By Barry Rascovar
One Really Bad Day
Capital Priorities Questioned
Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aug. 5, 2015 — It’s clear I hit a nerve with my Aug. 3 column on Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and what I perceived as a new, sharply condemnatory tone in his statements.
If you are on my blog, politicalmaryland.com, you can read the printable responses sent to the website — 14 of them — in the right-hand column under the heading “Recent Comments.”
Here are other reactions that I’ve received:
Kevin wrote: “I was very sad and disappointed in the tone of your column about Governor Hogan.
In a follow-up missive, he elaborated: “As the son of a high school graduate and a high school dropout, your comment, ‘most with limited education’ is mean-spirited and what are your facts behind this quote? People can have limited education and have decency and intelligence. Does it make you feel good to belittle individuals and groups?”
Jeffrey wrote: “I used to always agree with you, but perhaps not as much in recent years. . . However, I APPLAUD you for the outstanding journalism vis a vis Gov. Hogan. Many of us have diseases or injuries but don’t use that as an excuse for anything. There is no reason to treat the Governor any differently just because he has cancer. I am glad you continue to be hard-hitting, honest and objective. You are a credit to your profession. Personally, I feel that the Governor should resign and take care of himself rather than short-changing the state with his current limited leadership. (It was quite ‘limited’ even before he was diagnosed!!). And, yes, he has become mean and nasty and it’s only going to get worse.”
Mike, on the other hand, let Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com (which ran the column) know he was outraged: “There was a lot of false information used and it was clearly emotional. . . ‘Uneducated white people’? Really? LOL good luck with that. Welcome to the world of propaganda. Not everyone can handle responsibility.”
A tweeter wrote: “Closing the Baltimore jail was absolutely the right decision. Hooray for Gov. @LarryHogan ”
David H. chimed in: “I disagree with your article wholeheartedly. Your way of thinking is what has screwed up Maryland in the first place. People are tired of the media and their ‘opinion.’ I’m glad we cleaned house in Maryland, it was high time. I’m glad BALTIMORE is on Larry Hogan’s agenda. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a worthless dud and has done nothing to support her constituents. Look at the condition of the police department, countless murders every day and the roads, just to name a few. Not Larry Hogan’s fault. It’s an absolute mess. The liberal agenda is to blame. Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Your way doesn’t work. Never has, never will.”
S.B. sent in this: “Mr. Rascovar, I have never heard of you before but after reading the article you so viciously wrote recently regarding our fine governor, I had to respond. Gov. Hogan is the best thing that has ever happened to MD. No doubt you are a Democrat who has enjoyed the one-party rule in our state that we have suffered through forever here in MD. Finally we have a fair-minded governor whose decisions are well thought-out, common sense, non-political, and looking out for the best interest of all Marylanders. For the record, Donald Trump is a joke. . . Larry Hogan is the real deal, sorely needed in this world of such political divisiveness that you obviously relish. Larry Hogan compromises, he reaches out & brings people together. He has in his administration people of other political parties, and, yes, he makes tough calls when needed. A great leader for MD, how refreshing. . . If only we had such a leader in the White House. You should be writing instead about our president; your article actually sounds like him & the way he has ruled our country.
Here’s a response from N.L.: “It would be a miracle if someone were to read your column and see you refer to angry black voters as people with a ‘limited education.’ We all know you do not have the guts. Of course, according to elitists like you, citizens without advanced degrees are too stupid to be involved in their own government.”
D.R. pounced on the column this way: “First impression from skimming your piece: Look at the pot calling . . . Takes one to know one. Looks like the media double standard again. I can’t see how Hogan’s purported unilateral dissing of Democrats is much different from O’Malley’s treatment of Republicans.”
John W. wrote: “I am saddened that you made mention of Gov. Hogan’s illness in your attempt to explain his decisions. By any measure, this is way out of bounds. You are better than that and you know it. Someone once said that the last defense to a weak argument is to get personal in criticizing your opponent.”
On that point, R.M. added, “Even for you, the attack on Gov. Hogan was pretty superfluous.”
M.B.. took a different slant: “Yeah. I agree he could have done things better. Could those actions be his response to us acting like the Republicans in Congress? I really hope that he will be more collaborative with Democrats in the General Assembly and with the locally elected officials, otherwise we will be in deep. . . . I live in Howard County and I see the same situation between the county executive and the county council. I am a tried-and-true Democrat and the election of Gov. Hogan in a Democratic state has to tell us something. The question is what? We can’t do anything until that question is discussed, analyzed and answered.”
Andrew F. takes a broader view of the situation: “I tend to blame both [Martin] O’Malley and [Anthony] Brown. Gov. O’Malley seemed to burn out rather early and he left Mr. Brown high and dry, never letting him share in the spotlight.”
Patricia R. emailed this one: “And so the real Hogan emerges. . . Is anyone really surprised? If the state’s Democrats had actually put forth a decent candidate, rather than assuming that Anthony Brown, who had accomplished nothing during his terms as Lt. Governor, we might have a governor who actually understood government. Now we’ve got Dirty Larry — at least for the next four years.”
Meyer M., meanwhile, resented discussion of Hogan’s health issues: “What ugly comment to refer to his chemotherapy! The New, Nasty Larry Hogan.”
Bob B. sent this message: “I like Hogan’s smoke screen. Let B-more rot. They are just killing their own. Go Hogan for 8 more years!!!!”
T.V. had this response: “I must say I’m not shocked by the disappointment I had when I read your article. You had many good points, and in some of them I agree with you even as a Republican. However, while to a point bringing up his illness might not be taboo and to some point should be discussed, the way you did it (as perceived by me) seems like a childish attack, and quite frankly why I don’t pay much attention to the mainstream or left-leaning medias. I know asking you to change the way you write to show more respect to elected officials will be moot. I will just say the negative overtone I felt makes me not want to agree with anything else you might bring to mass attention whether it is warranted or not. Hopefully this might at the very least cause a brief millisecond of counter-thought before you attack a man’s character rather then his actions.”
J. M. added another perspective: “A big standing ‘O’ for ya for the nasty-Hogan column and follow-up. If there’s anything that makes me livid about current GOP politics (well, there are a LOT of things), it’s how everything is reduced to emotionalism and whether you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ someone. It’s a way of avoiding real policy discourse, which of course they can’t engage in because they have no policy ideas beyond opposing anything Obama, immigrant, urban, female, etc. They latched onto a single line in your column, re: chemo, to avoid actually disputing the entire list of policy decisions you detailed concerning the Red Line, etc. Anyway, glad you struck a nerve, and I just wish there were as organized an on-line commentariat on the other side as there is with the whole Red State set.”
Then there’s this from R. L.: “Add to the Hogan list not only the abrupt curtailment of a recent, difficult-to-achieve toll increase, which jeopardizes the near- and long-term maintenance needs for most [toll] facilities, but also virtually eliminates replacement or some other solution to the problems of the Nice Bridge [in Southern Maryland] (for which there would have been major federal funding), but also the abrupt firing of probably the most highly qualified and effective airport administrator in the country — a finalist for [the] Atlanta [airport’s top job] who turned down [offers to run Chicago’s] O’Hare Airport and under whose leadership BWI had its greatest growth phase. Really hard to understand.”
I concur on his last point. Sadly, no reporters have delved into the heavy leadership turnover in the state’s Transportation Department and the mysterious firing of Paul Wiedefield at BWI, a true all-star airport and transportation administrator.
R.L. also raises a valid point that Hogan’s decision to lower tolls will have serious long-term consequences. Critical bridge repair/replacement work on the ancient Harry W. Nice Bridge over the Potomac River and the aging Thomas Hatem Bridge on U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River are badly needed. But now there’s no money to do the job.
All that may be fodder for future columns. For now, it’s good to hear from readers, whatever their points of view.
By Barry Rascovar
Aug. 4, 2015 — Complaints and harsh words have poured in about my Aug. 3 column, for daring to raise the possibility that Gov. Larry Hogan’s health may have played a role in his turn toward nastiness.
Let’s be clear: The governor’s treatment for late Stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma cannot be ignored.
Everyone wishes Hogan a speedy return to good health. Doctors I’ve spoken to have been optimistic about his recovery chances given today’s advancements in chemotherapy.
But the situation — and its ramifications for governing Maryland — cannot be swept under the rug.
Could the governor’s unseemly swipes at Democratic leaders be partly related to how he’s feeling during and after his intense medical treatments?
It is a possibility. You don’t have to agree, but it’s a thought worth considering — which is why it was raised ever so briefly (17 words) in my previous column.
Hogan’s spinmeisters used my column to reject the notion he has turned from Mr. Nice to Mr. Nasty. In a Facebook posting, Hogan asserted:
“In spite of 10 days of 24 hour chemo I haven’t become mean and nasty, I’m still the same nice guy I have always been, and we are still accomplishing great things for Maryland.”
He also defended his failure to notify Democratic legislators before announcing the closing of the Baltimore City Detention Center. Why? Because he didn’t want to tip off the gangs about what was about to happen.
For the record, here’s what Mr. Nice Guy had to say in blaming the disgraceful gang problems of the city jail on former Gov. Martin O’Malley:
“When the first indictments came down the previous governor called the case ‘a positive achievement in the fight against gangs.’ It was just phony political spin on a prison culture created by an utter failure of leadership.”
The facts tell a slightly different story that Hogan conveniently ignored in his spiteful comments.
It was O’Malley’s corrections secretary, Gary Maynard, who uncovered the deplorable Black Guerilla gang control of the city jail and called in the FBI. Maynard wanted to act immediately to end the gang’s stranglehold on the detention center and prosecute the guards involved, but the FBI insisted on months and months of further investigation.
This long delay was a huge, inexcusable mistake, but that failure of leadership should not be blamed on O’Malley. Hogan needed to point an accusing figure at the FBI.
It was easier and more useful politically to demonize the opposition party leadership.
Thus, Hogan politicized the jail-closing announcement in terms that pilloried both O’Malley and the Democratic legislature.
Such “smack-down” rhetoric doesn’t further cooperative governance.
Two of the most level-headed Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Ed De Grange of Anne Arundel County and Sen. Guy Guzzone of Howard County, co-chaired a commission that studied the city jail situation and developed a long-term, bi-partisan solution.
Hogan not only disregarded their work, he bragged about the fact he had “never even looked at” this plan.
Is it any wonder the co-chairs accused Hogan of having “circumvented the Legislature” and of “making decisions behind closed doors”?
That last accusation has surfaced on other Hogan decisions, too. He doesn’t seem to believe in listening to a wide-range of divergent views before making up his mind. That approach is not always helpful.
Closing the Baltimore jail was absolutely the right decision. Hooray for Hogan.
He is correct it should have happened long ago — perhaps even under the governorship of the last Republican chief executive, Bob Ehrlich.
But there was no reason to turn the announcement into a political tongue-lashing.
It only exacerbates the growing gulf between the governor and Democratic lawmakers, the very people he needs if he hopes to make headway in achieving his large-scale goals for Maryland.
By Barry Rascovar
Aug. 3, 2015 — What happened to the friendly, smiling, easy-going Larry Hogan? Mr. Nice Guy has morphed into Mr. Nasty.
Perhaps he’s spent too much time with his pal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the combative presidential hopeful with the mouth that roars.
Perhaps his new Kojack look, as well as his grueling chemotherapy sessions, help explain what’s going on.
Or maybe it’s just a recognition by Maryland’s Republican governor that tough talk and decisive action go over well with his conservative-to-moderate constituents. Excoriating hapless, fumbling Democrats and going it alone make you look like John Wayne riding to the school marm’s rescue.
Whatever the reason, Hogan has taken a turn down a dark alley. It may lead to a promising political future but from a governing standpoint it could turn into a disaster.
In less than nine months, Hogan has managed to offend or alienate much of the Democratic elected leadership in Maryland. He has:
In nearly every case, Hogan’s made it clear he’s the act-now, think-later governor of Maryland who doesn’t need to consult with Democratic lawmakers or local officials who might offer valuable input. That would complicate matters.
It’s his party and he’ll do what he wants.
Hogan is giving the public what it wants: Simplistic, quick answers to difficult, highly complicated problems. It’s also how he campaigned for governor.
Sort of reminds you of Donald Trump, doesn’t it?
Here’s the catch: If easy solutions could fix government’s worst dilemmas, they would have happened long ago.
If simply closing the Baltimore City jail and detention center could solve that jurisdiction’s incarceration and detention nightmare, that step would have been taken by Republic Gov. Bob Ehrlich or Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Hogan’s quick action at the Baltimore jail opens a new can of worms. You can’t mix people awaiting trial with convicted felons, but that’s apparently the plan. How do you tend to the medical and transportation needs of 1,000-plus former city jail inmates about to be spread among other state prison facilities? Where’s the intake center for new arrivals? Are you overwhelming nearby state prisons? Will the state face additional, unwinnable ACLU lawsuits?
Hogan says he won’t build a replacement city jail. That would make Baltimore unique in the United States. How is this going to work? Hogan is mum on that point. What does he know that other correctional expert don’t?
The city jail announcement came with gratuitous, nasty and factually inaccurate swipes at O’Malley. It sounded like a re-hash of Hogan in last year’s campaign.
Nor did the Republican governor spare Democratic legislators from his wrath. Then again, he displayed a stunning lack of preparation: He admitted he hadn’t read a detailed report from a special legislative commission on handling Baltimore’s chronic jail/detention situation.
Hogan is playing to his political crowd: angry white men and women — most with limited education — that Spiro Agnew appealed to. If the governor continues along this combative line of attack, he could well become a talked-about contender for the Republican vice presidential nomination, just like Agnew.
We live in an era of presidential campaigning dominated by sound bites, blunt talk, insults and easy answers. Hogan seems to be following that path, too.
The difference is that presidential candidates don’t have to govern. Hogan does, and he has now made that part of his life far more difficult. Maryland could be in for at least three years of government gridlock in Annapolis. It may not be pretty or helpful for Marylanders, but it could well serve Larry Hogan’s political purposes.
March 20, 2015 — Maryland’s system of contracting for services through competitive bids is in shambles. It has been that way for years — and is getting worse.
It’s an embarrassment to taxpayers. Yet a long list of procurement debacles hasn’t been enough to spur sweeping reforms.
That seems likely to change, thanks in part to a royal screw-up on a food-service contract that all three members of the Board of Public Works strongly denounced last week.
Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. described the badly botched prison-food procurement as “one of the most disgraceful displays of mismanagement” he’s seen in his long business career.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, a persistent but lonely critic of these contracting disasters, called it “the most troubling procurement” in his eight years on the board.
Treasurer Nancy Kopp, ever the diplomat who chooses her words with care, said she was “sorely troubled.”
Nearly every month, the board hears nightmarish tales of state contracting efforts gone awry, of contractors who submit low-ball bids only to seek costly add-ons later, of inept procurement officials who misapply contracting rules, tilt the playing field, make a mess of the bid-and-award process or fail to use common sense.
Hogan and Franchot earlier this year repeatedly skewered University System of Maryland officials for ineptly explaining cost overruns and excessive spending on university capital projects.
Now the prison-food contract horror story has led board members to the brink of action.
It’s a tale of stupidity by corrections officials under former Gov. Martin O’Malley.
It’s a tale of a contractor using the threat of cutting off food deliveries to Baltimore inmates to secure a whopping 54 percent boost in state payments.
It’s also a tale of misleading statements that are coming back to haunt the winning bidder.
Franchot called the misadventures of this contract award “highly irregular.” He urged the governor to ask Attorney General Brian Frosh to investigate and determine whether this was the result of “staggering incompetence — or something else.”
Franchot also should have asked the governor to appoint a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to study recent procurement disasters and recommend ways to fix a dysfunctional system.
In short, here’s what happened on the prison-food contract.
State corrections officials made the inexcusable mistake of erring on how many meals are served to Baltimore prison inmates each day. This should have been basic math, backed up by recent meals-per-day figures.
Yet corrections officials requested contractors submit bids for serving 23,000 daily prison meals. The actual number should have been closer to 15,000.
That’s a huge difference because the contractor is paid on a price-per-meal basis.
The incumbent contractor, based on its seven years of experience at the Baltimore prisons, estimated it would cost $89 million over three years to fulfill the food contract. The other bidder came up with a stunningly low figure of $37 million.
That’s a whopping difference — a gap in bids so gigantic it should have set off alarm bells. Something was very wrong with the state’s request for proposals (RFP).
Instead of catching the mistake early, state prison officials went ahead and awarded the contract to the low bidder, which hadn’t even taken the basic step of inspecting the prison kitchen facilities before bidding.
Such naiveté never surfaced when the board, under O’Malley, approved this contract in early January. Instead, the company called itself award-winning and pledged to do a great job.
Almost immediately that promise collapsed.
The prison kitchen facilities needed hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades that the contractor hadn’t figured on. Health inspectors listed 11 pages of required remediation.
The vendor was serving nearly 8,000 fewer meals per day and losing $70,000 a week.
On Feb. 24, the company informed the state it would stop serving inmates on Feb. 28 — just four days later — unless its compensation was boosted immediately by 53 percent.
Faced with the prospect of inmates going without food, new corrections secretary Stephen Moyer had little choice but to give the vendor what it wanted — an emergency, six-month, $6.6 million contract that dramatically jacked up payments to the vendor.
Moyer wisely cancelled the original contract award, which is supposed to be re-bid in about six months. Good luck on that one — especially since the department that bungled the first RFP-and-award process is still running the show.
Franchot called the winning vendor’s explanations “deplorable.” “You essentially deceived us,” he told the company’s owners last week.
But whose fault was it? The state is so culpable that legal action against the winning bidder may not be possible.
In reality, it is a systemic problem.
From top to bottom, Maryland’s procurement laws and procedures need a thorough vetting by experts. The process is too easily manipulated by contractors and by state officials.
Hogan has grown increasingly irritated by the flawed and costly contracting mistakes that have come before the Board of Public Works since he took office in late January,
Actions to revamp and improve the system will speak far louder than angry words of disgust.
Jan. 13, 2014 — John Hanson Briscoe and Bishop Robinson, who died this past week at ages 79 and 86 respectively, understood the meaning of public service.
They grasped the meaning of acting responsibly and honorably. Their lives remind us what running government is all about.
Briscoe was a calming antidote during the Mandel years in Annapolis.
He was the quintessential Southern Marylander, and came by this honestly.
John Hanson was a direct descendant of his namesake, a native of Charles County who was the first to serve a full term as President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1782).
You can look it up.
Briscoe fought the old Dorsey family machine in St. Mary’s County, and won. His polite and gentlemanly demeanor, combined with the patience of Job and a sly, biting humor made him an ideal Speaker of the House of Delegates.
He proved good at herding political cats.
Briscoe presided with optimism, dignity and grace, his Southern Maryland drawl providing a soothing tonic during heated debates.
Most of us knew him as John or John Hanson, the latter reference proving a competitive irritant to his Senate counterpart, President Steny H. Hoyer, who suddenly started referring to himself as Steny Hamilton Hoyer. Touche!
His honesty and integrity came in handy during the shady Mandel years. He wasn’t parochial, either, understanding that in Annapolis you often have to go the extra mile for other parts of the state.
Thus, he alertly steered subway legislation for Baltimore through the House as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He also championed property tax reform, civil rights legislation and environmental protection laws.
He was a persuader and a mediator, but when required Briscoe could be firm and stern as a judge.
So it was no surprise when John Hanson Briscoe proved equally adept and conscientious as a Circuit Court judge in St. Mary’s County for 16 years. He was an exemplar of judicial temperament, fairness and human understanding.
Briscoe’s service never intersected with that of Bishop Robinson’s, which is a shame. They had much in common.
Robinson didn’t claim a genealogical link to the nation’s founders.
Instead, he grew up in segregated Baltimore, graduating from segregated schools, enlisting in the segregated Army and joining a segregated Baltimore parks department and then its police department.
But like rich cream, Robinson rose to the top.
He had the smarts to acquire a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in his spare time while taking on just about every important post in the city police agency.
He caught the eye of William Donald Schaefer, who became a mentor and made him Baltimore’s first African-American police commissioner.
When Schaefer left the mayor’s office for Annapolis, he took Robinson with him as corrections secretary.
Later, Gov. Parris Glendening recruited Robinson to run the Department of Juvenile Services.
Robinson proved an able manager who didn’t hesitate to make command decisions but also understood the importance of delegating authority to aides he trusted. No wonder so many people loved working for him.
Robinson’s demeanor demanded respect. Tall, imposing and ramrod straight, he maintained a regal bearing at hearings and executive meetings. When he spoke, people listened.
It was no accident that those who knew him started calling Robinson “the archbishop.”
Robinson helped expand and modernize the state’s prisons, giving guards better training and seeking ways to cut recidivism. He proved an ideal fit for juvenile offenders in need of “tough love.”
Both Bishop Robinson and John Hanson Briscoe approached government service as an honor. They dedicated their lives to making Maryland better for its citizens.
For today’s legislators and public officials, there are no better examples of how to do it — if you want to leave a lasting legacy.
# # #
Sign up for all future columns. Click on “subscribe” along right-hand margin.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.