Saturday, November 8, 2014

JUICE - A Way Forward for MD Democrats: Brian Frosh vs. Anthony Brown and Lessons from Connecticut & Minnesota

A WAY FORWARD FOR MARYLAND DEMOCRATS: Politicos have been chattering about Anthony Brown's loss this week, and everyone seems to have their own theory about how this happened. Was it a a reaction to partisan gridlock in Congress? Was it a canned campaign by the Democratic nominee? Was it a revolt against taxes? Was Maryland just part of the national anti-Obama wave? We'll never know for sure, but there are clear lessons for the future looking at examples both from outside and inside Maryland. Indeed, it seems clear that neither Democrats nor Republicans can take for granted the message from the electorate. To be sure, my side missed the populist tide sweeping through the electorate, but Republicans would be equally foolish to see this as a mandate for conservatism or austerity measures. Below, I make the case for Democrats embracing economic populism (as a contrast to an anti-tax agenda) in the coming years. After all, many of the Assembly Democrats who are closer to Hogan than Brown on tax policy lost this year anyway.

IT'S STILL ABOUT THE MIDDLE & WORKING CLASS: I previously wrote that my key takeaway from Maryland Democrats' disastrous election night was that the state party needed to step up its game on economic populism -- especially in a way that counters the GOP's trickle-down economic talking points (eg: the idea that tax cuts for millionaires and corporations will magically create jobs and wealth for ordinary Marylanders). But Larry Hogan's simple anti-tax message clearly had appeal with Maryland voters, because our Democratic Party simply didn't even try to present a progressive or populist vision on economic issues. And when we did, it wasn't really responsive to anyone except the wealthy and industry interests (who are often one and the same). For example, in the last few years Maryland Democrats tried to disarm the Hogan-style message by passing an estate tax cut on inheritances up to $5.9 million and reducing the state's millionaire's tax. I don't begrudge Maryland Democrats for trying to play the anti-tax game, but I think the ineffectiveness of the strategy in fending off Hogan warrants discussion (without even getting into the policy and revenue merits of these cuts).

In an era of a much-talked-about, historic wealth gap, how many ordinary Marylanders will actually benefit from these measures? Are those who declined to vote really in the dark about growing income and wealth inequality, or did they simply think Democrats weren't planning on doing anything different than in the past? The question is not, are you better off today than you were four years ago -- it is, will you be better off four years in the future than you are today if we are in charge. If you have children at the pre-K age, you might've been able to answer yes to this question -- but if you don't....

To be sure, trying to jump on Larry Hogan's broad anti-tax bandwagon didn't work this year. But I think this had less to do with taxes per se, and more to do with a failure by the party to passionately address the policy sins we all know exist that have led to the spiraling gap between the rich and the poor (both in Maryland and nationally). As Roy Meyers, a professor of political science at UMBC, noted in Maryland Reporter (excerpt below):
ROY MEYERS (UMBC PROFESSOR): "...repeatedly promising 'no new taxes' in this campaign was insufficient protection from the narrative Republicans, and Hogan in particular, have been building over recent years. Much of that narrative was false or misleading, yet many voters bought it. Though Maryland is still one of the richest and most productive states in the nation, the Republicans convinced many that the economy was worse than most other states’. Though even after the tax increases of recent years, when Maryland still has below-average tax rates per individual incomes, many voters came to believe that the tax burden promoted flight of high-income taxpayers (there’s no convincing proof of this)."
Indeed, many Maryland politicos (Democrats included) over the last few years have become cheerleaders for the idea that we're losing millionaires (we're not) and that we're losing residents to Virginia (we're not). In fact, The Washington Business Journal recently reported that effective corporate tax rates are often lower in Maryland than Virginia. So rather than fight trickle-down economics in Maryland, we've largely embraced it as a policy solution for unquantifiable problems like "poor business reputation" or millionaires maybe/potentially/hypothetically leaving the state (some day).

But where I believe Democrats have faltered is on prioritizing relief for the middle-class and working class. During the gubernatorial race, there was always a lingering choice about whether to try and mobilize the base, or whether to try and convert voters on the other side. In many ways, these choices were mutually exclusive. Karl Rove famously chose the former tactic (to great success) in multiple elections. But in some states, it appears that the populist message was the winning one -- and it's not always a partisan message. Larry Hogan ran a populist campaign running against taxes. But in other states, the populist campaign manifested as sick leave and economic justice.

A LESSON FROM OTHER BLUE STATES: CONNECTICUT & MINNESOTA - Many politicos have been looking at Maryland in the same light as elections across the nation, where Republicans won tight races. But a better apples-to-apples comparison would be comparing Maryland to Connecticut (another traditionally Blue state with a tight Governor's race). Luke Brinker at just did exactly that, and I think he's got some good points (excerpt below):
LUKE BRINKER (VIA SALON.COM): Amid this week’s disastrous Democratic drubbing, Connecticut emerged as one of the few bright spots for Democrats. Facing a formidable challenge from wealthy investor Tom Foley, whom he defeated by less than one percentage point in 2010, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy secured another term, fending off Foley 51 to 48 percent....

But Malloy also boasted something many Democrats who lost Tuesday night did not — an actual track record of economic populist accomplishments. Malloy could point to specific policies he’d signed into law — most notably, mandatory paid sick leave and the nation’s first-ever state-level minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour — that benefited Connecticut families but would be jeopardized if Foley, who opposed those policies, won the governorship....

A late-stage Malloy ad — aired as public polling indicated a tied race — put the issues at the very top. “On Tuesday, you future is on the ballot,” the ad’s narrator began. “What kind of state will Connecticut be? Tom Foley’s made his plans clear. No paid sick days for workers. No to raising the minimum wage....”

Lindsay Farrell, Connecticut director of the Working Families Party, told Salon that the issues resonated with a broad swath of voters.... But, Farrell noted, Malloy signed both paid sick leave and the minimum wage increase into law despite encountering opposition among more moderate Democrats in the state legislature, particularly on the former.... “Things that give people economic security and tackle economic inequality in this country are popular with voters,” [Farrell] added.

Results elsewhere bear this out. Bloomberg Politics’ Dave Weigel observes that while Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia barely survived after running a “radical centrist” campaign about the importance of slashing the national debt, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken cruised to a 10-point victory over his GOP opponent after a remarkably economic populist campaign. Earlier this year, most commentators — including this one — would have told you that of the two senators, Warner was almost certain to win by a larger margin....
And so the push for paid sick leave in Maryland begins (again)....

A LESSON FROM WITHIN MARYLAND: BRIAN FROSH VS. ANTHONY BROWN - Indeed, it would be foolish of Maryland Democrats and Republicans to extrapolate lessons for the future only from this year's Governor's race. After all, my suspicion is that Hogan's win is more of a mandate for populism than it is for conservatism. Within Maryland results, comparing the vote totals of Anthony Brown and Democratic nominee for Attorney General Brian Frosh is very instructive. After all, the Frosh race makes it hard to see the rejection of Anthony Brown as a rejection of Democrats (or liberal political ideology more broadly). I think Frosh's race and multiple other races in the state suggest that the message, tactics, and tone of the Brown campaign were more decisive than party label or liberal vs. conservative.

Indeed, Brian Frosh is a clear liberal politician from Montgomery County (representing much-maligned Bethesda, no less). He's also been the target of true hatred and ire from the NRA and gun owners, many of whom blame him for shepherding Maryland's tough new gun regulations through the State Senate. As a Senator, Frosh has also not been afraid to raise taxes, and voted for bills like transgender nondiscrimination that the rightwing base has revolted against. Frosh also opposed the estate tax cut and tax cuts for Lockheed Martin. He's not exactly a Larry Hogan clone, and would be the perfect foil if we were indeed witnessing a wave of anger toward Democrats. But Frosh won big, and that counters the narrative that voters were looking to blindly oust Democrats or liberals. Indeed, in a realignment cycle like we saw this year, several underfunded Republicans defeated better-known, better resourced candidates.

PROGRESSIVE SENATOR FROSH WON WHERE BROWN LOST: Looking at the voting totals below, you can see that progressive lawmaker Brian Frosh beat his Republican opponent by almost a quarter-of-a-million votes, and he did so by winning in places that Anthony Brown failed to carry: Baltimore County, Charles County and Howard County. Frosh even nearly tied his Republican opponent in Kent County.

Brian Frosh Democrat Jeffrey Pritzker Republican
Allegany 5707 12056
Anne Arundel 71548 91789
Baltimore City 108198 17471
Baltimore 132912 108605
Calvert 11330 18009
Caroline 2708 5491
Carroll 16927 40940
Cecil 8065 16127
Charles 26045 17579
Dorchester 3979 5355
Frederick 30799 41319
Garrett 1823 6194
Harford 30289 52859
Howard 54534 41781
Kent 3394 3537
Montgomery 163238 72205
Prince George's 178809 24346
Queen Anne's 5836 11670
St. Mary's 10283 18779
Somerset 2292 3452
Talbot 5496 8045
Washington 11584 23005
Wicomico 9604 13904
Worcester 6430 11031
Totals 901,830 665,549

PROGRESSIVE SENATOR FROSH OUTPOLLED BROWN IN EVERY MARYLAND COUNTY: Even more interesting is that Brian Frosh got more votes than Anthony Brown in every single county in Maryland, netting over 115,000 more votes for Frosh than Brown. Looking at the results below is a depressing vision of what could've been:

Brian Frosh Democrat Anthony Brown Democrat
Allegany 5707 4539
Anne Arundel 71548 55918
Baltimore City 108198 102219
Baltimore 132912 100121
Calvert 11330 9355
Caroline 2708 1900
Carroll 16927 10181
Cecil 8065 5396
Charles 26045 23936
Dorchester 3979 3067
Frederick 30799 27041
Garrett 1823 1588
Harford 30289 19404
Howard 54534 48019
Kent 3394 2568
Montgomery 163238 151593
Prince George's 178809 177993
Queen Anne's 5836 3715
St. Mary's 10283 8030
Somerset 2292 1979
Talbot 5496 4285
Washington 11584 9480
Wicomico 9604 8572
Worcester 6430 5427
Totals 901,830 786,326

OTHER COUNTER-INTUITIVE TEA LEAVES FROM MARYLAND ELECTIONS: Before you start extrapolating that there was something special about Brian Frosh (not that he isn't special), I would point out that rabid anti-tax, pro-business deregulation Republican Blaine Young lost his bid for Frederick County Executive this year to Democrat Jan Gardner -- even as Republicans swept 5 of the 7 County Council seats, and Brown lost big in the county. Moreover, Democrat John Delaney won re-election not just through Montgomery County -- he carried the Frederick portion of his district too. Rep. Elijah Cummings carried the Baltimore and Howard County portions of his district; Rep. John Sarbanes won the Baltimore and Howard County portions of his district, and nearly tied in Anne Arundel; Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger won in the Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, and Howard County portions of his district; and so on....

On the other hand, you could listen to the advice of Comcast's Maryland lobbyist Sean Looney, who apparently wants to preserve corporate tax loopholes, thinks the Assembly's incoming freshman are anti-business and a "headache," and believes some of Maryland's Democratic incumbents are "wackos." Stay classy!

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