Category Archives: Election Campaigns

The Early Voting Myth

By Barry Rascovar

June 23, 2014 — We’ve had our share of recent news stories on increased early voting prior to Maryland’s June 24 primary election.

From those reports it sounds like this reform is catching on, right? Making it easier to get more people to participate in elections, right?

Early Voting

That bit of conventional wisdom is wrong. Dead wrong.

Early voting doesn’t increase turnout, despite all the hype surrounding this much-ballyhooed reform.

It may not be politically correct to say this but researchers have found early voting actually decreases overall voter turnout. Honest.

‘Unanticipated Consequences’

A detailed analysis of voting in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections by political scientists at the University of Wisconsin came to the following conclusion:

“Early voting has created negative unanticipated consequences by reducing the civic significance of elections for individuals and altering the incentives for political campaigns to invest in mobilization.”

The researchers concede, “This result is counterintuitive, and it certainly runs against the grain of conventional wisdom.” But facts are facts.

Their 2013 study, published in the American Journal of Political Science and funded by Pew Charitable Trusts, found early voting has the effect of “dissipating the energy of Election Day,”  which historically has focused “social and political activity on a single day [that is] abuzz with discussion, media coverage and last-minute contact from parties and candidates, factors that can exert a mobilizing impact on a wider group of potential voters.”

Voting

Look at early voting in Maryland since it was introduced in 2010.

In that year’s gubernatorial primary, 2.44 percent of registered citizens filled out their ballots early. Yet that didn’t help overall turnout, which was a dreadful 24 percent.

This year’s early voting in the 2014 gubernatorial primary saw a rise in participation to 4.17 percent, thanks to two extra days and 17 new sites. Yet Election Day turnout on June 24 is expected to drop well below 2010’s voter participation numbers.

Look at results from early voting in the last presidential election.

The number of early voters in Maryland’s 2012 general election jumped to 11.6 percent. Still, the overall turnout that year was 73.5 percent — the lowest percentage turnout in a presidential election since 1996.

Clearly, early voting doesn’t — as commonly believed — boost participation in the election process.

The Willis Report

The state’s elections board commissioned a study by the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, led by noted election authority John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state.

UB political science researchers examined the nationwide trend in early voting and reported earlier this year: “[T]here has been a growth in the number of individuals voting early over the past 20 years without a directly corresponding increase in voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters. . .”

In other words, early voting makes it easier for folks who usually go to the polls to do so. These individuals already are highly motivated. Early voting lets them more readily fit a trip to the polls into their daily activities.Early Voting sign

But the notion that early voting increases turnout is a canard.

What will boost participation in elections is Election Day registration.

The University of Wisconsin researchers discovered that in 2004 and 2008, states offering Election Day or same-day registration increased voting by three or four percentage points. They pointed out that earlier studies, stretching back 20 years, indicate the increase in turnout from same-day registration can be as high as seven percentage points.

‘One-Stop Shopping’

Data from those two presidential elections demonstrated to Wisconsin researchers that states can improve voter turnout by “offering one-stop shopping and allowing individuals who become interested late in the campaign to be mobilized into voting.”

Maryland will dip its toes into same-day registration waters in two years when people can legally register at early-voting sites and then cast their vote. If this works well, Election Day registration could become a legislative imperative in the Annapolis State House.

Those who still believe early voting eventually will increase voter turnout need to press for improvements in Maryland’s current system. Twenty more early voting sites are on the way in 2016 but that’s not be nearly enough, especially in large and rural counties.Voting pin

Early voting hours are out of sync with Election Day hours. This year, you couldn’t vote before going to work because the voting sites didn’t open till 10 a.m. That’s ridiculous. It discouraged workers from casting a ballot.

State leaders also need to step up financially and start subsidizing early voting in ways that encourage local governments to open more sites and actively promote and advertise the convenience of voting early.

The state’s early-voting law is now an unfunded mandate from Annapolis. That ought to change. The state should bear more of the direct costs for holding statewide elections.

No Panacea

Yes, early voting is convenient. It’s a service to those already registered to vote. It is growing in  popularity. That trend is likely to continue.

But it has not increased turnout.Voting_box

Indeed, it has lowered overall participation by as much as four percent, according to the University of Wisconsin researchers.

Other election reforms will be required to get more Americans to the polls.

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Eric Cantor Meet MD’s Bev Byron

By Barry Rascovar

June 16, 2004–The stunning June 10 primary election defeat of the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Virginia’s Eric Cantor, robbed the Old Dominion of a dominant power in Washington who soon might have been Speaker of the House.

Eric Cantor

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

Yet what happened to Cantor — too much complacency and too much focus on all things Washington — has happened before.

Cantor should get to know Beverly Byron.

Maryland lost a wealth of political influence and congressional power when Bev Byron was ambushed in her Democratic primary in 1992.

At the time, the seven-term congresswoman chaired the Military Personnel and Compensation Subcommittee and was a major player on defense and nuclear disarmament issues.

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron

Byron also came from Western Maryland political royalty. She shouldn’t have lost in 1992, or ever. Yet she did, ironically by the same 56-44 percent margin as Eric Cantor.

Byron, a conservative Democratic vote in the House for the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush (Bush the Good) administrations, forgot that in Democratic primaries liberals come out in droves and can make the difference, even in right-leaning Western Maryland.

Three-term Del. Tom Hattery of Mount Airy understood that dynamic and capitalized on it in 1992.

He pilloried Byron for voting in favor of a $35,000 congressional pay raise during a national recession. He mocked her frequent, taxpayer-paid overseas trips as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Hattery’s Attacks

Hattery’s effective radio ads listed her ports of call and labeled her travels “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Liberal interest groups — labor unions, environmentalists and educators — filled Hattery’s coffers and helped get out the Democratic vote.

Byron, still focused on her congressional duties and confident of reelection, didn’t know what hit her.

Not that it did Hattery any good.

His liberalism proved toxic in the Western Maryland general election: An ultra-conservative Republican farmer-scientist, Roscoe Bartlett, won an easy victory and stayed in Congress for 20 undistinguished years.

Safe Virginia Seat

Cantor’s loss, though, isn’t likely to cost Republicans a seat in Congress. His Virginia district is deeply conservative and deeply Republican.

For Bev Byron, her loss ended the Byron congressional saga in Western Maryland.

Bev had succeeded her husband, Goodloe, who dropped dead of a heart attack at 49 while jogging on the C&O Canal.

Congressman Goodloe Byron

Congressman Goodloe Byron

Goodie Byron, as he was known, had served four terms in Congress and likely could have kept his safe seat for decades had he taken his cardiologist’s advice to stop training for marathons.

Goodie’s father, William Devereux Byron II, had represented Western Maryland in Congress from 1939 to 1941. He died in an airplane crash in Atlanta. (Also seriously injured in that Eastern Airlines crash was World War I aviation ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who at the time ran Eastern.)

Congressman William D. Byron II

Congressman William D. Byron II

Goodie’s mother, Katharine E. Byron, the granddaughter of Maryland U.S. Senator Louis E. McComas (1899-2005, U.S. House, 1883-1891), won a special election to succeed her husband, serving until 1943.

Rep, Katharine E. Byron

Rep. Katharine E. Byron

U.S. Sen. Louis E. McComas

U.S. Sen. Louis E. McComas, R-MD

Beverly Butcher Byron had golden political connections, too. Her father, Harry Butcher, was a naval aide to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. Ike is her godfather.

Her defeat 22 years ago remains one of the biggest primary upsets in Maryland history. An established and influential member of Congress usually has nothing to fear at election time in the party primaries.

Maryland suffered for the next 20 years from Bartlett’s incompetence and lack of influence, even among his fellow Republicans.

Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

In both Cantor’s case and Bev Byron’s loss, anti-incumbent fervor played a big role in giving insurgent candidates momentum.

Each incumbent seemed aloof and Washington-centric, more attuned to inside-the-beltway machinations than inside-the-district concerns.

Now the northern suburban and rural counties surrounding Richmond will suffer a lack of clout in Washington for years to come.

Economics professor Dave Brat, a tea party acolyte, just won’t be able to bring home the patronage bacon the way a heavy-hitter in leadership like Cantor can do.

It’s similar to the power outage that happened in Western Maryland in 1992. That outage lasted two decades.

#  #  #

Rushing Toward MD’s Primary

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

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

Brown (left), Gansler, Mizeur

Anthony Brown (left), Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur

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

‘Cool’ vs. ‘Hot’

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

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

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

WOLB Radio Debate

WOLB Radio Debate

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

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

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

Turning Negative

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

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

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

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

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

Mizeur: Pro and Con

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

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

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

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

 

TV Advertising

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

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

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

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

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

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

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

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

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

Attorney General’s Race

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

Attorney General candidates Jon Cardin (Left) and Brian Frosh

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

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

More Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MD’s ‘Empty Lectern’ Debate

By Barry Rascovar

May 28, 2014 –THE MOST IMPORTANT person in the second Maryland governor’s debate didn’t bother to show up.

The empty lectern (center)

The empty lectern (center), WBFF governors debate

An empty lectern replaced Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown as the focal point of last evening’s dialogue between two other Democratic contenders, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur.

Brown was a no-show, as expected.

It robbed the event of its potential to highlight the differences among the three.

Brown’s Strategy

Brown, the frontrunner, played it safe. How many people will remember that he ducked this confrontation when they vote June 24?

Yet it was a huge disservice to Marylanders and an indication of the arrogance and hubris likely to accompany Brown if he makes it into the governor’s office.

Both Gansler and Mizeur profited from Brown’s absence. Anyone who tuned in will pick between the two and ignore the man who ran away from this debate.

Given that the debate was on WBFF-TV, which slants its news reporting to reflect the owner’s conservative views, the audience likely contained a lot of center-right Democrats who could play a key role on Election Day.

Plus for Gansler?

That should be good news for Gansler, who is clearly the centrist candidate in this primary contest.

While he didn’t wow anyone with his halting debating skills and less than scintillating campaign pitch, Gansler came across as experienced, thoughtful and a take-charge official.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

He criticized the O’Malley-Brown administration’s 40 tax increases and Brown’s refusal to apologize for the state’s health exchange debacle that Gansler termed “a national embarrassment.”

Mizeur’s Winning Ways

Mizeur won the night’s politeness and demeanor award while sticking to her far-left positions on issues.

She came across as a classic tax-and-spend liberal with few realistic financing plans. She is the candidate least likely to succeed in wooing businesses (and jobs) to Maryland.

Mizeur is a different kind of gubernatorial candidate with lots of imaginative ideas. People like the thought of a different approach.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

But is she ready to manage a $39 billion budget and a work force of 80,000? Her resume is sorely lacking in executive experience.

Lessons Learned

What did we learn from the ‘Empty Lectern’ Debate? Not much that wasn’t known before. Gansler says he’d be The Jobs Governor:

  • He’s courageously supporting a lower corporate tax to make Maryland competitive with Virginia in the hunt for new businesses.
  • He says he’s identified $1.5 billion he can cut from the state budget.
  • He favors merit pay for teachers.
  • He favors the Cove Point natural gas export terminal as a jobs generator.
  • He favors natural gas hydraulic fracturing as long as studies show it is safe.
  • He opposes legalizing marijuana.

WBFF governor debate Mizeur says she’s The Champion For The Middle Class.

  • She wants across-the-board pay hikes for teachers.
  • And a living wage for low-income workers.
  • And a fully funded pension program for state workers and teachers.
  • And universal pre-kindergarten programs.
  • And a business tax cut for small businesses.
  • And a tax cut for middle-class families.
  • And affordable child care, after-school programs and summer programs for kids.
  • She views natural gas hydraulic fracturing as a cardinal environmental sin.
  • She places the Cove Point export terminal in that same class.
  • She wants to legalize and tax marijuana.

There’s nothing surprising in any of that.

Upcoming Events

Now it’s on to the final TV debate on June 2 that Brown says he’ll attend, plus a morning radio debate the next day few will hear.

It’s been a disappointing campaign season, capped now by Brown’s in-your-face no-show.

This doesn’t help voters make up their minds.

++++++++++

AS IF THE incomplete governor’s debate wasn’t enough, the day’s activities also included a three-way televised discussion by the lieutenant governor running mates.

It demonstrated the irrelevancy of that office.

Not only was the event aired Tuesday morning following the Memorial Day weekend — when nearly everyone was tending to other chores — it was broadcast on a Washington-area news cable station whose viewers live mainly in Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Going Out of State

To compound the insult, the Maryland candidates debated one another in NewsChannel 8’s Northern Virginia studio.

Thus a Maryland election debate took place at the out-of-state studio of an obscure cable station at a time when few were watching. Moreover, those who did tune in likely can’t vote in Maryland.

Isn’t time to recognize  Maryland made a mistake when it resurrected the office of lieutenant governor in 1970 after a 102-year hiatus?

The office has no constitutional powers.

It is a huge waste of tax dollars. (Brown earns $125,000 a year and has a staff of nine. Virginia’s lieutenant governor earns $36,321. Quite a contrast.)

Death Watch

Maryland lieutenant governors serve as surrogate campaigners and regurgitate the governor’s position on issues.

The occupant of this office is around simply in case the governor dies or becomes incapacitated.

Why not abolish the office, designate a line of succession and streamline state government?

It’s foolish to continue this charade in which we pretend that selecting a lieutenant governor really matters.

# # #

Insulting Post Endorsement

By Barry Rascovar

May 13, 2014 — Forty-five days before Maryland’s primary election (May 11), the Washington Post endorsed in the all-important Democratic race for governor.

Washington Post logo

Nothing wrong in selecting Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. He’s the clear front-runner.

But for a major newspaper to make its endorsement selection six weeks in advance of an election is stunning — and highly risky.

The final weeks of any campaign can be unpredictable.

Anything Could Happen

What if news surfaces that deeply embarrasses Brown? What if it turns out Brown was more involved in Maryland’s dysfunctional health exchange than he admits? What if a scandal erupts in the O’Malley-Brown administration? What if Brown performs poorly in the June 2 debate?

That early endorsement could look ludicrous.

Does the Post consider the rest of this campaign irrelevant? Apparently.

The newspaper’s editorialists seem to regard Maryland with an arrogance and disdain that insult its Free State readers.

Virginia Endorsement

When the Post endorsed for Virginia governor last year, it did so 23 days before the election, not 45.

That Virginia endorsement, running 1,008 words, gave a detailed analysis of the two candidates. The Post’s superficial endorsement for Maryland governor ran just 467 words.

Rather than place its Maryland endorsement prominently at the top of the page, as the Post routinely does for elections in Virginia and the District of Columbia, this one was positioned as the last of three editorials — almost an afterthought.

The editors didn’t even bother spelling out the word “Maryland” in the headline, though they had oodles of extra space.

District Endorsement

When the Post endorsed for D.C. mayor earlier this year, its editorialists produced a carefully reasoned, 1,082-word analysis. Clearly, the writers took great care crafting it — which clearly wasn’t the case with the Maryland governor’s endorsement.

I helped produce editorial pages for the Baltimore Sun for 20-plus years as deputy editorial page editor under the legendary Joe Sterne. I understand the pressures that come with newspaper endorsements.

But the Post’s effort last Sunday was inexcusable in its timing. Anything can happen over the next six weeks.

Weak Arguments

Sadly, the editors based their endorsement on a scant one-hour televised debate that contained more fluff than meat.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

The editorial’s vapid reasoning was a marvel of shaky logic. It brought guffaws from two dozen readers who wrote critical email responses — all of them mocking the Post’s sloppy arguments.

Anthony Brown indeed may be “the best of three Democratic candidates,” but the Post made some laughably weak assertions:

  • He’s “a mainstay of the Democratic establishment and a paragon of the status quo.”

That’s a two-edged sword, as the Post went on to illustrate in mentioning Brown’s role in the miserably managed health exchange rollout. Does this mean the Post is endorsing the status quo in Maryland?

  • He is part of an administration that has a number of “substantive accomplishments.”

A point well taken.

  • Brown “strikes us as a conscientious public servant with broad experience.”

True, but what has he actually accomplished in all those years? That’s the crucial element the Post needed to address.

  • Brown may not have “offered a soaring vision” but “he has also not overpromised.”

Is that the Post’s way of supporting an “O’Malley Lite” administration for Maryland?

  • Brown has “the right approach” to help Maryland “compete with Virginia for jobs,” which would “foster a business climate more conducive to employment growth.” He “strikes us as the best candidate and the one most likely to improve what Democratic leaders concede is the state’s anemic track record in attracting and retaining jobs and employers.”

Those last editorial points are the most baffling. According to the Post endorsement, “the focus of Mr. Brown’s campaign” is a more positive business climate.

You could have fooled me.

Brown and Economic Growth

Brown’s statements, campaign ads and campaign documents don’t emphasize economic development but rather improving life for Maryland families, especially in education.

Is the Post’s candidate improving Maryland’s business climate by calling a plan to lower the state’s heavy corporate tax rate “a $1.4 billion corporate giveaway”?

Maryland’s corporate tax is 37 percent higher than Virginia’s. That’s a huge economic disincentive. No wonder Virginia cleans Maryland’s clock.

Brown’s jobs plan involves increased support for a smattering of business development programs. It will cost an average of $28 million annually for four years. That’s a skimpy investment. It won’t make Maryland more appealing than Virginia.

Paying for New Programs

The Post editorial blasts Attorney General Doug Gansler for lacking “a convincing plan” to pay for his corporate tax cut.  Yet Brown’s payment method for his jobs plan is equally lacking.

Brown wants to offset his jobs program costs through tax receipts from construction of the Purple and Red light rail lines. Those are phantom numbers.

Purple Line

First, little new tax money will be generated by light-rail construction in the early years of Brown’s administration. Delays are inevitable. The heavy work is at least two or three years away.

Second, revenue forecasts based on economic “multiplier” calculations rarely prove accurate.

Third, Brown’s revenue source dries up when construction stops. At that point, he’s left with a big revenue hole.

Fourth, essential federal aid may not come through. The Surfacing Transportation Act expires Oct. 1. Republicans and Democrats are light years apart on what to do. Gridlock could mean major cuts in transit aid.

Red Line logo

That could doom or delay Maryland’s projects, thus erasing Brown’s revenue for his jobs program.

None of this is mentioned in the Post endorsement. Don’t let facts get in the way of a hastily crafted editorial.

There are plenty of solid reasons for a newspaper to support Anthony Brown. Unfortunately, you won’t find many of them in the Post editorial.

The Post’s Predicament

Now the newspaper’s editorialists have to hope Brown doesn’t screw up before June 24.

Instead of critiquing campaign developments with a critical, impartial eye, the newspaper’s editorials must defend Brown if scandal erupts, or refute charges against him. The Post becomes Brown’s defender and advocate.

It’s a wound one of the nation’s best newspapers inflicted on itself by endorsing prematurely.

Holding off until later in the campaign would have given Post editorialists better insight into Brown.

It would have made for a stronger, more thoughtful endorsement.

The newspaper could have produced for readers a more complete picture of the governor’s race.

That opportunity now has been forfeited.

# # #

 

 

Reviewing the First Governor’s Debate

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com

May 12, 2014 — Now the important part of Maryland’s gubernatorial election campaign begins. The kickoff took place last week with the first televised debate among the three Democratic contenders.

Gubernatorial Debate May 7

The Scene at College Park

Though far from inspiring, that debate finally focused voter attention on the election. Equally important, it riveted the attention of reporters, who are now intently following comments and policy statements of the three candidates.

There’s roughly six weeks until voters must decide in the June 24 primary. And given the massive majority held by Democrats in Maryland, the results of the primary could be the ball game.

Notes From Debate No. 1

Here are some observations on the first debate, held at the University of Maryland, College Park:

  • Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown tried mightily, but no one drew blood.

Gansler delivered some strong blows on Brown’s flubbed role in Maryland’s disgraceful health exchange rollout, but the issue was largely forgotten after the first ten minutes.

Gansler-May 7 debate

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Brown tried to hammer Gansler for not stopping a teen beach party, but the attorney general muted that attack by reminding the audience how difficult it is to make the right decisions when it comes to raising kids.

Del. Heather Mizeur decided to step aside while the two other candidates went after one another.

  • No one delivered a compelling message.

What we heard was standard campaign rhetoric the candidates have voiced hundreds of times before. New ideas never entered the debate. The candidates rushed through their one-minute responses so rapidly there was no time to expound on specifics.

  • Brown “won” by not losing.

As the clear front-runner, the lieutenant governor had the most to lose but he didn’t make a major blunder and stuck to his prepared responses and attacks on Gansler.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown-May 7 debate

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

He didn’t give many Democratic voters a reason to vote for him, but he also didn’t give them much to dislike, either.

  • Mizeur “won” by refusing to attack her opponents.

She tried to show she was the issues candidate but in the process revealed an extraordinarily narrow agenda — women’s rights and wage disparity.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

  • Gansler “won” by presenting himself as the one candidate willing to criticize the O’Malley-Brown administration.

He objected to the administration raising taxes 40 times and worsening Maryland’s anti-business reputation. He suggested voters might want to try a different approach.

  • Kudos to NBC’s David Gregory for running the debate with a firm hand.

No one was allowed to abuse the time limits. When attacks were made, Gregory gave the other candidate a chance to respond. He followed up  on hot-button issues with additional questions. Most questions from the panelists were on the mark — except for the dumb Redskins question that wasted valuable time better devoted to pivotal issues confronting the next governor.

  • All the candidates got away with stretching — or misplacing — the truth in their remarks.

Gansler misled viewers about the reasons he was sanctioned when Montgomery County state’s attorney by the Maryland Court of Appeals for ripping into defendants in criminal cases at press conferences. We haven’t heard the end of this.

Brown inaccurately claimed credit for fixing the health exchange, saying he “changed leadership” (no, the exchange leader quit) and all is now hunky dory. Hardly. He also claimed leadership of the base-realignment effort in Maryland. That’s overstating the case.

Mizeur gave dubious reasons for legalizing marijuana. Her rationale: It is “less harmful to the body than alcohol or tobacco.” (And that makes it a wise public health policy?) Then she switched direction and said legalizing pot would generate enough revenue to pay for all her new programs. (Ugh.)

  • All three blew it on their opening and closing statements.

Gansler: He’ll give “voice to the voiceless” and stand up to unnamed “special interests.”

Brown — He’ll “build a better Maryland” and continue the direction of the current administration.

Mizeur — She’ll “bring results for Maryland families.” She promises “policy, not platitudes.”

Those clichéd statements explain why a majority of voters remain undecided. They may look for the “none of the above” button on primary day.

  • Finally, there’s one thing the candidates agree wholeheartedly about: the winning political color this campaign season is Columbia Blue.

During the debate, Mizeur, Brown and Gansler all displayed that unique shade of blue-gray named after my New York alma mater’s collegiate color.

Governor's Debate

A sea of Columbia Blue

At glance I thought the “in” color for Maryland pols in 2014 was Carolina Blue, named for that university in Chapel Hill, N.C. But a closer examination of photos from the debate revealed the color selection was a darker shade than sky blue.

By the way, Columbia Blue also is the school color of Johns Hopkins University.

And it is, oddly enough, the team color of baseball’s Kansas City Royals (why not Royal Blue?) and in a sad twist of fate, it’s the team color of racist Donald Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.

Wonder what Brown, Mizeur and Gansler will be wearing at the next debate on June 2?

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Brown Ducks Debates: Fear of Flubbing?

By Barry Rascovar

May 1, 2014 — Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown plays by his own rules. If he feels like tilting the playing field in his favor, he’ll do it — even if it keeps him hidden from Maryland voters.

Indeed, it appear that hiding from Democratic voters is exactly what Brown is doing in ducking out on debates agreed upon back in February.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Gone are the three TV debates agreed upon by the candidates’ camps on Valentine’s Day. Instead, Brown will only do two.

 Empty Seat in His Future? 

And out of nowhere Brown comes up with a bizarre debate on a radio station with a tiny audience (the lowest-rated news/talk station, by a wide margin, in Baltimore).

Meanwhile, negotiations for a WBFF-TV debate have gotten nowhere with Brown, who could become an empty seat on the debate stage that night.

All of this is par for the course Anthony Brown is playing. He’s continuing his front-runner strategy that calls for minimizing opportunities to make gaffs in non-scripted situations.

Brown’s handlers seem to be calling the shots, creating new fictions to justify their decision to renege on a three-debate schedule for TV viewers.

Given the dearth of excitement about the June 24 primary and the difficulty in getting people to actually vote on that day, gubernatorial debates should be a priority. The more the better.

Sizing Up the Candidates

Unless Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur present themselves repeatedly in TV debates for voters to judge, how are citizens supposed to size up the candidates for governor?

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

Brown’s vapid advertising campaign tells us nothing about the candidate’s views on hot-button issues.

We don’t have a clue what he’d do as governor about gun control, funding the Red Line, death-row inmates, the state’s enormous pension deficit, fracking, the “rain tax,” the University of Maryland Law School’s crusade against Eastern Shore chicken producers and the botched rollout of Maryland’s Health Exchange that Brown took full credit for — until the system crashed and devoured nearly $200 million of government funds (not to mention the distress  and upset it caused tens of thousands of Marylanders).

Apparently, Brown wants Democrats to walk blindly into voting cubicles and cast a ballot based on his paid propaganda ads and little else: Vote for me because I’m next in line and have the support of the party establishment.

Skeptical View of Voters

That’s a demeaning view of voters, almost Soviet-style politics in which the Politburo’s designated successor is guaranteed victory. The voter becomes almost superfluous.

Ever since the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, televised confrontations between candidates has been the best way for Americans to reach a judgment on contenders.

Brown’s forte may be speech-reading and regurgitating campaign rhetoric day after day, but he’s been involved in State House affairs for 16 years. If he can’t hold his own against opponents on issues fired at them by interviewers, it would be surprising.

At the moment, though, Brown is ducking and running from as many debates as he can.

Why? What’s he worried about? Stumbling over a response? Getting his facts wrong? Not knowing the facts?

The lieutenant governor would be better off agreeing to more televised debates and taking his chances.

As it is, he’s now a prime target for scathing attacks from Gansler, Mizeur and the media about his timidity.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Debates are enlightening and an integral part of statewide elections everywhere in this country.

Brown owes it to voters to set aside his qualms and participate in as many televised confrontations and discussions among the candidates as possible before the June 24 vote.

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Is Anthony Brown an ‘Empty Suit’?

By Barry Rascovar

April 28, 2014 — LET’S GET THIS out of the way up front: The answer to the headlined question is “no.” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown didn’t graduate cum laude from Harvard and later from Harvard Law without having substantial intellectual chops.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Yet that inelegant question – does Brown have what it takes to be governor? – could become a defining issue as Maryland’s aimless gubernatorial campaign enters the stage where voters start paying attention.

Attorney General Doug Gansler keeps fumbling the rhetorical ball whenever he tries to raise the subject of Brown’s readiness to run the state of Maryland. He must be onto something, though. because the Brown camp is ultra-sensitive to charges of “empty suit-ism.”

Not that his handlers will allow Brown to escape from his self-imposed cocoon to rebut Gansler’s charges. They let surrogates and campaign officials go on the counter-attack instead.

Front-runner tactics 

Brown is following the Rose Garden strategy favored by front-runners, appearing at events where his handlers can control the candidate’s every move and keep him on script.

After all, Brown is very good at reading a scripted speech. It’s when unscripted, detailed questions start flying that Brown hastily looks for the exit.

Gansler sought to stir things up by questioning the notion that Brown’s year in Iraq as a military lawyer qualifies him to be governor.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

He was trying to point out that being chauffeured in an armored caravan to Iraqi government buildings to educate Iraqi officials on American jurisprudence isn’t the same as taking on the Taliban in gun fights. Counseling Iraqi officials does not teach you much about running the state of Maryland.

But Gansler stepped in deep doo-doo when he blurted out that this wasn’t “a real job” – as though service in the military doesn’t count.

Counter-attacking Gansler

Brown and his veterans supporters pounced on Gansler for that faux pas. Why he’s insulted the military! He’s a loose cannon! He’s out of control!

That’s a great way to divert attention from the central point Gansler was trying to make – Brown’s good-sounding resume gets a bit thin when examined in detail.

His decades of military service are not only admirable but courageous. He’s led men on missions. He’s got lots of service ribbons.

Col. Anthony Brown

Col. Anthony Brown, USAR

But his year in Iraq, while a difficult personal sacrifice, was quite secondary and far from the battles waged by Gen. David Petraeus that made an American exit possible.

Brown’s service as lieutenant governor also looks better at a glance than it does under a microscope.

That’s not as much his fault as a quirk of the office.

No Fun Being No. 2

Nearly every lieutenant governor winds up outside the governor’s inner circle. He’s not included when key questions are decided. He isn’t given substantial duties to run parts of government.

So Maryland’s elected No. 2 spends his time touring the state, giving speeches that mimic what the governor has already said. The lieutenant governor isn’t an executive decision-maker. He’s just there in case the governor drops dead.

No wonder Brown’s predecessors – all seven of them – failed to become governor. It’s a jinxed office. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I can’t get no respect.”

So Brown, despite being the early front-runner, has his work cut out.

Questions for Brown

Can he handle ad lib queries from reporters on a wide array of topics?

Can he show where he has been an effective policymaker?

Can he rebut charges that he botched oversight of the state’s much-maligned health care exchange rollout?

The spotlight is turning toward Anthony Brown, who must persuade voters he has not only the resume but more importantly the substantive accomplishments and breadth of knowledge that merit election as governor.

We’re eight weeks from the June 24 primary that almost definitely will determine Maryland’s next governor. At this point, the job is Brown’s to win – or lose.

###

Voters must choose governor’s image

Barry Rascovar For the Community Times

March 19, 2014 — Have you seen the first batch of TV ads in the race for Maryland governor?

They are introductory commercials but tell us quite a bit about Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Brown is the early front-runner. He’s got the full weight of the O’Malley administration and much of the Democratic establishment behind him.

Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Gansler, although he’s been the state’s top legal officer for seven-plus years, is running as the outsider, the candidate who — in the words of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “can’t get no respect” from Democratic powers that be.

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

He started his TV campaign on March 6, which spurred Brown into action the next day.

They take different approaches, which are reflective of the candidates’ styles and strategies.

Gansler’s Direct Approach

Gansler’s ad is casual, personal and direct. He’s dressed in a red polo shirt, looking right into the camera and speaking to viewers at home.

His tone is soft and relaxed.

As he mentions the legal battles he’s won, pictures flash on the screen showing the kinds of individuals he’s helped:

Brianna (a $4.6 billion settlement against polluters), Karen (a $1.6 billion mortgage relief settlement), Myra and her kids (bringing “the beltway snipers to justice” while Montgomery County state’s attorney and fighting child pornography), Eric and Mitchell (fighting for marriage equality in court) and for “thousands of Baltimore kids” (starting an inner city lacrosse league).

“That’s who I am” Gansler says directly to viewers, “I take on tough fights and get thing done. . .”

The ad is meant to convey the impression that Gansler is a doer, not a talker, and that he has fought uphill battles on behalf of John and Jane Q. Citizen and delivered quantifiable results.

Brown’s Indirect Approach

Brown’s ad conveys a different impression. He is stiffer and more formal in appearance and in his speaking. He’s also talking to someone off-camera, not directly to TV viewers.

The words sound strikingly similar to lines he has delivered thousands of times before at campaign appearances describing his parents, his upbringing, his commitment to public service and his military service.

Brown lets viewers know his father was a Jamaican physician who “served others all his life.” That example, a narrator says, inspired Brown to choose “the military over Wall Street.” He joined the Army Reserve. Nineteen years later, Brown explains, he was called to active duty in Iraq.

“It was my responsibility to serve,” he says in the ad.

What Brown doesn’t talk about is his accomplishments in office, probably because as lieutenant governor he’s not in position to do much on his own.

Choice of Image

The viewer is left with an image of Gansler as a candidate who faces up to tough issues and has something to show for it. The image of Brown is less focused — a man on a mission to serve the public.

Voters can judge for themselves which is the more compelling image. Hopefully, the candidates will fill in most of the blanks before the June 24 primary.

# # #

 

 

Redistricting, Minimum Wage & TV Debates

A Weekly Roundup

By Barry Rascovar

March 7 — TODAY’S House of Delegates session will mark the halfway point for a bill raising Maryland’s minimum wage in phases from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2017 — nearly 40 percent.

Recent minimum wage protest

Recent minimum wage protest

Without question, the O’Malley administration’s bill will pass. The votes are there. But it’s not exactly the bill Gov. Martin O’Malley presented in January.

There’s no automatic inflation clause. Amusement park workers are exempted (largely to accommodate Six Flags in chairman Dereck Davis’ Prince George’s County). Implementation is delayed six months to ease the transition for businesses.

Senate Action Next

Most of the changes are sensible, but more may be coming in the Senate, where there is a little more skepticism about the advisability of such a major increase in business expenses during the weakest economic recovery in memory.

Rural counties in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore may need special attention. Living expenses are a lot less there. A 40-percent hike in wages for many small, rural businesses might prove counter-productive. Ocean City’s minimum-wage summer help is primarily college students, not adults raising a family.

Too Much in a Weak Recovery?

The bill’s three-year phase-in may be too aggressive during this exceptionally mild recovery. It might be wise to adopt a more gradual rise.

But one way or another, an increase in Maryland’s minimum wage is coming — and is necessary.

It’s now a matter of how willing lawmakers are to heed warnings by business that O’Malley’s original bill  could have unintended consequences.

+++++

ON THE OTHER END of the economic spectrum, Senate and House leaders (but not O’Malley) are pushing a bill to lower Maryland’s estate tax. This is overdue.

Wealthy Marylanders are switching their residences to avoid this state tax. Some of Maryland’s most respected business leaders are among them. The tax makes no sense, especially when surrounding states are benefiting.

A gradual return to the days when Maryland’s estate tax matched the federal levy seemed likely to pass until revised estimates on Thursday showed a new quarter-billion-dollar hole in O’Malley’s budget. That may force lawmakers to delay implementation of the phase-in.

O’Malley has not been part of the estate-tax movement. It doesn’t fit into his presidential playbook.

Instead, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch are leading the charge. They’ve finally recognized the need to start reforming parts of Maryland’s unbalanced tax laws. They’ve figures out that chasing wealthy Marylanders out of the state is a terrible strategy.

+++++

A SIDELIGHT of the minimum wage debate this week was an attempt by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Del. Heather Mizeur to go beyond O’Malley’s bill and raise the standard to $11.37 an hour by 2023.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

Mizeur’s amendment bombed.

She got just eight votes, including her own.

That indicates the narrowness of Mizeur’s ultra-liberal appeal, even in a liberal General Assembly. It does not bode well for her statewide campaign.

+++++

A HANDFUL of bills in the General Assembly seek to reform Maryland’s politicized redistricting process. They aren’t going anywhere.

That’s too bad, because turning redistricting over exclusively to those in power has gotten out of hand.

The current maps are undemocratic and a disservice to voters. Maryland’s congressional maps, for instance, are appalling. No effort is made to create compact districts or keep communities together.

MD's gerrymandered 3rd Congressional District

Gerrymandered 3rd Congressional District

Yet until the Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals change their tunes on redistricting, legislative reforms are meaningless.

The highest federal court has washed its hands of redistricting, claiming it is purely a political matter. So much for ensuring fairness and sane congressional districts.

Interference By Appeals Court

The state’s highest court, meanwhile, has become too deeply involved in redistricting, imposing archaic thinking in drawing legislative boundaries.

As a result, cross-jurisdictional districts that follow neighborhood growth patterns are virtually forbidden. Rigid adherence to county and city lines trumps everything, even when citizens pay no heed to those boundaries in their daily lives.

What a mess. Redistricting, as currently practiced, is giving representative democracy a bad name.

+++++

TELEVISED DEBATES in the race for governor have been set. All three of them.

Don’t expect much.

The candidates will be well rehearsed, especially the front-runner, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who needs careful scripting.

Televised Political Debates

Don’t expect one of these in MD’s 2014 TV debates.

But the real laugher will be the lone televised debate among lieutenant governor candidates.

These hopefuls aren’t elected on their own: They are the conjoined twins of gubernatorial candidates. So on TV, they will mimic positions taken by their far-more important running mates.

No Assigned Duties

That’s because their own views don’t count.

Under the state’s constitution, the lieutenant governor has no designated powers. He (or she) is there in case the governor drops dead or comes down with a disabling disease.

So if you happen to miss the scintillating debate among wannabe lieutenant governors, don’t fret.

Tuning in would be a waste of your time.

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