Category Archives: Maryland Politics

The Difference-Maker: Early Voting

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

Early Voting poster

Here’s why.

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

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

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

It could be the difference-maker.

Brown has generated scant excitement among Democrats.

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

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

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

Baltimore City should be ground zero for Brown.

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

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

Early Turnout Drive

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

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

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

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

Brown’s Campaign

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

He has run a terrible campaign.

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

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

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

Instead, the election is in Brown’s hands.

Early Voting

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

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

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Was Anyone Watching?

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

Watching the debate between Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan (left) and Anthony Brown

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

Brown and Hogan have their campaign scripts committed to memory.

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

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

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

He won’t tell us.

Occasional Insights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differing from O’Malley

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

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

Is anyone watching the debate?

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

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

Campaign Positions

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

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

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

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

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

They’re both wrong.

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

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Debate No. 2 Goes To Brown

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 15, 2014 — Chalk one up – a big one – for Anthony Brown.

In a campaign marked by wild accusations and harsh, over-the-top negativity, the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor finally started talking policy in the second televised debate.

Larry Hogan Jr., left, and Anthony Brown, Debate No. 2

Larry Hogan Jr., left, and Anthony Brown

Two down, one to go.

Brown still focused too much on slamming his opponent with charges that are patently false. But he also started giving voters a clearer picture of how he’d govern Maryland over the next four years.

Sadly, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. didn’t deliver much more than what the Washington Post called his usual “mush.” Hogan missed a prime opportunity to gain ground.

That’s important because Hogan remains stuck somewhere between 3 and 10 points behind in the polls. While that’s surprisingly close for a Republican in Maryland, it’s not good enough.

Few Specifics

Hogan repeatedly failed to offer specifics on key questions: How he’d clean up the Chesapeake Bay; how he’d deal with gun laws he opposes; how he’d attempt to jump-start the state’s economy, and how he’d improve education while at the same time cutting spending.

Hogan completely avoided answering questions about his private meeting with gun advocates and what, if anything he promised them.

He refused to say if he told gun advocates that he intended to name a new State Police Superintendent so he’d make it easier to obtain a concealed weapon permit.

Details didn’t seem to concern Hogan in this debate. He repeated the same campaign fluff he’s been spouting for months.

He offered little beyond his distaste for past tax increases, his pessimistic view of Maryland’s economy and his wish to create more jobs.

Fill in the Blanks

That worked for Hogan in the Republican primary but he’s got to fill in the blanks if he wants to win over Democratic and independent voters in suburban Baltimore and Washington.

During the debate, Hogan offered no concrete examples of how he’d cut state spending or how as governor he would pump up Maryland’s economy.

He left viewers pondering this question: Where’s the beef?

There was no meat to chew on.

Brown, at least, stopped finger-pointing long enough to give a hint of how he’d run things.

He provided a brief but cogent explanation of the botched health exchange rollout and a defense of Obamacare, i.e., giving 400,000 more Marylanders health insurance.

Brown’s Pledges

He far outdistanced Hogan in his response to protecting Maryland waterways against stormwater pollution.

He repeated his pledge to use tax credits and tax cuts to spur small business development.

He defended his call for universal pre-kindergarten through a phased-in program. (Paying for it remains unanswered.)

He committed to mass transit expansions in the Baltimore and Washington regions that Hogan wants stopped.

He placed emphasis on career and technical education (the old vocational-tech courses) to make high school students job-ready if they’re not college-bound.

We heard little of such substance from Hogan other than his usual grand themes.

In contrast, Brown finally started turning to the specifics voters crave. He came across as competent and knowledgeable. It was his best performance to date.

For Brown, it was Mission Accomplished.

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Lying to MD Voters

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 13, 2014 — Whoever is elected Maryland governor on Nov. 4 will have some s’plain’ to do to the state’s citizens.

Why have you been lying to us?

Why did you make wild allegations out of whole cloth?

Why did you deceive us?

Both Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. are guilty as charged, though Brown is by far the worse offender.

Democratic candidate Anthony Brown

Democratic Candidate Anthony Brown

He not only manufactured false charges against Hogan on abortion, gun control and school construction, his campaign has kept screaming those invalid accusations in a propaganda blitz dominated by “Big Lie” tactics.

Debate Deception

Brown continued his campaign of falsehoods at the first TV debate last week.

Out of the blue he accused Hogan of pledging to cut $450 million from school construction funds. That is patently false. Hogan never said any such thing.

Hogan had issued an error-filled list of “examples,” culled from audit reports, of “waste, fraud and abuse” in state government, including school construction, to show how cost-savings could be achieved.

Republican Candidate Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican Candidate Larry Hogan Jr.

Brown’s advisers turned that into “he’s against education” allegations. Then Brown repeated the bogus charge in the debate. Talk about a leap of logic. . .

The Maryland Democratic Party’s campaign’s motto seems to be “smear Hogan. . . and then smear him again.”

Inflammatory Environment

Even more shameful: Brown got both the state teachers’ union and House Speaker Mike Busch to condemn a budget-cut promise by Hogan that he never made.

Busch and the union know better. They are contributing to a dangerous, inflammatory campaign environment in which truth is the casualty.

Instead of setting a positive tone in the debate and detailing his positions, Brown stuck to his advisers’ script: go negative, denounce Hogan, keep him on the defensive — even if the charges aren’t true.

What an appalling way to win an election.

‘Big Lie’ Precedent

It’s the worst “Big Lie” campaign in Maryland since John Marshall Butler defeated longtime Sen. Millard Tydings in 1950 — during the height of the Red Scare era — by distributing a doctored, composite photo showing Tydings with the leader of the American Communist Party.

Fake photo Tydings-Browder

Fake Photo of Sen. Millard Tydings with Community Party Chief Earl Browder

This end-justifies-the-means mentality is deeply offensive in a democratic arena. It may work on the battlefield, but Army Colonel Brown knows it is totally inappropriate in an American political campaign.

Not that Hogan’s antics deserve a silver star.

His much-ballyhooed attack on the Democratic administration’s “40 tax increases” is wildly inflated. His $1.75 billion listing of “waste, fraud and abuse” is irresponsibly inaccurate and filled with stunning errors. His misleading attacks on the “rain tax” perpetuate a Republican fiction. His data to prove Maryland’s economic decline badly overstates reality.

Finger-Pointing

What’s lacking from both candidates is a compelling, detailed argument for why they should be governor. Instead, we get finger-pointing and shrill, over-the-top charges of extremism.

This campaign has been about extremism — extreme name-calling. And it’s worth reiterating that Brown is doing far more than Hogan to put this campaign in Maryland’s Political Hall of Shame.

Recently, Brown issued his own cost-cutting, “government efficiency” program, making sure it was released on a football Sunday, guaranteeing that few paid attention.

Flight of Fantasy

It’s a disgraceful document, nearly as bad as Hogan’s much-discredited budget-cutting plan.

It assumes future savings that may never materialize. It makes giant leaps of faith that aren’t supported by any credible documentation.

It incorrectly counts savings by local governments as state budget savings. It makes wild assumptions that employee suggestions will save tens of millions of dollars each year. It attributes huge savings to decriminalizing marijuana — a flight of fantasy lacking in hard evidence.

Given all the fraudulent assertions by each candidate, neither deserves to move into the governor’s mansion.

But that’s not an option for voters.

We’re left picking between the lesser of two evils. What a sad commentary on the current state of Maryland politics.

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

A Debatable Debate in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 8, 2014 — This is the best we’ve got?

It was a painfully thin performance by both Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. in Maryland’s first gubernatorial debate of the month Tuesday night.

They followed their handlers’ terribly misguided advice to trash one another. They went out of their way to go negative and too often repeated their trite attack lines and glaringly erroneous accusations.

The result: Neither candidate presented a compelling argument for becoming governor.

“Vote for Me”

Instead, they all but proclaimed to voters: “If you don’t like what the other guy stands, then vote for me.” What a horrible way to waste an hour of valuable debate time on statewide TV.

Brown clearly bested Hogan on the environmental question of the night.

He gave a detailed and cogent explanation of efforts to protect and clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Hogan’s response — delaying bay cleanup efforts while he sues Pennsylvania and New York to force upstream sediment removal in the Susquehanna River — was an evasive and weak answer to the question.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. - Debate in MD

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan had by far the better response on crime.

He zeroed in on Maryland’s heroin epidemic, summarized the crisis and called for a summit to find answers.

Brown rattled off past successes against crime, which rang hollow given the state’s continuing struggle to stem the violence.

The saddest part of the evening may have been each candidate’s exaggerations to the  point of fabrication.

Each used budget-saving ideas and fiscal numbers based mainly on hot air.

As for the biggest mistake of the evening, that belongs to Anthony Brown’s. “There will be no new taxes under the Brown-Ulman administration,” he said.

Brown will rue the day he made that campaign promise.

There’s no way he can govern eight years without increasing the state’s revenue base.

It was another of what Hogan correctly called Brown’s “phony promises” that ignore Maryland’s $405 million deficit, recent dips in revenue collections and the state’s ballooning expenses over the next four or five years.

Moving the Economy

Both candidates overpromised when it came to reviving Maryland’s economy.

No governor has the ability to do that, though a governor can nudge things in the right direction long-term with wise tax reforms.

Brown’s closing remarks were pathetically weak (the “American dream” shtick). Hogan’s closing was far superior in making the case for change.

Still, the bottom line is that Brown didn’t mess up in Debate No. 1.

As the Democratic candidate, he’s got a built-in advantage in deeply blue Maryland.

The race remains his to lose.

#  #  #

Barry Rascovar has been reporting on Maryland politics for over 40 years. His columns can be found at www.politicalmaryland.com.

Why Brown Could Lose in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 6, 2014 — Is Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown about to blow a “sure thing” in Maryland?

Anthony Brown

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown

On the eve of the first governor’s debate, is the lieutenant governor “pulling a Townsend” similar to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s implosion in the 2002 governor’s race that gift-wrapped the election for Republican underdog Bob Ehrlich?

To date, the answer is “yes.”

The Brown campaign is badly off-track.

In a Cocoon

Its professional staff has hermetically sealed their candidate in a tight cocoon, isolating him from the media and all voters except the most loyal Democratic groups.

They’ve picked the wrong issues to run on. Abortion rights and gun control laws are settled matters in Maryland. Even Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr. agrees on that.

The “pocketbook issues” will decide this election — or as advisers to Bill Clinton put it in the 1990s, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Big Mistake

According to Patrick Gonzales’ latest poll, the most pressing matters for voters — by far — are the economy and taxes. These are precisely the themes heavily promoted by Hogan and ignored by Brown.

That’s a huge mistake, a giant failure to understand what’s troubling Marylanders.

Brown hired national campaign specialists when he should have turned to local pros. While abortion and gun control still might be dominant issues in Kansas or Georgia, they aren’t in Maryland. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

Meanwhile, Brown’s handlers have isolated him from the public at large.

Hiding Brown

While Hogan is happy to talk with reporters, Brown runs from them. He’s shielded from the media by his aides.

His handlers even hide Brown from the public in the campaign’s media messages.

And, oh, those dreadful commercials. Harsh. Negative. Hostile. Incendiary. The sky is falling if you vote for Hogan!

It’s a gigantic turn-off for voters. This is an intelligent electorate. These folks aren’t fooled by  misguided campaign propaganda.

Hogan’s Message

Larry Hogan isn’t “dangerous” and he isn’t “radical.” He comes across as a likeable, engaging and gregarious fellow with a simple message — let’s get a handle on excessive government spending and then let’s see if we can lower taxes.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan

Compare that with the Brown campaign’s near-hysterical messages on abortion and gun laws.

During the 2002 campaign, then Lt. Gov. Townsend seemed to get in trouble every time she opened her mouth. Apparently, Brown’s handlers are worried he’d do the same thing if given a chance.

So they’ve sealed him off from the outside world — except for appearances before adoring Democratic crowds where he delivers a stock speech or reads from a prepared text.

With Brown, there’s no sense of humanity, no sense he’s a flesh-and-blood candidate with emotions and feelings. He comes across as stiff, robotic, programmed and unable to think on his feet or engage voters in ordinary conversations.

Mystery Man

With Brown, there’s no innate connection with voters, particularly in the all-important Baltimore region.

Despite serving eight years as lieutenant governor, Brown remains a mystery man to Metro Baltimore residents. He’s the invisible candidate — never seen, never heard from and never known.

Combine that with his lack of a specific program that voters can grasp for fixing the state’s economy and averting future tax increases and you can see why Hogan is running close to Brown in the Gonzales poll. (Brown’s government efficiency proposal announced Sunday contains more empty promises: pie-in-the-sky projected savings, sweeping assumptions and few realistic numbers.)

If Brown is going to re-gain the initiative, he needs to do more than take wild, roundhouse swings at Hogan that aren’t coming close to hitting their target.

Brown needs to deliver positive reasons why he’s the best candidate for governor. So far, he’s been a silent campaigner in TV ads, letting others do the talking for him.

That’s not good enough.

Deeply Democratic

By all measures, Brown ought to win easily in November. Maryland is a deeply Democratic state.

But if he continues to come across as arrogant, aloof and unwilling to speak directly to ordinary voters and to the media, Anthony Brown could, indeed, “pull a Townsend.”

He might end up handing the governor’s mansion to Hogan.

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

Franchot’s Bad News for Brown

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 29, 2014– OUCH! That’s the sound coming from Anthony Brown’s campaign headquarters after hearing of a $405 million drop in expected state revenue over the next 21 months.

This is bad news for the lieutenant governor’s gubernatorial drive.

The shrinking revenue forecast not only buoys Republican Larry Hogan’s campaign, it powerfully reinforces Hogan’s central theme: Maryland’s budget is out of kilter and in need of serious overhaul.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan received an unexpected boost last week from Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot’s sharp critique of the state’s liberal Democratic spending policies.

At Wednesday’s Board of Revenue Estimates meeting, Franchot took to task the “What, me worry?” attitude being taken these days by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Brown when it comes to Maryland’s continuing revenue shortfalls.

Indeed, Franchot’s comments could be grist for future Hogan ads.

Ignoring Bad News

For example, the state comptroller took umbrage at the O’Malley-Brown administration’s Scarlett O’Hara approach (“tomorrow is another day”) toward bad economic news:

” . . . we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse. . . We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.”

That’s a damning criticism aimed squarely at the governor and lieutenant governor.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Franchot laid out a few of the bleak economic numbers:

“Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades. . . . In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014. . .

“Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.”

This is exactly what Hogan has been saying.

 Maryland’s economy, Franchot notes, “didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013.”

That is an ominous indicator which the O’Malley-Brown team is blissfully ignoring. Why? Because it is politically unpalatable.

Hesitating to Act

Here’s the hard truth, according to Franchot:

“We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result.”

Yet no one is rushing to close this new revenue gap in the state’s budget calculations and tighten up on state spending.

Brown doesn’t want to announce unpopular cutbacks during an election campaign; O’Malley would rather delay nasty decisions until he leaves office.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Brown is ignoring the reality that Maryland could face difficult budget years ahead that won’t allow for the raft of social programs he’s promising voters.

Franchot sagely put it this way:

“As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. . . “

This is what Larry Hogan has been preaching on the campaign trail, albeit in vague, superficial terms.

It is folly to assume, as Brown does, that there will be hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars available for his expensive campaign proposals. That list starts with a statewide pre-kindergarten program and tax breaks for veterans.

Neither may be affordable in the current economy.

Voters and Economics

But are voters listening? Do they understand that what Brown is promising them isn’t deliverable under the present sluggish economy Maryland confronts?

Do they understand that Maryland could face difficult times unless it reins in its borrowing and its overspending?

The public’s grasp of American economics isn’t very deep. Numbers tends to make people’s eyes glaze over. That’s what Brown is counting on.

Meanwhile, the Scarlett O’Hara approach to managing Maryland’s chronic structural deficit continues. Wishing that tomorrow will bring us blue skies and strong economic growth isn’t enough.

Franchot is right. Hope is not a viable economic strategy.

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Brown Goes Negative Big-Time

By Barry Rascovar

Sept.  22, 2014 — So much for a positive, uplifting campaign for Maryland governor. Both candidates already are down in the gutter hurling mud balls at each other.

Anthony Brown is by far the worse offender, which is curious.

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

The Democratic nominee and current lieutenant governor should be enjoying the view from the top of the campaign mountain.

He’s got demographics and voter registration numbers heavily in his favor. He’s got a unified Democratic Party behind him. He’s got — or soon will have — money galore to spend on a lavish media campaign.

Brown’s Curious Tactics

In heavily Democratic Maryland, why should this candidate go negative?

Is it insecurity?

Has Brown been persuaded by campaign operatives to launch “scorched earth” attacks?

Or is the race a lot closer than the general perception?

Whatever the reason, it isn’t pretty. It reflects poorly on Brown. Is this the way he intends to govern?

His opponent, Republican Larry Hogan Jr., isn’t helping matters with his ad excoriating Brown for his weak leadership and incompetence during the botched health exchange rollout.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr.

Last Thursday, he held a press conference, refuted Brown’s bombastic charges and called the lieutenant governor “a liar.”

Brown’s napalm bombs are landing but they are way off-target. They amount to a smear campaign combining half-truths and flat-out untruths.

Brown and his cohorts at the Democratic Governors Association want voters to believe Hogan has a “dangerous Republican agenda” and a “dangerous conservative ideology” that will devastate women’s abortion rights and abolish Maryland’s gun laws.

Let’s scare ’em into voting for Brown!

Moderate Conservative

None of this is true.

Hogan isn’t a wild-eyed Tea Party radical. He stands to the left of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich on his approach toward Democratic Annapolis.

Yes, he’s conservative, but his statements on social issues have been cautious and moderate.

Abortions? Hogan, a devout Catholic, opposes them. But he stated again Thursday he will not do anything as governor to change the status quo.

Gun laws? Same thing. Hogan doesn’t like the restrictions but he’s not foolish enough to believe he could do anything to change what Democrats and voters approved to rein in illicit gun use.

Dangerous agenda? No, but it is very much a platform crafted by a businessman who believes smaller government works best, that Democrats have been too quick to raise taxes and that Maryland’s anti-business reputation has cost the state tens of thousands of jobs.

Brown repeatedly asserts Hogan wants to give $300 million in tax breaks to wealthy corporations. It’s a little more complicated than that.

Yes, Hogan eventually wants to bring down the state’s high corporate tax rate, which is one reason Virginia has an easy time gaining new businesses at Maryland’s expense.

Hogan’s Priority

But Hogan also has made it clear his top priority is ratcheting down government spending, and then see if certain taxes can be reduced.

Is Hogan against universal pre-kindergarten? Again, it’s not so simple. Hogan’s not anti-education as Brown’s ads intimate.

He just thinks Brown’s plan is unaffordable given Maryland’s continuing structural deficit and uncertain revenue outlook.

That’s not wild-eyed or radical. It even makes sense.

The last thing Maryland needs next year is a raft of new crusades and tax hikes. The state’s and the nation’s high unemployment level and high poverty rate should spur caution, not activist spending programs.

Anthony Brown

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown

Brown’s irresponsible ads pounding away at Hogan’s “$300 million in tax breaks” for rich corporate owners mirrors what Brown pulled on Attorney General Doug Gansler in the Democratic primary.

Brown’s opposition to any reduction in Maryland’s corporate tax rate could have long-term, negative consequences. It sends the wrong signal about the state’s business climate.

Does this mean Governor Brown will say “no” to helping corporations even if this would bring huge numbers of jobs to Maryland?

Nevada just agreed to give Tesla Motors $1.3 billion in long-term incentives to build the world’s largest and most advanced electric-auto battery plant there — a $5 billion project resulting in 6,500 full-time jobs.

Such a deal apparently won’t happen in Maryland under Governor Brown. His campaign’s rhetoric is narrowing his economic development options.

Brown’s smear tactics leave a rank odor. It will linger. It’s a self-inflicted wound that may become a huge — and unnecessary — campaign liability.

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Bob McDonnell’s History Lesson

Shades of Marvin Mandel

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 15, 2014 — You’ve got to pity Bob McDonnnell, former Virginia governor and recently convicted felon. He never learned from the political-corruption history of Virginia’s neighbor to the north, Maryland.

Had McDonnell familiarized himself with the trials and legal tribulations of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (1969-1978), he might have avoided the ethics lapses and quid pro quo exchanges of gifts and cash that did in McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Indeed, the similarities between the McDonnell and Mandel sagas are stunning:

  • Both men were highly popular, successful governors.
  • Both were dogged by federal prosecutors pursuing complex public corruption and bribery cases.
  • Both prosecutions stemmed in large part from marital discord and payoffs to the spouses.
  • Both cases involved governors whose bank accounts were seriously depleted even as they faced ballooning expenses
  • Both cases led to humiliating, intimate public disclosures about the two governors’ personal lives and weaknesses.
  • Both involved payments of cash, fancy clothing, trips and other luxuries in exchange for government actions that would enrich their friends.
  • Both involved incredibly weak government codes of ethical conduct.
  • Both men maintained to the end their complete innocence.
  • And both cases rested on the fuzzily defined notion that the public is entitled to “loyal and honest services” from its elected leaders.

Improper Gifts

The McDonnells were convicted Sept. 4 of receiving improper gifts and loans from a Virginia businessman peddling a miracle vitamin pill. In return, the businessman gained access to state health officials and other key individuals who could help him, thanks to the McDonnells’ direct efforts.

Mandel was found guilty in 1977 of receiving from friends cash, an expensive wardrobe, jewelry for his wife, valuable waterfront land and interest in an office building in exchange for his help in gaining lucrative thoroughbred racing days.

Mandel “loved beyond his means,” as the late Mary McGrory brilliantly put it.

Marvin Mandel with second wife, Jeanne

Marvin Mandel with second wife, Jeanne

He split from his loyal wife in a highly publicized and messy move (she refused to vacate the governor’s mansion; he lived in a hotel) so he could marry his longtime paramour.

It turned out Marvin Mandel couldn’t afford the divorce settlement or his new wife’s expensive lifestyle without help from his wealthy business friends — who even connived with a Catholic religious order that lent Mandel the divorce money.

The governor’s “thank you”: He dropped his opposition to a doubling of racing days at the Marlboro track (from 16 to 32). Marlboro had just been bought (in secret) by his friends.

Mandel followed up with strenuous arm-twisting to pass legislation giving Marlboro an additional 62 days of racing. A rinky-dink harness track would suddenly morph into a major-league thoroughbred track with 94 racing dates.

‘Serious Mistakes’

To this day, Mandel denies wrongdoing. “I said then, and I say now, that I never did anything illegal as governor of Maryland,” he wrote in a book he penned at age 90.

Mandel’s appellate lawyers cleverly defined his actions as, at worst, “a non-criminal scheme of non-disclosure.”

The trial judge, Robert Taylor, disagreed. “You made some serious mistakes,” Taylor said.

Mandel went to federal prison in Florida, was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan and had his conviction later overturned on a technicality (prosecutors had stretched the legal interpretation of federal racketeering and mail fraud laws too far).

The incriminating evidence — and there was plenty of it — was never disputed.

Cash Poor Governor

This brings us back to Bob McDonnell — politically rich, but cash poor.

He couldn’t afford his daughter’s over-the-top wedding and his wife’s outrageously expensive gowns without help from an exceedingly generous businessman who befriended them in exchange for — he hoped — state endorsement of his miracle vitamin pill.

Like the Mandel trial, which exposed backstage maneuverings by friends to extricate Maryland’s governor from a strained marriage and keep him happy, the McDonnells’ courtroom drama in Richmond revolved around their family soap opera.

Maureen McDonnell was portrayed as an out-of-control shrew, demanding more and more largesse from her financially strapped, henpecked hubby. He threw her under the bus, essentially blaming her for the whole mess.

And, of course, he denied all wrongdoing.

Ethics Loopholes

Why not? Virginia’s laughable Ethics Code makes almost any gift to a public official legal as long as you disclose it.

Maryland’s Ethics Code is even more of a Swiss cheese affair. Mandel as governor issued this code of conduct, making it applicable “to all officers and employees of the executive branch.”

It made it unethical to do exactly what Mandel later carried out.

But here’s the catch: Maryland’s Ethics Code doesn’t apply to constitutionally elected officers, i.e., the governor.

So Mandel can say with a straight face he did nothing wrong under the state’s code of conduct. Let’s call it “technical deniability.”

High Public Expectations

Still, neither he nor McDonnell could evade the long arm of federal prosecutors.

In Virginia, a jury convicted McDonnell of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. He could be sent off to prison, but if so his stay almost surely will be brief compared with Mandel’s 19 months behind bars.

Neither man understood what was expected of them as elected public officials.

They were living under an old-fashioned standard of acceptable political behavior: Take whatever you can get as long as you do it quietly and don’t directly harm the public.

That’s not how citizens view public service today, or in the 1970s. They expect their leaders will act ethically. Don’t accept valuable gifts, even from close friends. Don’t do favors for your friends. Don’t grease the wheels for your friends.

It’s not hard to understand. Politicians in high office, though, sometimes forget they’re expected to be above suspicion.

McDonnell now is paying the price for his failure to pay attention. Had he studied Mandel’s political and personal downfall, he might not have ruined his life — and his reputation.

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Diversion Tactic in MD Governor’s Race

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 10, 2014 — When you are caught with your thumb in the cherry pie, what do you say?

“Ma, look what Mikey’s doing! He’s up to no good.”

That diversionary tactic doesn’t work on moms, and Anthony Brown’s finger-pointing tactic doesn’t work, either.

Hogan's disputed Windsport

Hogan’s disputed Windsport

Brown may have a serious campaign fund-raising violation to explain to the state elections board.

So what does he say?

He accuses his Republican foe, Larry Hogan Jr., of low-balling his monthly rental fee for a recreation vehicle decked out in campaign logos.

Why, Hogan should be paying a lot more than $683.77 a month to fully reflect the cost of operating this mobile campaign headquarters, Brown’s operatives complain.

What a bunch of malarkey.

What Is Reasonable?

A state elections official has already said covering the full monthly payments on Hogan’s bus — which Hogan owns and is renting to the campaign — qualifies as a “reasonable” standard.

What it costs to fill up this gas-guzzling Windsport daily and oil, grease and repair the recreation vehicle for heavy-duty operation through Nov. 4 isn’t part of the rental agreement. That’s something the Hogan campaign must cover anyway.

So in effect, Hogan’s operatives are already paying “fair market value.”

Brown’s ploy is a canard, a decoy designed to shift media focus from the serious complaint Hogan lodged against the Democrat — coordinating fund-raising efforts of his campaign with that of a labor-supported, independent Super-PAC (Political Action Committee).

That’s illegal, according to the Supreme Court. The Maryland elections board already has said campaigns cannot share with independent Super-PACS “campaign material, strategy or information.”

Coordinating Efforts

The problem for Brown is that one of his top chief fund-raisers, Colleen Martin-Lauer, is also the fund-raising coordinator for the supposedly independent labor Super-PAC that is designed to boost Brown. Hogan’s folks maintain it is “simply impossible” for Martin-Lauer and a second joint fund-raiser not to coordinate their solicitation efforts.

Brown did the same thing (overlapping fund-raisers) in the primary election and got away with it. But what if he runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s difficult-to-enforce edict? It could impair his ability to raise as much money as he had hoped.

Millions could be at stake in that complaint. Thousands could be at stake in Brown’s penny-ante subterfuge against Hogan.

It is just another sign of the insipid tactics being employed in this campaign, especially by Brown’s team, which has not hesitated to smear Hogan with blatantly false accusations.

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