Monthly Archives: October 2015

Slate Endorsements Are Major Factor in BOE Elections

This post originally appeared on the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better blog. I am posting it here as well, as the topic is highly relevant to this blog.

How do you know which candidate is most likely to win a Prince George’s County Board of Education race? As with any election, there are many factors at play. Some aspects of the candidates and races may be too difficult to analyze objectively, such as the quality of the candidates’ ideas, campaign skills, and personal effort put into campaign activities. However, many important factors affecting the campaigns are quantifiable and easily compared.

In order to determine what factor has the greatest impact on the election results, I set out to analyze the 2014 BOE races in Prince George’s County. Based on my knowledge about our elections, I identified the following four factors as major potential contributing factors to a candidate’s success:

  • Incumbency
  • Fundraising
  • Democratic Party slate endorsement
  • Other endorsements (local media, county teachers union)

To refresh everyone’s memory, here are the general election results for the four BOE elections held in 2014:

makila_boe_table1
* Election winner

And this is how the analysis of the four major factors came out:

makila_boe_table2
* Williams was appointed to the District 9 seat less than a year before the election
** Includes endorsements by the Washington Post, Gazette, and Prince George’s County Educators’ Association

To better identify the factor that appears to have the greatest impact on the election results, the following color-coded table indicates the factors where each candidate had a clear advantage (green), disadvantage (red), or the candidates were somewhat equal (yellow).makila_boe_table3

Determining which analyzed factor best correlates with the election results is not very difficult.

Sources:
Election results: Maryland State Board of Elections, 2014 Official General Election Results,http://elections.state.md.us/index.html
Fundraising: Maryland State Board of Elections, Maryland Campaign Reporting Information System,https://campaignfinancemd.us/
Democratic slate endorsements: For example, http://teambaker.nationbuilder.com/team-baker
Washington Post endorsements: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-posts-choices-for-prince-georges-school-board/2014/10/07/600db698-44be-11e4-b437-1a7368204804_story.html
Gazette endorsements: http://www.gazette.net/section/2014electionendorse
Prince George’s County Educators’ Association endorsements: www.pgcea.org/pgceaendorsedcandidates.cfm

Martin O’Malley, the Rigged Election Expert

This post is an op-ed I submitted a while back to the local opinion pages of the Washington Post. It never got published, so I am posting it here (slightly revised) in honor of tonight’s first Democratic presidential debate.

Martin O’Malley raised hell at the Democratic National Committee’s meeting in Minneapolis in August. He was outraged that only six debates sanctioned by the Democratic Party will be held and that the DNC intends to penalize candidates who will participate in unsanctioned debates. O’Malley said the Democratic primary is rigged in favor of the establishment favorite, Hillary Clinton.

I tend to agree with O’Malley on the number of debates and penalizing candidates for participating in additional debates. Still, it seems bit of a stretch to call an election “rigged” when, after all, several debates will take place. But who can blame an underdog candidate polling in low single digits for advocating to have more debates and free exposure?

What I find extremely ironic is that of all the candidates it is Martin O’Malley who complains and makes claims about a “rigged election.” If one really wants to see a completely rigged election, you must study the Democratic Party primaries here in O’Malley’s own Maryland. As we politically engaged Marylanders know, the incumbent Democratic politicians in each legislative district form candidate slates that raise funds and advertise jointly. Especially in low-budget down-ballot races—such as for state delegate, county council, and sometimes even the non-partisan school board— it is impossible to beat an incumbent that appears on the “official” Democratic primary ballot advertisement. When there is an open seat for any of these entry-level political positions, the candidate endorsed by the incumbent slate always wins. The reason the slates are so powerful is that it is virtually impossible, in the down-ballot races in particular, for a candidate to raise enough funds to be able to compete on an even playing field with a slate-endorsed candidate.

This rigged primary election system is the foundation that the Democratic Party political machine in Maryland rests on. (I write this as a dedicated Democrat.) Our incumbent politicians stand as gatekeepers to the party establishment and positions of power. If you get in, you will owe your election to the benefactors who were kind enough to select you for their slate advertisement. In fact, falling out of favor with your fellow elected officials is the only way for an incumbent politician to lose a primary election. Amazingly, even many politically engaged Marylanders don’t fully grasp the impact the incumbent slates have on our political system.

To my knowledge, O’Malley never had any problems with our rigged primary system when it benefited him and his fellow Maryland establishment Democrats. Also, if one starts talking about rigged elections beyond primaries, it is good to remember that during O’Malley’s governorship Maryland produced what most neutral observers consider the most gerrymandered Congressional districts of any Democrat-controlled state. Thus, you must forgive me for not having much sympathy for Mr. O’Malley when he continues his battle in the supposedly rigged presidential primary.

My Fellow Democrats Need to Step Up on Redistricting Reform

I live in Prince George’s County. As all Marylanders know, our county is about as Democratic as any area of the country can be. So when I went to the September 29 Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission hearing in Waldorf, I had a whole new experience when I realized that most people at the hearing seemed to be Republicans. I have never before been to a political gathering in Maryland where Republicans outnumber Democrats.

I fully understand why Maryland Republicans are for redistricting reform. After all, they are the primary target of Maryland Democrats’ gerrymandering. But still, where were all my fellow Democrats? Are we really such partisans that we don’t see any problem with our ridiculously gerrymandered Congressional maps?

I hope many fair-minded Democrats who care about good governance attend the two remaining Redistricting Reform Commission meetings: October 6 in Easton and October 13 in Laurel. (Check the Commission’s website for meeting details.) We need to make it clear that there is bipartisan support for redistricting reform.

My Case for Redistricting Reform

The below is my testimony at the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission hearing on September 29, 2015.

Good evening. My name is Tommi Makila. I live in Accokeek in Southern Prince George’s County.

I am a strong, dedicated Democrat. However, I detest blind partisanship and putting the interests of a political party—even if it is my own party—ahead of common good and good governance. When it comes to our gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps, I am embarrassed to be a Maryland Democrat. Thus, I am thankful that our Republican governor has established this Redistricting Reform Commission.

When it comes to the redistricting reform effort, I am not blind to the partisan reasoning Maryland Republicans have for wanting reform. However, I would like to point out to my Democratic friends that they should, in their own long-term interest, get behind the reform idea. If we Democrats continue our selfish political machinations at the expense of all Maryland residents, our now-dominant position in the state will eventually end. People will put up with bad governance only for so long. And, whatever happened to just doing the right thing?

Assuming we will reform our system of redistricting, what exactly should the new system look like? What I hear mostly from reform advocates is that we need to form some type of an independent commission that will wrangle over the new districts. If such a commission is formed and properly structured, it would surely be an improvement over the system we now have. However, I am afraid that the political fighting and power plays would only move from the Legislature to the commission. Knowing how powerful the Democratic political machine is in Maryland, I would expect the machine to figure out a way to influence the supposedly independent commission. Also, the redistricting process through a commission would likely be time-consuming, and possibly costly.

Instead of the independent commission model, I urge this Reform Commission to seriously consider a model similar to the one used in Iowa. I used to live in Iowa for ten years, so I am fairly familiar with their system. In Iowa, civil servants in the independent Legislative Services Agency use computers to generate the new maps. These maps must meet strict criteria when it comes to population, existing political boundaries, and other factors. Addresses of incumbent politicians are not allowed to be used in coming up with the maps. When these maps are generated, the Iowa legislature can vote the maps up or down. If they are voted down, new maps will be generated by the same civil servants, using the same criteria. If the legislature rejects three sets of maps, the final maps will be decided by the courts. To my knowledge, as long as Iowa has been using this system, the issue has never gone to the courts.

I believe the Iowa model has many advantages over the independent commission model. It truly removes the political wrangling from the process, as much as it is possible. It is very cost effective, requiring a minimal amount of resources and time. It is a system that utilizes modern mapping technologies, making us work smarter, not harder.

Thank you for your time.