Category Archives: Election Campaigns

The One-Party State Curse

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 10, 2014–Republican Larry Hogan Jr.’s stunningly easy romp over Democrat Anthony Brown in Maryland’s race for governor can’t be written off as a fluke.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Fundamental changes are taking place that could give Republicans an advantage down the road in what is generally considered a deeply blue state.

You can call it the curse of the one-party state.

Common wisdom has it that given the Democrats’ 2-1 commanding lead in Maryland’s voter registration, Democratic victory in big races is a foregone conclusion.

But the common wisdom often is wrong.

Democratic Advantage

In three of the state’s biggest jurisdictions, Democrats hold such a massive registration lead that the local Republican Party is on life support. Big turnouts in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County should be enough to ensure statewide Democratic triumph.

Yet that didn’t happen this year because turnout in those three locations was terrible.

Only 36 percent of city voters went to the polls; 38 percent in Prince George’s and just 39 percent in Montgomery.

Compare that with the turnout in counties where Hogan piled up big numbers: Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County, 49 percent; Baltimore County, 49 percent; Frederick County, 51 percent;, Harford County, 54 percent, and Howard County, 52 percent.

Democrats must be scratching their heads. This shouldn’t be happening!

If the Big 3 jurisdictions had turned out in force, Brown would be addressing invitations to his inaugural ball.

More Registered Voters

Even more puzzling is the fact that all three of those jurisdictions have seen big jumps in registered voters over the past 12 years — 79,000 more voters in the city, 168,000 more in Montgomery and 178,000 more voters in Prince George’s — nearly all Democrats.

With 1,553,000 Big 3 registered voters, who usually support the Democrat by 4-1 or 5-1 margins, how could Brown possibly lose?

Blame it on the Democrats’ greatest strength — their huge advantage in people identifying with the party. In this case, it is a curse rather than a blessing.

Here’s what’s happening: In Baltimore City, there hasn’t been a Republican mayor in 50 years. There hasn’t been a Republican state legislator or councilman from the city in 60 years. No Republican has held elective office in Baltimore in half a century.

So it’s no surprise Baltimore voters don’t take the mid-term general election seriously.

No Competition

All the local races this year were decided in the June Democratic primary. Indeed, only one of the city’s six state Senate districts even had a nominal Republican on the ballot. He got 6 percent of the vote.

The situation is similar in Prince George’s, where the last Republican county executive was Larry Hogan’s father and namesake — 34 years ago. No Republican has held a local office in decades.

Montgomery is follow that same trend. James P. Gleason was the one and only Republican county executive, last elected in 1978. Republicans used to capture local seats in the upper sections of the county, but no more. It, too, is now a one-party monopoly.

That should be good for the Democratic Party, right?

Wrong.

Cruise Control

One-party rule turns general elections into mere formalities. Local political clubs don’t get energized. Local politicians don’t bother campaigning. The local party is on cruise control.

Democratic voters feel the same way. Why go to the polls in November 4 when all the local races already have been decided?

This trend started decades ago and we’re now seeing the corrosive effects.

The last time there was an open seat for governor — 2002 — the general election turnout was 53 percent in the city, 52 percent in Prince George’s and 64 percent in Montgomery.

Contrast that with this month’s turnout and you see a precipitous plunge in voters going to be polls. The decline in Baltimore was 18 percent, 14 percent in Prince George’s and a shocking drop of 25 percent in Montgomery’s voter participation.

Montgomery’s Ennui

That last figure is the most stunning number of all.

Montgomery County is famed for its acute awareness of a citizen’s obligations to cast a ballot and take an active role in local government. Good government and close attention to political issues is deeply rooted in this county.

Yet even with 168,000 more registered voters than 12 years ago, 48,000 fewer ballots were cast this month in Montgomery.

The ennui in Montgomery should deeply disturb state Democrats. A 25 percent decline in turnout over a 12-year period is a calamity.

Add that to the similar trends in Prince George’s and Baltimore and you begin to understand why a Republican is hiring The Kane Co. to move his furniture to the Governor’s Mansion.

Chink in the Armor

It’s ironic. The Democrats’ greatest attribute is now a potentially fatal flaw.

Without competitive, two-party elections, the party in power relaxes. It gets sloppy and complacent. It gets lazy and even arrogant. It can’t energize its members.

Hogan capitalized on this chink in the Democrats’ armor because his strongholds turned out in big numbers. His supporters were highly motivated. They showed up to vote.

What will happen four years from now? Or in eight years?

One-party Democratic rule won’t change in the Big 3 any time soon — if ever. The one-party mentality could grow even stronger — with lackluster turnouts in mid-term November elections.

It’s an Achilles heel that the Democratic Party, despite its huge edge in identified supporters, doesn’t know how to protect.

#  #  #

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

 

How Brown Blew a Sure Thing

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 7, 2014 — Yes, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. ran a smart, tightly focused campaign that helped him pull off a surprisingly strong upset in the race for Maryland governor. But the major reason he’s the next chief executive is that Democrat Anthony Brown blew a sure thing.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Here’s how Brown turned almost certain victory into a humiliating defeat:

He Blew An 8-Year Head Start 

Brown had two terms as lieutenant governor to put down deep roots in all the right places throughout Maryland. It never happened. Instead, he traveled constantly giving written speeches and then driving off to the next staged event.

He never bothered to familiarize himself with the people of Maryland; instead he limited his circle to elected officials and receptive civic groups.

He failed to jump in and learn about what wasn’t working in the counties — and then help local leaders find a fix.

He didn’t spend his vacations walking the Ocean City boardwalk meeting and talking with common folk.

He didn’t spend his time in Western Maryland getting to understand the unique problems of this isolated, mountain region in chronic need of a helping hand from Annapolis.

He didn’t tour Baltimore City and its vast suburbs to find out what was on people’s minds. He was as alien to them on Tuesday as he was eight years ago.

He Took the Summer Off

Brown started with a huge lead and everything in his favor. He breezed to an easy primary victory. Then he disappeared for the entire summer.

That’s when he should have cemented his relationship with local Democrats, hit every carnival, parade, crab feast and bull roast in sight. Preaching at Sunday services isn’t enough. You’ve got to show your face everywhere  and press the flesh. You’ve got to work up a sweat and convince people you’d make a great next-door neighbor. That’s what Hogan did.

By delaying his campaign till the fall, Brown lost his momentum.

He should have used the summer to organize a statewide tour featuring the full Democratic team — Brian Frosh running for attorney general and Peter Franchot running for comptroller.

He also needed to turn the losing primary candidates, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur, into surrogate campaigners. Brown never gained the trust of Gansler and Mizeur voters because he didn’t bother to try.

He Gave Hogan Free Advertising

Hogan emerged from the Republican primary with little money and low name recognition. But no matter, Brown rode to the rescue by giving Hogan millions of dollars worth of free advertising.

Instead of ignoring Hogan — and letting him struggle to gain visibility — Brown spent most of his advertising budget denouncing Hogan as a “dangerous Republican.” Hogan’s face was plastered on TV ads.

When it turned out that Brown’s charges were bogus and inherently dishonest, this sleazy tactic backfired. Brown ended up wasting his ad dollars, offending voters and promoting Hogan while not telling voters anything about himself.

Negative Attacks Aren’t Enough

The first job was to tell the electorate about Anthony Brown — in his own words. Repeatedly. With emotion and real feelings.

Instead, Brown bombarded the air waves with ruthlessly hostile, negative ads — flagrantly false — about Hogan. The Republican got all the attention, not Brown, who continued to remain a mystery even to Democratic voters.

When Hogan turned out not to be Darth Vader but instead a friendly, mild-mannered Rotarian, Brown’s attack ads lost all credibility. They were unethical. This turned off Democrats and independents. It was a gigantic mistake.

Where Was Martin? 

Brown badly needed Gov. Martin O’Malley on the campaign trail from June through October. Yet Brown never capitalized on O’Malley’s magnetic personality and hands-on approach to campaigning.

Is O'Malley's presidential bid for real?

Gov. Martin O’Malley

Since Brown proved unwilling or unable to articulate what the two had achieved in eight years, what better spokesman for the O’Malley era than the governor himself?

But once again, it never happened. O’Malley was the invisible man in the campaign. Brown got hammered on O’Malley’s record yet there was no one mounting a persuasive defense.

Where Was Heather? 

The surprise of the primary election was Democrat Heather Mizeur. Young and progressive voters flocked to her ultra-liberal crusade. After she lost, she volunteered to campaign for Brown — only to receive a polite snub.

Her supporters lost interest. Many didn’t bother to vote in November. The opportunity to spark interest in the Brown campaign among young progressives was lost.

Isolation Booth Campaigning is a Dud 

Brown let his campaign gurus call the shots — even when the moves made no sense. They isolated Brown from the common folk, from the media and from any human contact that wasn’t carefully scripted.

Brown is a Harvard grad with 16 years of political experience. Yet he was muzzled and insulated from the retail side of campaigning. That’s where a candidate reveals his human side. Voters need to glimpse a candidate’s humanity.

He compounded this sin by excluding his own voice from nearly all campaign ads. He never got the chance in his ads to personally address voters with genuine, heart-felt words.

The Big 3 Isn’t Enough

Brown’s strategy was to win big in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. He largely ignored everywhere else.

Yet he needed to spend lots of time impressing Democrats and independents in all the outlier counties where Republicans dominate. When he failed to pay attention to them, they drifted over to Hogan — or didn’t vote. He lost precious support not only in rural counties but also big jurisdictions like Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties. Hogan won there by giant margins in part because Brown was a no-show in those counties.

No Coordination with Local Democrats 

Just as Brown snubbed Mizeur, he also snubbed local Democrats badly in need of help in their local campaigns.

Other politicians and Democratic supporters pleaded with Brown’s camp to set up small-scale events in their districts to generate enthusiasm and energize local voters. They, too, were rebuffed.

Brown ran a one-man campaign focused on No. 1. As a result, many local pols didn’t go the extra mile to help Brown.

Policy Does Count

To this day, we’re still not sure what Brown specifically wanted to do as governor. He spent his time attacking Hogan rather than laying out a coherent, compelling visions for the next four years.

Hogan was very clear: reduce spending, cut taxes and regulations, support business growth that creates more jobs.

Brown told voters lots of reasons — most of them fallacious — why they shouldn’t vote for Hogan but precious few reasons why they should vote for him.

Voters Saw Through Brown’s Façade

Voters know the office of Maryland lieutenant governor is a worthless job. You shouldn’t put it on your resume, but Brown did. He needed instead to give voters plausible reasons to continue the reforms O’Malley started. He needed to explain what they had accomplished rather than stress his military background and service as light guv.

Brown was content as lieutenant governor to play a figurehead role on commissions and committees (such as the health-care exchange) and relentlessly read prepared texts to safe groups around the state.

When asked during the campaign, what he’d done since 2006 to justify election as governor, Brown couldn’t give a satisfactory answer.

The Media Matters

People get much of their political insights through media outlets. Denying reporters access to a candidate is dangerously counter-productive.

Brown at times ran from reporters. When asked an unexpected question, he looked like a deer caught in headlights.

Hogan stayed behind following the three debates, joked with reporters and responded to their queries. Brown quickly headed toward his chauffeured SUV and drove off.

Like it or not, politicians must romance the media.

Reporters write nicer stories if they get to know and like the candidate. Editorial page editors write kinder opinion pieces about a candidate who is open, friendly and a frequent presence.

That describes Larry Hogan, not Anthony Brown. Guess who won?

# # # #

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

MD Sea Change — Every 8 Years

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 6, 2014–On the way to his coronation as Maryland governor, Anthony Brown lost his crown. He’s still looking for it.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. picked up the missing package. it was beautifully gift-wrapped for him. When he tried it on, the crown fit perfectly.

So ended the second Maryland gubernatorial upset in 12 years.

Maryland seal

The state’s voting public is volatile and looking for change — always.

A seismic shift seems to happen every eight years.

Back in Time

Go all the way back to 1950. Voters had had it with conservative Democratic Gov. William Preston Lane’s new sales tax. They called the levy “pennies for Lane” and buried him in a landslide. Enter, Republican Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin.

In 1958, the liberal McKeldin gave way to a conservative Democrat, J. Millard Tawes. Maryland voters philosophically swung from left to right.

Then in 1966, voters abandoned the Democrats for conservative Republican Spiro Agnew. Another sea change.

Jumping ahead, the tumultuous Marvin Mandel years, filled with stunning liberal initiatives, were followed by an eight-year period of relative calm as voters elected a “shiny-bright” good-government candidate, Harry Hughes in 1978. The electorate wanted a conservative, cautious and honest leader.

The quiet, deliberate Hughes gave way in 1986 to the colorful, outspoken and spontaneous William Donald Schaefer. Voters replaced a conservative governor with a liberal.

Schaefer’s quirkiness and charisma were replaced in 1994 by a studious, stand-offish professorial policy wonk, Parris Glendening.

Next came a sharp swing to the right with the election of a charismatic conservative, Bob Ehrlich, over a drab liberal, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in 2002.

Political Seesaw

That didn’t work out well. So voters next opted for a charismatic liberal, Martin O’Malley, in 2006. This political seasaw can make you dizzy.

Eight years later, voters got tired of O’Malley’s liberalism and now have put conservative, unexciting glad-hander, Larry Hogan, in the chief executive’s chair. Another sea change.

Conclusions: Maryland voters are unpredictable. Voters grow tired of elected leaders after about six or seven years. They want change. From conservative to liberal — then back again. From charismatic to bland. From Democrat to Republican — and back again.

The state’s demographics may change dramatically, but one thing is certain — Maryland voters won’t stay wedded to one political party or one ideology or one political personality for long. They remain solidly committed to instant gratification, a shifting view toward politics and a skepticism toward the very politicians they select to run the state.

#   #   #

MD Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. — Yes!

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 5, 2014 — Ripped from Maryland’s political headlines:

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

  • Toiling in the vineyards produces a mighty fine wine: Hogan’s Harvest.
  • The curse of the MD lieutenant governor’s office continues.
  • Honesty remains the best policy.
  • The end does not justify the means.
  • The MD GOP finally has a strong bench in the counties.
  • Retail politics works; campaigning in an isolation booth doesn’t.
  • Maryland finally joins the rest of the nation.
  • It’s the economy, stupid.
  • And also, KISS works (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
  • If Democrats in MD can’t get their base to the polls, it’s all over.
  • Voters are a lot smarter than political prognosticators.

#  #  #

 

Election Eve Conclusions in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 3, 2014 – On the eve of Maryland’s unexpectedly close gubernatorial election, some tentative conclusions can be drawn:

Pluses for Brown

Anthony Brown did quite well in attracting Democrats to the polls during early voting.

Nearly one-third of all ballots cast came from three heavily Democratic jurisdictions – Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. Each showed a substantial jump in turnout from the June primary.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown-May 7 debate

Anthony Brown

Overall, 102,000 more Democrats voted than Republicans. Brown should start with a big lead on Election Day.

Another good sign for Brown: The state’s heaviest voting polling place last week was in Randallstown, the heart of Baltimore County’s growing black community.

More good news for the Democrat: Brown’s running mate, Ken Ulman, did exceedingly well in drawing Democrats to the polls early in Howard County with a 13 percent turnout (the statewide average was 8.3 percent).

Hogan’s Shore Support

Republican Larry Hogan can take comfort in the hefty early voting on the Eastern Shore. That Congressional District cast more votes last week than anywhere else.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Yet Brown must be pleased by the turnout in three of his key Congressional Districts that contain most of the state’s African American population – the 4th (Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County), the 5th (Prince George’s and Southern Maryland) and the 7th (black and liberal areas of Metro Baltimore).

The jurisdiction with the largest early turnout, Baltimore County, is likely to favor Hogan, but not by the kind of lopsided Brown margins expected in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City.

Brown got mixed signals in traditionally liberal Montgomery County, which had a weak early turnout. Yet this year’s early Montgomery numbers were 30 percent better than four years ago.

Early voting, still a new trend in Maryland, appears to favor Democrats.

Republicans remain leery of additional ballot days. They see it as a Democratic scheme to use the superior organizing  skill of  labor unions to convey more minority, poor and working voters to the polls during those seven extra voting days.

Celebrity Buzz

Bringing Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama to Prince George’s County seems to have generated enough buzz to generate a 9.5 percent turnout among the county’s Democratic voters.

Hogan’s celebrity politician, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, brought the GOP candidate money and media coverage with his multiple appearances. Christie, though, isn’t a big enough draw to help Hogan’s early vote numbers.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s appearance today in Baltimore could prove important for Brown — if Democrats use it to excite more African Americans about going to the polls tomorrow. Brown has been focusing like a laser on Prince George’s voting, but Baltimore remains a under-appreciated linchpin.

Meanwhile, everyone will be waiting for Tuesday’s weather forecast.

Right now, it looks like it will be a perfect fall day — sunny and warm. That’s great news for Brown, not so for Hogan. The lower the Democratic turnout, the better for the Republican given Democrats’ 2-1 registration advantage in Maryland.

Curious Endorsements

Questions posed by The Baltimore Sun about Brown’s “strikingly dishonest” campaign and his “unrepentant mendacity” (i.e., he’s a serial liar) continue to reverberate. Anyone reading the editorial must wonder how in the world the newspaper ended up endorsing such an ethically flawed candidate.

Even more curious was Del. Heather Mizeur’s op-ed column in the newspaper in which she politely excoriated Brown for snubbing her attempts to get him to run a positive campaign in which she would actively engage her supporters on his behalf.

Yet Mizeur, like The Sun, held her nose and told her backers to vote for Brown, not Hogan.

Mizeur might consider this campaign “an epic disaster,” but she’s willing to ignore Brown’s lying and deception because he is more likely to advance her progressive agenda.

Bottom Line

Turnout tomorrow still holds the key.

Brown needs large numbers in his Democratic strongholds, especially among African Americans. He’s still a slight favorite due to his built-in voter registration advantage.

Hogan is counting on a heavier than usual GOP turnout, support from independents and — most important of all — a growing number of moderate Democrats turned off by Brown’s ferocious negativity and his sterile, bubble-wrapped campaign.

Clearly, Hogan’s simplistic economic message (less taxes, less expansive government) has hit a chord with many voters. A win would mark a stunning, surprising turnaround for the state’s underdog GOP.

The election could align Maryland with the Republican trend elsewhere in the nation.

#   #   #

 

 

‘Where’s Martin?’ Not in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 30, 2014 – It’s a puzzle that would captivate devotees of the “Where’s Waldo?” illustrations. Only in this case, the question is, “Where’s Martin?” (O’Malley, that is, Maryland’s two-term governor).

'Where's Martin? --'Where's Waldo?' illustration

Since late spring, the state’s chief executive has been largely MIA – missing in action. He’s done an early fade-out so that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown can capture the media limelight.

This serves dual purposes.

It allows Brown to escape from O’Malley’s shadow after eight years and promote himself as a legitimate co-owner of the O’Malley-Brown administration’s accomplishments.

There’s no dueling press conferences or conflicting media events. Uncharacteristically for the governor, he has limited his in-state public appearances and no longer dominates the local news.

National Travel Schedule

At the same time, this has given O’Malley time to work on his next career move, which involves running for national office, either next year or in the future.

Not a week goes by without his travel schedule including jaunts to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or some other state where there are early presidential primaries or Democratic candidates happy to have O’Malley campaign for them.

'Where;s martin?' -- Martin O'Malley in Iowa

Martin O’Malley in Iowa

This past Monday he was tramping through New Hampshire for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — his fifth visit there.

This may pay off in time for the 2016 Democratic presidential face-off, especially if the presumptive winner, Hillary Clinton, opts not to run.

Otherwise, O’Malley can add to his frequent-flier mileage, develop party contacts, earn the gratitude of Democratic candidates all over the nation, and bide his time until the H. Clinton presidency nears its end in 2020 or 2024.

Flexible Timetable

He’ll still be only 59 in eight years, a prime age for a serious presidential run. By then, he may have gained substantial Washington experience — and national visibility — under the nation’s first female president.

If a Republican wins in 2016, O’Malley’s timetable can be accelerated for a presidential bid in 2020.

All this starts with solid foundation-building this year and next. O’Malley has dispatched paid operatives to key primary states and is engaging in all-out retail politicking at which he excels.

'Where's Martin?' -- O'Malley campaigning

O’Malley campaigning

Yet at home, Maryland seems at times rudderless.

O’Malley is so absent from daily developments that it is hard to remember how he dominated media attention over the past 14 years as mayor of Baltimore and Maryland governor.

Letting Brown take center stage, though, has its drawbacks.

First, Brown seems to have an aversion to O’Malley’s brand of on-the-ground campaigning, the sort of endless meet-and-greet, get-to-know-you politics people adore.

Second, Brown has become Maryland’s “bubble boy” – isolated from the general population in a tightly scripted campaign schedule that avoids unnecessary contact with ordinary folks and the media.

No Personal Connection

Instead of reveling in this opportunity to seize the moment and impress Maryland voters with his political savvy and grasp of issues, Brown has hidden behind a barrage of harsh, inaccurate attack ads and a relentless, unfair pummeling of a “nice-guy” Republican, Larry Hogan Jr.

The lieutenant governor has failed to make a convincing case for the positives of the O’Malley years and has had trouble defending the negatives — especially the botched health exchange rollout that Brown failed to supervise properly.

What’s missing in his campaign is any personal connection between Anthony Brown and voters. That’s most harmful in the Baltimore area, where Brown is pretty much a mystery figure.

O’Malley’s absence from Maryland’s political scene deprives Brown of a valuable asset – especially in Baltimore City, which is a pivotal jurisdiction in the governor’s race.

While O’Malley’s popularity numbers in polls are dropping statewide, he remains a favorite in Baltimore, where the former mayor is fondly remembered.

Baltimore also is Brown’s weak spot. He’s got scant connections there and hasn’t become involved in local issues. He’s not a household name.

Yet Baltimore is such a Democratic monolith that winning big in Charm City is paramount for Brown.

O’Malley could have helped immensely. Why wasn’t he turned turned loose in city neighborhoods with block parties and frenetic double-time door-knocking on Brown’s behalf?

Where’s the Real Anthony?

O’Malley knows how to give campaigns a human dimension; Brown doesn’t. The lieutenant governor is stiff, self-controlled and almost robotic in approaching voters.

The real Anthony Brown isn’t on display.

So Martin O‘Malley’s disappearance from Maryland’s campaign arena could well backfire on Democrats.

With his boss on the campaign sidelines locally, Brown had a golden opportunity to impress state voters.

Yet Brown hasn’t grabbed the brass ring. He seems afraid to reach for it.

#   #   #

‘Liar, Liar’ in MD Governor’s Race

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 27, 2014 — “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

That’s what Larry Hogan could well have said after Democrat Anthony Brown’s latest attempt to fabricate a hoax and then try to sell that bald-faced untruth to voters.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Shame, shame, shame on you, Lieutenant Governor Brown.

Is this the kind of administration you’ll run? Will you manipulate facts to smear those who oppose you as governor? Will you favor creative political fiction over fact-based reality?

Or is this just your win-at-any-cost strategy?

It’s a sad day for Maryland voters when a twice-elected statewide official resorts to a level of gutter politics that hasn’t been seen around here in 60 years.

It’s even sadder that Brown conned dozens of Democratic officials to join him in promoting this transparent fraud.

Brown’s Hoax

Brown alleges Hogan wants to cut $450 million from the state’s school construction program. Hogan never uttered a word about such an unheard-of reduction. He’s said just the opposite.

Brown chose to magnify a flawed Hogan campaign document that mistakenly used this $450 million figure as a potential budget cut.

He employed a leap of logic that even a Harvard-educated man like Brown (actually a twice-Harvard-educated man) should understand.

The actions of Brown and the state Dermocratic Party have been unethical and unprofessional.

This continual propaganda deception is a blot on Brown’s record.

In what has been one of the most abysmal campaigns in Maryland history, last week’s mud-slinging marked a new low.

Soon after Brown repeated his Hogan school construction hoax, the Republican candidate responded with a flagrantly bogus assertion of his own: That Brown would wipe out funding for school breakfasts.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

What a flim-flam Hogan tried to pull. There’s not a breath of truth in Hogan’s twisted version of the facts.

No wonder people are turned off by politicians. Lying is becoming an election norm.

The irony is that neither candidate needs to engage in such underhanded filth. They are fully capable of leveling with voters and making a persuasive case for their political agenda.

This is what Brown and Hogan should be doing.

Yet both have decided that unless you distort the truth to the breaking point, you can’t win.

Hogan and Brown would be better off in the final days of this campaign pulling all negative attack ads and telling their paid consultants to take a hike.

Creating a wasteland of toxic propaganda may work in Kentucky or Florida or Connecticut — but Maryland is different.

Conning Voters

Voters here hate that type of campaign nonsense. They’re not fools. They know they are being conned and hustled.

Maryland voters don’t like it.

There’s no question Brown is the major offender. He’s allowed his handlers not only to go negative but to concoct outrageous lies.

I’ve received eight large, glossy fliers in the mail from Brown and his ilk. None gets a passing grade for truth or honesty.

All label Hogan as a “dangerous” Republican. All make fabricated charges. All are inflammatory. All take fiction-writing to a new level of disgust.

Brown’s campaign insults the intelligence of voters.

Yet one of these mediocre candidates is going to win.

How the victor will govern is anyone’s guess: Both Brown and Hogan have kept that information a closely guarded secret.

#          #          #

Barry Rascovar’s writings appears at www.politicalmaryland.com. You can contact him at brascovar@hotmail.com.

The Difference-Maker: Early Voting

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 22, 2014–If Anthony Brown is going to stem the unexpected surge of Larry Hogan Jr.’s gubernatorial campaign he’s got to start pulling out all the stops on Thursday.

That’s when early voting begins in Maryland for the Nov. 4 general election. Running up a big lead by getting his supporters to the polls over the next week is pivotal for Democrat Brown.

Early Voting poster

Here’s why.

In the June primary, Democratic early voters outpaced Republicans by better than 3-1.

If Brown can repeat that now, he’d start on Nov. 4 with a 71,000-vote lead.

Add in absentee ballots (based on the primary election numbers) and the Democratic lead over Republicans would exceed 80,000.

It could be the difference-maker.

Brown has generated scant excitement among Democrats.

This “enthusiasm gap” could translate into low turnout on Election Day, particularly in the Democrats’ Big Three – Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, which contain 854,000 Democrats versus just 175,000 Republicans.

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Brown can overcome that, though, with an full-court press, starting Thursday, to ensure that his campaign workers take full advantage of early voting, which ends Oct. 30. They need to contact supporters, provide rides to the polls and get others to cast absentee ballots.

Baltimore City should be ground zero for Brown.

Republicans are few and far between in Charm City (30,000 out of 325,000 registered voters). That’s why running up a lopsided early-voting total in Baltimore could put Brown in the driver’s seat.

Giving citizens the luxury of additional balloting days is still new to Maryland. It takes getting used to, especially for political organizations.

Early Turnout Drive

Brown and his allies have been preparing their get-out-the-early-vote drive for months. Groups like the state teachers union, organized labor and environmentalists are old hands at identifying supporters and making sure they cast a vote.

They will need to do a first-rate job for Brown to win.

A heavy early vote tally can offset a slim Nov. 4 turnout in the city and other Brown strongholds. That’s what happened in the primary.

Without early voting, the city’s 23 percent June turnout would have shrunk to 18 percent. Prince George’s County’s 19 percent turnout would have dropped to 14 percent. Montgomery’s 17.5 percent primary turnout would have slipped to 14.6 percent.

Brown’s Campaign

This race shouldn’t be close, not in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland. Brown has no one to blame but himself.

He has run a terrible campaign.

  • He’s let paid consultants apply a national campaign template (go harshly negative) that is ill-suited to Maryland.
  • He’s been the “bubble boy” — cordoned off from the media and from ordinary voters.
  • Brown speaks through campaign mouthpieces who mimic the near-hysterical “Hogan is dangerous” ads.
  • He’s almost never heard speaking in his commercials.
  • He’s becoming a caricature of the “empty suit candidate” — afraid to open his mouth for fear of saying something that might cost him the election.

Yet with all these missteps, Anthony Brown could win because of Maryland voter loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Given the 2-1 dominance state Democrats have in registered voters (2,051,300 party loyalists versus 950,000 Republicans), there’s little more Hogan can do to turn the tide.

Instead, the election is in Brown’s hands.

Early Voting

If he produces a heavy early vote and a well-organized Democratic turnout Nov. 4, the lieutenant governor ought to win.

But if turnout in Brown’s core areas proves disappointing, Maryland’s race for governor could be a nail-biter.

# #  #

Junk the ‘Lockbox’ Amendment

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 21, 2015 — Marylanders are being sold a bill of goods under the guise of fiscal accountability.

Voters ought to think twice before approving a constitutional amendment giving transportation priority status over social programs when the economy turns sour.

Conservatives — especially those who are staunch advocates of road-building — want to embed in the Maryland Constitution a high wall preventing the governor from dipping into the Transportation Trust Fund when the next recession creates a budget crisis.

If this amendment passes, it would be extraordinarily difficult for a governor to draw on transportation dollars to avert recession cuts in money flowing to local governments for schools, health care and social services. State workers’ jobs, pay and pensions would be at risk.

Once the transportation “lockbox” is approved, environmentalists will demand the same iron-clad protection for an array of “green” funds.

lockbox

We’re getting our priorities confused.

Is the No. 1 goal of state government protecting highway funds, even in the midst of a damaging recession?

Is that our top priority when state tax revenues dry up and the governor desperately seeks ways to avoid layoffs and deep cuts to schools, colleges and public assistance?

During the Great Recession, Gov. Martin O’Malley repeatedly took money from the Maryland Department of Transportation to keep important social programs afloat without imposing cuts that would hurt the poor and low-middle class.

Conservatives view this as theft. They want to stop governors from draining the transportation fund when recessions lead to deep budget holes.

O’Malley’s Mistake

Part of the problem is that O’Malley went overboard in shifting hundreds of millions from transportation to support other budget priorities.

He didn’t want to repay MDOT and he continually returned to this large source to pay for non-transportation expenses.

As a result, O’Malley ended up short-changing MDOT by refusing until late in his second term to address MDOT’s unmet financing needs.

Yet the extent of this problem has been greatly magnified by road-building advocates.

30 Year Trend

Over the past 30 years, a total of $574 million has been shifted from the transportation trust fund by governors during hard times to cover more important necessities. Over $325 million of that has been re-paid, with another payment due next year.

The problem with the lockbox amendment is that it ties the hands of future governors at the precise moment financial flexibility is essential.

Lock

Putting together a $40 billion budget is like solving a massive three-dimensional puzzle. There are thousands of moving parts.

Protecting government’s core services requires enormous fiscal dexterity in bad times.

The more maneuvering room a governor has, the easier it is to develop a recession-era budget that meets essential needs without creating hardships.

Recession Options

Sometimes that might mean borrowing from MDOT or from environmental programs set up to purchase green space or preserve farmland.

Or it might mean issuing general obligation bonds to free up cash sitting in a transportation or natural resources account.

The lockbox amendment dramatically limits a governor’s ability to meet future budget crises without imposing hurtful budget cuts.

It goes like this: If the governor cannot transfer $200 million from transportation accounts in the next deep recession to balance his budget, he’s got to take unpalatable steps — cutting aid to community colleges and private universities, local health departments and local school systems, medical assistance, pension programs and environmental funds.

Or he’s got to chop tens of millions of dollars from every state agency and dozens of local programs. Or he’s got to reduce support for state universities, which likely means a big jump in tuition. Or he’s got to fire thousands of state workers and eliminate services.

Strait Jacket for Governor

If the lockbox amendment is approved by voters, the governor’s options would be dramatically reduced.

Getting legislative approval to tap into the transportation fund (it would require a “super-majority” vote) could prove near-impossible in the decades ahead.

The governor might be forced to eliminate part of Maryland’s social safety net in the next recession, or make heartbreaking cuts to education and health care that damage people’s lives.

Segregating tax revenue in separate accounts that are virtually untouchable for other uses during economic downturns is unsound public policy.

It’s also poor public policy to plant this ticking time bomb in the state constitution, where it cannot be easily or rapidly removed.

Negative Consequences

At this late stage, though, the lockbox amendment has momentum on its side.

The idea sounds sensible — until you start examining the consequences that could result during hard times.

Chief executives in the public sector — and in the private sector — need a full financial toolbox when revenues plunge and the bills come due.

Creating a transportation lockbox robs Maryland’s governor of a vital tool.

It could make matters much worse in a future recession.

###

 

 

 

 

Was Anyone Watching?

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 20, 2014–It was the best of the three gubernatorial debates, but who’s at home on a Saturday night?

And who’s going to turn to an hour-long program where two politicians sling angry, unfounded charges at one another?

The format and the questions this time were effective. Kudos to Jason Newton and WBAL-TV. Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. were asked hard questions.

Watching the debate between Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan (left) and Anthony Brown

But when they wanted to, they played dodge-ball.

Brown and Hogan have their campaign scripts committed to memory.

Hogan: time for a change, cut taxes, cut spending. Brown: I’m  fighting for working families, let’s keep the momentum going.

Hogan never went beyond the superficial economic themes he harps on. That’s unfortunate.

It raises the question: Is there any meat on the bone?

He won’t tell us.

Occasional Insights

Brown displayed a bit of his policy wonk side and it was welcome. Yet he couldn’t resist reverting to a string of flagrantly false allegations against Hogan. Shame on him.

Thank goodness there were a few moments of insight into their political mindset.

On transportation, Hogan all but said he’d kill the Red Line and the Purple Line and dump transportation cash into roads, not mass transit. This plays to his base — rural voters, who were watching Saturday’s debate.

Brown repeated his emphasis on career education for kids not going on the college.

Hogan championed charter schools over more public school funding; Brown made a strong pitch for voluntary pre-kindergarten.

Brown gave an in-depth response on how he’d close the achievement gap; Hogan mentioned the gap was growing, then failed to give a plan of action.

Both favored a balanced approach on environmental and agricultural issues. Hogan tried to win Eastern Shore votes by attacking sweeping phosphorus management regulations.

Differing from O’Malley

Brown parted ways with his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, on the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) issue, calling it a “tremendous economic opportunity” he’d allow if it can be done without “disturbing the rural legacy” of Western Maryland.

Hogan called fracking an “economic gold mine,” which dramatically overstates the case. (Only two small counties would benefit and the returns for land owners could be modest.) He rightly condemned O’Malley’s intentional foot-dragging to appease environmental zealots who want a ban on fracking in Maryland.

Is anyone watching the debate?

Brown, for the first time, said his “No. 1 strategic goal” would be improving Maryland’s business climate – another significant break with O’Malley. But then he hammered Hogan again for daring to seek a corporate income tax cut that would level the playing field with Virginia in the competitive quest for jobs.

Hogan called the Brown-led health exchange rollout every name in the book – “unmitigated disaster,” “the worst in the United States” and “the biggest boondoggle in state history.” All true, but we still aren’t sure how he’d approach health care for the under-insured and uninsured while at the same time making $2 billion in budget cuts.

Campaign Positions

Brown gave specifics for dealing with the state’s heroin epidemic; Hogan merely said he’d call a summit to draw up a plan. Brown responded there already was a statewide confab on the crisis in June.

Both candidates did a good job laying out their campaign positions. But they failed to address Maryland’s economic and fiscal situation honestly and forthrightly.

The next governor isn’t going to have it easy.

The lingering effects of the recession and the federal budget slowdown will make it tough just to balance future state budgets without taking painful, unpopular steps.

Hogan makes spending cuts and tax reductions sound easy; Brown says things are rosier than they are.

They’re both wrong.

Yet one of them is going to wind up running the state of Maryland. The third debate didn’t give us enough clarity as to how they’d do it.

# # #