For This They Give Thanks

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 27, 2014–On this day of the year, we give thanks for our blessings. In political Maryland, here are some folks who have lots to appreciate as the cranberries, sauerkraut and turkey are served:

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. His Thanksgiving blessing will probably be directed toward the state Democratic Party for heavily backing an artificially impressive lieutenant governor for governor.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown turned out to be a lightweight who made all the wrong campaign decisions. Hogan knew what he was doing; Brown didn’t.

Comptroller Peter Franchot. Easily re-elected, he is now the most important Democrat in the State House, thanks to the election of a Republican governor.

On the powerful Board of Public Works, Franchot will hold the crucial swing vote. He could lead the Democratic opposition to Hogan or work out middle-ground compromises. Either way, he’s the pivotal player.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. He should be thankful for the weak Republican opposition he encountered. George Harman of Reisterstown lacked campaign experience and spent almost no money. His campaign was a joke.

Yet he still received nearly 44 percent of the vote. It was a Republican year and Kamenetz might have had a difficult fight on his hands had the GOP recruited a better-known candidate.

Doug Duncan. He’s got to be thankful he lost in the June primary to incumbent Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. Instead of getting his old job back, Duncan can continue working for Leadership Greater Washington or even as a member of the new Hogan administration.

Either way, it will be Leggett who must confront what figures to be a four-year budget battle in the county. Montgomery citizens demand a high level of services. Yet tax revenue is likely to continue to decline, federal aid to the counties and states is shrinking and state aid is almost certain to drop. What a mess.

Senate President Mike Miller. He quietly blessed Hogan’s triumph on Nov. 4. Miller knows he can deal with the new Republican governor. The two worked cooperatively years ago in Prince George’s County. Hogan knows Miller is the key go-to legislator.

Miller could not have looked forward to four years of frustration dealing with the remote and detached Brown, especially with a highly protective staff shielding Brown from reality.

Ken Ulman. The outgoing Howard County Executive now has been given a reprieve by voters. Instead of four years of boredom and gritting his teeth as Brown’s powerless lieutenant governor, Ulman gets to spend time with his young children, build a law practice and prepare for his re-entry into elective politics.

Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin. He’s glad the next attorney general will be Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County. Frosh gave up his chairmanship of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to run for higher office. Now Zirkin is a favorite to be tapped for this leadership slot — but only if he’s willing to follow the lead of Senate President Miller.

Retiring State Sen. Norman Stone. After a half-century in the General Assembly, Stone planned his exit at just the right time. He leaves triumphant instead of being blown out in the Republican sweep of his Dundalk-Middle River district.

Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young. His Thanksgiving blessing extends to all the old-time practitioners of sleazy, backroom deal-making and “what’s-in-it-for-me” politics.

Having been defeated for the new post of Frederick County Executive, Young turned around and lined up the votes on the lame-duck county commission to get appointed to a five-year term on the county’s important Planning Commission. Developers are cheering.

The residual stench must have made carving the turkey tough to take for the rest of the Young clan.

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McIntosh Bites the Budget Apple

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 24, 2014 – Until last week, Del. Maggie McIntosh was an important member of the House of Delegates leadership.

Del. Maggie McIntosh

Del. Maggie McIntosh

Now, suddenly, she’s a Very Important Person.

The new chair of the House Appropriations Committee holds the second-most powerful post in the chamber. It even could put her in prime position to succeed House Speaker Mike Busch whenever the Annapolis lawmaker decides to give up his gavel.

McIntosh is no overnight success.

She’s put in 23 long years as a savvy and loyal worker in the legislative vineyards. It paid off when she was named chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee in 2003.

The Baltimore City delegate worked diligently to produce bills that advanced sensible environmental goals without going overboard.  She succeeded in maintaining good relations with both environmentalists and the business community.

Quiet Negotiator

McIntosh always has been a skilled political operative, someone you’d want running your campaign or developing a detailed get-out-the-vote drive.

She doesn’t crave the spotlight. Rather, she prefers quietly working to bring opposing groups together to find common ground.

She’s also highly regarded by her colleagues. She can be firm but always even-tempered. She likes to enliven conversations with a dash of humor.

Her promotion is well deserved, especially after serving as chair of the Environmental Matters Committee for 11 years. She’s also served on three other panels and dozens of joint committees and task forces.

She doesn’t come to Appropriations as a novice. McIntosh spent six years previously on this key budget panel. She got to study under one of the keenest minds to chair Appropriations – the late Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings.

Democratic Mishaps

Maggie McIntosh was thrust into this new role through a series of mishaps by the Democratic Party.

Redistricting dramatically changed many local political maps and persuaded a slew of House Democratic veterans to retire.

Then Democratic lethargy on Nov. 4 led to the defeat of many well-established members of House leadership, including Appropriations chair Norman Conway of Salisbury.

Del. Norm Conway

Del. Norm Conway

Add to that a number of delegates who decided to run for the state Senate and you have a recipe for a massive loss of leadership on Appropriations.

Eleven of the committee members elected in 2010 aren’t coming back. Most of the panel’s moderate Democrats are among the missing.

No wonder Speaker Busch decided to move McIntosh over to run his most important committee.

Big Cuts Coming

She assumes command at a very difficult time for Democrats, especially those who must grapple with the state’s perplexing budget deficit.

New Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. focused his campaign on sharply cutting state spending, Democratic lawmakers will be in a defensive mode when dealing with budget matters.

Given the large budget hole facing Hogan, he will cut existing spending levels by a substantial amount.

While McIntosh and other progressive Democrats will want to reverse Hogan’s cuts, the state constitution doesn’t allow it: The General Assembly can only reduce the governor’s spending plan. It has no power to increase appropriations – unless it raises taxes.

That last option isn’t going to happen this year. Maryland voters sent a clear message they’ve had it with the dozens of tax increases during the eight-year reign of Gov. Martin O’Malley.

In a Tough Spot

So McIntosh will be in a bind come January.

As a committed urban liberal, she understands the unmet needs in her community. Yet she also recognizes the weak hand she has been dealt. Hogan holds the budget high cards.

What McIntosh can do is quietly negotiate compromises with the new governor’s budget team to soften some of Hogan’s budget blows.

Meanwhile, her committee will be finding its own share of excess spending in the $16 billion general fund budget. Some of those cuts might give her leverage for striking a budget deal with the Republican chief executive.

It’s going to be a tricky few years for McIntosh. She’s proved that she is good when placed in delicate situations. Much will be riding on her succeeding in her new job.

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Barry Rascovar’s political blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

 

O’Malley Pitches, Hogan Receives, Gansler Swings

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 19, 2014 — My, how the wheel turns — for Gov. Martin O’Malley, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. and outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler.

O’Malley Pitches

The lame-duck governor is in fund-raising mode. He’s all but officially running for president (despite guffaws from the home folks), which takes lots of moola. So it was off to New York to impress prospective donors.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley

Thursday, O’Malley hosts a songfest with musician Steven Stills. It was originally scheduled to be held in a lounge at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, with tickets ranging up to $10,000 for the O Say Can You See Committee, the front group for O’Malley’s presidential ambitions.

It also was also conceived as a post-election celebration after the sweeping gubernatorial win of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Oops.

A funny thing happened on the  way to Victory Lane — Brown got clobbered, Republicans in Maryland staged a remarkable recovery and O’Malley drew voters’ ire for an endless string of tax increases and outsized spending.

The Stills event now has been moved to a large tent at the home of major O’Malley supporter Martin Knott.

One longtime Democratic donor was inundated with solicitations. Would he buy a $5,000 ticket? As the event drew closer, he was asked, how about a $1,000 ticket? Days later, the request came down to a $500 ticket. Finally, he was told, “Oh, what the heck. Just come. We’ll let you in.”

Roughly 100 supporters are expected to attend.

The ever-energetic O’Malley also has a fund-raiser planned Friday night at the home of federal lobbyist Terry Lierman. He will be celebrating his daughter’s election to the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore as well as toasting O’Malley.

Meanwhile, O’Malley is bolstering his liberal environmental record by cracking down, through tough regulations, on use of phosphorus fertilizers, especially on poultry farms. The cost could be devastating for small farmers, but O’Malley is thinking about his own political future, not the future of Eastern Shore farm families.

He’s also issuing frequent press releases from the governor’s office on such issues as climate change and the Keystone heavy-oil pipeline, siding with the environmentalists he wants to romance nationally.

As for governing Maryland, that’s less of a priority. O’Malley’s thoughts are turning to making national news all the time.

Hogan Receives

While O’Malley is struggling to draw fund-raising crowds, Governor-elect Hogan has no such problem. He held a small soiree for VIP supporters and raised $250,000 for the state GOP. He’s now a very popular guy. He’ll have no trouble wiping out the $500,000 loan he made to his own campaign.

That won’t be the case for the guy Hogan defeated, Anthony Brown. He borrowed $500,000 from a local labor union and failed to raise enough money to pay back the loan on time. Even with this last-minute loan, Brown ran short of funds and failed to keep pounding away with TV commercials in the final days of the campaign.

Now he may be pounding hard to find donors willing to help a defeated candidate pay off this giant IOU before 2018. If he doesn’t, Brown will have to repay the loan himself.

Gansler Swings

Attorney General Gansler didn’t expect to lose the gubernatorial primary to Brown, but he ran into a united front from Democratic Party big shots determined to elevate Brown. He also discovered that a third candidate, Heather Mizeur, chipped away at his liberal support.

Gansler didn’t have a backup plan. For him, failure wasn’t an option — but it happened nonetheless.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Faced with having to find a job as a lawyer after 16 years in public service, Gansler was flooded with enticing offers. He chose a relatively new firm that quickly has gained status in legal circles for its work helping businesses, BuckleySandler. It’s a Washington firm with offices in the Big Apple, San Francisco, Chicago and (how nice) London.

Don’t expect Gansler to disappear from the Maryland political scene, though. He’s going to wind up on a slew of non-profit boards and is continuing to work vigorously to grow his inner-city lacrosse league in Baltimore.

With no obvious front-runner among Democrats to take on Hogan in four years, Gansler may make another stab. Once you’ve been bitten by the political bug, it’s hard to let go.

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MD’s New Normal

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 17, 2014–The outlook for the Maryland state government Larry Hogan Jr. starts running in January is grim: A sea of red ink far into the future.

Forget about major tax cuts or other campaign promises. That was a hope more than a firm commitment. Hogan said as much to voters. His first priority then and now: getting Maryland’s financial house in order.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

How bad is it?

Spending is running roughly $400 million ahead of revenues this fiscal year – and the same gap is projected for next year and the following 12 months.

Maryland’s estimated structural deficit during that time is nearly $1.2 billion.

Over the next six years, the total structural deficit is projected at close to $4.3 billion.

Whiz Kid

No wonder Hogan announced that fiscal whiz Bobby Neall would be plotting a budget triage plan by year’s end. It will be a Herculean task.

Neall has the credentials.

He sensibly downsized Anne Arundel County government as county executive. He was a strong advocate of cautious, common sense spending as a leader of the House and Senate budget committees. He’s been a voice in the wilderness on the Spending Affordability Committee crying out for far-reaching fiscal reforms – usually rejected by legislative liberals and the “progressive” O’Malley-Brown administration.

Bobby Neall

Fiscal Whiz Bobby Neall

Neall correctly pointed out last week that one of the main trouble spots is the soaring cost of debt payments. Too many state bonds were issued in recent years. The proverbial chickens are coming home to roost.

Unless something is changed, debt service will triple from two years ago — to $268 million. By 2019-2020, debt service will hit $559 million.

Even worse, there’s only one realistic way to curb that rising expense — a step Hogan definitely won’t take: Raise the state property tax rate.

Difficult Cuts

Other big spending-growth areas also will be difficult, if not impossible, to cut.

Education aid to the counties is set to rise by $304 million next year, higher education by $225 million and public safety by $175 million. Most of this is due to mandated increases.

Unexpected expenses related to the expansion of Medical Assistance under Obamacare adds a whopping $410 million next year as well.

The overall problem is easy to identify.

Too much spending by liberal Gov. Martin O’Malley; a weakened state economy that isn’t recovering as expected.

Not enough coming in; too much going out.

Welcome to the New Normal.

False Assumptions

O’Malley and other liberals always assumed that Maryland would rebound strongly from the Great Recession. It never happened.

Job creation has remained uneven. It’s been flat for the past six months. Republicans in Washington have stalled growth in the federal bureaucracy that employs so many Maryland residents. Contractors in Maryland who are dependent on the federal government are seeing a definite slowdown that will continue with the GOP taking full control of Congress.

Adapting to a smaller federal government could be painful for Maryland. Yet that is part of today’s reality.

Budget balancing

The New Normal means Maryland government will have to shrink, too. It means less money flowing back to local governments as well.

Capital spending will be affected. In the past, a small state real estate tax was sufficient to pay debt service on general obligation bonds. But property values took a sharp plunge in 2008 and have yet to recover fully. That trend may persist for the rest of the decade.

This year, O’Malley for the first time dipped into the state’s general funds to pay for debt service. With housing prices stalled, Hogan is facing far larger debt service payments coming from the general fund starting next year.

Diverting Bond Proceeds

The situation was made worse by O’Malley’s decision to pay some on-going budget expenses with proceeds from state bonds. This diversion has taken nearly $2.5 billion out of the state’s construction program and has increased debt service markedly.

It’s an ugly aspect of the New Normal.

On the campaign trail, Hogan made cutting state spending sound easy. It’s not.

For starters, 58 percent of the growth in Maryland’s budget next year is required by law or by legislative mandates enacted in 2014. This is untouchable without assent from the liberal General Assembly.

Local aid will be hard to cut, too. Eight-six percent of that money goes to schools. Touching this ever-growing pot could be next to impossible given the popularity of education among voters.

Why not slash the bureaucracy? Amazingly, the size of the state’s work force is virtually the same as it was in 2002. There might not be as much “fat” on the bone as Hogan indicated during the campaign.

Unpleasant Options

Hogan may have to settle for incremental reductions throughout government. He may have to take some distasteful steps, too, perhaps nudging up the state property tax slightly. He’ll almost surely have to lower aid to the counties – another unpleasant task that won’t win him friends in counties that supported him.

He won’t win fans by shrinking the school construction program, either. But it has to be done to restore a sense of fiscal equilibrium.

What a mess O’Malley is leaving behind. He let spending spin out of control. He ignored clear signs that growth in state revenue was slowing and that federal hiring and contracting were shrinking. These are long-term trends.

Budget issues will dominate Hogan’s first four months in the State House. He will need cooperation from Democratic legislators to get Maryland out of this fiscal bind.

Gridlock is not an option.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com

Missing: Democratic Moderates in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 14, 2014 — Hardly noticed in the Nov. 4 election that saw Anthony Brown wiped out in an embarrassing avalanche of rejection was the obliteration of the Democratic Party’s moderate-conservative wing in Annapolis.

Missing Democratic Moderate: Sen. Roy Dyson

Defeated Sen. Roy Dyson

Gone is Southern Maryland Sen. Roy Dyson. Gone is half-century veteran Baltimore County Sen. Norman Stone (retirement). Gone is a Howard County fixture, Sen. Jim Robey (retirement).

Also out of luck, conservative Western Maryland Del. Kevin Kelly, moderate Western Maryland Del. John Donoghue, conservative Baltimore County Delegates Mike Weir, Jimmy Malone (retirement), Steve DeBoy (retirement) and Sonny Minnick (retirement), moderate-conservative Del. Emmett Burns of Baltimore County (retirement), Eastern Shore Committee Chairman Del. Norm Conway, Cecil County Del. David Randolph, Southern Maryland Delegates John Bohanan and Johnny Wood (retirement), Harford County Del. Mary-Dulany James, and Frederick County Del. Galen Clagett (retirement).

The Democratic Party’s fulcrum in the State House now is dangerously weighted to the strident left. The party’s center-right legislators have shrunk to a handful.

It’s tough even coming up with who you’d place in that category in the House of Delegates once you get beyond House Speaker Mike Busch.  You can count less than ten moderates still left in the Senate, including President Mike Miller — Charles County’s Mac Middleton, Frederick’s Ron Young, Anne Arundel’s John Astle and Ed DeGrange, Ocean City’s Jim Mathias, Baltimore County’s Jim Brochin and Kathy Klausmeier.

Miller’s Leverage

Miller’s problem is much less severe than Busch’s.

The smaller Senate chamber gives the Senate president extensive leverage to impose moderation on Democrats. Senators there know that if you’re picked for a leadership slot, you’d better follow Miller’s cautious lead.

But in the 141-member House, riding herd on an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic Caucus could prove Mission Impossible.

Simply finding a leadership group willing to move toward the middle might be a challenge for Busch.

Even more daunting may be convincing leftist Democrats to cooperate with the new conservative governor, Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Already some of the left-wingers are talking ominously about fighting a partisan war rather than smoking a peace pipe with Hogan.

Busch and Miller don’t want a repeat of the dreadful gridlock and bitterness of the Ehrlich years. Neither does Hogan, who lived through that frustrating era as the governor’s appointments secretary.

But what will the two sides compromise on? And will their disagreements wind up poisoning the well of cooperation?

This will be the focus of attention as Hogan starts putting his administration together and formulates a brief agenda for the legislative session that starts in just two months.

Room for Agreement

Busch and Miller signaled in the last General Assembly session their agreement with Hogan that the O’Malley administration had neglected business development. Maryland must become more accommodating to companies. That’s a clear area where partial agreement is possible.

Ironically, Republican gains in the General Assembly could make it more difficult for Hogan to govern effectively.

The dearth of moderate-conservative Democrats in the State House robs him of potential allies. He still needs lots of Democratic votes to pass his agenda. Dealing with a ultra-liberal Democratic corps of lawmakers could prove perilous. It could force the governor-elect to take a go-slow approach in his reform plans.

Many of the newly elected Democrats may choose to join Miller and Busch in playing centrist politics with Hogan. After all, it is the best way to get things done and avoid the thing voters most detest — gridlock.

Yet without a counter-balancing Democratic center-right wing, the party caucuses in Annapolis could keep moving farther and farther to the left, ceding the center that voters admire to Hogan.

That would be foolish politics — but it could happen.

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Edgar Silver: Political MD’s Unsung Hero

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 11, 2014–For well over half a century, Edgar P. Silver was the “unsung hero” of Maryland politics. Few in the public knew the name, but the politicos sure did.

Edgar P. Silver

Edgar P. Silver

consigliere to elected leaders. Trusted adviser to politicians — left, right and center. A  judge’s judge. A friend to the end.

Known simply as “The Judge” to his legion of acquaintances, Silver, died today at the age of 91.

He mastered two long-forgotten arts — schmoozing and working the phones.

Silver’s Rolodex contained just about every important Maryland politician’s personal phone number. His days were spent with a phone to his ear and nary a stitch of paper on his desk.

Wealth of Knowledge

Politicians loved Edgar Silver, with good reason.

He was a fount of valuable advice and political know-how. You could confide in him your worst secrets knowing he’d keep it private. He would listen, commiserate and then offer comforting, practical guidance.

You could trust “The Judge.” He had rock-solid integrity. He respected your viewpoint. All he wanted to do was help you succeed.

He grew up poor near Druid Hill Park, his mother from Russia, his tailor father from Austria. Eighty years later he still recalled the anguish of accompanying his mother in the dark Depression days to a bank on Pennsylvania Avenue that held the family’s life savings — only to discover the bank could only pay out 10 cents on the dollar.

Young Edgar ran errands for folks on Eden Street. He made himself available to help neighbors in need. He liked people, and politicians. He started manning the polls at 15.

No wonder he won his first race for public office – defeating an unknown William Donald Schaefer. Three terms later, Silver was appointed to the bench (after he let reporters know he might run for the state Senate).

Judge Edgar Silver

Judge Edgar Silver

Silver’s Baltimore courtroom gained a reputation as the place where defendants got a fair shake, where they were treated kindly and respectfully. He’d even read the guilty parties that day’s menu at the City Jail so they’d know what to expect.

One time, he sentenced a robber to prison, then spotted the robber’s young brother. Silver had the lad sit on his lap while he explained what was going on. He didn’t want the child to think badly of judges or the criminal justice system.

What a guy.

Silver handled politicians the same way – with exquisite kindness and understanding. He knew how to use his extensive contacts to smooth over difficult situations, to play intermediary between officials, to offer solid advice.

Governors craved his insights. Senate President Mike Miller became a longtime family friend. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski reveled in his sagacious suggestions. Elijah Cummings treated him almost like a second father.

On and on the list goes. Silver extended a helping hand and discerning suggestions to a wide range of friends – Peter Angelos, Lou Kousouris, Joe and Karin De Francis, Alan Rifkin, Judge Bob Steinberg, Judge Joe Murphy, and even occasionally to Cardinal William Keeler.

Civil Rights Champion

He also was the “unsung hero” of black lawyers seeking judgeships. Silver played a behind-the-scenes role in getting literally dozens of African Americans on the bench. Baltimore’s first black police commissioner got the job largely because of Silver’s intervention. He was a one-man civil rights movement.

When a young legislative aide to Schaefer, Alan Rifkin, started his own law firm, Silver agreed to assist – very briefly as a partner and then as “of counsel” Wise Man of what is now Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan and Silver. He lent the firm credibility and integrity.

“The best is yet to come.”

That was Edgar Silver’s oft-repeated motto. He never looked on the dark side of a problem. He only saw brightness in people and in situations. And he knew how to laugh. He didn’t take anything too seriously for long.

Delegate Edgar Silver

Delegate Edgar Silver

He certainly played a big role in my life. After The Baltimore Sun cut its staff and offered me a buyout, I became a stateless person in search of a new career.

In stepped The Judge with suggestions and ideas. He and Rifkin gave me a desk and a computer while I figured out how to run a one-man communications/writing consulting firm.

Best of all, I got to chat at length each day with Edgar Silver, about politics and politicians and about life. This office dialogue went on for 12 years, and then continued with friendly lunches and phone conversations.

Once in a great while, an individual influences your life. His advice stays with you for eternity. It becomes a guiding light. Such was the case with Edgar Silver in my life – and in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others in Maryland.

What a difference he made.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

The One-Party State Curse

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 10, 2014–Republican Larry Hogan Jr.’s stunningly easy romp over Democrat Anthony Brown in Maryland’s race for governor can’t be written off as a fluke.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Fundamental changes are taking place that could give Republicans an advantage down the road in what is generally considered a deeply blue state.

You can call it the curse of the one-party state.

Common wisdom has it that given the Democrats’ 2-1 commanding lead in Maryland’s voter registration, Democratic victory in big races is a foregone conclusion.

But the common wisdom often is wrong.

Democratic Advantage

In three of the state’s biggest jurisdictions, Democrats hold such a massive registration lead that the local Republican Party is on life support. Big turnouts in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County should be enough to ensure statewide Democratic triumph.

Yet that didn’t happen this year because turnout in those three locations was terrible.

Only 36 percent of city voters went to the polls; 38 percent in Prince George’s and just 39 percent in Montgomery.

Compare that with the turnout in counties where Hogan piled up big numbers: Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County, 49 percent; Baltimore County, 49 percent; Frederick County, 51 percent;, Harford County, 54 percent, and Howard County, 52 percent.

Democrats must be scratching their heads. This shouldn’t be happening!

If the Big 3 jurisdictions had turned out in force, Brown would be addressing invitations to his inaugural ball.

More Registered Voters

Even more puzzling is the fact that all three of those jurisdictions have seen big jumps in registered voters over the past 12 years — 79,000 more voters in the city, 168,000 more in Montgomery and 178,000 more voters in Prince George’s — nearly all Democrats.

With 1,553,000 Big 3 registered voters, who usually support the Democrat by 4-1 or 5-1 margins, how could Brown possibly lose?

Blame it on the Democrats’ greatest strength — their huge advantage in people identifying with the party. In this case, it is a curse rather than a blessing.

Here’s what’s happening: In Baltimore City, there hasn’t been a Republican mayor in 50 years. There hasn’t been a Republican state legislator or councilman from the city in 60 years. No Republican has held elective office in Baltimore in half a century.

So it’s no surprise Baltimore voters don’t take the mid-term general election seriously.

No Competition

All the local races this year were decided in the June Democratic primary. Indeed, only one of the city’s six state Senate districts even had a nominal Republican on the ballot. He got 6 percent of the vote.

The situation is similar in Prince George’s, where the last Republican county executive was Larry Hogan’s father and namesake — 34 years ago. No Republican has held a local office in decades.

Montgomery is follow that same trend. James P. Gleason was the one and only Republican county executive, last elected in 1978. Republicans used to capture local seats in the upper sections of the county, but no more. It, too, is now a one-party monopoly.

That should be good for the Democratic Party, right?

Wrong.

Cruise Control

One-party rule turns general elections into mere formalities. Local political clubs don’t get energized. Local politicians don’t bother campaigning. The local party is on cruise control.

Democratic voters feel the same way. Why go to the polls in November 4 when all the local races already have been decided?

This trend started decades ago and we’re now seeing the corrosive effects.

The last time there was an open seat for governor — 2002 — the general election turnout was 53 percent in the city, 52 percent in Prince George’s and 64 percent in Montgomery.

Contrast that with this month’s turnout and you see a precipitous plunge in voters going to be polls. The decline in Baltimore was 18 percent, 14 percent in Prince George’s and a shocking drop of 25 percent in Montgomery’s voter participation.

Montgomery’s Ennui

That last figure is the most stunning number of all.

Montgomery County is famed for its acute awareness of a citizen’s obligations to cast a ballot and take an active role in local government. Good government and close attention to political issues is deeply rooted in this county.

Yet even with 168,000 more registered voters than 12 years ago, 48,000 fewer ballots were cast this month in Montgomery.

The ennui in Montgomery should deeply disturb state Democrats. A 25 percent decline in turnout over a 12-year period is a calamity.

Add that to the similar trends in Prince George’s and Baltimore and you begin to understand why a Republican is hiring The Kane Co. to move his furniture to the Governor’s Mansion.

Chink in the Armor

It’s ironic. The Democrats’ greatest attribute is now a potentially fatal flaw.

Without competitive, two-party elections, the party in power relaxes. It gets sloppy and complacent. It gets lazy and even arrogant. It can’t energize its members.

Hogan capitalized on this chink in the Democrats’ armor because his strongholds turned out in big numbers. His supporters were highly motivated. They showed up to vote.

What will happen four years from now? Or in eight years?

One-party Democratic rule won’t change in the Big 3 any time soon — if ever. The one-party mentality could grow even stronger — with lackluster turnouts in mid-term November elections.

It’s an Achilles heel that the Democratic Party, despite its huge edge in identified supporters, doesn’t know how to protect.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.