The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) and the county’s House delegation in Annapolis – two entities that have had an uneasy relationship with each other as of late – have both chosen new leaders in the past couple of days.
Del. Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery Village, was unanimously chosen to chair the county’s 24-member, all-Democratic House delegation for the next two years Monday night, after being elected to his second term in the House of Delegates last month.
On Tuesday evening, the MCDCC took just minutes to name former Washington Grove Mayor Darrell Anderson as its new chair by acclamation. Anderson will serve through mid-2016.
But the seeming ease of both choices masked what has been a period of very public unrest within the MCDCC, and a more private restiveness within the county House delegation.
The election of the 67-year old Anderson, in his third term on the MCDCC, follows the resignation under fire last month of Kevin Walling – who had served just four months as chair. Walling, 29, became the committee’s youngest chair ever following his election in July. But his brief tenure was marked by internal tensions between newer and more veteran members of the MCDCC, following a large turnover in committee membership in this year’s primary election.
Anderson issued a plea for unity to the committee following his election, observing, “By doing the little things right, we all build together on the successes that make us go on to the next thing. Having those successes will make us overcome some of the problems we’ve had, will make us feel like the people we work with are actually talented people who can participate and contribute.”
But the most immediate factor in the resignation of Walling – who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, although he remains an at-large member of the committee – was sharp criticism from many of the county’s Democratic legislators over problems in the printing and distribution of the MCDCC’s pre-election sample ballot this year.
Anderson sought to reach out to the legislative delegation, saying, “We need to rebuild some of those bridges we’ve had, the good working conditions we’ve had with these delegates and senators, and we’ve already started that process,” Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Rockville, who was outspokenly critical of the committee’s sample ballot efforts this year, said earlier Tuesday, “I do know that the committee is working very hard” to establish procedures to prevent problems from occurring in the future.
Meanwhile, as delegation chair, Robinson, 37, will succeed Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Silver Spring, who was recently named majority leader of the full House of Delegates. The delegation chair has traditionally served as a liaison with county officials, as well as seeking to be a unifying force within the Montgomery House contingent – now the largest of any county delegation in the General Assembly.
Recent behind-the-scenes jockeying over the delegation chair’s position has served to highlight differences between newer legislators – about half of the county’s incoming House delegation was elected for the first time this year or in 2010 – and a group of senior lawmakers who hold powerful House positions and are considered close to the House Speaker Michael Busch. In addition to Kaiser and Dumais, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, this group includes Del. Kumar Barve, D-Gaithersburg, the outgoing majority leader who will become chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee next year, and Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Silver Spring, who has chaired the influential Ways and Means Committee for the past two decades.
Some of the more junior delegation members, stung by criticism over the disparity between what the county pays in state taxes and what it brings home in local assistance – a line of attack heard frequently during this year’s campaign — are pushing for a more aggressive stance by the delegation, along with a greater willingness to take on the House leadership if necessary.
For their part, the veterans have argued the county has done better in Annapolis than it is often given credit for. And several have counseled the newer members to show patience and restraint as they build relationships and climb the seniority ladder – advice often resisted in an era of social media and alternative means of building power bases.
“No one likes to be told that your voice is not valued until you have a couple of years under your belt,” one delegation source observed.
Notwithstanding that some younger members have resisted her advice about how best to advance their House careers, Kaiser – regarded by a number of delegation members as a future House speaker – was seen as a strong favorite to remain chair of the county delegation if she had not been given the majority leader post. Robinson, initially aiming for a vacant slot as the Montgomery delegation’s vice chair before Kaiser’s promotion, approached Kaiser prior to this year’s general election to discuss ideas, according to sources.
The two are said to have agreed to try to achieve greater transparency in the workings of the delegation and to involve more legislators in delegation activities. But they disagreed on a proposal, supported by Robinson and some younger legislators, to adopt a rule barring members of the leadership of the full House of Delegates from also holding leadership posts in the Montgomery delegation.
Proponents see the proposed rule, similar to one now in force in the Prince George’s County House delegation, as limiting potential efforts by the House leadership to pressure the delegation, while also opening up positions of visibility to a greater number of legislators. But critics suggest it could hamstring the delegation in its strategic options going forward.
The proposal barring members of House leadership – including full committee chairs and vice chairs such as Barve, Dumais and Hixson – from also holding office in the Montgomery delegation is among several delegation rules changes to be circulated later this week. It is expected to stir controversy when the delegation meets to discuss it early next year, in conjunction with the opening of the 2015 General Assembly session.
In the meantime, the proposed rules change was a contributing factor in an 11th hour bid by Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Burtonsville, to challenge Robinson for delegation chair – with Luedtke garnering support from Kaiser and some other delegation veterans. While the 33-year old Luedtke has only served in Annapolis since 2010, he is seen as closer to the House leadership and Speaker Busch than Robinson. But Luedtke quietly withdrew from the race for chair late last month, conceding in an email to colleagues that Robinson had the votes to be elected.
In an interview following his election as delegation chair, Robinson said he wants to forge closer links between the delegation and the county executive, County Council and county Board of Education, as well as local business and labor groups. There has been a particularly strained relationship between the County Council and the state legislative delegation in recent years; the council and the delegation have avoided regular meetings together since such a session in 2009 ended in public finger-pointing.
“We all have this shared goal to make a better Montgomery,” Robinson said. “In my view, the opportunity lost in the delegation is that we have not defined our shared mission, we have not gotten on board with it…At the very least, I think we’ll change our reputation. If others outside the delegation don’t feel that we’ve delivered, they will know why – because we will have been working with them from square one.”
The election of Anderson and Robinson represents heightened political influence for Montgomery’s Upcounty region: Anderson is a resident of District 39, which is represented by Robinson. Besides Montgomery Village, the district includes portions of North Potomac and Gaithersburg, while extending north to Clarksburg. Another District 39 legislator, Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery Village, was last month elected chair of the county’s eight-member Senate delegation, succeeding Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Takoma Park.
During Monday’s election of Robinson as House delegation chair, yet another District 39 representative, Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Germantown, was unanimously selected as vice chair. Reznik succeeds Del. Susan Lee, D-Bethesda, who was elected to the state Senate last month. Succeeding Reznik in the delegation’s remaining leadership position, caucus chair, is District 16 Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Bethesda.