incumbents” have refused to participate in PN’s endorsement process, because “5 of the 19 members of their Steering Committee are running for either the state legislature or the county council.” That is, PN is just too deeply mired in conflicts of interest to be worthy of politicians’ attention. Further, Lublin quotes one (supposedly) “liberal legislator” as saying “Nobody fills out their questionnaire because they demand extreme positions and offer nothing of value.”

First the facts: Out of 90 candidates listed on PN’s site, 57 returned its questionnaire, including every Democratic candidate for attorney general, MoCo county executive, and MoCo county at-large. So did two of the three gubernatorial candidates. This overall batting average of .633 is not too shabby for a small, underfunded, rule-by-consensus, unincorporated body that is heavily concentrated in the southeast part of the county (MD D20 and MoCo D5). PN has acquired such influcence in this part of Maryland, that — contrary to Lublin’s claims — candidates fall all over themselves to get its nod.

Lublin also completely ignores the fact that PN barred all candidates for public office from taking part in the endorsement process this year, regardless of candidates’ previous or current affiliation with the organization. (Candidates were barred from participation not only in analysis of their own races, but from any part of the endorsement process, which engendered some criticism within PN for excluding some of its best analysts from the process.) While claiming that PN is wrapped up in conflicts of interest, Lublin then makes the opposite case, pointing out that PN did not endorse two of its own steering committee members, Jonathan Shurberg and Will Smith, both candidates for MD D20 delegate. (Full disclosure, I have endorsed both Shurberg and Smith and will have more to say on that, soon.) So much for conflicts of interest determining outcomes.

Finally, apart from the one quote from a (supposed) liberal about PN’s (supposedly) extremist views, Lublin fails to provide any evidence of why a minority of candidates chose not to participate in PN’s process. There is no mention of incumbent overconfidence, disorganization, sheer laziness, or a reasonable acknowledgment by nonprogressive candidates that the process wouldn’t do them any good. Nor does he consider that much of this sprawling county is outside of PN’s core area, with lower participation in those areas the logical result.

Of the 33 nonparticipating candidates, how likely does it seem to you, Dear Reader, that these sorts of reasons apply to a significant percentage of those who gave PN a cold shoulder? For Lublin, it all comes down to conflicts of interest and extremism. (It’s almost comical to declare PN as extremist when the likes of Doug Gansler and Doug Duncan returned its questionnaire.)

Lublin is wrong on every single count here:
⁃ A significant majority of Democratic candidates running in MoCo this year participated in PN’s endorsement process
⁃ PN had no conflict of interest in its endorsement process this year
⁃ There could be any number of reasons why 33 politicians chose not to participate.

As if this one cheap shot at PN were not enough, Lublin piled on further with an April 23 post entitled “Progressive Neighbors Caves.” In this piece, Lublin says it is “bizarre” that PN did not initially endorse incumbent Ana Sol Guitérrez for D18 delegate. He accuses PN of then “quietly” (underhandedly, is the implication)  changing its mind in a “flawed process.” In fact, PN went out to all its dues-paying members (@ $10/year) to ask for feedback on the preliminary endorsements, just as it said it would. The feedback made a compelling case for including Gutiérrez. Is it a “flawed process” to respond to the democratic will of the membership? Is it a “cave” to do so?

Clearly, Progressive Neighbors gets under Lublin’s skin, to the extent that he just can’t honestly assess the organization’s processes and influence. And, Seventh State does not allow reader comments, which is why I am publishing my critique here, rather than going to Lublin first. (This blog does not block any comments. Unless you call me names without providing any content, all feedback is welcome.)

As I’ve said, there is plenty to recommend the new Seventh State. I will be an avid follower from now on. But readers beware: Just because the blog is thorough and well written does not mean it is accurate or unbiased. We should consume the blog’s content (and all journalism) with a skeptical eye and inquisitive mind.

©2014 Keith Berner


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