GRANOLAPARK: They wonk among us

Rob Richie, Fairvote Executive Director, addresses city council, April 8.


Dear Readers,

This is not a grassroots movement, this is special-interest legislation.

Takoma Park-based Fairvote nonprofit is using the city government to promote its own agenda.

As we reported Mar. 11, according to councilmember Seth Grimes, Fairvote’s director helped Grimes and councilmember Tim Male craft the proposed city charter changes that would lower the voting age, allow felons to vote, and keep voter-registration open through election days.

“The proposal that was initially part of the conversation,” said Fairvote director Rob Richie, addressing the council at the April 8 public hearing  ” . . . is that we do not have the right to vote in the Constitution – an affirmative, clear right. We are needing one.”

A current Fairvote project is the “Promote Our Vote” campaign for a Constitutional right to vote. Takoma Park’s voting reform proposals play a major role on the Promote Our Vote campaign website.

“The conversation that started with that led, I think, to these specific changes,” said Richie.

Promote Our Vote website screengrab, April 12, 2013.

Promote Our Vote website screengrab, April 12, 2013.

Big deal?

Is it such a big deal that in this of all cities the government is working with a liberal non-profit to craft legislation that happens to further the non-profit’s agenda?

Maybe not, but liberals cluck their tongues when state and national legislatures allow special interest groups to craft legislation that helps their agendas. So, it you are opposed to that, but favor it in your city, does that make you hypocritical, or merely “complex?”

Rob Richie, Fairvote Executive Director, addresses city council, April 8.

Rob Richie, Fairvote Executive Director, addresses city council, April 8.

Teen drama

To underscore the lack of grassroots, the majority of those who spoke at the public hearing were NOT RESIDENTS. In fact three were from Germantown, MD.

Most were youth-rights advocates of some sort. Several of them were professionals, working for various interest groups.  They were all frighteningly smart, and suspiciously well steeped in facts and figures. Every one of ’em headed for careers in Washington governmental offices, non-profits, and think-tanks.

So, this is not looking like a grassroots movement. This is looking like a take-over by the Future Wonks of America.

City non-resident speaker at April 8 public hearing.

City non-resident speaker at April 8 public hearing.


Oh, you just wait, Takoma Park. You think those 16-17 year olds are cute now, but how will cute will they be when the city Wonk Police show up at your door? If you don’t have your pie charts and your policy points ready, it’s the slammer for you, pal!

By the way, Voice reporter Morgan Fecto interviewed local 16-17 year olds, asking them if they wanted the vote. Not all of them do, or think it is a good idea. Clearly the few, well-prepared, articulate, and involved city teens who attended the council meeting do not represent all their peers.

Problem or excuse?

But, hey, remember the problem? The problem this voting reform is supposed to solve?

The problem, as the reformers state it, is that renters don’t vote in the same numbers home-owners do.

That’s looking less like the problem and more like the excuse. Lowering the voting age is NOT the solution to getting renters to vote.

Nobody knows what the solution is, because, as we keep pointing out, nobody has researched it. Renters haven’t suggested these reforms, the council is just guessing why renters don’t show up at the polls.

Expensive toy

Your Gilbert’s guess is that renters don’t vote because they know that city government is the expensive toy of middle class home-owners and there’s nothing in it for them. What benefit does tinkering with the city charter or the tree ordinance have for most renters?

Telling renters that they are benighted and unfulfilled because they don’t want to play at city government is, frankly, patronizing. Until the city council can make a case to these folks that city government is not a waste of valuable time, they only make themselves look like well-meaning, but clueless liberals.

Kay Daniels-Cohen IN PERSON!

Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen shows off the speech notes she wrote on the back of an envelope, "Like Lincoln," she quipped.

Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen shows off the speech notes she wrote on the back of an envelope, “Like Lincoln,” she quipped.

Takoma Park councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen has been “attending” via phone since her early Feb. hip-replacement, but she made what must have been a big effort to show up in person for the April 8 council meeting and public hearing.

This time, however, councilmember Tim Male attended via phone. Maybe it’s his turn for a hip replacement. He seems awfully young for that, but he IS a parent and we all know that parents lose their hip pretty fast, especially in the eyes of their children. So, if he shows up next week wearing a hipster hat and talking about cool bands nobody every heard of, we’ll know what happened.

– Gilbert


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About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

5 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: They wonk among us"

  1. Hello Gilbert. I drafted the first-take on Election Day Voter Registration, drawing on the Rockville city charter and other sources that included material from a variety of organizations backing Same Day Registration at the Maryland state level, without any FairVote contribution. FairVote did have some input into the evolution of my draft into the current SDR version, but I believe it was the city clerk who made the major changes, based on council worksession and e-mail discussions and on her own good common sense.

    It was Councilmember Jarrett Smith who first brought up voting for on-parole and on-probation felons although I had independently noted that it is a position of the Maryland chapter of the NAACP (voting for incarcerated felons as well, actually) and was quite happy to support it.

    Lastly, it was something like 10 years ago that there was a movement to extend the vote locally to 15-year-olds, I think it was. The idea’s not new here.

    If we (the council) were the FairVote toadies you suggest, we’d be pushing for the choice-voting arrangement, with 3 at-large wards and 3 geographic wards, and each voter getting only one at-large vote, that FairVote was promoting a year ago. But as much as I admire FairVote (a lot!), it’s the ideas that count — good ideas such as voting locally for 16 & 17 year-olds — and not their source.

    By the way, are you publishing your list that shows that a majority of those testifying last Monday evening are not Takoma Park residents? Please also tell us exactly who it was who, according to you, is “telling renters that they are benighted and unfulfilled.”


  2. Seth, could you please explain exactly why the Council thinks it is a good idea to give voting rights to 16-17 year olds? No one has explained that. Thanks.

  3. Our count was 14 non-residents, 13 residents – three of the residents were against the lower voting age. Three of the city residents who spoke in favor had a professional interest -working in the fields of civil rights, politics, or policy. At least two resident speakers spoke in support of other parts of the reforms, not the lowering the age limit.

    Obviously you would know best what came first, and it looks like you are saying you got into voting reform before you heard from Fairvote. Jarrett Smith says the same about his reforms. You DO say Fairvote had input into the development of the draft at some point. But, you’re saying, they were not the catalyst.

    That makes us curious to know what was the catalyst. Not, it would seem, any constituent requests – unless you want to count the one made 10 years ago. We have not seen a lot of council action over 10-year old constituent requests.

    However it started, it seems from what you and the Fairvote executive director have said that at some point there was input from that group. Enough input that Fairvote project Promote the Vote ballyhoos the city’s voting reforms on its webpage as progress on their cause.

    In his public remarks to the council April 11, the Fairvote executive director referred to initial conversations he implies he was part of. That input, as he described it, aligns Takoma Park reforms with the Promote Our Vote campaign to establish a constitutional right to vote.

    “I also just wanted to make a plug for the part of the proposal that was initially part of the conversation, which is that we do not have the right to vote in the Constitution – an affirmative, clear right. We are needing one. There’s a lot going on around the country that I think that leads us to want that change. And the conversation that started with that led, I think, to these specific changes, and I think it also can commit us to make these changes really work. And part of that is – [seeing] the charter amendments are good, and going further and doing the best we can them work, and going futher to say ‘hey, 18% turnout of people over 18 is not enough, even.”

    These reforms, and even the constitutional right to vote, are not bad things. We don’t necessarily oppose them We are taken aback by how they have been sold as solutions to renters not voting, and the lack of a city grassroots movement behind it.

    As for quoting a someone telling renters they are unfulfilled and and benighted, obviously nobody spoke those words, but isn’t that the thinking behind wanting to “give” them the vote? We still say somebody should ask them why they don’t vote – and then proceed with voting reform based on that information.

  4. I’m not sure how the issues of voting age and renting go together.

    I’m agnostic on the question of giving the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds. But naturally, FairVote will use a favorable vote on this legislation to promote its cause. And it’s common practice for interest groups of any stripe to propose specific language in legislation. The pesticide folks wrote an ordinance that was roundly criticized at the recent public forum. The difference, I guess, is the perception that the voting age proposal has not received as much public attention. At this point, however, I think it has.

    I do think the effect of giving 16- to 17-year-olds the right to vote will help educate kids about the positive and negative aspects of our small democracy. But the ones voting will likely be the sons and daughters of already politically active parents.

    One aspect of this that hasn’t been touched upon: The new voters could easily form a bloc to tilt elections one way or another (which is how the system works), both because few people vote in our municipal elections and because it’s easier for school-age kids to vote. Unless they have jobs, they get out of school early, unlike many of their parents, who work late. Better distribution of absentee ballots and more information about that process (and even before that, about registering) would boost turnout, IMHO.

  5. We’re also agnostic on giving 16-17 year-olds the vote, but we can NO LONGER RESIST posting this:


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