Democratic candidates for Maryland governor support increased funding for schools

Eight candidates for next year’s governor’s race in Maryland spoke to teachers at the Maryland State Education Association’s convention last weekend. The eight candidates will compete in the Democratic primary, which will be held June 26, 2018. Republican Governor Larry Hogan did not attend the convention.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Jim Shea, former chair of the Venable law firm in Baltimore, promised to provide more resources to high-poverty areas and greater future funding across the board.  “He promised universal pre-kindergarten and better prenatal care for pregnant mothers, paying teachers more and improving their pensions, and letting educators have greater control over curriculum.”

“We will argue about whether we can afford it, and I will say, ‘How can we not?’ ” Shea said.

He later added that he doubted Maryland would have to increase taxes to fund his plan. “It is about how you spend your money. Not if you have it.”

Universal pre-kindergarten was also supported by Alec Ross, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and Krish Vignarajah.

State Senator Richard S. Madaleno elicited gasps and applause from the audience “when he said politicians don’t talk enough about how teachers spend too much time in a classroom and not enough time preparing to be there,” the Sun reported.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker noted that he had proposed an increase in the property tax to send more money to schools and a four percent tax increase was eventually approved.

The Sun also reported on the comments by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentz, Ben Jealous, former CEO of the NAACP, and technology entrepreneur Alec Ross.

Note: Jim Shea is my brother-in-law.

Karen Keys-Gamarra for School Board

I will vote for Karen Keys-Gamarra in today’s special election for the Fairfax County School Board at-large seat. At a candidate’s forum on August 23, Chris Grisafe, the Republican endorsed candidate, said he supported zero-based budgeting for the school system. Keys-Gamarra, who is endorsed by the Democrats, correctly objected that zero-based budgeting would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Gamarra is also endorsed by The Washington Post, the Fairfax Education Association, and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

Grisafe presented an inconsistent position on the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School. On the one hand, he said that the community has a right to be heard on this issue; on the other hand he objected to the length of time it took to involve the community in the decision.

Independent candidate Michael Owens made some good points at the candidate’s forum. “Recess is a right, not a privilege,” she said, noting that it should never be withheld from students as a punishment. She is one of two independent candidates quixotically attempting to win an at-large seat without endorsement by either the Republicans or Democrats.

From my experience in the 1995 school board election, I know that school board elections in Fairfax County are nonpartisan in name only. It would be difficult to win a district seat as an independent, and probably impossible to win an at-large seat. What can be done to improve the selection process for school board members? I will cover this vital question in future posts.

National Popular Vote Compact fails to pass this year in Virginia

This month a bill to have Virginia join the National Popular Vote Compact was introduced in the House of Delegates by Delegates Marcus B. Simon, Kaye Kory, Mark H. Levine, Delores L. McQuinn, Kenneth R. Plum, Marcia S. “Cia” Price, Sam Rasoul, Luke E. Torian, Rosylyn C. Tyler, and Vivian Watts. The Senate patrons were George L. Barker, Adam P. Ebbin, Janet D. Howell, and Scott A Surovell.

Virginia’s Legislative Information System gives this summary of HB 1482 Presidential electors; National Popular Vote Compact:

Summary as Introduced:

Presidential electors; National Popular Vote Compact. Enters Virginia into an interstate compact known as the Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. Article II of the United States Constitution gives the states exclusive and plenary authority to decide the manner of awarding their electoral votes. Under the compact, Virginia agrees to award its electoral votes to the presidential ticket that receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact goes into effect when states cumulatively possessing a majority of the electoral votes have joined the compact. A state may withdraw from the compact; however, a withdrawal occurring within six months of the end of a President’s term shall not become effective until a President or Vice President has qualified to serve the next term.

HB 1482 was referred to the House Committee on Privileges and Elections and then to the Subcommittee on elections. On January 24 the subcommittee vetoed against the bill, killing it for this session. So we will have to wait until next year to see another chance for this much-needed reform.

Three cheers for the sponsors of the bill. Be sure and support them and encourage more efforts next year.


Philadelphia Inquirer supports the National Popular Vote compact

Inquirer Editorial: Electoral College has outlived usefulness, if it had any. The editors say, “In the 21st century, the world’s most powerful nation is strong enough to trust the people, rather than some convoluted weighted voting by states, to choose the president.”

Ending the Electoral College doesn’t require the daunting task of passing a constitutional amendment. The Constitution leaves states free to decide how they pick electors. A serious national movement, led by National Popular Vote, has been getting states to sign a mutually-binding pledge to cast their electoral votes for the popular vote winner. The agreement, a legally enforceable compact among the states, would take effect only when signed by states representing a majority — 270 votes — in the Electoral College. Eleven states, representing 165 electoral votes, have signed on, including New Jersey.

Presidential elections in other countries work well without an electoral college

How do other countries elect presidents without an electoral college? Pretty easily. David Weigel notes that plenty of countries elect presidents, and none of them use an electoral college system.

Want to see how presidential elections work if people don’t have to hunt in swing states? Lucky for you, we have hundreds of case studies, and the quick answer is “they work pretty well.” In countries with free and fair elections, presidential races look a lot like our own, with candidates stumping everywhere to drive up favorable turnout and flip voters their way.

Weigel says, “There is only one office in this country you can win without the popular support of most voters, and it happens to be the most powerful one in the world.”

There are four years before this will matter again, and there’s absolutely no hint that it will change. But it might be telling that when we’ve advice a country on how to write a constitution, we have never told them to copy the electoral college. Nor have we told them to let state legislators draw their own boundaries. In 2012 our system elected a House of Representatives that lost the popular vote and in 2016 it elected a president that lost it, too. That has massive distorting effects on how our country works. For all our gifts, it’s something no other presidential democracy has to worry about.

The New York Times is right about the Electoral College

It is time to end the Electoral College the New York Times says. Here is the conclusion of an editorial published December 19:

This page opposed the Electoral College in 1936, and in morerecentyears as well. In 2004, President George W. Bush won the popular vote by more than three million, but he could have lost the Electoral College with a switch of fewer than 60,000 votes in Ohio.

Many Republicans have endorsed doing away with the Electoral College, including Mr. Trump himself, in 2012. Maybe that’s why he keeps claiming falsely that he won the popular vote, or why more than half of Republicans now seem to believe he did. For most reasonable people, it’s hard to understand why the loser of the popular vote should wind up running the country.

Baltimore Sun continues to advocate an end to the Electoral College

The Baltimore Sun editorial calling for an end to the Electoral College makes a good point: “It is the product of an 18th century compromise forged over issues that no longer apply and resting on assumptions about the wisdom of the average person we no longer hold, and it has not worked the way it was intended almost from the very beginning.”

The Sun provides helpful information about the Electoral College Compact:

There is another way, though. Ten states plus Washington, D.C., have enacted legislation that could lead to a system that leaves the Electoral College intact but ensures that it deliver the presidency to the popular vote winner. This national compact stipulates that as soon as states comprising a majority of the Electoral College — 270 votes — sign on, each will award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The Constitution allows states to allocate their electors as they choose — the winner-take-all system is not in the Constitution, and Maine and Nebraska have already abandoned it, choosing to split their electoral votes based on who wins in each congressional district.

So far, only blue states have signed on to the plan — Maryland was the first, and, yes, we endorsed the idea then, not just now that the candidate we supported, Hillary Clinton, has won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. But the idea has gotten some traction in places like Oklahoma, a state so red that no presidential candidate pays it any attention, and in some swing states, including Colorado and Nevada. The 11 jurisdictions that have signed on total 165 electoral votes, nearly two-thirds of the necessary total.

The Electoral College should be abolished.

Let’s not be lazy people! We can fix this!

The Electoral College should be abolished

A direct-popular-vote method for electing the President and Vice President is essential to representative government. This is the position of the League of Women Voters of the United States. I enthusiastically support this reform of the selection of the president.

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on Selection of the President, as Announced by National Board, January 1970, Revised March 1982, Updated June 2004 and Revised by the 2010 Convention:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the direct-popular-vote method for electing the President and Vice-President is essential to representative government. The League of Women Voters believes, therefore, that the Electoral College should be abolished. We support the use of the National Popular Vote Compact as one acceptable way to achieve the goal of the direct popular vote for election of the president until the abolition of the Electoral College is accomplished.  The League also supports uniform voting qualifications and procedures for presidential elections. The League supports changes in the presidential election system – from the candidate selection process to the general election. We support efforts to provide voters with sufficient information about candidates and their positions, public policy issues and the selection process itself. The League supports action to ensure that the media, political parties, candidates, and all levels of government achieve these goals and provide that information.

Here is a link to information about the National Popular Vote Compact: Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.

Elections can be improved

Many people are not wildly enthusiastic with the way we elect our presidents or our local officials.  Clearly there is room for improvement, from the national level to the local level.

Kathleen Parker says, after Trump, the GOP may need a better voting system. People pay more attention to the presidential voting system than to how votes work for other offices. But the idea of an “approval” ballot is something that might be useful for local elections such as school board elections.

In Virginia, school board elections are supposedly nonpartisan. Practically speaking though, in a large school district such as Fairfax County, it would be difficult to be elected without an endorsement from either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Parker reports that one ranking method, “advanced recently in the New York Times by economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, was developed by 18th-century mathematician and political theorist Marquis de Condorcet. This process called for ranking candidates in order of approval — or not ranking them at all, as an indication of disapproval. The candidate with the highest approval ranking would win.”

There are several other ways of winnowing candidates and selecting the ultimate winners. It’s a good idea to think of ways of improving our elections.

More schools will be closed on the March 1 presidential primary

On Monday the Loudoun County School Board voted to close schools on March 1, Super Tuesday. The Fairfax County School Board and the Prince William County School Board had earlier made the same decision due to concerns about high voter turnout. The Fairfax County School Board voted on February 18 to change from a two-hour delay to a school holiday. Eleven school board members voted for the change; Elizabeth Schultz (R-Springfield) abstained. The Prince William County School Board voted unanimously January 20 to close schools on March 1. The only employees who work that day are 12-month employees.

The Washington Post article, Loudoun County schools will close for Super Tuesday, featured an interesting comment, posted by someone signing on as pitcher99:

As a retired teacher with 32 years experience in Reno NV, and 11 years in Fairfax County the closing of schools on Primary Days and Election Days is totally uncalled for. The students (and teachers) have enough interruptions without this. Are the students learning that elections are to be feared? I used to bring my classes to the gym or whatever room was set aside for the occasion so they could watch the process. Guess that is in the wastebasket along with History, Civics, Handwriting. the list goes on……

The polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. For the Primary, voters will be required to choose a Republican or a Democratic ballot. On February 4, the State Board of Elections voted to approve the Republican Party of Virginia’s request to rescind the statement of affiliation requirement for the March 1 Republican Presidential Primary.