Archive for the ‘Montgomery County’ category

02.11.17 Slippery Hans does it again (re fossil fuel divestment; and he’s not the only bad guy)

February 11, 2017

On February 6, I posted about the Montgomery County bill to divest from fossil fuels (#44-16). I forwarded that post to all nine of council members – for most of them, it was at least the second time I had contacted them about this matter.

Two days later, I still hadn’t received any response from Tom Hucker, Nancy Floreen, and Hans Reimer, so I re-sent it to them, with this line on top:

“Where do you stand on this? Your silence is not acceptable.”

This time Riemer chose to respond:

If you watch the work session you may see my views . . . on this complicated legislation.” [emphasis added]

So, I wrote to him again:

“Hans—

Are you really telling me that if I want to know where you stand on a piece of public legislation, I need to sit through a Council work session? If I have misunderstood you, please set me straight.

—Keith”

What did I hear back? Nothing.

Hans Riemer has a long and shameful record* of trying to have it both ways, wanting to appear “progressive” (his favorite campaign word), while actually opposing progressive policy. The most egregious case was three years ago, when he fought long and hard to stop a minimum-wage increase and, when the final vote came, he kept his hand on the table until he counted five other hands in the air (meaning the bill would pass). Only then did he get on the bandwagon so that he could claim later to have helped the winning side. See the shameful (30-second) video here. (To be fair, Riemer was one of the good guys in the most recent effort to raise the wage. Even bad guys aren’t always wrong.)

Riemer has reached a new low in refusing to share where he stands with me, a constituent who has asked for him to state his position. His directive that I should sit through hours of discussion for the privilege of learning his positon is obnoxious.

Guess what, Hans Riemer? You work for me – I pay your salary!

So, Riemer is being his slippery self. But is that any worse than Nancy Floreen’s and Tom Hucker’s refusal to respond at all? Riemer is just dumber, because he has handed me more slimy rope with which to hang him. Give Floreen and Hucker credit for being more clever. But don’t give them too much credit, because their silence is also obnoxious.

Guess what, Nancy Floreen and Tom Hucker? You work for me – I pay your salary.

Meanwhile, George Leventhal – maintaining his record as THE most responsive member of County Council responded to me a second time about this issue. I respect Leventhal because of his forthrightness, but he is simply wrong on the issue. He wrote:

“There is no question that climate change is as great a challenge as any our planet and our species faces, but must we also divest from food and beverage companies because of the health risks posed by obesity? Must we divest from bank stocks because of risky investments in mortgage securities that brought on the Great Recession? Must we divest from Treasury bonds because we do not want to finance Donald Trump’s deficit spending to build a Wall on the Mexican border? How are we to respond when activist movements ask us to divest from these securities?”

Slippery-slope arguments like this are impossible to contest, because they rely on some mythical greater harm to be caused in the future by someone(s) who might — in misguided pursuit of purity – push too far. A slippery slope is fear mongering: in this case Leventhal is basically saying that we can’t trust the small minds on county council to distinguish between one policy with clear justification and a different policy with less (or none at all). Perhaps he’s right about the small minds, though.

I note that none of the councilmembers, Slippery Hans, Silent Nancy & Tom, or Leventhal disputed my math: a worst-case impact of fossil fuel divestment on the overall county portfolio would come to a 0.008% reduction in the rate of return.

Even if this measure were purely symbolic (as Leventhal claims), it is a no-brainer because it couldn’t do any more than infinitesimal harm. In fact, fossil-fuel divestment is not only symbolic: if enough pension funds and other investors pull out of these funds, their values will drop. When their values drop, other investors will pull out or not opt in. And a large enough value drop will punish the largest owners of the mega oil and gas firms in the one part of their beings that has feeling: their wallets. Less spending money for these evil-doers means less money for them to invest in purchasing more climate-change deniers for Congress.

It appears right now that Bill 44-16 has support only from its sponsors, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, and Nancy Navarro. With a likely veto from blindly pro-business county executive, Ike Leggett, we need a mass effort to turn three more votes on the Council.

+++++

*Here’s a Hall of Shame of previous posts about Riemer:

It is early for me to target Riemer, given that his inevitable campaign for reelection won’t heat up for many months. Don’t worry, Dear Readers: I’ll be prepared to repost all of this when the time is right.

+++++

As for Nancy Floreen, she has nothing to fear from progressive criticism, since (1) she has a long record as the least progressive member of Council and industry pals have kept her afloat, regardless, and (2) she is term-limited and will stand zero chance in a race for county executive.

For Tom Hucker, it’s another story. His seat is comfortable only as long has he is able to keep a progressive label. Hucker’s record is good overall, but it won’t be helped by ignoring constituents or siding with the fossil-fuel industry.

+++++

Please contact your members (district, plus four at-large):

Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov (D1) – co-sponsor

Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – co-sponsor

Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – silent

Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov (D5) – silent

Councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov (D3) – ?

Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – opposed

Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov (D4) – co-sponsor

Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov (D2) – ?

Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov (At-Large) – slippery

©2017 Keith Berner

02.06.17 Montgomery County must divest from fossil fuels (support Bill 44-16)

February 6, 2017

Bill 44-16 before the Montgomery County (MD) Council would require the country to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Credit goes to Roger Berliner (he’s not ALL bad), Marc Elrich, and Nancy Navarro for co-sponsoring this important legislation. I have already written to all my councilmembers about this. George Leventhal continued his record of being the only councilmember who responds to (my) constituent inquiries, but he is wishy-washy on this issue, writing to me, “This is not an easy call. I understand its symbolic value but I am concerned about anything that may put at risk the county’s ability to keep its promise to retirees.”

I have heard nothing from Nancy Floreen, Hans Riemer, or Tom Hucker, my other reps.

Supporting divestment should be a no-brainer. According to the Washington Post, fossil-fuel investments constitute $65 million, out of a $4-billion MoCo portfolio, or 1.65%.  So if we assume that moving those investments elsewhere would produce a rate of return 0.5% lower than leaving them where they are (this is a pessimistic assumption, since there are plenty of well-performing investments outside this industry), the overall impact would come to a 0.008% reduction in the portfolio’s rate of return. Bottom line: even under a pessimistic assumption, the impact would be negligible.

Those arguing against divestment either haven’t done the math, are climate-change deniers, or have a personal stake in the fossil fuel-industry.
Please contact your members (district, plus four at-large):
Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov
Probably a bit less effective, but still worthwhile would be to use either use 350moco.org’s petition or to write to all councilmembers at once using the Council website.
©2017 Keith Berner

01.15.17 David Trone: He’s baaaaack (and will be uglier than ever)

January 15, 2017

As you may recall, liquor salesman David Trone burst on the local political scene a year ago (after never having done a thing for the people and communities of the region) by spending $13-million to purchase a seat in Congress (MD-8). This came after years of  contributions to right-wingers around the country in order to increase his personal profits from hooch sales in their jurisdictions. Trone might have won, had another glory-seeking, right-wing contributing pro-business candidate — Kathleen Matthews — not split the anti-progressive vote with him. Fortunately, Jamie Raskin benefited from the contest between Matthews and Trone.

Will we be so lucky when Trone jumps into the 2018 race for Montgomery County executive (primary date: June 2018)?

In fact, the chances are that it will be progressssive candidates who will split the vote when Trone dumps $20-30 million into an attempt to purchase the entire county. (Think it’s too early to conjecture about the reign of havoc Trone intends for us? See Seventh State blog.)

Get scared now, MoCo progressives. 

June 2018 seems a long ways away. But if we are going to beat Trone, we have to start thinking right now about how. A number of regressive candidates, besides Trone, have already indicated an interest in running, including Roger Berliner (against a livable wage, against a plastic bag ban), Nancy Floreen (the Queen of Concrete), and Craig Rice (ditto the critiques of Floreen and Berliner).

There are only two likely candidates worthy of serious consideration by progressives: Marc Elrich and George Leventhal.

My working hypothesis is that Berliner, Floreen, and Rice can’t win against Trone, because he will spend them into oblivion and their Big Developer pals will desert them for the guy with the Real Big Money.

What scares me is that Elrich and Leventhal will both be strong, their supporters and campaigns will be bitter enemies, and the injuries they inflict on each other will end up enabling Trone to walk into office. 

My assessment of Elrich and Leventhal will start out with the usual set of criteria: ideology (particularly: will Leventhal choose to step away from his longstanding ties with the development industry) and competence (who is more likely to be able to run an effective county government). With Trone’s specter looming over the proceedings, though, a vital third criterion will come into play: which is able to run the perfect campaign to beat Trone.

So, my dear progressive readers, we may experience déja vu all over again: just as many Bernie supporters had to swallow hard and back Hillary to stop Trump*, either Elrich or Leventhal supporters will have to drop some pride and some ideology to back the candidate who can win. We all better start contemplating this prospect now. We will  need a pre-primary, where a comparison of campaign messaging, organization, and money raising acts as our guide for whom to ultimately back in June. I expect we will be able to make that assessment by a year or so from now.

*Yeah, I know the bet on Hillary didn’t work out. But, the Bernie supporters who claim with certainty now that he would have run better against Trump are taking hindsight conjecture and trying to turn it into predictive fact. And, the continued bitter sniping between “Berners” (I love that designation!) and Clinton fans is a demonstration of why forces of evil beat the left (center left and more left) so often.

See my previous posts about suburban Maryland’s own Trump equivalent:

©2017 Keith Berner

01.06.17 Lorig Charkoudian for D20 Delegate

January 6, 2017

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

12.07.16 County Council disses Marc Elrich, as usual

December 7, 2016

At the bottom, you’ll see Nancy Floreen’s celebration of the council’s great new leadership: Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer. Above it you’ll see my letter to the councilmembers. Please remember this when all of them run for county executive (against Marc) in 2018.

Subject: MoCoCo new leadership announcement
Date: December 6, 2016 at 21:00:41 EST

This new leadership is another deliberate exclusion of the most popular and nearly longest serving councilmember: Marc Elrich.Marc beat you other at-large members twice in a row and has now served 10 years on the Council. I’m sure Marc is a big boy and can withstand the evident enmity from his council colleagues, but *I* am insulted. All of you who have conspired to keep Marc out of leadership have betrayed me and thousands of other Moco voters who support him more than they do you. I and others will have a long memory.

©2016 Keith Berner
nancy_floreen_s_montgomery_in_focus__december_2016_-_inbox

10.30.16 Keith Berner’s Biennial Voters Guide (oppose term limits!)

October 30, 2016

I do not have an original fall edition for 2016, because the top-of-the-ticket races are too obvious to require my analysis and I lack the expertise to analyze most of the down-ticket races. Therefore, I refer my readers to Progressive Neighbors* — my favorite local political organization — for advice on school board, judges and ballot questions. (Since PN hasn’t posted their endorsements to their website yet, I’ll paste an image of them below.)

I do want to comment, though, on Robin Ficker’s ballot initiative to inflict term limits on Montgomery County and urge you to Vote “no” on Question B. Why oppose term limits?

  • Term limits are inherently anti-democratic: they take away from the voter the opportunity to select whichever candidates they want for public office.
  • While there is understandable sentiment to “throw the bums out,” there is already a democratic means to do so: elections. In the absence of campaign-finance reform, built-in incumbent advantages make make term limits appear attractive. Even so, Montgomery County has implemented campaign finance reform, rendering this argument moot this year in this place.
  • Governing is difficult. To be an effective legislator or executive requires arcane knowledge and on-the-job experience. Forcing amateurs to replace professionals on a regular basis undermines government effectiveness. This is a selling point for anti-government fanatics like Ficker, but no moderate or progressive should fall for it.
  • Term limits actually increase the influence of special interests. Neophyte legislators are more easily manipulated by big-money interests than those who have learned how to reject empty marketing that is not in the public interest. Also, these neophytes are significantly more likely to hire as aides lobbyists in sheep’s clothing. A revolving door between industry and government relies on gullible legislators.
  • If Robin Ficker is for it, that’s reason enough to oppose it. Ficker has been trying to undermine good governance in Montgomery County for nearly 20 years. There is no difference between Ficker and the Tea Party. Ficker has tried and failed twice previously to get term limits through. He has put referendum after referendum on the ballot to prevent the country from raising the funds to provide necessary services. Last time he tried this, he succeeded: it now takes a supermajority of 7 (out of 9) votes on the county council to raise taxes.

Unfortunately, there is a very good chance that Ficker’s current stunt will succeed. A recent county tax hike and upcoming raises for councilmembers have put MoCo voters in a sour mood. The current incumbents bear a lot of blame for the sour mood. They have done an abysmal job of proactively communicating with constituents about what they’re up to and why. Progressiveson the council have failed utterly to mobilize constituents against bad policy. Party of me says the incumbents have what’s coming to them. But, we must not forget that this referendum is not about meting out punishment, but rather about preserving democracy and increasing the chance of good public policy in the future. Politics as a fit of pique is what Robin Ficker and Donald Trump both espouse and embody.

*When you visit Progressive Neighbors’ website, please take the time to make a contribution. This grass roots residents’ movement has had a profound impact on local politics since its founding in 2006 and needs your support to keep up their work.

©2016 Keith Berner

 

 

progressive_neighbors_2016_endorsement_recommendations_for_review_-_inbox

07.02.16 County Council repeals employee benefits for domestic partners

July 2, 2016

An open letter to regressive Montgomery County Council members. . .

To: George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen & Hans Riemer:

I am extremely disappointed that you voted (and George led the effort) to strip county employees’ domestic partner benefits. In order to save about $1.98, you have placed MoCo firmly on the side of regressive social policy. Sure, domestic-partner benefits were often created to get around discrimination against same-sex couples. But these benefits also took government out of any role in judging the shapes of love and families. As for some of the where-do-you-draw-the-line/where-does-does-it-ever-stop complains I’ve seen on Facebook, this is not rocket science. My nonprofit employers allows staff to designate one domestic partner, without any demand to see a marriage certificate. The fact that Marty Ittner and I live at the same address is good enough for them — why shouldn’t it be good enough for the county?

I congratulate Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, and Craig Rice for being on the correct side of this issue. But I’m also disappointed that they didn’t warn their constituents in advance of this misguided action so that public pressure could have been brought to bear. (And I congratulate MD Delegate David Moon for alerting me and many others to the issue on Facebook.)

—Keith

©2016 Keith Berner