Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bubble

It is amazing it has taken me this long to write about "The Bubble" in great detail (I referenced it briefly in July).  It is something I talk about on a near daily basis and most of the people on my campaign team are tired of hearing about.  From my perspective, it requires daily focus, analysis, and exclusion.  Unwary observers can be caught up in its hallucinations and live in distorted worlds unconnected to reality.  Most importantly for present purposes, it is an interesting thing to consider.  So today let's talk about The Bubble.

The Bubble is "us".  It is the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education (if we were a club, that would be the pass-code).  We pay attention to each and every move a candidate makes and will look at campaign literature more than once after it arrives in our mailbox.  If you're reading this, you are at the pinnacle of the bubble - you cannot get enough of this stuff.  

But that's not always a good thing.  As noted above, The Bubble distorts things.  It makes you see things that aren't there.  It builds confidence in places of great doubt.  And it is most deceptive around election season.

The Bubble makes elections seem closer than they are.  For at least 60% of the elections in this County, the decision as to who will represent us in 2015 was made in June.  We can wring our hands all we want about how unfortunate that may be (or fortunate if your person won), but it is the truth.  Nevertheless, those who pay particularized attention to these races, and know the names of both candidates, by that very fact alone will see the race as closer than it is.  They saw Candidate X door knocking.  They saw Candidate X had over 30 people at their fundraiser.  Candidate X is talking a big game on Twitter.  Presumptive Incumbent Y doesn't look like they are working very hard, they don't have a Twitter account, and seem dismissive of their opponent.  Well that sounds like a formula for a loss.

It's not.  For these types of races, where registrations and resources lie heavily with one side over the other, it is a pure numbers game.  Everything else is theater.  

The Bubble makes front-runners in close races.  The Bubble has a horrible tendency to make front-runners.  Just as it can make one candidate look like they are making a race in a difficult district, it can also make a difficult district seem like a runaway.  Any race in which the margin of victory lies within the unaffiliated voter base should probably be treated like a dead heat until the votes are counted, particularly in Howard County.

The Bubble amplifies small sounds.  We're a club of talking heads and we have a tendency to overreact to small things.  "Candidate X did this, so that must mean they have a secret poll showing..."  Stop.  Please, for everyone's sake, stop.  Despite what many may think, polls are incredibly rare in local elections.  Even in a County Executive race, there may be 1 or 2 polls an entire election cycle.  James Carville isn't coming through that door saying "The polls look horrible, let's run a mailer/take a bizarre position/knock more doors."  A campaign is run in great part on feel, using your advantages to the fullest extent possible, and putting your name on anything people will allow.  To ascribe a motive to such things is embarrassing for you, for me, and for everyone who heard you.

If you take The Bubble away, elections and campaigns are the hulking decision-makers that keep candidates and their teams up late into the night working, planning, and not sleeping.  That's why it is good to identify what The Bubble is telling you and exclude it.  Chances are, things are much different than they appear.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Comparative Politics

When you decide to run for office, one of the first things you are supposed to do is complete a box with four squares.

Top Line:
1. What I say about myself
2. What my opponent says about themself

Bottom Line:
3. What my opponent says about me
4. What I say about my opponent

Most candidates would like you to go into the voting booth with a simple message:  "I love everything you love.  I hate everything you hate.  Vote for me."  In fact, that is the theme of most political campaigns, with few exceptions (i.e., those who are driven by a particular mission like anti-development or pro-round-a-bouts).

For that reason, political opponents are compelled to break the narrative.  "Well, just so you know, Candidate A doesn't love everything you love and they don't hate everything you hate.  Don't vote for them."  These responses are best placed on particular issues that have traction with the electorate - taxes, education, personal rights & freedoms, or public safety.

Our collective response to "narrative breaking" is discomfort.  It is like a heated argument about the Middle East breaking out at a dinner party.  "That's just a whole bunch of rude right there and I do not appreciate it.  We're going to Arby's."  But, it is part of the political conversation we treasure in a democracy.  It is why we trust our electorate with electing our leaders when previous generations had them appointed or deigned by birthright.  It's nominate, scrutinize, vote; not nominate, lionize, vote.

Acknowledging that this is part of the process, I would suggest a secondary test to determine the value of such political speech:

1. Is it true?
2. Is it relevant?
3. Do you have anything else to say?

On the first point, we can tell a lot about a candidate based on whether they are lying to us out of the gate.  "Candidate A supports baby punching."  No I don't.  "But you would if it came up for a vote."  No, seriously, that sounds like a horrible idea and I would never support it.  "That's exactly what a baby-puncher would say." 

Admittedly, this is a hard line to hold considering the nuance of political speech.  As an example, shortly after The Sun published its article about the race in 9B, my opponent interpreted the piece to say that I supported "more spending and more tax increases."  That's not true and nothing in the article could be read to suggest it, but this is a boiler-plate attack line used by Republicans against any Democrat that dares to run for office.  So while it is not true, it also not as morally reprehensible as a "lie".  (But is a tired old line out of the "Tired Old Political Handbook", Kindle edition not available.)

The second question of relevance lies entirely in the eye of the beholder.  Supporters of each candidate look to set the terms of the race by saying what issues matter and what issues don't.  Issues for which the candidate is aligned with the electorate matter.  Issues that are discordant with the electorate do not matter.  The most interesting point here is that those who say certain issues don't matter are those who may otherwise agree with the candidate on those "irrelevant" positions.  "He's 100% right, but let's not talk about it." 

And relevance is entirely subjective and no hard-line test will suffice.  We can all agree that Michael Peroutka's pro-secessionist leanings will not come up for vote on the Anne Arundel County Council, but most of us find that position "relevant" to his pursuit of elected leadership.  Whether an issue is well-settled law or completely foreign to the office sought, voters have a right to make the decision of what is relevant, not candidates.  As candidates will often say "Voters are the boss."

The third is most important to me.  If you spend all of your time in the bottom of the box, whether that means attacking your opponent or responding to attacks, you should rightfully lose.  If we spend too much time in the lower half, the likely outcome is a depressed disaffected electorate who will no longer attend our dinner parties.  A candidate who can successfully leverage their positive message, while also making clear the differences presented by their opponent, will have voters thinking of their positive message on election day as they "pull the lever".  And I can tell you from experience that it is much harder to attach, and you spend much more time pushing, a positive message over a negative one.

But hear this - it is entirely legitimate and appropriate to "break the narrative".  To suggest otherwise is to encourage a very dangerous type of censorship relating to some of the most important conversations we have as governed citizens.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love! 

Ravens 26, Bengals 24

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

This past weekend I participated in the League of Women Voters YouTube interview session.  This is another great service provided to the voters that, if I was not running for office with concomitant demands on my discretionary income, I would certainly support.

One of the last questions they asked was: "What do you wish that citizens knew about the office for which you are running?"

That's a delicate question because I like to presume that most voters know about what a Delegate does; not necessarily because they do, but because it is important not to underestimate the electorate.  Nevertheless, my response can be summarized in one word - Collaboration.  The one thing I wish more voters understood (and accepted) was that members of the legislature are elected to collaborate towards reaching the common good.  We live in an individualistic culture that rewards those who break out from the herd.  Even the most romanticized theatrical depiction of what it is like to serve in the legislature, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", used as its centerpiece a filibuster of one.

When members of the legislature set their sights on executive office, you'll commonly hear descriptive terms like maverick, fighter, or independent leader.  Rarely do you see a legislator run for Governor with the moniker "Plays well with others."

And boy do we hear about fighting during the campaign season.  "I will fight for X!"  Whenever I hear one of these promises, I think of the converse.  "I will fight for smaller class sizes!"  Who are you fighting?  Sure, some policies and budget cuts indirectly increase class sizes, but there is not exactly a "large class size caucus" who will receive your volleys.

I've made it a point to run honestly and tell you all from the beginning that my focus is to collaborate, team-build, and welcome all comers to the decision-making process.  I think one of the root ills of our divisive politics is alienation.  Disagreement is inevitable, but alienation is a choice.  I want to be someone who Republicans can talk to about their concerns and positions.  I want to make sure that those most heavily affected by legislation feel heard before the final votes are counted.  I want to be someone who can build support for important policy, even when that policy is part of the unpopular method of governing.

And that's another important point I didn't make in the interview, but later wanted to include - not every decision the government makes is going to be popular.  Once you say that out loud, it seems so obvious, but when you look at the rhetoric coming from social media and in the Op/Ed pages, you realize it's not.  There is some presumption that in a democracy, every decision should be a popular one or it is wrong.  That is a very dangerous presumption.  And incorrect.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!  Also, if you get a chance, please read MM's great piece on the race in 9B.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ferguson and the Community Conversation

In March 2014, the American Psychological Association issued a research study finding that "[b]lack boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime."

On Sunday, I attended a Community Town Hall hosted by Dr. David Anderson and Bridgeway Community Church.  The room was packed with what I would estimate to be between 200 and 300 people.  I would further estimate that about 75% of the audience was black and of the 25% who were white, at least half were elected officials or those aspiring to the same.

I've said repeatedly over the past week that I am proud that when a situation like Ferguson arose, Howard County Police looked for the first chance to talk.  To find a table and discuss.  But it is just as important to recognize that Howard County Police did nothing wrong.  In fact, they went out of their way to do something right, even if it meant positioning themselves as a lightening rod for frustration directed at police hundreds of miles away.  If we really want to do something about Ferguson and Michael Brown, we need to recognize that police, both in Howard County and otherwise, are a conductor for a larger conversation charged with emotion, frustration, and grief.

What does it say about our Country when the most likely interface between the races in places with de facto segregation such as Ferguson (or Baltimore) are the police; men and women tasked with protecting the peace, backed by the authority of the law, and armed with lethal force.  Laws passed in marble halls are handed down to govern those interactions, and in many cases increase their frequency, without considering that these laws are communiques in a correspondence that has gone on for centuries.  And that is a poisoned way to talk.

Things are broken.  Black parents are compelled to tell their children that they may be treated differently than white children when interacting with authority figures like the police.  It was this kind of implied inferiority that upended separate but equal, yet we have let the destruction of the institution absolve us from cleaning up its legacy.  And it's alienating us further.  We have balkanized this conversation, much to our own destruction.  This is not a conversation between the black community and the police.  This is our conversation about why it is that 10 year old boys are seen by white males as threatening and what we can do to make sure that fear does not result in violence.  We don't need to cure the subconscious of its faults, but we do need to keep our children safe.  Our children.  And we need to be outraged when we fail.  All of us.

We need to stop letting the police be the interface.  We need to stop pretending that this is a story about the police.  The Howard County Police were in that room on Sunday to have a community conversation.  Those who are blessed with the delusion that we are in a post-racial society were not.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Baltimore Sun Covers 9B

I've been sharing this everywhere, so you've probably seen it by now, but if not - please check out this great article covering the race for Delegate in District 9B.  Michael Dresser dug deep into what both campaigns are saying and how that relates to the statewide race.  It was my first experience with the political reporter for The Sun and found him to be tough and insightful, exactly what you want from the reporter dealing with elected officials.

Based on my conversation with all of you, the two biggest takeaways were taxation on pensions and flood mitigation in Ellicott City.  When this race started, I never thought I would be talking about a policy proposal that would cut 6% of state revenue without any explanation of where that money would come from.  Without such an explanation, this proposal can be viewed as nothing other than a tax shift, wherein you raise taxes on Peter to give Paul a tax cut.  And Marylanders know well enough where those tax increases fall - middle class and lower upper class households.

We have a cost of living problem in Maryland, particularly in Central Maryland.  Anything that we can do to make it more affordable for retirees to live in Maryland deserves serious consideration with all of the facts on the table.  But I am not interested in a tax shift.  I am certainly not interested in blanket tax absolution.  It is horribly irresponsible and clear campaign populism.

My comments on Ellicott City flooding are not new.  I continue to be amazed that we are now two months away from the election and I'm the only candidate talking about this clear and present threat to the continued existence of downtown Ellicott City.  It is also insulting to me that people who want to be leaders in this community continue to use juvenile terms like the "rain tax".  Not only is it inaccurate, but it causes homeowners to miss out on tax credits for stormwater management projects they've built on their properties.  Misunderstanding benefits the attacker, whereas those who are trying to deal responsibly with a federal mandate have to cut through layers of propaganda before touching on the base necessity of rehabilitating the natural and man-made infrastructure that gets gallons of rain water from our backyard to the Bay.

It is time for all of us to stand up against this kind of nonsense.  Governing is not a game. People's lives and livelihoods are at risk with every decision our leaders make.  Let's talk about improving the business climate and making it more affordable for all families to live here, but let's do it as adults, with all facts on the table.

And that's why I loved the article so much.  The talking points from the right were laid bare and, from my perspective, found lacking.

Have a great Monday doing what you love.  It's great to be back.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Taking a Break

I don't have a vacation planned this year.  We took a long weekend in May for a family wedding, which was great (other than coming home to some "ugly" in the mailbox), but it wasn't the full week we normally take.  Looking back, I feel a little foolish for not working something in, but I am optimistic it will all be worthwhile once the baby comes.  I will be able to take time then, preferably after the election, and enjoy our new family.

But I can take time off here.  I'm just not coming up with much worth saying, which makes it a imposition to suggest I am writing anything worth reading.  I have to guess that at least a quarter of the views I do get here are from trackers for my opponent, hoping to get an out of context statement or two for the next round of mail (I'm sure I've provided more than enough).

I need some time to think of what this space should be for the rest of the campaign and after that.  I always used to tell Dennis that this blog goes away once we have our first child.  Well that's November.

Things have changed a bit since the time I said that.  When I started this campaign, I thought "Blogs are powerful tools for direct communication between lawmakers and constituents."  Then the attack mail came.  After that I thought "Blogs are dangerous tools that can overexpose a political candidate and set them up for devastating attacks."  Then we won.  After that I thought "That blog saved me.  Enough people knew who I really was that pinhole caricatures didn't stick."

None of that resolved the semi-daily tussle I get into with this white space every other morning.  My style of blogging requires spontaneity.  Occasionally I will have a topic in the hopper (like yesterday's post), but once that's gone, I'm running a cycle of campaign to-do lists that are probably of no interest to you.  

So I think I'm going to take a blog vacation.  I need to think about what I'm doing here.  And during the time I would otherwise write, I'm going to read and drink a cup of coffee...which is my idea of time away.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ecology of Howard County

ecol·o·gy: a science that deals with the relationships between groups of living things and their environments

 Last week, HoCo Blogs hosted a Happy Hour and tour at Jailbreak Brewing in Laurel.  Our tour was led by one of the founders of the brewery, Justin Bonner.  In his introduction, he explained how they had looked at a few different locations to start their new business, but the final decision had come between Baltimore County and Howard County.  He recounted how the pitch from Ken Ulman, and his efforts to draw them to the County, were what sealed the deal.

According to Justin, Ken explained his theory on the "Ecology of Howard County".  We're trying to draw high-tech, high-paying cyber-security jobs from around the Country.  When these companies evaluate Howard County, they are not only looking at the business climate, but also the quality of life and regional attractions.  Ken told Justin that having a thriving local brewery (as Jailbreak will no doubt become) will be something attractive to the young professionals that cyber-security firms may want to hire.  For that reason, Howard County needs Jailbreak.

I found that impressive.  I was also comforted by the fact that here in Howard County we have leaders like Ken who will go to the mat to draw in a business like Jailbreak simply because it will make Howard County a better, more attractive place to live.

He did all this without tasting the beer, which I should add is tremendous.  Really really good.  At $6 a pint, it comes in around what you would get at a place like Frisco or Judge's Bench.  They also feature local food trucks on a rotating basis (the night we were there, it was Kloby's).  And, because this is important to me, they are also philanthropically-minded, donating a fantastic Silent Auction item for this year's Vintage (Sept 19 - mark your calendar!).

Political leadership often goes without "thanks".  Your best day is normally just a break from the criticism.  I truly appreciate what Ken and his Administration did to get Jailbreak here.  Thank you.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!