Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Odds: Md’s Republican Governor Candidates

By Barry Rascovar / June 25, 2013

YOU HAVE GOT TO WONDER what makes grown Republicans scramble and jostle for the right to play David to the Democrat’s Goliath in next year’s Maryland governor’s race.

Republican Party symbolOnly once in the past 10 state elections has the GOP candidate gained enough votes to live in Government House across from the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

Republicans have held the Free State’s top job for just six of the last 50 years.

Given daunting voter registration figures – 2 million Democrats vs. 900,000 Republicans and 600,000 independents – it’s hard to see a bright future for the party’s nominee.

Yet today there are more Republican than Democratic politicians looking at a run for Maryland chief executive. Amazing.

Let’s look at the contenders and handicap their chances. Remember, we’re still a year removed from the primary next June:

Leader of the Pack

David Craig. He’s finishing his second term as Harford County Executive after serving as a state senator, state delegate, Havre de Grace mayor and councilman and public school teacher and principal. In other words, he’s battle-tested and a winner.

As an executive, Craig have played the role of fiscal conservative with a social conscience. He’s the most practical politician of the group, which may not be a positive in an era of Tea Party absolutism within the GOP.

Establishment Republicans favor Craig because he’s got the best shot at pulling an upset. But will that be enough to win a summer primary where ideologues and hard-liners turn out and the rank and file tend to stay home?

Odds of winning the nomination: 3-1

Name From The Past

Michael Steele. He’s a conservative TV analyst (MSNBC), columnist and public speaker who served one term as Maryland lieutenant governor and a controversial term as Republican National Committee chair.

He ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, losing to Democrat Ben Cardin by nearly 180,000 votes.

Steele brings statewide name recognition and the ability to attract national donors. But he’s not been part of the Maryland dialogue on issues for a long time.

He might appeal to urban and rural conservatives in the party as someone who has been in the news for a decade and doesn’t stray from GOP orthodoxies. He’ll pick up votes from the party’s small band of black voters, too.

Odds of winning the primary: 6-1

Businessman’s Special

Larry Hogan Jr. He’s an Annapolis real estate broker who runs a group of real estate companies. His chief claim to GOP fame is founding Change Maryland, a lobbying group that has loudly criticized Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley for his anti-business, anti-growth actions.

He’s also the namesake son of the former Republican Prince George’s County congressman (1968-1974) and county executive (1978-1982).

Hogan’s only government service was appointments secretary under Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. He was getting ready to file for governor himself in 2010 before Ehrlich tried to re-claim the job he once held.

Back in 1992, Hogan ran Congress and came close to upsetting Democrat Steny Hoyer.

Hogan’s high-profile, well-documented broadsides against O’Malley’s spending practices appeal to conservative voters. He’s positioned as the non-politician who wants to run government like a business.

Odds of winning the primary: 8-1

The Jeweler

Ron George. He owns a well-known Main Street gem store in Annapolis and is concluding his second term in the Maryland House of Delegates.

His chances for a third term in 2014 vanished when Democrats gerrymandered his district. Thus, running for governor looks like a graceful political exit while reaching for the state party’s brass ring.

George is a strict fiscal conservative opposed to almost every tax on the books. He’s counting on a huge vote in Anne Arundel County, home to the third largest number of Republican.

Will that be enough?

Odds of winning the primary: 10-1.

The Mouth

Blaine Young. He’s the one-term president of the Frederick County Commissioners, former Frederick city alderman, radio personality, taxicab and limo company owner and mobile van advertising operator who likes to stir things up.

Young’s Tea Party outbursts, grandstanding and outspoken nature thrill party hardliners.

Yet translating his appeal beyond Frederick’s borders (where his Democratic parents and brother all hold elective office) could prove difficult without lots moolah.

He may opt to forgo the governor’s race and run instead for the new post of Frederick county executive next year.

Odds of winning the primary: 12-1

Impossible Dream

Charles Lollar. He is a Southern Maryland businessman (Cintas) who wanted to file for governor in 2010 but couldn’t because he hadn’t been registered to vote over a five-year period.

Instead, he ran for Congress against Democrat Hoyer, winning 35 percent of the vote.

Now finishing up his Marine Corps reserves tour at the Pentagon as a major, Lollar is all but officially running. He’s proud of never having held elective office and thinks that gives him an advantage with GOP voters. But with Steele in the governor’s race, Lollar has little chance. They will split the party’s small but important  African-American vote.

Without wads of cash and a collapse by the frontrunners, Lollar will be just another vocal conservative voice at candidate forums across the state.

Odds of winning the primary: 50-1.

[Do you disagree? Agree? Feel free to respond with a comment about Maryland’s Republican Governor candidates.]

Smart Growth, Dumb State (Guess Which One)

owings mills metro centreBy Barry Rascovar / June 19, 2013

THE STATE OF Maryland boasts mightily about its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) programs. Just don’t bother looking for much in the way of tangible results.

“Maryland has great TOD potential” brags the state on its transportation website. Dig a little deeper, though, and it turns into wishful thinking, not boots-on-the-ground achievements.

TODs are the ultimate in Smart Growth.

They turn transit stations into job-centered areas of dense, walkable neighborhoods in both cities and suburbs. Other towns, like Seattle and Denver, offer examples of how to do it. (For more on the potential of “transit villages” in Maryland, see my 2006 Goldseker Foundation report – “Five Years, Fifty Thousand Jobs,” page 13.)

The Baltimore-Washington region, unfortunately, offers examples of how to draw up great plans and watch them fall apart or gather dust.

That thought came to mind at a ribbon-cutting Monday for the state’s one true TOD – Owings Mills Metro Centre.

Brand New Neighborhood

What you see along Grand Central Avenue (see photo above) is a long row of apartment buildings on one side of a broad boulevard and a six-story, library-community college building on the other side flanked by a massive garage — soon to be doubled in size — and an office high-rise under construction.

All of this sits beside the Metro station that connects to downtown Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital. On the east side of the tracks is a huge parking lot. This eventually will become part of the mixed-use TOD.

A brand-new neighborhood is being created where none existed before.

The rail station, library and community college are the draws. A short walk up the hill is a multiplex cinema, townhouses and an aging mall that, if reimagined properly, could extend the scope of this TOD. Just down the road is a large retail development in progress, centered around a Wegmans supermarket.

This TOD will boast a residential population of 2,500 with many more office workers populating the area during the work week. Shops and restaurants will occupy ground floor space. Over 11,000 community college students a year are expected to take day and night courses at the new Community College of Baltimore County campus, sharing facilities with the already popular library branch (the largest in the county at 54,000 square feet).

Persistence Pays Off

What made this a reality was the unwavering commitment of county officials, from Dutch Ruppersberger to Jim Smith to Kevin Kamenetz. They not only funded key infrastructure, they stuck to the vision of making the Owings Mills TOD primarily a residential community.

Instead of transplanting a state agency to a transit station – the state’s feeble stab at the New Carrollton TOD in Prince George’s County – Baltimore County insisted on a library and a community college. These are the sort of amenities people want to live near.

(Had officials taken the same approach at the stalled and deeply flawed State Center TOD in Baltimore – by turning the property into a large mid-town residential neighborhood with appealing attractions – there might have been only token opposition.)

The path to the Owings Mills ribbon cutting wasn’t easy. It proved long (well over a decade) and arduous, especially during the dark days of the Great Recession.

But the county persisted. Officials continued their dialogue with developer Howard Brown until the economics worked.

You can see the future emerging at the Owings Mills Metro. It’s what every TOD should look like.

It’s just a shame Maryland has been so slow catching on to what works, and doesn’t work, in making this valuable Smart Growth tool a success.

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Treatment, Not Jail, for Md.’s Troubled Youth

Silver OakBy Barry Rascovar / June 15, 2013

LET’S NOT MAKE A MOUNTAIN out of the Maryland Board of Public Work’s decision to allow a Carroll County facility for troubled juvenile teens (photo on left) to exceed an artificial cap on population set by the state for such treatment centers.

It was a practical, common-sense action that places the welfare of these disturbed teens ahead of a rigid, inflexible capacity limitation set by Maryland legislators — a limit that actually hurts the very youths this restriction was designed to help.

Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who repeatedly expressed reservations at last week’s meeting about doubling Silver Oak Academy’s population, rightly concluded, “You can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Yes, it’s been shown in other states that smaller treatment centers for young delinquents are more effective in helping them face up to their problems. A 48-bed center is the ideal, but governments rarely face ideal situations.

Right now, there are 43 youth offenders sitting in detention cells awaiting court-ordered placement. No beds are available in any state treatment center. That is the worst possible outcome for these troubled kids.

Why does this chronic situation keep occurring? Because local political leaders block state attempts to locate such facilities in their communities, so that the kids are close to their families. It’s the old “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) attitude, which overrides society’s obligation to do what’s best for difficult-to-handle youngsters.

Opposition from politicians in Southern Maryland and in Baltimore City has stymied efforts to site juvenile care centers (52 city locations failed to pass the NIMBY test) . So 43 kids languish in detention cells, becoming victims of a broken system. The harm done to them is something Maryland Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed says, “I can’t tolerate.”

His interim answer: allowing Silver Oak Academy in Keymar to slowly take in 48 more residents. In essence, the operators will run a mirror-image, companion 48-bed center on the property.

Staffing ratios won’t change. Every step taken by the private operator will be closely followed by the attorney general’s juvenile justice monitor (who preferred an expansion of only 24 beds), the Public Defender’s office and by internal department watchdogs.

This isn’t as Sen. Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County put it, a “giant step backward.” More accurately, it is a reality check.

Last winter, legislative budget analysts assessed the overcrowding situation and concluded doubling Silver Oak’s capacity “would provide some immediate relief.” It noted that due to repeated local rejection of suggested juvenile  treatment center sites, the state “is multiple years away from having additional. . . capacity available.”

To date, Silver Oak Academy has gotten high marks. There is no indication this will change with 48 extra teens at the facility.

In this instance, the state’s first duty is to get the teens who shouldn’t be there out of detention jails. If that means ignoring an artificial 48-bed limit in the short-term so be it. Treatment should always trump incarceration for young offenders who may yet become model citizens.

 

Baltimore’s Ethically Challenged Mayors

Mayor Rawlings-BlakeBy Barry Rascovar / June 12, 2013

NO. NO. NO. NOT AGAIN! Another Baltimore mayor who doesn’t know right from wrong? Say it ain’t so.

First it was Mayor Sheila Dixon, who got romantically involved with a developer, Ron Lipscomb, who kept winning city contracts. He became the man to partner with for any developer wanting to lock in a big city project. That shameful liaison eventually led to Dixon’s resignation and plea bargain for misusing gift cards meant for the poor.

Now it is Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her family living it up with the city’s top lobbyist and her family at the lobbyist’s Delaware beach house. The mayor paid Lisa Harris Jones $400 for the Memorial Day weekend jaunt, so in her eyes that makes it copacetic.

She’s missing the big picture. Here’s the most powerful official in Baltimore spending a weekend with the city’s most prolific lobbyist at the lobbyist’s seaside digs. This is just after the mayor attended the lobbyist’s Las Vegas wedding (to her equally well-connected lobbyist-partner on the state and city scene, Sean Malone). (For a profile of Harris Jones Malone, see Mark Reutter’s wonderful piece in Baltimore Brew, http://www.baltimorebrew.com/2013/06/12/lisa-harris-jones-a-portrait-of-the-mayors-lobbyist-friend/)

The cash register will be ringing and ringing for the Malones. What businessman or developer is going to use anyone else to get the inside track on city deals?

The appearance of impropriety is so sharp and stunning. How could Rawlings-Blake not see it? Especially after Dixon’s lack of concern with appearances — and the result.

So far, Rawlings-Blake has done a good job improving ethics at City Hall. But she doesn’t understand that being mayor sometimes means separating yourself from close, longtime friends while you are in office. Otherwise, people might get the wrong idea.

That’s certainly the case this time.

Maryland’s Political Prison Puzzle

Corrections Dept.By Barry Rascovar / June 11, 2013

THERE IS NO WAY Gov. Martin O’Malley can make Maryland’s prison embarrassment disappear. Lord knows he’d like to. If he’s serious about running for President, O’Malley must explain why he was so slow to respond to the growing influence of street gangs within state prisons over the past seven years.

He can’t blame this one on his Republican predecessor, Bob Ehrlich. The problem started to build back then but there were clear signs early in O’Malley’s first term gangs had become dangerously powerful inside prison walls.

He can’t blame all his tardiness on the FBI, which took two long years to finish its investigation at the Baltimore City jail. Yes, that stymied efforts to remove suspect prisoners and guards. But there were plenty of other steps — much-needed additional training, rotation of guards not under investigation and a review of the leadership team’s skills, abilities and honesty.

An outside audit earlier this year revealed a shocking lack of attention by the O’Malley administration to the basics: filthy cells, no standard security checks, antiquated security gates and guards ignorant of an inmate’s rights. Part of this is due to budget cuts during the Great Recession and the chronic under-funding of prison programs by government.

However, the audit also revealed a top-heavy, inefficient management structure. How could O’Malley’s highly touted State Stat gurus miss this? Why wasn’t this costly, ineffective administrative excess done away with during the state’s deep recession?

It’s a dilemma for the governor and a headache for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who may have made a mistake with his early announcement of candidacy to succeed O’Malley.

Brown is in the uncomfortable posture of explaining the prison scandal on his watch. Attorney General Doug Gansler’s shot across O’Malley’s bow in asking for an independent inquiry is just the beginning of the political broadsides.

Yet O’Malley has got a right to be angry at the way federal investigators trumpeted their indictments. Instead of holding a joint press conference and sharing credit with state leaders, who had requested the investigation after all, the FBI and U.S. Attorney for Maryland decided to grandstand. They left the clear impression O’Malley and his underlings were asleep at the switch.

That may win federal officials in Maryland gold stars from their Washington bosses but it soured future relations with Annapolis.

Digging out of this mess won’t be easy, as House Speaker Mike Busch noted. One legislative hearing is the beginning of public discussions, not the end.

There are serious mid-level management weaknesses. Those can be corrected by prisions secretary Gary Maynard. He can institute tough new security measures to eliminate most contraband cell phones and drugs. Downsizing the prison bureaucracy is essential. A little money from the governor can make the Baltimore jail cleaner and safer.

Getting rid of dishonest guards at the Baltimore City Detention Center is a must but it brings up an equally serious problem: how to replace them? The pool of guard applicants in Baltimore City who are drug-free and have clean records is small, especially among males. Most applicants come from the same neighborhoods as the inmates. That’s not a healthy situation.

Female applicants in Baltimore City, meanwhile, tend to have self-confidence problems and are susceptible to the amorous sweet-talk of manipulative inmates. Recruiting better guard applicants won’t be easy and won’t happen quickly.

O’Malley erred several times by not personally taking control of the situation and setting the record straight as to who started this investigation, his earlier steps to attack the gang issue and his determination to continue the effort. He could have done this after he returned from his economic development trip to Israel or at last week’s legislative hearing.

Instead, he chose to govern through press releases. It didn’t work.

On this one he needs to lead the crusade. If not, he’ll be dogged by prison scandal questions at every campaign stop across the country — and his preferred successor will be bogged down trying to explain what went so wrong that it left Maryland in an embarrassing national spotlight.

 

 

Remarkable (?) Week in Maryland Politics

By Barry Rascovar / June 8, 2013

We are 13 months away from Maryland’s primary and already we’ve been hit by a tsunami of election news. What’s remarkable about the Week That Was is how unremarkable these developments turned out to be:

• Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced his running mate — Howard County Executive Ken Ulman — a fact we have known for weeks.

• That same day, Harford County Executive David Craig announced for governor on the Republican ticket. He’s only been campaigning for the past year.

• Not to be upstaged by Craig, Annapolis Del. Ron George announced for guv, too. He made his intentions clear weeks ago.

• Attorney General Doug Gansler lobbied for media time by putting out a statement that he isn’t running for a third term. Surprise, surprise: He’s been campaigning for the top state job since the day he was sworn in.

• These events were as predictable as Howard County Sen. Allan Kittleman letting it be known he’s announcing for County Executive on Tuesday. That’s been no secret for months. So was Harford County Sen. Barry Glassman’s County Executive announcement Saturday evening.

• Adding to the fun, Michael Steele — one-time lieutenant governor, controversial national Republican Party chair and TV commentator — told MSNBC he’s thinking about a run for governor in 2014. His name has been mentioned in that capacity since last fall.

What do these happenings have in common?

All these politicos crave publicity. None is a household word. It’s going to be a long, long campaign.

Brown once again proved inept at staging events. When he announced for governor he did so late on a Friday afternoon — terrible timing for TV and print reporters. Next, he buried the most important news angle of the day, the decision by Congressman Elijah Cummings to endorse Brown.  Then he staged his Ulman running mate announcement the same day as Craig’s media blast.

Craig won that match-up despite being a Republican in a solidly Democratic state. He got great front-page coverage in The Baltimore Sun; Brown-Ulman found themselves buried inside.

Gansler shouted loud enough to remind voters he’s still around. He doesn’t plan a formal announcement until the fall so his pitch to the media — “I’m not running again for A.G.” (ho, hum) — got his name in the papers and took some of the edge off the Brown-Ulman event.

Similarly, George couldn’t let Craig soak up the media attention since he sees the Harford County Executive as his main GOP opponent. So he sounded off this week, too.

Steele watched all this happening and decided to send his own media message. Best not to be forgotten.

No one said anything new. Everything was predictable and, frankly, uninspiring. Brown called Ulman a great county executive. Ulman promised he’d do great things in Annapolis, just like Gov. Martin O’Malley. Craig said he’d cut spending and stop Maryland’s Democratic wave of tax increases. George said he’d get rid of taxes, period. Steele said he’s ideally suited for the job.

Anyone still awake?

The only surprise this past week was Montgomery County Sen. Rob Garagiola telling us he’s stepping down as Majority Leader and won’t seek re-election. Ever since he lost in an upset to John Delaney for Congress last year, rumors swirled about Garagiola’s future. Now he is recently divorced, starting a new law practice and with no prospect of upward political mobility. You didn’t need a crystal ball to see his announcement coming.

Here’s another “surprising” development this week: Robin Ficker, Montgomery County’s professional gadfly, former delegate and political pest, is running for Garagiola’s seat. To make matters worse, his son, Flynn Ficker (say that name fast 15 times) is running for delegate in the same district.

One Ficker is too much for most sane voters. Now we might wind up with two?

Mercifully, the week ended without any more scintillating announcements.

 

Maryland’s Nullification Craze

Sheriff CorleyBy Barry Rascovar / June 6, 2013

LET’S SEE IF I’ve got this straight:

—Garrett County’s elected sheriff (see photo) says he won’t enforce Maryland’s new gun registration law because he believes it is unconstitutional. In three other rural counties, elected leaders pass resolutions proclaiming defiance and denouncing the law.

—Baltimore’s City Council unanimously approves a bill requiring city building contractors to hire locally, even though the city solicitor says this is such a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution it is “legally indefensible.”

—Frederick County’s commissioners mock the state’s stormwater remediation fee — the so-called “rain tax” — by setting a penny-a-year charge on residents, thus netting $487 for watershed improvements. It’s their way of “complying” with the law.

In each case, rebellion is afoot, a form of modern-day nullification.

No court has ever upheld the legal theory of nullification, which essentially says if you don’t like a law you simply declare it null and void — the ultimate in libertarian individualism.

Under the guise of nullification, some Maryland politicians recently took it upon themselves to interpret the law the way they want it.

Sheriff Rob Corley announced he would decide for himself when he’ll enforce the state’s new gun law. The 14-year veteran of isolated Garrett County’s police department declared the law unconstitutional — apparently based on the fine legal training he received as an undergraduate at West Virginia’s Fairmont State College.

This raises the obvious question: What laws will Corley enforce? Does he get to pick and choose? Who made him arbiter?

The good news is Corley will play no role in carrying out the new gun registration law. The Maryland State Police can handle this chore without the sheriff’s offer of non-assistance, thank you.

The bad news is that citizens of Garrett County must be wondering what kind of sheriff they elected. He’s only going to enforce some of the laws? Since he’s the sheriff he must think he can make things up as he goes along. So much for a state legislature, governor and the courts.

Meanwhile in Baltimore City the nullification farce took a different tack. Instead of obeying the U.S. Constitution, City Council President Jack Young and his equally hapless colleagues passed a local hiring ordinance that snubs the Supreme Court. So what if this law is unconstitutional? We want a local hiring mandate!

Not one member had the integrity to disagree with this farce. Even the mayor ducked: She said the bill would become law without her signature. What a portrait of courage!

To rub in the insult, Council President Young submitted a bill seeking an “independent” legal adviser for the council. He didn’t like the city Law Department’s ruling so he wants to hire his own lawyer, whose job will depend on pleasing the Council president. Nice way to squander taxpayer dollars.

Finally in Frederick County, the tea party commissioners came as close as they dared to declare the “rain tax” null and void. One dissenting commissioner compared passage of a penny-a-year fee to a child throwing “a tantrum on the floor in the middle of a department store.”

That’s par for the course for the ring-leader, Commissioner Blaine Young, who wants to be governor. It was widely viewed as a political stunt, one of many by Young. Yet if this defiance persists Frederick is still obligated to finance $112 million worth of watershed cleanup. $487 a year won’t cut it. One day the cleanup bill will come due — only it will be much more expensive by then.

So nullification lives on in Maryland, from both the far left and the far right, in the urban core and the Appalachian mountains. The land of the free and the home of the brave!

Political Dimensions of Jim Smith’s New Job

Jim Smith

By Barry Rascovar / June 2, 2013

BY CHOOSING former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith as Maryland’s new transportation secretary, Gov. Martin O’Malley solved multiple problems, especially for his governor-in-waiting, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

O’Malley left the top MDOT post vacant for nearly a year. Smith, apparently, had been the governor’s choice but never accepted until after the governor did the heavy lifting in pushing a multi-year gas tax increase through the General Assembly, After all, what fun would it be to serve as MDOT secretary without $$$ to upgrade Maryland’s transportation network?

Smith has modest experience dealing with state legislative issues outside of Baltimore County delegation matters. He has minimal background in the inner workings of the statewide transportation program and its political underpinnings. He would have been of little use to O’Malley in lining up votes for a hefty gas tax increase.

Now it’s a different story. The gas tax rises by four cents a gallon on July 1 and there’s much more to come in future years. There will be a steady flow of construction announcements and ribbon cuttings. It’s a great time to be Maryland’s transportation boss.

Smith brings administrative skills to the job. He’s also a fiscal conservative, which means projects that bring the biggest bang for the buck will take priority. And he’s a first-rate political operator who knows how to massage egos and quietly seek common ground.

It’s an ideal landing spot for Smith, who sorely missed public service. It’s one of the most important posts in Maryland.

In selecting Smith, O’Malley did a big favor for his lieutenant governor. Smith might have ended up running on Attorney General Doug Gansler’s ticket next year, which would have aided Gansler in the Baltimore suburbs on election day.

But now Smith is locked into the O’Malley-Brown administration. If he wants to keep his job after 2014, Smith knows he’s got to working tirelessly to elect Brown. That could prove pivotal in Baltimore County, which often decides state elections. Smith also has a good chunk of campaign cash lying around, which might help Brown gain name recognition.

O’Malley owed Smith big-time, Without Smith’s hard work and vocal support for the Baltimore mayor, O’Malley might have lost in 2006 to incumbent Gov. Bob Ehrlich. In that election, Smith managed to hold Ehrlich to a draw in his home county, which locked up the race for O’Malley.

The governor has re-paid Smith with perhaps the biggest plum in state government. For at least the next 18 months, Jim Smith will be a big wheel in Annapolis.