a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The greening of Van Hollen

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th July 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) that read, in part:

Thanks to your hard work, the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed 219-212 in last Friday’s historic vote. Although, as we’ve said, key features of the bill fall short of what scientists say is urgently needed, there were several members of Congress who emerged as true climate leaders — including Congressman Van Hollen. Congressman Van Hollen is on a well-deserved recess until July 6th but I want to make sure he hears from his constituents when he gets back. That’s why on Tuesday, July 7th, I plan to hand-deliver a giant thank you card to his office. (Care to join me? Just email me)…

I decided against joining in on the giant thank you card. But I think the story of just how Congressman Van Hollen got the “climate leader” accolades and “climate herogala festivities CCAN has been bestowing on him is worth telling.

Gordon Clark, the 2008 election, and “cap and dividend”
In last fall’s election, Representative Van Hollen was opposed by (among others) Green Party candidate Gordon Clark — whom I supported. Van Hollen is a personally popular liberal Democrat elected in something of an uprising against local moderate Republican Connie Morella in 2002; he’s not hurting for campaign funds, and many in the area are proud he’s chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — despite Van Hollen’s association with the disappointing Democratic “opposition” to Bush between 2002 and 2008.

Clark, a long time activist in and director of peace and environmental movements,  campaigned hard and turned in a strong debate performance — which Van Hollen couldn’t attend due to the emergency bailout vote the same evening.  On Election Day Van Hollen easily outdistanced both Clark and his Republican challenger.

But the Clark/Green Party campaign was influential nonetheless; as often happens with third parties, they peel off some activists, they serve as an important source of ideas, and they can win some important skirmishes even if they wind up losing the contest. In this case, the skirmish Clark won was one for the endorsement of an influential local political group, Progressive Neighbors. In a very surprising development (covered on this site), Clark tied with Van Hollen after a kind of “mail-in debate” — the only debate of any kind between the two candidates in the campaign. Clark had parried Van Hollen’s less coolly composed letter with point after point detailing Van Hollen’s lack of leadership, especially on the financial crisis, peace, and environmental issues.

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How that worked out: an election followup

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th December 2008

My yard signs, Election ’08
Results: lost, wouldn’t want to bet a great
deal of money on it, lost, ongoing (Purple
Line, a transit proposal).
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

A look back at at my ticket-splitting, effort-splitting, and other split decision-making in the 2008 elections.

Virginia Senator Jim Webb had one of the memorable quips of the campaign in October. Speaking in Roanoke to an Obama rally, Webb said McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for veep reminded him of the line from a country song, “I know what I was doing, but what was I thinking?”

Whatever McCain’s motivations were, though, my own choices might seem equally hard to explain.  I wound up working hard for a vice presidential candidate who was instrumental in passing the Bankruptcy Bill; for a presidential candidate who went back on his word and voted for a FISA Amendment Act featuring telecom company immunity, and who arguably took the oxygen out of a favored candidate’s campaign when he promised to stick to a publicly financed campaign — which he obviously did not do.

I thereby worked on behalf of a party that had effectively abandoned opposition to the Iraq War in 2007 — despite sweeping back to power on that promise — and on behalf of a party that had stonewalled pleas to hold the architects of that war, of torture, of warrantless surveillance, and more accountable by impeachment.

Meanwhile, though, I joined in a campaign for Gordon Clark, a Green Party candidate who wound up with around 2 percent of the vote.  I supported that campaign with time, writing, and even some money — with the net effect, particularly of the writing, perhaps making me persona non grata to a Congressman I’d frequently praised on this site.

So what do I have to show for it?  What explains the mixture of satisfaction and regret I feel?
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A Van Hollen/Clark “mail in debate” at Progressive Neighbors

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th October 2008

Progressive Neighbors nonendorsementBy Montgomery County standards, it qualified as a political earthquake: the respected Takoma Park/Silver Spring “Progressive Neighbors” PAC steering committee did not endorse Chris Van Hollen in his bid for re-election to Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives.  As their election issues flier — to be distributed by volunteers before and on Election Day — states,

Progressive Neighbors is split between endorsing the incumbent Chris Van Hollen and Green Party challenger Gordon Clark.  We appreciate many of the stands Van Hollen has taken but have been disappointed by his lack of progressive leadership on issues that Clark is championing such as ending the War in Iraq and single payer, universal health care.

The organization’s web site front page adds, “The positions of both the incumbent Chris Van Hollen and Green Party challenger Gordon Clark were considered by the steering committee, and the committee came to a split decision.”

I spoke with Progressive Neighbors steering committee member and contact person Wally Malakoff, who said he agreed with the position the group took: “Van Hollen has taken good positions, but could be more aggressive” in pushing them, while Clark is a “good, articulate spokesman” for progressive positions.  He said that the steering committee solicited member opinions via email and also considered those responses — roughly evenly divided — in coming to its decision.

The two candidates submitted letters to the Progressive Neighbors steering committee — first one by Van Hollen requesting endorsement, and then a response by Clark— both of which are now posted on the Progressive Neighbors web site.*  Given that Van Hollen had to miss the only debate he was willing to schedule with Clark, the letters are perforce the only debate the voters of the 8th Congressional District will get to judge.

There are a lot of specific points made by both candidates in their letters.  Instead of dwelling on these specifics, I’ll try in the following to get across the themes of both candidate’s positions accurately.  In case it needs restating, I should make it (even more) crystal-clear that I support Clark.

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For Gordon Clark for Congress in Maryland’s 8th C.D.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th October 2008

The following email was sent to impeachment supporters in the Takoma Park area; I’ve added a video link to the campaign video mentioned in the second paragraph.


Dear Takoma Park Impeach Bush & Cheney supporter,

We — Thomas Nephew, Lisa Moscatiello, and Michelle Bailey — are writing to endorse Gordon Clark (Green Party) for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives.  We’re confident that as the kind of independent thinker who has supported impeachment, you’ll be very impressed with Mr. Clark, who is opposing incumbent Chris Van Hollen (Democratic Party).  For our part, all three of us will be voting for him on November 4th.

To learn more about Gordon Clark, visit his web site at  While you’re there, be sure to check out his latest campaign video — a great two minute summary of why Gordon Clark is running for Congress.*  There’s also a video of his recent debate with Republican Steve Hudson and Van Hollen legislative aide Bill Parsons (Van Hollen couldn’t attend because of the bailout bill vote).

The centerpiece of Clark’s campaign is a Green New Deal — an Apollo program, Manhattan Project, and Marshall Plan all rolled into one — to put America on the path to renewable energy independence.  He also supports universal health care, opposes threatening war with Iran, and wants a complete withdrawal from Iraq; as you’ll see from an issues chart comparison, Chris Van Hollen falls short on these and other counts.  There’s more, everything is well documented — and you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with Gordon Clark much more often than not.

There will be a Clark volunteer meeting today (Sunday, October 26th) from 4-6PM at 822 Gist Avenue, Silver Spring; to get in touch with the campaign, contact Sara Gilbertie at 860-233-4097 or, or visit the campaign web site at

= = = = =

What about Clark’s views on impeachment?  Here’s what he told Internet radio host Chip Gibbons earlier this year:

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I’d better see a doctor — I hallucinated a debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2008

— and three candidates, for that matter.

In a profile of Republican Congressional candidate Steve Hudson, one C. Benjamin Ford of the Montgomery County Gazette informs his readers:

Van Hollen said he knew little of Hudson’s background, but that he had an impressive record of service. The two were scheduled to debate, but it was canceled by the congressional action on the economic crisis.

(Emphases added.) Thing is, I’m positive I saw that debate a week ago at the Rockville Public Library! Van Hollen couldn’t make it because of the House vote on the bailout bill, but Van Hollen’s legislative director was there — he even said “responsible, responsive, and properly prioritized,” which almost made me swoon and just isn’t something I could make up.   Hudson was there!  Write-in candidate Deborah Vollmer was there!  Looking back, I’ll grant there was a certain hallucinatory quality to Lih Young’s remarks, but everything else made sense!

Especially Green Party candidate Gordon Clark, who made a solid, persuasive impression as the Green Party candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 8th Congressional district.  Seriously, you can watch the debate online here; if you’d like to cut to the chase of any particular participant’s remarks, you can use this time chart and the slider on the video.

I’m informed that Mr. Ford will interview Gordon Clark for a coming issue of the Gazette.  That’s great — well, actually it’s the least the Gazette could do; they really ought to promise to put Clark on page 1.

But someone ought to interview Mr. Ford and his editors as well: what does it say about their reporting and standards that he’d claim (a) there were just two candidates for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District, and (b) that a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters, attended by close to a hundred people, and broadcast on TV and the Internet was “canceled”?  Are they lazy, incurious, easily misled, in the tank, or all of the above?  Hell, I found out about the debate all by myself, ran to catch two trains to make it there after work, and wrote it up within a day.  Can’t an actual newspaper and journalist be bothered to try to follow a story about a congressional election campaign in their own back yard — and try to get it right?

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Split ticket weekend

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th October 2008

Saturday for Barack Obama in Leesburg, Virginia; Sunday for Gordon Clark (Green) in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Marylanders — most, if not all, from Montgomery County — swamped the Loudoun County Obama headquarters in Leesburg on Saturday in two shifts.  I was on the late one, 1 p.m. from Bethesda High School (the meeting place there is now in front of the high school, not in the parking lot).  Drove over with a very interesting lady, wife of a former Republican congressman from the South.  As she explained, being progressive in the South once meant being Republican.

Loudoun County Obama HQ.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

Anyhow, the briefing at Leesburg was a little chaotic — people kept interrupting the guy doing the briefing — but the upshot was that we were using data from the past few elections to contact sporadic, possibly persuadable voters, we wanted data even if it was indirect, and we wanted to make sure people were registered.  As in Dumfries two weeks ago, the questions were about who people were supporting (“not ‘voting for’ — people will close the door on you if you ask that”) for president, senator (Mark Warner (D) vs. Jim Gilmore (R) to replace outgoing Senator John Warner), or representative — Judy Feder vs. incumbent Frank Wolf (R).

Bank owned property, somewhere in
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

The two of us wound up in a similar neighborhood to the one I canvassed in Dumfries a couple of weeks ago — rental apartment complexville, Mr. and Ms. (Pretending They’re?) Not Home on Weekends.  Between the two of us, we knocked on about 60 doors, found 8 strong Obama supporters (2 volunteers among them), 1 leaning towards Obama, 2 McCain.  I was surprised at that, because I got both McCains, the Obama leaner and the undecided person, and just one of the strong Obamas; maybe people are likelier to open the door for an older lady than for me — even though I’m such a nice guy!

Unlike in Dumfries, this time every time I actually did speak to someone, it was the person named on the list.  The “Votebuilder” lists are quite good, but there are some glitches.  To whoever programs the software: you might as well not include “Apt 000” addresses in the printouts, OK? Also: the only “lit” (=”literature” =political fliers to stick in people’s doors if they weren’t home) they had for us to drop was a Warner/Obama flier — nothing for Judy Feder; that was a bit of a missed opportunity for that campaign.

The last observation of the day was from a birthday party Maddie went to here in Takoma Park that evening.  It must be the circles we frequent, but many of the other moms and/or dads had been out canvassing as well.  People really want this.

Today I fried my face on Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park from 10 to noon while repeating three main phrases — “Gordon Clark for Congress,” “Here he is,” and “Would you like a sticker?” — to families drifting by the Green Party booth at the Takoma Street Festival.  (See these posts — mainly this one — for why a long-time Democrat like myself is supporting Clark over Van Hollen.)  Our booth faced south, and I forgot to bring a cap.  I think I’ll pay a price tomorrow, even though I did use some sunblock.

Gordon Clark was there too, of course.  He’d been at the “Taste of Bethesda” event on Saturday, and said Chris Van Hollen came by.  The meeting was not cordial — Van Hollen told Clark to “stop lying” about him; Clark says he replied he’d be happy to debate Van Hollen whenever he liked.  I wonder what that was about — everything on the issues comparison brochure the Clark campaign has is documented.

People can be funny about political booths.  It’s their weekend, of course, and not all of us want to gather political information at a crafts, food, and music fair.  But some people pick up speed and/or veer away as they might catch something from us, while others will make a self-approving point of how much they dismiss whatever you’re doing — demonstrative handwaves of refusal, little snorts, that kind of thing.

But the people who kind of slowly walk up, looking at the signage and the table, coming to a decision — they make up for that.  I think it’s kind of fun, and kind of good, to be a part of that — encounters like that, decisions like that, they’re the little atomic units and molecule formations of politics.  I’m just there trying to help catalyze the reaction.

EDIT, 10/6: added comment about having no Judy Feder fliers.

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Congressional candidate debate: minus Van Hollen, plus Gordon Clark

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd October 2008

The Maryland 8th Congressional District candidate debate was hosted by the local League of Women Voters (LWV) in Rockville’s main public library last night.  It will be rebroadcast on “Access Montgomery” public cable channels 19 and 21 three times in the next 7 days.*

Gordon Clark (Green), Steve Hudson (R), Van Hollen (D) legislative director Bill Parsons
Gordon Clark (Green), Steve Hudson (R), Van Hollen (D)
legislative director Bill Parsons
at League of Women
Voters debate in Rockville.  Write-in candidates
Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young were also there,
but are obscured behind the photographer on the
right.  The moderator was LWV president Diane Hibino.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

To my disappointment, but not to my surprise, my Representative, Chris Van Hollen (D) was unable to attend; he had to stay on Capitol Hill because of the “bailout” legislation.  Legislative director Bill Parsons took his place. The other candidates on the ballot — Gordon Clark (Green) and Steve Hudson (R) were on hand, as were write-in candidates Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young.

As I wrote on Monday, I’ve decided to support Gordon Clark in this election, and I saw nothing to change that decision last night.  Clark has a formidable grasp of issues from global warming and energy to foreign affairs to the financial crisis.  He also communicates that well, with a forceful, clear speaking style that contrasted well with the other challengers — and with Van Hollen’s last-minute substitute Mr. Parsons, for that matter.  I could easily picture Gordon Clark as a United States representative; none of the other challengers met that simple test, in my view.

The debate began with prepared statments by each of the speakers, followed by one minute responses to questions prepared by the moderator, by the audience , or submitted by email correspondents to the LWV.  I’ll give a thumbnail impression of each speaker in the following; an embedded video of the debate is just after the jump.

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The other debate this Thursday — Gordon Clark and Chris Van Hollen

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th September 2008

Anticipation is building for the Biden-Palin vice presidential debate this Thursday — but another debate earlier the same evening here in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District deserves attention as well.  The League of Women Voters is sponsoring a debate between Representative Chris Van Hollen (D), Gordon Clark (Green Party), and other challengers this Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Rockville Library (21 Maryland Drive; Meeting Room 1; map). The debate will be preceded by a “Meet and Greet” event at 6:15 p.m. in Meeting Room 2 of the same building.

For a quick overview of where Van Hollen and Clark stand on a variety of issues, I recommend “Gordon Clark vs. Chris Van Hollen On The Issues.”*  As that pamphlet shows, there’s a strong positive case to be made for Gordon Clark.  If you want universal health care, if you oppose the InterCounty Connector (ICC), if you want strong, immediate action to rein in global warming, and if you oppose adding yet another war to those we’re already waging, you’re on Gordon Clark’s side.

But as a long-time Democrat, I’m also supporting Mr. Clark this election because I want to send a message to the Democratic Party and its leadership — Van Hollen is chair of the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — that I’m very dissatisfied with their leadership these last two years.

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Gordon Clark (Green-MD-8) on Congress and impeachment

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th July 2008

Gordon Clark is a former SANE/Freeze, Peace Action, and Public Citizen state and national organizer who is challenging Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) in the November election, as the Green Party candidate for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in Congress. As befits a Green Party and progressive candidate, he’s centering his campaign on the issues of the Iraq war, global warming, and to some extent on the storm clouds gathering for a possible Iran war; as I noted at the time, I first learned about the execrable H.Con.Res.362 bill demanding a blockade of Iran via a press release from the Gordon Clark campaign.

I was curious where Mr. Clark stands on impeachment, accountability, and the dream of a healthy constitutional democracy in the United States. Via his website, I just got through listening to an interview he gave on June 13th on the (quite excellent) BlogTalkRadio news show “Radio Resistance,” hosted by Chip Gibbons. The Clark interview begins at around 32:30 minutes*; the key part, for me, is here:

GIBBONS, “RADIO RESISTANCE” (at around 44:52): If you were in Congress right now instead of Representative Van Hollen, would you be pursuing impeachment of George Bush?

CLARK: As I said, I think it’s a tough call in some ways. I’ll start off by saying: yes, I would. […] If I were in the legislature right now, there’s no question that this administration has committed crimes that deserve impeachment and I would be forced to vote for it.

(All emphases are mine.)

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Van Hollen cosponsors Iran blockade bill

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th June 2008

Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) — chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and my congressman — became the 208th co-sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 362 on Tuesday. That resolution expresses

the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and for other purposes.

While that resolution is only a “sense of Congress” bill, it is asking — make that “demanding” — this president do things like this…

(3) initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program; …

(emphasis added) …seems to me like waving a red cape in front of a bull in a china shop.

True, the resolution affirms that nothing in it shall be construed as authorizing use of force against Iran, but (a) little details like that are not likely to bother Cheney or Bush, (b) a blockade — and that’s what it is — is an act of war. Note also that while allegedly thoughtful internationalist types like Van Hollen may think “international effort” means “U.N. approval,”, Bush et al are likely to claim some “coalition of the willing” including Albania and the Fiji Islands is close enough for government work.

There’s also that little matter of last fall’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which seems to have gone down the memory hole, or into the Beltway’s equivalent, a “la la la I can’t hear you la la la” hole. On this, H.Con 362 is nothing if not brazen, citing and essentially ignoring the finding in the same sentence; we’re back to preventive acts of war:

Whereas the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reported that Iran was secretly working on the design and manufacture of a nuclear warhead until at least 2003, but that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009;

Well, what more do we need — anchors aweigh! In fact, the NIE also said, “inter alia”*:

This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. Rather, it examines the intelligence to assess Iran’s capability and intent (or lack thereof) to acquire nuclear weapons, taking full account of Iran’s dual-use uranium fuel cycle and those nuclear activities that are at least partly civil in nature. […]

Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously. […]

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

(Emphases added.) Now it’s true that a blockade would affect Tehran’s cost-benefit approach — but I’m not sure whether Congressional co-sponsors ought to be so sure how it would affect it, or even destroy it. Putting themselves in their Iranian counterparts’ shoes for just a moment, wouldn’t they be rushing to speak before the Majlis or whatever it’s called saying “we must never let ourselves be dictated to this way! Iran must have a nuclear weapon, now more than ever!” To say nothing of the real powers that be in Tehran.

For more on this, visit “Just Foreign Policy,” where those of us in Van Hollen’s and other co-sponsors’ districts can dash off yet another “disappointed” message to our elected representatives.

* I feel so smart when I say “inter alia”! I almost wonder whether some percentage of Congress co-sponsored this thing for that reason alone.

PS: Almost forgot: might not have learned about this except for an e-mail from the Gordon Clark for Congress campaign to the Montgomery County Progressive Alliance mailing list. From the Green Party candidate’s statement in the e-mail:

Rep. Van Hollen claims that the Iraq war is ‘Bush’s war,’ conveniently ignoring that it is a Democratic House – which Rep. Van Hollen himself helps leads as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – which continues to fund the war, including the $162 billion they approved just last week. Now Rep. Van Hollen has attached his name to a measure that is a major step toward war with Iran, a conflict that would dwarf even the Iraq war in its deadly, chaotic and destabilizing effect on the Middle East and world.

I call on Rep. Van Hollen to remove his name from H. Con. Res. 362 immediately, and to do everything in his power to keep this terribly destructive measure from passing.

UPDATE, 6/27: H.Con.Res. 362 is a legislative priority of the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Via dailyKos diarist Tom J.

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