2018 | Politics

Opinion: What Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich Have in Common

County executive candidates share similar voting records on County Council

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Editor’s note: The views expressed in MoCo Politics are the writer’s and do not reflect those of Bethesda Beat staff. 

The Montgomery County executive general election race is heating up and County Council members Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich, who are running along with Republican Robin Ficker, are starting to emphasize their differences. That’s normal for a political campaign. But the truth is that Floreen and Elrich have a lot in common. Here are a few things they share.

Both have been in county politics for a long time

Between the two of them, Floreen and Elrich have been active in county politics for more than 60 years. Back in the 1980s, Floreen was a land use attorney who sometimes represented civic activists.  She made a name for herself by fighting against a Silver Spring office building that violated county height limits and setback standards. Floreen was appointed to the Planning Board in 1986, where she served two terms, became mayor of Garrett Park and was elected to the council in 2002. Elrich was a student activist at the University of Maryland in the 1970s, was elected to the Takoma Park City Council in 1987 and began running for the County Council in 1990. After four unsuccessful runs, Elrich won a council seat in 2006 and was the lead vote-getter in the council at-large primaries in 2010 and 2014. If you’re looking for a candidate who knows county government and has been paying dues for years, both Floreen and Elrich fit that bill.

Both are social liberals

Both Floreen and Elrich support reproductive rights, immigration, marriage equality, gun control and social diversity. They are harsh critics of Donald Trump and long-time opponents of hate crime and discrimination. There is little or no distance between them on social issues.

They have nearly identical voting records on the county budget and taxes

During the time that Floreen and Elrich served together on the council, the council passed four major tax hikes: a 13 percent property tax hike in 2008, a doubling of the energy tax in 2010, a nearly 9 percent property tax hike in 2016 and a significant recordation tax hike that same year. Floreen and Elrich voted for all of them. Floreen was council president when the most recent three increases were passed and she was the author of the recordation tax increase. In those cases, Elrich did little more than vote for the tax hikes Floreen worked to get passed in her capacity as president.

Similarly, both consistently voted for more spending. The first budget passed when both were in office was in fiscal 2008, when the county spent $4.1 billion. The current county budget, for fiscal 2019, contained $5.6 billion of spending. Floreen and Elrich voted for both of those final budgets as well as all the others in between.

There have been minor differences between the two. Floreen was one of four council members (the others being Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner and George Leventhal) who worked behind the scenes to reduce the size of the 2010 energy tax increase in the years after it was passed. Elrich went along with their efforts and voted for the budgets that included those adjustments. And in 2016, Elrich was the only council member who voted against trimming county employee raises while the council was raising property taxes. But on almost every other occasion, Floreen and Elrich marched in lockstep (along with most of the rest of the council) on budget and tax votes.

They have similar voting records on legislation

The council has passed many progressive bills in the last decade, including those dealing with the prevailing wage, minimum wage, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, renter protection and tree canopy protection, as well as an increase in the county’s earned income tax credit and limits on pesticides. Floreen and Elrich both voted yes on all of the above bills. One important exception is that Floreen voted “no” on the first $15 minimum wage bill, but she later voted “yes” on a second version that contained a compromise between Elrich and council member Sidney Katz. Elrich is more likely to introduce and co-sponsor progressive legislation than Floreen, but the truth is that since the huge majority of bills pass the council unanimously, their legislative records are not very different.

Both had labor support

Elrich is known for his labor support but Floreen has been endorsed by unions, too. SEIU Local 500, MCGEO, the AFL-CIO, the Carpenters Union and the Fraternal Order of Police have all endorsed at least one of Floreen’s past campaigns for the council. Both Elrich and Floreen have voted for numerous generous collective bargaining agreements with MCGEO, the police and the firefighters.  One influential union that has never endorsed Floreen is the Montgomery County Education Association, but it is an exception. Also, Floreen and Elrich have both accepted thousands of dollars from union PACs over the years.

Both have supported the county’s liquor monopoly

Elrich is infamous for getting banned by a restaurant owner for accusing anti-monopoly restaurateurs of “whining” and wanting to “steal” from the county, but Floreen has been just as resistant to breaking the county’s stranglehold on alcohol sales. Both Elrich and Floreen opposed Del. Bill Frick’s state legislation allowing voters to decide whether the monopoly should continue. And when Seventh State author David Lublin and I wrote repeatedly about the liquor monopoly’s problems, Floreen told us on Facebook to “move on to a relevant argument” and said that we were two of the very few people who cared about the issue. Floreen’s website now states that she wants to “transition the county out of the liquor business while making sure that employees are taken care of and a replacement revenue stream is in place,” so perhaps she has changed her mind very recently.

Back in July, Elrich said this about Floreen to Bethesda Magazine: “Her votes on the council, other than development, are pretty much the same as my votes on the council, and most of what we do is not development. So if I’m going to be a disaster, I would assume she would be a disaster, too.” He has a point. The depictions of Elrich as “progressive” and Floreen as “moderate” are a manifestation of MoCo’s extremely left-wing brand of politics. If the continuum of national politics can be represented by a football field with Trump supporters on one half and progressives on the other, Floreen and Elrich would both be starting around the Blue Team’s 10-yard line.

Of course, these two are not completely identical.  They do have some differences that I’ll discuss in my next column.

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.