Monday, December 9, 2019
Former Ukraine Prosecutor Shokin: Joe Biden “Outraged We Seized Burisma Assets”, Could No Longer Pay His Son...
from the Conservative Treehouse
Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine with OAN investigative journalist Chanel Rion. The U.S. media are going absolutely bananas after finding out Giuliani is now gathering even more information about Joe and Hunter Biden’s corrupt endeavors within Ukraine.
In this interview former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin spoke to OAN about Joe Biden’s direct role in getting his office to stop investigating his son Hunter. The problem for Joe Biden was when Shokin seized all of Burisma’s assets the Ukranian gas company could no longer pay his son Hunter Biden. So the vice president demanded Shokin be removed.
When you combine this interview with the damning public statements delivered by the Ukraine prosecutor that replaced Shokin, Yuriy Lutsenko, things really get troublesome for Joe Biden, the Obama administration and Adam Schiff.
Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko stated that after he replaced Shokin he was visited by U.S. State Dept. official George Kent and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch; they provided a list of corruption cases the Ukraine government was not permitted to follow.
Prosecutor Lutsenko dropping specific corruption cases was critical because that allowed/enabled a process of laundering money back to U.S. officials.
The potential for this background story to become part of a larger impeachment discovery is what has the U.S. media going bananas against Rudy Giuliani.
Senator Lindsey Graham is directly connected to the group of U.S. politicians who were participating in the influence network within Ukraine. One of the downstream consequences of Rudy Giuliani investigating the Ukraine corruption and money laundering operation to U.S. officials is that it ends up catching Senator Graham.
Hence, earlier today Senator Graham said he would not permit Senate impeachment testimony that touched on this corrupt Ukraine aspect.
In essence Senator Graham is fearful that too much inquiry into what took place with Ukraine from 2014 through 2016 will expose his own participation and effort along with former Ambassador Marie Yovanovich.
Graham is attempting to end the impeachment effort quickly because the underlying discoveries have the potential to expose the network of congressional influence agents, John McCain and Graham himself included, during any witness testimony.
Senators from both parties participated in the influence process, and part of their influence priority was exploiting the financial opportunities within Ukraine while simultaneously protecting fellow participant Joe Biden and his family.
If anyone gets too close to revealing the process, writ large, they become a target of the entire apparatus. President Trump was considered an existential threat to this entire process. Hence our current political status with the ongoing coup. The Giuliani letter:
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because in reality many U.S. Senators (both parties) are participating in the process for receiving taxpayer money and contributions from foreign governments.
Those same senators are jurists on a pending impeachment trial of President Trump who is attempting to stop the corrupt financial processes they have been benefiting from.
The conflicts are very swampy….
Sunday, December 8, 2019
In a fantastic display of true investigative journalism, One America News journalist Chanel Rion tracked down Ukrainian witnesses as part of an exclusive OAN investigative series. The evidence being discovered dismantles the baseless Adam Schiff impeachment hoax and highlights many corrupt motives for U.S. politicians.
Ms. Rion spoke with Ukrainian former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko who outlines how former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch perjured herself before Congress.
What is outlined in this interview is a problem for all DC politicians across both parties. The obviously corrupt influence efforts by U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch as outlined by Lutsenko were not done independently.
Senators from both parties participated in the influence process and part of those influence priorities was exploiting the financial opportunities within Ukraine while simultaneously protecting Joe Biden and his family. This is where Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham were working with Marie Yovanovitch.
Imagine what would happen if all of the background information was to reach the general public? Thus the motive for Lindsey Graham currently working to bury it.
You might remember George Kent and Bill Taylor testified together.
It was evident months ago that U.S. chargé d’affaires to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, was one of the current participants in the coup effort against President Trump. It was Taylor who engaged in carefully planned text messages with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland to set-up a narrative helpful to Adam Schiff’s political coup effort.
Bill Taylor was formerly U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (’06-’09) and later helped the Obama administration to design the laundry operation providing taxpayer financing to Ukraine in exchange for back-channel payments to U.S. politicians and their families.
In November Rudy Giuliani released a letter he sent to Senator Lindsey Graham outlining how Bill Taylor blocked VISA’s for Ukrainian ‘whistle-blowers’ who are willing to testify to the corrupt financial scheme.
Unfortunately, as we are now witnessing, Senator Lindsey Graham, along with dozens of U.S. Senators currently serving, may very well have been recipients for money through the aforementioned laundry process. The VISA’s are unlikely to get approval for congressional testimony, or Senate impeachment trial witness testimony.
U.S. senators write foreign aid policy, rules and regulations thereby creating the financing mechanisms to transmit U.S. funds. Those same senators then received a portion of the laundered funds back through their various “institutes” and business connections to the foreign government offices; in this example Ukraine. [ex. Burisma to Biden]
The U.S. State Dept. serves as a distribution network for the authorization of the money laundering by granting conflict waivers, approvals for financing (think Clinton Global Initiative), and permission slips for the payment of foreign money. The officials within the State Dept. take a cut of the overall payments through a system of “indulgence fees”, junkets, gifts and expense payments to those with political oversight.
If anyone gets too close to revealing the process, writ large, they become a target of the entire apparatus. President Trump was considered an existential threat to this entire process. Hence our current political status with the ongoing coup.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain meeting with corrupt Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko in December 2016.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because, well, in reality all of the U.S. Senators (both parties) are participating in the process for receiving taxpayer money and contributions from foreign governments.
A “Codel” is a congressional delegation that takes trips to work out the payments terms/conditions of any changes in graft financing. This is why Senators spend $20 million on a campaign to earn a job paying $350k/year. The “institutes” is where the real foreign money comes in; billions paid by governments like China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Ukraine, etc. etc. There are trillions at stake.
[SIDEBAR: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds the power over these members (and the members of the Senate Intel Committee), because McConnell decides who sits on what committee. As soon as a Senator starts taking the bribes lobbying funds, McConnell then has full control over that Senator. This is how the system works.]
The McCain Institute is one of the obvious examples of the financing network. And that is the primary reason why Cindy McCain is such an outspoken critic of President Trump. In essence President Trump is standing between her and her next diamond necklace; a dangerous place to be.
So when we think about a Senate Impeachment Trial; and we consider which senators will vote to impeach President Trump, it’s not just a matter of Democrats -vs- Republican. We need to look at the game of leverage, and the stand-off between those bribed Senators who would prefer President Trump did not interfere in their process.
McConnell has been advising President Trump which Senators are most likely to need their sensibilities eased. As an example President Trump met with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski in November. Senator Murkowski rakes in millions from the multinational Oil and Gas industry; and she ain’t about to allow horrible Trump to lessen her bank account any more than Cindy McCain will give up her frequent shopper discounts at Tiffanys.
Senator Lindsey Graham announcing today that he will not request or facilitate any impeachment testimony that touches on the DC laundry system for personal financial benefit (ie. Ukraine example), is specifically motivated by the need for all DC politicians to keep prying eyes away from the swamps’ financial endeavors. WATCH:
This open-secret system of “Affluence and Influence” is how the intelligence apparatus gains such power. All of the DC participants are essentially beholden to the various U.S. intelligence services who are well aware of their endeavors.
There’s a ton of exposure here (blackmail/leverage) which allows the unelected officials within the CIA, FBI and DOJ to hold power over the DC politicians. Hold this type of leverage long enough and the Intelligence Community then absorbs that power to enhance their self-belief of being more important than the system.
Perhaps this corrupt sense of grandiosity is what we are seeing play out in how the intelligence apparatus views President Donald J Trump as a risk to their importance.
Friday, November 22, 2019
And with the help of big names in media they’re turning journalism into an intelligence operation
There are two sets of laws in the United States today. One is inscribed in law books and applies to the majority of Americans. The other is a canon of privileges enjoyed by an establishment under the umbrella of an intelligence bureaucracy that has arrogated to itself the rights and protections of what was once a free press.
The media is now openly entwined with the national security establishment in a manner that would have been unimaginable before the advent of the age of the dossier—the literary forgery the FBI used as evidence to spy on the Trump team. In coordinating to perpetrate the Russiagate hoax on the American public, the media and intelligence officials have forged a relationship in which the two partners look out for the other’s professional and political interests. Not least of all, they target shared adversaries and protect mutual friends.
Recently WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was indicted on 17 counts of violating the espionage act for obtaining military and diplomatic secrets from U.S. Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning and publishing them in 2010. First Amendment lawyers and free speech activists worry that the indictments are likely to have a “chilling” effect on the practice of journalism. Others, however, argue that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the WikiLeaks founder.
“Julian Assange is no journalist,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a press briefing last week.
The Department of Justice’s position found support, of all places, in the media. “Julian Assange himself is not a journalist,” said CNN national security and legal analyst Asha Rangappa. “He was not engaged in bona fide newsgathering or publication and put national security at risk intentionally,” Rangappa told NPR.
Who’s Asha Rangappa, you ask, and how did she become an expert on journalism?
According to a profile in Elle magazine, she worked three years in the FBI (Robert Mueller was director) as a counterintelligence official in the New York field office before returning to her alma mater, Yale Law School, as its admissions director. In that post she became famous for destroying admissions records to prevent students from legally accessing them. With the advent of the Russiagate hoax, Rangappa has become one of the best-known faces of a new, hybrid industry in which former national security bureaucrats are rebranded as “journalists.”
Here are the people that Americans get their national security news from these days:Before becoming a national security analyst for CNN, former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, had previously been a news item himself after lying to Congress in 2013 when he testified that the NSA wasn’t collecting data on Americans. He later provided inconsistent testimony to Congress in 2017—saying first that he had not spoken with the press about the Steele dossier while he was DNI, then that he told future CNN colleague Jake Tapper about it. According to Tapper, that never happened. What’s clear is that Clapper should not be offered up as any kind of expert by any legitimate outlet.Other members of CNN’s shadow intelligence organization include Josh Campbell, one-time special assistant to ex-FBI Director James Comey, and CIA official Philip Mudd. What qualifies them as journalists, as opposed to Assange? They worked in the intelligence community.
CNN rival NBC/MSNBC features an even more formidable roster of spooks. At the top is John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. During his time at the helm of the CIA, the agency spied on Congress, lied about it and finally got outed by an internal report forcing Brennan to issue apologies to the senators who had been targets of the intelligence operation. “The C.I.A. unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee computers,” Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall wrote at the time. In a statement calling on Brennan to resign, Udall wrote: “This grave misconduct not only is illegal but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers” and called the episode evidence of “a tremendous failure of leadership.”
Another NBC contributor is former CIA analyst Ned Price, who as Obama national security staff spokesman misled the U.S. press and public regarding Obama administration policy.
NBC reporter Ken Dilanian said of the WikiLeaks founder: “Many believe that if [Assange] ever was a journalist, those days ended a long time ago.” Others have said the same of Dilanian, based on a 2014 report showing that the NBC journalist was sending his articles to CIA headquarters for fact-checking.
NBC was named in a defamation lawsuit last week filed by the lawyer for a British academic, Svetlana Lokhova, a Moscow-born historian who was dragged into a US intelligence operation to frame Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as a Kremlin asset. Lokhova was accused without any evidence whatsoever of being a Russian spy by several U.S. and U.K. press outfits.
MSNBC’s Malcolm Nance—whose Twitter feed identifies him as “US Intelligence +36 yrs. Expert Terrorist Strategy, Tactics, Ideology. Torture, Russian Cyber!”—was one notable player in the journalist-spook nexus pumping up the story that Lokhova was a spy who ensnared Flynn. In early 2017 Nance tweeted: “Flynn poss caught in FSB honeypot w/female Russian Intel asset.”
Fellow MSNBC contributor Naveed Jamali— author of How to Catch a Russian Spy and a self-described “Double agent” and “Intel Officer”—joined in tweeting: “Here’s the other thing to understand about espionage: once you’ve crossed the line once, the second time is easier. While at DIA Flynn had contact with Svetlana Lokhova who allegedly has Russian intel ties.”
Lokhova is seeking $25 million from NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dow Jones & Co., owner of the Wall Street Journal, and U.S. government informant Stefan Halper. The British historian alleges that Halper was the source for the press’ multipronged smear campaign against her, a private citizen.
Unlike the New Journalists at CNN and MSNBC/NBC, Julian Assange meets the old-fashioned definition of a journalist, meaning a person who is willing to take personal risks to publish information that powerful people and institutions routinely lie to the public about in order to advance their political and personal agendas.
And yet it’s true that the leaks Assange published in 2010 may have endangered U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Further, by failing to redact those documents—as WikiLeaks colleagues reportedly urged—Assange may have put a price on the heads of informants who came forth to help the United States.
Former CIA Director Robert Gates said in 2010 that Assange was morally culpable. “And that’s where I think the verdict is ‘guilty’ on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences.”
Gates was less certain that Assange damaged U.S. interests. The longtime public servant acknowledged that the publication of the 2010 leaks was embarrassing and awkward. “Consequences for U.S. foreign policy?” said Gates. “I think fairly modest.”
Commentators claim that the indictments have nothing to do with Assange’s publishing stolen Democratic National Committee emails in the months before the 2016 election that might have damaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. That is not true. The purpose of the indictments, like the Russiagate hoax itself, is to send a message. The U.S. security establishment will use both legal and extraconstitutional methods to protect its privileges and prerogatives while waging a relentless campaign against anyone who dares to encroach on them.
The indictments against Assange further confirm the dossier-era degradation of the American public sphere, where spies are now in charge of shaping the news, with the goal of advancing their own institutional agendas, prosecuting political hits, and keeping themselves and their political patrons beyond the reach of the laws that apply to everyone else.
“No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposefully publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in a war zone,” John Demers said during last week’s press briefing on the Assange indictments.
The head of DOJ’s national security division also thanked the media for their role in protecting American democracy. But how the Justice Department apparently understands its cozy bureaucratic partnership with New Journalists like Asha Rangappa and her colleagues is worth looking at.
In late March, Demers sat for an hour-long public interview with Washington Post reporter Ellen Nakashima to discuss the challenges facing DOJ and the National Security division—including China, Iran, and of course Russia.
Nakashima was part of the joint New York Times and Washington Post team that won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize “for deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.”
Many of the 20 stories cited by the Pulitzer committee appear to be sourced to leaks of classified information. Demers’ interlocutor in March had her byline on one of the Pulitzer-cited Post stories that, if the reporting is to be believed, was sourced to leaks of classified information drawn from an intercept of a foreign official.
A Feb. 9, 2017, Post story by Nakashima, Adam Entous, and Greg Miller reported on former Trump official Michael Flynn’s conversation with then-Russian ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak. The story related details from the conversation, and is sourced to “officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats.”
It’s useful comparing the nature of the leaks Assange published and those made public by the Post. Of the more than 250,000 diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks published, half were unclassified. The rest were mostly classified “Confidential,” with 11,000 classified “Secret.” None are classified “Top Secret.” The reports regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay were classified no higher than “Secret.”
By contrast, intercepts of foreign officials, like the one regarding the Russian ambassador, are so sensitive that they are available only to a very few senior U.S. officials. The fact that the substance of one such intercept appears to have been leaked and discussed, according to the Post, by nine U.S. officials, should have sparked an immediate investigation.
The Justice Department did not respond to Tablet’s email asking whether any of the nine officials who discussed the Flynn leak are currently under investigation.
Another story with a Nakashima byline, dated July 21, 2017, reported on communications between Kislyak and Moscow regarding the ex-envoy’s conversations with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The conversations, write Nakashima and her Post colleagues, “were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies.” This story was also sourced to U.S. officials.
DOJ did not respond to Tablet’s email asking whether the U.S. officials who discussed the Sessions leak are under currently under investigation.
DOJ also did not respond when asked if Nakashima and the other Pulitzer-Prize-winning Post reporters who published stories sourced to classified information are under investigation.
Nakashima did not respond to an email from Tablet requesting comment for publication. Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron did not respond by press time to emails requesting comment for publication.
So should Nakashima and her colleagues be held to the same legal standards as Julian Assange? Of course not. Assange was in trouble, Rangappa reasoned, because he “was not a passive recipient of classified information the way that a journalist who is receiving … an anonymous leak might be, that he was actively participating in the solicitation encouragement of – in the process of getting this information illegally.”
Yet the Post and the Times can hardly be considered “passive recipients” of “an anonymous leak.” The leaks were provided not by whistleblowers outing the wrongdoings of government officials—which was Assange’s territory. Rather, the Post and Times gave a platform to U.S. officials who abused surveillance programs and other government resources in order to prosecute a political campaign against the sitting president and his advisers. The Pulitzer citation itself provides a timeline showing that the stories are evidence of a campaign of leaks lasting more than half a year.
Yes, Assange’s leaks may have endangered American troops and certainly put foreign nationals at risk. Assange also endangered national security by exposing sources. And yet the Post and the Times were active participants in a political operation that abused surveillance programs designed to keep Americans safe from terrorism. Who endangered American national security more?
Many journalists now claim to be concerned about President Trump’s ordering Attorney General William Barr to declassify documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation–a move that old fashioned truth seekers should surely welcome. The worry now, say media industry insiders, is that declassification may reveal sensitive government sources. However, there was little media concern that the campaign of Russiagate leaks targeting the Trump circle endangered U.S. citizens or foreign nationals.
Here, for instance, is an April 11, 2017, Ellen Nakashima story, again seemingly sourced to classified information, disclosing that the FBI had a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on suspicion he was a Russian agent. The former U.S. Navy officer was subjected to a campaign of harassment, including death threats. British historian Svetlana Lokhova was also subjected to abuse and harassment.
Why is the media, an industry nominally devoted to transparency, fighting the publication of documents likely to shed light on government wrongdoing? Because those documents are also likely to reveal the media’s role in the intelligence community’s campaign of political warfare targeting Americans.
For instance, among the documents Barr has reportedly been asked to declassify is exculpatory evidence regarding former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. The New York Times was first to report in its Pulitzer-cited Dec. 31, 2017, story that the FBI opened its investigation of the Trump campaign after Papadopoulos relayed information regarding Clinton emails to an Australian diplomat.
Should the exculpatory evidence prove that the FBI knew early on that Papadopoulos was never part of any Russian plot to interfere with the election, it will show that the bureau’s investigation was a political dirty-tricks campaign—which the special counsel inherited in May 2017 and kept afloat for nearly two more years. Rather than unraveling the lies that sustained the FBI’s dirty Russiagate investigation, the press’ selective reporting served rather as a shield to defend intelligence officials spying on Americans who were guilty only of supporting the wrong presidential candidate.
There is little chance the Post or Times reporters will be prosecuted for doing what Assange did—and much worse. However, the Assange indictments coupled with the rewards reaped by America’s premier newspapers for their role in a spy agency information campaign send a clear message not only to journalists but also to the public at large. In abusing both the rights of a free press and national security programs designed to keep Americans safe from terrorism, the press and intelligence bureaucracy have made us less free and less safe. The larger message they’re sending is, it’s not your country anymore. It’s ours.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
We haven’t heard much about the Healthy Holly bookgate scandal in Baltimore since May, when former Mayor Catherine Pugh was finally driven to resign from her office in disgrace. At the time, it looked as if she might actually get away with the self-dealing scam she’d been running on the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) for years. It turned out that the city had never gotten around to passing a law against that sort of dubious financial activity. (Both the city and the state rushed to pass new laws after all of this was discovered, but those laws wouldn’t apply to her retroactively.)
Well, it looks like the prosecutors investigating the matter found more dirt that we hadn’t heard about. Pugh was finally indicted last week on a variety of corruption and tax evasion charges. The indictments were handed down in secret and the news didn’t break until this morning. (NY Times)
Catherine Pugh, the former mayor of Baltimore, has been indicted on corruption charges connected to money she received for a series of children’s books she wrote, prosecutors made public on Wednesday.There’s a temptation (at least for me) to ask what took so long for this to happen? The stunning part of that entire story, starting from the very beginning, was that this was just such an obvious and blatant case of grifting. Pugh had “sold” tens of thousands of copies of her self-published children’s books to UMMS and other entities doing business and holding contracts with the city. When the scam originally began, she was a state senator, overseeing the operation of UMMS.
Ms. Pugh, who resigned as mayor in May amid state and federal investigations over the sale of her “Healthy Holly” books to companies that had business ties to the city, faces multiple charges, including wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States government and tax evasion.
Most of the “Healthy Holly” books, promoting healthy eating and exercise habits, were never distributed to children as had been promised, the authorities said. Instead, thousands of copies were found in a Baltimore City Public School System warehouse; others were stored in Ms. Pugh’s offices and in one of her houses.
Thanks to the diligent reporting of the Baltimore Sun and other local news outlets, we later learned that piles of the books had never been delivered and were collecting dust in a warehouse. And there were no records that even larger numbers that were paid for had even been printed. Pugh wound up collecting anywhere from $600K to a million, depending on which press reports you were reading.
Before she went to ground and stopped talking to the press, Pugh had assured everyone that everything was legal and she had paid all of her taxes. But based on the description of these indictments, neither of those things were technically true. For starters, it may have been legal under existing laws at that time for an elected official to engage in such no-bid deals with organizations she oversaw, but there were still sales contracts in place. And if you agree to sell something and accept payment for it, you’re expected to deliver.
For both the books found buried in the warehouse and the larger number never printed, those deliveries clearly never happened. And that might give prosecutors the leverage they need to gain a conviction. Also, if she either failed to pay the taxes or reported her income fraudulently, the IRS might have grounds to put her behind bars also. I have no doubt that her lawyers will push for delays and the trial will drag on for months, if not years. But it’s just possible that the citizens of Baltimore will get some long-overdue justice for what appears to be a flagrant case of theft of taxpayer dollars when this is all over.
Saturday, November 16, 2019
For as long as anybody in Maryland can remember, any effort to pass progressive legislation in this deeply blue state began with one vexing question: What do we do about Mike?
Thomas “Mike” Miller, the longest serving state Senate president in U.S. history, has been a formidable barrier to progressive action for decades. A member of the Maryland Senate since 1975, the conservative Democrat has been the chamber’s top leader for the last 32 years, wielding unparalleled and deft power over politics, careers, and how or whether bills move forward in Annapolis. Allied with the state’s top lobbyists, he is who progressives have blamed over the years for stalling, thwarting, and watering down top legislative priorities like raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick leave, and reforming marijuana laws. “Why does Maryland punch below its weight class in terms of progressive legislation? It’s because of leadership,” said Kim Propeack, the political and communications director for CASA de Maryland, an immigrant rights group. “People want to honor Mike Miller’s legacy, and I think that’s appropriate, but there’s a whole lot of stuff that we have the most conservative versions of, and that’s in large part because of him.”
In theory, Maryland could be passing model legislation in the same way New York, Massachusetts, California, and Washington state have been doing. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, the state has not cast its votes for a Republican president since 1988, and even with Republican governors sometimes at the helm, Democrats have retained a decades long veto-proof majority in the state Senate.
Progressives tried to take down Miller in 2018, mounting a primary challenge under the banner of “Take a hike, Mike.” While Miller ultimately won his reelection, unions, the Maryland Working Families Party, and other statewide left-wing organizations did manage to unseat a handful of other powerful incumbents tied to Miller. Among those ousted included the Senate Finance Committee chair, who many thought would eventually succeed Miller as president; the Senate Health and Environmental Affairs Committee chair; and the president pro tempore, the Senate’s second most powerful Democrat. Despite those wins, progressives’ ability to influence change in Annapolis remained limited, as Miller still controlled committee assignments and how legislation moves forward.
Maryland’s political landscape, however, drastically changed late last month, when Miller announced his resignation as Senate president due to complications from his cancer treatment. Come next year, he will continue to be a rank-and-file senator, but the state Senate will instead be led by Bill Ferguson, a 36-year-old progressive lawmaker from Baltimore, and one of the most vocal advocates for public education funding in Annapolis.
“It’s revolutionary, honestly,” said Propeack.
Larry Stafford, the executive director of Progressive Maryland, celebrated. “Now there’s more hope for finally having a more just and fair system of taxation in Maryland,” he said, “something that Mike Miller has not been supportive of in terms of the wealthy paying their fair share.”
Ferguson’s ascension to the Senate presidency was something of a coup for progressives in Annapolis. Even with several of Miller’s closest allies having lost their seats in 2018, the expectation was that a more senior-level, establishment-friendly Democrat would take the reins.
Four prominent senators had been gunning for the role in a behind-the-scenes battle last month, but none were proving they could win the 17 votes necessary to win the nomination. Then, as the Baltimore Sun reported, the influential Senate Finance Committee chair, 83-year-old Delores Kelley, approached Ferguson and asked him to consider jumping into the fray. She liked his budgetary expertise, said his age shouldn’t deter him, and thought he could help break the succession impasse.
Miller was simultaneously applying pressure on the candidates to come to a nominating consensus, to avoid an acrimonious succession squabble. Some of the chamber’s more progressive senators began feeling nervous that the leading contender for the Senate presidency appeared to be Sen. Douglas J. J. Peters of Prince George’s County, an anti-abortion Democrat who also voted against same-sex marriage. “We played a role in backing up the message that someone who is anti-choice shouldn’t be the next senate president in Maryland in the year 2020,” said Stafford. After several weeks of campaigning around the state, Ferguson won out as the unanimous choice. Kelley played a key role shoring up votes for him too.
As Maryland Matters politics reporter Josh Kurtz noted, “While it’s not going to happen overnight, the culture in the Senate is going to change dramatically — more so, most likely, than if any of the other contenders to succeed Miller had prevailed.” Miller leaving his post is also expected to be a blow to the top lobbyists in Maryland, many of whom either served as Miller’s own political aides at one point or worked previously in the state Senate alongside him. Ferguson also accepts lobbyist and corporate donations, but Gerard Evans, a lobbyist who served as Miller’s top legislative assistant in the early 1980s, told the Washington Post he expects Ferguson to be more “participatory” in his legislative style and less reliant on a “key core” of people.
Ferguson’s new role will also help shift the balance of power in Annapolis from the D.C. suburbs — where Miller lived — to Ferguson’s home in Baltimore, which is much more heavily dependent on state assistance for basic municipal needs. Since May, the Maryland House of Delegates has also been led by someone from the Baltimore area: Adrienne Jones, a Democrat from Baltimore County, was elected speaker of the House in May to replace the previous speaker, who was from Anne Arundel County and had led the chamber for 17 years until his death in April.
Ferguson did not return requests for comment, and he’s been careful in recent weeks to give thanks and credit to Miller for his years of public service. “I have been humbled to learn such a great deal about leadership from Mike Miller in the last 9 years,” he wrote in an October 26 email to supporters. “As I transition into this new role, we will continue to work side by side as the Senate reaches new progress for all Marylanders.”
Stafford, of Progressive Maryland, says that immediate priorities for progressives next year will be campaign finance reform and passing a more equitable public education school funding formula.
“I’m most excited about the prospect for a small-dollar fund matching program and getting the influence of money out of politics in state-level elections,” he told The Intercept. “We’ve been able to win campaigns to pass public financing in Howard County, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore City, and we believe this shift with Miller will enable us to have more success in pushing that type of policy forward, which could further change the makeup of the state’s political landscape.” A study released this past September by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group found that candidates who participated in Montgomery County’s new public financing program attracted far more donors in the 2018 election than those who didn’t.
Maryland activists are also hoping to advance paid family leave and to remove the exemptions from their watered-down minimum wage law. They are also bracing for intense fights next session over public education. Lawmakers plan to convene next year over new school funding recommendations issued this past September by a 26-member state commission.
The Kirwan Commission, as it’s known, was established in 2016 by the state legislature (and named after William Kirwan, the former chancellor of the University of Maryland) to rewrite the state’s long-standing school funding formula. After several years of deliberations, the Kirwan Commission recommended a $3.8 billion increase in school spending over a decade, with about half of that money coming from county and city governments, and the other half from the state. The commission also included recommendations for how the new money should be spent, like raising teacher salaries, expanding pre-K, and investing more in schools with high concentrations of poverty. Activists are calling next year a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to fix the state’s inequitable education system.
According to a recent poll by Goucher College, about 70 percent of Maryland adults think the state spends too little on public schools, and nearly three-fourths said they would be willing to spend more on improving education. But Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has already made clear he plans to fight hard against the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, vowing to oppose any major tax increases that would be necessary to implement the plan.
While Miller has said he would fight to move public education forward, his friendly relationship with the governor, and his own centrist track record, had progressives feeling wary about getting a strong school funding formula through the grinder next year. Ferguson, by contrast, was actually on the Kirwan Commission himself, previously taught in Baltimore with Teach for America, and now works a day job at the Johns Hopkins School of Education.
“He has a history in education, is very knowledgeable on the state budget, and we believe he will be more willing to go toe-to-toe with the governor over this,” said Stafford. “We’re ready to go.”