Monthly Archives: June 2014

David Craig Gets My Republican Endorsement

As a Democrat, I really don’t have much business weighing in on the Republican gubernatorial candidates. But, I did approach all the Republicans in the race, and the candidates themselves made it very easy for me to pick my favorite among them. Only one of them bothered to answer my questions, and that candidate happens to agree with me on all of my three priority issues. Thus, my endorsement goes to David Craig.

As I pointed out in my Mizeur endorsement post, I think it does tell something about a politician when they respond to a citizen activist like me. If a politician doesn’t care about my views during the election season, how can I expect him or her to care about me after the election?

I realize that no Republican is likely to care about my endorsement in their gubernatorial primary. However, I want to point out that my election reform advocacy is very much non-partisan in nature. In reality, due to the Democratic dominance in Maryland politics, my efforts are mostly aimed at reducing the power of Democratic incumbents and party insiders. Frankly, I am a bit surprised that Maryland Republicans have not been hopping on the good governance bandwagon in greater numbers. It is one of the issues that could help them find a way out of the political wilderness.

My Choice: Mizeur for Governor

When I started this blog last fall to advocate for electoral reforms, my intention was not to endorse any gubernatorial candidates. My only goal was to bring my priority issues—slates, sample ballots, and gerrymandering—into the political discussion during this election season.

However, as I kept at it, it became clear to me that in good conscience I can only support one of the candidates in my own party. That candidate is Heather Mizeur.

First of all, of the three major Democrats in the race—Mizeur, Anthony Brown, and Doug Gansler—Mizeur was the only one who had the courtesy of responding to my questions. I had three simple, relevant questions for the candidates. Despite repeated contacts, the Brown and Gansler camps never bothered to answer my inquiries in any way—not even to say “No comment.” It is not very promising when a candidate is that unresponsive during a time when they are supposedly fighting for every vote.

Second, Mizeur agrees with me on two of my three questions. She supports outlawing candidate slates and reforming our redistricting process. Even though she is not supportive of outlawing sample ballot advertisements, I suspect that getting rid of candidate slates would greatly diminish the use of such advertisements. I will even give it to Mizeur that there could be constitutional challenges outlawing sample ballots.

I also must give Mizeur credit for highlighting the issue of gerrymandering and need for redistricting reform during the campaign. Again, nothing from the Brown and Gansler camps. Thus, there is only one candidate I can count on to advance good governance reforms and to challenge entrenched Democratic party insiders. In a state controlled by one party (my own party), that is a quality I consider to be very important.

Stench of Backroom Dealing Discourages Candidates and Activists

In Maryland, this is a time when many local organizations host forums to vet candidates for various political offices. As someone who attends these events, I would like to think that the candidates who present us with the best vision and work hardest knocking on doors will emerge winners in the June primary election. In reality, however, many of our lower ballot races are decided by a secretive shadow primary involving only a few select individuals well before any actual votes are cast.

As most registered Maryland voters know, in the last couple weeks before the primary you will receive a nice glossy “sample ballot” advertisement in the mail touting the incumbent candidates. The flyer is paid for by a political slate consisting of those local incumbents. Whenever there is an open seat with no incumbent, the local officials decide which candidate to endorse and include on the sample ballot.

On the surface, this is all well and good. Politicians have every right to endorse candidates in other races. I have heard that many voters like the sample ballots since they make voting easy.  Unfortunately, few people seem to stop and think how these slates and their sample ballot advertisements impact our political process.

In a lower ballot race, such as a Board of Education or County Council race, it is very difficult for a candidate to raise large amounts of money. When an incumbent slate picks its favorite in such a low-budget race, it tilts the race heavily in favor of that candidate. Surely it is possible to beat a candidate endorsed by the incumbent slate, but it is very unlikely. As a result, if a candidate wants to win in one of these lower ballot races, the most important thing for one to to do is gain favor with the incumbent politicians in the area.

The system of slates is very dispiriting for potential candidates and political activists. One person who was interested in running for office flatly stated that she was not going to jump in unless she knew beforehand that she would receive the incumbent slate’s endorsement. Why waste her time and effort in a hopeless cause? The same applies to activists like me who are inclined to volunteer for local campaigns. Why pour my limited time and money into a race that is decided by a handful of incumbent politicians?

Prince George’s County, where I live, has made great progress in reshaping its image in the last few years. However, much work remains to be done, and the stench of backroom insider dealing to determine winners in our elections is particularly harmful for our county. Thus, reforming our election system by getting rid of candidate slates should be a high priority for our elected officials. Sadly, that is not the case. Incumbent politicians are beneficiaries of the current system, and they are not inclined to reform the system unless we—the voters—make the issue a priority and demand change.

This piece was originally submitted to the Washington Post’s “Local Opinions” page, but never published. Thus, I am posting it here on my blog.