Monthly Archives: June 2014

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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Rushing Toward MD’s Primary

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com WITH TWO WEEKS to go till Maryland’s June 24 primary for governor, here’s where we stand on the all-important Democratic side.

Televised debates, all three of them, are over, as is the one and only radio debate among Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur.

Brown (left), Gansler, Mizeur

Anthony Brown (left), Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur

The good news for Brown: he didn’t make any blunders – though he took a deserved  pounding for ducking the second debate. Brown came across best on the 90-minute WOLB-AM radio confrontation, heard mainly by an early-morning, African-American audience in both the Baltimore and Washington areas.

‘Cool’ vs. ‘Hot’

As Marshall McLuhan pointed out after the first presidential debates (Nixon vs. Kennedy in 1960), radio is a “cool” medium, while television is a “hot” medium.

On radio, people listen more closely and judge candidates on what they say; TV presents viewers with both a visual and an audio image that can be difficult for candidates to reconcile.

Brown clearly isn’t comfortable under harsh TV lights. He’s more at ease before a radio microphone.

WOLB Radio Debate

WOLB Radio Debate

In both the third TV debate and the lone radio debate, Brown harped on achievements of the past eight years and the need to continue progressive reforms. He repeated time and time again, “more work to do” and “we can do better.”

Gansler is separating himself as the lone critic of the O’Malley-Brown years: 40 new or expanded taxes, a machine-like party establishment of special interests seeking a Brown coronation and the need for change in Annapolis.

He won the third debate. He was much more fluent, more relaxed and less hesitant. He made contact directly with his studio audience. His theme: jobs, jobs, jobs.

Turning Negative

Gansler also was combative in trying to bring Brown, the apparent leader in this campaign, down a notch. On TV, he said Brown “has an uncomfortable relationship with the truth.”

On radio, he told listeners Brown and Gov. Martin O’Malley “failed you and failed Baltimore” while Brown “ran away” from Maryland’s embarrassing health exchange debacle.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Brown and his camp have not hesitated to make far nastier charges against Gansler in their statements and in their ads.

The third candidate, Mizeur, continues to promote a far-left agenda that appeals to segments of Maryland’s liberal Democratic Party. Her polite, demure attitude, a well-delivered summary of her goals and her refusal to join Brown and Gansler in tit-for-tat criticisms helped her immensely in these debates.

Mizeur: Pro and Con

Of the three, she is the most hostile to businesses and the wealthy. She has excoriated shale-oil fracking, millionaires, chicken farmers, a natural gas export plant in Southern Maryland and any thought of a tax cut for corporations or a reduced estate tax.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

She’s in favor of legalized marijuana, universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and three-year-olds, state subsidized child care, a living wage of $16.70 an hour, tax cuts for the middle class, tax breaks for small businesses, an end to income inequality and campaign finance reform.

How she pays for her proposals is an exercise in hype and gross exaggeration.

 

TV Advertising

Because the vast majority of voters don’t watch debates, much will depend on the impact of TV ads.

Brown has the most money to throw into a TV blitz, but Gansler isn’t far behind. Mizeur’s bankroll is dwarfed by the others and thus you won’t see many ads from her.

So far the best commercials belong to Gansler. His silent ad slamming Brown for his debate no-show was unusual and effective in getting viewer attention. His ad in which he casually reads from critical Brown editorial comments in the Washington Post about Brown’s failings in the health exchange disaster is another winner.

Brown’s numerous commercials, meanwhile, are slick and well conceived but lack potency. The ads avoid specifics and stick to feel-good generalities.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

While Gansler may be winning the ad war and gaining in later debates, he’s got an uphill road ahead of him.

Among Democrats, the governor remains fairly popular, which rubs off on his lieutenant governor. Gansler is bucking nearly the entire Democratic Party establishment at a time when the call for change is coming mainly from Republicans.

His hopes are further diminished by Mizeur’s presence. The anti-Brown, anti-O’Malley, “it’s time for a change” vote will be split between Gansler and Mizeur.

This is reflected in the latest poll (Baltimore Sun, June 8), with Brown’s two competitors making a close two-person race a runaway (Brown: 41 percent, Gansler: 20 percent, Mizeur: 15 percent.)

Attorney General’s Race

Meanwhile, in the other contested statewide Democratic race, state Sen. Brian Frosh is gaining momentum as state Del. Jon Cardin keeps slipping.

Attorney General candidates Jon Cardin (Left) and Brian Frosh

Del. Jon Cardin (left) and Sen. Brian Frosh

What Cardin has going for him is his last name. He’s counting on voter confusion and the popularity of his Uncle Ben, Maryland’s United States senator. But Jon Cardin is proving his own worst enemy. He missed 75 percent of committee votes in the legislature this year — an inexcusable act. Frosh is using this misstep to show that Jon C. is not ready for prime time.

More Criticism

An extraordinary coalition of former state senators and a councilwoman from Cardin’s own Jewish community in northwest Baltimore County and city condemned Jon C.’s failure to take his legislative duties seriously. They slammed his “lackluster career.”

Then Jon Cardin promoted an endorsement from a Baltimore-based rap artist — only to discover Ski Money is facing multiple charges of human trafficking. The candidate’s later denunciation and rejection of that endorsement just drew attention to Jon Cardin’s stumble.

Even worse, the No.1 Democrat in Maryland, Martin O’Malley, attended a Frosh event in Greenbelt and warmly endorsed the Montgomery County senator. The party’s big guns are lining up solidly behind Frosh.O'Malley endorses Frosh The state senator also has a growing advantage in fund-raising. He received strong endorsements from the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun.

While early polls showed Cardin with a large lead, his odds of winning are rapidly diminishing.

Jon C. may yet gain the Democratic nomination, but only if people go to the polls believing they’re voting for the other Cardin.

Barry Rascovar’s writings can also be found at his blogsite, www.politicalmaryland.com.

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Racing: Green MD Industry

 

By Barry Rascovar

June 2, 2014 — Not far from my home, down a steep patch of Greenspring Avenue on the way to Glyndon, lies a glorious environmental sight — and a stark contrast between the past and present for Maryland’s horse industry.

Descending into the Worthington Valley, a broad, green panorama of horse farms reveals itself.  This is prime Maryland horse country.

As the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes approaches, with the best chance in decades to witness racing’s elusive Triple Crown for three-year-old thoroughbreds, it’s appropriate to review the state of Maryland racing.

Sagamore’s Renaissance

The vast 530-acre thoroughbred spread known as Sagamore Farm, restored to its earlier glory by UnderArmour founder Kevin Plank, dominates Worthington Valley, highlighted by Sagamore’s white painted fences and corporate training center mansion atop a distant ridge.

Sagamore Farm, training track

Sagamore Farm, training track

Far to the right lies Hunt Valley and the blueblood horse farms that have hosted the grueling, four-mile Maryland Hunt Cup timber race for 92 of its 118 years.

In the foreground, though, lies beautiful but empty barns on 100 acres of land. Their sad fate underlines the fragility of Maryland’s horse industry, just as Sagamore Farm and the Maryland Hunt Cup illustrate the strength of the industry’s future.

The empty barns used to have a sign on its gates that read “Maryland Stallion Station.” Prominent horse breeders joined together in 2003 to make the Worthington Valley once again famous for its thoroughbred champions.

Maryland Stallion Station

Maryland Stallion Station

What the owners didn’t count on was Maryland’s resistance to doing what neighboring states had done to resuscitate their horse industries: legalize slot machines and dedicate a small portion of the proceeds to rebuilding race  tracks and dramatically boosting purses — the lifeblood of the industry.

Horse owners quickly recognized there was money to be made in Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania as purses soared at tracks in those states. They took their horses and left Maryland.

Meanwhile, politicians in Annapolis ignored the obvious trend and resisted legalizing slots.

Declining Racing Industry 

As a result, Maryland’s horse industry spiraled deeper and deeper into decline.

At its worst point, the state lost 80 percent of its stallions, mares and foals because of the poor business climate here.

Finally, the industry’s distress became so obvious Gov. Martin O’Malley asked his Labor Secretary, Tom Perez (now U.S. Secretary of Labor) to study the state of racing in 2007.

Tom Perez

Tom Perez

His impartial and persuasive report laid out the facts.

Citing a University of Maryland study, he wrote, “The horse racing and breeding industry in Maryland accounts for over 9,000 jobs, and has an economic impact of more than $600 million.”

“A decade ago Maryland led its neighbors in handles and purses — the amount bet on races and the prize money awarded to winners — and the number of horses being bred. These statistics are the lifeblood of the racing industry. But the introduction of slot machines in Delaware and West Virginia has resuscitated and revitalized the previously moribund horse racing and breeding industries in those states. As a result, Maryland’s horse racing and horse breeding industries have been placed at a distinct competitive disadvantage.”

Perez continued, “The economic impact of slots on the horse racing industries in surrounding states is undeniable. Slots have generated thousands of jobs in these areas, and are subsidizing other priorities, such as education and transportation. In fact, Marylanders playing slots in Delaware and West Virginia are subsidizing education and other priorities in these states to the tune of approximately $150 million per year.”

Out of State Competition

The fate of Maryland Stallion Station confirmed Perez’s findings. It couldn’t compete against breeding farms in neighboring states offering generous racing subsidies.

Who would want to breed valuable race horses in Maryland when the purses, coupled with large bonuses for locally bred thoroughbreds, were growing huge in nearby states, thanks to slots revenue?

Maryland Stallion Station barn, 2005

Maryland Stallion Station barn, 2005

The owners of Maryland Stallion Station made a valiant effort, but they couldn’t overcome the state’s lack of favorable business conditions.

They relocated their stud animals in 2008 and went out of business.

Revived By Slots

Eventually, with the booming success of Maryland Live! Casino at Arundel Mills, the state’s racing slowly started to rebound, just as Perez suggested.

Sagamore’s fortunes are proof that this formula — tying a percentage of slots revenue to the racing industry — works. Both Sagamore’s breeding and training businesses are on an upward track.

The optimism of horse owners, trainers and breeders on Preakness Day illustrated the turnaround that is taking place.

Most encouraging has been the breeding uptick at Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County, Bonita Farm and Country Life Farm in Harford County, the Rooney family’s Shamrock Farms in Carroll County and the impressive Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County.

Northview Stallion Station

Northview Stallion Station

But danger still lurks in Annapolis.

Politicians already are talking about reneging on their agreement with the racing industry and stripping away some of the slots money reviving the industry. They want the money for other, more politically appealing programs.

What these politicians ignore is the giant environmental benefits flowing from a strong racing industry. They should review Tom Perez’s findings:

Green Racing

“Horse farms occupy over 685,000 acres of land, roughly 10 percent of Maryland’s open space. Horse racing and horse breeding go hand in hand. Preserving a viable horse racing industry helps maintain horse farms and protect open space. . . .

“The importance of reviving horse racing and breeding in Maryland extends beyond merely supporting the industry. Every breeder that can’t sustain his or her business because of a declining industry means one more farm that might succumb to development pressures. Growth in Maryland will continue, and without a vibrant horse breeding sector those open spaces could become prime real estate for developers.”

Perez noted that Maryland’s agricultural land is disappearing. Between 1970 and 2005, the state lost one million acres of farms to development — one-third of the state’s farmland.

“Retaining Maryland’s agricultural land is critical to the environment, and particularly the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” he wrote.

Sprawl Buffer

“The key to keeping farmers on their land is ensuring their operations remain economically viable. . . . As Maryland’s population grows and development pressures force farmers out, protecting the state’s horse industry becomes more and more critical to sustaining the legacy of rural Maryland and maintaining a healthy environment.”

Perez concluded that the racing industry “is an important economic engine for Maryland, and provides an important buffer against sprawl development.”

The governor’s office reports that Maryland’s horse industry today is valued at $5.6 billion. The horses are worth $714 million. The farms employ 28,000 people.

It also notes this surprising fact: Maryland contains twice as many horses per square mile as Virginia, Texas, California or Kentucky.

This state’s racing traditions run deep as symbolized by the large crowds drawn annually to the Preakness and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Maryland Hunt Cup timber race

Maryland Hunt Cup timber race

After Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino opens late this summer, more slots dollars will flow into thoroughbred and standardbred racing purses. When the MGM Grand Casino opens in about two years at National Harbor, still more revenue will come racing’s way.

What lies ahead could turn into a grand revival for horse racing in Maryland.

Necessary Upgrades

Of course, that will depend on the ability of track owners to use slots revenue for major modernization upgrades that appeal to 21st century sports lovers.

The industry also must find a way to underwrite year-round racing. (There will be no Maryland racing at all this summer.)

Maryland’s political leaders have a responsibility to foster the growth of horse farms and high-quality racing in places like the Worthington Valley.

It’s great for the environmentl, strengthens an important agricultural business and is a sport worth saving.

Worthington Valley

Bucolic Worthington Valley

A prosperous racing industry is a decided plus for citizens of the Free State, one that politicians need to encourage, not discourage, in Annapolis.

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