Bill Conway is running for County Council after a distinguished career as a lawyer in the U.S. Senate and in private practice. He has lived in Montgomery County for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Diana Conway, are longstanding activists in political and civic affairs. In 2007 and 2008 Bill was a member of President Obama’s Mid-Atlantic Finance Committee. He canvassed in Maryland and Delaware and was a ward captain in southwest Philadelphia on Election Day 2008.
Bill currently serves as president of his homeowners’ association and as a board member for the Montgomery County Historical Society. He is also the board chair of Washington Revels, a performing arts organization based in Silver Spring that promotes community through neighborhood events, educational programs, and an annual winter solstice show seen by 10,000 people. Bill and Diana have three children, Will, Catherine and Alexandra, all of whom are graduates of Montgomery County Public Schools.
Bill has spent most of his career as a lawyer in the public and private sectors. From 1985 to 1993, he served as Minority Counsel and then Senior Counsel to the Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. While working for the Committee under Chairman Bennett Johnston, he originated and drafted groundbreaking legislation, Title VII of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which broke the utility monopoly on electric generation and created the framework of wholesale market competition that remains in place today. In a profile of Bill, National Journal said that his persistence "helped to deliver a carefully crafted compromise that pleased consumer groups, independent generators and traditional utilities." The law is widely acknowledged for having produced substantial consumer electric savings.
Most recently, Bill was a partner in the international law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP from which he retired at the end of March 2017. He is an expert in the electric power industry and its challenges for the 21st century. Most of his work in recent years focused on bringing wind and solar facilities to the electric grid. Bill was selected multiple times for inclusion in Chambers Global: The World’s Leading Lawyers in Business and Thompson Reuter’s Super Lawyers. According to Chambers, Bill’s clients praised his ability “to grasp the nuance of what is happening on the business side, and make sure it fits into the regulatory framework.”
In his law practice Bill provided significant pro bono help to indigent clients. Most recently he represented two non-violent, federal drug offenders in clemency petitions to reduce excessive sentences they would not have received under current law.
Prior to his work at Skadden, Bill served as Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Illinova Corporation, a Fortune 500 utility holding company that merged with another energy company in early 2000 and as the managing partner of the Washington office of Troutman Sanders LLP, another international law firm. From 2000 until 2005 Bill worked as an entrepreneur in start-up businesses promoting more efficient ways to make and deliver electricity.
Bill grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. He received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College in 1979 and his law degree from Louisiana State University in 1982. In 1996 he and Diana moved from the Capitol View Park historic district in Silver Spring to an abandoned farm house in Potomac which they restored and where they now live.
In his free time, Bill is an avid beekeeper, gardener, hiker, kayaker, and fisherman.
Why I’m Running
When I was a young boy attending elementary school in New Orleans a line from our school prayer inspired me: “Make us gentle, generous, truthful, kind and brave.” These values have guided me throughout my life and in my relationship to others, even as I’ve often failed to live up to them. I have faith that all people of goodwill try to follow the same path.
I am running for County Council because these values will be at stake in the next election. Like many, I am deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s politics of hate. Most of his policies, particularly on immigration and undocumented persons, threaten everything our community stands for. The oldest trick of demagogues is to pick groups least able to defend themselves and blame them for the problems of the world. The law should be respected, and I understand the anxieties of those who feel themselves slipping behind, but I will fight against policies that would rip apart families who are part of the fabric of our community. We owe that to our neighbors.
As a young lawyer I served as Minority Counsel and then Majority Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where I learned a great deal about policy and politics. We often hear about the “sausage making” that goes into enacting laws, but in those days I went to sleep each night thinking that the American people would approve of how the Committee did its job. Back then we debated the issues on their merits, and it didn’t occur to us to do anything else.
I came away from my Senate experience with an optimistic outlook on how politics and policymaking can make life better for working families. I have no illusions about how rough the political world can be, but my previous time in public life showed me that things can be different. I believe we can bring civil discourse back to government, including the County Council.
I have only respect for those who have dedicated their entire professional lives to public service. We love to mock them for being all about ego and opportunism, and we fail to give them credit for the hard slog of governing. It’s a difficult job.
Still, I believe I bring experience in business, the economy and the world at large that is sometimes missing in government. For almost 25 years I have worked on:
- Opportunities for creative policy innovation
- The realities of business investment and development, including renewable energy
- Thinking carefully about the unintended consequences of major economic decisions
- Mastering arcane details while not losing sight of the big picture, and
- Most importantly, understanding the need to walk in the shoes of people who don’t agree with you.
Finding Common Ground
Our campaign motto is “Finding Common Ground.” Today we live our lives in political echo chambers, and it's no wonder that our country – and our County – are so divided. There is a better path for public discourse.
Learned Hand, the great American jurist, once said: “The spirit of liberty is not too sure it’s correct.” What he meant is that a functioning democracy depends on challenging one’s own beliefs. It’s important for us always to look in the mirror and ask ourselves honestly whether we could be wrong – for a couple of reasons.
First, we will see the world more clearly as it is, rather than what we fear it could be or how we imagine it to be. We should be committed to making decisions based on facts rather than anecdote or the emotion of a moment.
Second, considering the arguments of our opponents forces us to walk a mile in their shoes. From that walking comes better understanding, leading to solutions that work. So when I talk about finding common ground, I’m talking about engaging with people I don’t agree with in civil discourse.
I don’t suggest that we should reflexively cut the loaf in half during every policy struggle. It may be that after sincerely considering other viewpoints we have more convictions about our positions rather than less. But even then, we may find it easier to dial down the rhetoric because we have a better understanding of how our opponents see the world. Less rhetoric and more understanding are good foundations for governance.
I don’t think that finding common ground will make the rancor of politics magically fade away. But my prior experience in politics tells me that things can improve if we at least try to have a better conversation.
Politicians routinely promise voters the world and deliver far less. I am committed to promising little and working to deliver much. Pope John XXIII, a pope renowned for his dedication to human rights, once gave the following advice: “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” At first the realism and modesty of this message deflates rather than inspires. But in the longer moral arc of the universe, if we are always working to improve things a little we will eventually look back and realize we have travelled very far indeed towards justice and a better world.
I think I can help improve things in this great County of ours, and I hope you’ll give me that chance by supporting me for an at-large seat on the County Council.
The County will see an increase of 2500 – 3000 new public school students every year for the foreseeable future. It is imperative for the Council to work with our state delegation in Annapolis to ensure increased state funding to accommodate this growth and mitigate overcrowding. At the same time we must explore new ways, especially enhanced teacher training, to close the persistent achievement gap among our students.
Increasing the minimum wage may be the single greatest step we can take to help struggling families. I will support increases whose timing and scope are structured to raise family incomes meaningfully without harming small businesses and thereby losing jobs.
It is not feasible to road-build our way out of congestion, but more focus on intersection improvements and more sophisticated traffic light management would help significantly. Accurate measurements and projections of road and intersection congestion should be required before decisions to allow significant increases in density. Our bus and subway systems are critical to the functioning of the region’s transportation infrastructure, but without a dedicated funding source the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will always struggle to achieve its mission. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) should be built on Route 29 and Rockville Pike and, if necessary, should be considered for the Purple Line to reduce cost and impact.
Jobs are the life blood of any economy, and we must ensure that the County provides a welcoming environment for small and large businesses. I will work to streamline regulatory requirements, make our County government more nimble in its interactions with local business, and ensure that tax burdens are not a hindrance to prosperity. We should continue to encourage job growth in the eastern County through projects like the White Oak Science Gateway while also supporting small businesses.
Diversity and Community
The many cultures and ethnicities represented in Montgomery County are keys to the dynamism and vitality of the place we call home. We must ensure that our County remains a welcoming environment for our diverse communities and stand against all acts of bigotry and hate. I will oppose the Trump administration’s inhumane policies on immigrants and undocumented persons.
Zoning and development planning
The planning and zoning process should always strive to achieve a reasoned balance between the economic benefits of development and impacts on neighborhoods and local communities. History shows that development is most successful when the public is a valued partner in the planning process. Necessary infrastructure like transportation and schools should be staged to coincide with, not follow, development. We should continue to address the chronic shortage of low and moderate-income housing through public-private partnerships.
We are blessed with and must protect our natural resources, from the Potomac River and the Agricultural Reserve to local parks and neighborhood playgrounds. It should be standard operating procedure for the County to consider opportunities for solar energy facilities as part of all new County construction. We should explore the feasibility of constructing a 10 MW solar energy facility (which would be one of the largest in Maryland) at the 110 acre, closed landfill site north of East Gude Drive.
Violent crime in the County has increased recently after years of decline, due principally to gang activity. I will work with law enforcement to expand early intervention efforts and break up the gang recruitment pipeline in our public schools. We should continue the County’s far sighted efforts to recognize opioid and others addictions as diseases and to ensure their treatment as a crime prevention measure through drug courts and other mechanisms.
In a county of more than one million people, running for an at-large County Council seat requires substantial funds. Because of that reality, some say that I’m fighting with one hand behind my back by electing to publicly finance my campaign. After all, being able to accept thousands of dollars from wealthy donors and organized groups would mean I could do less asking and would make it a lot easier to raise the amount needed to run an effective campaign. But I don’t see it that way.
I see the public funding option as an opportunity to generate a broad base of support for my campaign and to protect access to our democracy for every member of our community. If I’m successful, I’ll owe that success to you, the voters, and not to any one person, organization or interest group.
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