Author Archives: Barry Rascovar

About Barry Rascovar

Since 1971, Barry Rascovar has reported, commented and editorialized on Maryland and national politics and government. He also is a communications consultant and writer in Hunt Valley, MD.

Political Maryland’s Democratic Cocoon

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 14, 2016 – A Martian landing in Maryland on election night never would have guessed that Donald Trump was about to pull off the upset of the century.

That’s because Maryland is an outlier, an exception to what happens in presidential elections in the rest of the country.Political Maryland's Democratic Cocoon

Trump got slaughtered in Maryland, receiving just a little over a third of the vote. Only a few other heavily Democratic states, like Massachusetts and California, saw such lopsided Democratic victories in the presidential race won by Republican Trump.

The election map in Maryland looked surprisingly similar to the 2012 election map. Democrats have such overwhelming majorities in the densely populated Central Maryland subdivisions that this provides a protective cocoon for the party’s presidential candidate.

Central Maryland Landslide

Just in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in the Washington suburbs, Hillary Clinton ran up a lead of over half-a-million votes.

Overall this Democratic cocoon gave Clinton a big enough lead – even with a reduced turnout – to come close to matching Trump’s entire total in Maryland. Put another way, the Democratic cocoon allowed Clinton to build an advantage of roughly 800,000 votes. In the rest of the state, Trump beat her by just 177,000 votes.

Clinton won nearly 60 percent of Maryland voters. Trump finished at 35 percent – a little worse than Republican Mitt Romney performed in 2012’s presidential election.

Voting patterns this year indicate the Democrats’ cocoon may be expanding slightly. For the first time since 1956, Anne Arundel County went Democratic in the presidential race – by 1,500 votes.

Four years ago, Anne Arundel voters favored Republican Mitt Romney by a mere 203 votes. And in 2008, Arundel went for Republican John McCain by 4,667 votes.

Large Red Victories

At the same time, two Central Maryland counties continued to swing strongly in the Republican direction. Harford County gave 60 percent of its votes to Trump while his winning total in Carroll County was 76 percent.

Those Republican wins, however, could not come close to matching results in the Democratic cocoon subdivisions – Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Howard County, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles County.

Everywhere else in Maryland, red Republican voters ruled by substantial margins. While these counties hold the vast territorial mass of Maryland, the state’s population centers in the central corridor easily held sway on Election Day.

That population bulge is highly urbanized and suburbanized – ideal Democratic terrain. The rest of the state – mostly exurban and rural – is ideal ground for Republicans.

That was the pattern throughout America last week. The difference: In the rest of the country there were just enough rural/exurban Trump voters to fend off Clinton and win the presidency for the New York real estate developer.

Clinton captured the popular vote but lost the electoral count to Trump. While the nation is evenly split between the two political parties, Republicans hold a substantial state-by-state advantage.

Matching Clinton

In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Chris Van Hollen pretty much matched Clinton’s vote totals across the Free State. Once again, the Central Maryland cocoon provided a highly protective shield for the Democratic nominee.

Van Hollen ran slightly ahead of Clinton percentage-wise, 60 percent to 59 percent; Republican Kathy Szeliga ran just ahead of Trump, 36 percent to 35 percent.

How the 2016 results in Maryland affect the full slate of local Maryland elections in 2018 is hard to determine two years out.

Central Maryland is growing a bit more Democratic and its population numbers are growing, too. The rest of the state is becoming more Republican but the population rise there – if any – is slowing.

That could pose a problem for Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., a very popular politician these days despite the fact he’s a Republican in a very blue state.

Much will depend on the job Donald Trump does in Washington.

What Happens in Two Years?

If Trump surprises people and has a successful couple of years in office, Hogan will be the beneficiary.  But if Trump remains an immensely controversial figure, Democratic Maryland could prove hostile to Republican candidates in 2018.

Indeed, an argument can be made that Hogan might have been better off under a Clinton presidency, since he wouldn’t have faced any presidential backlash against local Republicans if things go awry in Washington over the next few years.

Still, Hogan has proved a remarkably agile politician, even refusing to endorse or vote for Trump this year. Defeating this independent-minded Republican in 2018 still remains an uphill challenge for Democrats.

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

Buckle Your Election Seatbelts!

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 7, 2016 – Okay, so Maryland’s votes don’t really matter in tomorrow’s tumultuous climax to an unpredictable, deeply divisive political campaign for president.

We already know the outcome in heavily Democratic Maryland. The record-breaking flood of Democrats during early voting is a clear sign it could be another wipeout for Republicans running statewide.

The two GOP candidates, Donald Trump (for president) and Kathy Szeliga (for U.S. Senate) need a miracle-and-a-half to win in the Free State this year.

It ain’t gonna happen.Buckle Your Election Seatbelts!Maryland’s 10 electoral votes are safe for Democrat Hillary Clinton. There’s been no turn of events strong enough to dissuade state Democrats from supporting their party’s presidential nominee.

It’s one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia that have gone Democratic in each of the past five presidential races.

That would place Clinton at 240 electoral votes – 30 shy of what she needs for victory. A combination of wins in battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada could do the trick.

Getting to 270 Electoral Votes

Clinton also holds out hope in Arizona. A local race for county sheriff involving the controversial anti-immigration incumbent Joe Arpaio could prompt a heavy Hispanic turnout that might put Clinton over the top.

In Georgia, only a record turnout in the Atlanta suburbs could bring Clinton victory. Those areas are home to college-educated professionals and middle-income African Americans – two voting segments overwhelmingly for Clinton this year.

Trump’s road to the White House is far more difficult. He’s got to break through in one of those “Solid 18” Democratic strongholds, such as Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Polls so far haven’t shown that it likely to happen.

Trump also needs to fend off Clinton in the toss-up states and pretty much sweep the board.

It’s a tall order, but not impossible.

His base of support remains white, less well-educated males (and some females) who have suffered from the Great Recession and feel government has ignored their plight while government accommodates immigrant and minority groups.

Can Trump Turn Out His Voters?

Trump has lit a fire under these “mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” voters. But will they come out and vote in overwhelming numbers? Are there enough of this “silent majority” to overcome the growing voting strength of minority groups throughout the country?

Trump’s greatest weakness is in the suburbs surrounding big cities, home to college-educated professionals. For decades, these communities have been solidly Republican in presidential races. Not this time, though.

Donald Trump has turned off women in these households with his coarse language, racism, sexist remarks and disdain for females in general. It could cost him the election.

Szeliga, meanwhile, always faced an uphill battle of long odds running against U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, a popular politician for several decades who has unified the Democratic Party behind him and has made no mistakes in this campaign.

Once Trump’s balloon deflated in Maryland with the state’s leading Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., angrily walking away from him, Szeliga’s chances faded dramatically. Her only hope was a sweeping victory by Trump in Maryland behind a unified GOP. She needed to catch a rising Trump tide. She also needed Van Hollen to alienate part of his party’s faithful, which never happened.

Yet despite the lack of drama in Maryland’s vote-counting tomorrow night, it’s still anyone guess who will occupy the White House.

Polling Confusion

Polls have been terribly misleading and contradictory. Highly suspect polling methodology by some organizations has compounded the situation. So has the sudden glut of polls released by colleges we’ve never even heard of before.

Tomorrow you can throw all those supposedly accurate polls away. None of them can predict with any degree of accuracy the human factor when it comes to casting a presidential ballot. That’s especially true when it comes to that other unpredictable factor – turnout.

So buckle your seatbelts and get ready to stay turned late into the night on Tuesday. It’s even possible we won’t know the outcome till the votes are counted in Alaska, where the polls close at 1 a.m. our time.

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Early Voting Tsunami: What It Means

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 1, 2016 – Well, now we know how to get Americans to vote in impressive numbers – present them with a choice between an outrageously controversial narcissist and an outrageous political shader of the truth – and then let the media turn the whole shebang into a smarmy Reality TV circus.

It’s worked wonders in propelling early voting across the country to record numbers this fall.

Early Voting Tsunami: What It Means

In Maryland, prior early-voting marks have been shattered every day. In just the first three days of early voting here, more citizens cast ballots than in the entire April primary early-voting period.

That’s quite a feat given the relatively small number of early-voting sites in Maryland even in high-density, heavy-voting counties.

Stone Age Technology

Making it even more arduous to cast a ballot is the state’s “new” voting system with a “Back to the Future” retro feel: You have to use a black pen to mark ye olde paper ballot.

Voters would be astounded to learn how much this Neanderthal-era system cost: $27 million.

The good news is that there’s a record of each vote cast, in case disputed close races require re-counts.

But the “new” voting process can be painfully slow, especially when lots and lots of citizens are anxious to cast a ballot in this nasty, steamy presidential election.

Not only do Marylanders have to stand in line to sign in, then stand in line a second time to mark ballots the old-fashioned way, they also have to stand in line a final time to feed their marked ballot into the recording machine that, among other things, takes a picture for posterity.

Too bad the touch-screen computer voting machines Maryland had used since 2002 couldn’t be adapted so they’d print copies of each vote cast. (It couldn’t be that hard: I can print anything at home from my little computer. But why question the ostensible wisdom of state solons when it comes to spending an extra $27 million for a clunky, backward-looking voting system.)

Early Voting Proving Popular

The latest estimates are that 50 million Americans could vote early around the country in the 2016 presidential election. This doesn’t count the mail-in balloting which is now standard for all voters in Oregon and Colorado.

Folks who analyze early voting to pinpoint trends are in agreement there are many promising signs for Democrat Hillary Clinton in party registration numbers among early voters in battleground states. Clinton also has surged ahead in the number of newly registered Democratic voters in key states.

For Republican Donald Trump, the positive spin is that early voting is much preferred by older citizens – a category that favors Republican candidates.

The early voting numbers in Maryland illustrate why the Free State is such difficult terrain for Republicans running statewide. The most populous and most Democratic jurisdictions are dominating early voting tabulations by wide margins.

Moreover, the number of Democrats voting early is three times greater than the number of Republicans statewide.

Heavy early voting in Maryland is somewhat surprising given the lack of contested local offices up for grabs. Nearly all the state’s local elections take place in non-presidential years, the next one coming in 2018.

Yet people are flocking to cast a ballot.

Why Voters Show Up Early

The intensity of voters this fall is something to behold. Most have made their minds up and are chomping at the bit to vote. They want to hurry the process along so they can be done with this brutally ugly campaign that has dragged on unnecessarily for a year and a half.

No one looking at Maryland realistically expects Trump to win or even come within a country mile of Clinton.

He has alienated many GOP faithful, including Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., and his presence seems to have energized the state’s hefty minority vote and liberal Democrats. They are deeply fearful of what a Trump presidency would mean for the nation’s safety and their well-being.

Trump supporters, meanwhile, are die-hard fans of the billionaire with the “say anything” attitude. They feel underappreciated and underrepresented in Washington. This is their chance to have their sentiments heard. They will vote for sure.

There just aren’t enough Trumpites in Maryland.

For instance, in the first four days of early voting more than 50 percent of the ballots cast came from heavily Democratic jurisdictions – Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard and Baltimore counties. Not a good sign for the GOP.

We’re still a week away from E-Day. That means there could well be more surprises and twists for one or both of the presidential candidates. In politics you should always expected the unexpected.

So it’s wise to remember what my favorite social philosopher, Lawrence Peter Berra, once said: “It’s not over till it’s over” – on the night of Nov. 8.

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Medical Miracle in Largo?

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 24, 2016—It took over three years to surmount the bureaucratic, regulatory and political hurdles but it finally looks like a half-billion-dollar, state-of-the-art regional medical center will rise slowly in populous Prince George’s County.

It’s way overdue. For a county of 900,000 people, Prince George’s lacks a premier hospital. No wonder so many local residents go outside the county for their medical care.

The organization that runs aging

Medical Miralce in Largo?

Aging Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly

medical facilities in Cheverly, Bowie and Laurel, Dimensions Health Corp., has been a disaster for the county over the past quarter-century. Political hacks and cronies filled management posts. The quality of health care suffered.

For a jurisdiction with a high rate of chronic diseases and the second-largest pool of indigent patients in Maryland (after Baltimore City), there’s long been a crying need for dramatic change.

Now it finally may be coming.

Last week, the Maryland Health Care Commission gave unanimous approval to the 205-bed University of Maryland Prince George’s Regional Medical Center in Largo Town Center. The 11-0 vote masked the enormous, complicated struggle that preceded it.

Plenty of Political Resistance

For years, county politicians with vested interest in maintaining the status quo fought furiously to block efforts to overhaul the Dimensions system. The group’s tentacles extended into the county executive’s office and the county council.

Compounding the situation was the war cry of these officials that white outsiders were trying to oust black Dimensions leaders. In a county with a large African American majority, this vocal objection proved loud enough to ward off reforms.

Finally, the current county executive, Rushern Baker, pressed hard for a Dimensions housecleaning. He brokered a deal with the University of Maryland Medical System to assume control – of both the medical and management staffs. It wasn’t easy getting the Dimensions higher-ups to agree.

Capital contributions from Annapolis proved daunting as well. Lawmakers and governors have been reluctant to pour big bucks into the Prince George’s medical system as long as Dimensions remained in control.

Then Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. objected to paying $20 million a year to Dimensions to keep the existing medical centers afloat until a regional medical facility can be built.

The legislature eventually had to mandate an annual state contribution to keep the current medical facilities in operation until the opening of the new center in 2020.

Total cost: $543 million, with $208 million coming from the state, $208 million from the county and $127 million in bonds issued by the new hospital entity.

Downsized Project

The total would have been higher but for the fact Robert Moffit of the health care commission, who carefully reviewed and analyzed the project, insisted that the new facility be financially viable. The size of the high-rise was reduced and so was the price – by $100 million.

What sealed the deal, though, was the fact UMMS now will be the owner-operator of the regional medical center. With its close ties to the state’s largest medical school, UMMS dominates Maryland’s hospital landscape.

It has a proven track record of turning around deep-in-debt medical centers and bringing superb talent and health care to under-utilized facilities it manages.

Such a reversal still is some years away but already UMMS’ presence at Dimensions hospitals has improved the quality of care and brought down operating expenses.

Medical Miracle in Largo?

Proposed University of Maryland Prince George’s Regional Medical Center in Largo

But UMMS faces another challenge: attracting enough physicians and physician groups to the county to minister to this underserved population. That’s a slow process but the work has begun.

Once the new regional medical center is fully staffed by UMMS personnel and filled with the latest in medical technology, physicians and patients are likely to develop a magnetic attraction to the Largo facility – which Moffit of the health care commission termed an “excellent” location in the heart of the county’s population.

Now that the worst of the regulatory and political barriers seem to have been surmounted, there is light at the end of this long tunnel – and the prospect of greatly enhanced health care for people living in the state’s second-largest jurisdiction.

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Business Comes First, Education Second

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 17, 2016 – He’s at it again! Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. issued another executive order that makes it even clearer he intends to usurp the powers of the Maryland State Board of Education and every local school system in the state.

So far, no one is challenging Hogan’s decree setting the start of the school year statewide after Labor Day and the last school day no later than June 15.  Nor is any school system threatening to defy his order, which screams “overreach.”

There is no valid education reason for Hogan’s action.

Business Comes First, Education Second

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.

The two orders are designed to bring cheers from Ocean City businesses and parents happy to take their kids to the beach in late August instead of getting them ready for an early return to classes.

Yet even Hogan’s own appointees to the state board are complaining the governor wants to neuter the board and that his order is not grounded in any education rationale.

Larry Hogan is, indeed, the “Maryland is Open for Business” governor. Perhaps his next slogan will be: “In Maryland, Business Comes First, Education Second.”

Perplexed School Leaders

Local school boards are in a quandary. Following Hogan’s directive means a loss of control over the school year. It could be just the first step in more gubernatorial dictates on which holidays to honor, what to teach in classes and what to forbid in local schools.

For instance, Hogan has repeatedly lashed out at teacher unions and accused them of calling the shots on education policy. Will he use future executive orders to crack down on them and strip from the school calendar the “professional training days” now built into the school schedule as days off for kids?

Will he dictate what he will allow the supposedly independent state school board to do on its own and what he intends to unilaterally mandate from his second-floor state House office?

Hogan has never been regarded as an education expert. His pronouncements on the subject have been few and far beyond –usually encapsulated in a brief one- or two-sentence quip.

He hasn’t even claimed his school-year decree is designed to improve the learning environment. For him, the executive order is all about boosting summer business sales and winning popularity for extending the summer season. Those are his priorities.

Hogan’s Power

The problem for local school systems is that Hogan can be vindictive if challenged. He might withhold millions in school construction funds for petty reasons. After all, he’s already done it to Baltimore County and Baltimore City.

He could hold back other education dollars from systems that refuse to knuckle under and instead honor their commitment to crafting a school calendar that furthers students’ ability to learn.

There are other flaws in the decrees. What if there’s a harsh winter that forces many more lost school days than anticipated? Or other emergency closures? Even stripping spring break to the bone might not be enough to avoid post-June 15 schooling. What happens then?

Hogan hasn’t said and he’s taken the power away from the state school board.

If a school system ignores Hogan because it feels the executive orders are unlawful intrusions on local education autonomy, what happens?

Does Hogan direct more executive orders at the wayward school system? Does he call out the National Guard to enforce his orders? Does he pull a Trump-like tantrum and say to the local school board members he appoints, “You’re fired”?

Education Losses

Meanwhile, the governor’s school-calendar mandate will hurt students’ ability to prepare for standardized tests whose dates cannot be changed. Kids lose ground in their learning when the long summer break is extended. Poor kids lose out on decent meals they don’t get at home. Research has clearly established those facts. But Hogan doesn’t seem to care.

It is unfortunate Attorney General Brian Frosh took a dive when asked to examine the legality of Hogan’s attempt to extend his power. Frosh’s agency issued an opinion that failed to give clear guidance, even though it concluded:  “. . . it is likely that a reviewing court, if presented with the issue, would conclude” Hogan exceeded his authority.

What Hogan has done is unprecedented. It could set a dangerous precedent.

Even if the orders are not challenged in court, there’s a strong chance the General Assembly will pass legislation sharply restricting and defining the limits of the governor’s power to issue executive orders, especially on matters pertaining to education. Lawmakers also are likely to pass such a law early in next year’s session so they can override an almost certain Hogan veto before adjournment.

Hogan’s handlers relish the chance to blame Democratic legislators for denying families a longer August vacation with their kids.

But it won’t be lawmakers reestablishing a longer school year that starts prior to Labor Day. Instead, they will simply return decision-making power to local school boards and the state education board – where it belongs.

Hogan may be looking for a way to win political points in this ludicrous dispute, but in the end all he’s doing is hurting Maryland school children’s ability to learn.

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More Reasons for Marylanders to Vote

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 10, 2016 – This year’s apparently one-sided presidential election in Maryland may encourage some people to consider not voting.

Polls consistently have Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of Republican Donald Trump by a whopping 30 percentage points – and this was before release of Trump’s X-rated remarks about his sexual pursuit of women.

While there are few other races of consequence on most local ballots, there are plenty of other reasons to show up at the polls or cast an absentee ballot.

This is especially true for Republicans who may have had enough of Trump’s over-the-top sexism and egomania. The worst thing they could do would be to take a pass on voting.More Reasons for Marylanders to VoteThis year’s election will be a good barometer on the GOP’s efforts to build a more competitive party in heavily Democratic Maryland.

Hogan’s Coattail

The party has a wildly popular governor, Larry Hogan, Jr., who isn’t on the ballot but has endorsed some Republican nominees who share his moderate-conservative philosophy.

How close will these candidates come to pulling an upset?

That could tell us much about Hogan’s “coattail” abilities and set the stage for an even better GOP performance in 2018 when he is up for reelection.

In the U.S. Senate contest, Democrat Chris Van Hollen is a heavy favorite over Republican Kathy Szeliga. But Szeliga, a state delegate, has Hogan’s endorsement. Will voters who tend to support moderate politicians see Hogan’s backing as reason enough to support her?

Or will voters be turned off by Szeliga’s “having it both ways” comment about Trump’s sexism? She has deplored Trump’s outrageous sexual remarks but says she still is voting for him.

Hoeber vs. Delaney

In the Sixth District congressional race (far Western Maryland and a chunk of western Montgomery County), Republican Amie Hoeber, also endorsed by Hogan, is seeking to upend incumbent Democrat John Delaney, who barely won reelection last time. His margin of victory in 2014: less than 2 percentage points.

Hoeber, 74, is a defense expert on chemical and biological warfare and has poured substantial sums of his family’s money into her campaign. A heavy turnout in Republican portions of the district and Hogan’s backing might draw her closer to Delaney than expected.

In Baltimore City, a Republican has a legitimate shot at winning a City Council seat for the first time in 74 years. Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-1 in the city yet Republican Matt McDaniel is competitive in Southeast Baltimore’s First District.

Hogan won this area two years ago, 53 percent to 47 percent, and he has endorsed McDaniel over Democrat Zeke Cohen. Will Hogan’s support prove pivotal? Or will the heavy Democratic registration figures and Cohen’s activism in the community give him a decided advantage?

Questions on the Ballot

Two ballot questions hold considerable interest in important counties – Howard and Montgomery.

In Howard County, public financing of elections for county executive and county council will be up for voter decision. A positive outcome could set a trend in other large subdivisions with a liberal voter base.

Term limits is the issue in Montgomery County. Perennial political gadfly Robin Ficker has petitioned to the ballot a question on forcing the county executive or members of the county council to step down after three four-year terms. That might benefit outsiders like Ficker and Montgomery Republicans.

There’s also a statewide ballot question on filling attorney general and comptroller vacancies that pits Democratic legislative leaders against Republican Hogan.

The proposal would strip Hogan of his current power to name a replacement of his choice – almost certainly a fellow Republican – if there’s a vacancy in either office (both now held by Democrats).

Instead, the constitutional amendment would require Hogan to name a temporary replacement from the vacating official’s political party and then set a special election to fill the office for the remainder of the term.

So there are plenty of reasons beyond the presidential election to cast a ballot. Early voting in Maryland begins in a little over two weeks.

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Maryland Budget Myths

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 3, 2016 – Maryland is dealing with another revenue shortfall and a budget that must be trimmed to make the state’s books balance.

Yet to hear Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. tell it there’s no revenue problem –only “a spending problem” caused by Democrats in the General Assembly.

Let’s get the facts straight on this one: If there’s a problem with spending the buck stops on Hogan’s gubernatorial desk.Maryland Budget Myths

He’s the one who puts together the state’s annual budget. He’s the only one who can increase spending.

The legislature, by law, cannot raise the governor’s budget request. All lawmakers in Annapolis can do is cut the budget.

Who’s Responsible?

Hogan, like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, wants to create his own version of the truth.

He refuses to admit he is responsible for submitting a budget earlier this year that is out of balance by some $783 million over a two-year cycle due to a faulty estimate of future revenues.

Democrats share partial responsibility for not cutting more deeply into Hogan’s budget last April. They, too, misjudged the state’s plodding economic rebound from the Great Recession.

It’s no surprise that liberal Democrats are reluctant to reduce spending on social programs.

The irony is that Maryland’s conservative Republican governor failed to clamp down harder on spending in the face of slow-growth revenue numbers.

Hogan’s attempt to turn around and blame Democratic lawmakers for his own budget mistakes doesn’t hold water. He draws up the state’s massive spending plan, not the legislature.

Myth No. 2

The other budget myth Hogan has been spreading is that he can solve the state’s financial woes if only Democratic legislators eliminate spending mandates that lock up over 70 percent of the state’s budget.

Were that to happen, Hogan would have unrestrained power to cut deeply into education and health care programs as well as environmental and social service programs.

It would mean a loss of historic checks and balances between the legislature and executive in favor of an all-powerful governor. No wonder Democratic lawmakers refuse to budge.

Yet Hogan persists in blaming the state’s budget shortfalls on the spending mandates. It’s as though the governor had nothing to do with submitting a budget that failed to exercise sufficient caution.

Plea for Caution

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has repeatedly urged a conservative approach to budgeting in light of an exceptionally slow recovery. Maryland is gaining jobs but not high-paying jobs.

Hogan may proclaim “Maryland is open for business” but he seems not to have noticed a shift in the job market is occurring which requires a conservative governor to take a more cautious approach at budget time.

In putting together next year’s budget, the governor now must reduce earlier spending targets by about 2 percent due to the predicted revenue shortfall. That is eminently do-able.

Judicious reductions and reallocations of program funds could close much of the budget gap.

Hogan has on his staff one of the most creative budget minds in Annapolis – former state Sen. Bobby Neall – tasked to find thoughtful ways to reduce spending while improving efficiency. His suggestions will come in handy over the next three months.

Two Options

Yet deeper cuts will not come about if Hogan continues to blast the legislature for refusing to give him near-dictatorial powers over the state budget.

Fortunately, a middle road exists for the governor to work with lawmakers to make changes in spending mandates that could eliminate Maryland’s long-term structural deficit.

But that calls for Hogan to work cooperatively with the legislative branch – a reversal of form. He knows that criticizing free-spending Democrats wins him votes, even if it makes it nearly impossible to gain General Assembly support for his programs.

Is he willing to alter his approach?

Good governance requires compromise and negotiation between a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, especially on passage of the state budget. So far, Hogan has fallen short in that area.

He gets another crack at changing his tune early next year.

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Let Courts Decide Who Sets MD School Calendar

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 26, 2016 – Does Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. have the power to issue an executive order mandating when the school year begins and ends? It’s not the most pressing question facing Maryland – but the answer could have a dramatic impact on the state’s future governance.

Indeed, there’s an urgent need for someone on either side of this issue to take the matter to court. A constitutional question of enormous consequence is at stake.

Hogan’s claim to executive powers over local school systems appears shaky. They are not part of the executive branch.Similarly, the State Board of Education isn’t beholden to Hogan’s mandates. By law, the governor names board members but it then is up to this independent panel to pick a superintendent and enact statewide school policies without interference.

So how can Hogan claim authority to lay out parameters for the annual school calendar?

Setting a Precedent?

In a state where there’s a yawning gap between the Republican governor and Democratic legislature, Hogan’s action could set a dangerous precedent. In the future, Hogan might decide to rule by executive fiat rather than tangle with a legislature determined to block his moves.

Repeatedly, Hogan has expressed disdain for the legislature and frustration with lawmakers’ refusal to give him 100 percent of what he wants. He has mocked and derided Democratic legislators. In the dispute over when to begin the school year he accused Democrats of being in the pocket of the state teachers union.

In the past, lawmakers have defeated attempts to accommodate Ocean City businesses by commencing school after Labor Day. Opposition has come not just from the teachers union but from statewide groups representing local education boards, PTAs and local school superintendents.

Their argument is based on doing what is best from an education standpoint.

Hogan’s argument is based on doing what is in the best interests of Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake businesses that see a decline in revenue when families can’t extend their vacations through the Labor Day weekend because of early school openings.

Practical Considerations

Hogan is being a practical, tactical politician seeking to win cheers from parents and his political base. Returning Maryland to an earlier time when all school systems waited till after Labor Day to begin classes is in line with Republican ideology that insists we can, indeed, roll back the clock.

Educators want to be practical, too, but not in a political sense. If you want to keep the current time off for holidays, religious observances and professional training days, then the school year must start before Labor Day or extend nearly till July.

The other concern is that a later school-year start compresses the time students have to prepare for nationwide testing. Educators worry about lower test scores and harming students’ ability to qualify for gifted and talented courses or getting into colleges.

But there’s a much bigger issue at stake.

Can the governor promulgate additional executive orders telling local schools and the state education panel what to do or what they are forbidden from doing?

Can he, for example, prevent a local school system from closing for Muslim holidays? If local school boards truncate spring break to comply with his order, can Hogan then tell them not to eliminate Good Friday and Easter Monday as holidays?

Could he or a future conservative governor require the end to sex education in local schools? Could he overrule school board decisions on the treatment of transgender children?

Could he issue an executive order allowing students to attend local schools without having been vaccinated? Could he decree that the conservative constitutional doctrine of “original intent” be taught in all high school civics classes?

Dividing Line of Power

At the same time, Hogan might decide to issue an executive order requiring Baltimore City and Baltimore County to air-condition all of its schools immediately, regardless of the cost to local governments. He might also use executive orders to fire local superintendents or board members who don’t follow his commands.

What happens if a local school board defies Hogan this time and sets its 2017 calendar with a pre-Labor Day opening? How does Hogan make that board comply? Does he deny the jurisdiction state funds? Does he sue the board?

And where does Maryland’s law-making body come into play? Isn’t that the group given the constitutional power to enact statutes governing local education?

Where, precisely, is the dividing line between executive authority and legislative authority?

Definitive answers are sorely needed. Not off-the-cuff “I’m right” comments from the governor or “we feel strongly both ways” conclusions from the attorney general’s office. Only the Maryland Court of Appeals is in position to deliver a clarifying ruling.

It doesn’t help matters for the General Assembly to reverse Hogan’s school-schedule mandate in January and then pass a law setting out new ground rules for executive orders. This would only produce more bad blood and finger-pointing for political gain.

A court determination, on the other hand, would settle this dispute and resolve a murky area of constitutional law.

All it takes is someone to pursue legal action. So far, no one has had the courage to do so.

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Medical Marijuana Meets MD’s Spoils System

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 19, 2016 – Maybe Donald Trump is right: The system is rigged. For proof, look at how interest groups are feverishly trying to “rig” Maryland’s choice of authorized medical marijuana growers and processors.

The Black Legislative Caucus wants to “rig” the selection procedure so that people of color get their share (and more) of the lucrative payoff from legalized pot-growing, despite their lack of high rankings in the objective selection process.The Spoils System Returns to Maryland

Others recently got the system “rigged” in a way that denies licenses to a few top-ranked growers who were chosen on merit. Instead, lesser-rated groups in politically sensitive geographic areas were awarded this rich financial prize.

Picking the best, most qualified growers gave way to political “rigging” of the system.

So much for the commission’s carefully planned “double-blind” selection procedure designed to remove political favoritism and eliminate any hint of subjective bias.

Guarding Against Tainted Results

This well-established, scientific method works beautifully in drug-testing and picking the most skilled musicians for the Baltimore Symphony. So why not use this proven way to guard against tainted results in the state’s effort to find the best and most capable cannabis growers and processors?

Silly idea. An honest evaluation of the applicants proved too much for state politicians and lobbyists. Their favored applicants failed to make the cut.

Suddenly, criticism rained down on the medical marijuana commission. The cry went out: Bring back Maryland’s spoils system.

“This is a good modern-day civil rights fight,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.

Well. . . that’s a stretch.

It’s an effort to ensure that already financially well-off minorities get a slice of the action – regardless of their capabilities for handling the growing, processing and distribution of medical marijuana.

After all, this is expected to be a national multi-billion-dollar business.

To heck with selecting the most qualified cannabis growers. What Maryland needs is some good old favoritism!

Merit Selection Process

The commission tried its best to keep politics out of its decision-making. It came up with a way of choosing winning applicants that was devoid of political pressure and influence-peddling – a double-blind ranking system conducted by an outside group.

Applicants’ names, and their investors’ names, were removed from proposals so the rankings would be based entirely on merit.

It turned out, though, that none of the applications submitted by minority-controlled companies ranked high enough to gain a cultivation license. That’s when impartiality and merit-selection went out the window.

Attorney General Brian Frosh, in an incredibly two-faced action, contradicted his own assistant attorney general and other higher-ups in his agency, who had concluded the commission could not legally tilt the playing field.

Frosh rallied to the side of the Black Caucus. Gov. Larry Hogan expressed concern, too. Word came down from on high: Work something out.

Oh, well, so much for a color-blind government that allows only the best-qualified cannabis cultivators and processors to ply their trade in Maryland.

Gift-Wrapped Permits

The commission quickly buckled under the pressure.

In August, the panel stripped two winning companies of their licenses not because they had done something wrong but because one commissioner argued there wasn’t enough “geographic diversity” among authorized growers.

Lower-scoring applicants with more politically acceptable locations were gift-wrapped these valuable permits.

Not surprisingly, the disqualified applicants are threatening to sue. More litigation is inevitable.

If the Black Caucus succeeds in pulling the licenses of other applicants for the sake of diversity – or gets the entire process re-started – we’ll have enough legal action to set back the cause of medicinal marijuana for a long time.

Yet while minority groups fight for a bigger slice of the cannabis windfall, sick and terminally ill patients in excruciating pain are denied the relief cannabis might provide.

No one seems agitated about that. Mammon rules the day.

It’s a royal mess.

Politicians Get Involved

Years ago, attempts in Maryland to “rig” the system sent a vice president into shameful exile and a governor and several county executives to prison. The quest for money can be a corrupting influence.

So it is with legalizing medical marijuana – at least in Maryland.

Choosing the people who will grow marijuana plants and turn them into safe medicinal products is serious business. It seemed to make sense to pick them based purely on expertise and merit.

But not to the b’hoys in Annapolis.

So now politicians have their hands in the action. The result could be lengthy delays and a more expansive and pliable process that allows Maryland’s spoils system to work its magic.

Is an impartial, unbiased selection system about to be manipulated for the benefit of lesser-qualified applicants who have friends in high places?

You don’t need to be Donald Trump to answer that question.

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

Popular Larry Hogan

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 12, 2016 – As Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., starts packing for the friendship/business-development trip to Israel that every Maryland chief executive takes, he can gloat about his crafty propaganda maneuvers that have him sky-high in popularity polls.

Expect more “good news” announcements. There always are when a governor’s entourage makes an economic prospecting tour. These visits don’t take place unless made-in-advance deals are set for unveiling during the VIP procession.

Popular Larry Hogan

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. and wife, Yumi, at 2014 inauguration

Hogan has become a master of positive image-making. He’s got a cheerful public persona, a hearty laugh and a back-slapping camaraderie.

He also recognizes Marylanders are fed up with politicians who flood the airwaves and newspapers with press releases and public utterances. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s declining popularity stemmed in part from the public’s fatigue with his constant campaigning and propagandizing.

These days, people want elected leaders to leave them alone. Staying out of the news is as much a reason for Hogan’s strong poll numbers as anything else.

Popular Side Issues

He’s latched onto tangential issues that sound good to people at first glance. He cut tolls – always a winner with voters – a bit. He lowered some government fees. He ordered schools not to start classes before Labor Day. He held back millions from Baltimore City and Baltimore County for failing to air-condition all school classrooms immediately.

Every one of those actions brought a resounding huzzah and another rise in Hogan’s numbers. At this stage, he looks like a shoo-in for re-election in 2018.

That’s the positive side of the equation.

But here’s the rub. He’s got an abysmal relationship with Democrats who run the General Assembly. Worse, he seems determined to keep it that way into his next term.

Despite phenomenal poll numbers, Hogan can point to few legacy achievements. That’s due largely to his stubborn refusal to seek compromise with opposition-party lawmakers.

Unfinished Business

Yes, he closed the Baltimore City Jail – but he has yet to demolish the eye-sore because he tried to use funds intended for Baltimore-area universities for the jail tear-down. Nor did he bother to consult with community or city leaders about his secretive decision.

Yes, he helped end the 2015 Baltimore civil unrest by sending in the National Guard and touring a few riot-torn streets. But since then he’s been an absentee leader rarely showing his face.

As for a rejuvenation package to aid the state’s most distressed jurisdiction, Hogan has turned a blind eye. Baltimore’s horrific poverty and crime problems remain the albatross around Maryland’s neck – and Hogan is taking the silent, “benign neglect” approach.

Yes, he signed a bill reforming the criminal justice system for low-risk offenders, but credit belongs to Chief Legislative Officer Christopher Shank for that effort at reaching across the aisle to find common ground with Democrats.

The governor talks about joining hands and singing from the same hymnal, but in truth he’s a hard-nosed, partisan Republican who seems to relish insulting Democrats.

Negotiating isn’t in his vocabulary unless it is 100 percent on his terms. His legislative agenda has been thin on substance and thick on unpassable conservative ideology.

Thin Agenda

No wonder Democrats in the legislature have buried much of his agenda. Last session, the governor even ordered his staff not to work with lawmakers behind the scenes to hammer out differences.

There’s been no education package from Hogan in two years, no environmental package, no health-care package, no natural resources package, no major economic-development package, no energy package, indeed no comprehensive proposal except the criminal justice bill.

He killed Baltimore’s mass-transit expansion but has yet to put in place his so-called replacement – a modestly revamped bus system.

Instead, Hogan has directed his energy toward minutia, like feuding with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz over that county’s dwindling number of schools without air-conditioning.

He also humiliated and bad-mouthed the long-time and much-praised director of the state’s school construction program, prompting his resignation.

He has refused on occasion to let foes of his administration’s plans speak at Board of Public Works meetings. Clearly, he doesn’t like to hear criticism.

He issued his executive order mandating that local school systems begin fall classes after, not before, Labor Day without consulting affected educators who overwhelmingly opposed such a move. They say this imperils students’ ability to prepare for national placement tests and could mean an end to spring and winter school breaks.

Appeal to Voters

It’s been a curious year and three-quarters, indeed.

Hogan has picked his issues carefully, keeping in touch with his conservative base, appealing to voters’ base instincts on marginal matters and blaming Democrats for anything and everything that has gone off-track in Maryland.

So far it is a formula for short-term success. Hogan may become the first Republican to serve two gubernatorial terms in Maryland since Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin did it in the 1950s.

Popular Larry Hogan

Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin (1951-1959)

But McKeldin, a liberal Republican who would be drummed out of the party today, amassed a spectacularly successful record in office thanks in large measure to his ability to work with the Democratic legislature.

Hogan is heading in the opposite direction.

He may rival hapless Republican Gov. Harry Whinna Nice (1935-1939) for his paucity of accomplishments during his time in office. (Nice’s sole, lasting contribution was changing the architectural style of the governor’s mansion from Victorian to Georgian.)

Popular Larry Hogan

Gov. Harry W. Nice (1935-1939)

Where’s the Beef?

Hogan was elected with great promise and anticipation, but he has yet to deliver.

Where is the promised major de-regulation package that would free businesses and individuals of unnecessary and expensive bureaucratic red tape?

Where is the elimination of waste and inefficiency from state agencies? Where is the reorganization of state departments?

Where is the downsizing of the state’s work force?

Where is the smaller but smarter state spending program?

Time is on Hogan’s side, though.

He still could recognize that cooperation yields more than constant confrontation.

He could get serious about bringing sound Republican principles to Maryland government rather than following bellicose conservative proposals that stands no chance of becoming law.

Hogan has the opportunity to demonstrate what sensible Republican governance means. He hasn’t done much in that direction so far, which is a shame because it could be a lasting legacy.

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