Thursday, October 28, 2010

Witches, Goblins and Boogeywomen -- the real ones!

It is not just the season of Halloween which is spooking us all out now.  It appears that the Trick-or-Treaters are the least of our current problems and potential cavities from sugar overload are not our largest fears.

What is frightening are the current groups of women candidates running from the far right and with the Tea Party support.  Add to that mix the spectre of Sarah Palin in her red election suit stomping around the country telling people they need to reclaim their country.

What these women fail to realize with their fear-mongering, class and culture warfare and talk of a constitutional interpretation unrecognizable to most is that the country they want to have has never existed.  They speak of going back to simpler times, is it the times of child labor and worker exploitation they wish to revive?  Or is it the times where the banks failed, poor houses existed for the widowed and the elderly, or when hospitals were places one went to die?  Is it the times when we had no interstate roads or minimum wages or adequate public health or food safety protections?  Just how far back do they wish to go?  Perhaps back to the times before they could even legally vote or run for office?

Women have been candidates for almost a century now, but it is doubtful that there has ever been such a group of strange characters as are currently seen.  How could anyone compare an O'Donnell from Delaware "I am not a witch; the constitution does not mention separation of church and state" or an Angle from Nevada -- "People are illegally pouring across our northern and southern borders; we should cut out Social Security and Medicare programs" with our own Barbara Mikulski?  Think of Barbara shepherding the Lilly Ledbetter pay parity law through the Senate and her fighting to prohibit insurers from making a victim of domestic violence experience further harassment by being denied insurance. (Domestic violence was termed a pre-existing condition!)  Although she is less than five feet tall, our Senator Mikulski stands heads and shoulders above these candidates, because she stands tall for women and children, families, fairness and equality, health care, education for all, job security and homeland safety. 

Where are today's educated women among the ladies of the right, those with significant resumes such as held by Sandra Day O'Connor, Kay Bailey Hutchinson or a Jean Kirkpatrick -- who were moderate to conservative, but whose knowledge and service have been valued with bi-partisan support?  Where are the accomplishments of civic service, achievement in academia or business from either Angle or O'Donnell?  They came from the fringe of politics and are not running to build up our country but instead to detract from it.  They do not announce plans for Senate initiatives they support, but rather indicate what they would attempt to roll back.  These current women candidates are not obviously empathetic to the needs of hearth and home, but are trying to tough out their male opponents by touting their own unyielding stands on public issues untroubled by facts.  Knowledge of complex financial matters does not seem to be a strength; however scape-goating poor Americans, or demagoging the issues of immigration and health care produces money from the committed.  With luck and intelligent voting by Americans, these candidates and others who are going backwards in time will be silenced at the ballot box.  Americans may wish for better times and hope for change but they can realize that one does not make progress walking backwards.  Halloween will be over by Election Day.  It will be time for these hobgoblins to be put aside as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Early Voting – does it change the campaign culture?

Now that we have early voting offered in some form in 32 states (including Maryland) and the District of Columbia, some wonder if it has changed the culture of campaigning. 

In the early days of our country, the Founders, true to the mores of their time, decreed that only men could vote; in many places only landowners were allowed to cast a ballot.  Later, voters were induced by promises of drinks given to those who showed proof of having voted.  In cities and along the lawless frontiers, Election Days were frequently marred by much public drunkenness and brawling.  Urban bosses were later said to encourage multiple votes by casting ballots for those whose names were found on local headstones.  It took many years and many public protests for women to finally gain the right to vote early in the 20th Century; the right to vote for African Americans took much longer and was coupled with the Civil Rights movement.  Poll taxes, stringent voter exams and outright intimidation were commonplace across many areas of this country during that era.  During the marches in the 1960s lives were lost and forever changed by this struggle which was eventually won.  To some, this seems far away, an excess of another era, but for many who remember, this struggle has defined their lives and they would not miss an election.  Some – even in this day and age – try to discourage voters from showing up at the polls by misinformation or intimidation; a recent ad was aired to try to tell Hispanic voters to not vote since immigration reform has not yet happened.  But if you ask many people what attribute is the hallmark of our democracy, often the right to freely and privately vote is mentioned.

So why then do we usually have only slightly more than half of the registered voters actually casting a vote in National elections?  In 2008, approximately 231 million people were of voting age and eligible from our population of over 300 million.  122 million people actually voted.  Consequently, about one-third of our population decided who will govern this country.  In off election years, such as this one, where more campaigns are local, voter numbers decrease even further.  So how does a candidate reach out and convince someone to vote?  Some have complained that voting is too difficult; lifestyles are not conducive to voting at a fixed time and place.  Early voting has changed some of that and has decreased some excuses; absentee no-fault voting is trying to encourage more participation in the process.

Traditionally voters are reached in an ever narrowing circle of contact outreach efforts.  There are the coffees, the kickoffs, the debates and public events and other forums.  Mail is employed as are phone banks and robocalls (automated calling).  Personal door-to-door contacts are stressed for the very committed voters, the ones you really want to get out there and vote – because the candidate knows they share similar views or ideals.  Then, as Election Day draws closer, one looks to GOTV (Get out the Vote!)  Voting day would arrive and lines were seen at the polling places.

Anyway, this has been the time-honored tradition for most of the last half of the 20th century.  Before our country became as mobile and as transient as it is now, there were assigned contacts in many urban areas whose primary jobs was to get the voters to the polls.  The person who voted early in the day was prized, because that would make the rest of the day easier for the campaigners; once off the list, this was one less voter that needed to be steered to the polls.  Once the voter arrived at the polls, he or she might have to run the gauntlet of partisans offering paper sample ballots or campaign literature in hopes of creating a last minute change in voter choices.  This has been the way Montgomery County has managed the election process for many years.

Now much of that has changed.  One may vote early, on the weekend or during the week, somewhat in advance of Election Day. There is wider access absentee voting.   (Montgomery County polling places are listed below.)  What effect does this have on the GOTV efforts as described above?  Will this increase the turnout of voters?  How will the last minute frenzy be altered?  Are we, as a country, moving toward a voting month such as states like Oregon have?  Oregon has no polling places, just mail in voting.   Voter out reach is not limited to Election Day.  Since there are paper ballots, there is no dispute about electronic machines losing or changing votes.  Does it increase turnout or make voting too detached, too sterile?  Would such a system work in an eastern state such as Maryland?  What is your suggestion to better engage the voter?

You do not have to vote in a home precinct during early voting - but you do on Election Day.  Turnout was very low during the Primary - let's get out there this time and make our voices heard!

Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center, 14625 Bauer Drive, Rockville 20853
Germantown Recreation Center, 18905 Kingsview Road, Germantown 20874
Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center, 14906 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville 20866
Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville 20850
Silver Spring Civic Building, 8525 Fenton Street, Silver Spring 20910

You can cast your vote at any early voting location in the county between Friday, October 22, 2010 and Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 10:00am until 8:00pm (except Sunday, October 24, 2010).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Montgomery County is Multi-talented

The Music Center at Strathmore hosted the annual Executive's Awards for Excellence in Arts and Humanities ceremonies on Monday.  Those in attendance were treated to an evening which featured performances from many local artists and represented some of the multi-faceted, multi-cultural aspects of the local arts scene.  Awards, presented by County Executive Ike Leggett and his wife, Catherine, were also given to many who led local groups, both large and small and to those who organized financial support for the many arts groups in our county.

Two special honors were given:  The years of contributions to the arts by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation -- and the new center they endowed at Montgomery College were showcased by the giving of the Patron Award.  All of us in the Metro area have been the beneficiaries of their generosity.   A Lifetime Impact Award was given to Carol Trawick.  Anyone who knows her is aware of the many organizations (both arts and others) she touches personally with her energies and leadership, our county is richer by knowing her.

The individuals honored for their singular contributions included Ken Rucker for 40 years of volunteerism at the National Capital Trolley Museum,  Shizumi Shigeto Manale  for her Japanese Dance group, Suzanne Richard for work with the Open Circle Theatre, Eve Burton for her story telling group at the Libraries, and Michel Bobbitt for his work with Adventure Theatre.  Tamar Hendel received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her devotion to creative arts and therapeutic art.

County Council members – Council President Nancy Floreen, District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner, and at-large members George Leventhal and Marc Elrich, also announced the multiple recipients of county arts grants monies, several of whom were present for the festivities.  More than 150 groups and individuals were among the awardees of county sponsored grants.

The evening featured several artists in performance -- a Japanese dance company (Shizumi Kodomo Dance Troupe) a South African street dancer performance (Lesole Dance Project), selections from a musical under rehearsal (She Loves Me) by the Damascus Theatre Company, drum based dancers from a highly energized African dance troupe (Sinte) and the combined local folk type group (Jennifer Cuttings OCEAN orchestra and singers from the Washington Revels).

Arts and Humanities Chair, Jacqueline Manger (yes, the wife of our Police Chief) was the Master of Ceremonies; she kept the energy level high and the program for the evening flowing smoothly. 

In tough budget times the arts are often left off funding or donation lists, because they are so-called "options."  They should not be, because the beauty of music and dance, the delight in art and architecture, the joy in live performances, the written and spoken words that entertain and enrich our souls and ourselves, are integral to the human psyche.  These are the skills which set us apart from nature -- the actuality that we as people can create and imagine that which we cannot see or some can see differently than others.  These talents are unique and are properly celebrated; they should also be supported with our funds as individual contributors and continued with our county funds as official statements of support, even when budgets are tight.  Our county is fortunate to also have corporate sponsors who step up and contribute to this event and the corresponding County Executive Ball for the Benefit of the Arts & Humanities which is held every December and uses no taxpayer dollars.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fired Up and Ready To Go -- Where?

The polls are flip flopping up and down; Democrats up here, Republicans are up there.  The rumors say the Democrats are in for big losses and that this mid term election will be a repudiation of the mandates of 2008, but will it?  With just two weeks left before the November election - and with some states already doing early voting, the mood of the country appears to be poised for some kinds of changes.  What are the reasons for this mood shift in the brief time since our last national election?  How much has the suspect money controlled by Karl Rove and others through secret PACs influenced this turmoil?  Have the Democrats traditional allies, the unions, had their voices overwhelmed in this avalanche of partisan ads?   Will the usual ground game be enough for the party in power?   Are the Democrats still fired up enough to get out there and fight for their message?

We have an articulate President who has effected some significant social changes with health care and Lily Ledbetter, moved cautiously on the foreign stage and effectively withdrawn from Iraq, so why are he and the Democratic Party seen as unpopular?   He apparently is beset from the Democratic right and left; one group saying he went too far with health care and the other side saying he did not go far enough and conceded too much.  One group liked getting out of Iraq but did not approve of increasing a presence in Afghanistan, while the other bemoans a continued presence in Guantanamo, despite the Congressional prohibition against jailing the prisoners on American soil.  And – this just includes critics from his friends!   When one is pummeled from both sides, the end result is still painful.

Other topics still needing resolution include: the immigration debate which has stalemated, “don’t ask don’t tell” which remains frozen while a military review is awaited; the deficit grows and the greater economy is stagnant.  Even as gains have been made by the Stock Market, big financial institutions and the auto industry, Main Street has not yet seen an economic bump up.  Foreclosures and home values remain problematic, unemployment is still an issue and stimulus dollars are moving slowly.  Democrats have split into yellow dogs, blue dogs, and hot dogs; (something the opposition would never allow), while we pay the price for being divided.  We, as a party need to learn three things:

1.    How to disagree amongst ourselves without a poison pill, 
2.    When to really come together, rather than running from an agenda which we helped to create,
3.    How to appreciate the fine lines necessarily drawn in compromises, which really are the Art of the Deal.

Why are we not making the point loudly that we did not get in this mess overnight and we cannot make it go away by wishing it so?   Why are we not doing a better job of pointing out the wing nuts whirling around us?  Many people fought against Medicare for 40 years until it was enacted; now the same people who are saying get government out of my life are saying don’t cut my Medicare.  Those who talk about waste in government, are also saying leave Medicare Advantage (the HMO section that has been found to be overpaid and wasteful) alone; makes little sense -- but Congress is running scared.  Our 8th District Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, speaking before a hostile audience earlier in the year, said it well -- government keeps the planes from crashing into each other with the traffic controllers, and keeps our medicines safe through the FDA, and keeps our country moving with interstate commerce and the Department of Transportation, which one do you wish to give up?   More electeds should make this case.

This is a country used to IM, texting and 24/7 media.  Change is desired, but it is somehow expected to be achieved as rapidly as the next seasonal cycle.  President Obama wanted change, but we have a tiered government.  Congress is holding up his desired appointments, so many departments are not at full strength in leadership; a President should have a pre-determined period of time to establish his people in place.  There are the legislative, the judicial and the executive branches, and each has derailed some of the changes sought.   Republican opposition has stalled action on necessary bill passage in the Senate, requiring cloture votes on the simplest measures.  The Supreme Court decision on corporate spending has unleashed a torrent of right wing money to help oppose any agents of change.  The White House correctly moved quickly on getting its programs identified and proposed, but seriously erred in allowing compromise and concessions to the Republicans; this allowed the Senate to slow down the momentum, while the opposition geared up spawning the Tea Parties and other fringe groups.

Since it appears the Congress will be less friendly to our goals than before, it is up to Progressives to limit anticipated gains.  We must get out the vote and stand behind our candidates.  Progressives need to decide just what our agenda is; do we want to stand on the sidelines allowing ourselves the satisfaction of purity of thought?  Or are we going to unite, get out there and fight to give President Obama some support with a Congress which has a mandate to make this country work?  Are we going to expect our President to wave a magic wand to obtain change or are we going to help him do the more difficult work of repairing this polarized country and finally make real  differences happen?   Or are we going to dig in, insist on 100% or nothing, and end up with nothing?  Are we ready to accept the challenge?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is all fair in love, war …and politics?

In Olney recently, the Olney Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) sponsored a debate amongst the four candidates for the two County Council seats in District 2 and 4.  The current candidates in District 4 are the incumbent, Nancy Navarro (D) and her challenger, David Horner (R).  In District 2 there is an open seat since Council member Knapp is stepping down.  Craig Rice recently won the Democratic primary and faced off against perennial candidate Robin Ficker (R).  I was there and share this information:

Topics for discussion were written down and submitted by members of the community to the moderators.  Most of the questions addressed current concerns, transportation, the budget, education – pretty much as expected – and the candidates gave their personal take on the issues.  Nancy Navarro seemed more comfortable in this atmosphere, than she had been when she ran in 2009 and skillfully answered most of her questions with focused replies.  Her opponent, who was unknown to most of the audience, used a lot of his time to give answers, but also told his biographical story to those in attendance.  

The District 2 candidates had been on the same stages before, at events during the Primary debates, when all candidates were included.   For the most part during those debates, there were few exchanges between these two candidates.  But on this night, things turned darkly different.  Robin Ficker departed from the topics at hand, gave many cursory answers and used much of his question answer time to make several personal attacks on his opponent, Craig Rice.  Robin spoke of some past problematic legal and personal issues that Craig had encountered and made inferences, with no proof, about under the table payments and other murky illegalities.  Stating that Ficker knew the issues had been resolved and were old news, Rice addressed the matters adequately in a tight-lipped controlled manner, although he indicated that he believed this should not be the forum for such discussions.  Since Craig’s wife, mother and two daughters were in the audience, this seemed to me, also most inappropriate.  The audience appeared stunned by these exchanges.

Recently State Senator Mike Lenett running in a tight race in District 19 against his opponent,  Delegate Roger Manno, launched an attack web site and sent out messages claiming duplicity on his opponents’ part for a past name change.  Dark inferences were made due to the fact that his birth name was Rajah; can terrorists be far behind? His High School sweetheart, whom he married a few years ago, was castigated for having been employed in NY by Lehman Brothers.  Mailings were distributed with fake newspaper headings, an action refuted as improper conduct by Delegate Susan Lee, also an attorney.  Many others in the county decried this action and sent out emails and made statements in opposition.  Roger, himself, put up a message on his website and sent out a long emotional email explaining his life story.  Lenetts’ extreme tactics apparently backfired as Manno prevailed in the election which was held a few days later.

Someone said all is fair in love and war -- and politics, but I wonder; in each of these incidents, how were the needs of the voter served by these insertions of negative information?  It is additionally said that negative campaigning works; in the age of the Tea Party as we are now seeing, absurd attacks are being made against good legislators on both sides and virulent ones against the President of the US.  One movement claims he was not born in this country; others tab him with various social or racist labels.  And -- of course the media picks up on dissention, at times appearing to fan the flames for positions taken by those on the extremes -- as we all know that colorful signs make for good TV. 

Where should we as a society draw the line?  When will the voting public turn away from this discourse?  Or is the public speaking out by just staying away from the polls, leaving only the fringes on either side to decide our future? 

Do you agree with me that we need good people from all political perspectives to make certain that the majority speaks out not, only in public, but also at the polls?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mixed Messages From the Voters

The recent Democratic Primary in Montgomery County demonstrated an example of an uninvolved public.  With voter turnout here demonstrating the lowest percentage in more than 40 years, Maryland Democrats must be concerned about the November election. 

Questions that must be asked now are:
•    Is the low turnout due to public apathy?
•    Did the economic picture in the county keep the voters home?
•    Did the lack of a top of the ballot contested race--such as the Spirited County Exec race in 2006, keep turnout low?
•    Did the huge mail volume and robo-calls turn off voters?
•    What role can county union members claim in the final council and legislative results?
•    How did the early voting opportunity influence the final numbers?

Welcome to the initial blog post from Politics Plus...

My take on these issues must be colored by my recent failed race for a council seat in Upcounty District 2 where I came in third out of five candidates.  That said, I will do my best to be objective in this and future musing about county issues.

As I walked neighborhoods and knocked on doors, I found some voters focused on the upcoming elections, but to most it was a far off event.  Despite an avalanche of mail and a sight pollution of signs, many voters were uncertain about when and where the elections would be.  I have heard others say that this is often the case with September contests.  In Maryland, primaries are held in September in the non-Presidential years and in either February or March in Presidential election years, so it is no wonder that the voters come back from summer vacations focused on everything except elections.  After all, in September, there is a new school year just starting and many older voting age students are going off to college.  The major religious season of Ramadan ended the weekend before the Primary and major Jewish holidays were before and after the scheduled voting day.  For Federal workers the end of the budget year was at hand, causing many to work longer hours.

The council completed the budget hearings and passed the budget back before the summer started, so many of the campaign events and debates we saw during the summer, were missed by traveling families.  The County Fair forbade candidate stickers this year which decreased some of the more outright politicking usually seen at the Fair, so candidates were trying many venues in order to be seen.  

So what should the various candidates do in order to get their messages across?  Just what is the responsibility of the voters about being well informed?  Do you as a voter peruse the Voter guides published in the Post or put out by the League of Women Voters?  Do you allow endorsements from the Post, the Gazette or the Apple Ballots to choose your candidates for you?  How many of you attended any of the Council or Legislative debates or watched the discussions on County Cable TV?  Did you attend a coffee or a fund raiser for any candidates? 

I am curious to know how the informed voter gets their information – so please tell me in your response here.  Use the comment feature below to provide comments.  Thank you.