The Squad Is Democracy at Work by J.E. Dean

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Before the President’s most recent display of leadership, I had a clouded view of the four Democratic Congresswomen collectively known as “The Squad.” We all know AOC, author of the outline for the Green New Deal and an openly acknowledged Democratic Socialist. Then there is Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, widely quoted, and even reprimanded by her own Democratic colleagues in the House for her comments on Israel, 9/11 and other things. The other two are less well known but for their association with the other two.  These two, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, have also engaged in comments, or embraced policies, deemed unpatriotic and even treasonous by our President.

Initially I dismissed the publicity that The Squad was receiving as a reflection of a press too eager for a story.  These were outspoken women, some of them Muslim, who were questioning Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calling for radical economic reforms. They had the gall, during record-breaking Dow market highs, of saying that all is not well in America.  I was ready to dismiss them as young, perhaps naïve, people who are typical of a fringe element that sometimes shows up in the halls of Congress.

Then President Trump springs into action. In his now-infamous tweet, he told The Squad, three of whom were born in the land of the free, to go back to where they came from and fix the problems there.  This blunt condemnation prompted me to learn more about The Squad. The President, during a week that featured continuing press coverage of horrendous conditions in the migrant holding facilities on the border, implied that all is well in America with exception of people like The Squad. Trump seemed to imply that if the Dow continues to hit annual highs, with thanks to his political pressure on the Fed, there is no rational grounds for questioning how great America is.

Trump’s racist tweet is particularly offensive because, like so much of his opus, it’s based on a lie.  Three of the four Squad were born here. Just like Trump himself, but not his mother, and very much unlike his first and third wives. I also thought about my own ancestors, Irish and German immigrants who met with similar hostility upon their arrival but, due their relative naivete, never even thought anything about America could be changed except through hard work and a double effort to blend in.  

The Squad has come to the national stage at a time when, despite the election of Trump, democracy seems to be working, or at least working in some locales.  The Squad is evidence of this. Representative Omar arrived here as an immigrant and wasn’t even a citizen until age 17. Now she is in Congress. Impressive.  AOC did not buy into machine politics and boldly challenged an entrenched Democratic incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley, the then-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. She won by establishing that her opponent was more entrenched in DC than in Queens.  Representatives Tlaib and Pressley also overcame stereotypes to get elected. Somehow, they convinced voters to choose them to represent them in Congress. Pressley had the audacity to challenge a respected Democratic incumbent, Michael Capuano on the grounds he was not aggressive enough in his advocacy of liberal policies. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who also identifies as a Democratic Socialist, engaged in some of the same type of language as Omar, questioning Israeli policy and US support of it.    

Simply put, The Squad are heroes of democracy. If you are radical enough to believe that Democracy is a prerequisite of good government, you have to not only congratulate them on getting elected but also for standing up to the Bully-in-Chief, who doesn’t want to see any of the four on one of his  golf courses. Dare I say it: They are a wonderful reflection of what America is.

The Squad has earned my respect.  I am likely to continue to disagree with some of their proposals, statements or actions, but I’m glad they are in Congress.  It’s a shame Maryland is not represented in this quartet.   

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

Focus on Talbot: A Book Review by Dan Watson

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I’m not exactly sure what I think about The Second Mountain, the well-publicized book by David Brooks, except for these two things: the section on “Community Building” is important and certainly applicable to Talbot County, and I would urge people to read the whole thought-provoking volume.

On the one hand, Brooks develops some clear and very compelling theses that run through the entire work. First, individuals quite naturally undergo two phases in a healthy adult life. The first is focused on career, family, building one’s identity & success in the world. Then, usually around midlife, one goes into a valley. Often he/she experiences setbacks, difficulties or loss of satisfaction with one’s situation, leading to a re-evaluation of values and life goals. Then comes the second phase, inward looking as to values but focused outward towards relationships and community-building.

This idea is hardly a revelation, but Brooks articulates it well. I made reference to it a few weeks ago, when pointing out the benefits that flow to our community and local institutions from the coincidence that Talbot has a disproportionately large number of folks over 55 who are climbing that second mountain, including many with substantial resources.

Zooming out, Brooks contends persuasively that the maladies of our society arise from “hyper-individualism,” a deep-seated ideology we’ve internalized that every man (and woman) is independent and stands alone in their pursuit of happiness. That world-view has been taken to an extreme, yielding loneliness, isolation, a consumer-driven ethos, tribalism and an epidemic of suicide. Its counter—the way to build a healthy world–is not a leftist collectivism he contends, but “relationalism,” a way of valuing our interconnections. (You will believe me when I say Brooks articulates all this enormously better than I can summarize!)

The Marlboro Man may be handsome and tall in the saddle, but he’s unhappy and ultimately dysfunctional. A society of Marlboro men and women just doesn’t work.

On the other hand, I found the book, for me, a little uncomfortable. It is not really a socio-political work, the kind of thing I expected. To my surprise, the book is largely a very personal, revelatory story of Brooks’ own personal evolution as a man, dealing largely with his psychological journey, his successes and failures with loving relationships, his (interesting) mixed religious roots and a transformation of religious beliefs. The discomfort was mine: I don’t read books of this sort, just not my thing. Jeeze, he was writing all about love, and intimacy, and vulnerabilities and such–things that are central to my life too, but not ones I usually talk about with strangers. I felt a bit like a voyeur—which tells you more about me than Brooks.

The book is structured in five parts, each one of which could stand alone. He first presents the “two mountain” theme, then expounds on vocation and career, on marriage, on philosophy and faith, finally bringing it all together in “building community.” It does not take much reading between the lines to tease out from these pages Brooks’ biography, some of it expressed directly, some just hinted at, all of it pretty intimate and revealing.

Many of my conservative friends here in Talbot and elsewhere would not dream of reading anything by Brooks because he is, after all, a political turncoat. He knew Milton Friedman intimately and was a protégé of William Buckley. He wrote for the National Review (after a youth reading leftist works with enthusiasm, as he tells us). Articulate, extremely well read, and publicly personable (if not privately so, as he also tells us), Brooks is particularly well known since the early 90’s as “the conservative voice” on the PBS News Hour, a bookend with Mark Shields on the left.

But, though his intellectual foundation and conservative credentials were both rock-solid and main-stream in the Reagan era, Brooks did not follow the conservative political evolution of the last two decades, and not at all the metamorphosis of the Republican Party that he was once identified with. His distain for Donald Trump and this administration could not be greater, and he makes no secret of that. Consequently, he is vilified by many on the right, surprisingly admired by many on the left in spite of espousing traditional conservative political and economic principles.

The Second Mountain delivers two things. First, what I was looking for: a clear discussion of root causes of many of society’s ills (hyper-individualism) and a strategy for countering them (what he calls “relationalism”). What I did not expect was the personal story, a vivid backdrop to understanding who this pundit fellow is and the personal worldview that now envelops his political and economic positions.

I’d urge you to read this thought-provoking book; take from it what’s of interest to you.

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

Bay Crossing Study Stalled? by Janet Christensen-Lewis

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Spring ended with the solstice on June 21, but the promised Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) public meeting on a Bay Crossing has not materialized.

Since rescinding an announcement of “open house” style meetings for the winter of 2019 (itself a delay from the original plan for such meetings by the close of 2018), MDTA asked the public to watch for such meetings in the spring of 2019. The excuse we were given for not meeting the winter deadline was the federal government shutdown, which did not allow federal staff to participate in meetings.

Now, the current notice on BayCrossingStudy.com states only: “Please check back here for upcoming Public Open House dates and times.” There are no explanations for the further delay.

This significant delay, currently more than six months, raises two grave concerns. First, exactly how transparent is this public process? How are we, the public, supposed to interpret this delay? It seems to us that the MDTA is totally disregarding its obligation to provide the public with real information about what is happening on this important and controversial project.

Second, this delay is robbing the public of time to consider critical information and participate adequately in the next phase of the process. A delay of this magnitude should be reflected in a comparable modification of the overall schedule and deadline, extending the close of the process.

MDTA was given five million taxpayer dollars to conduct a study required under the National Environmental Protection Act for the project. Were these wasted dollars on an agency that is unable to conduct a professional and transparent study? One of the primary responsibilities stated in the Coordination Plan for agencies conducting these reviews is public input. Another important aspect of their work is to implement consultation on historic resources in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, known as the Section 106 process. Neither of these is happening. Unless there is a change in the scheduling they will be shortchanged. Of particular concern would be that the Section 106 process will be foreshortened in a way that is unsuited to the sensitive and important historic resources across the Eastern Shore that could be affected by a new Chesapeake crossing.

There seems to be a great deal of chaos at MDTA. First a map showing 14 potential corridors for Bay crossing turned out to be leaked “pre-decisional” maps that were for internal use and not meant to be shared with the public. This was followed by the abrupt unexplained departure of Kevin Reigrut, the head of MDTA’s 1,700-employee agency. His replacement, James F. Ports, Jr., formerly Maryland’s Deputy Transportation Secretary, was appointed in June. Coupled with the unexplained missed deadlines there is the appearance that this agency is unable to get its house in order. This track record is not reassuring when the agency is tackling a decision on what will be an extraordinary expense for Maryland residents, a potential scar on the Chesapeake Bay, and could result in a profound alteration of the culture and landscape of the Eastern Shore.

We deserve an explanation of why dates in the schedule have effectively been changed to TBD, why the Coordination Plan has not been updated and extended to reflect delays in the scheduling, when the Section 106 consultation process is going to happen, and where MDTA currently stands in its obligation to bring forward the Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis for public participation. As the situation is now, MDTA is operating in its own bubble and the public is completely excluded from the conversation.

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance has tried communicating with project coordinator Heather Lowe at MDTA to no avail. We have written to Senator Hershey and Delegate Jacobs for help in getting some answers to our questions about this project and holding the agency to its responsibility to be open and transparent. Mr. Ports, copied on the letter sent to our State representatives, has replied: “I appreciate hearing from you and as the newly appointed Executive Director, I’m sure you can imagine that I have quite a few issues to follow up on. I will look into this issue and as soon as I can garner the information about this request, I will do my best to inform you and the public at large.” We will have to take him at his word but are mindful that this is only a promise that has been made by an agency that has failed repeatedly to answer questions that we and the residents of Kent County have posed.

You will not be asked to “check back with us” as MDTA has done, KCPA will publicly release any information received in real time.

Janet Christensen-Lewis, Chair

Board of Directors

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance

Kentalliance.org

 

Op-Ed: Should Dogs be Taxed? By J.E. Dean

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Friends visited recently after an enlightening trip to Berlin and other German cities. Curious about what enlightenment they found, I asked for details. The answer was, “For one thing, they tax dogs.” I did not know this, but, clever as I am, I asked, “How do dogs get the money to pay taxes?” “The dogs don’t pay. The owners pay,” I was told. “Ah,” I responded, “It all makes sense now.”

Apparently, Berlin and other German cities have determined that dogs generate costs that are shared by dog-owners and non-owners alike. Dog taxes are a means of getting the dog owners to pay some, or perhaps all, of these costs. The taxes can be significant—100 euros or more. Berlin, I learned, also places a higher tax on owners who have more than one dog. The tax is based on the dog’s breed. For example, a pit bull is taxed at a higher rate, than, say, a nice dachshund. (This last detail makes sense. Carried to its logical extreme, people with goldendoodles would pay no tax at all, or even get a tax credit, simply because doodles are special).

Enforcement can be brutal. One family’s dog was seized and sold on eBay to pay delinquent taxes. Another man disguised his Spanish water dog as a sheep for years to avoid the tax. Authorities enlisted a vet to make a ruling and prosecuted him.

The dog taxes collected are used for maintaining dog parks, offering free doggie bags such as the ones I use to pick up after our goldendoodle Lucca, and, of course, operating dog shelters. Add to this police calls resulting from dog bites, lost dogs, and dogs that bark too loud or at inappropriate times. Do these benefits, justify the taxes?

The dog tax generates millions of euros for German cities, funds that presumably make the city safer, cleaner and more dog friendly. So why we don’t have a dog tax?

First is the issue of tax administration—how many people would a county like Talbot need to administer the registration of dogs, catch cheaters, determine the tax due, process payments, and, well, you can imagine the rest. A particularly thorny issue is enforcement. What happens to a seized dog if the county fails to find it a new home? I don’t want to think about the answer.

“Dog taxes are not a good thing,” I told my friends, who begged to disagree. My answer appeared to anger both. This may have been the result of their having one too many glasses of German wine. “We don’t want to pay for your damn dog,” my friends, who do not have a dog, shouted. I responded by suggesting that Lucca, as well as dozens of other dogs that reside in my town of Oxford, make life better for everyone —dog-owners and non-owners alike. I noted that Lucca makes people smile regularly. I don’t charge children to pet her. Lucca offers dog therapy at no charge.

After a bit more discussion, my friends, finishing up their final glasses of wine, conceded that dog taxes are stupid. This was decided after Lucca jumped onto the sofa where the pair were seated and nestled next to them.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

Op-Ed: Are “Impossible Promises” The Dems Achilles Heel? By J.E. Dean

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Will the Democrats lose the 2020 election by promising too much?  Will there be an end to the bidding to buy votes? Consider Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to forgive student loan debt, which was criticized for being too generous, included a limit of $50,000 per borrower and a means test. Senator Bernie Sanders has topped it.  He would forgive the entire book of $1.6 trillion in outstanding federal and private student loans with no means test at all.   

If I had student loan debt and was planning on supporting Warren, I would need to rethink that.   And stand by for another Democrat to try to top Sanders—millions of Americans have paid off their student loans, some of them apparently stupid enough to make prepayments.  Is it fair to “penalize” these voters simply because their student loans are paid off?

Warren would pay for her student loan plan, as well as more than another dozen plans, with her ultra-millionaires’ tax.  This tax effectively makes her plan for student loan debt relief free to everyone who would benefit. Similarly, Sanders proposes a transaction tax on stock market trades—relatively small per trade taxes that he claims would raise $2 trillion over 10 years.  

Does anyone believe either candidate can deliver on these promises?  Apparently, the answer is yes. Warren is enjoying a surge in popularity.  Sanders hopes to end his slide in the polls by outbidding her. One might conclude some voters polled are ready to buy “impossible promises.” More charitably, one might also conclude that these voters know campaign promises are “aspirational,” don’t really expect to see the benefits promised, and use the promises to evaluate where the candidates’ hearts are while at the same time hoping for the possibility that the promise may be kept.

While “impossible promises” are clearly in vogue, some Democrats, and no doubt a lot of other voters, see them as irresponsible.  Several Democrats appear unwilling to join in the bidding war. Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and others come to mind. These are progressive Democrats, but not progressive enough to promise multiple massive new benefit programs or a complete remake of the U.S. economy.

Thankfully, some Democrats see the “impossible promises” as harmful to the party.  Maryland’s own John Delaney has suggested that impossible promises will lead to electoral defeat if embraced by the party’s ultimate nominee.  He believes independent voters will be lost. It’s also likely that some voters will find the promises insincere and will effectively dismiss the candidates making the promises as not truthful.

As this week’s initial debates get underway, it will be interesting to watch who advocates the impossible promises and who pushes back.  In a sense, we might witness a debate weighing hope against practicality. Stay tuned.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

2020 Issues: 17 Months From Election Day by J.E. Dean

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In a healthy  democracy votes are based  on character and informed policy choices. The balance between the two shifts with the mood of the time—in a recession, for example, policy choices among proposed solutions to the recession may dominate; in other times, absent an issue viewed as urgent, voters look for a leader to inspire them. In looking at policy, the issues most important to voters are viewed in the context of how they view the world around them. Thus, a voter who considers climate change the most important 2020 issue may change her mind if she loses her job. Similarly, the outbreak of war, or a credible threat of war, will prompt many voters to make “defense” their most important issue.

The subjectivity of issues, makes any list of “top issues,” well, subjective. Such lists’ usefulness to voters depends on the credibility and strength of the author’s presentation. With this caveat in mind, here is a short list of what I view as the most prominent issues in 2020:

The Economy. Most voters vote their pocketbook, whether they are rich or poor.  For the former, it’s tax policy, for the latter jobs and wages. Depending on how the economy is doing a little over a year from now, this issue will be of greater or smaller prominence. Economic issues may prove tricky for some of the Democratic contenders in 2020—do you say the economy isn’t working when the majority of voters say it is?

Integrity. Even Republicans are becoming weary of the scandals. Voters of both parties seek someone they trust.  A fine line needs to be walked on this issue. Anything that sounds like an all-out, even unfair, focus on Trump will turn off some voters. An optimal performance on this issue involves defining integrity, establishing why it should be a priority, and explaining why you have it and others don’t.

Health Care.  Always the top issue for those who don’t have access to it and need it.  For others, a sense of moral responsibility drives their interest. Clearly, not everyone has that sense of responsibility. I’ll be listening carefully. I want everyone who needs health care to have it. I also want to avoid the negatives of a single payer system—such as long waits for medical procedures not deemed by the government to be urgent.  

The Environment. Without air to breathe or water to drink, arguing any other issue becomes difficult.  Climate change is, for most of us, real. Unfortunately, absent a category 6 storm threatening St. Michaels, climate change is also something of an abstract problem.  This results in some voters questioning the need for action now. That is unfortunate. Any candidate fumbling this issue will lose my support. Any candidate demonstrating true leadership on this issue will earn my admiration.

Defense. Like it or not, the world is becoming a more dangerous place.  If current trends continue, some sort of “hot” clash between US and someone else’s military is all but inevitable.  If this happens, voters not currently worried about the size of the defense budget might change their minds. For Democrats, as one friend put it, they need to call for a strong military without “sounding like a Republican.”

Criminal Justice reform. For many of us, it has become clear that the criminal justice policy of the last several decades has been unfair if not overtly racist. Hundreds of thousands of people are in jail as a result of argued bias in the system.   Obama started reforms that are far from finished. Like health care, this issue enjoys greater prominence for those who have experienced the criminal justice system first-hand or through a family member. For others, the issue represents a wrong in need of righting.  Any candidate not talking about this issue is in trouble with me.

Civil Rights.   This term means different things to different people, but what it really means is providing full rights to citizens who, for whatever inappropriate reason, have been denied them. It’s the top issue for many in the LGBTQ community and other groups that have had to fight for equality. For many other voters, awareness of past efforts that resulted in the winning of civil rights once denied their forebears creates sympathy or this issue. Credit Trump with raising this issue to the priority it is currently enjoying. I’m with those who fear civil rights could erode if the wrong candidate is elected in 2020.

Abortion. Any list of the top issues would be deficient without including this recent hot button. President Trump, his SCOTUS selections, and a pro-life community that senses an opportunity to reverse Roe v. Wade have raised this issue to the highest level of priority it’s enjoyed for years. Expect this issue to trump all others for many voters in the fall of 2020, and not just women voters.

There are, of course, dozens of other issues that could be included on this list. Last week I was told by a friend that “Space Policy” was his top priority. Really. Trade is another issue that could, perhaps should, be on my list. Thus, if your top issue isn’t on this list, I hope you’ll forgive me.  Please let me know what I missed.

It is also likely that the list of top issues will shift in coming months, not just as a result of current events but also as a result of the strength of various candidates in the debates and on the campaign trail. Stay tuned.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

Two Weeks Out, Here’s What We Need to See in the Early Democratic Debates by J.E. Dean

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The first national debates among 2020 Democratic candidates will take place on June 26 and 27 in Miami (televised on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo). The events will bring to an end the unfocused, somewhat tedious jousting among the 20 plus candidates who have entertained some, but bored many, over the last several months. The first debates, and actions that will happen immediately before them (some of which have already happened), will tell us a lot about the Democrats’ chances to topple Trump next year.

Here’s what to look for:

Candidates’ Pre-debate “issues” or stumbles.  Candidates stumble for various reasons, including tripping over obstacles placed by opposing candidates. Joe Biden is now facing such an issue—the Hyde amendment, relating to federal funding for abortions—that sets him up for having to defend an unpopular issue (among most Dems) rather than presenting positions on new issues that might win over more voters.  I’m watching for evidence of candidates engaging in such activity. I will hold them accountable.

Civility.  Arguably, Trump won the 2016 Republican nomination in the debates. He successfully ridiculed his opponents, openly giving them pejorative nicknames and attacking them on any basis, regardless of relevance.  We don’t need to see these tactics from the Democrats. Any Dems that engage in even a hint of this Trump-like behavior earn a demerit from me.

Intelligence. This was largely absent in the debates of both parties in 2016, but especially among Republicans. There were no in-depth discussions of any issue, at least that I can remember.  No new issues were introduced to the national debate. For the most part, little evidence of homework was provided, except, perhaps by Hillary Clinton who, in violation of the principle of civility, got ridiculed by Trump for being a policy wonk. Any candidates not showing an in-depth knowledge of substantive issues will not get my support.

Debate competency.  By this I mean that candidates should answer the questions that the moderators ask, even if it makes them uncomfortable. Sadly, this is a rarity in recent Presidential debates. I will reward the candidates who do the best here. I expect the majority of candidates will fail this one on most questions and in all debates.

Poise. The debates provide the public, especially the television-viewing public, with their first opportunity to see how candidates respond to pressure. In 2016, a number of Republican candidates self-destructed by evidencing panic over some questions—think about former Texas governor Rick Perry not being able to name the cabinet level departments he had previously proposed abolishing.  Some candidates will fail the poise test by trying too hard to say something witty or clever, or destroy someone, in an effort to stand out from the crowd of candidates. This lack of poise and any other behavior that evidences an inability to stay cool or demonstrate grace under pressure will earn my displeasure.

Sense of Humor.  Some academics consider humor an asset to leadership.  Executives having a sense of humor are viewed as more creative and better negotiators.   We need both in the White House. It’s been missing recently, at least according to the New York Times, which suggests that while Trump’s “humor” ridicules, legitimate humor points to the ridiculous. My advice to the candidates: If you have a sense of humor, use it.  Don’t take yourself too seriously and voters will respond to your ability to make them laugh.

Breadth of appeal.   Mitt Romney lost significant support when he was quoted as dismissing a large part of the American public as unlikely to vote Republican. These were the voters whom he viewed more interested in welfare, public handouts, etc. than in good government. His comments alienated many, including myself.  Democrats choosing to run as “the woman’s candidate,” or casting their candidacy as representing good versus evil—think “billionaires versus the middle class” or a crusade against corporate America–will not enjoy my support. We have had enough divisiveness over these past few years. A successful candidate can embrace “women’s issues,” criminal justice reform, civil rights, and compassionate immigration reform without vilifying part of the voting electorate whom they assume are too prejudiced, or stupid, to vote for them.  

These are but seven standards with which to evaluate debate performance.  There may be others, less tangible things such as “looking Presidential” or showing an aggressiveness that could be presumed to match that expected from Trump in the inter-party Presidential debates next year. I am interested in what readers of this piece would add to my list.

Because I already have preconceptions of what issues will trip up most candidates, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether I view any individual candidates as favorites to “win” the first debate.  I do. I have been impressed with the quickness, discipline, and knowledge of Pete Buttigieg in interviews. Amy Klobuchar’s handling of SCOTUS nominee Kavanaugh, and her experience as a former prosecutor, suggest she will do well in the poise category. Biden brings experience to the table. Sanders brings both passion and substance.  His agenda is perhaps better understood than that of any other candidate.

On the negative side, I have low expectations of Beto O’Rourke. Unless the debate format includes allowing candidates to climb onto a tabletop, he will most likely be out of his element. Although Elizabeth Warren seems to be gaining momentum, she is viewed as a whiner—unpresidential—by many voters.  If she reinforces this perhaps unfair stereotype, she may lose that momentum. Then there are candidates Cory Booker and Kristin Gillibrand. I don’t know what to expect from this pair. Neither has yet to explain why they are running. Unless they address this, it won’t be long before they exit.

I have left out a number of other candidates, including the talented and interesting Kamala Harris.  A book could be written if each of the other candidates were to get their due with an in-depth look at their backgrounds and qualifications.  I’m also not discussing issues in this column. Policy expertise, as noted above, is important and, for intelligent voters, positions on individual issues—health, the environment, the economy, defense, civil rights, criminal justice, and drug policy—will be determining factors in choosing a candidate.   More about that in a future column.

Let’s hope the debates later this month suggests that party unity is in the future and that any plan to defeat Trump with a “fight-fire-with-fire” strategy is rejected.

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.

 

Maryland Has Good Reasons to Take a Close Look at Amy Klobuchar

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National interest in the Presidential candidacy of Amy Klobuchar is, to be charitable, “muted.” Like a Minnesota winter, her candidacy appears frozen–roughly 2 percent per cent in recent polls.  While there may be reasons early Democratic activists prefer other candidates, she deserves better. For Marylanders, she deserves a lot better for several reasons, including her ability to work with Republicans. But the biggest reason to support her is her strong, credible, and effective plan to address opioid abuse and mental illness.

Maryland needs help in addressing the opioid crisis as well as the mental health issues that contribute to it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the state ranks fourth in opioid deaths. In 2018, from January through September, 1,848 Marylanders died from “unintentional intoxication,” 1,648 of them from opioids.  Add to this 630 deaths by suicide, three times as many as occur from alcohol-related traffic deaths. Then there is lost economic productivity. A 2014 study reports that drug abuse, including alcohol, cost the eastern shore $451 million that year, well before the record-high numbers for opioid abuse of 2019. Talbot County alone lost over $38 million in productivity. Clearly, there is a crisis.   

To date, Maryland has failed to reverse the trend of sharp yearly increases in reported opioid deaths.  And 2019’s numbers are likely to eclipse 2018’s. Governor Hogan declared an emergency in March 2017, but the state is spending only $171 million in the current fiscal year, according to the Baltimore Sun.  This funding, and a focus on increasing the availability of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, is described by experts as “a drop in the bucket” and inadequate. It’s hard to disagree.

Presidential candidate Klobuchar may have an answer. She has boldly proposed a fee of 2 percent per milligram of the active ingredient in opioids sold, which would be paid for by the manufacturers (there would be  exceptions for things such as opioids used to abate pain suffered by cancer patients), to fund a $100 billion, multi-faceted initiative. The plan includes increasing early intervention efforts on both drug abuse and mental health, suicide prevention, and reversing the current focus on punishing rather than treating drug abusers. The plan also includes increased research and increased patient access to treatment by increasing the number of beds available—currently 80 percent of those needing treatment are unable to get it.  

The Klobuchar plan, which has yet to be fully fleshed out, contains the key elements of a successful answer to the current crisis:  Education initiatives, early detection and intervention; greatly increased availability of treatment; Increased research; rethinking the characterization of drug abuse as primarily a law enforcement issue; and ensuring greatly increased and reliable funding without unreasonably stressing federal or state budgets.  

Klobuchar, of course, is not the only Democratic candidate who has put forth an initiative that eclipses the current federal initiative.  In my view, however, she is ahead of her competitors. She has put forth a plan that would save hundreds of Maryland lives each year and thousands nationally.  She also has a record in the U.S. Senate, where she has sponsored important, bipartisan legislation to strengthen health care. Marylanders, especially those of us in Talbot County who are concerned about the opioid and mental health crisis, will be well-served to examine Klobuchar’s proposals and encourage more focus on this vital issue in coming elections.

J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.

Notes: In 2017, there were 1,985 overdose deaths involving opioids in Marylanda rate of 32.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is twofold greater than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. The state ranks in the top 5 for opioid-related overdose death rates with the largest increase attributed to cases involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl).

The total cost of lost labor participation attributable to illicit drug use on the Eastern Shore is approximately $451.94 million with county totals ranging from $20.2 million to $101.6 million.

Op-Ed: Keep Recycling, Increase Property Tax to 47 Cents by Dan Menefee

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Still, nearly a decade after the Chestertown Marina became publicly owned there’s a common complaint among some residents that the marina has become a money pit at the expense of roads and other services, and there’s been an expectation in the last few years that the facility “should be turning a profit by now.”

But the expectation is flawed because it ignores the reason us townies bought the marina in the first place.

We had a choice nine years ago to let the last major parcel of waterfront go to condo development—or entrust it to the public. Thankfully, our elected officials chose the latter. And the annual bond expense of around $145,000 is simply the cost of doing business through 2032, when the last payment is made. We also need to acknowledge that Town Manager Bill Ingersoll has been successful in securing grants and raising private donations—mitigating the costs to taxpayers.

We could find ourselves in perpetual disappointment if we measure the marina’s success as a stand-alone entity based on gas and slip fee revenue. The marina, like our other venues, is simply an integral part of our parks and recreation system that requires tax dollars to maintain.

Wilmer Park and Fountain Park also provide a place for tourists and locals to recreate and do commerce, but no one ever questions whether they’re turning a profit because the ancillary social and economic benefits are obvious.

Currently there is no way to fully quantify the economic spinoff from the marina. But try to imagine the marina still languishing in decay and the negative effects on the local economy. Then try to imagine a monolith of condos eliminating all public access to the Chester, or even a decent view of the water. You could argue that either scenario would cost the town more than $145,000 in economic opportunities.

But a looming bond payment is again at the center of another budget shortfall and is forcing the town to consider cuts to public safety and termination of the recycling program—just a year after a property tax hike of 5 cents.

The news of a budget shortfall this close to a new budget year caught Ward 1 Councilman David Foster by surprise and he blamed himself for not staying on top last year’s budget.

“After passing a 5-cent increase I was shocked to learn just a few weeks ago that we would be facing serious budgetary problems again this year,” Foster said in an email on Saturday. “Having to choose between tax increases and cuts in services is bad enough without having to resolve those problems within just a few short weeks. I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not asking every few months for an update on last year’s budget projections.”

Foster was also adamant that he would not support any measure to eliminate the recycling program. But he did not indicate his position on new taxes.

Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he too felt like the budget shortfall caught him off guard so close to the new budget year.

“I came into this year’s budget session with the expectation of having extra revenue from the tax increase we passed last year,” Tolliver said. “I was very disappointed and surprised to find out that we were again facing a budget dilemma.”

Ward 4 Councilman Marty Stetson said he would not support a tax increase.

“We have to live within our means, and if we can keep recycling without raising taxes I’ll support it,” Stetson said in a brief call on Friday.

Marina blamed for poor road conditions

Last year’s tax increase was estimated to raise $280,000 in new revenue and $150,000 was budgeted for street paving. Around $90,000 went to the principal on the bond payment. (The town makes two bond payments a year; an interest payment of around $55,000 and principal comes to roughly $90,000; the payments are made May 1 and November 1).

“We started our budget with no capital improvements whatsoever; we have streets that need work; it’s been a main concern of us,” Ingersoll said at the May 21, 2018 meeting. “We have commitments and services that we do not want to diminish…we have $150,000 for the beginning of our street repair program.”

It was a pittance compared to what is needed to restore our roads. Anyone who thought it would have a significant impact on streets is unaware that $150,000 would barely pave a half-mile. Ingersoll reported at the March 4 meeting that a $4.5 million grant he sought to pave 13 miles of roads — a cost per mile of $350,000 — was unsuccessful.

Ingersoll also said that highway user revenue (HUR) would be flowing back to local government, and it will.

In 2018 Gov. Larry Hogan restored the local share of HUR to 85 percent of pre-recession levels for fiscal years 2020-2024. In the early days of the Great Recession the state raided the Transportation Trust Fund to balance a large structural deficit. HUR literally came to half a trickle.

So no real progress on roads for now until the revenue returns. Until then the town will do its best to fill potholes.

New Taxes Are Needed

The 1-cent increase, if passed, may not be enough to avoid another budget shortfall next year. Clearly it’s time to consider an adequate property tax increase to maintain the same service levels and fully fund the marina debt.

Easton and St. Michaels currently pay a municipal tax rate of 52 cents, compared to Chestertown’s current 42 cents. We can certainly nudge the rate up another nickel to meet all of our obligations and still remain competitive on property taxes.

It is certainly the responsibility of town leaders to always evaluate services like recycling and public safety, but the reflex to make these cuts with a pending bond payment piles on to perception that the marina is sacrosanct.

To avoid further discontent and maintain current service levels the town should raise the property tax to 47 cents.

Dan Menefee is a contributor to the Chestertown Spy and the former publisher of the Kent Guardian

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