01.06.17 Lorig Charkoudian for D20 Delegate

Jamie Raskin’s election to Congress in November kicked off a chain of events: first the need to fill his seat in the Maryland Senate and then, when sitting delegate Will Smith was appointed in Raskin’s place, the need fill that seat. The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) will make that appointment this coming Monday, January 9. To influence their selection, please write to all their members (see below) before Monday evening.

Last night, I attended a candidate forum in Silver Spring, sponsored by the MCDCC, Progressive Neighbors, and other organizations. The forum was an opportunity for six candidates to make their cases. (Information about five of the six candidates can be found on the MCDCC website – Yvette Butler is inexplicably missing.)

The good news is that D20 has some great talent ready to serve: five of the six candidates would most likely do a fine job in the role (and the sixth might stand out in a less talented field). And all of them have a clear record of community service (something that has been sorely lacking in recent local candidates for office (e.g., David Trone, Kathleen Matthews, and Will Jawando).

Lorig Charkoudian was the clear winner last night. She was the most articulate of the candidates, able to respond quickly and clearly to everything tossed her way, with barely an “um” to be heard. What was most impressive about Charkoudian was her wealth of experience writing and promoting legislation (she is clearly the hit-the-ground-running candidate). She also was able to address, with specifics, topics well beyond her core expertise in criminal-justice reform and conflict mediation, things like environmental legislation, food security, and economic justice.

Jheanelle Wilkins, gets an honorable mention. She also has legislative experience, is able to articulate her positions clearly, and displayed knowledge across range of policy topics. Unfortunately, Wilkins is a member of the very MCDCC that will make this appointment. This represents an unacceptable conflict of interest. In fact, I intend to push publicly for the Central Committee to bar its current members from seeking office in the future.

Also, I was disturbed by Wilkins’s willingness to throw marijuana legalization under the bus unless the licenses for medical marijuana growers are distributed more fairly (i.e,. awarding licenses to one or more African American firms). I agree with her that the licensing process has been discriminatory (and embarrassing), but holding something good hostage to the repair of something bad is nuts. Would Wilkins be more devoted to such games of chicken than to policymaking?

Darian Unger also has some experience in drafting and pushing legislation. His service with Progressive Neighbors and as a volunteer firefighter is impressive and there is no question about his desire to serve. Just the same, his expertise seems narrower than some of the others, focusing mostly on the environment and civil liberties (topics dear to my heart). Unger seems to get easily tongue tied (I have heard him speak several times) and has a bothersome tendency to cross from policy advocacy to self-promotion. (This is a subtle point and I would understand if others found it less disturbing than I do.)  Just as in the case of Wilkins’s service on the MCDCC, I will be disturbed if Progress Neighbors endorses Unger.

Daniel Koroma and Yvette Butler impress with long records of passionate community service. But in comparison to the others, they seem less prepared to enter the legislative fray and less knowledgeable across a range of issues. I’m also a stickler for candidates’ abiding by the time limits set in candidate forums. Butler’s opening statement was past the 2-minute mark and seemed far from complete when she had to be asked to cease several times before complying. This being the second forum in as many days, one would think she would have learned in the first session and edited her statement, accordingly.

Amy Cress is the least prepared of the of the bunch and seems solely focused on gun control and special-needs education.

Three of the candidates knew me prior to getting into this race: Charkoudian, Unger, and Wilkens. Of these, only Charkoudian asked for my support. I count this against the other two, not because my ego needs that kind of stroking, but rather because an essential legislative skill is the ability to recognize and mobilize supporters. If candidates fail to ask for support when they are running, I wonder whom they will forget to call once they are in office. (To be fair, Wilkins only knows me from my letter to the Central Committee last month regarding the senate appointment. The fact that she responded to me then is a plus; the fact that she didn’t keep my contact info or note that I’m an activist worthy of being cultivated is a minus.)

Final note: I don’t know why, but candidate forums seem always to be poorly managed. I remember when a moderator at a Democratic Party forum few years ago thought it would be a good idea to measure time limits using an analog kitchen timer (rather than digital means). I’ve seen Progressive Neighbors fail more than once to set up coherent processes for Q&A. The big failure last night was having the moderator pose three questions at a time (in multiple rounds) to the candidates and giving each candidate only one minute to answer – and, sometimes, the three questions had nothing to do with each other. Not a single candidate was able to address all three questions every time and the audience was cheated out of more thoughtful replies by the candidates.

I suggest that no organization should sponsor or moderate candidate forums without serious forethought and talented moderators.

Please write to all members of the MDCC to support Lorig Charkoudian (I have omitted Wilkins from this list for obvious reasons). You do not have to write an essay – simply stating your view is enough. Here’s the list to write to:

@2017 Keith Berner

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