Friday, December 30, 2011

A Independence Declaration for 2012

As I look back over 2011, I have found that like most years, there was plenty of good and a bit of bad news.  I am hopeful that 2012 will be better for Laurel, Maryland, and for America.

As I reflect on 2011's national and regional challenges, I can't help but put some of the blame on our current lawmakers at the national and state levels.  Individually, they seem to be for the most part, good, upstanding citizens.  But collectively, they live in a corrosive system designed to turn even the strongest among them from the practice of statesmanship to the depths of partisanship.  A few examples:

-- Redistricting debacles, where the good of the region is sacrificed to partisan gerrymandering.  See PA and MD for examples from both parties.
-- Budget impasses brought on by partisan posturing.  See U.S. Congress.
-- Ever hardening partisan demands to not compromise with the other side while chronic and acute state and national problems continue to plague us.
-- Party-line voting is now the norm and expected.

It's become clear to me that my only recourse is to send a shock to the political system.  An action that shakes up the system and demonstrates for all observers that priorities must change.   This action must be seen as, not a turn away from any current party in power, but rather a condemnation of the practice of partisanship itself.

So I have decided to declare my independence and, regardless of affiliation, I will vote strictly anti-incumbent.  If a candidate now holds any partisan office, I declare my vote for their challenger without exception. 

If we are successful in this strategy and incumbents lose their seats in large numbers, I'm convinced that our anti-party message will be loudly received.   I am also convinced that if we stick together, we can break free from the evils of partisanship and therefore, I offer the following Declaration.

A Declaration of Independence From Partisan Candidates

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for People to dissolve the political bands which have connected them for far too long to their wayward Lawmakers, and to re-commit to those priorities that put the welfare of the People over the welfare of any political party.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments and their elected Lawmakers are instituted to serve the People, not political parties.  That whenever any Form of Government becomes so destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish their services, and to select new Lawmakers who demonstrate the following:
-- To hold the rights, safety and good of the People over the needs of any political party, or even their own elected or appointed offices.

-- To work together in good faith, in a spirit of compromise and collaboration that encourages the broadest, most innovative and most lasting solutions to the myriad difficult problems of the People.
-- To spend substantially more time working for the good of the People than working for their own reelection or any other partisan priority.

-- To draw representative district boundaries for the good of the People living within them and without regard to party priorities, or their own reelections.

-- To ensure that they put their legislative duties and imperatives ahead of any other work and that they vow to complete their official tasks before they adjourn for any reason.

-- To promise to be fully transparent and immediately disclose fully and publicly; any and all meetings with, formal or informal requests from, and any form of resources provided by any person, organization or other group with direct or potential legislative matters before them.

We, therefore, the People of these United States of America, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People, solemnly publish and declare ourselves free from the corrosive power of partisan politics and we pledge to remove all Lawmakers who have not demonstrated that they hold the needs and dreams of the People over the prerogatives of party.

To join the cause, just acknowledge your independence in the comments section.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Twitter: News or Not?

I apologize for only sending a tweet last night during the police search activity in OldTown Laurel.  My smartphone lets me forward tweets to the email lists but the formatting gets corrupted.  This caused a lot of confusion for people on the email lists. 

Kudos to Joshua Garner at for getting some information out to the community last night 30 minutes after the helicopters were in the air. 

I've come to really like Twitter for breaking news stories.  I wish more people, reporters and even PIOs would use it instead of email, or waiting for a reporter to ask them questions.   Twitter using the hashtag #laurelmd for breaking local stories would help get information moving quickly. 

Remember it's lector caveo! It's breaking news and we all need to be a savvy internet news consumers.  I call it "online literacy".  This means you gotta know your tweeter.  I'll listen to any random guy in a bar spout off investment advice, but I go to a pro when I want to invest for she-who-must-be-obeyed's retirement survivor's benefits. 

Breaking news also means that a story will surely evolve.  If we want verified news of record, we will need to let the professional news organizations have the time to do their thing, i.e.,  report, edit, check and then publish.

Like I always tell my boss.  "Good, fast, cheap, pick any two. It's impossible to do all three."   If you want your news fast and cheap and maybe wrong but evolving, read Twitter.  If you are willing to wait for verified facts, then avoid Twitter and wait for a reputable news organization.

Unfortunately, as local news organizations struggle to survive, Twitter may soon be all we have when the sirens wail and the chopper's spotlight circles overhead.

I find Twitter fascinating.  It's almost like being there, but without the need to get in the way.


Saturday, October 29, 2011


Is anonymous debate useful?
We are in the final few days of a hotly contested election here in beautiful, downtown, Laurel, MD.  It certainly has been one of the most contentious campaigns that I can remember during my 30+ years of living here.  Three people are running hard for Mayor and the "at-large" council seat is also locked in a tense struggle.
I like elections.  I enjoy the debate.  Elections cause me to think about issues.  Elections are healthy for a community.  But I've been watching a growing anonymity trend that's very troubling for me.

Both of our hometown news organizations, the venerable Laurel Leader and the upstart Laurel Patch are cranking out news, opinions and in a novel twist for a Laurel election, dozens of anonymous online comments. 

Go to the bottom of any article, especially in the Laurel Patch and you will see a handful of people strenuously debating.  Some of the comments are a bit over the top to say the least.
Some commenters are using -- what appears -- to be their real name.  And others are commenting behind a screen name.  Of course, there is no way to know for sure that commenters are offering their real names.  A commenter could easily use any name, even the name of a candidate.  Who could really know the truth?

Yesterday's mail also delivered to me a four page article anonymously attacking the Sarich campaign.  It looks like the authors spent a lot of money mailing the piece to every registered voter in Laurel.  This is a considerable investment in time and money for over 10,000 voters in the city.  Unfortunately, these authors chose to only identify themselves as "17 Laurel Taxpayers."

And finally, a neighbor told me last night that she was called by an anonymous phone pollster.  She was asked who she planned to vote for in the Mayoral race. The caller did not provide any affiliation.

I've written about anonymous comments in the past.  While I allow them here, I believe that anonymous articles, comments and polls are not very useful.  I think anonymity diminishes credibility.  It also tends to encourage people to be more rash, untruthful or hurtful in their comments.  However, we have a tradition of anonymous political speech in this country.  In some cases, anonymously speaking truth to power is useful for the good order of society.

So what do you think?  Opinions about candidates aside, does anonymity help or hurt political debate?

Please respond below.   Feel free to respond with your real name or anonymously.  Please be temperate.   

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Actual Email to Laurel's Public Works Department

Dear Laurel Department of Public Works:

I have a 27 inch television that has finally died.  None too soon if you ask me, because now I can finally buy a big screen, 1080p, HD, LED, TV that I've wanted for so many years but my wife, she-who-must-be-obeyed, would never allow me to buy as long as our ancient TV kept working.  

Now, as happy as I am about the long-awaited demise of my old TV, you can see that I'm in need of your wonderful bulk pick up services. 

I do realize that there will be a small fee, that I'm more than willing to pay, given that I've been waiting for this old thing to die for years.  My old TV that is, not my wife.  Although, how much do you charge to, ....?  Just kidding about the wife.

All joking aside, I would appreciate a bulk pick up of my old TV at your earliest convenience.  Laurel's Public Works Department is the best!


G. Rick Wilson
Laurel Ave

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delegate Ben Barnes Responds

Ok, I feel the need to comment:

1.  There seems to be a sentiment that Laurel has been split up, parsed or is in some way not contiguous.  This is not true; the entire city is still contained in one contiguous congressional district.

2.  There seems to be a sentiment that having Laurel in the 5'th (Hoyer) makes more geographic sense and includes more communities of interest than the 4'th (Edwards).  This also flies in the face of fact.  The fact is that Laurel has much more in Common with Russett, Gambrils, Mt. Ranier, Cheverly and other areas of Prince George's (which are in the new district) than it does with St. Mary's, Charles and Calvert Counties (which were all in the old district).  To try to say that our community has been "split up" because we are no longer in the same congressional district as St. Mary's County, is, well, sort of disingenuous.  Clearly, Laurel, which is in Prince George's County and borders Anne Arundel, has more in common with other areas of Prince George's and Anne Arundel County than it does with Calvert, Charles and St. Marys, all areas included in Hoyer's District.

3.  "The Delegation" never told us.  The Governor's plan was just introduced on Saturday.  Yes, that is this Saturday.  There had been recommentions made on October 4th that then became the plan that was introduced Saturday. Frankly, I didn't anticipate how personally connected we are to Congressman Hoyer.  I didn't anticipate that being put in a district with other areas of Prince George's and Anne Arundel County would be interpretted as a "splitting" of our community.  Maybe because I didn't see it that way.  For that, I am sorry, it was an error of ommissoin and not commission. I think you all will agree that this 21'st District Team endeavors greatly to keep you all informed, and typically does a very fine job.

4.  Wasn't there a way to keep Hoyer?  Redistricting is an extremely complex mathmatic, legal and political process.  Every action has a reaction.  The Governor spent months working on it and its not as simple as saying, give Laurel back Hoyer.  In fact, each and every plan, save the one that has been discussed, that we voted for, had Laurel out of the 5'th District.  Every single Republican plan introduced had Laurel out of Hoyer's district.  The "Fannie Lou" plan had Hoyer out of Laurel, and, of course, the Governor's plan did as well.  All of them accept the one ammendment we all voted in favor of had Hoyer out of Laurel....

5.  Why did all these plans have Laurel out of the 5'th?  Simple math.  Southern Maryland (Charles, St. Marys, and Calvert) are the fastest growing jurisdictions in the State.  That meant Hoyer's 5'th District had to loose considerable population.  Simple logic, geography and math meant that population was probably going to come out of the norther portion of the district. In this case Laurel was the northern most part of the 5'th District.

6.  That just leaves one big problem: Hoyer is no longer our Congressman.  I too am a fan of Steny Hoyer.  But districts change, populations shift and there were few ways to keep Hoyer in Laurel.  I have grown up with Hoyer as my congressman.  I literally can't remember when he wasn't.  But this is the nature of re-districting - populations shift.

Conclusion:  We do the best we can, I know how hard my colleagues work, I see it.  But we are certainly not perfect and certainly can't anticipate every reaction.  I will speak for myself, I mistakenly didn't believe that Laurel being put in a district with Anne Arundel and Prince George's Counties instead of Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's would cause this type of controversy.  For that, I am sorry.  I didn't anticipate how much of this is personal and is about Hoyer himself, rather than the communities we are coupled with.  For that I also apologize.   I am, like you all, saddened that he will no longer be our representative, BUT THERE IS NO QUESTION WHATSOEVER: this new 4'th District includes more communities of interest for Laurel, than the 5'th did or does.

--Ben Barnes

It's Over - Laurel's Redistricting Approved

Political parties are like gangs.  They take good elected officials and force them to do things against their best interests, their better judgement and sometimes the interests of their districts.  All political parties are guilty.

I also believe that, just like gangs, elected officials turn to parties because we are not paying attention.  We don't provide what a healthy democracy needs to survive.  We, by and large, are not politically involved with our communities anymore.  Politics is boring.  Policy issues are complicated.  We don't have time.  So our elected officials turn to their party for protection, money and esteem. It's our fault.

Today, our 21st District legislators voted for the governor's redistricting plan in the final vote.  That plan moves Laurel into the new 4th district.  They had to vote for it, their party demanded it. 

Earlier in the day they voted FOR an amendment that would have changed the map to move Laurel back into the 5th district.  That was a courageous vote and I applaud their bravery and thank them for standing up against their party.  That amendment failed 26-107.  Your concern and encouragement helped them make that stand.

But this problem is not really about our 21st district delegation.  It's not about redistricting.  This issue is a symptom of a much bigger disease.  This is about the corrosive nature of party politics in our state and our nation.  These party gangs are corroding our elected officials and through them hurting our communities. 

It's unfortunate that the 21st delegation was thrown under the bus and forced to defend their party's awful map.  I know that some of them are upset with me personally for pointing that out.  It's uncomfortable under the bus. I agree with them that this is not a fair issue.  They were thrown between their party and us.

So what are we to do?  The redistricting issue is over.  We had a minor success.  For one courageous vote, our delegation turned their backs on their party.  That's a first step.  We need to find more opportunities.

We must continue to keep watch.  Frush, Rosapepe, Barnes and Pena-Melnyk are good, smart and hardworking people.  We must keep looking for issues where we help all of our elected officials fight off excessive partisan pressure.   We can give them money, give them protection and give them hope.  Democracy only works if we all stay involved. 

In my mind, it's the only way we get our leaders back from the gangs. 

Best Regards,


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Partisan Priorities Push Laurel Under the Redistricting Bus

The Maryland Senate approved the Governor's redistricting map today.

Unfortunately Laurel's own State Senator Jim Rosapepe voted for moving Laurel into the new 4th District horse shoe.  It was a party-line vote.  Here's the link with the details.

Note:  Here is the latest story from the Leader.

If the Maryland House agrees, Laurel becomes congressional roadkill.  We've been thrown under the bus because of partisan priorities.  All of this pain to get 8 out of 8 congressional seats elected as Democrats instead of 7 of 8.  Such a pity.

This has been a disappointing day for me.  These legislators are smart, hardworking, and dedicated people.  Many of them I count as personal friends and mentors.  But there is something corrosive in our state and in our nation.  It's deadly and it has metastasized.  It's a cancer cell that looks a lot like this new Maryland congressional redistricting map.

I guess I should have seen it coming years ago.  But I wasn't paying close attention because I've never been partisan.  The only question that ever matters to me is what's best for the community.  Red, Blue, White, Black, who cares? 

What's important is simple --  jobs, education, public safety, quality of life, hope for our kids.  Does it really matter if it's a republican or a democrat bill that gets my brother a job?  Or a democrat's bill that educates my grandchildren?  We've lost sight of what matters in Maryland.  Partisanship is blinding us.  Partisanship is blinding our legislators.  It's killing common sense and shared purpose.

I've been told by legislators that it was too late to stop the bill and get the drafters to reconsider.  That strikes me odd.  Our legislators have known about the Governor's redistricting map for weeks.  Did they really think that the proposed 4th district monstrosity was the best deal for Laurel? Or did they hope that we wouldn't mind being treated as a bridge to nowhere.  Hey Laurel, here it comes, take one for the team!

Some have told me not to worry.  That it really doesn't matter which congressional district Laurel is located.  I'm told we will be taken care of.  But how can that be?  A congressional district is so much more than a collection of voting drones who are expected to blindly vote like some party consultant predicts.  Oh, you are white, vote this way.  You are black, you vote that way.  Stay in your lane.  Don't worry.  How cynical! 

I long for the day when we hold a candidate's partisanship in contempt.  When we are as quick to dump a candidate for excessive partisanship as we would vote against them today for illicit sexual escapades or their tax policies.  Hey congressman, you voted 200 times last session and 200 times you voted with your party.  Come on congressman, you expect me to believe that you have my best interests at heart?  There were no votes where our interests rose above your party's?

If all we are going to have are party-line votes -- we don't need to send as many legislators to Annapolis or Washington. We should just send two people to vote in proportion to the latest election results.  We will save a ton of money by eliminating all the rest of the legislators and their staffs. Hell, if they are not going to think independently with their district's best interests in mind, why go through the charade of electing them?

No, a congressional district is not a random group of unaffiliated people.  It's a group of people striving to define a shared vision based on their similarities, common interests and local problems.  Geography matters so much more than race, party or economic situation. 

A congressman, the best kind, leads a community to create that vision.  They help us identify our shared problems.  They bind us together and help us grow a shared purpose to rally around.  They unite our state, local and federal leaders to solve our problems and work to make our lives better.  Geography matters.

I'm so disheartened today over the loss of community, of what we could become -- for what we deserve to become -- all because of cynical, raw, partisan politics.

Geography matters because community matters.  That's what makes us American.

If you would like to contact our 21st Delegation and ask them why they feel that the proposed 4th congressional district is best for Laurel.  Or why they did not mobilize the community weeks ago to get our input, here is their contact info:

Senator Rosapepe -
Delegate Frush -
Delegate Barnes -
Delegate Pena-Melnyk -


Rick Wilson
Laurel, MD

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Speed Cameras Blinded

It looks like someone was upset over a $40 speed camera ticket in Oldtown Laurel.  A vandal recently painted the lens cover on both speed cameras installed on 7th Street between Main and Montgomery.

I hope the vandal is caught.  I believe that these cameras are always taking pictures on a loop.  Maybe we will get lucky and the vandal's picture was taken holding the spray can.

7th and Main
click to enlarge
Painting over the lens cover is not the answer.  Slowing down is the answer!  I strongly supported the law to permit speed cameras.  Speeding cars on neighborhood streets was the the top constituent complaint when I served on the Laurel City Council.  The camera is a much better solution than chewing up the time of an officer with a radar gun.  I'd much rather have our cops free to solve more serious crimes.

There are at least three speed camera locations in Laurel.  Here on 7th, Cherry Lane near Laurel High and on Dorset Road near Scotchtown Hills Elementary School.

By the way, even police officers are not exempted from the speed laws and must pay the fine. So let's all be careful out there.

(Hat tip to Mike McLaughlin for the tip.)