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!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lake Erie - Closer Than You Think

Check out this great cartoon in Symbolia by Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche describing the tragic algae bloom in Lake Erie.  Particularly this panel:
Sound familiar?

Lake Erie has gone from an environmental success story to a man-made disaster in the course of a few decades.  In the 1960's, this lake was declared dead, but the Clean Water Act of 1972 regulated the discharge of phosphorous and nitrogen, allowing the lake to recover.  However, the CWA was best suited to address pollution of small farms and industrial farming overcame the limitations and increased polluted run-off.  So now Lake Erie is heading back to the grave.
NASA, Spring 2012
This algae blocks sunlight into the lake, killing underwater vegetation, pollutes drinking water, and is toxic to humans. 

When you look at the picture from NASA, you feel a little helpless.  There's this majestic waterway getting sick, developing lesions, and dying before your eyes.  Decades of work is crumbling under the weight of less than a dozen years of pollution.  And this time, there's no promise we'll be able to fix it.

But you shouldn't feel helpless.  We did this.  Our country, our consumption, and our indifference.  Unsustainable agricultural practices paired with a government maw that eats anything corn will make Lake Erie the norm without intervention to curb stormwater pollutants.

And I got this far without saying "stormwater".

Here's a look at the phosphorous run-off in the Chesapeake Bay watershed:
 Right now, the Chesapeake Bay has the third largest dead zone in the Country.  The first is in the Gulf of Mexico, second is Lake Erie, the third is a dozen miles from your house.

We're going to hear a lot about stormwater management this election, but my guess is that there will be far too few talking about Lake Erie.  I'll be one of them.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.  We're still pushing to meet our new fundraising goal and I would appreciate it if you would click over (even just to check out the new and improved website).

I also hope get out of work in time to see a number of you at tonight's HoCo Blogs party at Jailbreak Brewery!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Obligation of the Engaged Voter

On Friday, I posted about efforts to address the corrosive effect big money is having on our politics.  I wanted to come back to a line from that piece that I didn't give proper explication, but is as the very root of this concern:

Why listen to an engaged voter now when the unengaged voters can be won over by a million-dollar ad blitz two weeks before the election?

If you're reading this, I'm going to presumptively consider you an "engaged voter".  You tend to know most of the people you're voting for, while making some "educated guesses" for Board of Education and some of the local offices.  You honor your right to vote and do it on a regular basis as the opportunity arises.  In between elections, you read about what your elected officials are doing and intend to keep them accountable for both their missteps and their successes.  You may have even contacted one of those elected leaders to comment about a matter in dispute or to express your concern about a matter that was not disputed, but should be.  You are the ideal that democracy rests upon.

The unengaged voter agrees that there is a general obligation to vote, but also has found that life can be distracting.  Politics are of no interest to them, off-putting, or both (the two combine for a reliable excuse to be apathetic).  They presume elections are for the top of the ticket and find lower ballot races "interesting", but not necessarily worth the time to vote.  Unless prompted to.  By ads.

Comparing those two, our gut instinct is that the engaged voter has a much greater influence on the actions of our government than the latter.  It's only fair, right?  They are paying attention and making themselves heard.  That's what democracy is about!

But the engaged voter is also a dangerous voter.  There is accountability in the engaged voter.  Promises are tracked, measured, and evaluated for completion.  The complex issues of governance are explicated and analyzed.  They go to the meetings.

Then comes election season.  Engaged voters, just by their very nature, will contribute to campaigns.  Some will give thousands of dollars, particularly if the issues they care about are being heard.  But they will compete against this.  And from the moment candidate petitions are filed until the day the final votes are counted, their influence on the process is steadily diluted.  

The engaged voter is offended by sign-waving, robocalls, and attack ads.  Not only because they are annoying, but because they are a blatant statement that "engagement doesn't matter".  Money rules in politics because it lets you get to the unengaged voters in great numbers and turn them out to vote.

And that puts the onus on you, engaged voter.  You, who are paying attention, have an obligation to do something to avoid being ruled by those who don't.  We have a systemic flaw that has diluted your voice, but it has not taken it away.  Despite everything I've said above, time and again our country has corrected it course when engaged, impassioned citizens step out of the ranks and act.

There are so many problems in this world, but there are also so many great things people like you are doing every day to fix them.  Might this be your time to act?

On a related note, we've set an ambitious goal for the campaign to raise $2,000 in grassroots donations by Friday.  So far, we're $225 closer to that goal.  Thank you to:

Chris DeHart
Frank Hecker
Theresa Paterson 

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Get Money Out

Laslo Boyd at Center Maryland wrote a strongly-worded column yesterday slamming (mostly Republican) politicians for their "War on Reason".  He wrapped up his piece with a sentence that has been ringing through my head ever since:

"American politics is not doing a good job of responding to the important challenges facing this nation."

Well doesn't that just sum things up right there.   So simple, but so true.  Regardless of your ideological stripe, or lack thereof, there seems to be no disputing that the disappearance of the middle class, climate change, immigration, crime, poverty, equality of opportunity - you name it, our politics come up short.  And that's for Democrats and Republicans.  Things just aren't getting done.

And let's be frank - a big reason is big money in politics.  You can disagree with me on whether corporations should have unfettered, personal rights to using money as speech, but it is hard to disagree that the end result is bad.  Our elected officials spend more time thinking about how to raise then next thousand than they do "responding to the important challenges facing this nation"; probably by a magnitude of 10 to 1.  They don't socialize anymore, heightening the adversarial posture of the two parties.  Important initiatives are weighed on the ability of stake-holders to donate as opposed to the merit of the proposal.  And, most importantly, your voice is lost; out-purchased and out-spent.  Why listen to an engaged voter now when the unengaged voters can be won over by a million-dollar ad blitz two weeks before the election?

"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder." - George Washington

Over the last two years, a movement has sprung up to fix that - Get Money Out.  This effort is focused on calling an Article V convention to amend the Constitution, overrule Citizens United, and allow for reasonable campaign finance reform.  Two states (California and Vermont) have already passed resolutions calling for a convention and many more have had resolutions near passage across the Country (including Maryland).

Despite the admittedly drastic nature of such a move, there is overwhelming cross-partisan support for such a measure amongst the electorate.  This poll (PDF) showed that 75% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans identified big money spending in politics as a serious problem that is poisoning our government's ability to lead on important issues.

This is a big problem.  It will take big action to solve.  But that's why we're here, right?  Think big.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It's impossible not to.