Category Archives: Maryland General Assembly

Hogan’s Heroes Arrive

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 19, 2015 – The Changing of the Guard takes place in Annapolis this week: There will be a sharp course correction with the arrival of Hogan’s Heroes.

Hogan's Heroes Leader-Larry Hogan Jr.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

On Wednesday, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. takes the oath of office as governor, followed by the departure of former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley as he starts his quixotic quest for the highest office in the land.

On Thursday, Governor Hogan unveils his sharply reduced budget, which will be a shock to the system of Maryland Democrats.

Thus, the Hogan era begins.

Democratic interest groups will have to learn some new tricks.

The old way of bludgeoning a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature into submission won’t work.

Outdated Lobbying Methods

Massing hundreds, or thousands, of protesters on the State House steps used to do the trick when O’Malley was in power.

Hogan, though, could care less if the teachers union or the state workers union or the construction unions fill Lawyers’ Mall to overflowing or flood his office with form-letter emails.

Simply demanding more pay, more benefits, more school funds, and more social services won’t be helpful, either.

The new governor is approaching his job with a firm set of ideas on how to govern Maryland that is in marked contrast to the traditional Democratic method.

No longer will the state budget balloon to satisfy special interest groups within the Democratic Party. No longer will special-interest bills designed to mollify those same power bases within the Democratic Party hold sway on the second floor of the State House.

Businessman as Governor

Hogan takes a businessman’s approach to governing. He holds definite conservative views, but Larry Hogan is far from an extremist. He’s no friend of tea party fanatics. He’s not about to take Maryland back to the Stone Age.

That could be seen clearly in many of his appointments.

Hogan chose a well-rounded group of upper-level managers and advisers, including a good number of pragmatic, moderate Democrats with legislative experience, such as former Sen. Rona Kramer from Montgomery County, former Baltimore County Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, former Delegates Steve DeBoy and Keiffer Mitchell from the Baltimore area and former Delegates Van Mitchell and George Owings from Southern Maryland.

DeBoy in particular is an important choice, since he will be engaged in lobbying lawmakers on behalf of the Hogan administration. He’s a retired cop from Catonsville who was highly respected by fellow delegates for his friendliness, common-sense and conservative pragmatism.

Understanding Hogan

Many of the appointees have strong business backgrounds. That is the key to understanding Hogan’s mindset.

People with experience in business know the crucial importance of avoiding a deficit. You spend what you take in, and no more. You don’t expand services hoping that the economy soars. That is the path to bankruptcy.

Hogan won’t have much sympathy for teacher unions demanding ever-increasing amounts of school funding. That’s not how businesses work.

Hogan is going to take a jaundiced view of state worker union demands for pay increases and benefit gains every year. He knows that’s a sure way to drive a business to the brink of insolvency.

There will be plenty of pain as Hogan squeezes budgetary excesses out of Maryland’s funding programs. Businesses do that all the time. The goal is to build a leaner yet more effective company.

Losing Bad Habits

Hogan is almost certain to tell Marylanders that state government has gotten itself into bad habits: excessive borrowing; depleting all the government’s “piggy bank” accounts to paper over revenue shortages; shifting around funds; spending far more each year on education than revenues allow, imposing new taxes to cover up bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Righting the Ship of State in Maryland won’t be easy. The last Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, rashly thought his charisma would be enough to win over doubting Democrats in the legislature.

Hogan was part of Ehrlich’s team. He saw the gridlock and ill will that resulted. He learned some painful lessons.

Centrist Politics

The new governor is a glad-handing, commercial land-development salesman and negotiator. Those skills will come in handy. He knows that the art of the deal involves compromise – on both sides.

Governing from the center is pivotal if Hogan is to succeed.

He can’t be a conservative ideologue, tea party libertarian or doctrinaire Republican. None of that will fly with a liberal General Assembly.

Hogan already has shown us he knows how to campaign as a Republican centrist. It proved wildly popular with voters in November.

If he can repeat that recipe as governor, Larry Hogan Jr. could be living in the governor’s mansion for a considerable length of time.

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Advice to New MD Legislators

 By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 13, 2015 — Attention, newcomers to the Maryland General Assembly. Welcome to Annapolis and its historic State House.

You’ve been through an orientation and culture shock is starting to set in. But don’t get too comfortable. Things are about to change in a BIG way.

Wednesday’s ceremonial events, with family and friends, will give way to the realities of the General Assembly. It’s not as easy as it seems.

Here is some pro bono advice for you, offered freely and without charge:

1. Play nice in the sandbox.

You can’t shake things up in Annapolis by picking fights, insisting you’re the only one with the answers and hurling insults.

Maryland’s state legislature is a place where good manners count. It’s been that way since Colonial days. The presiding officers take courteous behavior very seriously.

Make a mess in the sandbox and you’ll likely wind up in a political Siberia.

2. Be practical, not ideological.

Neither far-left Democrats nor far-right Republicans get very far in Annapolis unless they practice pragmatism and leave their philosophical straitjackets at home.

Nearly all the thousands of bills you deal with relate to problems that need fixing in order to help people. It’s a form of non-partisan constituent service. Put an ideological label on bills and you’re almost certain to see them trashed.

3. Be polite, even in opposition.

Rants and angry outbursts bring embarrassment and ostracism. Those with passionate far-left or far-right beliefs will be sorely tempted to lash out when things aren’t going their way.

Resist that temptation. Your colleagues appreciate thoughtful comments, even when they don’t agree.

4. Make friends, not enemies.

It’s a truism that your opponents today could well be the allies you need tomorrow for success on legislation. Learn how to operate within this closed environment, which means “friending” as many colleagues as possible — regardless of party affiliation.

5. Lower your expectations.

You may still be puffed up after winning elective office, but let’s face it: You’re a small fish in big pond — one out of 188 legislators with plenty of great white sharks swimming in your fish tank.

Legislators who promised voters sweeping changes once elected quickly discover this is an empty piece of campaign rhetoric. It means nothing in the State House. Settle for small victories because that’s all you can achieve.

6. Take things one step at a time.

Newcomers don’t realize how difficult it is to get a bill enacted. It takes months of intensive persuasion, brokering and maneuvering just to push your bill through your own chamber. Gaining assent from the other chamber within the 90-day session can be even trickier.

Don’t expect miracles. It may take years, not months, to get consensus on your bills. Patience counts.

7. Keep your ego in check.

Legislating is a team game, and as coaches like to say, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’ Those who play Lone Ranger, seeking to become a one-person legislature, don’t fare well.

Pomposity and self-promotion in Annapolis frequently result in stone-cold silence and isolation.

8. Network, network, network.

It works in business and in legislating. You will need all the help and advice you can get to be successful in Annapolis. Throw out a broad net and gain as many new acquaintances as possible. You never know when you’ll call on them at a crucial moment for assistance.

9. Never stop learning, or listening.

This is going to be an eye-opener. Just mastering the legislative process, Maryland-style, will take time. It is a vast learning experience.

You will be exposed to information about issues you never dreamed about. You will hear an endless array of viewpoints from citizens, much of it conflicting, on matters big and small.

Your job: Be a committed listener.

Hear what witnesses and advocates are saying. Absorb that information and slowly evaluate its importance. Be willing to hear from people on all sides of the argument.

Four years from now you’ll feel like you’ve gained a PhD. in human nature.

10. Try to persuade, not emote.

Logic wins in Annapolis. Verbal pyrotechnics grab headlines but they don’t change the outcome on votes. To do that, you have to make convincing arguments, you have to marshal your facts and data, you have to get those on the other side to engage in a dialogue.

While pontificating may be self-satisfying, it won’t advance your cause. More likely it will prove a setback.

11. Do you best work in committee.

The nitty-gritty on bills occurs at the committee level. That’s where hearings take place. That’s where your ideas and an opponent’s ideas on a bill collide.

Hearings drag on all afternoon and into the early evening. Debate may turn on substantive disagreements or minute  aspects of a bill. Hammering out a committee-approved compromise on hundreds and hundreds of measures isn’t pretty, but it is truly democracy in action.

Floor action is often pre-ordained. The committee’s work is usually respected and accepted. That’s where you need to expend your resources. Those who influence the shaping of bills do so in committee, not the House or Senate floor.

12. Solve problems, don’t create them.

Gridlock isn’t pretty and it isn’t productive. Voters hate it. Yet with a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, gridlock is a possibility.

It happened in Bob Ehrlich’s administration and legislative veterans want to avoid a repeat under Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.

You can do your part by not dragging politics into the legislative equation. Amending and improving bills that attack societal problems is more about applying common sense than imposing an ideology.

Finally, a word of caution:  You’re not in Annapolis to transform the world. You’re there simply to make things a little bit better.

Now, go out and enjoy this unique experience few ever get to taste. But for goodness sake, don’t get carried away and don’t forget that the best things in life usually involve compromise.

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Marylander of the Year

Gov. Martin J. O'Malley Martin Joseph O’Malley

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 31, 2014 — Sometimes the most important man in the room isn’t there. That was the case with 2014’s Marylander of the Year, Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The state’s 61st chief executive dominated events throughout 2014, even when he often wasn’t present.

He was the centerpiece of the summer-fall gubernatorial campaign — though his name didn’t appear on the ballot and he was rarely spotted on the campaign trail.

He forcefully took control of Maryland’s fatally flawed health insurance internet exchange, assigned his best technology aides to take over — and didn’t say much after that.

As he has done in past years, O’Malley won nearly all his fights with the 2014 General Assembly — a much-needed higher minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, domestic violence laws, expanded pre-kindergarten, education investments and public safety overhauls. Yet he did much of his work quietly this time.

He ended the year with a splash, too, grabbing headlines by commuting the death sentences of the last four inmates in Maryland on death row.

O’Malley also dominated what proved one of the state’s biggest stories — the ever-expanding billion-dollar budget deficit — by hesitating and then taking a meek step to tamp down expenses. He absented himself from stronger executive action that could have proactively reduced the troubling deficit for his successor.

Since the election of Republican Larry Hogan Jr. as the next governor, O’Malley has pretty much disappeared from view — except for his frequent forays to early primary states in his quest for the presidential nomination in 2016.

Most puzzling was the governor’s political vanishing act during the summer and fall.

This came as Hogan started pounding away at O’Malley’s tax-raising, big-spending record — the prime theme of the successful Hogan campaign.

By removing himself from the political fray, O’Malley thought he was doing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown a favor. How wrong he was. Brown never seized control of the campaign.

Brown turned out to be a terrible defender of the eight-year O’Malley-Brown administration. The lieutenant governor essentially ran away from his own administration’s record.

Instead of trumpeting the good the Democratic team had achieved, Brown chose to ignore it. That left Hogan with the perfect opening to drum into voters’ minds the “evils” of the O’Malley-Brown years — dozens of new taxes, rampant overspending, open hostility to job-creating businesses and meager economic growth.

Without effective push-back from Brown, and with O’Malley missing in action, Hogan’s message resonated in the empty room.

By failing to take the field to defend his eight years in office, O’Malley damaged his reputation with voters.

Ironically, the governor is one of Maryland’s best-ever campaigners. When he rolls up his sleeves and plunges into crowds, when he pours out his story and tells what he’s been able to accomplish, Martin O’Malley is a powerful persuader.

Yet this time he failed to heed the clarion call to battle. He allowed Hogan to speak at length about the negatives of the O’Malley years without anyone raising a vocal, convincing counter-argument.

The governor also wasn’t present to energize the Democratic Party’s base. No wonder turnout was abysmal in key Democratic strongholds. Brown turned people off instead of turning them on.

It will be years, or even decades, before historians place Martin O’Malley’s record into proper context. The negative image of O’Malley’s years in office,  planted in Marylanders’ minds by Hogan, will remain with them for a long time.

“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” (Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar)

This is the case with O’Malley’s years in the State House. His good deeds aren’t what’s being talked about.

It need not have been this way. There was ample time for the governor to mount an effective counter-argument, but he fixed his attention firmly on what comes next after he leaves Government House on Jan. 21.

For his continuing role as the most dominant presence in the Free State’s political drama — even when he wasn’t on the stage — Martin Joseph O’Malley has justified his selection as 2014’s Marylander of the Year.

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Abolish MD’s Lt. Gov.

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 1, 2014—If we learned anything from Anthony Brown’s eight years as Maryland lieutenant governor it’s that the office isn’t worth the taxpayer dollars it consumes.

Indeed, there is no good reason to have a lieutenant governor. There are sound fiscal and management reasons to abolish it.

No Powers

Brown’s mediocre performance was in keeping with others who have held the job since the office was re-established in 1970 by voters after a 102-year lull. The lieutenant governor has no constitutional powers. He or she does whatever the governor dictates.

Sometimes the governor hands out a few assignments, such as coordinating criminal justice issues (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and J. Joseph Curran Jr.).

Sometimes the governor delegates budget decisions to his No. 2 (Blair Lee III).

At times, the governor may use the lieutenant governor to lobby bills and mediate differences between senators and delegates on important pieces of legislation (Mickey Steinberg).

Sometimes, the office holder is asked to act as a middle-man for local governments (Sam Bogley III and Michael Steele).

But more often than not, the lieutenant governor isn’t allowed to do heavy lifting. During the final terms of Gov. Harry Hughes and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Bogley and Steinberg were left twiddling their thumbs.

Figurehead Roles

Brown was given a few figurehead roles on commissions – health care is the most glaring example – and he did take the lead on a small number of legislative bills.

But he made a mess of at least two of those.

He allowed lawyers for private developers to seize control of the governor’s public-private partnership bill to the point that lawmakers killed the measure. It passed the following year without the outside interference that had screamed political favoritism and financial windfall.

Brown also shepherded the fatally flawed health exchange bill through the legislature. What he created turned out to be a disaster.

The bill established the Obamacare insurance exchange as an independent agency. There were no oversight or management controls or back-office support from the state health department.

The bill also exempted the exchange from state procurement laws. That led to a horrendous outcome in which an under-qualified bidder won the IT contract by low-balling the price and over-promising its capabilities.

No wonder the health exchange’s IT system crashed on Day One.

That fiasco created an image of Brown in this year’s gubernatorial election as an incompetent and clueless office holder.

Mocking the Office

Composer George Gershwin once mocked the plight of No. 2 placeholders in a Pulitzer Prize winning playing, “Of Thee I Sing,” in which the vice president, Alexander Throttlebottom, has so little to do he spends his days in the park feeding pigeons.

Brown’s life was a bit better than that: He got to fill his calendar with speaking engagements, rushing from one meaningless event to a somewhat meaningless event reading prepared remarks, shaking hands and smiling a lot.

Is that worth $125,000 a year? Is a staff of eight really necessary to support such a pointless office?

The only job given to the lieutenant governor is to fill in if the governor is incapacitated, or to succeed to the top office if the governor dies.

‘Back to the Future’

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. can save a quick million dollars by taking steps that would eventually abolish the office of lieutenant governor, streamline the executive department and establish a more sensible line of succession.

Hogan should go “back to the future” by turning the secretary of state into his No. 2.

In the early 1800s, that was the line of succession. The secretary of state already has designated record-keeping, election and foreign relations duties that are real and substantive. He’s got a staff of 25 and a $2.4 million budget.

Before the lieutenant governor’s office was re-established, Gov. Marvin Mandel named then Sen. Blair Lee III to serve in the official role of secretary of state and the unofficial role of lieutenant governor until voters decided if they wanted this new office.

There’s no reason the two jobs can’t be merged. Many other states do it that way. The secretary of state could step in if the governor is temporarily unable to perform his duties, and to serve as acting governor until a special election is held.

Combining the Jobs

Hogan could simply announce that Boyd Rutherford, his lieutenant governor, will also take over as unofficial secretary of state, with a combined, slimmed-down staff.

The new governor then would ask the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment abolishing the position of lieutenant governor, making the secretary of state next in line if something goes wrong and mandating a special election within 90 days of a governor’s death.

Voter then could decide if they approve of this new arrangement in 2016.

It’s pointless to continue the charade that has existed for 45 years.

Highly Paid

Rutherford is ideal for the job because his expertise is government management, not politics. He can contribute to developing a more efficient and cheaper state government.

But he could do the same thing for the governor as secretary of state.

As things now stand, Rutherford will be the seventh highest paid lieutenant governor in the United States ($137,500), and the third highest paid by the end of his term ($150,000).

Yet he has no constitutional powers. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Let’s use common sense and get rid of this meaningless office that is wasting a million dollars a year. That’s the kind of practical step voters expect from Hogan.

It would send a powerful message.

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

 

 

For This They Give Thanks

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 27, 2014–On this day of the year, we give thanks for our blessings. In political Maryland, here are some folks who have lots to appreciate as the cranberries, sauerkraut and turkey are served:

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. His Thanksgiving blessing will probably be directed toward the state Democratic Party for heavily backing an artificially impressive lieutenant governor for governor.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown turned out to be a lightweight who made all the wrong campaign decisions. Hogan knew what he was doing; Brown didn’t.

Comptroller Peter Franchot. Easily re-elected, he is now the most important Democrat in the State House, thanks to the election of a Republican governor.

On the powerful Board of Public Works, Franchot will hold the crucial swing vote. He could lead the Democratic opposition to Hogan or work out middle-ground compromises. Either way, he’s the pivotal player.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. He should be thankful for the weak Republican opposition he encountered. George Harman of Reisterstown lacked campaign experience and spent almost no money. His campaign was a joke.

Yet he still received nearly 44 percent of the vote. It was a Republican year and Kamenetz might have had a difficult fight on his hands had the GOP recruited a better-known candidate.

Doug Duncan. He’s got to be thankful he lost in the June primary to incumbent Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. Instead of getting his old job back, Duncan can continue working for Leadership Greater Washington or even as a member of the new Hogan administration.

Either way, it will be Leggett who must confront what figures to be a four-year budget battle in the county. Montgomery citizens demand a high level of services. Yet tax revenue is likely to continue to decline, federal aid to the counties and states is shrinking and state aid is almost certain to drop. What a mess.

Senate President Mike Miller. He quietly blessed Hogan’s triumph on Nov. 4. Miller knows he can deal with the new Republican governor. The two worked cooperatively years ago in Prince George’s County. Hogan knows Miller is the key go-to legislator.

Miller could not have looked forward to four years of frustration dealing with the remote and detached Brown, especially with a highly protective staff shielding Brown from reality.

Ken Ulman. The outgoing Howard County Executive now has been given a reprieve by voters. Instead of four years of boredom and gritting his teeth as Brown’s powerless lieutenant governor, Ulman gets to spend time with his young children, build a law practice and prepare for his re-entry into elective politics.

Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin. He’s glad the next attorney general will be Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County. Frosh gave up his chairmanship of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to run for higher office. Now Zirkin is a favorite to be tapped for this leadership slot — but only if he’s willing to follow the lead of Senate President Miller.

Retiring State Sen. Norman Stone. After a half-century in the General Assembly, Stone planned his exit at just the right time. He leaves triumphant instead of being blown out in the Republican sweep of his Dundalk-Middle River district.

Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young. His Thanksgiving blessing extends to all the old-time practitioners of sleazy, backroom deal-making and “what’s-in-it-for-me” politics.

Having been defeated for the new post of Frederick County Executive, Young turned around and lined up the votes on the lame-duck county commission to get appointed to a five-year term on the county’s important Planning Commission. Developers are cheering.

The residual stench must have made carving the turkey tough to take for the rest of the Young clan.

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McIntosh Bites the Budget Apple

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 24, 2014 – Until last week, Del. Maggie McIntosh was an important member of the House of Delegates leadership.

Del. Maggie McIntosh

Del. Maggie McIntosh

Now, suddenly, she’s a Very Important Person.

The new chair of the House Appropriations Committee holds the second-most powerful post in the chamber. It even could put her in prime position to succeed House Speaker Mike Busch whenever the Annapolis lawmaker decides to give up his gavel.

McIntosh is no overnight success.

She’s put in 23 long years as a savvy and loyal worker in the legislative vineyards. It paid off when she was named chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee in 2003.

The Baltimore City delegate worked diligently to produce bills that advanced sensible environmental goals without going overboard.  She succeeded in maintaining good relations with both environmentalists and the business community.

Quiet Negotiator

McIntosh always has been a skilled political operative, someone you’d want running your campaign or developing a detailed get-out-the-vote drive.

She doesn’t crave the spotlight. Rather, she prefers quietly working to bring opposing groups together to find common ground.

She’s also highly regarded by her colleagues. She can be firm but always even-tempered. She likes to enliven conversations with a dash of humor.

Her promotion is well deserved, especially after serving as chair of the Environmental Matters Committee for 11 years. She’s also served on three other panels and dozens of joint committees and task forces.

She doesn’t come to Appropriations as a novice. McIntosh spent six years previously on this key budget panel. She got to study under one of the keenest minds to chair Appropriations – the late Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings.

Democratic Mishaps

Maggie McIntosh was thrust into this new role through a series of mishaps by the Democratic Party.

Redistricting dramatically changed many local political maps and persuaded a slew of House Democratic veterans to retire.

Then Democratic lethargy on Nov. 4 led to the defeat of many well-established members of House leadership, including Appropriations chair Norman Conway of Salisbury.

Del. Norm Conway

Del. Norm Conway

Add to that a number of delegates who decided to run for the state Senate and you have a recipe for a massive loss of leadership on Appropriations.

Eleven of the committee members elected in 2010 aren’t coming back. Most of the panel’s moderate Democrats are among the missing.

No wonder Speaker Busch decided to move McIntosh over to run his most important committee.

Big Cuts Coming

She assumes command at a very difficult time for Democrats, especially those who must grapple with the state’s perplexing budget deficit.

New Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. focused his campaign on sharply cutting state spending, Democratic lawmakers will be in a defensive mode when dealing with budget matters.

Given the large budget hole facing Hogan, he will cut existing spending levels by a substantial amount.

While McIntosh and other progressive Democrats will want to reverse Hogan’s cuts, the state constitution doesn’t allow it: The General Assembly can only reduce the governor’s spending plan. It has no power to increase appropriations – unless it raises taxes.

That last option isn’t going to happen this year. Maryland voters sent a clear message they’ve had it with the dozens of tax increases during the eight-year reign of Gov. Martin O’Malley.

In a Tough Spot

So McIntosh will be in a bind come January.

As a committed urban liberal, she understands the unmet needs in her community. Yet she also recognizes the weak hand she has been dealt. Hogan holds the budget high cards.

What McIntosh can do is quietly negotiate compromises with the new governor’s budget team to soften some of Hogan’s budget blows.

Meanwhile, her committee will be finding its own share of excess spending in the $16 billion general fund budget. Some of those cuts might give her leverage for striking a budget deal with the Republican chief executive.

It’s going to be a tricky few years for McIntosh. She’s proved that she is good when placed in delicate situations. Much will be riding on her succeeding in her new job.

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

 

Missing: Democratic Moderates in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 14, 2014 — Hardly noticed in the Nov. 4 election that saw Anthony Brown wiped out in an embarrassing avalanche of rejection was the obliteration of the Democratic Party’s moderate-conservative wing in Annapolis.

Missing Democratic Moderate: Sen. Roy Dyson

Defeated Sen. Roy Dyson

Gone is Southern Maryland Sen. Roy Dyson. Gone is half-century veteran Baltimore County Sen. Norman Stone (retirement). Gone is a Howard County fixture, Sen. Jim Robey (retirement).

Also out of luck, conservative Western Maryland Del. Kevin Kelly, moderate Western Maryland Del. John Donoghue, conservative Baltimore County Delegates Mike Weir, Jimmy Malone (retirement), Steve DeBoy (retirement) and Sonny Minnick (retirement), moderate-conservative Del. Emmett Burns of Baltimore County (retirement), Eastern Shore Committee Chairman Del. Norm Conway, Cecil County Del. David Randolph, Southern Maryland Delegates John Bohanan and Johnny Wood (retirement), Harford County Del. Mary-Dulany James, and Frederick County Del. Galen Clagett (retirement).

The Democratic Party’s fulcrum in the State House now is dangerously weighted to the strident left. The party’s center-right legislators have shrunk to a handful.

It’s tough even coming up with who you’d place in that category in the House of Delegates once you get beyond House Speaker Mike Busch.  You can count less than ten moderates still left in the Senate, including President Mike Miller — Charles County’s Mac Middleton, Frederick’s Ron Young, Anne Arundel’s John Astle and Ed DeGrange, Ocean City’s Jim Mathias, Baltimore County’s Jim Brochin and Kathy Klausmeier.

Miller’s Leverage

Miller’s problem is much less severe than Busch’s.

The smaller Senate chamber gives the Senate president extensive leverage to impose moderation on Democrats. Senators there know that if you’re picked for a leadership slot, you’d better follow Miller’s cautious lead.

But in the 141-member House, riding herd on an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic Caucus could prove Mission Impossible.

Simply finding a leadership group willing to move toward the middle might be a challenge for Busch.

Even more daunting may be convincing leftist Democrats to cooperate with the new conservative governor, Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Already some of the left-wingers are talking ominously about fighting a partisan war rather than smoking a peace pipe with Hogan.

Busch and Miller don’t want a repeat of the dreadful gridlock and bitterness of the Ehrlich years. Neither does Hogan, who lived through that frustrating era as the governor’s appointments secretary.

But what will the two sides compromise on? And will their disagreements wind up poisoning the well of cooperation?

This will be the focus of attention as Hogan starts putting his administration together and formulates a brief agenda for the legislative session that starts in just two months.

Room for Agreement

Busch and Miller signaled in the last General Assembly session their agreement with Hogan that the O’Malley administration had neglected business development. Maryland must become more accommodating to companies. That’s a clear area where partial agreement is possible.

Ironically, Republican gains in the General Assembly could make it more difficult for Hogan to govern effectively.

The dearth of moderate-conservative Democrats in the State House robs him of potential allies. He still needs lots of Democratic votes to pass his agenda. Dealing with a ultra-liberal Democratic corps of lawmakers could prove perilous. It could force the governor-elect to take a go-slow approach in his reform plans.

Many of the newly elected Democrats may choose to join Miller and Busch in playing centrist politics with Hogan. After all, it is the best way to get things done and avoid the thing voters most detest — gridlock.

Yet without a counter-balancing Democratic center-right wing, the party caucuses in Annapolis could keep moving farther and farther to the left, ceding the center that voters admire to Hogan.

That would be foolish politics — but it could happen.

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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.

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MD GOP Nightmare

By Barry Rascovar

August 18, 2014 — Just what the Maryland Republican Party didn’t need — a theocratic, paleo-conservative candidate who has renounced the General Assembly as ungodly and is deeply involved in a group advocating a white, Christian nation of the South.

Worst of all for the Maryland GOP, this 61-year-old, Bible-spouting secessionist with a bizarre view of government is the favorite to win the November election in Anne Arundel County’s Broadneck Peninsula-Severna Park-Arnold councilmanic district.

His name is Michael Peroutka, a smooth-talking, debt-collector attorney. He ran for president of the United States in 2004 on the Constitution Party ballot line. He got 150,000 votes out of 122,000,000 cast (0.1 percent).

Constitution Party logo

Yet in June, he shocked the GOP establishment by winning Anne Arundel’s District 5 council primary by a razor-thin 38 votes.

The Republican nominee for governor, Larry Hogan Jr., disassociated himself from Peroutka. So did the GOP’s nominee for county executive, Del. Steve Schuh. Annapolis Del. Herb McMillan isn’t supporting Peroutka, either, because his views “are the exact opposite of the Republican Party.”

Like the slick lawyer he is, Peroutka is trying to sweet-talk District 5 voters into believing he’s an ordinary conservative who rails against the misnamed “rain tax,” abhors all taxes and demands drastically limited government.

It’s a con.

Peroutka didn’t even belong to the Republican Party until this year.

Peroutka button 2004

He and a Christian Reconstructionist cohort, David Whitney, tried to hijack the District 5 election by seeking to win both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

That would have guaranteed a seat on the County Council for this oddball alliance, which centers around Peroutka’s extreme Christian Institute on the Constitution, which he runs out of his law office in a strip shopping center along Ritchie Highway.

Peroutka is out to re-create the Anne Arundel Republican Party, and eventually the Maryland GOP, in his image. His pseudo-conservative rhetoric masks a deep hatred for the Republican Party of Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Here’s what he said last October about the GOP:

“Anyone, including those who identify with the ‘Tea Party,’ who loves America and desires real reform, would do well to disengage themselves from the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.”

Fifth-Column Action

Peroutka isn’t even following his own advice. Instead, he’s infiltrated the “Godless, unprincipled” GOP.

This fifth-column action is part of his campaign to turn the Republican Party into a Christian party that follows Peroutka’s “biblical view of law and government.”

To him, “the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law — PERIOD.”

Any other government actions — what he calls “pretended laws” —  are heretical and should be ignored or resisted. No wonder he spoke at a radical Second American Revolution rally last November in Washington. He’s out to dismantle the entire American system of government.

Peroutka at Second American Revolution rally

Peroutka at Second American Revolution rally

How wacky is Peroutka?

He said last year the Maryland General Assemby is “no longer a valid legislative body” and its actions should be disregarded because they violate God’s law.

Of course, Peroutka is the one who decides what’s legitimate and what is “Godless.”

According to him, “It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give health care to . . . ANYBODY.” Government, Peroutka says, has no authority to take any role in education or alleviating poverty. Government must enforce only the word of God spelled out in the Bible.

Misleading Appearance

Peroutka doesn’t come across as a madman. He’s got a distinguished mane of white hair, a grandfatherly look and a soothing voice. How could someone so sincere and seemingly erudite promote such nonsense?

Peroutka is a board member of the League of the South, an Alabama group that openly advocates Southern secession and establishment of a white, Christian Reconstructionist society.

According to its website, the League of the South is “a Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic.”

At this group’s meeting last fall, Peroutka called “Dixie” the country’s national anthem.

Should Michael Peroutka win in November, he’s sure to use County Council sessions as a platform for bringing his theocratic notions of government into the proceedings. It will be his launching pad for an internal Republican Party revolution.

Just what the Maryland GOP didn’t need.

It already is struggling for relevancy in the state’s largest jurisdictions. Peroutka’s ravings as an elected Republican leader could be the nail in the coffin for the Republican Party’s hopes of winning over independents and conservative-leaning Democrats.

Can He Lose?

Stopping him will be difficult, but not impossible.

District 5 hasn’t elected a Democratic councilman in 24 years. It’s a wealthy, conservative part of the county stretching from Severna Park to the Broadneck Peninsula that ends at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Yet there’s hope in the voter registration numbers: 25,800 Republicans live in the district against 21,100 Democrats and 11,600 independents. Given the GOP leadership defections already announced, Peroutka’s election isn’t a sure thing.

He’s got millions of his own money he can funnel into his campaign, though.

Democratic Foe

He’s also running against a political youngster, Patrick Armstrong, a 31-year-old retail store manager who entered the Democratic primary to prevent Peroutka’s theocratic collaborator, David Whitney, from furtively gaining the nomination.

Armstrong did better than okay in the primary. He trounced Whitney, gaining nearly two-thirds of the Democratic votes in June.

He’s also not, as he put it, “a liberal boogie man. I’m a reasonable person” who grew up in District 5, graduated from Anne Arundel Community College in the district, and lives with his parents in Cape St. Claire.

He’s smart enough to run in this district with a pledge to never vote for a new tax or fee increase but instead “come up with creative ways to find solutions to our problems.”

Being Responsible

Yet he’s also wise enough to recognize that opposing the “rain tax” isn’t going to win over district voters who care deeply about the well-being of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the Magothy and Severn rivers that define District 5’s boundaries.

He calls the stormwater-runoff fee “the responsible thing to do.”

With strong backing from state Democratic leaders, Armstrong might give Peroutka all he can handle. But he’s got to get the word out about Peroutka’s dangerous views of government and the U.S. Constitution.

After all, Peroutka is advocating the dismemberment of the United States and turning what’s left into a society ruled by Biblical law.

The problem is that even if Peroutka’s Republican charade is unmasked in time and he loses in November, he will remain the Maryland GOP’s nightmare: In June, he also won for himself a seat on the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee.

That gives him an opportunity to use the county’s GOP Central Committee as a launching pad for converting Republican governing bodies into advocates for Christian government.

As a central committee member, Peroutka also will attend statewide GOP meetings, where he can poison the well with radical resolutions and speeches meant to Christianize the state party. He’s leading God’s crusade against the Republican infidels.

Ignoring Godless Laws

On top of that, another Peroutka theocratic soulmate, Joe Delimater, was the lone GOP candidate to file for county sheriff.

Delimater will be on the November ballot against the incumbent sheriff, Democrat Ron Bateman, hoping to win the right to wreak havoc on Anne Arundel’s court and criminal justice system by ignoring laws and government orders he believes are Godless.

What a mess for the GOP.

Peroutka & Co. pose a serious challenge to the viability and future of the Maryland Republican Party.

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Primary Differences: Women & Turnout

By Barry Rascovar

July 21, 2014 – In a primary election wrap-up message e-mailed to his supporters, former state Sen. Art Helton of Harford County listed reasons why he lost his latest effort to re-gain his seat in the General Assembly.

Art Helton

Art Helton

Poor turnout, especially among African American voters, he wrote, hurt him in his race against fellow Democrat Mary-Dulany James. (The Senate seat is now held by Republican Nancy Jacobs, who is retiring.)

The results: James, 4,705 votes (61 percent); Helton, 2,997 votes (39 percent).

Mary-Dulany James

Mary-Dulany James

The other reason Helton gave for his loss:  the dominance of female candidates in Democratic primaries.

He listed 10 female Harford Democrats who were victorious in the June 24 primary.

“[N]ot one woman lost unless challenged by another woman,” he wrote.

“The percentage of women voting in the Democratic [p]rimary was 63.4%. You can view the results and draw your own conclusions.”

Making a Difference

Women indeed are becoming a pivotal force in local and state elections in Maryland. They are more likely to go to the polls than men. Given the right candidate, it can make a difference.

Baltimore City ousted its incumbent state’s attorney and replaced him with a woman. After November, three of the four citywide elected offices in Baltimore will be held by women, all African Americans.

Also after the general election, four of the city’s six state senators will be women.

Women in the Senate

Half of Montgomery County’s eight state senators will be female, too.

As many as six new women could take seats in the Maryland Senate in January – Gail Bates of Howard County, Susan Lee and Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County, Addie Eckardt from the Eastern Shore, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam from a joint Baltimore city-county district, and James from Harford County.

Susan Lee

Susan Lee

They aren’t neophyte politicians, either.

Combined, they have served 88 years in the General Assembly. They will enter the Senate as highly seasoned lawmakers.

Bates and Lee are concluding their third four-year terms in the House, James is finishing her fourth term. Eckardt and Nathan-Pulliam are 20-year legislative veterans. Kagan previously served two terms in the House.

Addie Eckardt

Addie Eckardt

Yet the “women are dominating Maryland politics” theme shouldn’t be oversold.

Only 11 of 47 state senators today are women. After the November election, the number may rise a tad in the Senate to 13.

Cheryl Kagan

Cheryl Kagan

Many counties have few women in elective offices.

Overall, the fair sex remains under-represented in elective positions, but not as voters.

*     *     *     *     *

Turnout in Maryland’s primary election was, as predicted, abysmal.

It proved an embarrassment to leaders in Annapolis who devised the early June 24 primary schedule.

Voting booths

Only 20.7 of the state’s nearly 3.4 million registered voters cast an early, absentee or election-day ballot: 561,030 registered Marylanders voted; 2,831,570 didn’t.

Turnout proved truly terrible in the Washington suburbs – 18 percent in Prince George’s County, despite the fact the leading Democratic candidate for governor came from P.G.

In neighboring Montgomery County, total turnout was just 16 percent, even though two of the three Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls were local residents.

Best Turnouts

Baltimore County led the list of large jurisdictions with a turnout of just under 25 percent – still a terrible showing in a representative democracy.

The best results came from small, rural counties, such as Kent County (30.6 percent) and Garrett County (26.6 percent). Voting poster The highest vote totals came from Montgomery (84,100) and Baltimore County (82,900), followed by Prince George’s (69,800), Baltimore City (54,600) and Anne Arundel County (50,500).

Democrats far out-voted Republicans in the larger jurisdictions – a hint of what will follow in November.

One-Sided Figures

In Montgomery, 68,179 Democrats voted vs. 12,516 Republicans.

In Prince George’s, 64,982 Democrats cast ballots vs. 4,167 Republicans.

Baltimore County saw 59,980 Democrats vote vs. 22,906 Republicans.

In Baltimore City, the imbalance was far worse: 51,730 Democratic voters vs. 2,894 Republicans. Voting sign Howard County, once a toss-up jurisdiction, saw 19,193 Democrats cast ballots, vs. 8,967 Republicans.

The primary vote totals were close in Harford County – 11,795 Democrats vs. 14,935 Republicans.

In Anne Arundel County, voting numbers were almost even – 24,655 Democrats and 25,806 Republicans.

That could lead to a tight race for county executive in the fall between Republican state Del. Steve Schuh and the county’s former sheriff, Democrat George Johnson.

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