Tuesday, August 13, 2013

POLITICS OF RACE: Gansler Belittles Brown Campaign As Only About Skin Color // PLUS: A Challenger to Del. Brian Feldman

The issue of race is percolating among voters in deep-Blue Maryland, as the coming election cycle is revealing long-simmering tensions over diversity in the state's Democratic Party. Below Maryland Juice notes a few emerging storylines of interest to politicos, starting with a wild case of foot-in-mouth disease from Attorney General Doug Gansler:

JUICE #1: DOUG GANSLER CAUGHT DISPARAGING ANTHONY BROWN'S CAMPAIGN, SAYING THE LT. GOVERNOR IS RELYING ON HIS RACE TO WIN - Within the span of a couple minutes, several Maryland Juice readers forwarded us a wild new article from The Washington Post's John Wagner highlighting candid thoughts from Attorney General Doug Gansler about Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. In the commentary below, Gansler belittles the campaign of Brown, claiming Maryland's black Lieutenant Governor is relying on his race to win the Governor's mansion (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler told a group of campaign volunteers last month that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, his chief Democratic rival for governor, has a thin record of accomplishment and is trying to rely on his race to get elected next year. "I mean, right now his campaign slogan is, 'Vote for me, I want to be the first African American governor of Maryland,'" Gansler (D) told the group....

An audio recording of the July 15 meeting -- in which Gansler also spoke candidly about his campaign strategy -- was provided to The Washington Post by someone not employed by either campaign.... The recording is yet another example of a political figure having to explain remarks that he did not expect to be made public. In the 2012 presidential race, GOP nominee Mitt Romney had to defend his "47 percent" comments, which critics said disparaged nearly half the electorate....

Although Brown did not comment directly on Gansler's remarks, his running mate, Ken Ulman, said they crossed the line.... "Frankly, the voters deserve a little more respect from Doug...."
One source (who is not affiliated with any gubernatorial campaign) provided harsh reaction to Gansler's remarks about race, noting "This sounds like  a serious dick move by Gansler. This is very bad for Gansler. Basically accusing Anthony Brown of being black." But Maryland Juice writer Dan Furmansky had perhaps more measured thoughts about the Gansler campaign:
DAN FURMANSKY: Well, folks. I dare say the fan has been hit. The Post reports that "the salvos mark the first real tumult in a contest that had been relatively quiet and could show how race is likely to play an important role."

Indeed, there are cringe-worthy statements here.

What's remarkable to me in addition to the content of the remarks is that they may be an omen for Mr. Gansler's campaign if he doesn't adopt a more disciplined approach to what comes out of his mouth from here through next June. Indeed, more than one political insider wagered to me months ago that Mr. Gansler would end up self-destructing simply through his lack of a filter. A spokesperson for Anthony Brown's campaign called Gansler’s remarks “out of touch with Maryland values.” Indeed, they are certainly out of touch with a number of Democratic primary voters' values. Most voters--African American, Latina, gay, Asian, Muslim, disabled--want a governor whose tone projects inclusivity ... a feeling that they consider your community to be their community too.

Is this incident a nail in Mr. Gansler's coffin? Doubtful. He may be right in his assessment not to announce his candidacy until September that too few voters are paying attention at this point anyway. There is much time to for him to define himself between now and June, especially with a war chest that will enable robust air time. But this is, hopefully, a wake-up call--not to his campaign, but to Mr. Gansler himself. At this point in the game, every word, every where, and to every one, matters.

JUICE #2: DEL. BRIAN FELDMAN HAS A CHALLENGER FOR SENATE // MOCO MINORITIES SUGGEST CARETAKER APPOINTMENT FOR GARAGIOLA VACANCY - In another race-tinged storyline, The Washington Post's Bill Turque reported this weekend that Delegate Brian Feldman will face a challenger in his quest to be appointed to State Senator Rob Garagiola's District 15 vacancy. The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee will soon name a temporary replacement for Garagiola, and minorities in Montgomery County have been clamoring to see the first-ever non-white State Senator represent the rapidly diversifying region. But the same group of minority activists had not been able to point to a potential candidate for the D15 vacancy -- until just a few days ago. The Washington Post is now reporting that Bilal Ayyub, a University of Maryland professor, is stepping forward for the appointment to serve as a caretaker and not run for office in 2014 (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: For all of its much-celebrated progressive tradition, Montgomery County has never sent a candidate of color to the state Senate.... Instead, the process of filling western Montgomery’s District 15 seat has exposed long-simmering tensions in a county transformed by rapid demographic change.... The county’s Democratic Central Committee has scheduled a Sept. 10 vote on a recommendation to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who will make the appointment....

What especially vexed minorities was an announcement by the District 15 Democratic Caucus — the core group of active Democrats in that area — that it had endorsed [Del. Brian] Feldman. In fact, only the caucus’s executive committee had agreed to support Feldman.... [Latino, Asian, African American and Arab American community representatives] plan to press the central committee to bypass Feldman and name a “caretaker” who would not run for Garagiola’s seat next year....

[CASA in Action's] Gustavo Torres said the group had asked Bilal Ayyub, a University of Maryland engineering professor and a member of the Governor’s Commission on Middle Eastern Affairs, to submit his name to the central committee for consideration as the caretaker. Ayyub, 55, a District 15 resident born on the then-Jordanian West Bank, declined to comment Friday....

JUICE #3: BLACK MOCO RESIDENTS OVER 3X MORE LIKELY THAN WHITES TO BE BUSTED FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION // DISPARITY EVEN WORSE IN BALTIMORE - Speaking of race, The ACLU recently released a damning new report showing that black residents in Maryland are 3 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite equal rates of use between the races. But the local breakdowns for the statistics are fascinating, as the ACLU notes that black residents of liberal Montgomery County are 3.2 times more likely than white residents to be busted by cops for pot. That racial disparity is most pronounced in the city of Baltimore, where black residents are 5.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

All of these expressions of feelings about pot by our government are very expensive -- both in terms of raw tax dollars and in terms of police resource allocation -- and they are about as effective as abstinence-only education is at halting teen pregnancy. The ACLU report notes, for example, that Maryland spent over $106 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, and that these pot busts represented 50% of our police officers' drug enforcement activities. That sure seems like a good use of our finite public safety resources (*eye-roll*). As many of us have been pointing out for awhile, it is impossible to separate America's mass incarceration regime from the failed so-called "War on Drugs," which has ravaged communities of color, cost billions of tax dollars, and has been an utter failure at reducing drug use.

But many Maryland politicians continue to pay lip-service to these pressing social and economic justice issues, while ignoring the inertia of policies that lead to mass incarceration and racial disparities in law enforcement. In fact, five years ago The New York Times warned of the consequences of our government's draconian worldview (excerpt below):
NEW YORK TIMES: The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences. The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation.... China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison....

ERIC HOLDER & DR. SANJAY GUPTA CHANGE MINDS ON WEED: You would think that in well-educated, liberal, diverse Montgomery County policy considerations such as these would prevail over emotional and irrational fears. But you would be wrong. And at the state level, reform efforts stall year after year without any clear political constituency favoring incarceration for simple pot possession. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently published a lengthy piece explaining why he has now changed his mind on marijuana after apparently deciding to, you know, look at evidence:
DR. SANJAY GUPTA (VIA CNN): Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled "Why I would Vote No on Pot." Well, I am here to apologize.

I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now. I didn't look far enough.... I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.... We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.

On August 14, 1970, the Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg wrote a letter recommending the plant, marijuana, be classified as a schedule 1 substance, and it has remained that way for nearly 45 years.... Not because of sound science, but because of its absence, marijuana was classified as a schedule 1 substance. Again, the year was 1970.

Even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (who is not trailblazer on ending the failed "War on Drugs") is beginning to see the writing on the wall. Yesterday he announced a new effort to tackle the issue of mass incarceration, and the American public didn't even blink. As Maryland Juice has pointed out for many months now, the polling data on Americans and marijuana appears to have crossed a major threshold in public opinion, Reason.com noted yesterday that the powers that be are beginning to finally acknowledge the shift (excerpt below):
REASON.COM: As Attorney General Eric Holder calls for major changes to federal drug sentencing reform today, in effect sidestepping mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses to reduce the number of non-violent offenders sentenced to incarceration, the Obama administration is likely to find support from the American public. The most recent Reason-Rupe poll of 1,003 Americans on cell phones and landlines found that just 6 percent of Americans say people found with marijuana should go to jail. In contrast, 35 percent say people smoking or in possession of marijuana should not be punished at all; 32 percent say they should be fined; and 20 percent favor rehabilitation and counseling.

Check out a summary of the ACLU's research on Maryland below:

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