Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Denver Convention Observations

It's a good thing we got to see the sights as we drove here - we are so busy going to events and meetings that we have barely had time to even glance at the glorious Colorado peaks that frame the western views from Denver!

The Maryland delegation is a fabulous group of committed politicians and activists who are reveling in being part of the grand democratic process. We've been treated to special attention by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and a tremendously thoughtful talk by Gary Hart. I have even been able to squeeze in some time on substance. I had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion on transportation and infrastructure issues and funding with major players from every level of government across the country, as well as a great session on one of my favorite subjects - the role of race, gender and religion in politics and media coverage.

Today (Wednesday) is the big day - we vote! From the media's point of view, there is little debate about the outcome or the issues, which doesn't generate big headlines. So no doubt, they will try to manufacture something. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reaching the Breathtaking West

It was a nice long haul (about 3000 miles worth) but we rolled into Denver and found our friends from the Mayland delegation at dusk on Saturday. I must admit that it is going to take some doing to get revved up for the excitement of the presidential convention after several days lost in the all encompassing beauty of the West. The sky. That's the essential part. From Albuquerque to Santa Fe to Taos to Mesa Verde and through the Rockies, it changed us and reduced our East Coast pace. What a tonic for the tired soul! Afraid that there is little way to bring that wide open feeling to everyone back home. (Perhaps at least a daily visit to the Ag Reserve would help.) But if you ever get a chance, drive through the northern mountains of New Mexico, do Mesa Verde and check out Telluride. Breathtaking. Highlights included our visit to the oldest Indian pueblo in the United States at Taos and an all homegrown dinner on the reservation. The buffalo was a bit salty but the veggies were to die for--everything about Mesa Verde--the moment to moment weather changes through the magnificent Rockies and the 11,000 foot Monarch Pass (try to stay away from the edge). And it is good to be reminded that Montgomery County's issues are no different from everybody else's. Telluride is embroiled in debate over the economic benefits and community costs of development and is considering bond bills and tax increases to pay for road repairs, school construction, affordable housing for teachers and medical facilities. Calmed by the views, we left them to work it out for themselves.

On the road, we enjoyed seeing some vast wind farms in Texas before we arrived in the Land of Enchantment to find welcome blue skies, mesas and wildflowers. Of course, my trip to Albuquerque would not be complete without a visit to its fledging light rail, or appropriately named "roadrunner" system being extended to Santa Fe. And as with Maryland, a special session of the New Mexico legislature ended with mixed results.

Earlier, we passed through Memphis, Little Rock, and Oklahoma City. In Memphis, the Shelby County Commissioners are suing the State of Tennessee for their fair share of education funding. I suppose it is reassuring to know that everyone has the same issues everywhere. In the same vein, the road surface in Arkansas has been awful. Infrastructure funding is equally lacking everywhere.

We went to Central High School in Little Rock, the scene of a major integration battle in 1957 requiring the use of the National Guard to keep order. It was the first day of school at this National Historic site. The visitor center had an interesting display that pointed out the tremendous effect television coverage – at that time a relatively recent phenomenon - had in drawing attention to the refusal of the City of Little Rock and Governor Orval Faubus to cooperate with court orders to desegregate.

Our travels have reminded me of Valerie's reality that many areas we have passed through remain racially divided.

I did not expect the Oklahoma City bombing Memorial to be as beautiful as it was. If it had not been for the rain, we would have lingered longer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

On the Road to the Democratic National Convention

I’m traveling across the country with my friend and colleague, Valerie Ervin. Our trip, which began on Saturday, is taking us through Memphis, Oklahoma City and Santa Fe before we reach our final destination in Denver, Colorado, for the Democratic National Convention where I am a district level delegate pledged to Hillary Clinton.

So far:

Who would have thought that you don’t have to go to England to see the origins of city planning? You can go to Foamhenge in Virginia to see a replica of Stonehenge made out of Styrofoam. Maybe when we return we will have some great planning suggestions for Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson.

Then there is the $13-dollar natural bridge. Thomas Jefferson is claimed to have said that “the rapture of the spectator is really indescribable” when viewing this. I hate to disagree with a Founding Father, but the national historic landmark once listed as one of the wonders of the natural world is nice, but it is entirely describable. Entry should be free.

Finally, what does Memphis have that Silver Spring doesn’t? Answer: Music venues (Beale Street), a trolley, a themed hotel (the Peabody Hotel and its famous ducks) and an American icon (Elvis). Montgomery County is working on the first two, rejected the third (the Ghernezian Brothers wave pool and themed hotel were rejected some years ago). As for the American icon, however, hmmm. Should we work on the Marcus Johnson concept?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Trash Talk in the Office

We’re avid recyclers in my office, so we jumped right in with our yogurt cups, butter tubs and laundry detergent containers when we got the County’s expanded recycling regulations at the beginning of July. But that brought up some questions for us. Rebecca wanted to know if she could recycle the plastic egg crates that are used to package eggs from free-range chickens. Sorry, not those—they are made of polystyrene. Jocelyn wondered if the City of Gaithersburg was accepting the same new items as the County. After a couple weeks, yes, Gaithersburg started accepting the new items, but not all cities and towns are on board yet, so you should check with your municipality if you live in one. Joyce worried she wouldn’t have enough bin space, but we found out she can get another (or larger) bin by contacting the Division of Solid Waste . We also learned that businesses can participate in the new program if they let their recycling collector know to take their recyclables to Montgomery County's Recycling Center. Have you expanded your recycling now that the County accepts more items? Have the new regs raised any questions for you?