Category Archives: Election Campaigns

Dems in the Spotlight

By Barry Rascovar

October 15, 2015 – What a contrast between the two recent Republican presidential alley fights and the polite, wonkish policy discussions at the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night in, of all places, a luxurious Las Vegas casino-hotel.

Dems in the Spotlight

Democrats debate (left to right): Chafee, Clinton, O’Malley, Sanders and Webb

Just as Donald Trump seized the spotlight, and kept it, during the raucous GOP debates, Hillary Clinton clearly took center stage and never relinquished her dominance of the five-candidate Democratic field.

There was no doubt who was the most competent and compelling candidate on stage, the only one you could picture sitting in the Oval Office negotiating the fate of the world with Vladimir Putin.

The Others

Wimpy Lincoln Chafee made it embarrassingly clear he would be a lost ball in high grass as president. Jim Webb seemed to have trouble explaining himself. Martin O’Malley (oh, Martin!) too often sounded rehearsed and not-yet-ready for prime time.

Then there was Bernie.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of tiny, rural Vermont, the socialist who turned Democrat at the last minute so he could launch a fervently emotional crusade to rally support for his far-left-of-center utopian ideals.

To Sanders, capitalism belongs in the waste bin of history. Let’s make the U.S. of A. like Denmark!

Similar to Trump, Sanders is capitalizing on public anger over the gridlocked mess in Washington, the dangerously intractable foreign policy quagmires, and the strong dislike people have toward politicians in power. (Sanders may be a U.S. senator but he isn’t allowed to play an influential role.)

Bernie was wonderfully entertaining Tuesday night. He’s a riveting speaker, full of fire and brimstone and loud anger that brought cheers from his fanatical loyalists.

But he was woefully short of proposals that stand any chance of becoming reality. Free college education? Free health care for all? All his ideas would require $19 trillion in new tax revenue. Even Sanders’ relentless demands to tax and prosecute billionaires to the hilt won’t come within a continent of paying for his programs.

Perfect Foil

Sanders is a dreamer and a provocateur. He isn’t going to be president. He’s way too extreme in his notions and way too vague as to how he’d accomplish anything in a Congress that could be controlled by radical Republicans. But his anger and his impossible dreams are perfect foils for the pragmatic front-runner.

Only Clinton stood out as an accomplished presidential candidate who understands the complexities of Washington and recognizes incremental reforms are the only steps that might be possible at the moment.

She came through Tuesday night as someone in command of her facts and her goals — improve life for the middle and lower classes of American society. She is, at this point, the star of a very weak presidential class.

But be aware, we still are over a year away from the general election and over three months from the first primary. It’s a long, long road to the White House and surprises are certain to emerge.

For now, though, the Democratic presidential picture has come into sharp focus. As for the Republicans, we’re still waiting for the three-ring circus to end and real policy discussions to begin.

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Dems Debate — In Brief

[From MarylandReporter.com]

Big Dog Clinton, angry orator Sanders, and O’Malley best of the rest

Dems Debate -- In Brief

Candidates Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Lincoln Chafee (left to right)

By Barry Rascovar

Hillary

October 14, 2015–Throughout last evening’s Democratic presidential debate, the Big Dog in the room was Hillary Clinton.

She started strong and finished strongest, the only one who gave nuanced, pragmatic answers on how to solve vexing, seemingly intractable problems.

She led the charge in denouncing Republicans and the National Rifle Association and made it clear she will fight the hardest for women’s rights.

Bernie

Bernie Sanders wins the blue ribbon for most emotionally compelling rhetoric, though it frequently veered into unreality.

He must have denounced rapacious billionaires a dozen times. He admitted he’s leading a revolution, not presenting proposals that are achievable.

If you want to elect an angry orator, Bernie’s your man.

Martin

As for Martin O’Malley, he was clearly the Best of the Rest. His poll ratings should rise, perhaps even edging into double digits. He achieved his goal after a shaky start with his voice quavering. His defense of his zero-tolerance police policy as Baltimore mayor wasn’t persuasive.

And he made the biggest gaffe of the evening, mistakenly saying that Bashir Assad (rather than Vladimir Putin) had invaded Syria — undermining his credibility on foreign policy.

Still, our man Martin performed well enough to spread the word that he could be an up-and-coming future star of the party.

It would take a major miracle for him to become a real contender this year, but as the late Judge Edgar Silver would remind him, “The best is yet to come.”

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Politics Imitating Art

By Barry Rascovar

October 12, 2015 – What’s happening to American politics? Has it turned into Theater of the Absurd?

Politics Imitating Art

Oscar-winner Peter Finch as “mad” anchor Howard Beale in the movie “Network.”

Donald Trump – a philandering, controversial billionaire developer who relishes slinging insults faster than Don Rickles – leads in Republican polls.

Ben Carson – the world-famous retired Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon who can’t help creating firestorms with his uninformed, politically incorrect comments – is running a close second.

Bernie Sanders – a socialist U.S. senator from tiny Vermont who thinks he can wave a magic wand and re-create America as an ultra-liberal nation – is fast gaining on the Democratic front-runner.

Meanwhile, the sane candidates can’t gain traction. They keep being pulled further and further from the center – where most voters reside.

The Horse Race

That’s the scene in Political America in early fall 2015, more than a year away from the real election.

You wouldn’t know that, though, thanks to the media’s insatiable appetite for sensationalism and horse-race journalism featuring a new poll practically every day, distorting the true picture on the ground.

People are tired of the political status quo, the endless promises that never come to pass, the gridlock in Washington, the bitter partisanship, the self-aggrandizement, the failure to handle issues that affect families.

Suddenly, a new breed of pseudo presidential candidates has appeared on the scene, tailor-made for Reality TV.

Central Casting

Their facts-be-damned, messianic messages are straight out of central casting – and straight out of a screenplay that riveted movie viewers almost 40 years ago.

“Network,” written by Paddy Chayefsky, tells the story of an upstart television network on the verge of bankruptcy that, out of desperation, lets its news anchor, Howard Beale, vent his spleen with wild rants on the air to boost ratings.

Imitating Art

The 1976 movie “Network” gained 10 Oscar nominations and won four top awards.

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” says the “mad prophet of the airwaves” repeatedly.

Viewers love it. Ratings soar. The more invective he spews, the more popular Beale becomes.

Sound familiar? It’s precisely the tactic Trump, Carson, Sanders and many others (especially on the Republican side) are employing these days.

They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore!

People are fed up with present-day politics and many are reacting emotionally when they hear blunt-speaking candidates promise simple-sounding but extreme steps to solve the nation’s problems.

In “Network,” the public eventually tires of Beale’s rants. Ratings sink, until the entertainment division steps in and turns Beale’s news show into reality-laden extravaganzas. Sort of like the Republican presidential debates on Fox and CNN.

In the movie, the joke’s on viewers. In today’s politics, the joke’s on the voting public.

In “Network,” things spin out of control to the point that Beale is assassinated on the air by a far-left group of radicals – all planned by the TV network to once more bump ratings through the roof.

Will the presidential race spin out of control, too, with terrible, unanticipated results?

In “Network,” the movie ends with the narrator intoning: “This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because of lousy ratings.”

Will we elect our next president based on who says the most outrageous things, who proves most entertaining and most insulting, who draws the highest ratings for the networks?

Politics is imitating art. Paddy Chayefesky’s Oscar-winning screenplay seemed far-fetched at the time it was produced.

That’s no longer true.

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Gerrymandering: Here to Stay

By Barry Rascovar

October 5, 2015 – Good intentions and wishful thinking will not get advocates of redistricting reform very far. They fail to grasp that the process is 100 percent political. The sweeping changes they seek won’t happen.

Reporters, editors and editorialists are strongly on the side of the reformers. So are political science academics and supporters of “good government.”

None of that matters one iota.

Ever heard of a homeowner relinquishing ownership of half his acreage so his neighbor can construct an obnoxious tennis court and swimming pool that increases the neighbor’s property value but decreases yours?

Ever heard of a politician putting his reelection in grave jeopardy by giving away his most loyal precincts?

Self-protection is a natural human response. Asking someone to place his or her career in harm’s way – especially a politician – is counter-intuitive.

Gerry’s Salamander

From the inception of political parties in this country, redistricting has been ruled by each major party’s burning desire to gain every conceivable advantage to win elections.

Thus in 1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry (pronounced with a hard G) re-drew state senate districts to help his Democratic-Republican (Jeffersonian) Party. One of Gerry’s distorted Senate districts wrapped around Boston like a salamander.

At least that’s how the Boston Gazette depicted it in a now-famous cartoon, giving birth to the conjoined name, “gerrymander.”

Gerrymandering: Here to Stay

Famous redistricting cartoon from 1812 turning Gerry’s new state Senate district into a salamander.

The scheme worked, keeping the state Senate in Democratic-Republican hands.

Over 200 years later, little has changed.

Rules laid out by the courts require equally populated districts after each Census and due regard for forming majority-minority districts when feasible. In each state, local courts and laws set out additional mandates for state legislative districts, such as respect for geographic boundaries and communities of interest.

But ever since the early 1800s, one thing has remained constant in the United States: the political imperative of the party in power to tilt redistricted lines heavily in their favor every ten years.

Each Party is Guilty

In Republican-dominated states like Texas, that means grossly distorted political boundaries that throw most elections to Republican candidates. In Democratic Maryland, it means the reverse.

Maryland Democrats used their dominance in Annapolis to re-draw congressional lines in some weird ways after the 2010 Census.

Maryland's Current Congressional Districts

Maryland’s current congressional districts. Rep. John Sarbanes’ gerrymandered district is the one shown in light green.

Republicans were packed heavily into one district dominated by the Eastern Shore and conservative parts of Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties.

Meanwhile in sparsely populated Western Maryland, dominant Republicans found themselves outnumbered in a new district that joined them to heavily Democratic and urbanized Montgomery County.

All the other congressional districts were tailor-made to keep Democratic incumbents in office. Not surprisingly, Democrats won seven of Maryland’s eight congressional seats (although the margin in the Western Maryland-Montgomery district last time was razor-thin).

The same tactics were used by Democrats in Annapolis in re-drawing General Assembly districts.

Is Reform Possible?

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., has made a big deal about reforming the redistricting process. What he really wants to do is elect more Republicans and contort future redistricting maps in the GOP’s favor.

He’s got a redistricting commission holding hearings across Maryland, listening to disgruntled citizens and interest groups seeking a more equitable system. They’re also hearing from Republican outsiders who want to get inside the political tent.

The panel’s work is for naught.

Democratic leaders in the General Assembly won’t listen to recommendations for an impartial redistricting process. There is no hope of changing their minds.

Hogan understands this reality, but he knows a good political theme when he sees one. He’s happy to campaign for “fair elections” and point to the prime example of horrendous redistricting – the bizarre congressional boundary lines Rep. John Sarbanes helped draw for himself.

Hogan has a winning campaign pitch with no effective push-back from the other side.

Still, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch aren’t about to commit political hari-kari to satisfy Republican Hogan and redistricting reformers.

They hold the high cards in this game of brinkmanship.

What to Do?

There’s no getting around the fact that Maryland’s congressional districts are Exhibit A in what’s wrong with gerrymandering.

That could be overcome if Hogan drops the pretense that he can achieve a redistricting revolution and instead starts dealing realistically with the two Mikes.

Instead of trying to achieve the impossible, why not see if there’s common ground for removing the most flagrant abuses of redistricting?

Why not agree on a panel of six representatives – two pragmatic Republicans and four pragmatic Democrats – with the goal of producing for the governor and legislative leaders new congressional lines that eliminate salamander-like boundaries, that keep districts as compact as possible and that don’t hopscotch all over the state?

The results might be the same – six or seven Democrats and one or two Republicans – because that’s roughly the breakdown of the two party’s voter-registration strength in Maryland.

Yet giving voters compact districts that no longer divide communities three or four ways would help immensely. People might actually know, when asked, who represents them in Congress.

A similar gubernatorial-legislative panel could help the competing parties draw more sensible state legislative district lines.

The idea should be to eliminate the worst aspects of redistricting. That’s doable. Eliminating gerrymandering entirely in Maryland is a non-starter.

2020 Census

In the next redistricting fight after the 2020 Census, Hogan (if he’s still in office) could create headaches for Democrats, especially if Republicans win enough General Assembly seats in 2018 to uphold Hogan’s veto threat.

But Democrats are not going to give away the farm. They won’t sacrifice their built-in advantages.

What we have now is sanctimonious comments from the governor on the need for redistricting reform and support from shiny-bright, good-government supporters and Republican hardliners looking for a way to do in Democrats.

Lots of sound and fury signifying very little.

How nice it would be if Hogan momentarily set aside his political predilections and Miller and Busch did the same. Then they might reach a common-sense compromise that straightens out – somewhat – Maryland’s gerrymandered districts.

That, at least, is a realistic possibility.

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Void in Baltimore

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 14, 2015 — Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s retirement announcement last week turns next April’s election into a free-for-all among a group of imperfect, little-known or inexperienced candidates.

Void in Baltimore

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

It reveals the reality of Baltimore’s sorry class of politicians. There are no lions in this crowd, no movers-and-shakers.

Few have much elective experience. Few possess proven management skills to run a complex, $2 billion organization.

So far, no one in the list of putative or announced candidates has shown the sort of leadership charisma Baltimore sorely needs.

Rawlings-Blake will be remembered more positively by historians than she is today. Her once bright political future lies in shambles, the result of a series of poor decisions and her laid-back demeanor during April’s civil unrest.

Burned Out

She’s not the first Baltimore mayor to lose her appetite for Baltimore’s top elective office following days of destructive rioting, looting and arson.

Thomas J. D’Alesandro III, from an illustrious political family, gave up a bright future after one term as mayor. He was burned out emotionally and physically by the strains of the 1968 conflagration after the assassination of Martin Luther King — and the massive effort required to restore order, rebuild and convince citizens that Baltimore had a bright future.

It was left to William Donald Schaefer to take on that monumental task, which he did brilliantly.

Rawlings-Blake was too cerebral (much like former Mayor Kurt Schmoke) and too deliberative to deal effectively with a terrible crime wave and civil unrest that required quick, firm decisions and public assertiveness.

She botched one key element of her job, public safety, by forcing into retirement a popular and successful police commissioner (Fred Bealefeld), replacing him with a West Coast outsider who never hit it off with the community or rank-and-file, and then turning Anthony Batts into a scapegoat following her administration’s botched handling of disorder in West Baltimore.

She trusted only a handful of intimates with policy decisions, blocking the kind of broad networking and communications good CEOs need.

She exhibited a coolness and unapproachability for a job requiring just the opposite. Her calm, dispassionate demeanor came across as uncaring. She never struck the right chord with Baltimore’s citizens or with the business community.

She lacked outward warmth, humor and emotion — three essential elements for successful leadership.

Keen Eye for Budgets

Nevertheless, she was an excellent fiscal steward for Baltimore. Much like her father, Rawlings-Blake knows how to dissect a budget and take steps to get government’s financial house in order.

She negotiated a long-term deal with the state to embark on a $1 billion, long-overdue school-building and renovation program. She sharply lowered teen pregnancies and recruited a highly regarded health officer.

She had the guts to implement pension reforms that threatened to bankrupt the city. She cut property taxes. She halved the city’s structural deficit.

Rawlings-Blake made the right choice in declaring she will not run for reelection. Restoring Baltimore’s equilibrium between now and the time she leaves office late in 2016 won’t be easy, especially with more unrest looming if the results of police jury trials displease local hotheads.

America’s Curse

Concentrating on getting reelected instead of the nitty-gritty of governing would have been irresponsible.

It is one of the curses of America’s electoral system that incumbents are asked to do the impossible — govern and campaign simultaneously. You can do one or the other well, but not both.

Rawlings-Blake now can focus her undivided attention on the needs of Baltimore as it tries to pick up the shattered pieces of progress after April’s disturbances.

It was a logical and thoughtful move that placed her personal political desires on the shelf.  The mayor deserves applause: The city will have a full-time mayor for the next 15 months.

Baltimore is the winner.

Who’s Next?

But who will succeed Rawlings-Blake? So far, the list of candidates and potential candidates is depressingly unimpressive.

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon has the management experience to run the city in a highly effective manner. She is dogged, though, by her theft conviction of gift cards for the poor and homeless. Still, she is one of the few people in the race who has run citywide, has a broad-based organization and name recognition.

Carl Stokes is a seasoned city councilman who has run for mayor before, but his too-obvious ambition may turn off voters.

Cathy Pugh is a shy state senator and former councilwoman who has done solid work in Annapolis but lacks an appealing, outgoing personality.

Nick Mosby is only in his freshman term as a councilman and is married to the most polarizing figure in Baltimore.

There’s not a bona fide lion in the bunch.

Baltimore used to have plenty of political heavyweights but these days the list has dwindled. Barbara Mikulski is retiring. Martin O’Malley is quixotically running for president. Elijah Cummings is ensconced as a powerful voice for African Americans on Capitol Hill. Kweisi Mfume, the former congressman, hasn’t shown any previous interest in becoming mayor.

Uphill Challenge

Perhaps someone will emerge with strong backing from the legal or business community, much as Schmoke did when he came out of nowhere to defeat an incumbent state’s attorney.

Perhaps Mfume will look seriously at running for mayor this time.

The next mayor faces a daunting challenge. Baltimore is a poor city with huge, unmet needs. It is the last refuge for the region’s underclass — the homeless, the unemployed, the dispossessed. Much of the city’s former middle class now lives in the suburbs. A conservative governor in Annapolis shows little desire to make Baltimore’s needs his priority.

It’s a bleak picture. Whichever candidate voters select had better be up to this Herculean task.

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Redistricting Reform: Mission Impossible?

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 17, 2015 — Reformers want to take partisan politics out of the redistricting equation. So does the governor. That may be Mission Impossible.

Maryland's Current Congressional Districts

Maryland’s Current Congressional Districts

On the surface, their goal sounds easy to achieve. Pass a state constitutional amendment empowering an impartial panel of citizens to revise Maryland’s congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years (after the new U.S. Census is taken) so the districts conform to the Supreme Court’s 1962 “one-man, one-vote” edict.

Conservative Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. has joined liberal reformers in this crusade. He’s positioned himself so it looks like those mean Democrats are defiantly standing in the way.

As usual, the situation is far more complicated than the cover story.

Hogan’s Goal

The governor’s motives are hardly pure. He’s looking for political advantage for his outnumbered Republican Party. Stripping control of redistricting from the Democratic controlled General Assembly is his objective.

Right now, thanks to manipulation of redistricting maps by Democratic leaders, seven out of eight Maryland congressmen are Democrats. Hogan thinks a 4-4 split would be more like it.

Yet the current distribution isn’t far off the voter registration numbers.

Had state and national Republican organizations given Sixth District challenger Dan Bongino more financial and organizational support last year (he lost by less than 2,800 votes), the congressional split in Maryland would be 6-2, or 25 percent. That’s almost precisely what the GOP’s registered voter figure is in Maryland today.

So maybe Republicans aren’t so bad off under the current redistricting process after all.

GOP Pickup?

Hogan, though, believes creating more evenly balanced districts would benefit the state GOP, particularly in the General Assembly. He’s placing his bet on a non-partisan revision of legislative district lines in 2021 or 2022.

That premise may not be valid, either.

Republicans currently hold 30 percent of the state Senate seats in Annapolis and 35 percent of the House of Delegates seats. Both figures exceed the party’s statewide voter registration percentages.

Even under Democratic control of the redistricting process, the GOP is doing better than expected.

What skews such comparisons are the large number of unaffiliated voters — 672,000 of them statewide. They are neither Republicans nor Democrats yet they make up 18 percent of registered Maryland voters.

Winning over these independents has been the GOP’s downfall in Maryland. When a Republican candidate reaches out to these middle-roaders, like Hogan did, success is more likely.

How unaffiliated voters will react under impartially drawn redistricting maps is unknown. Nothing may change. Or everything.

Miller’s Response

Hogan knows that Democrats in the legislature will not allow him to win this redistricting fight. Senate President Mike Miller, the savviest politician in Annapolis, has said, quite bluntly, “It won’t happen.”

Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch have nothing to gain from cooperating with the governor.  They understand that Hogan will do whatever it takes to help the Republican Party, with or without a new redistricting commission. They’re not going to help him in that effort.

The best practical outcome would be a pledge by both Hogan and the two Democratic legislative leaders to turn to a group of impartial redistricting experts and citizens for their preliminary re-mapping of Maryland after the 2020 Census.

Such early guidance from non-politicians might dissuade either side from creating the kinds of grotesque districts that now dominate Maryland’s congressional boundaries. It also might lead to more sensible boundary lines for legislative districts that respect communities of interest.

Ever since the Supreme Court removed itself from most redistricting decisions, the two political parties have had a field day throughout the country twisting and turning congressional and legislative districts to their advantage. Each party has sinned mightily.

Gerrymandering is a longtime American tradition, starting with Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry in 1812.

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry, Vice President and Mass. governor forever linked to “gerrymandering.”

Trying to remove all political partisanship from this politically sensitive process is wishful thinking.

Still, we can do better than what Maryland has now.

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The New, Nasty Larry Hogan

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 3, 2015 — What happened to the friendly, smiling, easy-going Larry Hogan? Mr. Nice Guy has morphed into Mr. Nasty.

Gov. Larry Hogan

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan poses at Baltimore City Detention Center. (AP)

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.

Alienating Democrats

In less than nine months, Hogan has managed to offend or alienate much of the Democratic elected leadership in Maryland. He has:

  • Immediately shuttered the disgraceful Baltimore City jail and detention center without even bothering to inform local officials, judges or prosecutors — or provide any details about how this is feasible.
  • On an impulse, unilaterally re-opened the old Senate Chamber in the State House while the prime mover in this historic restoration, the Democratic Senate President, was out of the country.
  • Punitively eliminated $2 million in renovations for an arts center cherished by the Democratic House speaker.
  • Slashed education aid to Democratic strongholds, then reneged on a compromise.
  • Killed the Baltimore region’s rapid rail Red Line without any backup plan.
  • Stripped to the bone the state’s contribution for the Washington area’s rapid rail Purple Line, them squeezed two counties for $100 million more.
  • Shifted all the money saved to rural and exurban road and bridge projects.
  • Named a commission to do away with regulations and made sure the member solidly pro-business and Republican.

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?

Fixing the Mess 

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.

Governor Hogan and Corrections Secretary Moyer at jail-closing announcement.

Governor Hogan and Corrections Secretary Moyer at jail-closing announcement.

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.

Another Agnew?

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.

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The Debtor President

By Barry Rascovar

July 20, 2015 – Should we elect as president a candidate who can’t seem to handle his own family’s finances?

Presidential Candidate Martin O'Malley

Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley

Martin O’Malley, presidential contender and former Maryland governor, ran up $339,000 in college education debt for just two of his four children – a staggering amount – on an annual family income that easily topped $300,000.

The O’Malleys lived for eight years in a rent-free mansion where all meals and other household expenses were picked up by the state. They had no mortgage payments to make. They were driven everywhere in state-owned cars by State Troopers. They didn’t have to pay for gas, insurance or car repairs.

Given their minimal living expenses, why couldn’t the former governor and Judge Katie O’Malley contribute more of their hard-earned paychecks (and Martin’s pension as Baltimore mayor) to pay down their daughters’ college loans?

With two more children approaching college age, it’s possible the O’Malleys’ college debt soon could exceed $500,000 or $600,000.

Checkbook Juggling

That doesn’t say much about Martin O’Malley’s ability to balance his family’s checkbook without going heavily into debt – even on a two-income figure that most couples only dream about.

Would you trust a debtor presidential candidate to take on the far more arduous task of handling the federal government’s heavily out-of-balance budget?

What kind of message does this send to voters if Candidate O’Malley had to load himself down with IOUs to make ends meet despite a hefty family income?

To critics, it’s indicative of the kind of state government O’Malley ran, in which he repeatedly sought more and more social spending even though he was driving Maryland deeper and deeper into a sea of red ink.

By the time the Democratic governor left office, his replacement, Republican Larry Hogan Jr., said he was facing a $1.3 billion gap between spending and incoming revenue.

O’Malley was able to paper over the state’s structural deficit most years by raising taxes – dozens of fee and tax hikes. But with a family budget, you can’t turn to that kind of legerdemain.

A Catholic Education

It is entirely understandable that Mr. and Mrs. O’Malley, devout Catholics, want to give their children a solid parochial education. That costs a pretty penny in Baltimore’s private schools.

Plenty of parents make that same choice knowing it will place them behind the financial eight-ball for decades. It is a sacrifice they feel is worth the pain to ensure their kids receive quality schooling that includes religious instruction.

College is a totally different matter.

The O’Malleys let their daughters select high-cost, out-of-state campuses – Georgetown and the College of Charleston. Premier institutions, no doubt.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University

Yet with the O’Malleys still sending two sons to parochial schools and then onto college, didn’t it dawn on them that they were digging a hole of future debt that could prove embarrassing and keep them paying off loans for the rest of their lives?

It was not a smart move financially.

Homeland Heaven

The O’Malleys moved out of the Annapolis governor’s mansion in January and into a four-bedroom, 1928 lake-view house in Baltimore’s toney Homeland community they bought for $549,000. They put down $65,000 in cash and took out a whopping $494,000 mortgage, according to federal filing reports.

That brings the couple’s debt burden – education loans plus mortgage – to $833,000. If their two sons also get to select expensive out-of-state schools, the O’Malley debt load could top $1 million.

As has been pointed out by MarylandReporters’ Len Lazarick, the former governor and District Court judge could have invested a chunk of their salaries in Maryland’s college tuition savings plan to offset higher-education expenses. If the parents had put their foot down and insisted their children attend in-state public universities and colleges, the couple probably could have paid those tuition bill out of their bank accounts.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Maryland’s four-year public institutions by a Maryland governor – even though there are numerous gems to choose from, such as St. Mary’s College, UMBC, the flagship University of Maryland College Park campus, and well-regarded schools in Frostburg, Towson and Salisbury.

Voter Perception

If Martin O’Malley eventually becomes a legitimate contender for the Democratic presidential nomination (at this point he’s being heavily outspent and out-polled by Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders), his questionable handling of his family‘s education finances could become a legitimate bone of contention.

Sure, our children deserve a chance to gain a high-caliber education, even it is requires the parents to dig deep into their pockets. But like everything in life, there are limits to what that sacrifice should entail.

O’Malley hasn’t used good fiscal discipline in dealing with his family’s education expenses. Does this put a damper on voters’ perception of him as a viable presidential contender?

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Baltimore Scapegoat

By Barry Rascovar

July 13, 2015 — It’s a time-worn tactic employed by floundering elected officials: When criticism builds to the point that your career is at risk, find a scapegoat and blame him for all that’s gone wrong.

Anthony Batts, Baltimore’s recently fired police commissioner, became beleaguered Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s scapegoat.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts

Like author Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, Rawlings-Blake screamed, “Off with [his] head” to deflect the growing crescendo of dissatisfaction with her handling of Baltimore’s unprecedented crime and violence.

Here’s what she conveyed in her sudden dismissal of the police commissioner: None of this is my fault; Batts is to blame.

Getting the Boot

So now Batts is out of a job after three years of trying to get a handle on Charm City’s growing epidemic of  shootings, drug-related crime and gang violence. Surely Batts’ removal will make all those gruesome homicides go away.

Fat chance.

History tells us Rawlings-Blake’s ploy is unlikely to work.

Firing Baltimore’s top cop won’t stop the street gangs and the drug trade from firing away at their targets. Communities aren’t any safer today with Batts gone. The killings continue.

As usual, the mayor hesitated too long before taking decisive action. She hired Batts and was reluctant to give up on him. She failed to recognize early on that her police commissioner’s “West Coast offense” against Charm City’s criminals wasn’t working.

This will become a major issue in the 2016 mayoral race that already is heating up.

The Other Option

Rawlings-Blake picked the wrong man for the job. Batts had no familiarity with East Coast urban crime and law enforcement. His experience was mostly in smaller communities in sunny California, not in an aging, densely populated urban core with severe poverty, joblessness and distrust of the police.

Batts’ intentions were on point but his execution was lacking. He never gained the confidence of the men in blue, or of the community and its leaders.

But Rawlings-Blake liked him, in part because of his sterling education credentials.

In hindsight, she should have gone with the logical choice back in 2012: Acting Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, the young, behind-the-scenes deputy police chief who had devised a community policing strategy that brought the city’s homicide rate to record lows and reversed former Mayor Martin O’Malley’s “zero tolerance” approach that embittered young blacks unfairly targeted and jailed.

Former Acting Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale

Former Acting Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale

But Barksdale was a Coppin State dropout who then joined the police force and worked his way to the top through “street smarts” — unlike the Oberlin-educated mayor, who seems to prefer working with folks with degrees from the “right” colleges.

Barksdale also had another strike against him. He was the protégé of retiring Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld, a much-praised appointee of the prior mayor, Sheila Dixon.

Rawlings-Blake wanted to separate her administration from the disgraced Dixon, who had been convicted of gift-card theft and forced from office. Barksdale became an unintended casualty.

Early Warning 

We should have suspected the wheel was coming off the track for Rawlings-Blake in 2012 when two groups complained that the mayor’s advisory panel to pick a new police chief didn’t include  any civil rights or community leaders. They called it a “closed-door process being made in a vacuum.”

That apt description also applies to many of Rawlings-Blake’s major decisions since then.

It might have been quite different if the mayor had moved heaven and earth to get Bealefeld to stay on as police commissioner. The Baltimore native knew the city and its law enforcement team like the back of his hand. His demeanor and policing tactics were working big-time. He was changing the culture of the police force for the better and crime had declined sharply.

Former Police Chief Fred Bealefeld

Former Police Chief Fred Bealefeld

Barksdale, a born-and-raised Baltimorean like Bealefeld, would have continued those policies. Instead, Rawlings-Blake, as has been her pattern, opted for something new and different — an credentialed outsider who knew nothing about Charm City.

Batts came in, and Barksdale immediately went on medical leave for two years until he could retire at full pay. Also exiting was Col. Jesse Oden, who ran the Criminal Investigations Division. Batts forced out most of Bealefeld’s team and brought in more outsiders, like himself. It was downhill from there.

Dixon will claim in the mayoral campaign that she hired the right guy for the job — Bealefeld — and that Rawlings-Blake had gone outside the department to select a new police commissioner who never understood Baltimore and as a result mishandled April’s standoff with angry mobs in West Baltimore.

Mayor’s Prime Failure

The resulting conflagration, looting and violence staggered Baltimore. Rawlings-Blake’s excessive caution, excessive deliberation, her inability to grasp quickly what needed to be done and her aloofness may well cost her a second term.

At the heart of the problem was the mayor’s failure to recognize the importance of retaining and promoting highly experienced and skilled people from the inside rather than turning to outsiders.

National searches are overrated. Too often the outsider selected is intent on wiping out existing leadership and policies. Different is deemed better. Past successes are denigrated. Home-grown talent is shown the door.

The new leader hires more outsiders to run things differently. It takes them years to figure out the local turf. Morale plunges, confusion reigns and progress — if at all — is slow in coming.

Promoting from within is quicker and usually pays hefty dividends. The best Baltimore police chiefs, from Frank Battaglia to Leonard Hamm to Fred Bealefeld, came up through the ranks.

But new bosses — in politics and in business —  feel a need to show they are in charge by making a dramatic break with the past, even when that move is counter-productive.

High Price

Rawlings-Blake is now paying the price for insisting on new-and-different. Instead  of hiring a “change agent” as police chief, she should have stuck with the Bealefeld-Barksdale policies that were working so well.

Acting Commissioner Kevin Davis is both an insider and an outsider. He’s been a deputy commissioner for six months, which gives him a head start. Yet his prior career — an up-from-the-ranks success story — was spent in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.

Acting Police Commissioner Kevin Davis

Acting Police Commissioner Kevin Davis

Davis has a firmer grasp of Maryland policing than Batts did. He’s had time to assess the existing leadership. He’s seen what went wrong over the past half-year. But can he institute changes that lower the crime rate, boost police morale and improve community relations?

That’s a tall order, especially  in the midst  of a heated mayoral campaign.

His initial innovation — establishing a multi-agency “war room” to go after the “bad guys” causing much of the mayhem — sounds exactly like Fred Bealefeld’s operating mantra.

Given the failures at City Hall and at police headquarters in April, any move by Davis that lowers the violence and hostile rhetoric would be a giant step forward.

If he can get a handle on the crime epidemic, he deserves the job permanently regardless of who wins the April Democratic mayoral primary.

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Hogan to Baltimore: ‘Drop Dead’

By Barry Rascovar

June 29, 2015 –Larry Hogan Jr. never has had an affinity for Baltimore. He’s never lived in a big city. He’s a suburban Washington, suburban Annapolis kind of guy.

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. standing in front of Purple Line map

Hogan also is a cold, calculating political animal. He has embraced  a staunch right-wing mindset — all government spending is bad, all liberal social programs are wasteful, all outlays that don’t help him politically are a boondoggle.

Thus, it was easy for Governor Hogan to kill more than a decade worth of work, more than a quarter-billion dollars already spent and to forfeit $900 million in federal funds that would have gone toward building a pivotal rail-transit line for Baltimore, the Red Line.

No Help

It is reminiscent of President Gerald Ford’s stern rebuke to New York City’s pleas for urgent help to avert imminent bankruptcy in 1975. As the New York Daily News summed it up so aptly in its banner headline the next day: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.

Ford thought a bailout would be a wasteful boondoggle, too. Why save the nation’s greatest city? That’s not government’s role!

New York Daily New, 1975

New York Daily New, 1975

Hogan takes the same unyielding attitude toward Baltimore, which in his mind really isn’t part of Maryland.

It’s such a nonentity — where poor people live — that when he sent word on Twitter of his $2 billion in road projects and $167 million for the Purple Line project in the Washington suburbs, Hogan’s aides failed to show Baltimore City on their map. It had vanished into the Chesapeake Bay.

Freudian slip? You bet.

When asked that day what was in his transportation package for Baltimore, the Republican governor said there was nothing.

Saw It Off

Hogan would just as soon see Baltimore and its expensive needs disappear, or as Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater famously said in 1963, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.”

GOP Presidential Nominee Barry Goldwater

GOP Presidential Nominee Barry Goldwater

It’s no surprise Hogan committed over 90 percent of his transportation package to roads and bridges, becoming the darling of the asphalt and concrete industries. Fund-raising checks will roll in from those interest groups.

Giving the back of the hand to Baltimore is becoming a Hogan habit. Sure, he put on a good face by sending in the National Guard and jovially walking the mean streets of the city briefly (with State Police protection, of course).

But what has the governor done for Baltimore since then to address city residents’ discontent? Precious little.

This is the same governor who deep-sixed needed education aid for city schools in his first budget and then backed out of a compromise to restore some of those funds.

It was just more wasteful, irresponsible spending in Hogan’s eyes.

Body Blow for City

Failing to support the Red Line is a crushing blow for the state’s only large city, a city that in many respects is barely treading water.

The Red Line could have been a giant jobs-generator and income-producer in an urban center with very high unemployment. Instead, he called it a “boondoggle.” (Ironically, Hogan at the same event praised the Purple Line because of it jobs-producing potential.)

it would have been a godsend for the people in West Baltimore who rioted in April over their impoverished conditions, creating access to employment opportunities along the Red Line route, from Woodlawn to Johns Hopkins Bayview.

it would have sparked retail and commercial development and housing at nearly two dozen Red LIne stations.

it would have rejuvenated Baltimore’s sagging downtown business district.

It would have eased some of the traffic gridlock and auto pollution.

Most of all, it would have given Baltimore a connected, viable rail-transit system, providing the missing link not just for city residents but for suburban families living to the east and west.

Sticking to Pledge

The Red Line is dead, killed by a stubborn Larry Hogan. He has fulfilled his campaign promise to conservative, non-urban followers.

There won’t be any major rail transit expansion in Baltimore for two decades or more, thanks to Hogan. That $900 million set aside for the Red Line is lost forever. The highway boys are cheering

The $288 million already spent by the statehas now been turned by Hogan into government waste. His staff, in typical Republican fashion, blamed Democrat Martin O’Malley for that spending on the Red Line, though the onus rightly should have been placed on Republican Bob Ehrlich, who gave the go-ahead.

What Hogan won’t admit is that this money had been well spent — until Hogan turned that sophisticated planning and detailed engineering blueprints to ashes. The wasteful governor is Larry Hogan.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz astutely asked Hogan in a statement what he proposes as his Plan B, his back-up plan, for Baltimore.

There is no alternative. Hogan to City: ‘Drop Dead.’

Now Hogan’s aides are scrambling to come up with some pitiful city road work that can be paraded as a Potemkin Village of a transportation substitute for Baltimore.

Political Calculation

The governor’s decision was a cold, calculated political move: fortify rural and suburban support with $2 billion in road and bridge work and hunt for additional votes for the next election in the Washington suburbs, thanks to his tentative support of the Purple Line.

But don’t be surprised if the Purple Line never gets built.

Hogan remains hostile toward rapid transit. He wants to do the job on the cheap, squeezing Prince George’s and Montgomery counties for hefty extra contributions and then getting a private-sector consortium of builders to chip in another $400 million or more.

This most likely means a slimmed-down rail line that won’t work well or no line at all. There’s also the chance the private-sector developer will be forced to charge exorbitant ticket fares for decades to recoup the investment demanded by Hogan.

Birds of a Feather

It’s no accident Hogan picked a transportation secretary known as a highway man, with zero experience in rapid rail transit. He was brought in to kill at least one of the expensive mass-transit projects, and he  may eventually succeed in killing both.

No wonder Hogan and Secretary Pete Rahn talked about the Red Line as “fatally flawed” and a “boondoggle” because — horrors of horrors — it included costly tunnels through the heart of downtown Baltimore.

Exactly how do you build an efficient subway line — or an “underground” as the British call it — without spending a lot of money to take the Red LIne below grade through the heart of a crowded urban center?

Anything built on the surface would compound downtown gridlock and make a joke of Red Line time savings. Sure, tunneling is very expensive but not if you take into consideration that it will be serving Baltimoreans a century from now.

By Hogan’s and Rahn’s thinking, all of the Washington Metro’s downtown subterranean rail network is a gigantic boondoggle. So is New York City’s subway. And London’s, too.

It’s a phony argument that stalwart conservatives like Hogan trot out.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped Hogan get elected, used the same sort of illogic in 2009 to blow up a badly needed $12 billion rail tunnel between his state and New York City that would have doubled New Jersey commuter capacity.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Christie, like Hogan, set aside the long-term good he might do so he could boast to voters about chopping off the head of a wasteful project.

Solid Democratic

What’s wasteful in this case is failing to give Baltimore a decent mass-transit system that holds the potential to stimulate economic development, job growth and improve residents’ quality of life.

Hogan has no interest, though, in anything dealing with Baltimore. He feels like a stranger there. It’s overwhelmingly Democratic turf. Why bother?

“With these projects, we’re going to touch the lives of citizens across the state,” Hogan said in his announcement. He needed to add the words, “except in Baltimore.”

Now Rahn & Co. are hastily trying to jerry-rig an alternative transportation scheme for Baltimore.

More buses on narrow, overcrowded city streets?

Paving over the existing light-rail line and converting it into a busway?

Or just shoveling more transportation dollars to the city to re-pave its potholed network of deteriorating asphalt?

Without speedy rail transit nothing will prove effective in the long run. Yet Hogan says won’t pay for it in Baltimore (though he will in suburban Washington).

Burying Baltimore

Larry Hogan has put a deep nail in Baltimore’s coffin. He’s not looking to ameliorate the damage, either.

Maryland’s governor is a jovial, common-man sort of figure, but we’re learning that he holds a rigidly conservative view of the world.

In Hogan’s world, Baltimore needs to fend for itself because this governor — to use lyrics from the musical  “West Side Story” — would rather “let it sink back in the ocean.”

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