Furniture, Iran & Mandel

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 11, 2015 — Odds and ends covering Government House furniture, the Iran odd couple and Marvin Mandel miscellany:

‘Junk’ Mansion Furniture

How quickly they forget!

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s criticism of the bargain-basement deal outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley got on distressed Government House furniture (beds, lamps, mirrors, chairs, desks, a couch) is a great political sound-bite but distorts the facts — and ignores history.

Furniture, Iran & Mandel

Government House, Annapolis

Hogan’s minions penned words for him about O’Malley’s unseemly stripping from the governor’s mansion of “expensive, beautifully used furniture.”

The stuff cost $62,000 new and after being appraised and declared “excess property” and “distressed” by a veteran Department of General Services employee, it was bought by O’Malley for $9,638.

Hogan thought that was an outrageously cheap grab of mansion furniture he could have used in his private quarters.

Fair enough.

But the check the state got from the ex-governor represents 15 percent of the furnishings’ original value.

My wife, who has done interior decorating and interior design for a living, tells me the going rate for furniture drops dramatically once it leaves the showroom. She says used furniture sells for about 10 percent of its original value, especially if it has some age on it.

Most of the O’Malley pieces were eight years old.

So maybe the state actually got a good deal.

It’s also worth remembering — which Hogan didn’t for obvious political reasons — that when fellow Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich left the mansion, he purchased nearly $10,000 worth of furniture for a mere $992 — 10 percent of the original price.

That’s still a fair deal for the state, but not nearly as good a deal as the state got from O’Malley.

Mansion furniture

One of the used pieces of furniture the O’Malleys purchased from the governor’s mansion.

Funny, but Hogan never saw it that way.

Either transaction pales compared with the biggest mansion furniture heist — the emptying of private-quarters furnishings by the late Marvin Mandel.

It was engineered by his second wife, Jeanne, and included removal of 57 items (including two wing chairs, a dresser, a leather sofa, a roll-top desk, Waterford lamps, Chippendale chairs, Lenox china, Waterford crystal champagne glasses, 350 liquor and wine bottles and $489 worth of dog food).

Here’s how the son and namesake of Mandel’s temporary successor, Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, recently described the appearance of the mansion’s private quarters after Marvin and Jeanne departed — “our family moved into the Governor’s Mansion and found it stripped bare. . .  the Mandels even took the frozen food and the fire wood!”

After the 1978 elections, Mandel tried to make amends with a check for $3,187, but Gov. Harry Hughes refused to accept it. A five-year legal battle ensued with Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs writing a 327-page report on Mandel’s moving-van loot.

Eventually, Marvin and Jeanne Mandel forked over $10,000 — more than triple what he had originally offered to pay.

According to O’Malley, though, two historic door panels taken by the Mandels remain missing.

Is any of this kosher? That’s the key question.

Technically, the sales violate government policy about not giving state employees preferential treatment.

But the Ehrlichs, the O’Malleys and the Mandels were just barely government officials at the time they paid for state furnishings their family had used in the mansion.

For instance, the appraisal of furniture O’Malley wanted to purchase was made the day the family moved out of the mansion and just six days before O’Malley became a private citizen. Mandel had been convicted and legally removed from office when his moving van pulled away from the mansion.

It’s a grey area in need of clarification.

The State Ethics Commission might provide Hogan with some guidance, but departing governors don’t easily fit under regulations covering state employees. For one thing, they are constitutionally elected officers and exempt from ethics commission rulings.

At the least, common courtesy should have been in play.

O’Malley needed to ask Hogan if it would be OK to buy items in the mansion’s private quarters. Ehrlich should have done the same with O’Malley. Mandel should have requested approval from Acting Governor Lee.

It’s a minor brouhaha reporters are exploiting as though it were an armored-car heist.

The Board of Public Works should establish a new policy: If about-to-become ex-governors wish to buy used private-quarters furniture, the stuff must be appraised by private-sector professionals and the incoming governor must formally approve.

That would clarify matters and set in place a procedure for future ex-governors, which one day will include Hogan.

Iran Odd Couple

Who would have guessed that in the Maryland congressional delegation, just two members would come out in opposition to the president’s Iran nuclear deal, and that they would be polar opposites.

Liberal Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin has linked arms with ultra-conservative Republican Rep. Andy Harris to say “no” to the president’s negotiated agreement to slow, if not block, Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

It may be the first and last time this odd couple sings from the same hymn book on a major, highly politicized issue.

Harris’ opposition was expected. He’s a knee-jerk, anti-Obama, anti-Democratic politician. If the president says the sky is blue, Harris sees grey skies.

Cardin, though, is a left-leaning Democratic loyalist. This time, he was under enormous pressure from Jewish lobbying groups in Maryland, especially within his own synagogue. He’s also up for reelection soon, which played into his thinking.

It also helped that his vote wasn’t needed to ensure that Democrats blocked Congress from rejecting the Iran accord.

Still, it’s rare when Harris and Cardin have something in common. Voters on both extremes of the political spectrum might find this Iran union hard to stomach.

Mandel Miscellany

Readers responded mainly with positive reviews of the two-part assessment of the late Governor Mandel. Here is a sampling:

Gov. Marvin Mandel

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel

Blair Lee IV (now a resident of Hilton Head, S.C.): “a wonderful trip down memory lane.”

Former Baltimore Sun reporter Bob Erlandson:  “That’s as good a concise exposition of the Mandel case as there could be. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten many of the details you wrote. Very well done!!”

Attorney and former Assistant Attorney General Tom Lingan: “Congratulations on finally setting the record straight. I believe you captured well the ambiguity of Governor Mandel which was lost in the deification following his passing. There are still a few of us around who remember.  Thanks for not giving him a pass.”

Attorney and Lobbyist Bruce Bereano: “You really should be ashamed of yourself that at Governor Mandel’s passing you wrote such an unnecessary, nasty and despicable piece in your Part 2 of the Mandel legacy. The sad thing is that you have no shame and you have no [conscience] about this.”

Former Sun reporter and Care First executive Jeff Valentine: “This was the best explanation of that convoluted transaction that I ever read. For the first time, I understand what happened.”

Former environmental lobbyist Ajax Eastman: “You really covered the essence of the man, the good and the bad in depth. Thanks.”

Former Sun reporter Skip Isaacs: “The two Mandel columns were terrific. I knew him much better as speaker than governor, but the contradictions you describe sound exactly right to me.”

Former television reporter Patrick McGrath: “Mandel’s extraordinary achievements that you reminded us of in the first piece, contrasted with the details of his downfall in the second piece  . . . paint a truly balanced picture of the complicated man.”

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Marvin the Manipulator

(Second of two parts)

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 9, 2015 — Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel died last week at 95 after a life of enormous achievements and puzzling contradictions.

Marvin the Manipulator

Marvin Mandel, House of Delegates portrait

On the surface he could be wise, funny, kind, brilliant and farsighted. Yet there was a darker side behind the implacable façade he showed to the public.

As governor for ten years, he manipulated legislators better than anyone before or since. Victory after victory, reform after reform piled up.

What we didn’t know was that Mandel also had been manipulating his first wife, engaging in a long-running affair with a blonde femme fatale from Southern Maryland. He devised a convoluted cover-up and denial when the public finally got wind, after his government car was involved in a late-night fatal crash on a mysterious return trip from Southern Maryland.

He also manipulated the media, planting favorable stories about his administration as well as unfavorable stories on his enemies. He delighted in playing word games with reporters at his weekly press conferences — until those very words got him in deep trouble with federal prosecutors.

What came out in two high-profile trials, marked by a health scare and jury-tampering, was the extent of Mandel’s venality.

He was the behind-the-scenes puppeteer, using his power as governor to reward close political friends in return for a slew of financial windfalls he desperately needed — especially to pay for an expensive divorce from his first wife and the expensive tastes of his paramour (and second wife).

How It Began

Little did I know my very first day reporting on the Maryland General Assembly in 1972 would reveal a key element of Mandel’s manipulations-for-profit.

By that session’s sine die adjournment 90 days later, it was clear a dark, deep conspiracy was at work — with Marvin Mandel acting as the fulcrum.

Here’s what happened in that fateful General Assembly session.

As set out in the Maryland constitution, vetoed bills were the first order of business. One of those concerned a transfer of 18 racing days from the defunct Hagerstown track to Marlboro, a bedraggled half-mile oval in Prince George’s County.

The previous spring Mandel had rejected the bill, claiming it was unconstitutional on technical grounds.

Yet when lawmakers took up the Marlboro veto in early January a surprising thing happened.

Marvin Mandel, the State House wizard with near-total control of the legislature, didn’t lift a finger to defend his veto.

Independence Day

First the House, then the Senate overrode the governor’s action, thus doubling Marlboro’s racing days in less than two weeks after the track changed hands.

But no one in the legislature knew about this change of ownership.

Reform Democrats and Republicans mistakenly crowed that legislators finally had stood up to Mandel and taught him a lesson. It was Independence Day for the General Assembly.

More cynical minds saw it quite differently. Something didn’t smell right, they said.

One of those doubters was Bentley Orrick, The Baltimore Sun’s always-skeptical bureau chief. He saved me from my fresh-on-the-job naïveté.

My written version of the Marlboro action for the next day’s newspaper bought into the theme of rebellious legislators standing up to a powerful governor.

Orrick, though, had the good sense to re-write my lead paragraph so it said Mandel had “all but ‘publicly’ acquiesced” to the veto override that doubled Marlboro’s racing days. He knew something was going on behind the gubernatorial curtains.

Thank the stars for Ben Orrick.

Big Pay Day

We now know Mandel’s cronies were concocting a whopping bonanza for themselves, thanks to Mandel’s actions and non-actions.

When the governor vetoed the Hagerstown-to-Marlboro transfer in the spring of 1971, it sent the price of Marlboro’s stock tumbling.

Thus on New Year’s Eve, Mandel’s close associates secretly bought the half-mile track at a deeply discounted price.

Two weeks later, thanks to Mandel’s unexpected failure to defend his veto, Marlboro had twice the number of racing days. The governor’s pals had doubled the race track’s worth in a blink of a legislative eye.

Marvin the Manipulator Mandel

Gov. Marvin Mandel and his second wife, Jeanne, leaving the federal courthouse in Baltimore.

Throughout that tumultuous 1972 session Mandel continued playing the role of innocent bystander as his friends worked ceaselessly with gubernatorial aides to multiply their race track fortunes.

Out of the blue came a vast racing consolidation bill. It awarded Marlboro a staggering 94 days — more thoroughbred dates than any track in Maryland had ever run before. It amounted to a 500 percent increase in days of racing for a crumbling, small-time track.

The consolidation bill also called for a state buyout of the one-mile Bowie track, with all of Bowie’s racing days — plus Marlboro’s 94 days — transferred to the far more profitable Pimlico and Laurel one-mile tracks.

Marlboro got to keep its night-time harness racing schedule, too.

What an astounding payoff for Mandel’s friends. In less than four months, they would have increased the worth of their recent purchase by nearly $10 million, or $57 million in today’s dollars.

Bit by bit, though, this nefarious profit-making scheme came into public view, thanks to legislative hearings and filings with the Maryland Racing Commission.

Senate Resistance

By session’s end, Mandel’s crew had dropped all pretense of disinterest. His lobbyists were pressing legislators hard to pass the consolidation bill.

Yet resistance in the Senate remained intense.

Among the most vehement foes: Steny Hoyer, Jack Lapides, Jervis Finney, Vic Crawford and Manny Emanuel — all on the Senate Finance Committee that eliminated the bill’s worst elements and eventually refused to pass the measure (on two tie votes).

The ever-observant Finney predicted what would take place next.

He told his Senate colleagues “on the very last night of the session we’ll be called [by the governor’s lobbyists] and told, ‘you can have your bill’ and ‘you can have your bill’ and ‘you can have [racing] consolidation’ and who do you think is going to be getting all its racing days back – good old Marlboro, coming ’round the track.”

On cue,  with less than a hour to go before sine die adjournment Mandel’s chief Senate mouthpiece, Roy Staten of Dundalk, rose to resurrect the racing bill.

Lapides and others started a mini-filibuster. With just ten minutes left before the legal midnight adjournment, Staten tried again to ram the bill through. He failed. Debate persisted for another 20 minutes with Staten pleading for a final, post-midnight vote.

At that point, Lapides tried diplomacy, asking a wavering Senate President William S. James to do the right thing.

“Mr. President,” Lapides politely intoned, “this bill has been properly defeated. . . . The integrity of the Senate is at stake.”

James realized he had no choice, despite the enormous pressure put on him by Mandel. He ruled further deliberations would be “improper.”

No Endgame

For the first time in his career as governor, Mandel had been denied a prime objective — though he and his cronies found a way around the legislature, thanks to a pliant racing commission that Mandel controlled.

A year later the Marlboro owners got regulatory permission to shift their 36 racing days to the larger Bowie track. They reaped a nifty $2.1 million profit — $12 million in today’s dollars.

These shenanigans were to form the basis of federal corruption charges against Mandel.

His reward from his pals included a $300,000 share in a lucrative federal building lease (today’s value: $1.7 million ); a prime parcel of Eastern Shore land ready for development (today’s value: $200,000); lavish vacation travel and wardrobes, and money to finance his expensive divorce from his first wife and the expensive tastes of his paramour (and later second wife).

The value of these “gifts” from friends, in today’s dollars: nearly $3 million.

Clouded Judgment

Mandel’s deceptions and cover-ups, his steadfast refusal to admit any wrongdoing, have clouded the public’s perception of his unmatched contributions to Maryland government.

Did he cross ethical and moral boundaries?

Did he betray the public’s trust?

Elected officials are supposed to provide the public with honest government and honest policy decisions. Was their faith in Mandel misplaced?

Four decades after the fact, those questions still are debated.

Marvin Mandel could have gone into the history books as Maryland’s best governor, an inductee into the national governors’ Hall of Fame.

Instead, he is remembered for his messy divorce; his lies and deceptions; his secretive scheming to enrich his friends; the financial rewards he received in exchange for his underhanded actions, and his incessant denials.

That is the tragedy of Marvin Mandel.

Greatness was within his grasp, but the temptations of love and an elevated lifestyle proved more alluring.

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Marvin the Magician

By Barry Rascovar

(First of two parts)

Sept. 8, 2015 — Simply put, Marvin Mandel — who was laid to rest last week at age 95 — ranks as the greatest and most effective Maryland governor of the 20th century.

Only Gov. Albert C. Ritchie comes close to matching Mandel as a government reformer. But Mandel was far more ambitious in his efforts to improve society, expand the reach of government and anticipate future trends.

Marvin the Magician Mandel

Gov. Marvin Mandel, official State House portrait.

Our lives first intersected in 1972 as Mandel pulled off a stunning coup. In a tumultuous General Assembly session, the governor.

  • He defeated the potent National Rifle Association by enacting the nation’s toughest handgun-control law.
  • He defeated the powerful insurance industry to win passage of the nation’s first state-run insurance company for high-risk drivers.
  • He defeated the influential petroleum lobby to gain approval of a nearly 30 percent gas-tax increase that financed Baltimore’s first subway line, portions of the Washington-area Metro and local highway construction.

He slugged it out with tavern owners and the potent beer barons to win a tripling of the state beer tax — the first increase in that alcohol levy in 33 years.

He gained approval to buy Friendship Airport from Baltimore City for $36 million, beginning a modernization program that turned the re-named BWI Airport into one of the nation’s premier low-cost flight destination.

No Maryland governor took on so many entrenched and muscular special interests at one time.

Legislative Magician

It was a stupendous achievement, following on the heels of three previous legislative sessions marked by sweeping government reforms that turned Maryland into a national model for streamlined efficiency and modernization.

Mandel totally overhauled Maryland’s antiquated judicial system, junking the politically inspired magistrate system for a professional District Court with experienced and respected lawyers nominated by a judicial selection commission serving as judges.

He created an intermediate appellate court that dramatically improved the quality of judicial decisions and anticipated the enormous jump in appeals cases.

He removed politics from District Court and appellate court reappointments.

He named cracker-jack deputy attorneys general to implement these judicial reforms — Robert F. Sweeney to run the new, statewide District Court system and Robert C. Murphy Jr. to lead first the new Court of Special Appeals and then the state judiciary as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.

Cabinet Government

Mandel used his immense influence with the General Assembly (he served there as a key player for 17 years)  to win approval of a massive government reorganization, shoe-horning 248 formerly independent agencies into 12 cabinet-level departments.

It was a long and bitter reorganization with fierce resistance coming from deeply entrenched bureaucrats and interest groups.

Cutting the powerful tentacles of the Maryland Port Authority and State Roads Commission proved especially difficult for the new transportation secretary, Harry R. Hughes.

The new secretary of licensing and regulation, John R. Jewel, encountered enormous obstacles from dozens of special interest groups that no longer could dictate policy to various licensing boards.

The new Department of Natural Resources ran into such intractable opposition from watermen and rural constituencies that Mandel persuaded former Gov. J. Millard Tawes to come out of retirement in Crisfield to smooth hurt feelings and pave the way for a successful transition.

Mandel rarely lost battles with the legislature. He understood the psyche of lawmakers and how to play to each one’s weaknesses and vanity. He knew what strings to pull and when. He became known as Marvin the Magician, pulling a legislative rabbit out of his hat time after time when defeat seemed imminent.

Sweeping Reforms

He battled hospitals to create the nation’s only state regulatory body setting hospital rates to bring down costs. It worked.

He took on the hospitals again in establishing the nation’s first Shock Trauma network, prompting a nationwide revolution in emergency medicine.

He set up the nation’s second statewide school construction program (Hawaii has the other) to relieve local governments of burdensome construction debt that was delaying urgently needed school buildings to handle a huge surge in school-age children.

He fought for state land-use controls decades before “smart growth” came into vogue.

He supported the Lee-Maurer education aid formula that steered a larger percentage of state funds to poor subdivisions, especially Baltimore City.

It is an astounding record for the state’s second longest-serving governor (Ritchie beat him by a considerable margin, serving four terms in the 1920s and early 1930s).

Pollack, then Kovens

Yet Marvin Mandel is the last person you’d expect to earn the label of reformer and good government crusader.

He was a product of the old-time political machines of Baltimore City. Soon, though, he broke from the grasp of corrupt boss James H. (Jack) Pollack and joined forces with a more modest political operative, Irvin Kovens, forming an anti-Pollack ticket in northwest Baltimore.

He rose to political prominence by cunning and sheer luck.  When the House speaker was indicted in Maryland’s first savings and loan scandal, Mandel took his place.

When Spiro Agnew ran for vice president with Richard Nixon in 1968 — and won — House Speaker Mandel had the votes to succeed Agnew as governor.

Through it all, Marvin Mandel remained an enigma. His prestidigitation was so flawless you never knew what was really going on. Three-dimensional chess was Mandel’s game and no one in Annapolis was capable of taking on the grand master.

He could be amiable, jocular and easy-going, yet he turned into a tiger in formulating and carrying out political strategies.

Clouded by Smoke

He seemed to fool everyone with the smokescreen he created when smoking his ever-present meerschaum pipe.

Marvin the Magician

Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and his ever-present pipe.

Puff, puff, puff. A few nods of the head. Visitors thought they were getting agreement from the amiable governor — only to discover later they had misread the situation.

In political mid-stream, though, Mandel’s fortunes and his demeanor changed.

His luck started to run out.

His secret private life blasted into the headlines. His expensive new lifestyle came at a cost he could not personally afford.

His backstage maneuvering to make close friends and allies rich through passage of favorable legislation in Annapolis became a long-running national scandal.

The magician who so brilliantly reformed Maryland government would pay a steep price for this terrible lapse in judgment.

Tomorrow:  Marvin the Manipulator

Ready, Fire, Aim

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 31, 2015 — A real-life drama — and personal tragedy — played out last week when the Maryland Board of Public Works took up the Hogan administration’s request to fire 59 state workers who don’t deserve to be coldly thrown out of their jobs.

Most of them have earned sterling performance reviews. They have worked diligently for the state, responsibly handling personnel matters.

Ready, Fire, Aim

Gov. Larry Hogan and Prisons Chief Stephen Moyer (left)

Yet now they have been accused — unfairly and without a whisper of truth — of being part of the state prison system’s “rampant criminal activity” and “corruption.”

It’s a classic case of Larry Hogan Jr.’s team rushing to carry out his reform agenda by shouting, “Ready, Fire, Aim” — and hitting unintended casualties.

Not Involved

In doing so, innocent victims are seeing their careers destroyed. They are, as many noted at the BPW hearing, being scapegoated — tarred with the corruption label even though these employees had nothing to do with the decades-old outrages taking place within prison walls.

Thank goodness, Hogan is taking the initiative to clean up Maryland’s abysmal prison system.  But his administration’s mass firing in the corrections department’s personnel office is misdirected.

The idea, as explained by prisons chief Stephen Moyer, is to streamline the department’s hiring and firing process for workers who deal directly with prisoners, especially the prison guards.

The current system is shockingly flawed. Wardens — some of them contributing mightily to the problem — by law appoint the guards. Each warden has set his or her own hiring standard.

Bad apples have been hired by the dozens. Fingerprinting of new hires has been exceedingly lax. When Moyer tried to fire some 200 guards involved in criminal activities at the Baltimore detention center, he found he couldn’t do so under state laws.

Hogan’s Prison Reforms

What a shameful situation. Moyer and Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. are right to press for a major overhaul to ensure that the jail keepers aren’t on the take.

But what Moyer wants to do first is fire 59 personnel workers who had nothing to do with hiring those bad actors. These workers handle questions correctional workers have about benefits, retirement and tons of paperwork dealing with complex employment issues.

The entire personnel staff of the state’s parole agency is being wiped out. Yet this office has nothing to do with what takes place within Maryland’s massive prison system. They are far removed from the problem.

Moyer wants to centralize personnel matters. The approach sounds good in theory but too often dehumanizes and devalues workers. It makes it maddeningly difficult, if not impossible, to get the simplest problem resolved or question answered.

He wants to eliminate all personnel employees in Western Maryland, except for three in Cumberland and three in Hagerstown. It’s absurd, given there are over 1,200 prison workers in Cumberland and close to 2,000 in Hagerstown. The small number of personnel experts he wants to retain in Western Maryland is off the mark.

The situation is even worse in the Baltimore area, where a three-member personnel staff would be overwhelmed by the workload.

This plan was designed without considering the human element.

Cutting the Fat

At the Board of Public Works meeting, heart-rending tales were told by employees whose jobs are being wiped out.

How is a 63-year-old woman with decades of outstanding performance evaluations going to find another job? Moyer & Co. had no realistic answer.

This has nothing to do with the much-needed development of a tough, effective hiring and firing system.

Instead, it is driven by Hogan’s campaign pledge to cut the “fat” from state government. He’s all about saving money without thinking through the consequences.

This time Hogan and Moyer got politely taken to task by Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

The anguish of the intended firing victims who testified before the state board was so palpable that both of these officials made it clear they wouldn’t approve the layoff plan as presented.

Franchot
Comptroller Peter Franchot

 

They took special offense to comments that this move was part of an effort to root out corruption in the prison system.

These 59 individuals aren’t the ones committing illegal acts.

They didn’t hire the miscreants. They’re not the ones responsible.

Collateral Damage

They are hard-working state employees who have done their jobs exceptionally well at modest salaries.

“These are very capable people being shown the door,” Franchot said. He bluntly told Moyer, “You are firing the wrong people here.”

Kopp urged Moyer to look beyond the budget savings. “People are not just collateral damage, she noted. “They are people” who need to be treated with dignity and respect, not summarily thrown out of work for no good reason.

State Treasurer Nancy Kopp

State Treasurer Nancy Kopp

Sue Esty, whose union represents some of those being fired, choked back tears as she described this as the most callous layoff she’s seen. Moyer & Co. displayed a “lack of understanding of how the department functions.” She, too, termed it as “a classic case of scapegoating.”

Moyer went by the book in formulating this mass firing. He conferred with budget and legal officials. But he never sat down and tried to work out a more humane plan with those affected or their union representatives.

It’s also a plan that looks good on paper but has serious flaws when tested against reality.

Fire, then Aim?

That seems to be par for the course in the early stages of the Hogan administration. Ready, fire and then aim.

We saw it when the governor killed the rapid rail Red Line for Baltimore before formulating a substitute transportation improvement plan.

We saw it when Hogan proudly cut tolls on bridges and tunnels without figuring out how urgent and expensive repair and replacement projects on the Hatem and Nice bridges could be financed on a shrunken budget.

We saw it when Hogan grabbed the headlines for shuttering the decrepit Baltimore detention center without first conferring with local elected, law-enforcement and judicial officials on how to avoid disruptions and unanticipated snafus.

Moyer now should take his time in putting together a new personnel approach within the department, one that considers the human element.

Delay in Order

A number of those targeted for firing were denied participation in the governor’s severance program last spring because they were deemed too valuable to the department. Now Moyer wants them out the door without any severance.

That’s unfair and makes no sense.

Kopp and Franchot should insist that Hogan delay the prison personnel-office downsizing until he submits his next budget, when the people targeted for firing can be offered a buyout package. That’s one approach.

Or what about implementing a multi-year plan to eliminate personnel jobs through attrition?

What about hammering out a better deal for employees with the union in the months ahead? There’s no need to rush.

A humane approach might require approval from the General Assembly for a new severance program and a change in the law so some of the workers can be moved into personnel vacancies in nearby state offices.

Let’s slow the process down so we get it right.

The governor’s determination to charge ahead quickly with his reforms is getting him in trouble.

A more deliberate and methodical approach that takes into account the impact on individuals whose lives are being affected would pay far larger dividends for Hogan in the long term.

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Hogan’s Holt Problem

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 24, 2015–Maryland Housing Secretary Ken Holt may be a nice guy, a financial expert, a former member of the House of Delegates from Baltimore County, a cattle rancher and a breeder of thoroughbred race horses, but he has turned himself into a giant liability for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.

Holt’s stunningly ignorant claim made at the Maryland Association of Counties gathering in Ocean City — that some low-income mothers poison their children with lead weights to get free housing — was so far afield from reality that both Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford disassociated themselves from his assertions.

Hogan's Holt Problem

MD Housing Secretary Ken Holt

The governor then had choice words for Holt in private about his “unfortunate and inappropriate statement” — but is keeping him on as housing secretary.

Holt’s comments were far more than “unfortunate and inappropriate.”

They had no basis in fact and showed an abysmal understanding of Maryland’s lead paint law — an area that Holt’s department deals with.

Lacking Evidence

Even worse, it turns out Holt has no evidence to back up his claim that low-income moms intentionally poison their kids to receive free, long-term government housing. It was an anecdotal story, he said, that came from a housing developer.

Holt told the MACO attendees that he wanted to submit legislation to ease the legal burden on landlords if their rental properties contain lead paint that harms children.

That proposal is now DOA — dead on arrival.

Indeed, Holt’s credibility with Democratic legislators has been destroyed by his hideous comments and intentions. Easing landlords’ liability for lead-paint poisoning on their rental units is a terrible idea.

Who’s responsible for not taking steps to encapsulate or remove the lead paint in these rental units? Holt’s proposal would turn those who are poisoned, and their parents, into the culprits while freeing landlords from their clear responsibility.

It’s idiotic and gives the appearance Holt is pandering to the whims and desires of landlords.

Reductions in Lead Poisoning

Over the past 20 years, Maryland’s lead-paint laws have led to a steep, dramatic drop in  poisoning cases, from 14,546 in 1993 to just 371 cases in 2013.

Hogan's Holt Problem

Flaking lead paint can poison children.

The law is working and the children living in low-income rental housing are being protected. Why in the world would Holt move to weaken this law without even researching the topic?

It raises major questions about Holt’s fitness for the cabinet-level post. He had no low-income housing expertise when he took the job. It shows.

What an embarrassment for Hogan and his administration. Is this the sort of pro-business “reform” the governor has in mind?

Holt’s blunder pretty much closes the door on legislative changes coming from his department. Indeed, it puts a bull’s eye on just about anything Hogan proposes in the next legislative session that would weaken existing laws designed to protect the public.

Bad Timing

The timing of Holt’s indiscretion doesn’t help, either. It looks more and more like the Hogan administration is hostile to Baltimore City and its minority citizens.

The vast majority of lead-paint poisoning cases are in Baltimore, and nearly all the victims are African Americans.

Hogan also refused to allocate $11 million in sorely needed school funds to Baltimore City, where the vast majority of underperforming students are African Americans.

Then he killed the $3 billion Red Line rapid-rail project designed to help Baltimore’s inner city residents reach job centers and greatly improve their transportation options. The vast majority of citizens who would have benefited from the Red Line are black.

Just to rub it in, Hogan snubbed city officials in announcing the closing of Baltimore’s detention center. He didn’t even give the mayor the courtesy of a phone call before his announcement, which was highlighted by his harsh and gratuitous condemnation of his predecessor, Martin O’Malley.

Anti-City?

The Holt fiasco adds to the impression Hogan’s administration is anti-city and anti-black. At the least, it gives weight to the notion that the governor and his staff are insensitive and uncaring — and not well informed — when it comes to urban problems.

The best thing Holt could do to help the governor is make a quiet exit from state government later this year.

He’s become Enemy No. 1 to a large number of Democratic legislators. Everything he says or does from now on will be put under a microscope. He’s dragging the governor down.

Hogan, meanwhile, has yet to take any major step that shows he understands the state has a significant role to play in uplifting and improving life and economic opportunity in Baltimore.

Fortunately, it is still early in the governor’s tenure.

The situation in Maryland’s only urban center cries out for strong leadership and assistance from Annapolis. That is Hogan’s most complex and perplexing challenge, one he has yet to confront.

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Redistricting Reform: Mission Impossible?

By Barry Rascovar

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

Maryland's Current Congressional Districts

Maryland’s Current Congressional Districts

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

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

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

Hogan’s Goal

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

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

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

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

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

GOP Pickup?

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

That premise may not be valid, either.

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

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

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

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

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

Miller’s Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elbridge Gerry

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

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

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

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There is No ‘Plan B’

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 12, 2015 –Instead of tamping down the furor surrounding Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s cancellation of the Baltimore region’s $2.9 billion rapid-rail Red Line, his administration is adding fuel to the fire.

Instead of presenting alternative rapid transit proposals to Baltimore regional officials at a Monday meeting, Hogan’s transportation chief, Pete Rahn, offered nothing concrete.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn

Meanwhile, Hogan’s press spokesman continues to spew invective on anyone or any organization that dares dispute that decision.

In sixty days Rahn says he’ll having something to announce on faster bus service.

Wow.

What Happened to Plan B?

The sad truth is that there never was a Plan B.

Hogan fulfilled a campaign pledge by killing the Red Line and shifting all that anticipated state spending over the next six years to road and bridge projects elsewhere in Maryland.

That’s why there are zero plans coming from the governor’s office to bolster the Baltimore area’s sad excuse for rapid transit.

Better travel by bus is a great concept but it is one that Rahn’s department has worked to achieve for decades — with little success. The failure of Baltimore’s bus routes lies entirely at the feet of state officials.

The state owns the buses. The state set up the bus routes. The state pays the drivers. The state manages the bus agency. The state has conducted countless public hearings on improving service. We’re still waiting for dramatic improvements.

Officials know what’s not going right. Can they fix it? So far, the answer is “no.”

Congestion and Buses

Giving riders real-time information on bus arrivals doesn’t get the buses to their destination any faster. How is Rahn going to move buses through congested downtown quickly?

Buses, like cars, sit in backed-up traffic. Too many vehicles clog busy intersections and arterial roads, especially at rush hour. What is Rahn going to do about that?

Subterranean rapid rail bypasses time-consuming street congestion with ease. New York and Washington are great examples of this.

But Hogan won’t pay for digging the tunnels. He wants mass transit projects only if they are cheap and bare-bones. That means no tunnels.

Both Rahn and his boss are highway-centric suburbanites. That’s where the state is putting its money over the next six years, not rapid rail or other urban transportation programs.

On-Time Buses

Regional officials can complain about Hogan’s disrespect toward Baltimore’s rail deficiencies but that won’t move the ball forward.

Once and for all they need to face reality. There won’t be a Plan B coming from the Hogan administration. It was never on Hogan’s game board. He’s already redistributed the Red Line money to non-Baltimore projects.

At best, Rahn might offer Baltimore crumbs in the form of getting buses to run on-time and new bus routes connecting suburban job centers to the city.

Those would be welcome, long overdue steps. Yet they are small, incremental improvements on the cheap.

Between now and next January, the governor can do pretty much anything he wants. He’s running state government without meddling from the Democratic legislature.

He’s setting up a fractious clash next year, though.

Uncaring Governor?

The impression is growing that Larry Hogan doesn’t care about Baltimore City. It’s a hostile political environment for a Republican governor. The city’s chronic problems are difficult and expensive to address. He’d rather spend state dollars in communities that vote Republican. He also doesn’t seem to grasp the deep societal woes that are dragging down a once-great American community.

Yet the decline is happening on his watch.

Like it or not, Hogan will be blamed if Baltimore’s slump accelerates while he is governor and he fails to take action.

Baltimore badly needed the economic boost the Red Line would have provided. Having killed that project, Hogan haven’t come forth with an alternative stimulus.

Where are the state jobs programs and reconstruction plans for riot-torn West Baltimore? Couldn’t the governor piece together a major housing demolition-and-rehabilitation initiative? There’s a crying need for more and better drug treatment programs. Recreation activities for youth are lacking. So are after-school programs.

Three-plus months since the destructive unrest in Baltimore, the governor has yet to produce a package of helpful initiatives to make life better for inner-city residents. He knows the city’s leaders are strapped for funds. Only the state has the resources to step in and help in a big way.

That is Hogan’s challenge, especially after he axed the city’s only major economic hope.

At this point, the governor should make a point of showing he has not forgotten Baltimore. The city requires large-scale, innovative assistance from Annapolis.

Baltimore’s future lies, to a large extent, in Hogan’s hands.

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State Pension Confusion

By Barry Rascovar

August 10, 2015 — For Maryland’s 388,500 state workers and teachers — active and retired —  interpreting the pension news these days is confusing business.Maryland retirement agency logo

Item: Over the past 12 months, the state’s pension fund gained 2.68 percent on its investments.

Is that good or bad?

On June 30, the fund’s market value stood at $45.8 billion, a gain of $400 million over the prior fiscal year. All well and good.

But the state failed to come close to hitting its investment target of 7.65 percent. That’s not so good.

Mystifying, isn’t it?

Manipulating Numbers

Welcome to the fuzzy world of actuarial pension and retirement funding. Depending on the statistics and the way they are manipulated, your retirement accounts may be in fine shape or in the toilet.

Since the media loves bad news, headlines routinely give prominence to the state’s unfunded pension liabilities of nearly $19 billion.

What’s not headlined is the slow progress being made in reducing that actuarial shortfall or the misleading way that number is bandied about.

What needs to be kept in mind is that pension investing has an extended timeframe. That applies to the state retirement fund as well as folks contributing to their IRAs.

As the retirement board’s manual notes, “The investment strategy is long-term, recognizing that the average age of the System’s liabilities is relatively long.” It also notes that taking a long-term view of pension investments “could result in short-term instability.”

Ups and Downs

Over the past five years, the state’s investment returns have been darned good, raising the market value of its holdings from nearly $32 billion to nearly $46 billion. That’s an annual average rise of 9.4 percent.

Let the good times roll!

Yet good times don’t last forever. And they didn’t in the last fiscal year, with stock markets delivering an uneven performance. That downer has persisted into this year, too.

The moral is not to get caught up in year-to-year market reports and investment reports. As long as returns are heading upward by a decent amount over the decades, things will come out all right in the end.

What worries critics of the state retirement fund is that the program falls far short of being fully funded. That actuarial ratio stood at roughly 69 percent last year (or 72 percent if you look at the fund’s market value).

Ample Reserves, Ample Time

Here’s the catch: The state doesn’t need to be fully funded today. It has ample reserves to write current pension checks to former teachers and state workers. The rest of its IOUs will come due in the years and decades ahead as the fund’s active members start to retire.

Some will do so soon but the bulk of active teachers and state workers will be at their jobs for one, two or three more decades. The retirement fund has plenty of time to accumulate the dollars needed to write those future checks.

Pension reforms instituted belatedly by the General Assembly in 2011 are now kicking in. This means higher contributions from active members, a less generous pension plan for newer workers and an increase in what state government pays into the pension fund each year.

Past and present legislators, though, often tend to play games with the state’s annual contribution to the retirement accounts. Sometimes they re-write the law so they can adjust the state’s payment by $50 million, $100 million or more to bolster a favored program or balance the budget.

Governors over the decades have been known to play that game, too.

Still, the state’s pension board seems on a path to reach 80 percent of full funding within 10 years and 100 percent of full funding within 25 years — regardless of the ups and downs of the stock market and politicians’ tendency to see the state’s mandatory pension payments as “flexible.”

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Hogan Column — Readers Respond

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 5, 2015 — It’s clear I hit a nerve with my Aug. 3 column on Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and what I perceived as a new, sharply condemnatory tone in his statements.

If you are on my blog, politicalmaryland.com, you can read the printable responses sent to the website — 14 of them — in the right-hand column under the heading “Recent Comments.”

Gov. Larry Hogan

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. shows off his new look for reporters.

Here are other reactions that I’ve received:

Kevin wrote: “I was very sad and disappointed in the tone of your column about Governor Hogan.

In a follow-up missive, he elaborated: “As the son of a high school graduate and a high school dropout, your comment, ‘most with limited education’ is mean-spirited and what are your facts behind this quote? People can have limited education and have decency and intelligence. Does it make you feel good to belittle individuals and groups?”

Jeffrey wrote: “I used to always agree with you, but perhaps not as much in recent years. . . However, I APPLAUD you for the outstanding journalism vis a vis Gov. Hogan.  Many of us have diseases or injuries but don’t use that as an excuse for anything.  There is no reason to treat the Governor any differently just because he has cancer. I am glad you continue to be hard-hitting, honest and objective.  You are a credit to your profession. Personally, I feel that the Governor should resign and take care of himself rather than short-changing the state with his current limited leadership.  (It was quite ‘limited’ even before he was diagnosed!!).  And, yes, he has become mean and nasty and it’s only going to get worse.”

Mike, on the other hand, let Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com (which ran the column) know he was outraged: “There was a lot of false information used and it was clearly emotional. . . ‘Uneducated white people’? Really? LOL good luck with that. Welcome to the world of propaganda. Not everyone can handle responsibility.”

A tweeter wrote: “Closing the Baltimore jail was absolutely the right decision. Hooray for Gov. @LarryHogan

David H. chimed in: “I disagree with your article wholeheartedly. Your way of thinking is what has screwed up Maryland in the first place. People are tired of the media and their ‘opinion.’ I’m glad we cleaned house in Maryland, it was high time. I’m glad BALTIMORE is on Larry Hogan’s agenda. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake  is a worthless dud and has done nothing to support her constituents. Look at the condition of the police department, countless murders every day and the roads, just to name a few.  Not Larry Hogan’s fault.  It’s an absolute mess. The liberal agenda is to blame.  Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Your way doesn’t work. Never has, never will.”

S.B. sent in this: “Mr. Rascovar, I have never heard of you before but after reading the article you so viciously wrote recently regarding our fine governor, I had to respond. Gov. Hogan is the best thing that has ever happened to MD. No doubt you are a Democrat who has enjoyed the one-party rule in our state that we have suffered through forever here in MD. Finally we have a fair-minded governor whose decisions are well thought-out, common sense, non-political, and looking out for the best interest of all Marylanders. For the record, Donald Trump is a joke. . . Larry Hogan is the real deal, sorely needed in this world of such political divisiveness that you obviously relish. Larry Hogan compromises, he reaches out & brings people together. He has in his administration people of other political parties, and, yes, he makes tough calls when needed. A great leader for MD, how refreshing. . . If only we had such a leader in the White House. You should be writing instead about our president; your article actually sounds like him & the way he has ruled our country.

Here’s a response from N.L.: “It would be a miracle if someone were to read your column and see you refer to angry black voters as people with a ‘limited education.’ We all know you do not have the guts.  Of course, according to elitists like you, citizens without advanced degrees are too stupid to be involved in their own government.”

D.R. pounced on the column this way: “First impression from skimming your piece: Look at the pot calling . . . Takes one to know one. Looks like the media double standard again.  I can’t see how Hogan’s purported unilateral dissing of Democrats is much different from O’Malley’s treatment of Republicans.”

John W. wrote: “I am saddened that you made mention of Gov. Hogan’s illness in your attempt to explain his decisions. By any measure, this is way out of bounds. You are better than that and you know it. Someone once said that the last defense to a weak argument is to get personal in criticizing your opponent.”

On that point, R.M. added, “Even for you, the attack on Gov. Hogan was pretty superfluous.”

M.B.. took a different slant: “Yeah. I agree he could have done things better. Could those actions be his response to us acting like the Republicans in Congress? I really hope that he will be more collaborative with Democrats in the General Assembly and with the locally elected officials, otherwise we will be in deep. . . . I live in Howard County and I see the same situation between the county executive and the county council. I am a tried-and-true Democrat and the election of Gov. Hogan in a Democratic state has to tell us something. The question is what?  We can’t do anything until that question is discussed, analyzed and answered.”

Andrew F. takes a broader view of the situation: “I tend to blame both [Martin] O’Malley and [Anthony] Brown. Gov. O’Malley seemed to burn out rather early and he left Mr. Brown high and dry, never letting him share in the spotlight.”

Patricia R. emailed this one: “And so the real Hogan emerges. . . Is anyone really surprised? If the state’s Democrats had actually put forth a decent candidate, rather than assuming that Anthony Brown, who had accomplished nothing during his terms as Lt. Governor, we might have a governor who actually understood government. Now we’ve got Dirty Larry — at least for the next four years.”

Meyer M., meanwhile, resented discussion of Hogan’s health issues: “What ugly comment to refer to his chemotherapy! The New, Nasty Larry Hogan.”

Bob B. sent this message: “I like Hogan’s smoke screen. Let B-more rot. They are just killing their own. Go Hogan for 8 more years!!!!”

T.V. had this response: “I must say I’m not shocked by the disappointment I had when I read your article. You had many good points, and in some of them I agree with you even as a Republican. However, while to a point bringing up his illness might not be taboo and to some point should be discussed, the way you did it (as perceived by me) seems like a childish attack, and quite frankly why I don’t pay much attention to the mainstream or left-leaning medias. I know asking you to change the way you write to show more respect to elected officials will be moot. I will just say the negative overtone I felt makes me not want to agree with anything else you might bring to mass attention whether it is warranted or not. Hopefully this might at the very least cause a brief millisecond of counter-thought before you attack a man’s character rather then his actions.”

J. M. added another perspective: “A big standing ‘O’ for ya for the nasty-Hogan column and follow-up. If there’s anything that makes me livid about current GOP politics (well, there are a LOT of things), it’s how everything is reduced to emotionalism and whether you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ someone. It’s a way of avoiding real policy discourse, which of course they can’t engage in because they have no policy ideas beyond opposing anything Obama, immigrant, urban, female, etc. They latched onto a single line in your column, re: chemo, to avoid actually disputing the entire list of policy decisions you detailed concerning the Red Line, etc. Anyway, glad you struck a nerve, and I just wish there were as organized an on-line commentariat on the other side as there is with the whole Red State set.”

Then there’s this from R. L.:  “Add to the Hogan list not only the abrupt curtailment of a recent, difficult-to-achieve toll increase, which jeopardizes the near-  and long-term maintenance needs for most [toll] facilities, but also virtually eliminates replacement or some other solution to the problems of the Nice Bridge [in Southern Maryland] (for which there would have been major federal funding), but also the abrupt firing of probably the most highly qualified and effective airport administrator in the country — a finalist for [the] Atlanta [airport’s top job] who turned down [offers to run Chicago’s] O’Hare Airport and under whose leadership BWI had its greatest growth phase. Really hard to understand.”

Wiedefeld Firing

I concur on his last point. Sadly, no reporters have delved into the heavy leadership turnover in the state’s Transportation Department and the mysterious firing of Paul Wiedefield at BWI, a true all-star airport and transportation administrator.

Gov. Harry Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland

Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge crossing of the Potomac River in Southern Maryland

R.L. also raises a valid point that Hogan’s decision to lower tolls will have serious long-term consequences. Critical bridge repair/replacement work on the ancient Harry W. Nice Bridge over the Potomac River and the aging Thomas Hatem Bridge on U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River are badly needed. But now there’s no money to do the job.

All that may be fodder for future columns. For now, it’s good to hear from readers, whatever their points of view.

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Hogan’s Health and Harsh Words

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 4, 2015 — Complaints and harsh words have poured in about my Aug. 3 column, for daring to raise the possibility that Gov. Larry Hogan’s health may have played a role in his turn toward nastiness.

Let’s be clear: The governor’s treatment for late Stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma cannot be ignored.

Everyone wishes Hogan a speedy return to good health. Doctors I’ve spoken to have been optimistic about his recovery chances given today’s advancements in chemotherapy.

But the situation — and its ramifications for governing Maryland — cannot be swept under the rug.

Gov. Hogan and Corrections Secretary Moyer at jail announcement. Hogan's Health and Harsh Words.

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and Corrections Secretary Stephen Moyer at Baltimore jail announcement.

Could the governor’s unseemly swipes at Democratic leaders be partly related to how he’s feeling during and after his intense medical treatments?

It is a possibility. You don’t have to agree, but it’s a thought worth considering — which is why it was raised ever so briefly (17 words) in my previous column.

Governor’s Response

Hogan’s spinmeisters used my column to reject the notion he has turned from Mr. Nice to Mr. Nasty. In a Facebook posting, Hogan asserted:

“In spite of 10 days of 24 hour chemo I haven’t become mean and nasty, I’m still the same nice guy I have always been, and we are still accomplishing great things for Maryland.”

He also defended his failure to notify Democratic legislators before announcing the closing of the Baltimore City Detention Center. Why? Because he didn’t want to tip off the gangs about what was about to happen.

Fair enough.

Gangs and the City Jail

For the record, here’s what Mr. Nice Guy had to say in blaming the disgraceful gang problems of the city jail on former Gov. Martin O’Malley:

“When the first indictments came down the previous governor called the case ‘a positive achievement in the fight against gangs.’ It was just phony political spin on a prison culture created by an utter failure of leadership.”

The facts tell a slightly different story that Hogan conveniently ignored in his spiteful comments.

It was O’Malley’s corrections secretary, Gary Maynard, who uncovered the deplorable Black Guerilla gang control of the city jail and called in the FBI. Maynard wanted to act immediately to end the gang’s stranglehold on the detention center and prosecute the guards involved, but the FBI insisted on months and months of further investigation.

This long delay was a huge, inexcusable mistake, but that failure of leadership should not be blamed on O’Malley. Hogan needed to point an accusing figure at the FBI.

Attacking the Opposition

It was easier and more useful politically to demonize the opposition party leadership.

Thus, Hogan politicized the jail-closing announcement in terms that pilloried both O’Malley and the Democratic legislature.

Such “smack-down” rhetoric doesn’t further cooperative governance.

Two of the most level-headed Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Ed De Grange of Anne Arundel County and Sen. Guy Guzzone of Howard County, co-chaired a commission that studied the city jail situation and developed a long-term, bi-partisan solution.

Hogan not only disregarded their work, he bragged about the fact he had “never even looked at” this plan.

Legislative Response

Is it any wonder the co-chairs accused Hogan of having “circumvented the Legislature” and of  “making decisions behind closed doors”?

That last accusation has surfaced on other Hogan decisions, too. He doesn’t seem to believe in listening to a wide-range of divergent views before making up his mind. That approach is not always helpful.

Closing the Baltimore jail was absolutely the right decision. Hooray for Hogan.

He is correct it should have happened long ago — perhaps even under the governorship of the last Republican chief executive, Bob Ehrlich.

But there was no reason to turn the announcement into a political tongue-lashing.

It only exacerbates the growing gulf between the governor and Democratic lawmakers, the very people he needs if he hopes to make headway in achieving his large-scale goals for Maryland.

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