2018: Assembly Session and Elections Intertwine in Maryland

Maryland progressives are gearing up for a slugfest in the General Assembly -- which opens its 2018 session in mid-January -- in an election year when one of the top priorities will be to send GOP Gov. Larry Hogan back to private life.

Developing a broad agenda supported by the wide but sometimes fractious range of progressive organizations will be a challenge but social provision (paid sick leave), reform of criminal justice (bail reform and further advances in police reform) and education funding will be standing issues. The effort is ranging from Annapolis to the near-in Maryland suburbs of DC and engaging many of the progressive groups that have grown since the 2016 election and are now finding their footing as a combined local political force

Agendas and their formation are on the table at events beginning tonight (Wed Nov. 1) in Prince George's at a DSA-sponsored legislative briefing from progressive stalwart Del. Jimmy Tarlau, cosponsored by Progressive Maryland and Our Revolution PG. A Montgomery County agenda and empowerment session is set by four sponsors including DSA, Our Revolution, Progressive Neighbors and Progressive Maryland for Sunday, Nov. 5 with U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin, MD State Delegates Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Erek Barron, and Political Economist Gar Alperovitz.

Larry Hogan is already in pre-election mode, showing off by spending money on roads as a signal to his rural base that he's going to look after their needs first, maybe: and boasting about no new taxes, read his lips in MoCo. Speaking of Hogan's base, Baltimore County student suspensions are disproportionately minorities and "the different" -- the same county where over a decade ago a UMCP criminal justice professor found wild disparities in prosecutors seeking the death penalty, disproportionately for black defendants. And Hogan is also trying to consolidate a different base, the Democrats' knee-jerk support for apartheid Israel, with an executive order amounting to a provocation, cutting off state contracts for companies and individuals engaged in the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement against Israel. That one is bound to bring free speech lawsuits aplenty.

One of the major struggles of the session may be the override of Hogan's veto last May of the Assembly's hard-won paid sick leave bill -- a measure that took four years to get through. Hogan tried a good-guy ambush last session -- claiming he wanted paid sick leave too, just way watered down to help the poor oppressed business interests that are his real base. That didn't get traction and failed to derail passage with a veto-proof majority. He has recently put together an-house "panel" to evaluate the impact of a sick leave bill -- all from his own agencies -- and continues the effort to water the measure down. In that he is emulating MoCo exec Ike Leggetta's strategy with the Fight for $15 measure in that county.

On education, the Assembly dodged a bullet and Hogan lost a possible window for waving the tax-and-spend banner at the Democratic-dominated legislature. The Kirwan Commission was set up to study K-12 practices and financing with a mandate that could have been as explosive as the Thornton Commission a decade and a half earlier. After a year of work that was supposed to culminate in a New Years 2018 package of recommendations, the commission announced last week that it wouldn't make the deadline -- meaning no package shape-able into a funding bill for the session. There is no way Maryland could spend less on education to keep its system and rep afloat; poor schools now get on average 5 percent less funding than those in affluent neighborhoods. That is exactly the disparity that the Thornton recommendations were aimed at reversing. Funding has not followed that path but rather the political one, and the bills are coming due.

Even closer to home, the struggle over improving the Metro system's infrastructure and service -- which has real victims, including potentially among the system's employees -- was enlivened by a nasty fight with a strong flavor of schadenfreude for progressives. When Larry Hogan and DC Councilman Jack Evans get in a pissing contest, how can we arrange for both to lose? Although the petty fight over transfer of a few parcels of land was settled by wiser intervenors, the sight of these two unlikable men at odds was delicious.

As Metro imploded and entered rehab over the last few years, the workers always have to watch out for their pocketbooks and rights, and never more than now when a new biz group has formed with Metro improvement in its sights. Robert McCartney, the WaPo scribe who's been on this beat for a while, outlines the new player: the Greater Washington Partnership, an alliance of chief executives of many of the largest employers in Maryland, Virginia and the District. Its board includes leaders of Dominion Energy, Northrop Grumman, Under Armour, the Carlyle Group, Exelon, Monumental Sports and Entertainment and Capital One.

If those names don't chill your pro-worker bones, what will? McCartney, kind of laughably, says that the dysfunctions of Metro are at least in part due to "the political weakness of the region's business community" -- hard to discern when you watch pro-worker measures like higher minimum wage and more affordable housing be eaten away at the District Building, in Rockville and Upper Marlboro and Annapolis by high-powered business lobbyists. His point is, not unreasonably, that Metro's glaring need for a dedicated funding source rooted in all the served jurisdictions is devoutly wished by that same business community. What we know but he fails to acknowledge is that heavyweights like those named above will settle for nothing less -- and nothing more -- than a sales tax surcharge for Metro, a regressive burden that falls almost entirely on the backs of working families. Working-class users of Metro certainly should have to pay their fair share of the cost of bringing back the Metro we all believe we remember (it was probably never THAT good, but hey!). But the mega-businesses who benefit from Metro's delivery of consumers to their doors and the increasing property values that accrue around the stations should be paying a big share too. Just waiting for them to step up and volunteer!

And in the burbs -- there's a strong push to add Prince George's to the list of local governments that have a small donor program for public financing of elections. Our Revolution, Progressive Maryland and a nascent DSA organizing committee are strategizing support for a bill expected to be filed in January at the beginning of Prince George's County Council's new legislative year. It would provide matching public funds on a sliding scale for candidates who secure small donations up to a certain threshold total that makes the candidate seem viable. This would reduce the need for candidates to go begging to developer interests or participate in Assembly slates awash in developer money – a situation thought by many activists to have given the development interests control over Council votes. Similar efforts have succeeding in Howard County and in Montgomery, which is one year into its program and attracting 2018 candidates. Seasoned activists on the small donor front say a D.C. version is looking likely in the coming year and has support. But in Prince George's, as in the other jurisdictions, power will yield nothing without not only a demand but a fight.


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