From where I am sitting, it seems clear to me that the underlying message our county leadership is sending to us voters about the term limit extension is this: “We are doing a good job, so we deserve more time in office.”
While I agree that the County Executive and County Council deserve credit for the current positive trajectory in Prince George’s County, this reasoning also leads to the most obvious objection to the term limit extension idea: Without term limits, none of our current county leaders would be in office. In our system of incumbent slates and “sample ballot” advertisements, it is virtually impossible for an incumbent to lose an election. Without term limits, Rushern Baker and Mel Franklin would only be waging hopeless campaigns against long-term incumbents.
My County Councilman (and Council Chair) Mel Franklin and his fellow incumbents want to remove term limits, or at least have the ability to serve three terms.
I realize politics is about the art of the possible and compromise. Thus, I propose we merge my election reform ideas and the incumbents’ desire to have a third term. Before anything else, our Prince George’s County officials must put their weight behind election reforms to abolish the use of slates and their “sample ballot” advertisements. (As we know from experience, when our county politicians really want something, they can get it done. See: casino at National Harbor, school system reforms.) Once these desperately needed reforms are enacted, then let’s give the incumbents a chance at a third term.
The logic for my compromise proposal goes like this:
The current system of candidate slates and sample ballots provides nearly bullet-proof incumbent protection. As long as your fellow politicians like you well enough so that you appear on their slate and sample ballot, there is no realistic way an incumbent politician can lose an election. In this system of extreme incumbency protection, it would make absolutely no sense to tinker with the existing term limits for the County’s elected officials. Term limits are the only policy in place that provides an avenue for new candidates and fresh ideas to enter our political power structure. The added benefit is that, as elected county officials are out of office due to term limits, there is a good chance they start looking at opportunities to run for other elected, non-term-limited positions, such as seats in the Maryland Legislature. Such former office holders are likely to be well-qualified contenders, and they are more likely to be able to give a real challenge to a lackluster incumbent.
If we reduce the incumbency protection by getting rid of candidate slates and their sample ballot advertisements, I am inclined—in the spirit of compromise—to allow our county officials have a chance at a third term. But, in order for us to give such a gift to our incumbents, we do need something significant in return.
As a local activist, I have decent sources to find out what is going on behind the scenes in the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race. I am sad to report that, as a result of our current election laws and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the race, the District 9 BOE seat is becoming an appointed seat.
This is how the unfortunate change unfolded:
- In the 2013 legislative session, a law was passed that added several appointed members to the Prince George’s County Board of Education. In addition, the County Executive was given the power to appoint the replacement for any elected BOE member who resigns before his/her term expires.
- In September 2013, District 9 BOE member Donna Hathaway-Beck resigned.
- In December 2013, County Executive Rushern Baker appointed Sonya Williams to the District 9 BOE seat.
- In the June 2014 primary election, the local incumbent politicians’ party loyalty dictates that they and their candidate slate endorse Baker’s appointee and include her on their “sample ballot.”
- The candidate endorsed by the local slate cruises to an unavoidable victory in the June primary and November general election.
In all reality, the voters of District 9 will have no meaningful say in the election of our BOE member. The selection was made by one person, County Executive Baker. For all intents and purposes, the District 9 BOE seat is an appointed position at this time.
Important note: My take on this situation is in no way a criticism of the appointed District 9 BOE member, Sonya Williams. I know her, I like her, and as a PTA activist I work with her. In fact, I believe County Executive Baker made an excellent choice in appointing her to the BOE. My only beef is with the obvious shortcomings of our system of “elections.” As I have stated before, I am not taking sides in the District 9 BOE primary.
The week before Christmas, County Executive Rushern Baker finally appointed a Board of Education representative to the vacant District 9 seat. As some people may still remember, Donna Hathaway Beck resigned from the BOE in early September.
Baker’s pick is Sonya Williams of Clinton. She is the PTSA president at Gwynn Park High School. I don’t know her personally, but I have heard good things about her.
Of course, the District 9 seat is on the ballot this year. This means that Mrs. Williams will need to enter the June 2014 primary if she wants to retain her BOE seat. I have not heard if Mrs. Williams intends to run, but I have to assume that Baker picked a person who is interested in doing so. Taking more than three months to pick a person and then having her in the seat for less than a year would not make sense.
With all this, the June primary for the District 9 BOE seat will likely be an interesting one. Who else will get in the race? If Mrs. Williams does run, will she be the candidate endorsed by the Senator Miller/Delegate Proctor/Councilman Franklin slate? If Mrs. Williams runs but the incumbent slate’s endorsement goes to someone else, who will prevail?
No matter what happens, I will stick with my September prediction. The endorsement of the incumbent slate is the most significant factor in the primary. Whoever wins that “race” will prevail in June.
Last night I attended a Prince George’s County District 9 community meeting with the school system’s new CEO Kevin Maxwell. The meeting was organized by District 9 Councilman Mel Franklin. The purpose of the meeting was for us residents to share our concerns with Dr. Maxwell and pose questions to him.
Lucky for me, all three of our key local incumbent politicians were present at the meeting: Councilman Franklin, State Senate President Mike Miller, and Delegate James Proctor. Since the topic of the meeting was education, I took the opportunity to ask the politicians about next year’s race for District 9 Board of Education seat. I pointed out that if their slate endorses a candidate and includes him/her on their “sample ballot,” that person is more or less guaranteed to win the BOE race. I asked if they would commit to not endorsing anyone in the BOE race and letting us voters choose the winning candidate.
Without any hesitation or further explanation, Councilman Franklin said that he will be endorsing a candidate. Both Senator Miller and Delegate Proctor nodded in agreement without bothering to elaborate on their stance.
Needless to say, I am very disappointed in my elected officials on this matter. But, of course, I am not surprised. Not at all.
I want to be the first person to call the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race that will take place in the 2014 election cycle. I thought I would have some time to make this prediction, but the surprising announcement from Donna Hathaway-Beck that she is resigning from her seat effective September 6, 2013 forced my hand. I want to get my prediction out before County Executive Baker announces his pick to fill Mrs. Hathaway-Beck’s remaining term.
Naturally, the resignation of Mrs. Hathaway-Beck has the potential to influence the race to replace her. I had heard from reliable sources that she was not going to run again, so I was expecting there would be an open seat for us District 9 voters to fill in the 2014 election. With an open seat, none of the potential candidates would have the benefits of incumbency̶—which are always significant. Now with the resignation, this dynamic can change. Whoever is appointed by the County Executive to the seat until the election will have at least some of the benefits of an incumbent. Of course, we don’t know if the person appointed to the seat will actually run in the 2014 election, but it is certainly possible.
Despite this new twist in the coming District 9 BOE race, I am very comfortable making my prediction: The person elected in 2014 will be the person who is endorsed by the slate consisting of our local incumbent officeholders (Senator Mike Miller, Delegate James Proctor, Councilman Mel Franklin, and possibly others). We don’t know the name of the person at this time, but we will surely know it before the June primary election.
This prediction also leads to my practical advice to anyone considering a run for the District 9 BOE seat. Don’t worry too much about putting together a formidable election campaign. Your time and effort will be much better spent trying to curry favor with the local incumbents.