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Friday, June 28, 2019

2020 Democratic Presidential Race Officially Underway

George Wenschhof
The first Democratic presidential candidate debate is over. Now candidate and media spin is frantically underway to influence voters.  One thing to keep in mind is this is June 2019 and the long road to the Democratic Party nomination will culminate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the Democratic National Convention held July 13-16, 2020.
That said, voters were still excited to listen to the candidates to help them determine who they will support who has the best chance to remove Donald Trump from the White House, their number one desire.
With 20 of the 25 announced candidates qualifying for the first debate, it created insurmountable obstacles for the moderators.  Splitting the debate into two nights with ten candidates each night helped in the logistics. But, it remained too many candidates on stage and difficult for voters to tune in for a two hour debate two nights in a row.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) led by Tom Perez was more than generous by allowing candidates to appear in the first debate with the following guidelines: To qualify via polling, a candidate must reach 1 percent in at least three national or early-state polls from qualifying polling organizations. To qualify via donors, a candidate must have at least 65,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors in at least 20 different states.
I applaud the DNC for giving so many candidates the national exposure during the first debate.  However, reducing the field to the top seven candidates should be the goal following the next debate scheduled for July 30-31.  The same everyone gets on stage criteria as the first debate will be in place for the second debate scheduled in Detroit, Michigan televised by CNN.
It was also smart for the DNC to hold the first two debates in Florida and Michigan, two toss-up states Democrats look to win in 2020.
The candidates who helped themselves in the first debate, in no particular order of significance, are California Senator Kamala Harris, Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  While Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey received the most air time the first night, it remains to be seen if he benefitted from this debate.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York did her best to get noticed but it was Kamala Harris’s night so Gillibrand may receive little to no bounce in polling.
I expect former vice president Joe Biden to remain the front runner, even though he had a performance similar to the one President Barack Obama had against Republican Mitt Romney prior to his second term.  I labeled that the “rope a dope” defense because Romney who was far behind in polling hammered Obama throughout that debate and Obama just took it.  The race would narrow following that debate fueled by Republican optimism after witnessing the drubbing given to Obama.  However, Obama would finish strong and ultimately win reelection.  It is way too early to count Biden out.  But, he definitely needs to retool his approach.  Look to see if he remains at 37% or drops when polling following the debate comes out.
Also, look to see Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont fall from his current second place polling position with Warren taking second place.  However, he will likely remain in the top five.
Sen. Kamala Harris should receive the biggest boost following this debate and arrive in the top five in polls.
Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Democratic Presidential Candidate Debates Begin Tonight

George Wenschhof

When Hillary Clinton announced she would not be running for president in 2020, the question became, who will be the Democratic Party nominee?  Like her or not, Hillary and her husband Bill have an incredibly massive political organization, vast experience and overwhelming name ID, arguably stronger than any of the announced Democratic presidential candidates.  Perhaps, after losing to Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the third time would have been the charm for Hillary.  A video of Hillary running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with tears running down her face and raising her arms in triumph would have created a more human image, possibly propelling her to victory in November.
Instead, over the next two nights, 20 of the now 25 Democratic candidates for president will be showcased to voters in televised debates.  Tonight, the ten candidates to debate are: Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Perhaps even more important than actually watching the debate and how candidates respond to the questions and each other, pay close attention to the campaign candidate spin masters.  Often, this is what hits the print and social media.  Candidate staff and surrogates will be hard at work prior to, during and after the debate, doing their best to portray their candidate in the best light.
It is estimated, with the announced debate format of no opening statement, one minute responses, 30 second rebuttals and a closing statement, each candidate will have between 7-10 total minutes over the two hour debate to make their pitch to voters.  There will be five different segments separated by four commercials.  It is always hard for moderators to keep candidates within the time limits so expect to see some candidates exceed their time.
The moderators tonight will be Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt and Chuck Todd of NBC News, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and José Diaz-Balart of Telemundo.  The location of the first debate is Miami, Fla., in the Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Florida was won by Trump in 2016 but Miami-Dade County is a Democratic stronghold in a state Democrats want to win in 2020.
One of three women candidates appearing tonight, Massachusetts Senator Eizabeth Warren who did not challenge Hillary in 2016 has moved up in the early polling, challenging Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for candidates appealing to the more progressive wing of The Democratic Party.  Warren is the early polling leader among the candidates appearing tonight and her professorial make up and her numerous plans for policy issues, specifically calling out income inequality across America, may come across well tonight.
I do believe that Warren will pass Sanders after this first round of debates and that Bernie’s ship has sailed in the 2016 election when he was the alternative to Hillary for Democratic voters.
Due to the luck of the draw, this night has been referred to as the second tier candidate debate night because Warren is the only one registering in the top 5 in polls.
However, look to see New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio do very well tonight and possibly win this debate.  He is used to debating, has a good screen presence and a background of supporting and implementing progressive causes.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, one of two African American candidates will surely be asked about Joe Biden’s recent comments pertaining to working with people you do not agree with, referencing white segregationists who used the word ”Boy”.  Biden’s refusal to apologize, although he did call and talk with Booker, has not impacted his early polling lead.  So, Booker may be served best by mentioning the offensive manner of using this example and pivot to his position on other issues and defeating Trump.  Booker has been lagging far behind in the early polling so this is an opportunity for him to build his case to voters.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, an early favorite of mine, fell flat after her announcement outdoors in the middle of a blizzard.  Demonstrating her grit was admirable, but questions pertaining to how she treats her staff have impacted her and she has also failed to register in polls.  A good showing tonight would allow her to reset her campaign.
Housing Secretary Julian Castro is another early favorite of mine who has struggled to get traction in his campaign.  He is another candidate, like Warren, who actually has specific plans for his position on issues.  He typically speaks in a measured tone, so I would expect his staff would be encouraging him to show some emotion and spark tonight.  I wanted Hillary to pick him instead of Virginia Senator Kaine for her vice president and still feel he may have pulled enough votes to have helped her win in 2016.  He is a solid candidate but needs to elevate his game quickly or face fading away.
Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio is certainly from a much needed state, but his moderate approach to issues will likely fall flat tonight.  Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas has fallen off the radar after a highly hyped announcement following his close senate race and loss in Texas.  Beto has already reset his campaign with no noticeable result so he also risks being an also-ran very soon if he does not do well tonight.
Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee are all already on life support so they will definitely need a “Hail Marry” moment tonight to jumpstart their campaigns.  Out of these three candidates, Inslee at least has the issue of climate change as the integral aspect of his campaign.
It promises to be a good debate to watch so plan to tune in beginning 9:00 PM ET on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Frederick County DRRA Amendment Moves Forward

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner

George Wenschhof

Democratic Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner’s amendment to Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (DRRAs) has moved forward with Councilmember Steve McKay (R-District 2) introducing it to the County Council on March 5, 2019.
McKay, who stressed the need to amend DRRAs in his campaign, said he was pleased to introduce the amendment that will cover several areas. First, it will change the minimum requirement to be considered to 1,500 homes. Second, it defines an enhanced public benefit to be included in agreement, which is above and beyond Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) requirements. It will also limit the length of agreements to five years with a five-year option and put limits on what is frozen.
The Maryland General Assembly in 1995 passed enabling legislation for DRRAs to address in part, late vesting of development projects, often defined as when foundations are built, the pendulum swings on how to manage growth resulting from changes in local elected officials and to provide some assurances to both developers and local government in zoning and regulations over the length of the development.  DRRAs are intended to be a benefit for local government and developers by providing benefits for each that would not be available without the agreement.  The state legislation does not limit the length of the agreement, restrict the number of homes or define a public enhancement that is above and beyond what is required by APFO review.
During the 2010-2014 board of county commissioners led by president Blaine Young(R), 13 DRRA’s were entered into, including one with 43 units that does not expire until 2034.  These agreements cover a total of 13,097 housing units, have an average length of twenty years and are the only approved DRRAs in Frederick County.
Gardner said, “I introduced this same bill during the term of the prior County Council. While the prior council debated it, they ultimately let the bill time out and made no decisions.
“I fully support my proposed legislation, which would require any future developer agreements to include an enhanced public benefit―like a school, regional road improvement, fire station―and prohibit the freezing of fees. The agreements should provide a benefit to existing residents and taxpayers.”
Gardner added, “I believe the five-year timeframe is appropriate because the county should reserve the right as it historically has done to review a development project if it does not proceed in a certain period of time because circumstances change including school overcrowding, road capacity, fire service needs and so forth.”
Gardner felt “DRRAs should be reserved for larger developments that will take longer to build and have the capacity to provide enhanced public benefits. Smaller developments do not have the financial capacity to make major infrastructure improvements and they can build out over a much shorter period of time.”
In regard to the number of units, she said “I am open to some flexibility in the 1,500-unit number, but these agreements should only be available to large projects for the reasons stated.”
Eric Soter, president of the Land Use Council of the Frederick County Building Industry Association and former Frederick County planning director, said, “The county already has the ability to accept or reject any DRRA right from the beginning as it is not a ‘by-right’ type of tool. So they are merely tying their own hands if the right project comes along.”
He noted, “There are no 1,500-unit developments on the horizon, there is not any ground right now that is planned in the County to accommodate that many units for one project. There is only one project with more than 1,500 units that is currently active and that is Lake Linganore.”
Frederick County Councilmembers Steve McKay (R-District 2), Phil Dacey (R-at-large), Kai Hagen (D-at-large), and Jerry Donald (D-District 1) all said they were willing to discuss the 1,500 minimum unit requirement. 
Furthermore, Soter said, “Even if there ever is a future project that would meet the criteria, the five-year timeframe doesn’t typically get you through the approval process. Perhaps some mass grading may begin, and some initial infrastructure, but with the State of Maryland being a ‘late-vesting’ state, there are no assurances that zoning could be removed for all or a portion of a community at any time without such a tool.” 
The public hearing of the proposed DRRA amendment will be April 2, 2019.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Frederick County, Maryland County Executive and Council Results

George Wenschhof

Turnout was indeed high for a midterm election with a 58.44% turnout with 101,049 votes cast out of 172,907 registered voters during early voting and the 2018 general election.  Early voting favored Democratic candidates and as I suspected unaffiliated and write-in candidates would fall flat.

Frederick County incumbent county executive Jan Gardner (D) won reelection against Republican challenger Kathy Afzali with 51% of the vote.  Gardner (14,682) would win by 6,678 votes over Afzali (8,004) during early voting and she would win after general election day with early voting added in by 7,184 – Gardner (50,974) – Afzali (43,790).  So, on general election day Gardner (36,292) would beat Afzali (35,786) by 506 votes.  Earl Robbins, the unaffiliated candidate for county executive would only receive 4,639 votes total of the 99,502 votes cast for county executive during early voting and the general election.

In the county council race where voters elect two countywide (at-large) and 5 by districts, several races are still to be determined by the count of absentee and provisional ballots

In the at-large race, Democrat Kai Hagen (43,002), Phil Dacey (R) (42,781) and Danny Farrar (R) (42,531) are lock in a close contest to determine the two winners.  Absentee and provisional ballots will determine this race.  However, Hagen with a 471 vote lead over Farrar is in a good position to be one of the winners with the other decided between the two Republicans where only 250 votes separate them.

Democrat Susan Reeder Jessee (40,545) would come in a close fourth and incumbent council president Bud Otis (12,450) who changed party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated came in last.  Four years ago Otis received the most votes in this race as a Republican candidate and Jessee came in a close third.

The district 1 county council race is another nail biter with Republican challenger Kevin Grubb(10,876) holding a 57 vote lead over incumbent Democrat Jerry Donald (10,819). Interestingly, Donald would come from behind four years ago when he beat Ellen Bartlett (R) after absentee and provisional ballots were counted.

The write in ballot by Republican district 2 council member Tony Chmelik was a dud with him receiving only 749 votes out of the 22,694 total votes cast.  Republican Steve McKay (13,054) who beat Chmelik in the primary election would win easily against Democrat Lisa Jarosinski (8,891) in a heavy Republican voter registered district.

Democratic incumbent district 3 council member M. C. Keegen-Ayer(10,343) would easily win reelection against Republican challenger Joe Parsley (5,974).

In district 4, incumbent Democrat Jessica Fitzwater (11,023) easily beat Republican challenger Jimmy Trout (6,901).

Republican candidate Michael Blue (11,671) would easily win the district 5 council seat vacated by incumbent Kirby Delauter who would be beat by Kathy Afzali in the Republican primary election county executive race.  Democrat Shannon Bohrer  would receive 6425 votes.

Regardless of which party, after district 1 and the at-large races are determined following the absentee and provisional count, the animosity that existed between three Republican council members and Democratic county executive Jan Gardner will not continue.  Republican at-large council member Billy Shreve lost in the Republican primary election to Craig Giangrande in his bid for district 3 Maryland state senate.  Shreve, Delauter and Chmelik who were all antagonists against Gardner are now out of office.

Democrats will have two members on the county council with Fitzwater (district 4) and M. C. Keegen-Aeyer (district 3).  Republicans will have two members on the council with Michael Blue (district 5), Steve McKay (district 2).

The party makeup of the other three council members will be decided following the absentee and provisional count.  The odds favor Democrat Kai Hagen to win one of the two at-large seats.  Which means either Republican Dacey or Farrar will win the other at-large seat.

This means the winner of district 2 race between Grubb (R) and Donald (D) will determine which party will have a majority on the board.

If Hagen and Donald win for a Democratic majority look to see Hagen be made council president.  If Republicans win the majority and Dacey is elected at-large, he could be made council president.  That is unless, McKay, who is known to favor Gardner, votes to support Kai for president.  Who is made county council president will be interesting to watch.

Editor's Update: The first round of absentee ballots will be counted on Thursday Nov. 8 beginning at 10:00 AM by the Frederick County Board of Elections. In the District 1 race, there are presently 425 Democratic Ballots, 232 Republican Ballots and 135 "Others" Ballots to be counted. Democrat Jerry Donald is 57 votes behind Republican Kevin Grubb after the general election.

In the at-large council race where two candidates are elected, there are 3,592 ballots to be counted with the breakdown by party as follows: Democratic - 1953, Republican - 1,003 and Others - 654. After early voting and the general election the three candidates vying for the two positions are Kai Hagen (D) - 43,002, Phil Dacey (R) 42,781 and Danny Farrar (R) 42,531.

Editor's Update:  Vote counting is continuing with the Frederick County board of elections issuing a statement they will finish on Friday Nov.9 and post results in the afternoon.

Stay tuned.