IMAGE: Maryland Legislative District 20.
ONE TAKOMA • SETH GRIMES
Monday evening, January 9, the 28 members of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (DCC) will meet in public session for a public vote to appoint a new District 20 representative to the Maryland House of Delegates. The appointee will serve a majority-minority legislative district that includes Silver Spring and Takoma Park and extends north to White Oak and beyond, for two years through 2018. Let’s quickly discuss the appointment process and then move to what matters more at this moment: Candidate positions and response to issues.
As political observer Jonathan Shurberg notes, the approach to filling state legislative vacancies, via vote by the county committee of the departed legislator’s party, “has been around in the Maryland Constitution for over a century.” Still, as Bill Turque reports in the Washington Post, “the appointment process has come under increasing scrutiny from critics who contend that it is undemocratic and rife with cronyism.” The concern is that DCC members, most of whom are elected, and some of whom were appointed to fill vacancies and for gender balance, act unethically in appointing their own to fill state delegate and senate vacancies. My take matches Jonathan’s. Each would-be candidate had equal opportunity to position herself for appointment to a mid-term vacancy. So sure, we can consider changing the system, but until it’s changed, the DCC shouldn’t punish a candidate’s foresight.
You have two formal opportunities to hear the candidates, at a January 3, 2017, 7 pm forum at the White Oak Recreation Center Community Room, 1700 April Lane, Silver Spring, and January 5, 2017, 7pm, at the Silver Spring Civic Center, and you’ll find them on Facebook and Twitter and out in the community. Myself, I met recently with three and spoke by phone with a fourth, and I know a fifth quite well through years of collaboration on community matters. What candidate Darian Unger reportedly calls “government by Starbucks” is a bit more open than you might think: The candidates are accessible to those who reach out to them. (For the record: I met Darian and candidate Daniel Koroma at Kaldi’s in Silver Spring, and Jheanelle Wilkins at Busboys and Poets. Shop local!)
Review the candidates’ applications — Yvette Butler, Lorig Charkoudian, and Amy Sabo Cress have also announced — attend a forum, pose questions, and make an endorsement if you wish. If you pose forum questions, or if you’re a candidate reading this column, please consider raising these…
Ten Issues for Maryland District 20
- Sanctuary and civil protection are complementary concepts, the first the extension of shelter to undocumented individuals — to human beings — who seek to build a new life in our community, driven by political and economic conditions in the countries they left, and the second an end to institutional and institutionalized discrimination against minorities.
- Voting rights and civic inclusion. We in Maryland don’t suppress voting, yet we could do much more to encourage it, starting with address of registration disparities. Automatic voter registration would be fantastic; Election Day registration, which Delegate Kirill Reznik has notably promoted, would help, as would campaign access to apartment buildings as allowed in Minnesota and in Takoma Park.
- Economic opportunity means policies that support both small business and fair wages. I don’t mean corporate give-aways. I mean programs that foster business creation and employment and that underwrite expanded child care and affordable healthcare and housing.
- Transit. Let’s get the Purple Line built and fund bus rapid transit — much of the Purple Line and most of the BRT Route 29 Corridor run within D20 — and fight Governor Larry Hogan’s highway shell game.
- Takoma Park has been working on The New Ave, revitalization of the New Hampshire Avenue corridor and Takoma-Langley Crossroads, for many years. State involvement would help, given the need for funding and for cross-border cooperation involving Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and the City of Takoma Park. Former Governor Parris Glendening, a smart-growth pioneer, paid attention to the corridor’s social and development needs. Robert Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley didn’t and Larry Hogan hasn’t. Can we revive state attention?
- District 20 and much of Montgomery County need new schools, to respond to school-population growth. Every candidate is concerned about closing the achievement gap. The first step is to eliminate the opportunity gap. State school construction funding and the governor’s attempts to divert funding to private schools are District 20 issues.
- Protection of local authority, of the ability to expand on state and federal protections. Local authority is a priority for District 20. At this moment, Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns lawncare pesticide restrictions are under industry attack, based on a fanciful claim of state preemption. Governor Hogan has gotten into the act by aiming to prevent Maryland localities from requiring expanded business sick-leave coverage. I am especially apprehensive about federal and state attacks on Montgomery County, Takoma Park, and other Maryland sanctuary policies. We need legislators who will fight this aspect of the Trump-Hogan agenda — who might even work to expand local authority, for instance by introducing legislation to end state preemption of local firearms legislation — and who will also resist the devolution of federal and state responsibilities and funding liabilities onto local jurisdictions.
- State agency responsiveness. State agencies can be a pain in the butt. I’m thinking particularly of the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). I served four years on the Takoma Park city council. I found no state agency more difficult to work with than the SHA which, in my experience, has little sensitivity to the needs of residential neighborhoods and urbanized business districts, to desires for walkability, multimodal transportation options including bicycling, and streetscapes friendly to businesses and the environment. The MDA wears similar blinders. The MDA, for instance in its pesticide regulations, simply won’t admit that residential lawns and school playing fields can and should be treated differently from farms.
- Accessible and affordable quality healthcare. The looming Trump-Ryan-McConnell train wreck will start with steps to derail the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid. These steps are likely to engender a tepid response at best from Governor Hogan. So here we have another statewide, countywide matter that will hit disadvantaged District 20 neighbors particularly hard: the loss of accessible and affordable quality healthcare. And a side point, actually a very significant one for District 20: Silver Spring-Takoma Park needs a legislative advocate for creation of a free-standing emergency-care facility on the soon-to-be-former Washington Adventist Hospital Takoma Park campus.
- Constituent services. Jamie Raskin was Senator Pothole (to borrow the moniker that kept Alfonse D’Amato, a nasty right-winger, in office representing New York in the U.S. Senate). Fortunately our new delegate won’t take up the burden alone. Sheila Hixson, Will Smith, and David Moon are a great District 20 team, one that recognizes that superb constituent services, direct-to-individuals and supporting Montgomery County and the City of Takoma Park in Annapolis, is what differentiates a strong-on-issues legislator from an all-around great representative. Let’s maintain their standard of excellence!
My ten points extend over a broad territory. No single legislator can cover them all well, particularly not one appointed mid-term and just at the start of the annual legislative session. Readers and other District 20 neighbors will add issues to my list, but whatever the appointee’s strengths and focus issues, teamwork, openness, dedication, and responsiveness will be key to her or his Annapolis success. I’m confident the Democratic Central Committee will make a strong appointment, and it will be up to us District 20 constituents to help our new delegate succeed.