The April 26 Democratic Presidential Primary


Much to the surprise of almost everyone, this year’s April 26 Primary actually matters. Both parties structured their nominating processes in the hope that a candidate would be determined by no later than March. Not this year.

The Republicans seem to be barreling toward a convention in which the outcome won’t be decided until multiple ballots have been cast. It would be hard to call it a “brokered” convention, however, since there really are no brokers any more.

Assessing the horrors of having to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will have to wait for another day. Today’s blog is focused on the Democratic Party contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
There is widespread amazement that the Socialist from Vermont is drawing huge crowds, winning state contests and still actively contesting the nomination.

However, if you think about it, a similar dynamic occurred in 2008. Barack Obama jumped out to an early lead and did a good job of organizing and understanding the rules of the process, but didn’t wrap up the nomination until June. Some critics would like to attribute the protracted contest to Hillary Clinton’s flaws as a candidate, but there’s really much more going on than that.

To be clear, Clinton, like all the candidates seeking the presidency, is imperfect. That’s always been the reality of presidential elections. As much as we yearn for a savior, we never get flawless candidates.
Clinton has made some serious errors of judgment–including deciding to use a private email server while Secretary of State and accepting enormous speaking fees from Wall Street even knowing she was going to run for president. She also gets tarred by some of Bill Clinton’s transgressions.

At the same time, she has been the victim of numerous attacks that have no basis in reality. Just as many of the allegations made while Bill Clinton was president did not hold up under careful examination, the unending efforts of Congressional Republicans to find a scandal concerning Benghazi have tarnished them more than her. Among the only allegations that have not been thrown at her so far are that she was born in Kenya and is secretly a Muslim.

To argue, as Bernie Sanders has recently, that Clinton is not qualified to be president is utter and complete nonsense. She has one of the strongest sets of credentials of any candidates in modern electoral history. Clinton, with eight years as Senator from New York, four years as Secretary of State, and eight years as the nation’s First Lady, has more experience than any candidate since George H.W Bush.

Let’s also acknowledge that she faces the unprecedented challenge of seeking to be the first female president. No one else is critiqued about what they wear, what their hair style is, and how their voice sounds.
Part of her dilemma is that Clinton is the establishment candidate in a year in which there is incredible unrest and anger. She’s been on the national stage for more than two decades and is hardly in a position to run as an outsider.

And give Sanders a lot of credit for tapping into the anger so effectively. I absolutely understand what many people find appealing about him. Sanders is right about the growing inequality in this country that arises in significant measure from a system that disproportionately benefits those with the most financial resources. He is, in many ways, the logical successor to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Unfortunately, Sanders has the same fundamental problem that Occupy Wall Street did. He has lots to say about the flaws in the current system, but little to offer in terms of remedies.

Even before his disastrous interview with the New York Daily News, Sanders was always short on details and specifics. In that interview, he wasn’t able to offer any insights into how he would break up the big banks despite having that mantra as the core of his campaign from the very start.

Sanders, in promising Medicare for all and free college, may be addressing important public policy issues, but he totally disregards any political or fiscal realities. You don’t have to be a deficit hawk to be concerned with the gigantic impact his proposals would have on the federal deficit. Of course, that’s not really a worry since his agenda would be dead on arrival even if Democrats regain control of Congress after the November election.

Sanders has made a real contribution to the nominating process in raising important issues and forcing Hillary Clinton to respond to them. I think that was his original objective in running, but his unexpected success thus far has led him to move to more of an attack mode. There’s little chance that he can actually win the nomination and, frankly, even less chance that he could translate his campaign themes into effective governance.

That gets us back to Clinton. I would much rather have her making appointments to the Supreme Court, defending the Affordable Care Act, working to get sensible gun laws, trying to wake the country up to the dangers of climate change, and being a voice for diplomatic solutions as a first resort than any of the other candidates in the race.

While I am less than comfortable with some of her foreign policy positions, which strike me as perilously close to those of Republican neocons, all of the Republicans are much scarier and prone to impulsive, even irrational, actions. Sanders, meanwhile, seems totally over his head in foreign affairs and really isn’t prepared to be Commander-in-Chief.

Electing Clinton just because she would be the first women president is not enough of a reason, but, given how much better she is than all of the others who are running, it’s definitely a bonus.

Having a voice in a process that’s usually over by now is a great opportunity to impact an election that really may be the most important any of us can remember.

Filling Barbara Mikulski’s Shoes


Following a legend is always a tall order. Barbara Mikulski has served in elected office since 1971 and in Congress since 1977. She has been in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate longer than any other woman and is the first female senator from Maryland. After 30 years in that job, she is stepping down after this year.

Those statistics, however, barely begin to describe Mikulski’s impact and the long shadow she has cast over Maryland politics. While still a member of the Baltimore City Council, she helped rewrite the rules for the Democratic Presidential nominating process. She’s been a national figure as a result of both her considerable political skills and her dynamic personality.

In Congress, Mikulski has been a leader on women’s issues, on policies regarding cities and poverty, and was one of only a handful of senators to vote against the Iraq War authorization.

Even before she become the first Senator from Maryland to chair the Appropriations Committee, she was an effective and resourceful advocate for programs and funding that benefitted the State. As charismatic a speaker as Mikulski is, her impact has come much more from actions than from words.

While it would be asking too much of the Democrats vying to succeed her to expect them have a similar impact any time soon, her approach to the office does provide a template for assessing their candidacies.  Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, both members of the U.S. House of Representatives, are presenting fundamentally different arguments in support of their campaigns for office.

Edwards, with the significant financial backing of Emily’s List, has been emphasizing the fact that she would be the first African-American senator elected from the State of Maryland. She is also stressing her desire to keep the seat in the hands of a woman, an argument that clearly carried great weight with Emily’s List.

The 4th District Congresswoman is generally described as a passionate advocate for progressive causes. On the other hand, she is almost never, other than in her own campaign materials, portrayed as an effective advocate for those causes.  Additionally, she is not known as a representative who has worked closely with other members of Congress. As a result, her candidacy relies more on identity politics than on a record of actual accomplishments.

Van Hollen is in many respect the opposite of Edwards. He rose remarkably quickly to acquire influence and respect within the leadership of the House of Representatives. The 8th District Congressman led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, and has been deeply involved in efforts, including on the budget, to forge bipartisan agreements.

While skepticism about the significance of endorsements is certainly justified, the pattern of endorsements for Edwards and Van Hollen is worth examination. Van Hollen has received most of the high-profile endorsements, including from two African-American County Executives in Maryland, Rushern Baker in Edwards’ backyard of Prince George’s County and Ike Leggett in neighboring Montgomery County.

Edwards, predictably, is dismissive of endorsements even while she lists a number of local Prince George’s officials on her website. Perhaps of greatest significance is the absence of an endorsement for her from the Congressional Black Caucus. Newspaper reports suggest a combination of Baker’s support for Van Hollen and the difficulty some other caucus members have had in working with Edwards as the explanation.

One other endorsement that has received a lot of attention came from 2014 gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur. In an op/ed, Mizeur blasted Edwards for poor and unresponsive constituent services and contrasted that record to Van Hollen’s efforts.

The April 26 Primary is likely to be close. Women constitute roughly 60% of the turnout in a Democratic primary in Maryland while African-Americans make up 40% of the vote. Polls have shown a tight contest, but the next two weeks will be crucial.

Their respective bases may be the key. Will Van Hollen come out of Montgomery County with a large lead? His worry has to be the embarrassingly low turnout in that jurisdiction in recent primaries. Additionally, can Van Hollen do well enough in Baltimore County, which has been the pivotal area in so many Maryland elections?

Similarly, can Edwards run up a large majority in the county–Prince George’s– with the most Democratic voters? She also has to hope that a contested mayoral race in Baltimore City will result in higher than normal turnout, working to her advantage.

Between now and election day, there will be many ads, some of which will be misleading or totally inaccurate, such as Edwards’ discredited claim that Van Hollen supported cuts in social security. There may well be additional endorsements, although Mikulski has vowed to remain neutral. There will be get-out-the-vote efforts which will be more or less effective.

If you judge by record, experience and potential to be a worth successor to Mikulski, Chris Van Hollen is the clear choice. He has already demonstrated that he has the skills, temperament and drive to do the job. Emily’s List, in overlooking his unwavering support for issues that are paramount to their agenda, undercut its own credibility.  Edwards has to hope that voters will focus on symbolism over substance and ignore her thin record.

In an election where Democrats have a good chance to regain control of the Senate, nominating a candidate who can win in November and then be an effective member of a new majority is vitally important.  That candidate is Chris Van Hollen.

The Blog Starts Here


In the original Star Wars trilogy, Obi Wan Kenobi on a number of occasions explained that something hard to understand was in fact true “from a certain point of view.”  That seems to me the very definition of opinion.

Having written columns for several different news organizations over the past nine plus years, I’ve decided to try my hand at a self-published blog.  I expect to focus, as I have previously, on politics and public policy, with a particular emphasis on state and local government in Maryland.  I will also be paying attention to higher education in which I’ve spent much of my professional career as well as the wacky world of national politics.  Jon Stewart may have left the stage before Donald Trump astonished everyone with his unconventional approach to running for the presidency, but I find him irresistible as a topic.  Scary, but irresistible.

I know that it will take me a little while to get the hang of this medium and the various technology tricks that I need to master.  I’d welcome any feedback on format as well as content.

A note on philosophy.  Having taught university courses on government and politics for several decades, I am dismayed at the degree of partisanship, incivility and know-nothingism that is characterizing today’s political landscape.  When I was working as an intern on Capitol Hill a very long time ago, a U.S. Senator told a group to remember that just because you disagree with someone, that doesn’t make the other person stupid.  A good lesson from Bobby Kennedy which seems largely lost today.  We need less demonizing and more conversation.

Finally, let me point you great piece on NPR from this morning.

A baker in Jackson, Mississippi was interviewed about that state’s new “religious freedom” law that allows people to discriminate based on their views about sexual orientation.   The wisdom and humanity of that individual should be an inspiration for everyone.