Monthly Archives: January 2019

Prince George’s Lawmakers Ponder Bill to Unleash Developer Cash as part of a illegal schemes

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House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s). Campaign photo

By Josh Kurtz

The powerful chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee has sponsored a bill that would lift a ban on developer contributions in Prince George’s County – a law that went into effect following a widespread corruption scandal that rocked the county for several years.

Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) is the sponsor of a local bill that would repeal the prohibition on developers or their agents making campaign contributions to the Prince George’s County executive or a political slate that includes the county executive when the developer has a proposed project pending before the county government.

The bill is scheduled to be considered by the Prince George’s County House delegation on Friday morning. It has broad political implications, touching on everything from the county’s history of corruption, to its new public financing law for political campaigns, to the possible aspirations of current and future Prince George’s political leaders.

In an interview Thursday, Davis said he sponsored the bill in part because the prohibition, which went into effect in 2012, is no longer necessary.

“Everyone knows it was in response to the whole Jack Johnson situation,” Davis said, referring to the former Prince George’s County executive who did time in federal prison after being caught accepting bribes from developers and other businessmen. “There was a crisis in confidence in county government.”

The measure was put into place by the state legislature at the insistence of Johnson’s successor, former county executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), as he tried to promote Prince George’s as a place where elected officials weren’t on the take.

Davis said he believes the law may violate free speech – an argument often made by opponents of campaign finance restrictions. He also asserted that the law isn’t necessary, because land use and development decisions in Prince George’s County are largely made by the County Council, not the executive. And he said the corruption cases that have roiled the county in recent years have involved public officials looking to enrich themselves – rather than campaign finance violations.

“I would compare that [law] to, like, if you break your arm, you go and get your flu shot,” Davis said.

The veteran lawmaker, when he isn’t performing his legislative duties, works for the Prince George’s County government, as deputy director of community relations – a job he held during the Baker administration and now holds under the newly sworn-in county executive, Angela D. Alsobrooks (D).

Davis said he intentionally did not confer with Alsobrooks before introducing his legislation – an assertion confirmed by the county executive’s spokesman, John Erzen.

“It was certainly not a bill that we requested…It’s not something we’re focused on in Annapolis,” Erzen said.

But Alsobrooks could be a beneficiary if the bill passes – and if she decides to run for statewide office some day. Davis and other supporters of removing the prohibition on developer contributions argue that Baker was financially hamstrung during his unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial campaign because he could not accept contributions from many developers – and their lawyers, engineers, agents and contractors who have projects under review by the county.

Developers and real estate interests have cast a long shadow over county elections across Maryland. Two decades before the state law preventing Prince George’s executives from raising money from developers with projects pending before the county government, the state passed a law in 1992 preventing Prince George’s developers from contributing to local candidates – unless they were part of a political slate.

While Prince George’s current ban on developer donations to county executives is unique – and unfair, in the view of Davis and his allies – political leaders in some other counties have at least discussed the possibility of pursuing a similar prohibition. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) recently suggested that such a law would be desirable in his county.

Damon Effingham, executive director of Common Cause, said the political watchdog group believes “you should apply the rules that Prince George’s County has to other counties as well – rather than pulling back.”

Davis is pursuing his legislation as Prince George’s leaders prepare to set up a public financing system for county campaigns – in the 2026 election cycle. Freshman Del. Mary A. Lehman (D-Prince George’s) – the chief sponsor of the public financing legislation when she was a member of the County Council, who reluctantly accepted a compromise to delay the launch of the system – said she would oppose Davis’ legislation as long as the public financing system is so far from kicking off.

“Somebody moves that up to 2022, I’ll consider it,” she said. “But until then, no.”

Lehman also rejected the argument that Prince George’s County executives have no influence over development projects or land use policies. Executives, Lehman said, set tax policies and incentives that can be applied to specific projects, and they also appoint all the members of the county planning board.

“That’s not entirely true to say the county executive doesn’t have a role,” she said.

If the Prince George’s delegation approves Davis’ measure, it would go to the full House. Davis said he is unlikely to bring the legislation back if it fails this year.

“I understand that eyebrows are going to be raised,” he said.

jkurtz@marylandmatters.org

Via Maryland matters

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New Haven: Charter School Principal Resigns After Video Released

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Morgan Barth, former principal at Achievement First Amistad High School, resigned Thursday.

Achievement First Amistad in New Haven is known for two things: high test scores and high suspension rates.

Principal of New Haven charter school quits after video surfaces

But when a video captured the principal exercising the usual harsh discipline, the principal stepped down and a former “behavior specialist” spilled the beans.

“The State Department of Education has reprimanded the leadership of AF Amistad in the past for what the state says amounts to three times more suspensions as any other New Haven public school. Now, a video obtained by the New Haven Independent, shows AF Amistad principal Morgan Barth grabbing a male student, who tried to leave his office, while discussing previous discipline.

“The school’s Chief External Officer, Fatimah Barker, calls the principal’s conduct “unacceptable,” in a statement. It continued:

“When this incident happened, we conducted an internal investigation, documented the incident in accordance with state laws, and worked with the student’s family – including sharing the video with them. In addition, Mr. Barth was disciplined and also required to attain additional restraint training.”

“From the time I met that man, very intimidating to the kids,” said Steve Cotton, a now former AF Amistad employee. “Multiple staff always referred to his style as intimidation, basically.”

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Achievement First Amistad in New Haven

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New Haven Ranks as Country’s Eighth “Most Walkable City”

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Tennessee: Disastrous Choice for State Commissioner of Education

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 Reform advocate Penny Schwinn is the new Tennessee education commissioner

Newly elected Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, picked a privatizer from the Texas Education Agency to be State Commissioner of Education. Penny Schwinn, chief deputy commissioner for academics in Texas, is Lee’s choice. She is a supporter of school choice, including vouchers, which was never passed in Texas despite multiple efforts by the hard-right there. For some reason, she is described as a “reformer.” Apparently if you want to underfund public schools by diverting money to religious and private schools, that qualifies you to be called a “reformer.” The word “reformer” has become anathema.

In Texas, rural Republicans combined with urban Democrats to stymie vouchers in the legislature, year after year.

Tennessee also has rural Republicans who will question why public money should be diverted from their community schools to religious schools.

Schwinn has promised to fix Tennessee’s longstanding testing mess. Testing in Texas has been used to label and stigmatize schools and students. Remember the phony claims of a “Texas miracle” that brought NCLB to the nation? Legislators in the Lone Star State still has a zealous faith in standardized tests.

Worse, Schwinn was controversial in Texas.

Schwinn moves from Texas amid controversy there.

A September audit found Schwinn failed to report a conflict of interest between her and a subcontractor who got a $4.4 million contract to collect special education data. As a result, the Texas state commissioner canceled the contract, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The canceled contract cost the state more than $2 million, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Dallas Morning News also reported that Schwinn told auditors that while she had a professional relationship with the subcontractor, she didn’t try to influence the contract. In the wake of audit, Texas revamped its procurement process, the Texas Tribune reported.

Schwinn will need to help secure an assessment vendor to administer the TNReady test with the state’s contract with Questar Assessment set to expire.

This is not an auspicious start.

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Newly elected Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee

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What’s at Stake in L.A. Teachers’ Strike: The Survival of Public Education

los-angeles-utla-strike-ap-imgLOS ANGELES — For decades, public schools were part of California’s lure, key to the promise of opportunity. Forty years ago, with the lightning speed characteristic of the Golden State, all of that changed.

In the fall of 1978, after years of bitter battles to desegregate Los Angeles classrooms, 1,000 buses carried more than 40,000 students to new schools. Within six months, the nation’s second-largest school district lost 30,000 students, a good chunk of its white enrollment. The busing stopped; the divisions deepened.

Those racial fault lines had helped fuel the tax revolt that led to Proposition 13, the sweeping tax-cut measure that passed overwhelmingly in June 1978. The state lost more than a quarter of its total revenue. School districts’ ability to raise funds was crippled; their budgets shrank for the first time since the Depression. State government assumed control of allocating money to schools, which centralized decision-making in Sacramento.

Public education in California has never recovered, nowhere with more devastating impact than in Los Angeles, where a district now mostly low-income and Latino has failed generations of children most in need of help. The decades of frustration and impotence have boiled over in a strike with no clear endgame and huge long-term implications. The underlying question is: Can California ever have great public schools again?

The struggle in Los Angeles, a district so large it educates about 9 percent of all students in the state, will resonate around California. Oakland teachers are on the verge of a strike vote. Sacramento schools are on the verge of bankruptcy. The housing crisis has compounded teacher shortages. Los Angeles, like many districts, is losing students, and therefore dollars, even as it faces ballooning costs for underfunded pensions.

California still ranks low in average per-pupil spending, roughly half the amount spent in New York. California legislators have already filed bills proposing billions of dollars in additional aid, one of many competing pressures that face the new governor, Gavin Newsom, as he begins negotiations on his first state budget.

Unlike other states where teachers struck last year, California is firmly controlled by Democrats, for whom organized labor is a key ally. And the California teachers unions are among the most powerful lobbying force in Sacramento.

On paper, negotiations between the 31,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District center on traditional issues: salaries that have not kept pace, classes of more than 40 students, counselors and nurses with staggering caseloads. But the most potent and divisive issue is not directly on the bargaining table: the future of charter schools, which now enroll more than 112,000 students, almost one-fifth of all K-through-12 students in the district. They take their state aid with them, siphoning off $600 million a year from the district. The 224 independent charters operate free from many regulations, and all but a few are nonunion.

When California authorized the first charter schools in 1992 as a small experiment, no one envisioned that they would grow into an industry, now educating 10 percent of public school students in the state. To counter demands for greater regulation and transparency, charter advocates have in recent years poured millions into political campaigns. Last year, charter school lobbies spent $54 million on losing candidates for governor and state superintendent of education.

In Los Angeles, they have had more success. After his plan to move half of the Los Angeles district students into charter schools failed to get traction, the billionaire and charter school supporter Eli Broad and a group of allies spent almost $10 million in 2017 to win a majority on the school board. The board rammed through the appointment of a superintendent, Austin Beutner, with no educational background. Mr. Beutner, a former investment banker, is the seventh in 10 years and has proposed dividing the district into 32 “networks,” a so-called portfolio plan designed in part by the consultant who engineered the radical restructuring of Newark schools.

“In my 17 years working with labor unions, I have been called on to help settle countless bargaining disputes in mediation,” wrote Vern Gates, the union-appointed member of the fact-finding panel called in to help mediate the Los Angeles stalemate last month. “I have never seen an employer that was intent on its own demise.”

It’s a vicious cycle: The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.

Enrollment in the Los Angeles school district has declined consistently for 15 years, increasing the competition for students. It now educates just under a half-million students. More than 80 percent are poor, about three-quarters are Latino, and about one-quarter are English-language learners. On most state standardized tests, more than one-third fall below standards.

For 20 years, Katie Safford has taught at Ivanhoe Elementary, a school so atypical and so desirable that it drives up real estate prices in the upscale Silver Lake neighborhood. Ivanhoe parents raise almost a half million a year so that their children can have sports, arts, music and supplies. But parents cannot buy smaller classes or a school nurse. Mrs. Safford’s second-grade classroom is a rickety bungalow slated for demolition. When the floor rotted, the district put carpet over the holes. When leaks caused mold on the walls, Mrs. Safford hung student art to cover stains. The clock always reads 4:20.

“I was born to be a teacher,” Mrs. Safford said. “I have no interest in being an activist. None. But this is ridiculous.” For the first time in her life, she marched last month, one of more than 10,000 teachers and supporters in a sea of red.

Monday she walked the picket line outside a school where just eight of the 456 students showed up. Now her second graders ask the questions no one can answer: When will you be back? How will it end?

It is hard to know, when the adults have so thoroughly abdicated their responsibility for so long. Last week, the school board directed the superintendent to draw up a plan examining ways to raise new revenue.

This strike comes at a pivotal moment for California schools, amid recent glimmers of hope. Demographic shifts have realigned those who vote with those who rely on public services like schools. Voters approved state tax increases to support education in 2012, and again in 2016. In the most recent election, 95 of 112 school bond issues passed, a total of over $15 billion. The revised state formula drives more money into districts with more low-income students and English learners. Total state school aid increased by $23 billion over the past five years, and Governor Newsom has proposed another increase.

If Los Angeles teachers can build on those gains, the victory will embolden others to push for more, just as teachers on the rainy picket lines this week draw inspiration from the successful #RedforEd movements around the country. The high stakes have drawn support from so many quarters, from the Rev. James Lawson, the 90-year-old civil rights icon, to a “Tacos for Teachers” campaign to fund food on the picket lines.

If this fight for public education in Los Angeles fails, it will consign the luster of California schools to an ever more distant memory.

Miriam Pawel (@miriampawel), a contributing opinion writer, is an author, journalist and independent historian.

Via The New York Times

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Swamp Watch: College Park Academy needs to serve Prince George’s County students equally

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The ribbon cutting ceremony for the College Park Academy in Riverdale Park on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

By Olivia Delaplaine 

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh has big plans to develop College Park into a world-class college town. We’ve seen the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, MilkBoy ArtHouse and The Hotel pop up in the last few years as part of that vision.

The architects of the Greater College Park plan hope to recruit world-class faculty by building a community that caters to their interests. Instead of creating affordable housing for students, they are building luxury condominiums geared toward higher-earning university professionals. To ensure that those professionals stay in College Park, Loh came up with a plan: create a charter school.

The College Park Academy first opened in 2013 and relocated to a permanent building in the Discovery District in 2017. In 2017, the school served over 550 students from sixth through eleventh grades, and will soon become a sixth through twelfth grade middle and high school.

The school uses blended learning, an increasingly popular instructional method. With a curriculum designed by Pearson, one of the largest education corporations in the country, students at CPA are given online lectures to view at home, then come to class to apply what they have learned with feedback from the teacher.

The school also offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities, from cheerleading to robotics, many of which are facilitated by undergraduates at this university. And to its credit, the school reports stellar scores on standardized tests.

There’s nothing immediately wrong with wanting to improve the university community, recruit faculty or build a new school. Yet something feels hollow about its success. Perhaps it is the images of student ambassadors dressed in Maryland flag-patterned bowties just like Loh, or perhaps it is the fact that the school’s most vocal supporters seem to be elected officials and private donors from the Edward St. John Foundation, not parents. A look at the data and the demographics makes it clear that the school is not serving Prince George’s County students equitably.

Initially, the academy was intended for children of members of the College Park community, especially the children of the faculty members that Loh hoped would settle down in College Park. Yet a Maryland charter schools rule states that such schools “must be open to all county students and must admit students by lottery if more apply than can be enrolled.”

Early in CPA’s history, school leaders tried to change the school from a charter school to a contract school, so they could request that 50 percent of the seats be reserved for children of College Park residents employed by the university. That request was denied by PGPS chief Kevin Maxwell, who reminded the school that charter schools are not allowed to reserve seats for residents of a certain area or students of certain employees.

Regardless, the school forged ahead and has since reserved 35 percent of its seats for students from College Park. Though the academy’s students may score higher on tests, the academy also serves more white students, fewer Latinx students, fewer low-income students and fewer English language learner students than the rest of the county’s schools.

In addition, CPA does not provide transportation to its students. Even if other students do get into the school through the county-wide lottery system, transportation barriers would make it difficult for children from households where both parents work to attend CPA. Each of the after-school activities that the school offers comes with a $50 semesterly fee, adding an additional barrier for students from low-income families who can’t rely on their parents to pick them up at 3 p.m. and denying students the resources instrumental to their success.

CPA diverts resources away from Prince George’s County’s most vulnerable students. It is an experimental laboratory in which Loh and elected officials seek unilateral control over curriculum and leadership decisions to benefit their own friends and colleagues.

By serving the children of university faculty, they are implicitly valuing the lives of children from wealthier, higher educated backgrounds over those of their peers. Creating a shielded pipeline through which the university can funnel those students that it deems worthy into its classes to increase its rankings is classist and discriminatory.

To truly fulfill its educational mission, create opportunities for area students, this university should instead be investing in the entire county’s student population and reforming the educational system consistently across multiple schools rather than hoarding resources for its own.

Olivia Delaplaine is a senior government and politics major. She can be reached at odelaplaine15@gmail.com.

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Maryland Senator Miller announces cancer diagnosis in surprise move

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Maryland Senate President Mike Miller is well known for causing injustice around Maryland and the role he played to have Governor Larry Hogan reelected in the fall 2018 after undermining Ben Jealous a democratic nominee for governorship in Maryland.  

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Senate President Mike Miller opened the Thursday morning senate session with a voice that shook with emotion from time to time, even as he worked to begin the mechanics of the lawmaking routine. His voice quavered as he said, “We’d like everyone to record their presence in the chamber.”

Miller’s voice shook with emotion as he introduced a Catholic priest who offered a prayer before the start of the session. “As you can see, I’m not off to a good start,” he said with a small chuckle.

The 76-year-old Democrat, who’s entering his 33rd year as state Senate president, made clear he’d work as long as his health would allow. He’s the longest-serving state Senate president ever in Maryland and in the nation.

He handed out a printed statement about his diagnosis and allowed reporters, as well as members, to read before telling them, “The issue should not be about me. The Senate should not be about me. It should be about the Senate and the great work we’re going to do.”

“With your continued support and indulgence, I fully intend to fight this disease as so many have and to fully carry out my Senate responsibilities,” Miller said in the statement, released as he addressed his colleagues on the second day of the state’s 90-day session.

Miller said he had been experiencing significant back pain after hip and knee replacement surgery “that never seemed to heal appropriately.” He was diagnosed in July with prostate cancer, and prescribed medication and physical therapy.

“Despite these treatments, the pain did not subside, and on Dec. 27, I awoke with a sharp pain in my leg,” Miller said.

“After another series of tests at Johns Hopkins, the oncologist informed me and my family that the prostate cancer could no longer be managed through pharmaceuticals alone and that additional treatment would be necessary.”

Miller didn’t get into specifics on the course of his treatment, or his state of mind, other than to say of the diagnosis, “It affects every decision you’re making — so you look in the morning and you see if your hair is still there.”

He laughed, then added, “It’s thinning out!”

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Democrat who represents Baltimore County, is the Senate president pro tem and told reporters, “I’m very saddened by the circumstances, and I hope that the whole world will just keep praying for our great president of our Senate. Whatever he needs me to do, I will do, and I don’t think I’ll do quite the job he does.”

Republican Sen. Adelaide Eckardt told reporters that Miller “truly looks out for all of us. He supports all of us, he has an open-door policy. He’s always here on the floor.”

She said Miller steps out of his role as he needs to, “To chide, correct, play, tease. He’s been a well-rounded figure. He clearly knows his role. I think he coaches very well.”

Republican Sen. Steve Hershey, the minority whip, said that Miller “truly is a friend to many of us, and we’ve worked with him for a long period of time.”

Hershey talked about Miller’s willingness to work across the aisle, while throwing a few barbs, too. “He’s been great about being inclusive with us here, not just on our jobs,” Hershey said.

Hershey mentioned that his mother visited on the first day of the session, and Miller extended a welcome to her. “He’s all about family.”

Hershey added, “We have a working relationship, and the Senate president has been great about being inclusive of the Republican Party here. But, at the same time, we’re able to go into his office, we joke around a lot of the time. We see each other outside of chambers. And he just wants to make sure that we have everything we need to operate properly; and he truly believes the best policy is both sides getting together and coming to some kind of compromise.”

Hershey does not believe that dynamics in the Senate will change. “I don’t think so yet. As (Miller) mentioned, so much of the work here is based on the committees.”

Undermining Democracy in Maryland. 

There have been many reports on the role Maryland Senate President Mike Miller played in causing injustice around Maryland. He is also accused of roles he played to have Governor Larry Hogan reelected in the fall 2018 after undermining Ben Jealous a democratic nominee for governorship in Maryland.  There were many reports of flyers circulated widely in parts of Maryland with his picture and that of Republican Governor Hogan which was seen as an endorsement of the opposite party and their candidate.

One voter Terry Cleaver  felt the election was stolen and stated the following : ….30 precinct without ballots in one of the two most democratic counties in the state. …..An honorable and decent man would want a run off to know if he, LARRY HOGAN, was truly elected…..GOP slime will grab power “at any price” and to hell with your voting rights…..I’m betting on the latter. …..Jealous won and IT WAS STOLEN….We can lay down and take it or start making NOISE to the media…..Just demand a run off every time you see Hogan’s name.”

There are allegations Maryland judges, senators and other local leaders work at his pleasure which is one reason the crime in Maryland has been very high.

Outpourings of support have come from both sides of the aisle.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan released a statement, saying:

“My heart goes out to President Miller on what I know must be one of the toughest days he’s faced. I know firsthand how hard it is to receive a diagnosis like this. But I also know firsthand that Mike Miller has earned his place in Maryland political history because he’s a fighter who always gives it everything he’s got, no matter how tough things get. Mike’s tenacity, bravery, and perseverance will ensure that he wins this battle, and he has my full support.

Yumi and I send our heartfelt prayers to Mike, his wife, Patti, and his family during this difficult time.”

House Republicans Mic Kipke and Kathy Szeliga wrote:

“We wish the president a speedy recovery and will keep him and his family in our continued prayers. As we have seen so many times, cancer does not discriminate. We are confident that President Miller will face this new challenge with the same vigorous fighting spirit he has shown throughout his long legislative career.”

Miller isn’t alone among top Maryland leaders with health concerns in recent years.

House Speaker Michael Busch, 72, had bypass surgery last year and a liver transplant the year before. Hogan, 62, was diagnosed with B-cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015. The governor announced he was in remission in November 2016.

Read more >>>Swamp watch: A PGCPS teenager was robbed and did the ‘right thing.’ Then his family had to move.

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PGCPS Board Member requests free lunch for students as government shutdown continues

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The move to make school lunches free would have to be approved by the CEO.

To make it free, the school district would have to would have to budget for it, similar to what happens during snow days or other unscheduled closings.

“As the child of former federal government employees who lived through many shutdowns, I know the strains placed on families and their budgets. The last thing our students need to worry about is how they will pay for breakfast and lunch.” Wallace said.

Wallace says he hopes to have a measure in place in case of similar circumstances in the future.

“My long-term goal is to propose a Board Policy to charge the PGCPS Administration to set up protocols in cases like this one – long term governmental shutdowns.”

Via Fox 5 DC

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K. Alexander Wallace, represents District 7 in Prince George’s County.

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“What PG county needs are ideologically clear, progressive and visionary leaders who have the capacity, discipline and tenacity to adhere to, uphold and implement the entire Constitution of the USA, as it is, including the entire BILL OF RIGHTS and deliver services to the people” – Munyambu Vinya

 

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