To the Prince George's Democratic Central Committee: Don't Recommend "Yes" on Question D

At its meeting Tuesday (Sept. 20), the Prince George's Democratic Central Committee should not rubber-stamp a bad ballot measure, evading term limits, on its sample ballot. Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford, in an open letter to the DCC, details why progressives, and Progressive Maryland, oppose this self-serving move by the County Council.

An open letter to the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee

 /By Larry Stafford/ I must admit I’ve rarely agreed with the Washington Post’s editorial board on political matters related to Prince George’s County. However, this time around I find myself mostly of the same mind in regards to the Post’s editorial on the proposed Prince George’s County Council At-Large Expansion. The appropriately titled “A jobs plan for Prince George’s Council Members” captures many of the sentiments of our members and affiliated organizations in Prince George’s County. The proposal, which will now appear on the November Ballot as “Question D,” appears self-serving and adds a needless expense to the County’s budget. Question D also fails to live up to its espoused goal of ending parochialism in Prince George’s Council decisions. Progressive Maryland and our Progressive Prince George’s chapter therefore urge the Democratic Central Committee to reject the appeals of those on the County Council urging the committee to support Question D on the party’s sample ballot.

Since 1982 Prince George’s County – where I grew up and still live – has elected its Council members at the district level. Before this, Prince George’s Council members were elected At-Large. The change came as a result of the work of a bi-partisan grassroots group of county residents who petitioned what was then Question K to the ballot in 1980. Proponents of the measure sought to create a County Council structure with Councilmembers who would be accountable to local communities. For many, the changes were reforms aimed at limiting the influence of developers and other special interests. By switching to district-based elections, a greater variety of candidates was able to compete for Council seats and candidates could win with more grassroots campaigns.

 However, let’s say you agree with the premise that at their worst district level seats lead to parochialism and that they drive councilmembers to prioritize local needs over the greater good of the County. Even then, this proposal does not address that concern. Basic math still tells us that adding two At-Large seats to a nine-member Council does not create a winning majority for the supposedly less parochial At-Large members. In fact, in most jurisdictions in our region that are referred to as models for us to follow in terms of  their mixed structures of district representatives and At-Large members, there is usually a nearly even split between the two types of representation. Within structures where you see either one or two members elected at-large, in each case, these members serve as the presiding officers of the body such as the chair or vice chair. This particular charter amendment does little to bring us into structural parity with our regional competitors as the proponents claim. Nor will it change the nature of how the Council operates.

 So now, let’s ask ourselves after examining this proposal using basic math and logic: Why has this proposal been put forward? Why are we faced with a proposal to restructure County governance that will cost our county close to an additional one million dollars a year while still doing little to achieve its stated objective? I’ve found that when things don’t make sense in politics, there are usually backroom interests at play. Because despite  its shortcomings, this proposal does achieve a few unstated objectives. The proposal stealthily weakens the County’s term limit rules, which the voters have upheld on three separate occasions. It also provides a nice place to land for council members who are termed out of office in 2018. This proposal is most successful as a jobs plan for term-limited council members while doing absolutely nothing to improve the lives of Prince George’s residents.

 With all of the challenges that our County faces, we need proposals that uplift everyone in Prince George’s and not just its elected leaders. With a critical Presidential race in front of us in which the Republican nominee has accused the Democratic nominee of practicing an untrustworthy, self-serving type of politics, this proposal comes at a bad time for Democrats. To endorse Question D on the Democratic sample ballot means that this proposal represents Democratic values. Voting to endorse Question D as a member of the Democratic Central Committee means that you are endorsing the type of seemingly self-serving politics it represents. Progressives in Prince George’s County urge the elected representatives of the Democratic Party to keep Question D off of the Democratic sample ballot. Question D does nothing to solve the everyday problems residents of our county face and we say Prince George’s deserves better.


 Larry Stafford is executive director of Progressive Maryland.