Sunday, December 30, 2018

OUTspoken’s Top Blog Posts for 2018



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The end of the year means another list somewhere, and this blog is no exception. Since Steve Charing OUTspoken is a mix of LGBT, Politics and the Arts, the top 5 posts for 2018 according to page views are listed within the categories below. You may click on the title of each to access the full post.



LGBTQ

1.     The Pride of Howard County (October)  
A survey taken of Howard County candidates on their perspectives on LGBTQ issues.

The official kickoff event to publicize the first ever Pride celebration in Howard County.


Then County Executive Allan H. Kittleman appointed Andrew Howard to be the county’s first ever LGBTQ liaison.

Nearly two thousand Pride celebrants attended to first team-sanctioned Pride Night.

Chicago Cubs newly acquired second baseman was dismissive of accusations of his homophobic comments a few years ago setting off another round of controversy.



Politics

Adam Rippon, the first openly gay athlete to compete for the U.S.in the Winter Olympics, was right to snub Vice President Mike Pence’s alleged request for a meeting during the competition in Pyeongchang.

A tongue-in-cheek open letter to President Trump urging him to be interviewed by the Special Counsel.

3.    
When it Comes tothe Military, Trump is AWOL (November) 
Trump’s avoidance of military service plus his numerous displays of disrespect to service members is unprecedented.

4.     




Democrats were urged to associate Republicans with the unpopular Trump as often as they can in the upcoming elections.

5.     There He Goes Again (July) 
Trump once again found a distraction from his horrendous performance in Helsinki by reverting back to the NFL on players kneeling during the national anthem.

Arts

Received most page views for any theatre review on this blog. Popular show being brought back this season.  “… the polished, colorfully costumed, well-staged production at Toby’s is flawless with a high-spirited, talented cast performing their hearts out.”

“[Young Frankenstein is]a comedy about a monster but it’s also a monster comedy.”


All male dance revue. “[Ten Hairy Legs] combines athleticism, emotion, energy, technical mastery, ingenuity and range in a power-packed one-hour performance.

“Leave your worries at home for a few hours and enjoy a talented cast giving their all in this wild adventure in New York, New York, a helluva town.”

“The joy and warmth exhibited by these performers tell the audience they are truly having a great time onstage.”


Blasts from the Past

In addition to those popular posts from 2018 (above), below are several posts from previous years still garnering many views in 2018.








Sunday, December 23, 2018

Action vs. Distraction: A Message from Beto O’Rourke



Image: Grist
The government of the greatest country the world has ever known, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet: closed until further notice.

This shutdown – hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans working without pay during the holidays, basic government functions no longer available to the taxpayers who fund them – didn’t have to happen. The Senate passed a compromise government funding bill two days ago, 100–0. The men and women who can’t agree on what to name a post office were able to unite and unanimously agree on how to fund the entire government.

But maybe it was intended to happen.

Maybe in the face of an investigation that seeks the facts surrounding allegations of collusion with a foreign government and obstruction of justice within our own government… as one aide after another pleads guilty… as the stock market tumbles… as men and women intent on keeping their dignity and their conscience flee his administration… perhaps the President calculates that by adding to the blizzard of bizarre behavior over the last two years and shutting down the government at Christmas, while his own party still controls each branch of it, the institutions that we need for our democracy to function (and to ensure no man is above the law) will be overwhelmed.

From a President who promised action, we got distraction.

But my concern for the country goes beyond the immediate pain and dysfunction that this shutdown will cause. Beyond even ensuring that this President is held accountable. What’s happening now is part of a larger threat to us all.

If our institutions no longer work, if we no longer have faith in them, if there’s no way to count on government even functioning (three shutdowns this year alone), then perhaps ultimately we become open to something else. Whatever we choose to call it, whether we openly acknowledge it at all, my fear is that we will choose certainty, strength and predictability over this constant dysfunction, even if it comes at the price of our democracy (the press; the ballot box; the courts; congress and representative government).

If there were ever a man to exploit this precarious moment for our country and our form of government, it’s Trump. Sending 5,400 troops to U.S. border communities during the midterm elections. Organizing Border Patrol “crowd control” exercises in El Paso on election day.

Defying our laws by taking children from their parents, keeping kids in tent camps, turning back refugees at our ports. Calling the press “the enemy of the people” and celebrating violence against members of the media. Pitting Americans against each other based on race and religion and immigration status. Inviting us to hate openly, to call Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, to call asylum seekers animals, to describe Klansmen and neo-Nazis as very fine people. Seeking to disenfranchise fellow Americans with made up fears of voter fraud. Isolating us from the other great democracies as he cozies up to dictators and thugs. Lying again and again. Making a mockery of the United States – once the indispensable nation, the hope of mankind.

Image: The Guardian
So we can engage in the immediate fights about blame for this latest shutdown… fall into his arguments about a wall, or steel slats, at a time of record border security and in the face of asylum seekers – our neighbors – fleeing the deadliest countries in the world… we can respond to his name-calling and grotesque, bizarre behavior… or we can pull up, look back at this moment from the future and see exactly what is happening to our country.

We are at risk of losing those things that make us special, unique, exceptional, those things that make us the destination for people the world over, looking for a better life and fleeing countries who lack our institutions, our rule of law, our stability.

If ever there was a time to put country over party it is now. This is not about a wall, it’s not about border security, it’s not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about the future of our country – whether our children and grandchildren will thank us or blame us. Whether we will lose what was fought for, made more perfect, by the men and women who risked and lost their lives at Antietam, on Omaha beach, in Jackson, Mississippi… whether we will be defined by greatness and ambition or pettiness and fear. Whether we will continue to live in the world’s greatest democracy, or something else.

In the short term – let’s pass the funding bill that was agreed to by the Senate 100–0 just a few days ago. Send it to the President with the confidence that we represent the people of this country and that we are willing to override his veto if he cannot respect their will. Show that government can work, that we can see past our immediate differences to serve the greater good. To put country over party. To put country over one man. To do what we were sent here to do.

In the longer term – we must strengthen all of our institutions at the very moment they are called into question. Some clear opportunities for Congress: Ensure that our representatives in government reject PAC money, corporate and special interest influence. Demand that they hold town halls in our communities, listen to and respond to their constituents. Show America that they are working for us and for no one else.

Take action on the most urgent issues of our day: climate change, healthcare, endless war, income inequality, immigration, the vibrancy of rural communities and inner cities, education and criminal justice reform. Define the goal in each area, build the coalition to achieve it, find the common ground (between parties, between branches of government), and move forward.

Prove that our system of government – whatever its problems – is still the best thing under the sun.
It’s action vs. distraction. One will save our democracy, the other will lead to its end.

- Beto

Monday, December 17, 2018

Why Dems Will Not Face Trump in 2020


Potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 have been dipping their toes in the political waters to determine if they will indeed make a run. From the familiar Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden to the lesser known Julian Castro and Mitch Landrieu, with well over a dozen in between including Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, these individuals are exploring whether or not they can raise sufficient money for a presidential bid, if they are viable to survive the grueling primary system, and to see if the voters think they are tough enough to stand up to Donald Trump in 2020. 

The latter point is interesting as these candidates will attempt to out-Trump Trump in an effort to corral the Democratic base behind them.  It should be noted, however, that Hillary Clinton has always been considered tough yet she couldn’t topple Trump for a bevy of reasons irrespective of her toughness. 

Nonetheless, voters, especially Democratic voters, will be applying ideological litmus tests to these candidates as well as determining their electability against an opponent who has yet to approach, much less crack 50 percent job approval.

With all the hand wringing that will take place in order to figure out an effective way to “stand up to Trump,” it may be a moot point.   I may be in a small minority but I truly believe that Donald Trump will not be their opponent in 2020.

The President’s legal woes haven’t even scratched the surface and already he’s in trouble. For the first time, Federal prosecutors directly implicated Trump for federal crimes involving illegal campaign contributions resulting from payments made to Trump’s alleged mistresses in an effort to defraud the U.S. by paying hush money to these women so their stories remained hidden from the voters during the 2016 campaign.

Those offenses alone supported by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s statement as well as corroborating evidence and testimony that are in the possession of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III would amount to, in the opinion of many legal scholars, an impeachable offense.

Yet, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  According to NBC News, the following are other investigations underway:

. The Mueller probe looking at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and whether there was cooperation/coordination/assistance from the Trump campaign;

. New York prosecutors looking at the inaugural committee;

. New York’s attorney general examining the Trump Foundation and Trump’s business dealings;

. the lawsuits looking at whether Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause through his business dealings; and

. the defamation lawsuit by Summer Zervos, who alleges that Trump defamed her after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by the president in 2007.

In addition, there is Mr. Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice on the part of the President (think: Comey and Sessions firings, Trump’s public comments to Lester Holt and, of course, his tweets).

And let’s not forget the myriad investigations the Democratic-controlled House will launch in 2019.  Any organization Trump had led over the past decade is currently or will be under investigation. Follow the money because with Trump, it’s all about money.

A full listing of ALL the investigations that involve Trump and Russia can be seen here.

That is one big basket of deplorable legal perils. 

My gut tells me that the meticulous, professional and extremely competent Mr. Mueller will present
Image: The Daily Beast
(if allowed to complete his work) a convincingly damning case against Mr. Trump in the areas of his purview. Moreover, the relentless U.S. Attorney’s office in the SDNY as well as an incoming New York State Attorney General will probably clobber Mr. Trump and members of his family for other crimes.

So, what does all this mean with respect to 2020?  There will likely be Articles of Impeachment drawn by the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives after reviewing the reports and/or indictments that will undoubtedly be forthcoming. But even if impeachment is voted by the House, the fate of Mr. Trump’s removal from office rests in the hands of the Senate.

When President Nixon was about to be impeached, key Republicans approached him to tell him his time was up.  Rather than face a difficult and divisive trial, Nixon chose to resign.

 Most people that I know believe a defiant Donald Trump would never cave like Nixon did.  He will fight back with all his might and try to rally what will remain of his loyal base to “revolt,” as he suggested, pressuring Senate Republicans from convicting.

Whether those Senators will succumb to such pressure will be determined by how the public reacts to the Special Counsel’s report and indictments and from what the SDNY brings to the table.

If the evidence is so overwhelming and his support erodes significantly, I suspect Mr. Trump will choose not to fight any impeachment attempt and may resign and return to his gilded lifestyle that was partially interrupted by winning the presidency. Even his wife feels the stress is too much for his health.  

More likely though, he will not seek a second term and will blame the media, the Democrats, President Obama, “Crooked Hillary” and everybody else but himself.

Either way, Democratic presidential candidates will not be facing Mr. Trump in 2020.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Walls Are Closing In


How will a volatile Trump react to the Mueller findings?

During the run-up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump was already discounting the results if he lost saying it is a “rigged system.” This accusation was offered without any evidence.

However, we are learning that the election was, in fact, rigged but in Trump's favor as interference on the part of the Russian government has been documented by the findings from a number of U S. Intel organizations.  Then after Trump stunned the world by defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, he claimed, again without evidence, that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud.

You see, Donald Trump cannot accept losing. He would be portrayed as weak and that's his biggest fear other than losing money.

As the legal walls continue to close in on Trump with likely charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice facing him as a result of the work of Special Counsel Robert F. Mueller III and his formidable team, the shit is about to hit the fan .

If anyone believes Trump will take these citations calmly and with reverence to the probe, I have seaside property in Kansas to sell them.

Rather, we should anticipate an explosion the likes of which this country has not seen in modern history. I’m not suggesting his fire-breathing supporters will automatically take to the streets with their beloved weapons pointed and shooting everyone.  Nor will there be a civil war of sort as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones suggested .

But we could be entering dangerous territory here. I wouldn’t rule out an increase in attacks against minorities and immigrants even if they’re sporadic as a reaction to their cult leader finding himself in hot water.  Sharp spikes in hate crimes have already occurred since the election so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Trump would say or do nothing to quell an uprising regardless of the degree. He has been anticipating such an outcome ever since the “Russia Thing” got underway.

And he seems to be pushing for one.

His rallies with his base have been aimed at whipping up support for himself and defiance towards the Mueller probe while denigrating the “fake news” media and urging action to lock up his opponents.


Moreover, his off-the-rails tweets, which at times have further placed the president in legal peril, are not simply rants that occur often in the wee hours of the morning during an insomnia-induced brain dump. They are also messages to his rabid base to point out how unfairly he’s being treated by his enemies--mostly angry Democrats--who cannot accept a defeat in an election they were supposed to win.

These tweets and incendiary rallies are intended to send signals to his base that anything coming out of the Mueller probe cannot be taken as legitimate. The angry mobs Trump may actually see will not be Democrats (as he predicted following the Democratic takeover of the House) but his own fire-breathing supporters who will deny the inevitable outcome of a serious investigation that is a threat to the Trump’s presidency as well has his family.

A similar view is presented here.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Splashy ‘Little Mermaid’ Surfaces at Toby’s

The cast of "The Little Mermaid" playing at Toby's Dinner Theatre
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Holy Mackerel! With the arrival of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, it is tempting to bombard this review with a school of fish puns.  But if you think I am going to take the bait, well, you are floundering up the wrong pike.  

I don’t mean to carp on this but there are enough fishy lines dropped throughout the show that with any more from me and you’d be up to your gills in them, wind up with a haddock, and eventually tuna me out.

Not to go overboard, but under the superb direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, the perfectly cast, impeccably staged, ultra-colorful, splashy production that kicks off a promising 2018-19 Season reels in a great catch with this presentation of The Little Mermaid.   #hocoarts

Based  on  one  of  Hans  Christian  Andersen’s  most  adored  stories  and  the  1989  classic  animated film, it was no fluke that Disney’s  The  Little  Mermaid netted two Tony Award nominations in 2008. It features music  by  eight-time  Academy  Award  winner,  Alan  Menken,  lyrics  by  Howard  Ashman  and  Glenn  Slater  and  a  book  by Doug  Wright.

It conveys the fairytale love story of a beautiful young mermaid (Ariel) who at first is infatuated with “human things” like a fork and other items discarded at sea and falling to the ocean floor where she resides and then infatuated by a human being—a handsome prince (Eric) who is on a boat at sea. Prince Eric hears her lovely voice and he, too, becomes spellbound.

What then transpires and how they ultimately hook up (oh, dear!) is the essence of the plot and is a joy to behold.

Toby’s imaginative artistic team originally wanted to fill the theater with water up to the ceiling so that all the aquatic characters in the show can move about freely in their natural habitat. But with the luscious food at the buffet (seafood and all) getting soggy, the audience drenched if not drowning, and the cast with their mic’s affixed to them getting electrocuted, the show’s run would be limited to one performance, if that.

Abby Middleton, Jeffrey Shankle and Jacob Hale 
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Rather, a more conventional approach was adopted and it worked magic.  Costumes by A.T. Jones & Sons are magnificent and colorful beyond belief. The aquatic characters including a variety of sea life, such as a flounder, a crab, a couple of eels, other fishes, a flock of seagulls and, of course, a bevy of mermaids replete with extended tails are decked out in creative attire that are sure to please the young children (and adults) attending the show.

The costumes for the sailors above the surface, King Triton, the villainess sea witch Ursula, and the ensemble are similarly outstanding, lavish, intricate and creative.

Another triumph is David A. Hopkins’ vividly chromatic lighting design, which is clearly worthy of a Helen Hayes Award nomination. The spectacular mixing of hues with a blue-green accent to depict the underwater action is first rate.  Mr. Hopkins employs four spotlights from above with each casting simulated sun rays peering down from the sky through the depths of the sea. It is a gorgeous touch.

Mr. Minnick’s choreography is detailed and fluid working the in-the-round stage to near perfection.
Grouper, I mean group numbers, such as “Daughters of Triton,” the clever “Positoovity,” the hilarious “Les Poissons,” “She’s in Love” and the show stopper “Under the Sea” are expertly performed.  This is no small achievement given the bulky costumes worn by the cast members, and the precise execution avoids collisions. Well done!

More top notch choreography is on display in “Sweet Child” and “Daddy’s Little Angel.” Here, two green-clad eels, Flotsam (Taylor Witt) and Jetsam (Joey Ellinghaus) who are loyal subordinates of the sea witch Ursula perform while on rollerblades.  Using synchronized strides and shifting upper body movements, both gracefully and deliberately slither around the stage in artistic, electric performances.

The cast is 'Under the Sea'  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
 Alan Menken’s score is melodic and delivered exceptionally by Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings and his 6-piece orchestra—even without a bass.

Abby Middleton as Ariel, the youngest mermaid daughter of King Triton (Russell Sunday), the ruler of an undersea country, does a laudable job in conveying her yearning for Prince Eric. Possessing a sweet melodic soprano voice, Ms. Middleton excels in one of the show’s popular songs “Part of Your World” and in other solos like “The World Above” and “If Only.”

Her onstage chemistry with Russell Sunday as her father and Justin Calhoun as Prince Eric offers believability to this make believe tale.

Ariel’s love interest, dashing Prince Eric is played outstandingly by Justin Calhoun.  I am pleased to see Mr. Calhoun in a leading role whereby he can showcase his pitch-perfect tenor voice.  His convincing swashbuckling demeanor throughout the production exhibits his fine acting skills as well.

Mr. Calhoun’s romantic solo ballad “Her Voice” and his duet with Ms. Middleton in “One Step Closer” are beautifully performed. 

Mr. Sunday hits the mark as the widowed King Triton, the strict but caring father of his youngest daughter Ariel. Attired in a nautically-themed lavish costume including a wild, eye-catching crown, the King opposes Ariel’s ascent to the surface and her collection of human things as he views all humans as fish-eating threats to his undersea kingdom.

Commanding on stage, Mr. Sunday’s muscular baritone is displayed in “If Only (Triton’s Lament)” and later he is featured in a quartet with Mr. Calhoun, Ms. Middleton and DeCarlo Raspberry as Sebastian in “If Only (Quartet”).

Mr. Raspberry as Sebastian, a crab, is comical and campy. A veritable scene-stealer, Sebastian is a servant of King Triton and is assigned to watch over Ariel and helps Ariel charm Prince Eric.  His spot-on tenor is evident in group numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.”

The aforementioned evil Ursula is played mischievously by Lynn Sharp Spears (a great name for the theme of this musical).  She lures Ariel into trading her beautiful voice for legs so she can rise to the surface and reel in Prince Eric. Ms. Spears effectively delivers the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and the reprise of that number towards the end in a dramatic, action-packed scene.

Justin Calhoun and Abby Middleton  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Jeffrey Shankle as Scuttle, a gull, does his usual strong performance in this comic role. Scuttle can’t quite get his facts or his words quite right but Mr. Shankle sings well in the group number “Positoovity” and again in “Positaggity.”

The always fun David James portrays Grimsby, a loyalist to Eric. His mission is to see that Eric fulfills a promise made to his deceased father—a king—that he will marry a princess. Mr. James performs admirably in the group numbers “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” and “The Contest.” He's such a cod!

Jacob Hale energetically plays Flounder who is Ursula’s companion and who accompanies her on searches for human artifacts. He performs well with the Mersisters—Ariel’s siblings—in a wonderful song and dance number “She’s in Love.”

And then there is David Bosley-Reynolds as the comical Chef Louis. In a hilarious scene, he tries to capture Sebastian and cook him for dinner. During the action, Mr. Bosley-Reynolds sings “Les Poissons.”

Rounding out the excellent cast are Elizabeth Rayca, Maggie Dransfield, Rachel Kemp, MaryKate Brouillet, Coby Kay Callahan, Louisa Tringali, Noah Beye, Sylvern Groomes, Ariel Messeca, Brook Urquhart and AJ Whittenberger.

The Little Mermaid at Toby’s with its talented performers and crew under Mark Minnick’s excellent direction is a lighthearted musical for all ages where you will enjoy this production and the buffet hook, line and sinker. I said that just for the halibut.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

The Little Mermaid runs through January 13 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Having Our Seat at the (Round)Table


Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman convenes LGBTQ Roundtable
in June 2016     Photo: Office of the County Executive
On November 26, the final County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable took place whereby several diverse members of the community participated in a discussion on what has been accomplished so far and what needs to be addressed moving forward amid the uncertainty that is inevitable with a change in administration.  The architect of this confab, outgoing Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, was not present for this installment but his mark had already been made.

The LGBTQ+ Roundtable is not a formal group or a commission; it is a periodic listening session for members of the LGBTQ+ community to bring issues to the County Executive’s attention. The Roundtable began in October 2015 fulfilling a campaign promise  made by Mr. Kittleman in 2014, and the meetings have been held on a quarterly basis since.  #hocopolitics

“As County Executive, I convened the LGBT Roundtable to ensure that I continue to have open lines of communication with the LGBT community and to better hear and understand the issues that are important to the community,” Mr. Kittleman told the Washington Blade. “In this way, we can ensure that County government is doing all it can to promote acceptance and inclusiveness of all people, and work to eliminate discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or sexual identity.”

Participants typically include representatives from PFLAG, Chase Brexton Health Care, Howard County government, a member of the Human Rights Commission, members of the Board of Education, as well as other LGBTQ+ advocates.

At the initial meeting topics discussed included de-gendering single stall restrooms; training for first responders and other County employees; ways to make both County government and private businesses more LGBT-friendly; and generally encouraging greater social acceptance through education and institutional change.

In the next meeting in March 2016, topics covered how senior centers treat LGBT elders and the interaction between transgender individuals and County service providers.

In June 2016 the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Howard County Police Department, briefed the attendees on the types of training officers are given at the entry level and annual in-service instruction including distance learning training on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The training covers such areas as sensitivity, arrest and search, hate bias recognition as well as dealing with implicit and explicit bias incidents directed towards the LGBT population as well as other groups in the county.

Also, the Director of Corrections was on hand to answer questions specifically related to the intake process including forms and the housing of transgender inmates.  Concerns had been raised (and corrective action eventually taken) on how transgender individuals are being misgendered by police and intake personnel at correction facilities and the use of solitary confinement as routine or standard protective placement for LGBT inmates to protect LGBTQ+ inmates.

This past August 20, representatives from the school system attended the Roundtable and discussed the fact they had met with students, staff, PFLAG, GLSEN to deal with myriad issues related to the transgender population in the schools. Topics, such as using the preferred name/pronoun and how students feel safe in classes, bathrooms, locker rooms, field trips, extracurricular activities, etc. were addressed.

Individuals from other departments and agencies as well as outside organizations have attended the meetings. They include but are not limited to: Office of Children and Families; Community Resources and Services; Howard County General Hospital; Department of Social Services-Foster system, Department of Human Resources, SAGE; and the Office on Aging and Independence.

In addition, the intersectionality with other marginalized groups, such as the homeless population, youth, seniors, and those LGBTQ+ individuals incarcerated has: (1) fostered better understanding of these groups; (2) taken steps to remedy any identified deficiencies; (3) proactively reviewed policies and procedures (4) incorporated concerns in departmental training; and (5) enhanced overall success in ensuring equity and inclusion in the county.

As far as I know, this executive-level gathering that focuses on LGBTQ+ issues had never been implemented in the state.  However, Baltimore City government recently established a formal LGBTQ+ commission with similar goals as the Howard County Roundtable.  

“I am so indebted to County Executive Kittleman for being the first Howard County Executive to start an LGBTQ+ Roundtable,” said Susan Garner, a retired Howard County school psychologist and former President of PFLAG-Howard County. “He initiated the idea to invite various county agencies to our quarterly roundtable meetings to increase their competence in understanding LGBTQ+ issues and to follow through on initiatives to make Howard County a safer place for LGBTQ+ individuals, their families and allies.”

Attendees of the Roundtable have found reassurance through these meetings.

“It’s amazing to live in a place where our leaders sit down to listen to the LGBT community and heed our words,” said Suzi Gerb, an educator and a member of the PFLAG-Howard County steering committee. “It becomes a great comfort to know that those who run our government are aware of our existence and take our needs into consideration.”

The group attending the November 26 meeting identified areas that need further examination in 2019.  Among them are: conducting surveys with LGBTQ+ inmates in correctional facilities to gauge the prisoner population climate; meet with state-level Department of Social Services to discuss foster care for youth and prospective parents; and coordinate with the Howard County Economic Development Authority to create a relationship with the Maryland LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.

“The County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable is more than just a simple gathering,” explains Jumel Howard, Vice President of PFLAG-Howard County and the chair of the HoCo Pride Planning Committee. “It is a driving force for Howard County’s LGBTQ+ community. The wealth of knowledge that is brought to the table and the diversity of the group are a true testament to the excellence of our county.”

Whether or not the LGBTQ+ Roundtable will continue under new County Executive Calvin Ball remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Conventional Wisdom the Loser in Local Elections

Current County Executive Allan Kittleman and new County Executive
Calvin Ball         Photo: Baltimore Post Examiner

On a chilly Election Day evening, hundreds of Howard County Democratic partisans packed Kahler Hall in Columbia, Md. to do what folks had hoped to do: celebrate victories. National and local returns were projected on screens via cable news programming and a laptop while people huddled around the screens, sat at round tables engaged in high-spirited political conversations, hitting the buffet line, mingling about, or taking selfies as polls were closing in much of the East.  #hocopolitics

The traditional venue for such occasions has been a horror show for Democrats in 2014 and 2016.  This night would be different, many of the Dem supporters hoped and believed.  And they were right.

When the Howard County numbers eventually rolled in with only a handful of precincts remaining on this November 6 night, several deafening roars exploded as it appeared that Dr. Calvin Ball, a three-term member of the County Council, was poised to upset incumbent Allan H. Kittleman as County Executive. Prosecutor Rich Gibson followed with a lusty defeat of Republican Kim Oldham as the new State’s Attorney, and most of the other offices down the ballot followed suit.  The much ballyhooed Blue Wave was indeed washing throughout Howard County.

Click here for all the election results in Maryland.

The biggest loser in these local elections was conventional wisdom, which took a back seat to other dynamics that were in play. Below are examples of how conventional wisdom was shattered:

The top of ticket pulls up lower candidates. Governor Larry Hogan handily defeated his Democratic challenger Ben Jealous by a 56% to 43% margin.  Gov. Hogan, the odds-on favorite and a leader in just about every poll, was supposed to help Republican candidates down the ballot. 

It did not work in Howard County. Mr. Hogan garnered 56.7% to Mr. Jealous’ 42.2% (similar to the overall state vote) yet the Democrat Dr. Ball defeated the Republican Mr. Kittleman 52.4% to 47.5%, and most other Dems in the county won as well.

Results were similar in other central Maryland counties. In Baltimore County, Gov. Hogan handily defeated Mr. Jealous by a 61.7% - 37.3% count in that jurisdiction, but the Democrat John Olszewski, Jr. defeated Republican Al Redmer, Jr. by a 57.5% to 42.4% margin.  In Anne Arundel, the divergence was even greater.  While Gov. Hogan walloped Mr. Jealous 69.1% to 29.8%, Democrat Steuart Pittman outlasted Republican Steve Schuh 52% to 47.9%.

In all three jurisdictions, incumbent County Executive Republicans succumbed to Democratic challengers despite the Governor’s margin of victory.  Clearly, there were no coattails.

Howard Co.
Howard Co.
State
Kittleman     47.5
Hogan      56.7
56.1
Ball              52.4
Jealous     42.2 
42.8

Baltimore Co.
Baltimore Co.
State
 Redmer      42.4
Hogan      61.7
56.1
Olszewski   57.5        
Jealous     37.3 
42.8

Anne Arundel
Anne Arundel
State
Schuh          47.9
Hogan     69.1 
56.1
Pittman        52.0        
Jealous    29.8  
42.8

A favored candidate shouldn’t start off campaign attacking opponent.  One of the criticisms of frontrunner Anthony Brown’s ill-fated 2014 gubernatorial bid was that he began his campaign by immediately hitting the relatively unknown Larry Hogan with negative ads thus elevating his profile. Shrugging off that philosophy, in 2018, the Republican Governors Association launched vicious attack ads against Mr. Jealous painting him as “too extreme for Maryland” and one who is guaranteed to raise taxes to fund his programs. Mr. Jealous was slow to respond and never recovered.

It should be noted that although Mr. Kittleman had been favored to be re-elected in Howard County, he did not engage in negative attack ads, and Dr. Ball did not either, resulting in an unusual but refreshing contest.

Endorsements help candidates. Republican candidates throughout the state, sensing an easy victory for Gov. Hogan, did not hesitate to include “Hogan Endorsed” as part of their materials, advertising and signage. By and large, it did not work.  Endorsements are overrated and popularity is not transferable when other more important factors are in play.

Incumbency has an advantage.  The benefits of incumbency are clear. The candidate has name recognition. He or she probably has a residual war chest from the previous campaign to spend in the current campaign, which takes some pressure off of fundraising. The candidate has a record of accomplishments to run on. And the higher level of visibility based on the time in office serves as an additional advantage.

In Howard County, however, Republican incumbents except those whose districts spilled into more conservative terrain in Carroll County lost. Nonetheless, all Howard County Democratic incumbents won.

Calvin Ball was not predicted to win.  Mr. Kittleman had all the benefits of incumbency (see above) and money plus he enjoyed relatively high job approval and personal popularity. Moreover, a Mason Dixon poll  released merely six weeks before the election indicated Mr. Kittleman should glide to victory as he enjoyed a 16% lead. For Dr. Ball’s part, an internal poll  had forecast a much tighter race.

Dr. Ball benefitted from his own positive personal attributes, a strong ground game and solid messaging including his vision for the county that hit the target especially in the weeks leading up to the election. However, the “Trump effect” played a significant role, not only in the County Executive race but also with others down ballot.

Governor Hogan enjoyed high job approval across the board and pulled in a good chunk Democratic and independent votes. But after that, Democrats were driven to turn out to vote Democratic in part, as a protest to Trumpism and the Republican Party that has enabled it.

Mr. Kittleman, hardly a Trumpster, was caught between a rock and a hard place. With less than a third of the county’s active voters identifying as Republican, Mr. Kittleman needed to pull in Democratic and independent support. His conundrum was that if he railed against President Trump, he would alienate those GOP voters who are ardent Trump supporters.  If he was to be silent concerning the president (he largely was), then Democrats could not see him as a viable antidote to Trump’s policies and bigotry.

In addition, Republican activists charged Mr. Kittleman with trying too hard to get Democrats on board and not paying enough attention to Republican concerns.

Other factors hurt the incumbent as well including the controversial mulch legislation, his opposition to Howard being a sanctuary county and the rebuilding plans following the second Ellicott City flood in three years.

The intensity of enthusiasm benefitted Dr. Ball; the lack of same hurt Mr. Kittleman. The lopsided early voting margin for Democrats conveyed excitement and proved too steep of a hill for Mr. Kittleman to climb. Hoping to eradicate the Dem lead, Mr. Kittleman only managed 142 more votes than Dr. Ball on Election Day.

The County Executive race ended with sportsmanship and civility.
The defeated candidate does not concede in person.  
Finally, as the crowd at Kahler Hall continued to cheer, hug and high-five one another, news swept among the masses remaining in the ballroom that Calvin Ball’s opponent, Allan Kittleman, was in the lobby to personally concede the election and congratulate the victor. In a stunning and classy move, Mr. Kittleman, his wife and three children, clad in their campaign yellow t-shirts, entered the building with the candidates embracing and raising their locked arms as if they both won.

They did. But conventional wisdom lost.