Monthly Archives: December 2013

MD’s Fundraising Loophole

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 27, 2013 — LT. GOV. ANTHONY BROWN has a key advantage over his main foe for governor, Attorney General Doug Gansler.

Brown can continue raising millions of dollars during the General Assembly session through his conjoined ticketmate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

But Gansler cannot solicit funds during that 90-day period because his political partner on the ballot is Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s County. Both are elected state officials and thus are barred from doing any fund-raising until mid-April.

Loophole in State Law

It’s a quirk of Maryland’s campaign finance law that is inherently dangerous to the public good.

It contradicts the spirit and intent of the campaign law that seeks to curb fund-raising that could involve quid pro quos on bills.

The state elections board ruling notes that since Ulman isn’t an elected state official he can continue soliciting campaign funds during the legislative session, even though his ticketmate, Brown, fundraising for that 90-day period.

Brown-Ulman campaign

Brown-Ulman campaign

It’s a preposterous situation, one that Linda Lamone, the state elections board chief, should have recognized. To condone such a devious and mischievous loophole gives Brown, through Ulman, a powerful tool for leveraging special interests during the General Assembly session.

What makes this so ridiculous is that every dollar raised by Ulman directly benefits Brown. It’s a charade to pretend otherwise.

The two men are part of a united pairing on the ballot. You can’t vote for one without the other. They share a single ballot line. They are joined at the head, hip and heart.

To pretend the two are separate candidates is laughable. Brown couldn’t even file for governor without Ulman being there to sign on the same dotted line. They might as well call their joint candidacy “Brulman.”

Gansler’s allies filed suit to overturn Lamone’s implausible ruling. On moral and ethical grounds, attorney Dan Clements should win that lawsuit. Legally, though, Brown and Ulman may find a way to retain their fundraising advantage.

Clear and Present Danger

To allow one member of a gubernatorial team to avoid the fundraising ban could lead to scary situations.

When the Brown-Ulman team’s aggressive fundraisers call on special interests that have important bills pending in the legislature, those groups will eagerly write big checks.

Otherwsie, they risk angering Brown and the O’Malley administration. Suddenly, bills they are pushing could die, and bills they oppose could miraculously pick up the votes needed for passage.

There’s no way to segregate Ulman’s fundraising from Brown’s campaign. Whatever is collected during the legislative session will be spent by Brown’s minions, not Ulman’s. They are a collective “we,” not two individual “I”s.

A similar situation exists in the Republican primary: Harford County Executive David Craig can continue raising funds during the 90-day session but his running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio of Talbot County, cannot.

Craig-Riccio-Haddaway team

Craig-Riccio-Haddaway team

That gives Craig’s fund-raising team added leverage in approaching special interests eager to win favor with another delegate during legislative deliberations.

Unfair?

You bet.

Unethical?

Yup.

Illegal?

If it isn’t, it should be.

#  #  #

If you enjoy reading this column, sign up for instant delivery of all future columns. Just click on the “Subscribe” button in the right-hand column. Best of all, it’s free!

Oh, it’s also  OK to tell others about this website. I could use some word-of-mouth support. Thanks.

MD Healthcare Leader? It’s Not Anthony Brown

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Dec. 23, 2013 – Who’s in charge of Maryland’s computerized Obamacare rollout? Until recently, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown wanted you to believe he was the man.

For years, he’s been describing himself as Gov. Martin O’Malley’s “point man” on this crucial health insurance program. The governor’s press staff dutifully gives Brown co-authorship and quotable lines every time there’s a press release.

Yet it has become painfully clear Brown is not the “point man” on Obamacare, Maryland-style.

What Webster Says

By every dictionary definition, Brown fails that test.

Point man: “a person in the forefront of an economic or political issue” (Webster’s College Dictionary).

Not so. Brown is in his usual position – in the background as the governor’s second banana. At media events, he talks only when the governor directs him to do so.

Point man: “A man who has a crucial, often hazardous role in the forefront of an enterprise” (American Heritage Dictionary).

This doesn’t describe Brown’s role, either. His healthcare designation is symbolic, not substantive.

He co-chairs an oversight panel on healthcare reforms but it is Maryland’s health secretary, not Brown, who’s done the crucial, heavy lifting and taken the brunt of criticisms from legislators.

Point man: “the leader or spokesperson of a campaign or organization” (Collins English Dictionary).

Brown is neither leading the pack on Obamacare nor acting as spokesman for the computerized rollout – except when the governor is out of the country.

O’Malley Takes the Lead

More often than not Brown has had little to add to what more informed officials have to say about this terribly botched IT programming that continues to plague Obamacare in Maryland.

He’s avoided tough-questioning reporters and responded only in a few choreographed situations.

 

Anthony Brown brushes off healthcare questions from WBAL's Jayne Miller.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown brushes off healthcare questions from WBAL’s Jayne Miller.

Once the governor returned this month from his business development trip to Latin America, he stepped forward to answer the difficult questions about the healthcare insurance rollout. Brown has been relegated to a cheerleading role:

  • O’Malley is the one who ordered emergency IT fixes by mid-December.
  • O’Malley is the one who turned day-to-day authority for the exchange over to his top healthcare adviser.
  • O’Malley is the one who dispatched his information technology guru to figure out how to fix this deeply flawed project.
  • O’Malley is the one who announced hiring a Columbia-based computer management company to end this software nightmare.
  • O’Malley is the one holding a flurry of media events to discuss the rollout, both pro and con.
Governor O'Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland's healthcare rollout.

Governor O’Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland’s healthcare computer rollout.

Other than comments to back up the governor’s remarks, Brown has contributed little to the discussion.

Death-Watch Job

None of this is surprising.

Lieutenant governors in Maryland are pitifully neutered. They hold office for a single constitutional purpose – to replace the governor if the state’s leader dies or is incapacitated.

Brown has spent the vast majority of the past seven years in campaign mode, delivering prepared speeches at every conceivable event around the state.

He’s not deeply involved in policy decisions – no lieutenant governor is. The governor’s tight-knit inner circle of aides and advisors makes sure of it.

How Brown explains all this to voters is his biggest problem now that his lack of real responsibility has been laid bare.

Evaluating Anthony Brown

The lieutenant governor may be O’Malley’s heir apparent, but does this heir deserve that title?

His track record is slim. Until the botched healthcare rollout put Brown in an embarrassing spotlight, he was an unknown to most voters.

His future depends in large measure on O’Malley’s ability to find a way out of this healthcare debacle.

If enough IT patches make the Maryland Health Connection reliable and usable for both applicants and insurers, public ire may die down by the June 24 primary – D-Day for Brown.

But if computer glitches and foul-ups persist and tens of thousands of Marylanders are denied enrollment, if the state can’t provide insurers with accurate customer data and if public fury increases by early summer, Brown’s chances of winning could tumble.

The Obamacare debacle in Maryland has exposed Brown’s vulnerabilities. It could mark an inflection point in the nascent 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

###

Did you enjoy this post? Then tell a friend to visit this website and click on the “subscribe” button.

 

Evaluating Ex-Corrections Chief Gary Maynard

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 16, 2013

NO GOOD DEED goes unpunished, they say. Retired Maryland Corrections Chief Gary Maynard can attest to that.

Had Maynard not turned to the FBI for help in investigating gang smuggling and complicity by prison guards at the Baltimore Detention Center, he’d be retiring with plaudits all around for his seven-year performance.

Instead, Maynard walks away with a mixed record.

Undone by the FBI

In 2011, Maynard’s department uncovered massive drug smuggling, sex and gang activity at the city jail that involved guards.

He could have arrested a few people at that time, called a press conference so the governor could gloat about the crackdown and ignored the deeper, more troubling problem — an out-of-control Detention Center filled with guards who were aiding inmate gang members.

But that’s not Maynard’s style.

Corrections Secretary Gary Maynard

Gary Maynard

A career prison  manager — and retired brigadier general — he insisted on getting to the bottom of this problem. So he reached out to the FBI for assistance.

He got help, all right. What he didn’t expect was grandstanding.

The FBI held a flashy press conference to detail the outrageous criminal activity the bureau had uncovered.

But it failed to stress that Maynard had requested the two-year investigation. Instead, Maynard became the fall guy.

Maynard’s Response

Any scandal involving gangs, guards, drugs and sex is going to gain national prominence. Maynard was portrayed, unfairly, as the inept corrections chief who countenanced such behavior.

Unlike many public officials who run for cover during a crisis, Maynard accepted full responsibility — even though his hands had been tied during the two-year FBI probe.

He responded not by resigning or picking a fight with the FBI — though he had cause — but by moving his office to the Detention Center, continuing the investigation and indictments and shaking up the city jail’s management and operating procedures.

It’s now a safer place, one that is run firmly by the state, not the inmates.

Maynard laid the groundwork for more sweeping city jail changes in the years ahead.

Baltimore Detention Center

Baltimore Detention Center

These include gradually replacing the Civil War era facility — as his department suggested last summer and a special commission recommended last week.

Lost in the sensational publicity: Maynard’s substantial achievements in Maryland.

What He Accomplished

Not only did he shut down the notoriously dangerous and antiquated House of Correction in Jessup, Maynard did so in a hurry, moving 842 hardened criminals to new locations without advanced notice.

He’s made state prisons less dangerous for those working there. Serious assaults are down 60 percent.

Perhaps best of all, he found ways to make a dent in the number of repeat offenders, cutting the state’s recidivism by nearly 20 percent.

Prisons and rehabilitation get little attention, or funding, from elected officials until there’s an embarrassing incident. Then they react.

What Will Lawmakers Do?

That’s what is happening this time.

Here’s a prediction: Reforms involving the city jail will sail through the legislature this coming year. Campaigning incumbents want to brag about their efforts to restore law and order at the Detention Center.

Maynard leaves behind a better managed Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and safer prisons holding fewer repeat inmates.

In departing, he deserved more praise for his overall record. But as Shakespeare put it, “the good is oft interred with their bones.”

###

 Sign up for delivery of all future columns to your email. Just click the “Subscribe” button on the right side of this web page.

 

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Obamacare

By Barry Rascovar

December 9, 2013 — Let’s face it: Maryland dropped the ball on implementing Obamacare. To date the rollout has been a failure.

Thirty-seven hundred sign-ups since October 1? That’s pathetic.

Who bears ultimate responsibility?

Let’s start at the top with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his designated point man on the healthcare rollout, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Ever since 2010, Brown has promoted his leadership role in the Obamacare implementation.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown of Maryland

The lieutenant governor co-chairs the Health Care Reform Coordinating Council responsible for spending $163 million in federal funds on an internet signup website.

Until recently, he’s been quick to take credit for this initiative’s potential to extend health care to more of the state’s 800,000 uninsured.

Missing in Action?

Yet when the Maryland Healthcare Connection computer system froze, the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.  E-mails released to the Baltimore Sun confirm that Brown was a no-show in keeping on top of this vitally important state technology program.

When Maryland’s connector system crashed and continued malfunctioning, Brown let others take the heat.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing to discuss systemic problems plaguing the state’s botched website, Brown was absent.

Instead, it was Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein who had to admit there’s no telling when the state’s website will be glitch-free.

Josh Sharfstein

Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein

It was Sharfstein, not Brown, who had to admit there’s nothing the state can do to help people who are losing their healthcare benefits through no fault of their own.

A similar scenario played out before a House committee in Annapolis. Brown remained a no-show.

Then on Wednesday, WBAL-TV’s ace reporter Jayne Miller tracked down Brown and asked about his responsibility for the health care sign-up mess.

She got an aggressive brush-off from a man who sounded offended that his leadership was being questioned.

Brown caught a break Friday when Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the troubled health exchange, resigned after O’Malley sent in his staff to oversee the crippled IT operation.

Now Brown has a scapegoat. Yet he’s having increasing difficulty responding to criticisms that he was too busy campaigning to bother with the nitty-gritty of this IT implementation.

He’s promised to address all this at a carefully scripted and rehearsed press conference sometime this week — if he can fit it into his busy campaign schedule.

Brown’s campaign advertises that he is a proven leader. His websites brag about his role in bringing to fruition the Affordable Care Act. He’s gotten a national award for it.

But he doesn’t have any answer to why he was asleep at the switch, why he wasn’t on top of this exceedingly complex IT operation that cried out for strong, forceful leadership from someone like Brown with a military background.

This is already a central point in the campaign for governor.

Attorney General Doug Gansler accused Brown on Thursday of “ducking responsibility” for the problem — an apt summation of the current situation.

That same day, Brown conceded, “Everyone that has been involved. . . is responsible and that includes me.”

That’s a great way to minimize your own culpability. But it won’t fly in the hothouse arena of a gubernatorial campaign.

Brown may be the general in charge of this operation, but he seems eager to have his  lieutenants take all the grief for a botched mission.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Where was he when feuding contractors were at war with one another in developing the IT system?

Why wasn’t he doing something to remove bureaucratic barriers from Washington that were constantly gummed up the IT system?

Why wasn’t he aware the system hadn’t undergone comprehensive testing?

How will he explain the fact that he didn’t find out the state’s IT program was messed up until it crashed?

Was he a leader in name only?

MD Healthcare Connection

Maryland Healthcare Connection

Slow Fix Hurts Brown

Brown’s dilemma is that Democrats pick their nominee for governor in late June. That may not be enough time to fully fix this technology disaster.

Giant back-end headaches could emerge even as front-end computer glitches are resolved.

Insurance companies may announce large, unexpected losses as a result of the government’s incompetence.

Tens of thousands may continue to experience enrollment failures or wind up uninsured because of flaws in the computer software. Confusion and screw-ups could persist.

Legislative hearings during the upcoming General Assembly session could prove intensely embarrassing.

This has been, to date, an epic implementation fiasco.

If public anger builds rather than dissipates, there will be political consequences especially in a state like Maryland with its early primary elections next year.

#     #     #

Why not comment on this column – or sign up for a free subscription?

You can do both, or either, on the right-hand side of this web page.

 

 

Maglev: An Impossible Dream?

By Barry Rascovar

December 2, 2013 — MAGLEV IS BACK. So run for the hills.

Maglev Train in China
Maglev in China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new coalition of Political Influentials is lobbying for this ultra-expensive, ultra-high-speed rail system.

How expensive?

Let’s start at $15 billion, or more, just for a magnetic levitation route, underground, from Washington to Baltimore — 39 miles.

Yes, you could make the trip between the two cities in 15 minutes. Yes, it would transform commuting.

Just imagine the ticket prices.

Maglev in Asia

In Shanghai, which has one of the only two commercially operating maglev routes in the world (the other is in Aichi, Japan), a one-way ticket from the airport to the outskirts of that mega-city costs a heavily subsidized $8.14 — and then you’ve got to catch a cab or light-rail train to downtown.

That line is considered a flop.

Construction costs on a Washington-to-New York route could top $600 billion, but at least you’d be able to reach the Big Apple in an hour — about the same as a plane flight.

It’s ridiculous pie-in-the-sky rambling from lobbyists looking for a gigantic federal handout that isn’t going to happen.

We’ve heard this tune before.

Past and Future Maglev Plans

The Abell Foundation was a big maglev booster, proposing a line from Camden Yards to Union Station at a cost of $5.1 billion (in 2007 dollars).

That plan went nowhere in the halls of Congress.

Japan is eager to tout a maglev line in the U.S. for the Northeast Corridor.

Its government is building a $100 billion long-distance maglev route over the next 15 years from Tokyo to Osaka. This could turn into a white elephant unless Japan persuades other countries to build similar lines that would bring down construction costs.

Maglev in Japan

Maglev in Japan

There’s no doubt maglev would be beneficial.

Its trains are propelled by superconducting magnets, thus reducing friction and allowing for super-high speeds of up to 300-plus miles an hour.

There’s virtually no noise. Trains can operates in all kinds of weather.

But, oh, the price tag.

Amtrak wants to build its own high-speed train route from D.C. to the Big Apple. Travel time would be 94 minutes. All it would cost is $151 billion.

Given this country’s historic parsimony toward mass transit, neither Amtrak’s plans nor the maglev group’s plans are going to get traction in Washington.

A Private-Sector Solution

Only through private-sector development will maglev happen in the U.S. of A.

Is there an Elon Musk * out there eager to put up a dozen or so billion dollars to build a magnetic levitation route?

Quick: Call Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Google co-founder (and University of Maryland alum) Sergei Brin. * *

That’s the only way this pipe dream is ever going to turn into an American reality.

#     #     #

* Billionaire refresher 1: Elon Musk is founder of Pay Pal, Tesla Motors (electric cars) and Space X, (space-launch vehicles). Net worth: $6.4 billion. He’s also working on  a “hyperloop” — a subsonic air travel machine in a partial vacuum that would operate between the outskirts of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Cost: $6 billion.

* * Billionaire refresher 2: Bill Gates (net worth: $72 billion), Warren Buffett (net worth: $59 billion), Sergei Brin (net worth: $25 billion)

( Read all of Barry Rascovar’s columns at this website, www.politicalmaryland.com )