Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us

 

Maybe this time really will be different. After so many mass murders by guns in recent years yielded only “thoughts and prayers”, it feels for the first time that there is momentum building for real change. It’s not that I expect that significant gun legislation will pass this Republican controlled Congress. Rather, a budding political movement recognizes that the path to change requires replacing the current group of do-nothing, indifferent, in-bed-with-the NRA elected officials. We need to support candidates who listen to the overwhelming majority in this country who favor common sense regulations on deadly firearms.

There is already growing evidence that 2018 will see the election of a lot of Democrats at the federal, state and local levels. The new activism and passion around gun violence, so vividly and dramatically demonstrated on Saturday by 800,000 marchers in Washington and at 854 other locations around the world, could provide the impetus for the tsunami to grow even larger.  If the younger generation that sparked the March for Our Lives stays engaged in politics and continues to inspire in the way that they did last weekend, it really could be different this time.

Allow me a few personal observations from having attended the Washington March.  Of course, there was no actual marching because the streets were filled to overflowing.  It was as well-organized a political rally as I have ever attended, and my own experiences date back to the 1960s.  Speakers and Jumbotrons along the route guaranteed that everyone could see and hear what was happening on the main stage.  And what we saw and heard was remarkable.

Moreover, the crowd looked like America.  Political rallies are not always known for their diversity.  This one was.   Age, race, gender–everyone came and many of them brought their signs.

No speaker was over 21.  They were articulate, passionate and fearless.  Some of them will clearly become the public leaders of the future, but they are already proving leadership by their refusal to accept stale excuses and the status quo.  As powerful as their words were, the most dramatic moment of the day may well have been the “sounds of silence” from Emma Gonzales’ six minute and 20 second tribute to her fallen classmates.

The students knew, even before the event itself, that they would be attacked, ridiculed and demeaned.  They had already faced ugly attacks and made it clear in their remarks that they would not be intimidated and would not back down.

In the aftermath of the March, the world heard from the usual suspects, the apostles of hate, lies and inhumanity.  The students have obviously shaken and scared the gun lobby and the far right with their courage and determination.  Why else would the attacks be so vile, so filled with falsehoods and so lacking the dignity that those students keep showing?

If there is a poster child for all that is wrong with this country, Rick Santorum is surely a prime candidate for the role.  He dismissed the March as a waste of time and said the students would be better off learning CPR.  As ill-advised as the suggestion to arm teachers is, Santorum has come up with an idea even more stupid and irrelevant.  Once you’ve been shot even once by an AR-15 killing machine, there will be no need to administer CPR.

Santorum, of course, is only one example of right-wing ugliness.  The NRA spewed its usual mix of hatred and mockery.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a particularly craven politician who several speakers pointed out had received from the NRA the equivalent of $1.05 for every student in Florida, declared with his usual piety that many people were opposed to tighter gun regulations.  Rubio  makes weasels look good by his gutless performances.

While Santorum, Rubio and the NRA blathered, the students of Parkland told their personal stories.  They were joined by other students from Sandy Hook as well as by students from cities in which they face the threat of daily violence.  If there is any shred of conscience left in America, their pleas for action will surely be heard.

Some commentators tried to find comparisons with successful protest movements of the past.  Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a Changin’ ” to close the March surely was a bookend for those who were in Washington protesting the Vietnam War 50 years ago.

The measure of the impact of the March will begin to show in November when voters go to the polls and  decide whether candidates who accept NRA money are fit to serve, whether the excuse that “now is not the right time to consider gun legislation” is still acceptable, whether the lockstep opposition of Republicans to any effort to stop the epidemic of gun violence disqualifies that party from holding power.

As of this writing, Donald Trump himself has said nothing about the March.  Once again, he slipped out-of-town on Saturday to play golf in Florida.  He may pretend he didn’t hear the words of the students in Washington and around the world, but a lot of other people did.  When those  voters cast their ballots in November, Trump will most definitely learn what was being said on Saturday.

 

Peter Franchot and the Art of the Gimmick

When I moved to Philadelphia a few years ago, I stopped paying attention to  the “inside baseball” of Maryland politics.  Plenty of other commentators are doing a great job of giving readers behind-the-scenes analysis of the drama of Annapolis.  Josh Kurtz’ Maryland Matters is a recent and valuable addition to that roster.

On the other hand, having written about and been involved in Maryland government and politics for many years, I continue to see familiar patterns. And now I have the advantage of not getting stuck in the weeds of day-to-day dramas and pseudo-dramas.

Thus, it was with real interest that I noticed a flurry in the last few days of news reports and columns about the political fortunes of Maryland’s Comptroller, Peter Franchot.   I have known Peter for decades, have written frequently about him–he claimed to have put my piece, “Peter and the Wolves”, on the wall of his office–and, yet, I admit to being puzzled by his most recent political incarnation.

Franchot is about to be elected to his fourth term as State Comptroller after years in the House of Delegates.  He has a highly skilled political staff working for him and seems to be in constant campaign mode.  I don’t mean the latter comment as a criticism.  He’s built a strong following for himself and carved out a position on the right edge of the Democratic Party that would seem to ensure continued electoral success.  Franchot doesn’t even have an opponent in the Democratic Primary this year and will not face a serious challenge in the General Election.

The thing I have trouble understanding is why, after having made himself all but unbeatable electorally, Franchot has now decided to spend the preponderance of his efforts and his political capital engaged in fake populism.

Barry Rascovar, longtime observer of Maryland politics, recently wrote a column entitled “Comeuppance for Franchot” describing the overwhelming defeat in the Maryland General Assembly of his initiative to change the state laws on craft brewers.  The Comptroller has annoyed legislative leaders for years, but this most recent repudiation was more emphatic than usual.

I don’t know enough about the substance of the “beer wars” to have a clear opinion.  Franchot has positioned himself as the champion of small business owners, a populist looking out for the little guy.  From my perspective, even if he has the high ground on this issue, his approach to gathering support for it has been one of the most ham-handed I have ever seen in years of watching the General Assembly.  Franchot and his people insulted legislators, did little to make the case for his bill other than public rallies at breweries and, at the end, brought the supporters along on a fools’ errand.

Franchot is not dumb.  In the opinion of many, Len Foxwell , his chief of staff, is one of the smartest political operatives in Maryland.  Yet, they could hardly have done a worse job of trying to get his bill passed.  Viewing their actions from without, it looked like they were interested only in firing up brewers, drinking a lot of beer and burnishing Franchot’s populist credentials.

Unfortunately, Beer Wars is hardly an isolated incident.  The Sun on Thursday editorialized about the challenge facing schools inundated by snow days this year.  As the result of Franchot and Governor Larry Hogan’s publicity stunt to force schools to begin their year after Labor Day and end by June 15, many counties are literally out of options to reach 180 days.  Hogan’s executive order, in support of Franchot’s idea, took no account of the educational needs of students or the administrative problems for schools, but, instead, ginned up a phony marketing slogan of “Let Summer be Summer” in order to help a few pizza parlors in Ocean City.

It will be easy to add to this list the ridiculous bit of theater about air conditioners in schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County or Franchot’s earlier meddling into Towson University’s decision to eliminate its baseball program.  That program, in fact, has been restored, and you can certainly argue about the merits of the original decision. What you can’t do, however, is come up with any sensible rationale for why it was an issue that merited the intervention of the State’s Comptroller.

Chickens are now coming home to roost.  The General Assembly is considering legislation to take control of Maryland’s school construction program away from the Board of Public Works, where Hogan and Franchot currently occupy two of the three seats.  Another bill would set up an inquiry as to whether oversight of the state liquor industry should be removed from the Comptroller’s Office.

And all of this comes before this year’s state election.  Franchot will be reelected but Hogan’s fate is far from secure.  In what is likely to be an enormous Democratic wave, he has a very good chance to be a one-term governor.

What will Franchot do during the campaign?  Given his close relationship with Hogan, it’s hard to imagine the Comptroller supporting the Democratic candidate for governor, even if that person wanted his support, which is also far from certain.  And, if Hogan loses, Franchot is going to feel particularly isolated in Annapolis in 2019.  He’s burned a lot of bridges and has few friends left in the party of which he is still a nominal member.

And yet, had he chosen to use his popularity to advocate for issues like school funding, women’s health, rights of immigrants and environmental protection, Franchot might have actually had a record worth remembering.  He will, instead, be known for squandered opportunities regardless of how many terms he serves.