Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Doldrums

We are now firmly within what is called the "Summer Doldrums" - when very little happens.  And that's a good thing.

Sure, things don't really slow down for me.  If anything, they ramp up.  Door-knocking and community events keep the campaign calendar full.  The only difference is that there will be less of you behind those doors and at those events.

I'm experiencing the doldrums here as well.  I just have so little to write about.  As may be expected, the campaign has put a full-stop on the half-baked ideas that I had previously been much more comfortable sharing with you. I still want to talk about the issues and digest them in the way this platform does best, but I need just the right inspiration and understanding to make it work.

So bear with me.  I will still have plenty to say, but during a time when local affairs tend to get turned down a bit, I may do the same.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Moving Public Opinion

I've had two interesting but conflicting ideas rattling around in my head recently.  The first comes from Michael Waldman, author of the new book The Second Amendment: A Biography, who observed in a recent podcast I listened to that the best way to accomplish lasting social change is by taking your case to the people and shaping public will.  He contrasted this against legislative or judicial initiatives that are long in the making and often vulnerable to revocation or revision if contrary to popular sentiment.

The second is from Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have finally finished Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch, which has immediately found a place amongst my top ten favorite books.  MLK would not have cared for Mr. Waldman's methods:

"The time is always right to do what is right." - MLK

Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity.

"This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'"

To explain the difference, as I see it, Waldman encourages us to plant seeds and tend the field, while King focused on action-driven performance.  If you were not acting, you were failing.

Even more than the interest in immediate action, what amazed me most in reading about King was the seemingly reciprocal faith he had in the power of government institutions.  He spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get President Kennedy to proclaim the "Second Emancipation Proclamation", which would have been a mostly symbolic gesture to show that the President supported desegregation.  Kennedy died before being able to sign (to the extent he ever would have).  Unlike most activists of our day, his faith was well placed.  Martin Luther King, Jr., created government action in ways we have not seen since and may never see again.

Waldman may reply that government institutions of the 1960's were more responsive to popular opinion than the more insular, corporate-driven chambers of today, making it all the more important to "prime the pump" and create inevitability before seeking change.  And his hypothesis plays out quite clearly when you think of the influence cable news and talk radio have on Congress.  I'm not talking about the influence these outlets have on their listeners - rather, I believe the opinions and positions held by talk-show pundits move the dial on what is important to certain caucuses of lawmakers.  Once these institutions build up a track record of influencing voters, those in pursuit of votes no longer wait to see what the public thinks.  They take their cue and act accordingly.

All of this is further complicated by what I refer to as the "bubble" or "echo chamber".  If you spend any more than 10 minutes knocking on random doors in your community, you will realize that your understanding regarding "what people think" is far from reality.  For a good proportion of our voting public, what people think is this:

"sandwich, juice box, shoe, she didn't put on her shoe, where's her shoe, there it is, let's get in the car, child seat buckled, door locked, forgot my phone, need to get my phone, drive to school, then work,  oh work, this will be a tough day, is that report due today or tomorrow..."

How, Mr. Waldman, do you influence that?  Furthermore, our interpretation of public opinion surveys must be through the prism of understanding that the voting electorate may not be representative of that opinion.  "...pick Sally back up, she has both shoes, that's good,  life is good, what will we have for dinner, there's frozen pizza, that's not very good for them, but its fast, pizza it is, what day is it?, voting day, no voting day is in November, is it November already?, I need to get gifts to put under the tree, what did she want again..."

There's a reason why candidates flood your think space with signs, mail, door-knocks, and calls.  We're trying to get through the fog.  For those already paying attention, this is very frustrating.  For those not paying attention, we will introduce ourselves to you for the first time about three times.

There's nothing easy about persuading public opinion, but I agree with Waldman on this point - it could be the only thing we have left.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!  I look forward to seeing you all at tonight's Victory Celebration on Tonge Row in Ellicott City!  6 pm to 8 pm!  With over 70 RSVP's (and half of them prepaid) we are looking at having one of our biggest events yet!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lasting Power

I would like to start this post by congratulating those who took the time yesterday to Speak Out at the Columbia Association Board meeting.  This is an under-appreciated form of democratic influence that, from all accounts, was implemented with professionalism, courage, and force.  And, more personally, I would like to begin by saying "thank you".

There was a time when those in support of the Inner Arbor plan could fit around a coffee table.  Tracking the comments on Facebook and Twitter last night, I couldn't help but be amazed at the life that this set of ideas has taken on and the amazing group of supporters it had earned.

One of the hardest lessons Inner Arbor has taught me is that final victories are near impossible in politics and community life.  Read my elation from a year and a half ago.  The Inner Arbor Plan has had at least three near-death experiences since that day and likely will have many more before the first shovel lifts dirt.  In fact, I recall that in the days after that vote, my optimism wore off, and I realized the grind doesn't let up for those looking to protect good ideas.

The only way those good ideas are protected is if the community buys in.  No individual, or small group, can expect any lasting success, no matter how good their idea may be, if they can't build a larger team.  Not a team of followers, mind you - A team of mutual and distinct leaders who each have separate ownership in the outcome.

Inner Arbor has that, which is why I am confident is it never going away and will be the park built in Symphony Woods.  According to Amanda Yeager's report, there were 10 people who took time out last night to support the Inner Arbor plan.  There are dozens of others who, if pressed, would have been there as well.  You can be assured that not a single one was told what to say, how to say it, or otherwise fed lines for why the Inner Arbor plan deserved our support.  It was internalized.  They were standing up for a good idea because it was partly their idea.

Another hard lesson Inner Arbor taught me is that leaders need to know when to get out of the way.  As we've seen in Columbia politics, leaders (or "spokespeople") who demand too much attention or control on a given issue, while offering their strengths to the cause, also exchange their weaknesses.  Personal motivations crowd out the merits of the idea.  Personal animosities blunt progress.  We need leaders, but we need those leaders who understand that holding the front is a cooperative experience with a termination point.  Eventually, you hand off to someone else.

The kindest lesson Inner Arbor has taught me is that we can trust one another with good ideas.  We can trust one another to take care of those things that will make this a better place to live.  Not all the time, and not without a fight, but often enough to keep you thinking big.

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Columbia in Retrograde

Tomorrow night, certain members of the Columbia Association Board intend to identify a "material change" in the Inner Arbor plan from that originally approved by the Board in order to begin the process of withdrawing the easement that allows the Trust to develop the park.

Opponents of the Inner Arbor Plan have been encouraged to attend tomorrow's CA Board meeting and even provided lines by Board Member Alan Klein:

The important message this week is not about your support for the original Symphony Woods Park plan or even whether or not you like the IA plan. ​Rather, it is simply that you see "material changes" in the ​current Inner Arbor plan and want the CA Board to review and vote on those changes. You can also add that you hope the CA Board disapproves them!

("Here's what you do, see, you come in all innocent like, see, and then you tell them you're all concerned-like, right?  Yeah yeah.  There's 'material changes', see?  Then we'll get 'em!")

This appears to be your Columbia Association of 2014"Proudly Moving Backwards."

On their best day, the only likely outcome is another decade of an empty park.  If the CA Board identifies a "material change" that meets the conditions of the easement and if a majority of the Board moves to revoke the easement, the fate of Symphony Woods is going to court.  Sometime before or shortly after anything is filed, lawyers will meet to reach a compromised resolution, presuming that a compromised resolution is preferred.  But what's so concerning here is that is not the case.  One part of one side (CA Board) seeks the entire obliteration and extermination of the other (Inner Arbor Trust).  I can assure you that will never be an approved condition of settlement.

So we move to trial.  And unfortunately for Mr. Klein, amateur hour ends at the courthouse.  There are no e-mails telling witnesses what to say.  However, what we will have are reams of discovery.  E-mails amongst Board members.  E-mails between Board members and Mr. Paumier (as someone who submitted a competing bid and now seeks reversal).  E-mails between Board members and residents.  I can assure you it will be a very disappointing, but interesting, time to live in Columbia.

And what if, through all these hoops, the easement is revoked?  Oh happy day, says 0.1% of Columbia!  Not really.  I don't know the terms of the easement, but am quite certain that any debts incurred by the Trust or grants made for the purposes of developing the Inner Arbor Plan will run with the land.  In deciding not to fulfill those plans, those financial obligations will be the only memorial of anyone trying to improve those empty woods.  And I think it is likely this will be another dispute that ends up in court.

There's your final outcome - an empty park loaded with debt.  And in this review, I've excluded all exigencies like the County intervening or CA's financial obligations making it unable to maintain a decade in Court (bringing legal action against a 501(c)(4) created by the suing entity is not something covered by insurance).

I've had my doubts about this Board, but I can't see six members being willing to take on this legacy.  I can't see six members being willing to do this to the city they love, no matter how much they may have wanted an alternative plan.  Whether you agreed with it or not, the Columbia Association made the decision to go forward with the Inner Arbor Plan in February 2013 and confirmed that decision when it approved the easement later that year.  Let's go forward and allow this park to happen.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Zipper

The more doors I knock and the more voters I meet, the more I feel we all have a bias towards division.  In the same way you are much more likely to get television coverage for a senseless shooting than a community clean-up day, our attention is drawn to our differences.

I often wonder if that is primal.  When we were little more than apes in caves, was it an evolutionary trait to identify divisions in order to tap them out or expel an offending party?  Is our instinct now to do the same?  Possibly.  Our constitutional protections for minority positions seem to have made this presumption implicit - To hold a view distinct from the main is a dangerous position in need of protection.

But in the great depth, originality, and creativity that makes up the human mind, it seems silly that we end up stumbling over our disagreements when it comes to community affairs.  Are things this binary?  Have we forfeited that much of our decision-making power that we are satisfied with making it a game of red or blue buttons?

I often describe politics like an unzipped zipper.  The further up you go, the further apart we are.  Want to talk about President Obama, Speaker Boehner, or Senator Cruz?  Buckle your chin-strap.  As we come down to the state level, divisions are still plain, but agreement is closer at hand.  We may want sensible taxes, but we also agree that education is a high priority, our roads should be well-maintained, and social services should be well-equipped to protect vulnerable youth.  How we reach those ends is a matter of dispute, but at least the ends are clear.

And then you get to the hyper-local.  Admittedly, awareness of the hyper-local escapes all but 10-20% of us (and I think even that may be a stretch).  But to the extent we are aware, there is a lot to agree.  We agree on where the stop signs should go, where the sidewalks should stretch, and how our local priorities should be funded.  Division is much harder to find.

At every door, and in every conversation, I try to find my way to that plateau of agreement.  Not out of appeasement, but out of a need to find a place to start.  Disagreement is free fall.  You can't build anything on disagreement.  I see so many friends and family pound their chests about disagreements on social media (rarely in person) only to leave me wondering "To what end?" It's easy to disagree. The only likely outcome is that you have confirmed a difference with someone else and likely many others who will avoid engaging you because to do so would be to invite free fall.  The more disagreements you name, the narrower your plateau, until finally no one cares what you think anymore.  You have forfeited a meaningful voice.

We don't need to all agree with one another, but I think that to earn the right to disagree, we need to find out where we left off.  Where did the zipper split?  I believe that finding that position fosters a much more constructive conversation about how we can make things better.  And if you are not working towards that end, it is unclear why you need to say anything at all.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Please mark your calendar for July 17!  We will be holding a Victory Celebration in Ellicott City!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Political Tater Tots

One of the most talked about topics after last Tuesday's Primary Election was the dismal turnout.  Statewide, 21% of eligible voters came out to vote.  From WJLA:

Among Maryland counties, Montgomery [16.2%] trailed Baltimore County at 24.6 percent, Anne Arundel at 24.2 percent, Frederick at 23.2 percent, Howard at 19.7 percent and Prince George's at 17.6 percent.

Democrats had slightly higher turnout, as noted by Senator Rich Madaleno on his FB page (source unknown):

Anne Arundel - 22.85%
Baltimore City - 22.75%
Baltimore County - 26.51%
Charles - 26.18%
Frederick - 25.05%
Harford - 23.77%
Howard - 27.77%
Montgomery - 23.90%
Prince George's - 19.46%

(And there goes Howard County, taking the number one spot.  Nice job, Team Brown/Ulman!)

Much of the talk about poor turnout and culpability for the same has taken the form of public shaming.  "If you did not vote while people in Iraq and Ukraine are risking life and limb to do so, you should be ashamed."  A bit of this is appropriate, but only a small bit.  

Voting, at its best, is a matter of inspiration.  The power once held by kings, revoked by force, returned to the people, and manifested in a ballot.  It is personal and public.  You can use your power to protest or use it collectively towards one of a limited number of likely outcomes.  But when you walk in that voting booth, regardless of what you do for a living or how much you make, that vote is entirely yours.

Turnout is a matter of touching on that inspiration.  If I may be allowed some weighty assumptions, I would say that voters in Iraq and the Ukraine have that inspiration.  Change is more tactile there; the need for change more immediate.  

The candidates on last Tuesday's ballot fell short on inspiring voters.  Campaigning for office has become more of a game of avoiding unforced errors than moving our community forward.  "Poll-tested" is an ugly word in the parlance of elections.  It means that a certain phrase has been run out at small gatherings, discussed over the phone with thousands of voters, gauged for "high positives", and then run out on to the stage as if brand new.  To give you a comparison, if restaurants were run like campaigns, all of their menus would offer hamburgers, tater tots, and grilled cheese.  That's it.  None of us would be particularly disappointed, but most of us would probably think "I can make that at home."

Don't get me wrong - if you belong to a political party and didn't vote last Tuesday, you let your community down.  But so did those of us on the ballot.  We have an obligation to offer new ideas, inspiring ideas, that move our state forward.  These ideas can be as small as prioritizing pedestrian transit in semi-urban areas and as big as streamlining the tax code.  2014 should be about tackling the challenges ahead and making Maryland a better place to live, but so much of it has been backward looking. 

If you're serving grilled cheese and tater tots, most of us can make that at home.

The goal of my campaign, between now and November 4, will be to inspire you.  Not just those of you who live in 9B, but anyone who reads this.  We will find inspiration in this election, whether they want us to have it or not!

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Primary Won

We won our Primary on Tuesday:

I couldn't be more proud of our team.  It was my name on the ballot, but the results are owned by so many amazing, hard-working, dedicated, compassionate people.  People who don't think idealism is a funny word.  Our kind of people.  Tuesday night was great, but mostly because I was able to share an amazing feeling with people I love on a job well done.

While the final results were exhilarating, I'll be honest with you all and say that Primary Day itself is not particularly fun for the candidate.  Months and months of planning and execution come down to desperate attempts to leave one final good impression with every voter.  Every time someone passed me without looking me in the eye or giving me a thumbs up, I presumed I lost their vote.  I'm not going to suggest any of these thoughts were rational, but they were certainly persistent.

I spoke with Rich Corkran yesterday.  The conversation was brief.  I look forward to having him join our team to advocate for the substantive positions we've taken in this race.  I continue to believe Rich is a good man who cares about his community.  He just ran against someone I am not.  Whoever that someone is, I wouldn't have liked them either.

Many races were decided on Tuesday, regardless of what's on the ballot come November.  Our race was not one of them.  I'm glad for that.  Despite having to fend off feckless attacks from the left throughout my Primary, I've always had my eye on the General.  This is where we can talk about our vision for Ellicott City and how we're going to accomplish it.  I would put my team up against anybody and I did not much care who came out of the GOP Primary.  If it wasn't obvious before, we're not running against people on the other side of the ballot.  We're running for something. The fact that my opponent took a swing at me during his first conversation with a reporter is a good sign.  He's running a playbook we know; one we've defeated before.

We're ready.  Many folks have recommended taking some time "off", but I am more energized and motivated than ever.  We'll be right back out there soon.  And I believe that we will win.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!