Fred Hiatt Strikes Again

The next person who calls it the “liberal Washington Post” really needs to have his or her head examined.

Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor, has fired columnist Harold Meyerson, one of the nation’s finest journalists and perhaps the only self-proclaimed socialist to write a weekly column for a major American newspaper during the past decade or two.

At a time when America is experiencing an upsurge of progressive organizing and activism — from Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter, to the growing movement among low-wage workers demanding higher minimum wages, to Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president — we need a regular columnist who can explain what’s going on, why it’s happening, and what it means.

More than any other columnist for a major U.S. newspaper, Meyerson provided ongoing coverage and incisive analysis of the nation’s labor movement and other progressive causes as well as the changing economy and the increasing aggressiveness of big business in American politics. He was one of the few columnists in the country who knew labor leaders and grassroots activists by name, and who could write sympathetically and knowledgeably about working people’s experiences in their workplaces and communities.

Since Steve Greenhouse retired last year as the New York Times’ brilliant labor reporter, no other major paper has a reporter who covers unions and working people on a full-time basis. Now with Meyerson’s firing, there’s not one weekly columnist who understands the ins and outs of organized (and disorganized) labor.

So why did Hiatt fire Meyerson? Here’s a clue:

Yeah, it’s like I always say - if there’s one thing I hate about the national media, it’s the excessive focus on labor issues.

Meanwhile, across the op-ed page, George Will is soiling his bedclothes with verbal diarrhea like this (George doesn’t realize he’s chasing the kids off of a lawn that exists only in his demented mind. Anecdote/data fallacy, etc.). And Robert Samuelson continues to write the same anti-entitlements column over and over again.

Let’s be real here, folks: Meyerson got fired because Hiatt doesn’t believe labor is worth writing about. Period.

I’m really hoping my next Post endorsement interview is with Fred Hiatt (the one with fellow neo-con Charles Lane was a surreal hoot). Suggestion to Hiatt: wear some fire retardant clothing.

Bringing Down The Curtain

2015 was quite a year, huh? A year ago everyone knew that Barbara Mikulski and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were both running for reelection, Freddie Gray was still alive, Jeb Bush was going to win the Republican nomination, Donald Trump was an eccentric businessman, and Bernie Sanders was a not very well known senator from Vermont.

Not only that, but Maryland Scramble DIDN’T EVEN EXIST. Contemplate that, if you can.

Now comes 2016. Gonna be “yuuuuuuuuuge.” 117 days to the MD primary, 105 days to early voting. More blogging, more excitement, more fun than ever. Promise.

As always in politics, it’s the craziness that makes it so interesting. Like the sign says:  

I hope your 2015 ended well, and your 2016 is even better. Happy New Year. Stick around - the clowns and the jokers are just getting started.

Release The Hounds

In less than 30 hours, the calendar will turn from 2015 to 2016, and the furious campaign fundraising will come to an exhausted halt. But for now, the hunt is on for someone, anyone, to make a last donation and swell the coffers of the many federal candidates in Maryland. Nobody is safe; I’ve received over a dozen emails and a phone call just this afternoon alone.

“Release the hounds!” cried Mr. Burns.


New Van Hollen Ad In Baltimore

Chris Van Hollen has a new ad running in the Baltimore media market targeting women. It’s his third ad airing in the Baltimore market. John Fritze reports:

Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s campaign for Maryland’s open Senate seat went back up on television Wednesday with a new ad targeted at women, a key demographic both campaigns are hoping to court.

The ad, running on broadcast and cable television in Baltimore, notes Van Hollen’s high score from groups like Planned Parenthood, and his work on women’s health care as the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

The new ad comes as an influential women’s group is airing a separate spot supporting his opponent, Rep. Donna Edwards. Emily’s List, the Washington-based group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, launched a $1 million advertising campaign for Edwards at the end of November.

Throughout her campaign Edwards, of Prince George’s County, has discussed the importance of diversity in the Senate. Both candidates are running to succeed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the first woman elected to the Senate without the benefit of a father or husband preceding her.

And yet Van Hollen has refused to cede the ground to Edwards. A Baltimore Sun/ University of Baltimore poll in November found Van Hollen beating Edwards by seven percentage points among women, and the Montgomery County lawmaker has received more endorsements from elected females in Maryland.

One of them, Sen. Delores G. Kelley of Baltimore County, is featured in Van Hollen’s latest ad.

“A lot of people can talk, but they can’t deliver,” Kelley says, referencing a narrative pushed by the Van Hollen campaign that he has been more effective in Congress than Edwards. “Chris can.”

Here’s the ad:

The GOP’s Problems Are Worse Than You Think

I’ve been thinking for a while that there was a clear disconnect between the opinions of the Republican establishment and, y’know, reality. First they believed for months that Jeb! would eventually turn it around and save the day, and more recently, there’s an impatient foot-tapping about Marco Rubio. It’s clear that a lot of leaders simply switched from one to the other and waited for the voters to figure out how great Rubio is.

Hasn’t happened. And now Rubio’s out in Iowa touting an endorsement from Trey Gowdy, who ran those brilliant BENGHAZI!! hearings. Paul Waldman at the Post has a brilliant assessment of how that’s going to work out.

Believe it or not, the Iowa caucuses are just over a month away. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — establishment darling and the cognoscenti’s assumed front-runner — is heading to Iowa for a bus tour, bringing along a shiny new endorsement from Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, head of the special committee on Benghazi. Can you feel the excitement?

Probably not, which is why this is an excellent demonstration of Rubio’s problem, and the problem the GOP is facing as the actual voting approaches. While everyone waits for the voters to finally figure out that they ought to be supporting Rubio, the only candidate who at the moment looks like he might be able to defeat Donald Trump is Ted Cruz. From the perspective of the party’s fortunes in the general election, that would be sort of like being cured of your electoral syphilis by contracting gonorrhea.

Go read the rest - I’d post the whole thing, it’s that good, but that’s generally considered uncool.

“Being cured of your electoral syphillis by contracting gonorrhea.” That right there is some serious comedy gold, my friends. Wins the Internet for, like, eternity.

CD8: Wherein I Suck It Up And Call ‘Em Like I See ‘Em

I wrote the original version of this post almost a month ago. I hesitated to post it then, for a number of reasons, some of which are described below. I’ve played around with it some, but not all that much. It’s Tough Love Tuesday. Time to pull the trigger. Blam. Here we go.

Seven candidates are running to represent the new CD8, what with Chris Van Hollen off to war for a Senate seat with my former client Donna Edwards. I know all seven of them to varying degrees: all the way from Joel Rubin and David Anderson, both of whom I met within the past three months, to Jamie Raskin, who I met at the very first Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club picnic at my house in 2005. Six people ran the Raskin campaign together in 2006 - and two of them lived at my house. My wife Rebecca Lord was Jamie’s political director. I didn’t take a title (I called myself minister without portfolio, Jamie called me his practitioner of the dark arts, others called me “Dr. Evil,” and I have the t-shirt to prove it, a gift from my fellow Raskinistas after the campaign) because I did oppo research and online stuff that would have looked bad coming from “staff.” But I was at every meeting, and I did a little bit of everything - field, events, media, you name it, I did it. When the press today says I was campaign counsel, that’s literally true - but also absurdly misleading at the same time.

But even in the middle, there are interesting relationships. I ran for delegate with Will Jawando in 2014. I’ve worked with Ana Sol Gutierrez on legislation in Annapolis. I knew Kumar Barve a little bit before this year, but now, having spent time with him on this campaign, I consider him a friend. I’m old enough to remember Kathleen Matthews as the news anchor for Channel 7, and I’ve gotten to know her a little bit too.

So unlike the first two tough love posts, this one is by far the toughest - for me. In this race, several of the candidates are people I think of as friends, some more so, some less, but the fact remains. So I’ve wavered over what to do. Do I give the real honest to God unvarnished truth? Do I pull my punches and sugar coat it because I like these folks, even the ones I don’t know as well?

I put a huge amount of stock in trust, and loyalty. Those who know me well will agree with that readily. I am a stubbornly loyal person, sometimes to a fault. So I’m a weirdo here - not quite a journalist, not quite a politician, nor a lobbyist, but someone with real skin in the game, trying to provide a perspective that nobody else can, not because I’m so smart or anything obnoxious like that, but because I’m me - part fish, part fowl, 100% loyal, yet publishing according to my own rules, which I can’t even tell you what they are - like former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography, “I know it when I see it” is my rule.

So this exercise puts me in a bit of a bind. I’m loyal, yet I’m supposed to deliver tough love. I know things, and they inform my judgment, but it would be wrong to say some of those things directly. So you’re going to have to trust me when I say this: I know more about much of what I’m about to say than anything I’ve written so far, but I’m not always going to say why. Which leaves a few - not many - opinions I have that I can’t say, because they’re based on things that would violate my conscience to reveal. All in all, though, I feel like I can deliver an honest and complete assessment without those particular opinions. What’s left is complete and informative - I hope - and accurate, as far as it goes. And honest. Always.

So with that absurdly long winded open, here goes. In random order:

Joel Rubin: I came prepared not to like him. He was getting in late, I’ve never heard of him, and his experience is all DC-based. Marylanders hate that kind of guy, as I’ve written before. But he’s charming and smart, as is his wife, who I sat next to for two hours during his first debate. And he clearly knows his stuff about foreign policy and finding his way around the thickets of the DC foreign policy establishment. So I’m sorry I ripped him for doing an interview with a Republican blogger. But …

I still have no idea how Rubin intends to be anything other than an afterthought in this race. He has no Maryland experience at all, other than some involvement with the Town of Chevy Chase, he’s young, he has no money and he’s up against well-funded, experienced, deep rooted opponents who have a nine month head start on him. Joel, I’m glad to have met you, but WTF, dude?

David Anderson: the contrarian in the race. Even though I don’t agree with him I appreciate his bringing up issues and taking positions no one else wants to talk about. Two things: one, see my comments above about Joel Rubin. Second, Dave needs to work on delivery. It’s one thing to disagree, but he shouldn’t be so disagreeable when he does it. He’s coming across like a jerk - which he’s not - by being abrasive. He’d get far more mileage out of humor than distemper.

Ana Sol Gutierrez: Ana is as charming as can be, but translating strong name recognition and favorability into something more is not going to happen by itself. More money, more campaign presence, and more policy chops would all help a lot. She’s doing the best job so far of running an identity politics campaign, but my sense is that there’s a lower ceiling for her than for the other identity politics candidate . . .

Will Jawando: . . . perhaps because he’s pitching himself as both the only African-American and the only millennial candidate in the race. How that second category works for him is going to be key. If he can find a way to make and consolidate even some of that appeal, he has a chance to rise. And nobody gives as good a speech as Will does, especially when he talks about his background. But it can come across as canned sometimes, and he needs to show some more personal touch in crowds. Honestly, Will, watch the way your wife works a room and do more of that.

Kumar Barve: the most experienced and accomplished legislator, a trailblazer in the Indian-American community, works hard, doesn’t seem to get anywhere so far. What’s wrong with this picture? I think he can and will do better money-wise but there seems to be something missing. His campaign ad about his grandfather is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He needs to let people see his sense of humor. He continues to exude confidence and good cheer, but something new is called for. I’ve said less here than I want to, but I really am perplexed.

Kathleen Matthews: the lightning bolt from out of left field (I love mixing metaphors), she’s shaken up this race from the drop. Tapped into major financial networks, she’s raised a lot of money, but only in the last report did she pass Jamie Raskin in contributions. A smooth, smooth presence, she’s quickly managed the transition from good public speaker to confident and assured candidate (not an easy transition). Kathleen is a Rohrschach test - people’s reactions to her say far more about them than they do about the candidate (the last candidate I said this about was me. You’d be amazed how many people went from thinking I was the anti-Christ - bad parent, secret Republican, thief, not at all progressive, anti-labor - to not being able to make it through the day without one of my blog posts). Matthews has been slammed as a corporate shill, an out of touch rich white woman, a conserva-Dem, anti-choice, pro-fracking, uninvolved, inexperienced, unqualified and ultimately illegitimate candidate. All in less than seven months. She’s handled it well, showing grace and charm.

Well done. So far. But there’s more to do. The criticism isn’t going to stop, but she can meet it without giving it credence. She has a good stump speech but it needs more. My sense is that she’s being cautious in her approach and I respect that, but I think she could get a lot of mileage out of playing against type. Let it rip a little, let people see her get worked up, angry, passionate. Real. Not saying she’s not, but so much of good politics is making things visible. Show, don’t tell. Etc.

Jamie Raskin: this was his race to win early on. He was in early, he generated enthusiasm and support, but he needed - from day one - to broaden the base, to not pitch the campaign at Takoma Park, but to think Bethesda and Rockville and Gaithersburg and Frederick and Westminster. And moderates, at least a little bit. And people who didn’t know him. Of which there are a lot.

But the race he’s run has been a replay of 2006. Well, this ain’t 2006. Raskin isn’t an insurgent - he’s an experienced legislator with a strong record of accomplishment. And Kathleen Matthews is not Ida Ruben, no matter how hard Jamie tries to fit her into that box.

CD8 is not LD20. A congressional race is not a state senate contest. It’s not just bigger, it’s DIFFERENT.  And while he has a great campaign team that is totally committed to him, it’s not like 2006 in another way: back then, we told him “no” a lot, and he listened a lot, and he only rarely fought our collective advice. That was an unparalleled team of utter neophytes who all turned out to be really, really good at politics. Now, he’s “Jamie Raskin, progressive icon” and who’s got the nerve to tell that guy “no”? It’s not their fault, we were just lucky enough to be around him before the mythology and the inevitability began.

People don’t want a “transformational” congressman, they want a “transactional” one. Where’s my social security check? Why haven’t I gotten my immigration visa? I need a passport - yesterday. Washington isn’t Annapolis. Jamie’s not going to change the world, and the people who think he can? They’re already going to vote for him. The people Raskin needs to persuade think he’s full of himself with all the superlatives in every email, every Facebook post.

Look, full disclosure - Jamie Raskin repaid 10 years of my loyalty horribly in 2014. Details irrelevant here. Despite that, I continue to talk to him about his campaign and tell him what I think. We’ve had a lot of conversations about a lot of things that ultimately are between me and him and nobody else. But nothing here will be news to him. I don’t claim objectivity but the reality is that virtually all of the above is being noticed and discussed by a lot more people than just me.

Well, that’s that. I hope my comments are taken in the spirit in which they’re offered, but that’s not for me to decide. My work here is done. For now. 119 days to the primary, 107 days to the start of early voting. Tick tock.

No Tamir Rice Indictment

Bet you’re shocked by this news.

After more than a year of investigation, a Cleveland grand jury declined to bring charges against either of the two police officers involved in the November 2014 shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy weapon in a park.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty announced the decision Monday afternoon, adding that he did not recommend that grand jury bringing charges and that he believes both of the Cleveland police officers involved were reasonable in their belief that Rice had a real weapon.

Let’s remember Maryland Scramble’s first rule of grand juries: what the prosecutor wants, the prosecutor gets. Only the prosecutor presents evidence. There’s no cross-examination, defense lawyers aren’t even allowed in the room.

The better question is: why didn’t the prosecutor want to indict this particular ham sandwich?

Two police officers, 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann and 46-year-old Frank Garmback, responded after receiving a police dispatch call “of a male black sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people” in a city park. A caller reported that a male was pointing “a pistol” at random people in the Cudell Recreation Center. At the beginning of the call and again in the middle he says of the pistol “it’s probably fake.” Toward the end of the two-minute call, the caller stated “he is probably a juvenile.” However, this information was not relayed to Loehmann or Garmback on the initial dispatch. The officers reported that upon their arrival, Rice reached towards a gun in his waistband. Loehmann fired two shots before the zone car came to a halt and within two seconds of arriving on the scene, hitting Rice once in the torso. Neither officer administered any first aid to Rice after the shooting. He died on the following day.

The officer fired two shots before GETTING OUT OF THE CAR. That’s not a “perfect storm of humsn error,” as the Post quotes Timothy McGinty, but an execution of a black child by an out of control police officer. All you have to do is imagine what would have happened if Tamir Rice had been a white kid in the suburbs. First off it wouldn’t have happened, but if it did, there’d damn well be a ham sandwich indicted by now.

Until black lives matter more than they do now, any claim that “all lives matter” is nothing but a dodge or a defense for police vigilantism against minority communities. It’s not one thing that needs to change in the criminal justice system, it’s everything.

The Most Important Veto Override

In 16 days, the General Assembly goes back to work. There will be many story lines, not least of which seeing how things go for the five officeholders who are running for Congress in CD4 and CD8. But the first order of business for the legislature will be the prospect of whether to override Governor Larry Hogan’s four vetoes. There are strategic considerations to discuss, and there is the not so far away anymore 2018 election to think about, but today I want to focus on one of the bills that Hogan vetoed, HB980, that would have restored voting rights to approximately 43,000 individuals with felony convictions when they get out of jail. Current law delays such voting rights until the individual completes parole or probation, a process which can take many years to complete.

The lead sponsor of this bill is my friend Delegate Cory McCray of Baltimore. He has established a Facebook page, Marylanders for Voting Rights, which can be found here. A number of folks have done videos calling for the Hogan veto to be overridden. Here’s a few.

Author Wes Moore:

Author Kevin Shird:

Community activist Eric Booker:

Cory has developed a very nice map showing where the likely beneficiaries of this law reside. Baltimore City has by far the most citizens returning from felony incarceration. Big shocker, I know. I bet Larry Hogan knows that, too, wink, wink. 

The final vote on this bill in the House was 82-57. 85 votes (60%) are required to override a veto. 81 Democrats voted yes. Speaker Mike Busch needs to find four votes. One of those votes will almost assuredly come from new Delegate Susie Proctor, whose late husband Jim Proctor missed the vote last year. That leaves three votes. Delegate Michael Jackson of Prince George’s County did not vote on the bill last year. That could be a second vote. Busch then would need to find two votes from among the eight delegates listed below who voted no on the bill in 2015.

Charlie Barkley (Montgomery)
Pam Beidle (Anne Arundel)
Eric Bromwell (Baltimore County)
Ned Carey (Anne Arundel)
Mark Chang (Anne Arundel)
Mary Ann Lisanti (Harford)
Ted Sophocleus (Anne Arundel)
C.T. Wilson (Charles)

All three members of District 32 (Beidle, Chang, and Sophocleus) voted no. LD32 is one of the most competitive districts in the state. Ned Carey and Mary Ann Lisanti represent single member subdistricts carved from larger Republican areas. Eric Bromwell represents LD8, a moderate to conservative district in eastern Baltimore County where Bromwell is the only remaining Democratic delegate. Both Charlie Barkley and C.T. Wilson are noted contrarians (as is Bromwell) from electorally safe districts.

I’m betting Busch can get the votes he needs. But a little (nice, please!) push from you to your favorite delegate or three on this list wouldn’t hurt either. Because this bill should become law. Let’s help get this done.

More On Money Bail In Maryland

I wrote about the problems with Maryland’s bail system in criminal cases back in September. Summary: our system sucks. One thing I didn’t write about back then was the current legislative stalemate over how to fix the system following a court ruling. A quick history primer:

Back in 2012, the Court of Appeals held that, contrary to what was actually happening, defendants had a right to counsel at bail hearings, including the initial determination by a commissioner. This was a bombshell ruling - in FY 2011, District Court commissioners conducted 176,523 initial appearance hearings, 30% of them in Baltimore City alone. The costs do providing counsel for all those hearings was and remains staggering.

In response to that ruling, the General Assembly in 2013 set out to restructure the bail system in Maryland. Three legislative sessions later, no resolution has been reached. Why not? On the surface, it’s a dispute between the House of Delegates and the State Senate. The Senate had been in favor of more comprehensive reform, while the House supports more limited reform and at least some resistance to the court ruling. Now the issue appears largely dead.

But on a more basic level, change has been slow to come because of the influence of the bail bond lobby. Being a bail bondsman is a lucrative business, and its best source of profits is poor families desperate to get their loved ones out of jail. As my last story pointed out, “defendants of color are given higher bail amounts and are detained more often than white defendants.”

The Washington Post editorialized in 2013:

The bail bond industry has powerful allies in Annapolis, where many lawmakers are trial lawyers. Eliminating the system wholesale may not be politically possible, at least for now. But the idea should get fair consideration. Even if the state is compelled to hire scores of public defenders to ensure defendants’ constitutional rights, it can also make the system fairer and more sensible by providing non-monetary means of encouraging defendants to appear in court.

As is so often the case, the Post overshot the mark by smearing every “trial lawyer” in the legislature, and there aren’t “many” such lawyers any longer, as the number comes down every election. But the Post isn’t wrong. There are impediments to real reform. Hint: one of the principal opponents of real bail reform in the legislature is no longer there, while a current legislator is now in a stronger position to advocate the industry’s interests than was the case when the editorial was published. Moving on . . .

OK, that was a super long intro, but here’s the point. Nothing is moving in the legislature any time soon. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on ad hoc efforts to get lawyers to cover initial bail hearings. Racial and socioeconomic effects persist. Time for a new strategy. The rallying cry of the “trial lawyers”: to the courthouse!

The lawsuit filed by the Equal Justice Under Law in San Francisco federal court in October seeks to abolish the cash bail system in the city, state — and the country. It’s the ninth lawsuit the center has filed in seven states.

“The bail system in most states is a two-tiered system,” said center founder Phil Telfeyan. “One for the wealthy and one for everyone else.”

The center has settled four lawsuits, convincing smaller jails in states in the South to do away with cash bail requirements for most charges.

Telfeyan said a win in California could add momentum to the center’s goal to rid the country of the cash bail system, which the lawyers say is used by most county jails in all 50 states. The federal system usually allows non-violent suspects free without bail pending trial and denies bail to serious and violent suspects.

The bail bond industry ignored the suit originally, but has now jumped in after government lawyers in San Francisco responded with insufficient vigor to defend the bail bond industry’s profits. Sound familiar?

But on Monday, lawyers for the California Bail Agents Association filed court papers seeking to formally oppose the San Francisco lawsuit. The association argues that government lawyers for San Francisco and the state are offering only “tepid” opposition to the California lawsuit.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi argues that most jail inmates are awaiting resolution of minor, non-violent crimes and that letting them free while awaiting court hearings will save the city millions of dollars. Mirkarimi said non-violent suspects can be monitored electronically and with frequent visits from law enforcement officials to ensure they don’t flee the area and attend all their court hearings.

The for profit bail bond industry has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any. It’s rife with corruption, it’s insufficiently regulated, and it perpetuates existing de facto discrimination in the court system. It’s time for it to go, and there are alternatives.

A lawsuit in Maryland like the one in San Francisco would help to bring about real and necessary change. The only change that’s happened yet was started by such a lawsuit. Now it’s time to go for the home run ball. Who’s up for this? 

Memo to Fred Hiatt: Your increasing neocon sensibilities are affecting your reasoning processes (shockingly, the Justice Policy Institute analysis linked above notes the connection between the bail bond industry and ALEC, the right wing state legislative arm, creating alarming levels of cognitive dissonance for the Post, I’m sure). Dude, sometimes it’s those nasty “trial lawyers” that bring about the changes for good in this country, and I mean, y’know, Brown v. Board of Education and all that? Put the blame where it belongs: the bail bond industry.