Saturday, October 29, 2011

Anonymous

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!

Sincerely,

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,

rick

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 - jim.rosapepe@senate.state.md.us
Delegate Frush - barbara.frush@house.state.md.us
Delegate Barnes - Ben.Barnes@house.state.md.us
Delegate Pena-Melnyk - joseline.pena.melnyk@house.state.md.us

Sincerely,

Rick Wilson
Laurel, MD
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