Progressives can seize on subsidy as ammunition against council incumbents
Editor’s note: The views expressed in MoCo Politics are the writer’s and do not represent the staff of Bethesda Beat.
Understandably, the executive and the council are not very interested in talking about this and they would like to move on. But the Fox incentive is going to have consequences, some of which will take years to fully manifest.
Here are five:
- The county has created a conflict with its racial equity law just one week after it passed.
Last August, Fox News host Tucker Carlson declared that white supremacy “is a hoax” and a “conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power.”
In March, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro questioned whether Congresswoman Ilhan Omar wearing a hijab meant that she did not adhere to the U.S. Constitution. (Fox suspended her for two weeks, but then returned her to the air.)
In September, Fox and Friends hosts laughed and called a series of tweets by President Donald Trump telling a group of Democratic congresswomen to “go back” where they came from “comedic.”
Giving tax dollars to a subsidiary of Fox Corporation creates an obvious conflict with the county’s new racial equity law, which passed just one week earlier.
As word of the subsidy gets out to the county’s deep-blue Democratic activists, who play an outsized role in local elections, county officials who support it will have to defend it sooner or later. Blaming former County Executive Ike Leggett, as Elrich’s spokesman did, is not good enough. The proposal may have originated in the Leggett administration, but Elrich signed it and the current council passed it.
- Montgomery County is now a financial partner with Fox 5.
The press and the government have different roles and operate best when they are at arms-length from each other. That won’t be true of Montgomery County and Fox 5 anymore. As a financial supporter of Fox 5, the county government will now be subsidizing the TV station’s stories about Montgomery County. And those stories are not always very flattering.
For example, Fox 5 – like many other media outlets – relentlessly covers crimes committed in Montgomery County by undocumented immigrants. Here are a few recent headlines from Fox 5 stories about the issue:
Here is the problem with this: The county’s policy on relations with ICE is supported by every elected official in county government. Their stated reason for doing so is that they welcome all residents regardless of immigration status.
Now, they will be using tax money to subsidize news coverage like this that fuels opposition to their policy. Immigration advocates cannot be happy about this, but there is nothing the county can do about it now.
Meanwhile, conservatives will laugh at the spectacle of a liberal county paying out tax dollars to skewer itself. This is a headache the county government does not need, but nevertheless has created.
- Other groups will cite the Fox subsidy in requesting county money.
Anyone who has ever been associated with the county government’s budget process understands that it is an endless parade of groups requesting money. Now, when any of them faces resistance, they can say, “You had money for Fox. Why not us?”
Imagine what the county employee unions could do with this line of argument in collective bargaining or in preventing another council-mandated wage trim, as occurred last spring. Union leaders should be printing those handbills right this very minute.
- Elrich strains his relationship further with the socialists.
Say what you will about the county’s Democratic Socialists, but they are diehard foes of corporate welfare. They led the charge against the state’s property-tax break for country clubs last winter.
Now, Elrich has signed off on tax dollars for a subsidiary of the socialists’ mortal enemy, Fox. And he signed the agreement in July, sitting on it for more than four months until it was introduced at the council for a grand total of one week of public comment.
Elrich signed the Fox subsidy on July 3, but it was introduced on Nov. 19 and the County Council passed it on Nov. 26.
All of this adds to pre-existing strains with some socialists over the issue of housing. This doesn’t mean that the socialists will dump Elrich in the next election. But their enthusiasm was a factor in getting Elrich elected last year and if that support wanes, Elrich might have a problem.
- Non-incumbent council candidates will get a boost in the next election.
Remember Chris Wilhelm and Brandy Brooks? They ran for council at-large seats as “Team Progressive,” got the Apple Ballot and mailed on the issue of corporate welfare for Amazon.
Wilhelm and Brooks finished sixth and seventh for four seats in last year’s Democratic primary and they haven’t gone anywhere. Along with Montgomery County’s famous free-range mom, Danielle Meitiv, Wilhelm and Brooks were endorsed by the socialists, Progressive Maryland and a number of other progressive groups and haven’t done anything since to risk that support.
The vote to subsidize Fox is a marvelous weapon that these or other progressive outsider candidates can use to bludgeon the incumbent council members. Mail houses should rejoice, as these mailers virtually write themselves.
Adam Pagnucco is a writer, researcher and consultant who is a former chief of staff at the County Council. He has worked in the labor movement and has had clients in labor, business and politics.