Casino-nomics: The Good, the Bad

By Barry Rascovar

July 17, 2014 — Once upon a time, casinos looked like the salvation of Atlantic City, a famed but dilapidated resort town on the Jersey shore.

Historic Atlantic City

For well over a quarter-century, New Jersey’s gamble worked.

Unfortunately, state and local politicians failed to reinvest the taxes flowing from a dozen casinos into Atlantic City. It remained a depressing, down-on-its-luck town of impoverished minorities surrounded by glitzy hotel-casinos.

Now the bubble has burst.

Out of State Competition

Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York gambling casinos have set Atlantic City on its heels.

Maryland’s initial entries — at Perryville and outside Ocean City — were too small and poorly run to create a problem for the Jersey resort.

But when David Cordish’s huge Maryland Live! Casino opened, Atlantic City took a big hit.

Maryland Live!

Maryland Live!

The growing number of casinos in the Northeastern U.S. is delivering staggering blows to the former Queen of the Atlantic Resorts.

The jobs of 7,000 Atlantic City casino workers could disappear by Labor Day — a stunning number for a community of 40,000.

One casino, the Atlantic Club (formerly the Hilton and before that the Golden Nugget), went out of business in January.

Atlantic Club

Shuttered Atlantic Club

Two more casinos are definitely shutting after August – Trump Plaza and Showboat, owned by Caesars Entertainment.

Showboat Casino closes in September

Showboat Casino closes in September

A fourth hotel-casino along the boardwalk, the spectacular and expensive ($2.4 billion) Revel high-rise, is in bankruptcy for the second time. It will be shuttered in mid-September unless a buyer surfaces.

 

Revel Hotel and Casino

Revel Hotel and Casino

More closings are possible.

Caesars Entertainment, for instance, is wallowing in a sea of debt and must increase the profitability of its three remaining Atlantic City properties.

Others, like Resorts International, can’t overcome aging buildings and lack of drawing power in the winter months.

Resorts International

Resorts International

It was bound to happen.

Atlantic City eagerly let too many casinos open their doors. Now the town is over-saturated with giant gambling hotels. A contraction was inevitable.

City and state officials  never planned for the day when competing casinos would surface in nearby states, thus shrinking Atlantic City’s gambling market. They placed all their economic bets on the gaming industry.

Now town officials are belatedly scrambling to rejuvenate Atlantic City and bring in other attractions before blight and despair set in around the hulking, abandoned gaming halls and hotels.

Success at Maryland Live!

Maryland, meanwhile, is profiting handsomely from its long-delayed entry into casino-nomics.

Cordish has shown the way, outmaneuvering racetrack owners and creating a mecca for lovers of casinos.

Maryland Live! is now the most profitable full-service gambling site on the East Coast.

In June, Maryland Live! raked in $56.5 million, $8 million more than Atlantic City’s Vegas-like casino, Borgata, situated several miles from the resort’s boardwalk.

Borgata complex

Borgata complex

Business is booming on Maryland Live!’s casino floor and restaurants. Locating the facility in one of the East Coast’s most popular shopping malls, Arundel Mills, proved a huge asset.

Yet those halcyon days are coming to an end for Cordish.

In late August, Caesar’s will open its Horseshoe Baltimore casino near Ravens Stadium.

It will cut into Maryland Live!’s gambling revenue by as much as one-third.

There’s more bad news coming: Completion of the MGM National Harbor casino overlooking the Potomac River and the Capital Beltway in late 2016.

MGM National Harbor

MGM National Harbor

This will be the most elegant and trendy gambling joint in the region, ideally situated to draw customers from Washington, D.C., Virginia, the Carolinas and Prince George’s County.

Still, Cordish’s complex — on the lower floor of a parking garage – will remain quite profitable.

That’s because Maryland capped the number of in-state casinos at six.

Moreover, the chances of Virginia joining the casino craze are highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s future Big Three – in Baltimore, National Harbor and Arundel Mills — will compete for gambling customers without fear of other entrants diluting the market.

Rural Casinos in Maryland

Maryland’s three smaller casinos are surviving, though at a lesser level of success.

Penn National’s poorly conceived and poorly run Perryville casino in Cecil County should be thriving given its location directly off an I-95 exit.

Hollywood Perryville

Hollywood Perryville

But Penn National threw up a bland, warehouse-like structure in an out-of-sight valley. It has failed to offer gamblers much in the way of entertainment, excitement or value.

Yet Hollywood Perryville took in $7 million in June. Not bad, but it hardly taps the site’s potential.

Harness Racing and Slots

Bill Rickman’s Ocean Downs casino and race track near Ocean City stubbornly refuses to offer table games.

Still, its 800 slot machines do exceptionally well in the summer months, taking in $4.8 million in June — an average of $200 per day per machine.

Rickman, whose main money-maker is the Delaware Park casino and race track near Wilmington, has an added advantage at Ocean Downs: He gets a slice of slots revenue from other Maryland casinos to boost racing purses and make track improvements at his Ocean Downs harness oval.

It’s a great package deal.

Western Maryland Casino

Maryland’s other small casino, at Rocky Gap Lodge near Cumberland, is still in its developmental stage.

Yet it took in $3.7 million in gambling revenue in June from 577 slot machines ($186 from each device per day) and 16 gaming tables.

Rocky Gap near Cumberland

Rocky Gap near Cumberland

With savvy management and marketing by Lakes Entertainment, Rocky Gap could evolve into a popular resort destination offering far more than gambling — a championship golf course, a comedy club, 215 hotel rooms, a convention center and a lakeside location in a state park.

Lakes Entertainment benefits from the fact it bought Rocky Gap on the cheap from the state, which was desperate to reinvigorate the picturesque lodge built with state funds.

It paid the state just $6.8 million and has poured another $25 million or so into upgrades. Gambling revenue will help make the resort much more viable.

Rocky Gap

Rocky Gap

Unlike Atlantic City, Maryland never viewed gambling as an economic development savior.

It’s a pleasant economic bonus for Maryland’s education coffers and a generator of lots of decent-paying jobs for the state.

Casinos can’t be viewed as a long-term growth industry, though. More likely, the six casinos will turn into steady generators of state tax revenue, much like the state lottery.

slots

With no back-up plan, the end of the casino boom is a calamity for Atlantic City.

In Maryland, legalized gambling at a limited number of locations has a far better chance of becoming a long-term survivor.

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Hogan’s Public Financing

By Barry Rascovar

July 14, 2014 — Larry Hogan, Jr., the longshot Republican nominee for Maryland governor, made a smart move accepting public financing for his general election campaign.

It frees Hogan from the time-consuming and sometimes humiliating chore of brow-beating friend, supporters and strangers for donations over the next five months.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr.

Public financing also lowers the cost of running a campaign.

Fund-raising isn’t cheap. Professional fund-raisers keep a sizable chunk of dollars raised for themselves, thereby creating the need for candidates to launch more rounds of solicitations.

It’s a vicious cycle Hogan has avoided. He did the same thing in the Republican primary and breezed to election.

Hogan’s Advantage

Hogan seized the high road and can blast the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, for accepting huge sums from special interests eager to “own a piece” of the next governor — or at least “buy” access when the need arises.

That’s an overly cynical view but it’s what Hogan is likely to put forth in his campaign.

He’s become the “good government” candidate running without the need to grovel for funds from vested interests that will demand their part of the quid pro quo later.

Between the $2.6 million in public financing and the maximum $3.7 million the state Republican Party and its local affiliates can spend on his behalf, Hogan can mount an effective campaign — though Brown still will have a giant edge when it comes to buying advertising time on TV and radio.

Independent Spending

What could level the imbalance is unlimited spending by independent groups. That’s now allowed under the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision.

If some of Hogan’s well-healed developer friends or national conservative groups backed by billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson decide to advertise in Maryland for lower taxes and an end to big-spending government, Hogan could narrow Brown’s funding advantage.

It will not, though, erase the Democrats’ gigantic voter registration lead. That will be hard to overcome regardless of how much Hogan and his compatriots spend.

But at least Hogan avoids the fund-raising distraction.

Issues Focus

He can concentrate exclusively on issues he wants voters to get “mad as hell” about — the Democratic administration’s limited success creating jobs, 40-plus tax increases, the health-exchange scandal and cover-up, the continuing spending-to-revenue deficit, continuing hostility toward businesses and favoritism for Democratic special interests.

Hogan badly needed the Democratic primary to end in a bloodbath that shattered party unity. It never happened.

Anthony Brown quickly gained strong endorsements from his two opponents. He goes into the general election with the kind of enthusiasm and party unity that will be hard to beat.

Anthony Brown

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown

That’s especially true for a candidate who would be Maryland’s first black governor (technically he not African-American since his father was born in Cuba and his mother in Switzerland).

Minority communities, especially in populous Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, cast a majority of votes there. That’s the case in Charles County, too. Brown can count on near-unanimous support from those voters, who will be reminded endlessly about the imperative to elect “one of their own.”

Steep Challenge

It’s going to be an arduous climb for Hogan, to be sure. He has, though, set a moderate tone that will help him with independent voters and middle-of-the-road Democrats.

Can he win?

It’s a possibility.

But Hogan will have to be amazingly lucky and conduct a brilliantly skillful campaign even to make it close in November.

 

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Politics Ahead of Budgets

By Barry Rascovar

July 7, 2014 — The $77 million in budget cuts approved last week by the Maryland Board of Public Works mark the first recognition there’s a price to be paid for placing election-year politics ahead of fiscal realities. It won’t be the last spending pullback, either. Budget balancing Maryland has a serious, ongoing imbalance between its high spending habits and its lower than expected revenue receipts. Everyone knew this was coming.

Winter’s Frigid Blow

Much of it is a result of the severe cold weather over the past winter, which devastated sectors of the economy, drove up heating and electric costs and put a severe crimp in job creation.

Yet early this year Gov. Martin O’Malley, with the support of Democratic legislators, introduced a budget for the current fiscal year that was wildly out of sync with prevailing economic conditions.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley

The larger problem, which O’Malley chose not to confront head-on, is that Maryland’s spending isn’t affordable without more rounds of tax increases — or sizable reductions in agency budgets.

The $77 million in cuts approved last week amounts to a small down payment on what is likely to come later.

Maryland’s economy remains stalled, as Comptroller Peter Franchot underlined at last week’s Board of Public Works meeting in the Annapolis State House.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Wage growth is near-zero. Sales tax growth is about one-fifth of what it should be in a recovery. Withholding taxes are about two-fifths of the norm for a recovery.

Making matters worse was O’Malley’s failure to use the Great Recession to assess government services and identify cost efficiencies on a grand scale.

Instead, O’Malley simply slowed state government’s rate of growth during hard times. He papered over the need to downsize, shift or reinvent the way non-essential services are delivered.

Troubling Imbalance

At the end of the 2014 General Assembly session in early April, legislative analysts predicted Maryland’s spending would exceed incoming revenue by $236 million for the fiscal year that started July 1.

Ominously, those analysts noted O’Malley’s budget anticipated a whopping 5.2 percent economic growth in this fiscal year and general fund revenue growth of 4.6 percent.

While recent national economic reports for June indicate a stronger recovery in the months ahead, it is doubtful Maryland can reach its rosy revenue projections for this fiscal year.

Expect more spending reductions this winter.

The key question is whether O’Malley confronts that issue or passes the buck to his likely successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

Even before Maryland’s revenue projections turned south, legislative analysts had warned Maryland faces a growing cash shortage that could reach $404 million in the next fiscal year.

It would take an imposing 7.1 percent surge in state tax revenue to wipe out that structural imbalance — or a major retrenchment in state spending, which is highly unlikely.

Growing Cash Shortage?

Given the discouraging outlook that prompted last week’s budget cuts, next fiscal year’s  projected cash shortage of $404 million could grow by leaps and bounds.

O’Malley, though, will continue to “spin” this story in a politically positive way.

Other states — New York New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina – he notes, are in far worse shape (though we don’t have a handle on how bad the situation really is in Maryland — and won’t till September at the earliest).

O’Malley’s Concerns

The governor wants to put a shine on his Maryland legacy as he moves toward a presidential campaign.

He also wants to keep Maryland’s budget woes on the back burner until Brown is safely elected governor in November.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. will try to convince voters “the sky is falling.” But the worst news from last winter’s deep freeze is over and the national economy is showing encouraging signs of finally springing back to life.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

That is good news for Brown in the short term.

But come December and January, Governor-elect Brown could be faced with an ugly reality — a far deeper state deficit, painful and immediate spending cuts and a budget for the following fiscal year that can’t deliver on his expensive campaign promises.

Read more from Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com

Did Gansler Lose It or Brown Win It?

 By Barry Rascovar

June 30, 2014 — Did Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown run such a flawless Rose Garden campaign that his victory in Maryland’s June 24 Democratic gubernatorial primary was inevitable?

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Or did his chief rival, Attorney General Doug Gansler, lose the election with an ineffective campaign that badly missed the mark?

As is usually the case, a combination of factors from both camps contributed to the outcome. Neither candidate proved a sensation with voters.

The only spark came from the third Democrat, the ultra-liberal Heather Mizeur.

Heather Mizeur

Heather Mizeur

Her clarity and sharp focus on issues appealing to younger voters helped her top the 20 percent barrier. It was more than enough to cost Gansler any hope of catching Brown.

The lieutenant governor ran a bland, “the world is great” campaign that trumpeted Gov. Martin O’Malley’s progressive achievements while adding the tagline, “but we can do better.”

Brown’s staff effectively wrapped him in a tight cocoon, denying the media unfettered access for fear Brown might have an ” ‘Hispanish’ moment” (remember that flub by gubernatorial contender Kathleen Kennedy Townsend?).

No Stumbles

This Imperial Guard mentality might prove a detriment in the two-candidate general election race against Republican pragmatist Larry Hogan Jr.

Yet with virtually the entire Democratic Party establishment behind him, Brown had to stumble badly to lose the primary. His rock-solid support among African-American voters gave him an unprecedented advantage.

Still, there were enough discontented voters that this should have been a much closer primary. Gansler, though, tripped himself up early. He never delivered a compelling, visionary message that excited Democrats.

Doug Gansler

Doug Gansler

He turned into a “me, too” candidate, trying not to offend Mizeur supporters or Democrats who generally liked what O’Malley and Brown have done.

While Brown promised to continue O’Malley’s progressivism, and Mizeur promised a radically different tomorrow, Gansler never effectively articulated how his election would improve life for John and Joan Q. Voter.

Weak Democratic Choices

The Democratic electorate was left with three unappealing choices.

Brown proved the most palatable. It was the weakest set of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in memory.

No one has ever captured the Democratic nomination in Maryland with such a slim political resume — and radical ideas — as Mizeur’s.

No attorney general has captured the governorship in 68 years. Voters recognize that running the equivalent of a big law firm doesn’t train you for the state’s most important job.

Brown, meanwhile, could become the least qualified Maryland governor in 80 years. (The same applies to Hogan, too.)

“Where’s the Beef?”

Brown’s resume looks great but it gives credibility to the words “paper thin.” As former Vice President Walter Mondale used to say, “Where’s the beef?”

Brown has been lieutenant governor for nearly eight years, with little in the way of accomplishments. It’s a grand-sounding job that carries no official duties.

To his credit, he served a year in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserve – but as a lawyer. Not exactly the sort of achievement that comes with action photos.

Helicopter Training

After college, he served six years on active military duty as a helicopter pilot. Not the sort of training that prepares you to run state government.

with a small list of achievements, also similar to Mizeur. It’s not nearly enough legislative seasoning to impress anyone.

Brown’s lucky that his November foe, Larry Hogan Jr., is a successful land developer with zero elective experience.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan’s political resume fills a single line — a minor appointed post in the Ehrlich administration finding people willing to serve on boards and commissions.

Why Brown Won

No wonder turnout was appallingly light on primary day.

Brown owes his victory mainly to O’Malley’s hard work over eight years — a solid record guiding Maryland through a terrible recession while implementing a raft of progressive reforms.

Democrats are generally satisfied, as Gansler discovered.

He could have made the primary interesting had not Mizeur split the “anti” vote. He never found his rhythm, though, and never connected with voters.

Brown ran on O’Malley’s record, his broad Democratic establishment support and those overwhelming vote totals among African Americans.

That should be more than enough to get Anthony Brown through the general election, too.

Bland is proving beautiful.

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Surprises in MD Primary

By Barry Rascovar

June 26, 2014 — Statewide favorites won in Maryland’s June 24 Democratic and Republican primaries. Most incumbents in lower-level primaries won, too. Yet there were more than a few surprises after the votes were counted:

1. New Baltimore state’s attorney

Incumbent Baltimore city state’s attorney, Greg Bernstein, had all the money and endorsements. He had a solid four-year record in office, too.

Yet he got blown away by an inexperienced, 34-year-old lawyer for an insurance company, Marilyn Mosby.

Marilyn Mosby

Marilyn Mosby

She capitalized on the popularity of her husband, Councilman Nick Mosby, and his ongoing campaign apparatus.

She was aided by former State’s Attorney Pat Jessamy and her followers, who are still angry at her defeat at the hands of Bernstein four years ago.

But more than anything, Mosby capitalized on Baltimore’s continuing crime wave.

For every Page One murder story, Mosby made sure to sound off, blaming it on the current state’s attorney for not being tough enough on criminals.

Baltimoreans are fed up with constant spates of brutal criminal activity. They can’t vote out the police commissioner; the mayor isn’t up for reelection this year. Mosby urged them to take out their anger on the state’s attorney.

But Mosby’s strategy could make her a sitting duck for a similar round of negative campaign assertions — “it’s the state’s attorney’s fault” – in four years.

This key criminal justice office could become a revolving door unless crime starts to moderate in Baltimore. That’s something the state’s attorney can’t control.

2. Great day for M.D.s and R.N.s.  

Only one physician serves in the General Assembly, “Dr. Dan” Morhaim, an emergency room specialist from Baltimore County. There used to be two before state Sen. Andy Harris, a Hopkins anesthesiologist from Baltimore County, was elected to Congress.

Decades ago, a pair of docs, Torrey Brown of Baltimore and Aris Allen of Anne Arundel County, saved the life of Worcester County Del. Russell Hickman after he suffered a heart attack during a House debate.

After November, Maryland’s legislature will be in even better medical hands.

Three more docs are safely through the House of Delegates primary and seem sure shots in November.

Terri Hill and Clarence Lam won open seats in the Baltimore County-Howard County split district.

Lam is a preventive medicine physician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He once staffed Morhaim’s legislative office in Annapolis.

Clarence Lam

Clarence Lam

Hill is a board-certified plastic surgeon with a private practice in Columbia. She ran in the Democratic primary with endorsements from all three retiring district delegates — liberal Liz Bobo, conservative Steve DeBoy and conservative  Jimmy Malone — a rare feat in this era of hyper-ideological extremes.

Terri Hill

Terri Hill

Hasan “Jay” Jalisi ran a strong race in the Randallstown-Owings Mills-Reisterstown district of western Baltimore County. The Democrat is virtually assured of election in the fall.

Jalisi is a non-practicing head-and-neck surgeon who now runs a property management company, among other ventures.

Hasan "Jay" Jalisi

Hasan “Jay” Jalisi

Meanwhile on the Senate side of the State House, two nurses are in good shape to join that chamber. Both are jumping over from the House after long careers there.

Addie Eckardt of Cambridge is a retired psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam has been a quality assurance and head nurse and owns two health care companies providing home care and adult daycare services.

Given the complexity of health care delivery, having more members with “inside” information and direct experience with the realities of medicine’s challenges should prove a huge benefit to lawmakers.

3, Growing “rainbow” in Annapolis

In January, it looks like the House will welcome its first Korean-born delegate (Mark Chang of Glen Burnie ) and its first native Pakistani-Muslim delegate (Jalisi).

Mark Chang

Mark Chang

The Senate will swear in its first Jamaican-born legislator (Nathan-Pulliam) and its first Chinese-American (Susan Lee, now a delegate from Montgomery County).

In Anne Arundel County’s District 33, the November outcome could lead to the Maryland legislature’s first Lebanese-born delegate (Republican Sid Saab of Crownsville) as well as its first Greek-born delegate (Democrat Kostas Alexakis of Arnold).

The times, they are a-changin’.

4. Council/commission shake-ups

Baltimore County will see three of its seven councilmanic seats in new hands.

Incumbent Todd Huff, ethically challenged and dogged by zoning decisions, lost decisively to 40-year Annapolis veteran Del. Wade Kach, who is a heavy favorite in November.

Wade Kach

Wade Kach

Another ethically challenged councilman, Ken Oliver, lost to firefighter Julian Jones, who nearly beat Oliver four years ago.

In Dundalk, business development expert Joe DiCara won a crowded primary. He is the likely winner in November, succeeding the retiring John Olszewski Sr.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Carroll County three of  its five commissioners will be new to the job.

Among the more interesting results was the loss of the divisive Robin Bartlett Frazier. She was beaten handily by retired firefighter Steve Wantz, who told voters he had “no personal agendas” and criticized Frazier’s “lack of common sense.”

Carroll also lost its 20-year state’s attorney, Jerry Barnes, who was snowed under by Brian DeLeonardo. Sometimes you can stay in office too long to satisfy voters.

5. Rout in A.G.’s race

Despite misleading early polls based on name recognition, it was clear in recent weeks momentum was on Brian Frosh’s side in the race for attorney general. He’s now a shoo-in in November.

Brian Frosh

Brian Frosh

In the end, state Senator Frosh walloped Del. Jon Cardin, despite the popularity of Jon’s Uncle Ben, the U.S. Senator.

How bad was it?

Cardin lost by nearly 20 percentage points statewide.

He lost his district and the rest of Baltimore County by nearly 21 points. Frosh pounded Cardin in the state senator’s home subdivision, populous Montgomery County, 70-20 percent.

In Baltimore, Frosh’s name was on the local state senators’ tickets. This helped him gain 49 percent of the vote, though he was largely unknown to city voters.

Cardin, despite his familiar, local name, got just 32 percent in Baltimore. African-American Del. Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County, who had counted on winning a big vote in this heavily majority-black jurisdiction, won a scant 18 percent.

Frosh was the most experienced and accomplished candidate running statewide in this year’s primaries. Voters recognized that in the end.

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The Early Voting Myth

By Barry Rascovar

June 23, 2014 — We’ve had our share of recent news stories on increased early voting prior to Maryland’s June 24 primary election.

From those reports it sounds like this reform is catching on, right? Making it easier to get more people to participate in elections, right?

Early Voting

That bit of conventional wisdom is wrong. Dead wrong.

Early voting doesn’t increase turnout, despite all the hype surrounding this much-ballyhooed reform.

It may not be politically correct to say this but researchers have found early voting actually decreases overall voter turnout. Honest.

‘Unanticipated Consequences’

A detailed analysis of voting in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections by political scientists at the University of Wisconsin came to the following conclusion:

“Early voting has created negative unanticipated consequences by reducing the civic significance of elections for individuals and altering the incentives for political campaigns to invest in mobilization.”

The researchers concede, “This result is counterintuitive, and it certainly runs against the grain of conventional wisdom.” But facts are facts.

Their 2013 study, published in the American Journal of Political Science and funded by Pew Charitable Trusts, found early voting has the effect of “dissipating the energy of Election Day,”  which historically has focused “social and political activity on a single day [that is] abuzz with discussion, media coverage and last-minute contact from parties and candidates, factors that can exert a mobilizing impact on a wider group of potential voters.”

Voting

Look at early voting in Maryland since it was introduced in 2010.

In that year’s gubernatorial primary, 2.44 percent of registered citizens filled out their ballots early. Yet that didn’t help overall turnout, which was a dreadful 24 percent.

This year’s early voting in the 2014 gubernatorial primary saw a rise in participation to 4.17 percent, thanks to two extra days and 17 new sites. Yet Election Day turnout on June 24 is expected to drop well below 2010′s voter participation numbers.

Look at results from early voting in the last presidential election.

The number of early voters in Maryland’s 2012 general election jumped to 11.6 percent. Still, the overall turnout that year was 73.5 percent — the lowest percentage turnout in a presidential election since 1996.

Clearly, early voting doesn’t — as commonly believed — boost participation in the election process.

The Willis Report

The state’s elections board commissioned a study by the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, led by noted election authority John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state.

UB political science researchers examined the nationwide trend in early voting and reported earlier this year: “[T]here has been a growth in the number of individuals voting early over the past 20 years without a directly corresponding increase in voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters. . .”

In other words, early voting makes it easier for folks who usually go to the polls to do so. These individuals already are highly motivated. Early voting lets them more readily fit a trip to the polls into their daily activities.Early Voting sign

But the notion that early voting increases turnout is a canard.

What will boost participation in elections is Election Day registration.

The University of Wisconsin researchers discovered that in 2004 and 2008, states offering Election Day or same-day registration increased voting by three or four percentage points. They pointed out that earlier studies, stretching back 20 years, indicate the increase in turnout from same-day registration can be as high as seven percentage points.

‘One-Stop Shopping’

Data from those two presidential elections demonstrated to Wisconsin researchers that states can improve voter turnout by “offering one-stop shopping and allowing individuals who become interested late in the campaign to be mobilized into voting.”

Maryland will dip its toes into same-day registration waters in two years when people can legally register at early-voting sites and then cast their vote. If this works well, Election Day registration could become a legislative imperative in the Annapolis State House.

Those who still believe early voting eventually will increase voter turnout need to press for improvements in Maryland’s current system. Twenty more early voting sites are on the way in 2016 but that’s not be nearly enough, especially in large and rural counties.Voting pin

Early voting hours are out of sync with Election Day hours. This year, you couldn’t vote before going to work because the voting sites didn’t open till 10 a.m. That’s ridiculous. It discouraged workers from casting a ballot.

State leaders also need to step up financially and start subsidizing early voting in ways that encourage local governments to open more sites and actively promote and advertise the convenience of voting early.

The state’s early-voting law is now an unfunded mandate from Annapolis. That ought to change. The state should bear more of the direct costs for holding statewide elections.

No Panacea

Yes, early voting is convenient. It’s a service to those already registered to vote. It is growing in  popularity. That trend is likely to continue.

But it has not increased turnout.Voting_box

Indeed, it has lowered overall participation by as much as four percent, according to the University of Wisconsin researchers.

Other election reforms will be required to get more Americans to the polls.

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Eric Cantor Meet MD’s Bev Byron

By Barry Rascovar

June 16, 2004–The stunning June 10 primary election defeat of the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Virginia’s Eric Cantor, robbed the Old Dominion of a dominant power in Washington who soon might have been Speaker of the House.

Eric Cantor

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

Yet what happened to Cantor — too much complacency and too much focus on all things Washington — has happened before.

Cantor should get to know Beverly Byron.

Maryland lost a wealth of political influence and congressional power when Bev Byron was ambushed in her Democratic primary in 1992.

At the time, the seven-term congresswoman chaired the Military Personnel and Compensation Subcommittee and was a major player on defense and nuclear disarmament issues.

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron

Byron also came from Western Maryland political royalty. She shouldn’t have lost in 1992, or ever. Yet she did, ironically by the same 56-44 percent margin as Eric Cantor.

Byron, a conservative Democratic vote in the House for the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush (Bush the Good) administrations, forgot that in Democratic primaries liberals come out in droves and can make the difference, even in right-leaning Western Maryland.

Three-term Del. Tom Hattery of Mount Airy understood that dynamic and capitalized on it in 1992.

He pilloried Byron for voting in favor of a $35,000 congressional pay raise during a national recession. He mocked her frequent, taxpayer-paid overseas trips as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Hattery’s Attacks

Hattery’s effective radio ads listed her ports of call and labeled her travels “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Liberal interest groups — labor unions, environmentalists and educators — filled Hattery’s coffers and helped get out the Democratic vote.

Byron, still focused on her congressional duties and confident of reelection, didn’t know what hit her.

Not that it did Hattery any good.

His liberalism proved toxic in the Western Maryland general election: An ultra-conservative Republican farmer-scientist, Roscoe Bartlett, won an easy victory and stayed in Congress for 20 undistinguished years.

Safe Virginia Seat

Cantor’s loss, though, isn’t likely to cost Republicans a seat in Congress. His Virginia district is deeply conservative and deeply Republican.

For Bev Byron, her loss ended the Byron congressional saga in Western Maryland.

Bev had succeeded her husband, Goodloe, who dropped dead of a heart attack at 49 while jogging on the C&O Canal.

Congressman Goodloe Byron

Congressman Goodloe Byron

Goodie Byron, as he was known, had served four terms in Congress and likely could have kept his safe seat for decades had he taken his cardiologist’s advice to stop training for marathons.

Goodie’s father, William Devereux Byron II, had represented Western Maryland in Congress from 1939 to 1941. He died in an airplane crash in Atlanta. (Also seriously injured in that Eastern Airlines crash was World War I aviation ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who at the time ran Eastern.)

Congressman William D. Byron II

Congressman William D. Byron II

Goodie’s mother, Katharine E. Byron, the granddaughter of Maryland U.S. Senator Louis E. McComas (1899-2005, U.S. House, 1883-1891), won a special election to succeed her husband, serving until 1943.

Rep, Katharine E. Byron

Rep. Katharine E. Byron

U.S. Sen. Louis E. McComas

U.S. Sen. Louis E. McComas, R-MD

Beverly Butcher Byron had golden political connections, too. Her father, Harry Butcher, was a naval aide to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. Ike is her godfather.

Her defeat 22 years ago remains one of the biggest primary upsets in Maryland history. An established and influential member of Congress usually has nothing to fear at election time in the party primaries.

Maryland suffered for the next 20 years from Bartlett’s incompetence and lack of influence, even among his fellow Republicans.

Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

In both Cantor’s case and Bev Byron’s loss, anti-incumbent fervor played a big role in giving insurgent candidates momentum.

Each incumbent seemed aloof and Washington-centric, more attuned to inside-the-beltway machinations than inside-the-district concerns.

Now the northern suburban and rural counties surrounding Richmond will suffer a lack of clout in Washington for years to come.

Economics professor Dave Brat, a tea party acolyte, just won’t be able to bring home the patronage bacon the way a heavy-hitter in leadership like Cantor can do.

It’s similar to the power outage that happened in Western Maryland in 1992. That outage lasted two decades.

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