Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tales from the Trail

On Saturday morning, I started my day with a 30 minute conversation with an unaffiliated voter about what needs to change in Annapolis and how we're going to do it.  He started off skeptical, but by the end of the conversation I had not only earned his vote, but he had also become an advocate.  There was only one problem.

"I want you to talk to my neighbor over there."

His neighbor had a line-up of Republican signs for every GOP candidate on the ballot this year, including my opponent, Bob Flanagan.  I'm normally not deterred by a single GOP sign, even if it is my opponent's, but I do like to follow my "list" of voters who are likely to turn-out and may be interested in hearing what I have to say.  This yard checked the first box, but certainly not the second.

I tried to tell my new friend that I didn't think that would go very well and that I would probably annoy his neighbor more than anything else.  I still remember what he said in response: "If you plan to reach across the aisle in Annapolis, you can start by knocking on his door.  I promise he is reasonable."  I couldn't help but notice a smirk on this gentleman's face as he finished his comment, confirming that this was in fact a dare and not just an evaluation of my fitness for office.  I accepted.

When I rang the doorbell, a very pleasant woman answered the door and was soon thereafter joined by her husband once I said the word "candidate".  I acknowledged that I saw the signs in the yard, but that I had been encouraged by their neighbor to stop by.  The gentleman smiled, "It was good that you did that."

He then explained to me how he was a Rush-Limbaugh-listening-Fox-News-watching Republican that was "tired of the crazy policies coming out of Annapolis", but that he was excited by the prospect of a "big tent Democrat".  He had only voted for one Democrat in his entire life and that was when he was 21 years old (he is now in his 70's).  We talked for 30 minutes, which is a long stop for door-knocking, but a much appreciated opportunity in the context of 3 minute evaluations and "not homes" that make up the rest of the day.

I heard him out on his concerns.  He heard me out on my responses.  I explained that tax fairness and fiscal responsibility were important principles of governance that superseded party ideology.  He agreed.  I argued that we had an obligation to ensure an infrastructure of opportunity for all Marylanders, including strong pre-K through 12 education and job training, he agreed.  I told him that I was tired of the presumption that party ideology was a reflection of what kind of person you were as opposed to what caucus you would like to work with in achieving the goals of government.  He agreed.

Don't get me wrong, there were some issues like immigration and marriage equality for which we just could not get on the same page.  What I appreciated about this voter is that he was willing to move on.  So often we find a point of disagreement and spend all of our time in that rut while breezing over the areas in which we agree.  Those are lost opportunities.  This gentleman seemed to get that.

When I left, he told me "Mr. Coale, I truly appreciate you stopping by my house, especially with all those signs in my yard.  I can't promise you my vote, but I think I will be taking one of them down."

Oh and by the way, the pleasant woman who answered the door listened to most of the conversation, but did not say much. Towards the end, when I was getting ready to leave, she said "We need new people, like you, in government."  I'm going to count that as a vote.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Words of Endorsement

On this campaign journey, I try to do my best to appreciate the ride.  Whether it is standing on a stage with amazing people who you've admired from afar or singing happy birthday to the wife of the future Attorney General before eating the best cupcake of your life, I try to step back and acknowledge the uniqueness of it all.  Knocking on a stranger's door and asking them about their hopes for the state they call home.  Telling that stranger your own.  Building so many bonds with people premised on the short but powerful agreement: "I will vote for you" and "I will make you proud to have done so."

But amongst those unique experiences is having someone write about you; having them comment on your work in a public way.  It is both the most satisfying and nerve-racking parts of being a candidate.  I'll admit that my hand still quivers a bit when I start the page.

Julia, Bill, Frank, Jason, HowChow, Duane - all of you have written such kind things about me.  And they mean more to me because I feel like you "get" my message.  This isn't just "Tom is my friend.  Vote for him."  It's "Tom is really trying to change things, but he won't get there by himself."  I've worked hard to be authentic, which is antithetical to 90% of the advice you get on the campaign trail.  The reward for those efforts is being clearly understood.  Seeing your words, and feeling like I've communicated the most important message of my campaign, is invaluable to me.

Yesterday was a big day for the campaign with two great columns published by Center Maryland.  The first was written by Laslo Boyd and focused almost exclusively on our campaign - "An Election Looking Forward or Back".  This line "when you talk to Coale, he comes across as a pragmatic problem solver, not a political ideologue" sums up the whole of what I'm trying to accomplish.  Solving problems and eschewing empty ideology.  If voters can evaluate me on that, and decide whether that is what they want in a Delegate, I feel like my campaign has been a success.

The second was from Josh Kurtz who wrote a more down-the-middle evaluation of the race in 9B, entitled "A Few Good Men".  I only spoke with Josh briefly at my event last Thursday, but he also picked up our message: "There’s an undeniable, almost irresistible optimism about Coale. He casts himself as a problem solver on the campaign trail, and talks about his desire to empower the community 'in the face of cynicism.'"  Josh also quoted my closing from last Thursday's event, which many of you have commented on:

Coale, speaking lyrically, not unlike a certain governor of Maryland who is contemplating a run for president, calls cynicism “my only opponent in the race – not Bob Flanagan. Not a man waving at traffic. Not a man who previously served in the House of Delegates. I’ll give Bob Flanagan his name. Give me my friends.”

Speaking of my friends, there was a third piece published yesterday that meant just as much to me.  Jason Booms wrote about my candidacy, but he did so by commenting on "what got me here".  When other people who have dedicated themselves to the thankless work of public service recognize the dedication and sincerity implicit therein, it means something.  We just don't have enough people running for public office who started with their Village Board or a local nonprofit.  I appreciate anyone willing to put themselves out there, but without this experience, I will always ask "where have you been?" Jason gets that (and so do so many of you).

I don't think a day has gone by since the start of this campaign that I haven't said "wow".  Admittedly, sometimes that "wow" was in the face of challenges or disappointment, but always in appreciation and amazement.  This race is not about me, but you all have made me feel like I have your full support and dedication to the cause.

Because at the end of the day, the reason I am so confident we are going to win this November has nothing to do with me.  It has to do with my friends.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Low Turnout

If you want to scare a Democrat in Maryland (or most other places), mention three words - "Low Turnout Election".  Democrats just don't do well in low turnout elections.  It would be dangerous and presumptuous to project the reasons why, but I think there are two fair explanations: 1) the Republican message plays better with the electorate that turns out for Gubernatorial elections, or 2) the Republican base turns out more consistently and, in the absence of a counter-weight, can be expected to win close seats.

There are some who consistently project these tides to reach further than they actually do.  It may be hard to remember (or believe), but Gonzales Research (a firm still used by many of the candidates you hear quoting polls today) projected Ken Ulman to squeak by Trent Kittleman 49% to 41%. 

Close.  Ulman 63% Kittleman 37%.

From being on the ground, on the phones, and in the community, I'm fairly certain we will have strong turnout in Howard County.  Voters were a little checked out after a drawn-out Primary, but in places like Ellicott City/9B/Council 1 we saw Democratic turnout as high as 32% with 29% Democratic turnout County-wide.  The state-wide turnout was 23%.

Howard County's strong performance in the Primary (at least among Democrats; HoCo GOP turnout was 20%) bodes well for similarly strong turnout in the General, if for no other reason than the fact that Primary voters often see their votes through in the General.

Nevertheless, none of us should be satisfied with a low turnout election.  There is something inherently unrepresentative about it.  A strong argument can be made that people who don't want to vote shouldn't be compelled to do so due to the likelihood of making an uninformed decision, but I think we underestimate the value people place in their votes.  Voters do their homework, particularly here.

Comptroller Peter Franchot is often cited by the GOP as "endorsing" their positions on fiscal policy.  He's acknowledged that Maryland is in a tough spot after the recession and that Marylanders are concerned about taxes.  However, he said something else when I saw him last night - "I'm confident Maryland Democrats will win most of these tight elections."  I agree.  I think all of the talk about low turnout is going to be a self-canceling prophesy.  Voters are not inspired, but they are concerned.  Not just about the economy, but also about the future in general and what kind of society we are creating with every decision made in Annapolis.  Concern and frustration can be paralyzing, but I don't think we're there yet.  Maryland voters are still engaged.

Particularly here in Howard County.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Monday, October 13, 2014

School Bus Politics

Over the weeked I saw a Republican Delegate comment on Facebook that "you know the world is upside down" when Democrats express concern about taxes.  This was one of the many snarky vague-booking remarks that serves as political commentary during silly season

The commentator seems unaware of their own irony.  You're the reason the world is upside down.  Pretending basic matters of governance, such as the propriety of taxes and responsible spending, are the sole provence of one political stripe over the other is precisely what is wrong with our political system.  And aren't Howard County Republicans going out of their way to celebrate cross-partisan action this year?  Isn't that the brand that they are embracing with the hope that blue voters will do the same on their ballots?

Politics can often feel like a school-bus.  Not the "wheels on the bus" kind.  The bad kind with mean kids in the back.  One of them thinks of an insult, hurls it, and then the others congratulate them for their wit.  The insult means very little in the grand context of things, but it means something to the insultor and the insultee.  The insultor feels powerful; as if they expressed a manner of ownership over another person.  As our mothers taught us, these people are insecure and they need to find their value in contrast to others.  The insultee gets to decide whether that value attaches.  For all intents and purposes, it is a closed system.

But it doesn't have to be a closed system.  We can see these people for what they are.  Not bullies (we need to stop overusing that word), but rather insecure little kids who have little else to offer.  It is amazing just how vapid most political speech can be when you evaluate it for substance.  "What have they added to the conversation?  What problems are they looking to solve?"  When you ask those questions and come up empty, you're looking at kids in the back of a school bus.

This seems like a drawn out way to call someone out, but it isn't intended that way.  I could not care one tiny bit less about what someone needs to say or do to make them feel like "their team is winning".  But we can all raise the bar a little bit.  What have we added to the conversation? What problems are we looking to solve?

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Confidence and Doubt

Two days ago, I had a five minute speech about cynicism ready for Thursday's fundraiser.  It was about how cynicism is as oppressive as any tyrant and as pervasive as any cabal of corruption.  Cynicism is a concession of power.  A cop-out.

But in the hours before last night's event, that speech just didn't feel right.  It felt...instructive, pedantic, and condescending.  More importantly, it didn't communicate anything about our campaign other than the challenge before us.

It made me think: What is the counter-weight to cynicism?  Hope?  A word that is laden with so much cynicism itself that it can barely be uttered at a political event without smirks and rolled eyes?  Optimism?  A state of mind?  No.  The counter to cynicism is a basic inter-personal relationship.  It's a matter of confidence.

I've been fortunate to serve in a number of leadership positions throughout my life.  In order to lead, you must inspire confidence.  This is why term limits on executive positions, in many respects, are statutory constructs of popular fatigue.  Confidence has been earned, spent, and lost.

In this campaign, I don't talk about small things.  I don't blame some people for balking at the grandiosity of what we're promising - to fundamentally change the way people experience, and interact with, their government; to represent social justice and fiscal restraint; to work hard for commonsense government that people respect. 

You can have your skepticism, but do you think I have any doubts about what we're trying to do?  When people tell me I will be co-opted or "changed by Annapolis", I try to bring it back to the very personal - "Do you think I would do that?  Do you think I would work as hard as I'm working to allow that to happen?" 

You don't need to have confidence in everything I'm proposing, but you do need to have confidence in me.  Whether you like it or not, you're on my team.  Are you working with me or questioning the merit of the work?  Doubt is a concession.  Confidence is power.

We're only a few weeks away.  Let's take it home.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Our campaign sent out two mailers this week:

The feedback has been fantastic thus far, but the word I hear above all others is "independent".  From Democrats: Are you an "independent" now?  What do you mean by that?  From Republicans: How can you be "independent" from the Democrat establishment?

This gets back to a very basic focus, which if you've read this blog for any amount of time you will recognize - we need to get beyond the red team/blue team dichotomy and pay attention to what's best for our community.  I am a Democrat, proud of the social progress we've seen over the last five years, dedicated to lifting up and protecting our most vulnerable, but also very concerned about the taxes we've asked our middle class to bear and the business climate we're left with after a devastating recession.  And I know there are many other Democrats, Republicans, and Unaffiliated voters who feel exactly the same way I do.

We have audits that are going without redress.  We see no-bid contracts end in multimillion dollar disasters.  Corporate subsidies and tax breaks are being awarded with presumed benefits, but no accountability.  Our state locks up thousands of non-violent substance abusers and you are stuck with the bill for their room and board.  All of these things are being done with a "go-along-to-get-along" attitude that does not attach to one party or another.  Open the books on the Ehrlich administration - same thing.  Patronage hires, Open Meetings Act violations, and audited subsidies found to be misdirected by the officials we trusted to be "fiscally responsible" with taxpayer dollars.

So when I say "Independent", I am not talking about a political party.  I am talking about the same guy you know.  I'm stubborn about what I think is right and a mighty obstacle against anyone I think is wrong.  I did not run for this office to be co-opted.  We may not always agree, but you can always count on me to be able to explain my actions.  That's Independence.

On a somewhat related note, my biggest event of the year is next Thursday and I would love for as many of you to be there as possible.  You can find out more about the event here or donate through this link.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  Let's go O's!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Two Forums in Three Days

I love candidate forums.  They are the closest thing we have to "testing" the candidates on their true convictions and concerns.  Any observer will be able to see who has passion and who has another appointment to get to.  Unbridled tempers flare while cooler heads sit back and watch.  These forums are the best part of the campaign season.

On Saturday, I attended the African American Coalition of Howard County's General Election Candidate Forum.  I was actually the only candidate from 9B there.  I won't ascribe any disrespect or dismissal to Bob Flanagan, as I know the campaign can be long and sometimes things happen.  It was just unusual to be without the usual "contrast" that comes with a head-to-head election.

Due to the large number of candidates for the House of Delegates (we were all on stage at the same time), each district was only asked one question.  For District 9, the question was how to help those who had "done everything right" and still could not find a job.  I answered last and most of the comments about education and job training had already been made.  I fully agree that the best thing we can do to help raise employment is to provide a platform for workforce development while improving the business climate for Maryland-based businesses through streamlined regulation and a fair, predictable tax burden.  However, when it was my turn to speak, I commented that we also need to consider those who had not "done everything right", simply because there were so few that would fit the offered description.  Do we foreclose opportunity for those who are trying to return to the straight path or recover from a bad choice?  I think we need to, because our government pays for bad decisions (i.e., prisons, food & medical assistance) and benefit from productive members of society.  Maryland needs a real expungement law for those who have decades of clean living and needs to provide more ladders of opportunity for those currently homeless looking to pick themselves up off the ground.  That is not to the exclusion of those who have "done everything right", but rather as a part of a holistic approach to unemployment.

On Monday, I attended the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum and this time was joined by my opponent.  We were asked a series of questions about issues that the League has made a priority in this election, including fracking, redistricting, Affordable Care Act launch, referenda, and transportation.  These forums will eventually be made available online.  I will provide brief summaries of my responses here:

Fracking - The gorilla in the room on fracking is methane gas.  I am certainly interested in examining the utility of a fuel that burns cleaner than coal and may be a "bridge" to renewable energy, but have yet to be convinced that it can be mined from the ground in a manner that does not release a concerning amount of methane into the atmosphere.  Methane is 20 times more effective at trapping radiation than CO2 and 60% of all methane emissions come from human activities.  This is a persistent concern with natural gas and one that I will need to see addressed before embracing it as a matter of public policy.

Redistricting - There is uniformity in my race on this issue, as both Bob Flanagan and I support an independent commission to draw Congressional and state district lines.  I think an important caveat is that the purpose of such a commission should not be to create "competitive" districts as much as create districts that keep communities whole and allow meaningful representation.  Even with common sense redistricting reform, we will still have races decided in the Primary.  The difference will be that the people will be empowered to mobilize their individual communities to be heard and, frankly, exert meaningful control over their representative.  We don't have that when zip codes are sliced and diced to meet certain demographics or target vote numbers.

Affordable Care Act Launch - Give some candidates a hammer and say "Affordable Care Act launch" and you are bound to see some happy demolition.  I don't think anyone is happy with how the roll out went, but we're being elected to fix problems, not just yell about them.  I have significant concerns about the burdens placed on small businesses to meet the requirements of the Act and want to see what we can do to help ameliorate that burden.  That said, we also need to recognize the admirable purpose of the ACA, which is to expand health insurance coverage, particularly for those with preexisting conditions.  You don't meet those two concerns with a hammer.  Looking back, we need government contracting reform to foreclose the opportunity for no-bid contracts.  I would project that the genesis of 70% of government waste is a no-bid contract and we have an obligation to fix that.

Referenda - My opponent and I agree that the referendum process must be reformed to provide more clarity to petitioners at the beginning of the process by approving language on petitions before they are brought out for signature.  To be clear, this does not mean that all petitions will be approved.  There are certain pieces of legislation that are too complicated to be communicated via petition and will have to be brought to referendum in parts.  I also think we need referendum reform to ensure that the civil rights of minority groups are not put to petition ever again.

Transportation - I call this a fundamental "think outside the box" issue.  The "box" is "build more lanes", which is a fundamental waste of government resources.  Since the late 1990's, we've known that when you increase road capacity, it is filled within 5 years.  However, when you expand transportation options and change the way people get to and from work, you diversify the channels of transport and ease the burden on roads.  As I said at the forum, we can't just build rail and presume people will use it.  We need to start with dedicated bus lanes that provide an advantage for taking the bus, which will then create a "culture of mass transit".  Once that is in place, we can evaluate the utility of additional options, but I think it would be foolhardy to take a "build it and they will ride" approach to billion dollar transit systems.

This post was much longer than I anticipated, which means there is probably more than enough to start a discussion.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!