Let’s talk about that Dianne Feinstein video

As a left winger, I pride myself in calling out fake news from the right. As a supporter of County Executive Marc Elrich, I never hesitate to call out Greater Greater Washington or developer-funded detractors when they take his comments out of context. And yet… I have to say that the left is not innocent of this either.

You’ve seen the video. I even fell for it and reposted it. Children along with activists from the Sunrise Movement visited Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) begging her to support the Green New Deal, as-is, and she responds to them with a condescending tone, barking at them, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years.” The video presents her as old, stale, and out-of-touch.

The truth is, this was a doctored video. It was edited and spliced to show Sen. Feinstein’s worst responses and tone without any surrounding context. The full response was several minutes long and reveals that Feinstein did indeed engage with the students, and did so in a way that takes them seriously as future adults instead of telling them what they want to hear. I will say, the Sunrise Movement did itself no favors by releasing the doctored video, given that the full version is now circulating. You can watch the full video here.

The Atlantic published a lengthy defense of Feinstein, describing her response as mature and realistic while scolding the children for being rude and underinformed. The article makes a very fair and important point that accomplished “old women” like Feinstein, who have endured many battles to get where they are, need to be respected not merely for their age but for their experience, wisdom, and grit. I agree with this point – but I do think the Atlantic was much too forgiving of Feinstein and too dismissive of the children, the Sunrise Movement, and the idealism of the incoming young progressives in Congress.

In my opinion, the full version of her response does not exonerate Senator Feinstein. While I applaud her for being honest and tough in her response to the children – I much prefer this over smiling and telling them what they want to hear and making promises she has no intention of keeping – I still don’t think she is right. I can respect her for her wisdom and experience, but there is still the bad to be taken with the good, as far as her “doing this for 30 years.”

I do not think Feinstein is gleefully and maliciously out of touch with her constituency. I don’t envision her donning a Marie Antoinette wig and issuing a watered-down proposal as a “cake” version of the Green New Deal. I think she is being honest about how she feels about the viability and constraints of trying to get something like the GND passed. She may not be deliberately isolating herself from the masses, but she is acclimated to a certain Washington culture and mindset.
This is all the more reason to embrace people like AOC not only for their energy and urgency but for simply seeing things differently; for still being on the outside looking in, so to speak. She doesn’t come in with the assumption that something is not going to work; she instead asks, why not? For example, when Feinstein says that we don’t have a way to pay for the Green New Deal, she isn’t entertaining ideas that make certain entities accustomed to the status quo uncomfortable. Defense spending, lower marginal tax rates on the wealthy, and corporate subsidies are all a given, according to most people in Washington. It’s “just too complicated” to mess with.

It may be ironic to compare the AOC way of looking at things to what is usually attributed to a very capitalist mindset, but AOC is operating on the American Dream mentality. You know, everything that libertarian capitalist idealists want you to believe – that if you can work hard, anything is possible; the self-made entrepreneur who starts with $5 in his pocket, that sort of thing.

Yes, the Green New Deal looks impossible. It may very well be impossible. But AOC is saying that we should try. That if we clear out the usual Washington assumptions of how things have to get done and tap into the rest of our un-jaded potential, that we can at least get pretty damn close to these goals.

Senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, among others, has said that the Green New Deal is an “aspiration.” This is true. I wouldn’t use the term dismissively, however. Many notable achievements were at one time “aspirations.” Going to the moon. Running a 4 minute mile. Summiting Everest. The original New Deal.  The Green New Deal is a similar calibre aspiration. It is supposed to be HARD.

I’ll save this tangent for a future blog, but…depending on to what degree the UN scientists who give us twelve years to turn things around are correct, we may need to undergo a paradigm shift that is an order of magnitude greater than AOC to fight climate change. While I am no proponent of communism or any kind of forced collectivism, we may need to shift away from our individualism-based mentality to unleash a collectivized “excited delirium” (the alleged phenomenon where a mother can lift a car to save her child, etc) to achieve something currently deemed impossible in order to save the planet.

Until that happens, let’s give the idealism of AOC, the Sunrise Movement, and the children in Dianne Feinstein’s office a chance.

Coming Soon: 2020 Candidates

I was this close to titling this blog entry “2020 Visions” but I decided it was far too cringeworthy a cliche to even use mockingly.

Taking a step beyond Montgomery County for a few weeks – a step so far as to venture six miles down the road to the White House – I’ll be considering some of the candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Spoiler alert: I am undecided. Wholly undecided. And I probably will be for the next year.

I will look at debate performances and endorsements among other things to determine viability and such, while keeping in mind that I want the most progressive President we can get.

The most progressive President we can get. Not necessarily the most progressive candidate. This isn’t to say I think the most electable candidate against Trump will be the one that runs to the center; rather, the one who best articulates and sells progressive policy positions to disaffected “Obama-Trump” voters. The best candidate will not necessarily be the most centrist nor the most progressive, but the most convincing. 

This being said, I am open to voting for someone, in crowded primary no less, who isn’t lock-step aligned with my views on every position. There is a reasonable case to be made for electing the most progressive candidates to the House and the Senate to draft legislation that we want, and to elect a President who won’t veto it.

For the next few weeks, I will make cases for three or four different candidates I am considering supporting for the 2020 primary. I’ll make it no secret once I do make my decision. For now, though, all I ask is this:

Can we please, please make this primary about the issues. Fantasy as it may be, I hope this primary brings out the best in all the candidates and that we have an earnest discussion and debate on policies and how to implement them. NOT tearing each other apart. NOT making Trump’s job easier. NOT providing Trump with far more clever schoolyard insults than the ones he comes up with himself.

I will support the nominee, even if it’s my least favorite Democratic candidate.

I will support that nominee 200%.


Does the Left have a diversity problem?

A few days ago, a Facebook post from a well-known local environmental activist was attacked on the grounds that, apparently, only well-connected, older, white people were invited to meet with the County Executive and the new Department of Environmental Protection director.

Granted, some folks on the right and center-right are inclined to simply press CTRL-F “Elrich” and release their daily angst on whatever comes up, but this time, they may have stumbled upon an actual issue worth talking about on the left: Do some activist circles lack diversity?

Robin Ficker gave us all a few laughs when he incessantly referred to Montgomery County’s political establishment as coming from the “Takoma Park Trapezoid.” This criticism, however, extended beyond the GOP’s perennial court jester candidate. David Blair’s almost-successful County Executive primary bid was driven largely by younger upcounty residents of color seeking to give their communities a voice, and perhaps shift some political influence away from Takoma Park/Silver Spring to also heavily populated Germantown/Gaithersburg. These residents are not wrong.

In Montgomery County, the “establishment/outsider” dynamic is not so clear-cut as Washington’s “progressive-insurgent/centrist-insider” dynamic. How can Takoma Park politicians be the “establishment” while they are also the most “far left”? Is it now “anti-establishment” or even “edgy” to be more centrist, conservative, or pro-business? This could be a topic for another time, but what is worth considering is the diversity of Montgomery County’s political Left.

It would be incorrect to suggest that the political left consists of mainly old white people, but certain activist groups, based on my observation, do trend older and whiter. Again, based entirely on my own observations, Progressive Maryland’s core is very young and quite diverse, while the Democratic Socialists of America is young, though skewed white and male. I had commented on the facebook group in question that there are a number of stakeholder advocacy groups centered around racial identity, immigrants, and faith-based initiatives that regularly meet with and influence the Council and the Executive. The criticism of Executive Elrich and the Takoma Park Left-activist “establishment” (these words do seem very strange to put together) stems from the idea that there is an inner circle of long-time political activists that know each other well and are first to consult with one another and answer each other’s calls. This may or may not be true. Aside from trolls or people simply looking for something to complain about, no one is suggesting that the activist left is intentionally racist, but that they had simply formed a clique by nature of working with each other for decades.

While I can’t speak for the lizard-skinned hippie cabal of Takoma Park baby boomer leftist – probably because this cabal really isn’t a thing – I can speak for the fact that “they” are not shutting people out of their “clique” intentionally. Most activists, such as environmental activist Diana Conway and education activist Laura Stewart, are very easy to talk to. There is no specific roadblock – or password, or secret handshake – to having one’s voice heard on a variety of issues. The problem, in my opinion, is accessibility.

A friend of mine, a 20-something activist named Danielle, has agreed with me that aside from civic activist groups directed specifically towards younger people, civic engagement in local public policy and/or campaigns tends to be “old white people.” Take the County Executive for example. Even if Elrich won votes from young, working class people of color – they didn’t really make up the demographic that attended his events and rallies. Aside from his interns and volunteers and their friends, most in attendance were Baby Boomers who had known Elrich for a while. This doesn’t make Elrich or his supporters less progressive, but it does say something about an accessibility or enthusiasm gap.

What Danielle and I agreed upon was the problem that those for whom public policy affects the most…unfortunately have the least accessibility to influence them. When you think about how to get involved or have your voice heard – it means waiting in line to speak at listening sessions at two-hour forums in the evenings. It means driving or taking transit to Silver Spring or Rockville to attend events. It means sifting through the constant Trump news to the local section of the Washington Post (and getting around the paywall) to find out what’s going on in Montgomery County (and then sort from the slanted editorials to the actual news). Try doing all of this when you are the one who is actually working the minimum wage jobs and trying to raise children. If you are juggling bills, multiple jobs, and a family, are you to be shamed for not knowing that there is an election coming up? Are you supposed to have the right opinion about whether or not the Beltway should be expanded? If your number one local policy concern is whether or not your rent is going up, how do you know who to believe – Hans Riemer and Dan Reed who tell you that we need to deregulate real estate development so we can build more housing everywhere, or the Takoma Park Left who tell you that rent stabilization will solve the problem? You probably know my answer, but how are busy people supposed to know?

It is an unfortunate, but fair argument to make that civic activism is a “luxury” for those who have the time and resources to commit. It is understandable that two to three-hour biweekly meetings in a single downcounty location would be dominated by retirees, stay-at-home spouses, or those successful enough in their careers that they can make their own schedules. Or, you know, lonely weirdo single nine-to-five people like me. I would argue that this is why some factions on the left may have a “diversity problem” – not so much because of deliberate exclusion.

A number of us younger activists are making the following suggestions to the Takoma Park/Silver Spring “Old Guard” of well-meaning progressives:

  • Offer more online and live stream options, such as the recent Virtual Town Hall, on specific issues that affect low income residents.
  • Continue the effort to have more public forums in upcounty and East county locations, but advertise them more on social media.
  • Encourage small group meetings, such as the recent meeting we had on affordable housing, to discuss specific issues that involve young people and people of color.

And our suggestions to fellow local activists:

  • Address environmental issues that affect low-income areas and articulate why they are important to someone with a busy schedule.
  • Involve immigrant and faith-based stakeholder groups in discussions of environmental, labor, and housing policy, so that our respective interests are not siloed.

To elected officials and activists alike:

  • Be open to solutions to problems that might not align with one’s ideological mindset. Approach solutions to concerns about housing, jobs, the environment, income inequality, and transportation that are governed by data, case studies, and real life evidence, as opposed to a particular ideological interpretation. The idea is to find out what works, not what gives us the most leftist street cred – or what makes us look more appealing to the center. Leave politics aside for a moment. Solve a problem, then campaign on having solved that problem.

#BrunchGoals: County Executive Discusses Affordable Housing with Millennials

If there is anything that we Millennials know how to do right, whether we can really afford it or not, it’s brunch. In fact, I think it is my generation that has made it a thing to use “brunch” as a verb.

So when the Montgomery County blogosphere erupted at County Executive Marc Elrich’s recent Millennialgate gaffe, we both decided that a brunch at the Takoma DC Busboys and Poets would be a good opportunity to demonstrate that no, the County Executive is not trying to kick all the kids off his lawn. In a meeting with supporters and critics alike, which included women, people of color, and all of us under 35, we discussed the nuts and bolts of accessible dwelling units, MPDUs, the developer preference to stack single-bedroom units one on top of the other to align the plumbing, potential paths for tenant ownership, and co-op banks.

We didn’t really harp on “Millennialgate.” The context of the infamous comment reveals that Elrich spent about three minutes discussing displacement of low-income and immigrant communities and about three seconds referring to “housing for millennials” of a higher income range. At first, I had assumed that Marc was referring to a specific group of gentrifiers, high-income young consultants and tech professionals who want snazzy apartments with all the amenities right next to a metro stop. What would be more accurate is to take the comment in reverse – that the developers are marketing these new luxury units to millennials, regardless of whether most millennials can even afford them.

Rather than belabor the “controversial” remark, Elrich spoke at length as to where the housing shortages and surpluses lie. The County Executive stated that there is, in fact, a surplus of housing for the $60K-80K income range, or at what various sources (to be examined in a future blog) estimate to be in the upper third for millennial household (couple) incomes and upper quartile for millennial individuals. There is also a surplus of housing for the ~$50K household income bracket, which qualifies for MPDUs. Where the real dearth of housing is for the bottom 30% of household incomes, which includes minimum wage earners. This income bracket is left to attempt to find housing with more than three adults in the household, or to spend over 50% of their gross income on rent. Once the bottom 30% demand is met, it would free up the housing intended for the “missing middle” income bracket above the current MPDU threshold. Disclosure: Your author would fit in this “missing middle” housing requirement bracket, considering the added constraints of monthly student loan payments that render the “30% rule” for rent burden not strict enough.

The County Executive also touched upon opportunities for renters to become eventual owners with the assistance of nonprofits and co-op banks. He talked about using container units for shotgun-style housing for homeless. He also fleshed out the downsides of accessible dwelling units and defended regulations, which remains up for debate amongst the Executive and the County Council. (This matter will also be discussed in a future blog). More importantly, Elrich contested the claim from Greater Greater Washington, Hans Riemer and Dan Reed (whom your author suspects are working in tandem) that the low income and immigrant displacement resulting from new developments that the County Executive opposes is not actually happening. Elrich maintained that the reason why the displacements have not happened is directly because of his oppositions to the master plans that would have caused them, such as the upzoning of Long Branch along the future Purple Line.

So, yeah. The County Executive does care about what millennials have to say about our financial and housing concerns. And, we, like, really geeked out about it. The other remarkable thing is that, politically speaking, Marc really didn’t have to meet with us. The thought had crossed my mind that, while a fair number of millennials and gen-Z voters did vote for Elrich in the primary and general elections because of their affinity for Bernie Sanders-style progressives, he might not have really needed the youth vote. Objective critics and staunch opponents claim that Elrich has locked up a base of old, white, wealthy anti-development “NIMBY” voters alongside aging hippies in Takoma Park. Whether the young progressive vote ended up putting Elrich over the edge to victory or not, the County Executive took two hours to talk with eight of us and answer all of our questions in painstaking detail, and offered to make this a semi-regular discussion group. We all just really want to hash out the best affordable housing strategies and get things done.

As Stefani Olsen commented on Zach Wiita’s facebook post about the gathering, “The millenial/old hippie alliance is a good one. Seize that gold.”

Marc and Larry: Two Adults Trying to Make a Deal.

Meet Marc and Larry.

They want to fix traffic. Marc has an idea – Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on major roads, and reversible lanes on I-270. Larry wants to widen 270 and the Beltway and add toll lanes.

Larry knows the state budget and common conventions of urban and suburban traffic. Marc knows the layout of Montgomery County’s land and where widening a highway would be problematic (or impossible) because of homes, waterways, and bridges.

Speaking of bridges, Marc also wants to fix the American Legion Bridge, the source of major Beltway bottlenecks. Larry is listening.

Marc and Larry disagree on a lot of things. But they are listening to each other. They are listening to their constituents. They want to fix traffic.

Marc and Larry also have an orange-faced neighbor named Donald.

Donald wants to build a wall. A big, beautiful Wall.

Donald promised Mexico would pay for the Wall. Mexico said no.

Donald wants his Wall. Donald asked Chuck and Nancy if he could pay for the Wall with Your Taxes. Chuck and Nancy said no.

Donald cried on Twitter. Chuck and Nancy offered some money for border security in a form other than a concrete Wall. Donald doesn’t want to play without his favorite toy.

Donald cried on Twitter. He wants his Wall. He wants his toys, and he wants to pay for them with Your Taxes. But Americans are losing money. The government is still unfudned, and 800,000 Americans are losing paychecks. Some of them may even lose their jobs. These Americans aren’t spending money. American shops and restaurants are losing business. Americans don’t even want to travel and fly on planes that aren’t inspected and don’t have TSA security.

But Donald doesn’t care, he wants his Wall!

People disagree with Donald. Donald calls them Fake News. Donald calls them Haters and Losers.

Donald does not listen to Chuck and Nancy. Donald doesn’t listen to anyone. Donald is not an adult, like Marc and Larry.

Donald needs a nap. Donald needs a time out. Donald needs his phone taken away. Because every morning, at 5am, he shares his Trumpertantrums to the world on Twitter. Tantrums he has because he’s scared.

Donald is scared. Donald knows it’s Mueller Time.

Lessons for 2019

Happy New Year,  MoCo and beyond!

To be honest, I don’t necessarily agree with people who say that they are glad 2018 is over. I thought most of 2018 was exhilarating. For the most part, it ended well (electorally speaking). It could have been better for sure, but it wasn’t bad. I have to say I will miss going out there canvassing and holding campaign events and such. Next time around.

That said, I’m not going to speculate on national elections for 2020…yet. I’ll weigh in on that sometime in the future. What I do want to throw out there are some lessons for 2019…the year where we put our money where our mouth is (literally?) This is what I think Democratic voters – not necessarily just the millennial left – should keep in mind this year.

1. Scrap the Centrist vs. Progressive narrative.

I know I’ve fallen into this trap myself. The media certainly has, from CNN to MSNBC to the Young Turks, everyone is trying to make the case for either moderate Democrats or progressive/socialist Democrats being the answer to take on Trump in 2020 or win swing state elections or what have you. We certainly have competing cases – Moderate Conor Lamb winning in Pennsylvania, Andrew Gillum losing Florida after campaigning with Hillary Clinton,  centrist Claire McCaskill losing in red state Missouri, Ben Jealous winning the primary but then losing as predicted, a wave of progressive newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez taking out centrist incumbents in blue districts, moderate Democrats in Virginia winning convincingly over Republicans, and our Marc Elrich demolishing center-right Nancy Floreen in the general election. One might be inclined to assume that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez or Marc Elrich could only win in deep blue districts and moderate Democrats are what is needed in swing districts. Beto O’Rourke, who is charismatic but with a rather centrist voting record, overperformed in Texas, but Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly did not benefit from their pivots to the center-right. Sherrod Brown, a possible presidential candidate, is a labor Democrat who won in Ohio, which voted for Trump. Basically, everyone is going to have their own argument about who wins or loses where, and why.

We need to throw this reasoning out the window.

The most successful candidate is not going to be the most centrist or the most progressive by default. The most successful candidate will be the one who campaigns on issues people actually care about.

This is why pro-labor politicians win in the Rust Belt. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan did not reject Hillary Clinton because she was just too liberal. They saw that the Clinton brand of the Democratic Party was not delivering and they chose to break glass in the event of emergency (and now are left with a mess of broken glass).

In Virginia, Danica Roem won against a transphobic blowhard not simply because she is transgender, but because she focused on improving traffic on Route 28.

Looking at Maryland, I somewhat agree with the analysis in Seventh State as to why Ben Jealous lost. My personal impression of Jealous was that he didn’t appear well versed enough on the nuts and bolts of the issues during his debates. His initial statements on the Kirwan Commission did not fly well with Montgomery voters who are worried about the prosperous County being treated as an ATM for the rest of the state. His arguments on how to fund a statewide single payer healthcare system were not sound enough, even for those who agree with him on principle. I agree with the conclusion in Seventh State that Jealous would have won against a right-wing extremist, but juxtaposed against a (perceived) moderate like Hogan, Maryland voters were just not sold on Jealous’ message – especially when some supporters attempted to lean on Republican racism and identity politics (which I generally find to be a dead end).

That said, I would disagree with any assumption that Ben Jealous was too left wing. Montgomery County voters chose Ben Jealous 54%, but chose Marc Elrich 65%. Elrich is considerably to the left of Venture Capitalist Ben Jealous, yet he campaigned on issues that people cared about, like development and transit and schools. Jealous, on the other hand, had support from an enthusiastic pool primary voters which pretty much dissolved in the great ocean of general election voters. A lot of us saw him as a movement politician versus a Maryland-focused candidate.

My conclusion is that Democrats voting in primaries should abandon ideology-based litmus tests and focus on where they stand and how they prioritize issues that Americans are most concerned about, which varies from region to region. We may not reach everybody on gun sense issues or gender politics, even if we wish we could, but we will most certainly reach people in the swing states if we focus on their underlying economic anxieties.

That being said…

2. Young progressives need to lobby for environmental causes. 

As much as I think candidates need to cater to what is most concerning to great swathes of voters, the general populace still seems to have a blind spot when it comes to climate change. The vast majority of activists and young progressives may support initiatives like the Green New Deal, but I’ve seen a fair number of polls that unfortunately rank environmental issues far below other concerns. One such poll is the Gonzales Maryland Poll taken last summer. At this time, Maryland voters were far more concerned about removing Trump from office than anything else, and education, jobs, public safety, and opioids came in before addressing climate change. I have seen similar but informal polls taken around in Montgomery County that show environmental issues lagging behind in priority. It appears that most voters recognize that it is a problem, but find more urgency in other issues. This is unfortunate. I have been saying, especially to people that like to recite “we need to expand our tax base,” that there will be no economic growth in a state that is underwater. The younger generation, which faces more dire consequences for the previous generations’ neglect of the issue, tends to put more emphasis on climate change. My recommendation is that younger activists team up with scientists and business leaders to make the case that environmental issues are not some box to be checked off at the bottom, but an integral issue that applies to jobs, health, safety, and every other priority.

Speaking of the young and the old…

3. We need to learn from our elders AND empower the youth.

After we throw out the Centrist vs. Progressive narrative, we need to throw the Old Guard vs. Young Newcomers dichotomy out with it. During this election cycle, age has been used both against and in favor of candidates. I’ve heard Bernie Sanders (age 77) described as too old to run for president, by people who support Joe Biden (76). Incidentally, this very statement has been uttered by my mom (69). My personal postings have shown a love-hate relationship with Nancy Pelosi (78), who has shown strength in some areas but rigidity in others. And yet our superwoman, RBG, is 85 (though she may be the exception to everything).

My three favorite political figures represent three different generations. Marc Elrich, a Baby Boomer the same age as my mother, brings wisdom and experience of the civil rights era and recognition of where we have made woeful progress in racial justice issues. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a millennial, is someone who “gets it” in terms of what people our age are most worried about (climate change, student loan debt, livable wages…), and she brings energy and feistiness that we find to be a breath of fresh air. She does have a learning curve, I’ll give you that – and who better to teach and nurture her political career than incoming leader of junior House Democrats, Jamie Raskin, representing the elder Gen-X as well as my home district?

Tying the older and younger generations together, Ocasio-Cortez made a very Elrich-like comment on real estate development in a recent tweet:

Both the curmudgeonly so-called NIMBY Elrich and the energetic millennial Ocasio-Cortez are concerned with developers accelerating gentrification with luxury, unaffordable housing. I guess GreaterGreaterWashington is wrong when they assume progressive millennials are on board with their narrative that housing will become more affordable if you increase the supply by lifting regulations on developers. Go figure.

And lastly….

4. Stop Whining.

This goes for Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, progressives, centrists, socialists, EVERYONE. When we waste hours upon hours of our days calling out people for being offensive, or making fun of others for being “triggered snowflakes,” or saying anything we disagree with is “fake news,” what exactly are we accomplishing?

Pivoting from the daily Trumpertantrums to my observations in Maryland, candidates who whined the most did poorly. Instead of naming names, I’ll leave it up to the interpretation of readers who followed state and local elections this year.

Some armchair critics on social media continue to whine and complain about what they think some of our new electeds will or won’t do, but fail to propose any feasible alternative. I’m all for holding someone accountable, even if – no, especially if – you voted for them. This goes beyond complaining on social media (or cherry-picking quotations to bitch about on social media). This year, don’t just march with pink hats and signs. March up to Rockville or Annapolis and make your case with data and solutions and do your homework. Policy will not be reformed in the comment sections on Bethesda Magazine.

Quit bitching and get to work.

A Very Thankful Democratic Victory

For once, I’m not going to focus on the negative. It goes without saying that the election results were a mixed bag, though mostly good.

Elrich won, but so did Hogan. Democrats had another shutout in MoCo. There were not many surprises, though I was pleasantly surprised to see Elrich trounce Nancy Floreen with 64% of the vote to her 19% (and Robin Ficker’s 16%). But I’ve gloated enough.

I’d like to take this holiday as an opportunity for ten things I’m thankful for that helped propel these Democratic victories.

1. MoCo voters and their exceptionally high midterm turnout. Lines in Silver Spring were out the door and around the block at times. The torrential downpours on Election Day morning didn’t stop enthusiastic and motivated voters from helping state and county legislators rack up the numbers.

2. Enthusiastic, determined candidates. While I mainly canvassed for Marc Elrich and Lorig Charkoudian, I gave my vote, my $25-$50 donation, and my word of mouth endorsement to many others who did not enjoy a full night of rest for at least 18 months straight. The schedules were grueling, the spirits were high, and the smiles were genuine – most of the time, anyway.

3. Fellow volunteers. On one hand, I feel like we can’t take too much credit because all of our campaign activities were optional and we could pick and choose to attend events and help out at our leisure. On the other hand, we did it all for free (ok, we were compensated in free food and good times). You take any one of us away, though, and Elrich may not have gotten the 77 votes that brought him over the top in the primary.

4. Campaign staff. Of course, how can we not thank the staff? In addition to the candidate’s grueling schedule, the campaign staff had the meta-task of making sure the candidate didn’t miss anything and then had to put up with his (or her, but mostly his) changes of mind or mood or frame of reference in time.

5. Labor advocates. For some reason, it has become in vogue in American political discourse to assume that unions and their leaders are inherently corrupt,  but that the business community and corporate executives have our best interest in mind. Victorious Democratic candidates have to thank labor advocates for setting the record straight and showing the electorate the value of a living wage and paid sick and family leave.

6. Young people. Now, before I extend too much gratitude to the under-30 club (of which, alas, I am no longer a member), I do have to say that y’all still need to up your game. Young voters modestly increased in turnout but were still outclassed exponentially by their grandparents., according to Seventh State. That said, these lousy numbers surprised me, because general interactions with fellow Millennials and even Gen Z kids showed an enthusiasm and optimism I hadn’t seen since before the November 2016 disaster. I’d even say that Ben Jealous and Marc Elrich made politics cool again. But then again, this was in Silver Spring, so make of that what you will.

7. Neighbors. I could just list this as “old people,” but old age is arbitrary, so I’ll just say people in my neighborhood in Takoma Park as well as in other neighborhoods where I knocked doors (yes, including upcounty!) I thank neighbors for not shying away from talking politics and for not slamming the door in my face when they saw that I was a political canvasser interrupting their dinner or their nap. Thank you for being engaging and eager to learn, and of course, for voting.

8. People who disagree with me. Some of you might know who you are. I’ve had some polite debate (and sometimes less polite) with those with strong fiscally conservative convictions and who ultimately voted for my candidate’s opponent. I’ve also gotten mired in some very wonky debates on housing and infrastructure policy. Even if we still disagree, and even if we don’t even like each other, thank you. You’ve challenged my views, forced me to do more research, and to go back to my candidate to seek clarification of apparent logical inconsistencies and counterintuitive policy approaches. This just makes everything more interesting.

9. Small business owners. Thank you for using your own voices, since every politician and their surrogates think they can speak for you. Thank you for showing us that not all small businesses are the same or have the same priorities and operating pressures, just as not all regulations are applicable or helpful, but are also not all necessarily bad. Now you’ll get the chance to tell us which policies are most helpful to you.

10.  The Washington Post’s salty tears Fact checkers and critical thinkers. We have a serious problem with local news coverage in Montgomery County. Instead of the Gazette, we have the Washington Post local news section, whose straight news coverage is frequently drowned out by their neoliberal/fiscally conservative editorial board. Filling in the gaps are Maryland Matters, pro-development blog GreaterGreaterWashington, and blogs like Seventh State, which, while well-written and substance-rich, still slant to the political preferences of their authors. And of course, there is this blog, the premium source of objective news. Just kidding. With a dearth of local news media that isn’t heavily editorialized, Montgomery County voters who take the initiative to fact check and critically think for themselves are what prevents democracy from dying in darkness.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


The Radical Prospect of Electing Marc Elrich

As I am waiting for my connecting flight for my brief out-of-town vacation, I am already breaking my self-imposed rule of not engaging in political social media between the end of early voting and Election Day. I scrolled through Facebook, twitter, and instagram feeling rather elated – for once – seeing the explosive turnout on the last day in Montgomery County.

In what will more than likely final blog post before the election, I want to talk about my own involvement in this local election. Most people know that I was a “super volunteer” for Marc Elrich, though I also volunteered for Lorig Charkoudian in D20 (who won) and Danielle Meitiv for  Council (who did not win,  no women ended up winning 😔). Towards the end of the primary,  however, I laser-focused on the  Executive race.

My apparent obsession with the County Executive race was not for the reasons some people might think. There is nothing in it for me. I’m not vying for a County job. I don’t need Marc as Executive to keep my rent control (he doesn’t even plan to try this at the county level). I will, however, confess this: There is a streak of identity politics or maybe even tribalism at play. In a nutshell, I view Marc as an exception to the “rule” of Montgomery County elitism.  I use the word “elite” purely in the socio-economic sense; possibly somewhat in the cultural sense as well. I am not referring to intellectual elitism, which should be a good thing.

Let’s keep it real. Montgomery County is nationally known to be rather elitist. We are known for our polished lawyers and lobbyists, government contractors, DC politicos, and socially progressive business executives. And yet, there is another half of MoCo’s population, which is increasingly diverse in not just racial but economic backgrounds. It is time for someone from this side of the median income to have representation. I’m not saying Marc Elrich IS this. A Council member’s salary is above the median (though not absurdly so). But as a former teacher and co-op manager, he comes closest.

Regarding the “cultural sense” of Montgomery County “elitism,” I am referring to the “polished” nature of our image. Marc is….definitely not polished. He has an offbeat sense of humor that resonates with people like me. He is a straight talker, and in an intelligent way, not in a Trump (or Ficker) way.

In commentary I have made elsewhere, I advocate for considering “diversity of expertise” along with racial and gender diversity. This kind of diversity blends with diversity of income or economic class background. This is not to say. That there are no merits to possessing business acumen or bringing financial expertise from a private sector perspective to public service. I am pointing out, however, that under a mainly privately-financed election system, the top contending candidates tend to emerge from a “financially successful” class of people. As voters look for leadership qualities, they often pick from individuals who have made their splash in business or law,  if not with name recognition from well-connected family or institutional associations. Broadly, voters are keen on equating leadership with financial success. Of course, there are exceptions, as not all elected officials are independently wealthy. Marc Elrich exemplifies this type of exception, with decades of public service and not a glaring amount of personal wealth to show for it.

More importantly, Elrich comes from a working-class background. Not a reasonably comfortable middle or upper-middle class background, but legitimately working class. His adult life (that is, after college) consisted of working as a grocer at the TP/SS food co-op, raising two biological and two foster children with Down syndrome with his ex-wife while living in a group house with other roommates, and then becoming an elementary school teacher. He eventually bought a small house, which he expanded himself so that one of his foster sons could live with him. Like many curious and technologically-inclined Americans, Elrich has an affinity for some of the latest gadgets and green tech (he drives a Leaf, and can connect his Apple TV with BlueTooth with more success than I can). However, I wouldn’t describe him as “rich” and would not say that Elrich’s career is another rags-to-riches case for those who seek to follow the American Dream model of personal prosperity. His primary focus has been on public service alone, in the most fundamental sense of the word. While Marc is probably too into his tech gadgets to be Montgomery County’s exact version of Jose “Pepe” Mujica, I don’t see him setting his sights on a gated mansion in Potomac any time soon. He lives a reasonably middle or upper-middle class lifestyle and is close enough to his very relatable socio-economic background.

A victory for Marc, especially in a place as synonymous with establishment wealth as Montgomery County, would be a victory for not-quite-middle-class misfits like me. There is a growing, yet overlooked segment of the population that knows it will not be served by platitudes about “growing the tax base” and “promoting innovation.” We know that at tax base, by definition, must be taxed reasonably and that the libertarian ideals of cutting taxes (This, I assume, is what Nancy Floreen must have in mind, given her “business friendly” rhetoric in contrast with Elrich’s specifics about eliminating archaic regulations) is no more than rehashed trickle down theory and is unlikely to help us. It is a victory for people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, who barely have enough to put away into a 401(k), who have student loan debt, and who don’t see a viable path to homeownership. It is a victory for an immigrant family with two parents who work minimum wage jobs while learning English, who don’t own a car, and who want to send their children to a quality (not-overcrowded) school to have a shot at this American Dream that the center-right love to champion. It is a victory for people who can’t afford the $1,800/month single bedroom units in high rises built by the donors to Floreen’s campaign.

It would be a victory for normal people.

The other night, I attended the Blue Wave rally in Bethesda with Ben Jealous, Bernie Sanders, and introductory speakers Jamie Raskin, Susie Turnbull, Brian Frosh, and of course Marc. The rally focused on the issues. It focused on what Hogan was getting wrong, and how Jealous would make set us on course towards stepping up job creation and being first in the county in education. The energy was positive and uplifting. I had my doubts about the Big Blue Wave, worried that Democratic voters would assume that because everyone we know hates Trump, it would mean an automatic victory for Democrats. But I did not sense hubris or complacency in that room. I sensed nothing but positive energy.

Watch out, Larry. Watch out, Nancy. A wave of “unlikely voters” – Young people, renters, and first-time voters – are coming to wash you away.

My Takeaways from the County Executive Forums

Well, there you go. I attended my last (ever?) County Executive debate, which was the East County forum on Saturday.

Much of my time was spent alongside Marc’s staff, trying to signal for him to speak louder, and to no avail. I had attended the Beth El forum on religious community issues, the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce forum, the very first general election forum in Rockville, the Sentinel forum at the Council office, plus watched the Montgomery County Media forum at a bar with other Elrich supporters while playing a drinking game using the most predictable talking points from the respective candidates.

I’m done.

Considering all of the debates, here are my conclusions:

Nancy Floreen’s debate performance evolved from platitudes to reasonably clever criticisms to attacks and falsehoods. Her first two debates were lackluster at best, featuring platitudes such as “We must become a cheerleader for investment.” The Sentinel forum in particular featured an unremarkable performance for Floreen, as she failed to point out exactly where her opponent was hostile to business growth. Her strongest performance was possibly at Beth El, where she highlighted her dedication to a trade mission with Israel to those within the Jewish community considered this partnership a key interest. Her negative attacks on Elrich were just vague enough that they remained  arguably true when Elrich was limited in time for rebuttals to show context. Her negative attacks proved empty in later debates, however, as Elrich himself challenged Floreen to name specific policies on which they differ that render him hostile to business. She couldn’t follow through.

Robin Ficker may initially be regarded as comic relief. He routinely gets laughs from the audience from his quips like “Takoma Parked” or “Takoma Park Trapezoid,” “I’m not a couch potato,” “My signs are environmental green!” among others. He has two crowd-pleasing aces: the term limits vote and the property tax vote. While his inability to substantiate any policy position without circling back to one of these two points might suggest he is not a serious candidate, these two aces of his may be just enough to win over large swathes of the fed-up, tax-weary, viscerally anti-Council electorate.

In my opinion, Marc Elrich’s performance was consistently good. He remains positive and issue-focused and has a keen ability to boil down complex and counterintuitive positions into well-packaged answers that makes sense. He can get wonky at times, which I fear may cause some lesser-informed, undecided voters to default to the simplified (and incorrect) position. Case in point: when he explains why lifting regulations on developers does not result in more affordable housing. Elrich also executes the tall but necessary order of delivering the “tough love” answers that might not be what many (on the left, right, or center) want to hear. He is the opposite of Floreen when it comes to platitudes. Some on the left resent his concessions to business interests (he supports the Amazon deal) and a few of his approval votes along with Floreen on flawed master plans (which the left will consider giveaways to development companies). Those on the center-right may resent that Elrich favors bringing labor into the discussions of restructuring county government – another seemingly counterintuitive point that makes perfect sense when you listen to his full explanation (or read my previous blog on  labor). At the end of the day, Elrich is not looking to please everyone with what they want to hear. Instead, he explains to them what they need to know.

While Elrich has largely maintained a positive campaign and has avoided personal attacks on his opponents, Floreen’s successive falsehoods eventually pushed him to the brink. At the Chamber of Commerce debate, Floreen said that Elrich would cut 40% of County employee union jobs, prompting Elrich to audibly say, “That is a LIE.” Backed into a corner, Floreen maintained that she had “heard it in a rumor.”

Another noteworthy attack was Floreen’s insistence on blaiming Elrich for having to write a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stating that he is not, in fact, that hostile to business and that he will honor Gov. Hogan’s and Ike Leggett’s proposal. Elrich repeatedly defended that it was Floreen’s campaign and her supporters that dishonestly spread this rumor, which he proceeded to correct.

So, in effect, Floreen accuses Elrich for #FakeNews spread about him.

It should go without saying. Everyone wants economic development. Elrich, however, is the only candidate to distinguish between “real estate development” and “economic development,” whereas Floreen deliberately blurs the two. Ficker is all over the place.

Each candidate makes a fair case for the concepts of Quantity, Quality, and Change. Floreen emphasizes Quantity, focusing on more growth, more buildings, more Fortune 500 companies, and more competition for these top-down milestones with neighboring jurisdictions. Elrich emphasizes Quality, with sustainable development, controlled growth, and robust local and small business as his priorities to enrich the quality of life of existing and new residents. Ficker emphasizes Change, highlighting that his Term Limits initiative was “not a vote to promote.” Ficker has not held office for 40 years, despite multiple attempts, and he leverages his not holding a public office against his opponents’ respective 16 and 12 years in office. Change, however, does not necessarily imply competence.

I will have another blog or two out before the election. Stay tuned for my take on what’s truly radical about Marc Elrich becoming our next County Executive, and why people 40 years younger are drawn to him and his policies.

How effective is Robin Ficker’s populism?

His booming heckler voice is unmistakable. He persistently stands up for the people – as in he won’t sit down, even when instructed to. He has bred a family of runners, and thinks that he, at age 75, can outrun me, age 30 (I guarantee you. He can’t. That is a fact). Oh, and he’s never met a Montgomery Countyan he doesn’t like. 

Robin Ficker has three strong talking points he’ll work into any answer to virtually any question. His Three Big T’s: Taxes, Term Limits, and the “Takoma Park Trapezoid” are his fallback lines when he runs out of relevant content, which usually doesn’t take too long.

I’ll be fair. These three talking points are pretty good points to make, at least for a start. The recent nearly nine percent property tax increase – although those who are more informed about County revenue point out that this increase was intended to make up for not having raised property taxes at all during the recession – hit some middle class long-time homeowners pretty hard. Optics-wise, it was ugly. Although an increase in revenue was urgent and a property tax increase of some order was likely necessary, a better argument could be made that a more meticulous restructuring of County government and painstaking look at the budget probably could have merited a less drastic increase at this time – but what do I know?

The Term Limits ballot initiative – which Ficker always capitalizes on social media – did pass overwhelmingly, and presents a fair argument for a desire for change. The flaw in Ficker’s argument here, however, is that voters loathe ALL current councilmembers equally. The Democratic Primary results say otherwise. Two thirds of voters chose a candidate with current or former local government experience. Marc Elrich won more than the other two council members, Roger Berliner and George Leventhal, combined, indicating that he is at the very least perceived differently than the others. And even if voters resoundingly DO resent the current County Council, forty years of failed runs for office suggest that the Term Limits vote was not a vote for Ficker.

Ficker’s “Takoma Park Trapezoid” refers to the geographic location of where the current Democratic nominees for Council reside, whose pinpoints form a connect-the-dots trapezoid anchored in the inner circle of hedonistic leftist hellscape, Takoma Park. The point serves as a hyperbolic reference to the relative lack of Upcounty representation in County government, which he, residing on a farm in Boyds, would refreshingly provide.

Each of Ficker’s Three T’s, despite their flaws, could suffice for solid populist talking points.

And yet… that’s where his political prowess ends. There’s a reason why Ficker hasn’t been elected in 40 years, even when running in more “red” districts.

Let’s take his “ace” point, taxes. Let’s also give him a huge benefit of the doubt, and let him make his case as a budget hawk, a principled fiscal conservative, or a tax wonk. (Spoiler: He’s none of the above). At Monday night’s Sentinel debate, Ficker was asked a moderately in-the-weeds question about tax deductions. Would Ficker support legislation aimed at decoupling federal income tax from state income tax, which would benefit the majority of taxpayers who itemize their deductions? This, in turn, would add back at state level the taxes affected by the Trump tax cuts, which eliminated the deductions which would have helped Montgomery County residents.

Ficker first mentioned fiscal notes attachment which he proposed, but this was not relevant to the question. Moderator Brian Karem reiterated that the Trump tax cuts resulted in a windfall at the state level, but harmed those who benefited from making deductions. Ficker then restated some of his positions on broad-strokes tax relief, pointing to the bag tax, and other “Regressive taxes” passed by the Council. Ficker then promised “no new taxes” a la HW Bush, and made another reference to the  Takoma Park Trapezoid.

Marc Elrich came a little closer to actually answering the question, saying that we wouldn’t have the votes in Annapolis to make changes that would benefit the County and promised efforts to remain tax neutral for the middle class.

Ficker had the chance to shine. If he wanted to appeal to the single-issue tax voter, he went out with a major swing in the miss. He only needed to prove the slightest bit of depth in his position on taxes, to just show he sort of knew what he was talking about – and he didn’t.

So how would Mr. Ficker go about bringing in revenue, given his position on taxes? Why, Amazon, of course! Our magic bullet. In August, Robin Ficker made a visit to Seattle to Amazon HQ1, which even one of Marc Elrich’s harshest critics, Steve Silverman, stated he  imagines this couldn’t have been with anyone of any decision-making role. 

Aside from Mr. Ficker Goes To Amazon to become BFF’s with Bezos (you had to be at one of the other debates to get this reference), he said in his closing statement that he would make Montgomery County so business-friendly that Bezos would decide to move HQ1 there as well.

I caught Elrich and Floreen trying REALLY hard to keep straight faces.

Onto another topic, which Ficker apparently knows even less about: public safety and the police. Without giving much context at all, Ficker said that he would hire a new police cheif – Jae Hwang. This was his way to ensure that we would be “Not shooting at any unarmed people – I guarantee that.” Ficker neither explained how a new police chief would guarantee this promise, nor did he speak of having talked to current police chief Tom Manger. Instead, Ficker repeated that he has “Never met a Montgomery Countyan I don’t like,” and then something about the regressive energy tax.

Ficker is also no stranger to schoolyard insults. Beyond “Tax increase specialists,” a recent favorite epithet of Ficker’s is “Couch potato.” In the debate, he felt the need to emphasize that he is “Not a foodie” – this coming after digs at Elrich’s weight on my personal Facebook page. (And, I might add, an awkward approval of my physique when addressing physical fitness during an interview with him last spring). Ficker has made points that, if isolated or in relevant context, I would agree with – that it would be useful for students to run a mile every school day, or to spend more time in libraries. But these points were not remotely relevant to the questions asked.

Robin Ficker’s populist rhetoric is an awkward mix of his three “ace” talking points, some various catch phrases that are too overused to be funny, some other points that are true but not at all relevant, and occasional non-profane, but juvenile, personal attacks.

In a normal circumstance, this kind of candidate shouldn’t have much a of a chance in Montgomery County. The electorate tends to be more educated) and would prioritize experience or at least competence in their electeds, and would never be inclined to electing a court jester as County Executive. Ficker could have a decent chance in a more Trump-friendly district where populist red meat is enough of a crowd pleaser to win votes, but alas,  Trump won 19% of the vote in MoCo. 


And yet… it is entirely possible that this is not a normal circumstance. I can’t really gauge this myself, but we may experience a perfect storm: general distrust of the council, the fact that both “Marc & Nancy” are current council members, the property tax hike, the term limits vote, and the lack of adequate local news media causing people to not properly distinguish between Marc Elrich and the unpopular development votes, which he opposed. Add to this Nancy Floreen’s arrogance and hubris in her campaign ad regarding Ficker’s chances.

I still think it’s probably not going to happen – but it is in the realm of possibility that this perfect storm could brew enough to reach a tipping point by November. It depends on how many fed up, pissed off, and simultaneously under-informed and/or nihilistic voters there are out there, and whether they collectively form a sleeping giant that Nancy’s arrogant remarks may have poked just enough to cause a roar. We’ll see, and lord help us if that’s what happens.