Tag Archives: Doug Gansler

The Political Isolation of Garrett County MD

By Barry Rascovar

April 21, 2014–There is nowhere in Maryland more isolated and cut off from the rest of the state than Garrett County.

Distance (200 miles uphill from Baltimore) and the Alleghany Mountains present formidable barriers for the hardy souls who inhabit the state’s western-most county.

Garrett County-map of state                                                       Isolated Garrett County (in red)

It is a large, forested county with prime tourist attractions in the summer (Deep Creek Lake) and winter (Wisp ski resort).

But its tiny population, not surprisingly, is shrinking. Help from Annapolis has been modest at best.

Only Pittsburgh TV News

Here’s how bad the situation is for Garrett residents: They are considered part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan census area rather than the Cumberland census tract. The only news they get from cable TV is from Pittsburgh.

They see plenty of TV ads about Pennsylvania’s heated race for governor but not a peep about Maryland’s coming elections.

Only the recent intervention of the internet had allowed Garrett citizens to keep in touch with news from Baltimore and Annapolis on a timely basis.

Adding to the county’s isolation is a political reality: Garrett is overwhelmingly Republican. Democrats are outnumbered 2-1. The mountain politics practiced there are decidedly conservative and at odds with the ruling liberal Democratic majority in the megalopolis far to the east.

Speaking “Out West”

I ventured “out west” this past week to address the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. Due to a late-arriving bout of laryngitis, those packed into a conference room at Wisp had to listen to my croaking, cracking voice. Their patience and tolerance were impressive.

Democratic (and Republican) voters in this county of 30,000 souls will be casting their ballots with scant information about the statewide candidates. No Democratic candidate for attorney general or governor is going to devote limited resources and time to educate Garrett voters.

So these mountain voters are pretty much on their own learning about the candidates. Of the three Democrats running for governor, only Attorney General Doug Gansler seems to offer a ray of political moderation. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown knows little about the county and will continue the beneign neglect policy followed by the O’Malley administration toward this small, conservative, Republican county.

On the Republican side, neither Harford County Executive David Craig nor businessman Larry Hogan Jr. of Anne Arundel County are targeting Garrett as a priority. How voters gather data for an informed election-day decision is a bit baffling.

Garrett County

Despite its isolation from the rest of the state, Garrett has much to teach those living on the other side of the Eastern Continental Divide.

Only in conservative Garrett have elected officials taken the lead in making sure their children receive a college education.

Every Garrett high school graduate knows the county will pick up the cost (after grants and scholarships have been applied) to guarantee college study or training at Garrett’s community college.

Garrett College Offerings

That small institution, with a main campus and three outreach centers, has developed a reputation for its programs in “Adventure Sports;” natural resources and wildlife technology, and business and information technology.

This is an aggressive, pro-active plan other Maryland counties should emulate. Government ensures full tuition payment for any Garrett high school graduate. In Maryland, that’s revolutionary.

Garrett’s leaders are providing their youth with skill sets needed to man tomorrow’s plants and offices. Government is playing a pivotal role in developing a local workforce that makes economic development appealing.

Garrett County map

That may not fit the mold of a “conservative” government, but it is a practical, real-life recognition that government is there to help people, not erect barriers to their success.

That same mind-set is evident in the kinds of individuals Garrett sends to Annapolis. Yes, these are conservative thinkers. Yes, they are rock-ribbed Republicans. But Garrett’s mountain life adds a bit of cooperative pragmatism to the mix.

Both Del. Wendell Beitzel and Sen. George Edwards are hard-core conservatives. They also are realists. They understand they are vastly outnumbered by Democrats and that taking rigidly ideological positions in total opposition to the Democratic majority will get them nowhere.

They are willing to collaborate and compromise on many issues. They understand their county’s many needs. They also understand that Annapolis works best when delegates and senators try to bridge the political gap through dialogue and finding common cause.

Collaboration Pays Off

Edwards and Beitzel work with Democrats. It pays off in small ways that mean much back home. In the most recent legislative session, Garrett took home an extra $464,000 for its schools, which suffer unfairly from a state aid formula that penalizes counties with shrinking school populations.

That’s a victory for common sense and the two legislators’ ability to show their colleagues that a real need exists for extra school assistance.

On other issues, Garrett’s politicians are simply outnumbered. Garrett is the one county that could benefit substantially from shale-oil hydraulic fracturing. But the O’Malley administration seems ready to impose the toughest “fracking” regulations in the country. That may be overkill.

The net result will be to scare off drilling companies, which already have flooded into Pennsylvania and Ohio. Garrett’s natural resources will be left untapped and its landowners will be denied an economic benefit that could give the county a much-needed economic boost.

Where’s O’Malley?

The O’Malley administration’s hostility toward fracking and other business development programs that involve environmental issues has left Garrett in a precarious position. Its economic issues aren’t being addressed by the governor.

There is scant attention paid to finding ways to reunite Garrett citizens with the rest of Maryland. Garrett’s economic needs just aren’t high on O’Malley’s priority list.

Maybe things will change with a new administration in Annapolis. But don’t count on it.

What Garrett could use is another William Donald Schaefer in the governor’s mansion, a chief executive who identifies with the state’s most isolated and needy jurisdictions and who comes into office with a “do it now” attitude.

Sadly, politicians like Schaefer don’t come along often. Then again, perhaps the next governor will seize the moment to show that he understands the importance of lending more of a helping hand to Maryland’s western-most county.

Barry Rascovar can be reached through his blog-site, www.politicalmaryland.com, or at brascovar@hotmail.com.

Voters must choose governor’s image

Barry Rascovar For the Community Times

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

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

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

Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

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

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

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

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

Gansler’s Direct Approach

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

His tone is soft and relaxed.

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

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

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

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

Brown’s Indirect Approach

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

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

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

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

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

Choice of Image

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

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

# # #

 

 

What MD’s Early Polls Tell Us

‘Undecided’ Wins in a Romp

By Barry Rascovar

Feb. 21, 2014 — PREDICTING the outcome of Maryland’s primary races for governor based on polls four months in advance of the election is a little like wagering today on the outcome of May’s Kentucky Derby. The odds are strong you’ll get it wrong.

Early political polls are highly inaccurate. That’s clear from past Maryland gubernatorial elections for open seats. Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III easily outdistanced his rivals early in 1978, according to the polls. Lee lost.

Blair Lee III

Blair Lee III

Twenty-four years later, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was a prohibitive early poll favorite to succeed Gov. Parris Glendening. It never happened.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

 Name Recognition Counts

Early poll results depend on a candidate’s name recognition more than anything else. Since neither Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown nor Attorney General Doug Gansler has had high media visibility over the past seven years, it’s not surprising the winner of both the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun early polls is Undecided.

On the Republican side, the big winner once again is Undecided at 68 percent.

The same holds true for attorney general. Still, name recognition counts. State Sen. Brian Frosh, state Del. Aisha Braveboy and state Del. Bill Frick aren’t household names by a longshot. Neither is state Del. Jon Cardin — but his uncle, Ben, the United States senator, is.

That explains Jon Cardin’s preeminence in recent polling, though Undecided wins that race in a romp with 69 percent.

When Voters Pay Attention

In truth, these campaigns won’t begin in earnest till the General Assembly goes home in early April. At the moment, few people are paying attention.

Brown continues to promote a sense of inevitability. He’s got all the establishment endorsements, especially the governor’s. So why not just crown him as the next governor?

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

Gansler keeps trying to make up for a terrible start last summer (remember “beachgate”?), but any time he says something sensible the Brown camp hysterically denounces it as a hideous crime against humanity.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

You can’t place much confidence in early polls. Still, Brown is obviously ahead in the first part of this race — despite growing criticism about his lack of leadership in the disastrous Obamacare sign-up program in Maryland.

The X Factor in June

What will people care about in late June when the primaries take place? That could prove pivotal. Are they content with the direction of Maryland under Gov. Martin O’Malley? Or do they want a different look and feel to state government?

Neither candidate is proposing a dramatically new path. Brown and Gansler are liberal Democrats, but the attorney general has displayed greater openness to new ideas regardless of ideology.

Polls won’t decide this election. Turnout and effective advertising will.

The June 24 date for this year’s gubernatorial primary is unheard of in these parts. That’s awfully early. This could lead to abysmally low turnout.

Outstanding Questions

Who does that help? Probably Gansler, since Brown’s strongholds have a history of lower voter participation.

Can Gansler persuade Democrats in rural counties and the Baltimore suburbs to vote heavily for him? If so, he might win. He remains the underdog.

Who will the third candidate in this race, Del. Heather Mizeur, hurt the most? She represents Montgomery County — Gansler country — but she appeals to the most ardent liberal Democrats who otherwise would vote for Brown.

Much is riding on which candidate develops the best marketing plan and produces the best ads. Brown is selling himself as a continuation of the liberal O’Malley years. Gansler is the “change candidate” who must go on the offensive to show that Brown is an empty suit.

Which candidate will capture the public’s imagination? Which candidate will come across as most likeable and knowledgeable in the televised gubernatorial debates?

Art, Not Science

It’s helpful to keep in mind that recent polls only give us a Polaroid snapshot of the governor’s race as of the moment — and nothing more. Many things will change in the coming months. The closer we come to June 24, the more meaningful polls become.

But polling is far from perfect. Pollsters can get it wrong. That’s because accurately gauging public sentiment and voting trends is very much an art and not a science.

#     #     #

 

 

Brown’s Healthcare Albatross

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com

January 20, 2014 — MARYLAND’S LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, Anthony Brown, has a problem that won’t go away — his still unexplained leadership role in the state’s disastrous Obamacare rollout.

This is the biggest sticking point in Brown’s run for governor. It could become an insurmountable obstacle if public attention remains focused on those computer glitches and poor sign-up results.

Week One of the General Assembly session brought no relief.

Brown testified before two panels on a Band-Aid measure to rescue perhaps thousands of Marylanders who couldn’t sign up for health insurance because of the state’s horribly dysfunctional software product.

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on healthcare bill

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on health care bill

Reading from a prepared text is one of his strong points. Answering questions isn’t. Brown ducked the few hard queries tossed his way and headed for the door without fully admitting his responsibility for Maryland’s $170 million embarrassment.

He left Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein behind to make a heartfelt apology, give an explanation of what went wrong and take the heat.

What Wasn’t Asked

This left a number of key questions hanging:

  • Was Brown a figurehead leader of the health care insurance rollout?
  • What did Brown know about the behind-the-scenes fiasco that was building over the past year?
  • When did he know it?
  • Why didn’t he roll up his sleeves and get fully engaged in the administration’s most important project for which he was the designated point man?
  • Why was he left out of the loop?

We may never get complete answers.

While a few legislative committees will poke around in the state’s Obamacare closet, this won’t be a Watergate-style investigation.

Too many Democrats already have endorsed Brown for governor. They will take care not to make the lieutenant governor look bad.

Questions Won’t Go Away

Yet unless the sign-up numbers improve dramatically — not likely — the public will receive constant reminders of Maryland’s health care belly-flop during the General Assembly session.

And once the legislature goes home, the governor’s race will heat up, with Brown the center of attention.

Attorney General Doug Gansler, his chief rival, will spend most of his $6.3 million treasury reminding voters of Brown’s leadership role in the state’s biggest disaster since the savings and loan collapse in the 1980s.

Televised debates between the gubernatorial candidates could provide a flashpoint. It may be the only time Gansler gets to directly point a finger at Brown for his culpability in the health care disaster and demand an answer.

Thanks to the Washington Post, we have a picture of the chaos and astounding incompetence that surrounded Maryland’s ill-fated launch of its health insurance exchange. (A grand total of four people signed up that first day.)

And thanks to the Baltimore Sun, we have a reminder of how screwed up the health care debacle remains. (Inadvertently directing people trying to sign up to call a Seattle pottery shop. The snafu continued for four months. A day after The Sun alerted state officials, the poor Seattle shop owner was still getting calls from frustrated Marylanders.)

Then today, the Post and  The Sun reported another screw-up. Up to 1,078 informational packets, containing the new Medicaid sign-up’s name, date of birth and Medicaid ID number, were mailed by the state to the wrong addresses — exposing those people to possible identity theft and delays in receiving medical care. The state blamed it on a “programming error.”

If people’s health weren’t at risk, these human absurdities would make a hilarious “Seinfeld” episode.

Brown’s Dilemma

The self-identified leader of this healthcare reform, Anthony Brown, remains all but invisible as the situation unravels.

How is he going to explain all of this?

At last week’s legislative hearings, he refused to apologize for what happened. He pretty much pointed an accusatory finger at everyone else for hiding the cold, hard truth from him.

Still, Brown appears well positioned to capture the governorship.

He’s got the establishment’s political endorsements. He’s got Gov. Martin O’Malley doing everything he can to ease his path to victory. He’s got more money to spend on his campaign than Gansler.

Yet it might not be enough if Anthony Brown continues to wear that conspicuous health care albatross around his neck.Albatross hung around his neck

#  #  #

You can read Barry Rascovar’s other columns at www.politicalmaryland.com

 

 

 

 

 

MD’s Fundraising Loophole

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 27, 2013 — LT. GOV. ANTHONY BROWN has a key advantage over his main foe for governor, Attorney General Doug Gansler.

Brown can continue raising millions of dollars during the General Assembly session through his conjoined ticketmate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

But Gansler cannot solicit funds during that 90-day period because his political partner on the ballot is Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s County. Both are elected state officials and thus are barred from doing any fund-raising until mid-April.

Loophole in State Law

It’s a quirk of Maryland’s campaign finance law that is inherently dangerous to the public good.

It contradicts the spirit and intent of the campaign law that seeks to curb fund-raising that could involve quid pro quos on bills.

The state elections board ruling notes that since Ulman isn’t an elected state official he can continue soliciting campaign funds during the legislative session, even though his ticketmate, Brown, fundraising for that 90-day period.

Brown-Ulman campaign

Brown-Ulman campaign

It’s a preposterous situation, one that Linda Lamone, the state elections board chief, should have recognized. To condone such a devious and mischievous loophole gives Brown, through Ulman, a powerful tool for leveraging special interests during the General Assembly session.

What makes this so ridiculous is that every dollar raised by Ulman directly benefits Brown. It’s a charade to pretend otherwise.

The two men are part of a united pairing on the ballot. You can’t vote for one without the other. They share a single ballot line. They are joined at the head, hip and heart.

To pretend the two are separate candidates is laughable. Brown couldn’t even file for governor without Ulman being there to sign on the same dotted line. They might as well call their joint candidacy “Brulman.”

Gansler’s allies filed suit to overturn Lamone’s implausible ruling. On moral and ethical grounds, attorney Dan Clements should win that lawsuit. Legally, though, Brown and Ulman may find a way to retain their fundraising advantage.

Clear and Present Danger

To allow one member of a gubernatorial team to avoid the fundraising ban could lead to scary situations.

When the Brown-Ulman team’s aggressive fundraisers call on special interests that have important bills pending in the legislature, those groups will eagerly write big checks.

Otherwsie, they risk angering Brown and the O’Malley administration. Suddenly, bills they are pushing could die, and bills they oppose could miraculously pick up the votes needed for passage.

There’s no way to segregate Ulman’s fundraising from Brown’s campaign. Whatever is collected during the legislative session will be spent by Brown’s minions, not Ulman’s. They are a collective “we,” not two individual “I”s.

A similar situation exists in the Republican primary: Harford County Executive David Craig can continue raising funds during the 90-day session but his running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio of Talbot County, cannot.

Craig-Riccio-Haddaway team

Craig-Riccio-Haddaway team

That gives Craig’s fund-raising team added leverage in approaching special interests eager to win favor with another delegate during legislative deliberations.

Unfair?

You bet.

Unethical?

Yup.

Illegal?

If it isn’t, it should be.

#  #  #

If you enjoy reading this column, sign up for instant delivery of all future columns. Just click on the “Subscribe” button in the right-hand column. Best of all, it’s free!

Oh, it’s also  OK to tell others about this website. I could use some word-of-mouth support. Thanks.

Mizeur’s Promises, Dirty Tricks and more

By Barry Rascovar

THE BIDDING RACE is on. Democratic candidates for governor are seeking to one-up each other on new programs and tax cuts.

All of them ignore the fact Maryland’s finances are unsteady and could continue that way. The next governor is likely to face a structural deficit exceeding a half-billion dollars.

Yet none of the Democratic candidates wants to face that reality.

Instead, they pander to voters.

Mizeur’s Promises

Del. Heather Mizeur leads the pack as far as spending on feel-good projects with money the state doesn’t have .

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

That’s not surprising, since Mizeur is on the far left of the Democratic spectrum.

Take pre-kindergarten. Both Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown want to expand it to more four-year-olds. They would dip into casino revenue to pay for it.

What they don’t say is that this will come at the cost of other education programs dependent on the same revenue stream — or the next governor will have to renege on a pact with Maryland’s horse owners and breeders to use a portion of casino tax receipts to resurrect the state’s troubled racing industry.

Mizeur, meanwhile, goes a step further. She wants pre-kindergarten for three-year-olds, at a cost of a whopping $279 million.

She neglects to say how she will pay for this while overcoming a half-billion-dollar structural deficit.

She also wants to boost teacher pensions and salaries through a “Thornton 2.0” commission. The first commission boosted education spending by billions without worrying about how to pay for it.

That seems to be Mizeur’s recipe, too.

She does want to soak the rich — a millionaire’s tax and combined reporting for multi-state corporations. Neither is a giant money-raiser, and combined reporting turns into a money-loser during recessionary times.

Tax Breaks For Nearly Everyone

What really sets her apart, and represents her most preposterous proposal, is her plan to give 90 percent of Marylanders (originally billed as 99 percent) a tax break.

This idea places her firmly in the Heather-in-Wonderland camp.

She will cut the income tax for 9 out of every 10 Marylanders by $112 million.

How will she pay for it? Through the new millionaire’s tax.

It sounds great except for one thing — her millionaire’s tax nets Maryland only $10 million. She’s woefully short of paying for her election-year giveaway.

She also proposes a tax break for small businesses, a vast expansion of the state’s existing $250 million a year school construction program — without listing a funding source — more money spent on job training and massive new transportation projects.

The funds will come from heaven, apparently, like snow flakes.

#     #     #     #

MIZEUR ALSO made headlines by choosing a running mate with absolutely no government or elective experience.

It’s the worst lieutenant governor selection since former Ambassador Bill Shepard picked his wife, Lois, as his ticket partner in 1990. *

Once again, Mizeur identified herself as an issues candidate who isn’t serious about getting elected. The vast majority of voters have never heard of her running mate (quick quiz: can you give me his full name?). **

It’s a sign of desperation or a sign Mizeur is running as the gay-rights, super-liberal who simply wants to send a message.

#     #     #     #

MIKE PANTELIDES, a former newspaper ad salesman, is the next mayor of Annapolis. To say he is unprepared for the job is an understatement.

Mike Patelides

Mike Patelides

It might not matter.

His predecessor, and loser by 59 votes in this month’s election, Josh Cohen, has done a fine job turning around a dysfunctional, deep-in-debt city government and putting it on solid financial footing.

All that progress came at a cost. Cohen rubbed too many Annapolis traditionalists the wrong way. Too many tax increases. Too many progressive changes.

Cohen actually wanted to rejuvenate the Annapolis harbor area. He wanted to allow a continuing care community to locate in the capital city.

But progress in Annapolis is usually resisted. Longtime residents fight change and protest the slightest alteration to the status quo.

No Progress on Key Issues

They would rather continue Main Street’s decline as a sad collection of tee-shirt and souvenir shops, the town’s terrible traffic and parking headaches and its lack of a coherent plan for the future.

So they dumped an experienced elected official for a 30-year-old neophyte. He’ll ride on the coattails of Cohen’s successes, avoid controversies and reduce city government’s reach.

Downtown Annapolis will continue its regression and residents will continue to insist that nothing change.

#   #   #   #

BOO OF THE MONTH goes to the Maryland State Republican Party for reaching a new low during the Frederick town election this month.

The state GOP paid for a round of robocalls to Frederick voters castigating one Democratic candidate for failing to pay her property taxes.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What Happened to Accuracy?

Nobody at the state GOP bothered to do any fact-checking. A phone call from the brother of a Republican candidate running for town council was enough to prompt the robocalls.

A newspaper story in May reported the unpaid property taxes, which was enough to spur the Democratic candidate to pay her overdue bill on July 5.

But since no one at the state GOP worries about truthfulness, the robocalls went out wrongly accusing the Democratic candidate of being unable to pay her taxes. (She still won.)

Let’s not allow facts to stand in the way of a good slur. Dirty politics survives in Maryland, thanks to the state GOP.

# # #

LESS THAN ADMIRABLE tactics are surfacing in the governor’s race, too.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has a video intimidator stalking every move of Attorney General Doug Gansler.

The Brown folks chalk it up to “everybody does it” in today’s politics.

Jeff Moring 'tracking' Doug Gansler

Jeff Moring ‘tracking’ Doug Gansler for Brown campaign

That’s not correct, which is beside the point: It’s inappropriate and smacks of harassment.

It also points to a “win at all costs” philosophy within Brown’s camp.

This is the equivalent of paparazzi stalking actor Alec Baldwin and intrusively sticking cameras in his face until he explodes with a barrage of x-rated language.

You’ve got to wonder if Brown intends to employ similar tactics as governor.

#     #     #     #

GANSLER DOESN’T WIN a blue ribbon, either, for his shoddy effort to knock down a Brown proposal exempting most veterans from paying state income taxes.

It’s another tax cut Maryland cannot afford, and that’s how Gansler should have attacked this proposal.

Instead, he issued a statement blaming Brown for long delays in processing disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office in Baltimore .

Gansler intimated that Brown — a state official — has a magic wand for fixing problems at the federal level. And then Gansler said as governor he could fix it!

Now there’s a whopper.

The statement smacked of desperation on Gansler’s part. It certainly didn’t get his stumbling campaign headed in the right direction.

#####

*Republicans Bill and Lois Shepard got 40 percent of the vote in the 1990 general election against William Donald Schaefer.

**For readers who didn’t cheat by googling the answer, Heather Mizeur’s lieutenant governor running mate is Delman Coates, pastor of a Clinton, Md., mega-church.

Read more columns from Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com.

Gansler, Cardin, Obamacare and More

Odds and Ends

By Barry Rascovar

October 31 — THESE ARE THE the times that try Doug Gansler’s soul. Has anyone ever had a bumpier stretch in recent Maryland political history?

The attorney general has been mocked, frequently, on national TV programs for his lame explanation of his appearance at, and hands-off attitude toward, a raucous high school graduation beach blowout this summer.

That followed his argumentative responses to State Police complaints that Gansler is a reckless, back-seat driver oblivious to traffic laws and speeding tickets.

Well, here’s some good news: Gansler’s lack of identity with most Maryland voters (72 percent either didn’t recognize his name or were neutral toward him in the latest Gonzales poll) is a thing of the past.

EVERYONE knows Doug Gansler today.

Jay Leno jokes about him. Local radio talk shows conducted saturation bombing. The story’s gone international.

Gansler explaining himself

Gansler explaining himself

Of course this means Gansler’s negatives have soared, too. Only four percent in the Gonzales poll said they had an unfavorable impression of Gansler. That number is sure to skyrocket.

Here’s the really good news for Maryland’s twice-elected attorney general: Believe it or not, we are still eight long months from the Democratic primary. That’s a couple of lifetimes in politics.

If Gansler can regain his equilibrium and develop a cogent and sensible response to his recent gaffes, we may yet have a closely contested election for governor next year.

*     *     *     *     *

IT WON’T BE easy, though, for Gansler to put this controversy behind him. The media is in a feeding frenzy.

 It’s “get Gansler” time.

The Baltimore Sun delivered a hatchet job on Sunday that sought to compare Gansler’s moments of poor judgment with criminality by other elected officials.

In its print edition, the front-page headline read, “Weathering a political storm.” It was an even-handed account of how officials recover from political gaffes. But the comparisons made in the article, and especially the photos placed next to the front-page text, equated the attorney general’s modest mishaps to far more serious misdeeds that sent Marvin Mandel, Marion Barry and Dale Anderson to prison and Bill Clinton to the brink of impeachment.

Since when is failure to break up a high school graduation beach party a criminal offense?

How does violating traffic laws equate with Mandel’s criminal corruption conviction, Barry’s drug conviction or Anderson’s jail time for corrupt activities while in office?

None of them ever ran for higher office after their scandals, as Gansler is now doing. That’s another unfair comparison.

Clinton’s sex scandal does raise troubling character issues, but comparing that national moment of political angst to Gansler’s situation is ludicrous — and laughable.

Still, the damage has been done.

Just to rub it in, Sunday Sun editors also ran a 1,400-word critique on the way visual television imagery is responsible for Gansler’s pounding.

It was an interesting but way-too-long essay. And, of course, the editors couldn’t resist re-running that condemnatory photo of Gansler at the teen beach party. Another Sun “gotcha” moment.

Lost in the editors’ haste to pile on was The Sun’s October 24 editorial on the Gansler brouhaha — a measured, carefully nuanced analysis about difficult choices parents have to make while raising teenagers. It was a far cry from the tabloid journalism the newspaper’s editors presented to its readers on Sunday.

*     *     *     *     *

QUICK QUIZ: Who is leading the race for Maryland attorney general?

According to the latest Gonzales poll, the winner, by a mile, is that old, reliable favorite — “Undecided”.

Gonzales Polling CompanyThe results show that few voters even know who’s running for A.G.

The only reason Del. Jon Cardin polled 25 percent was due to his well-known uncle, the U.S. Senator from Maryland. Still, “Undecided” beat Jon Cardin in the poll by nearly 2-to-1.

It’s a good thing the office in question isn’t much more than a glorified law firm serving state agencies.

Voters aren’t likely to learn a lot about the candidates running for attorney general by the June 24 primary. It’s not a pressing matter for them. Besides, the gubernatorial candidates will dominate media attention and saturate the state with commercials.

Thus voters could end up picking an attorney general based on “the name’s the same” or the candidate who appears on the most local endorsement tickets.

It’s unlikely the outcome will be decided by deep voter knowledge of the A.G. candidates.

*     *     *     *     *

AN INSURANCE FRIEND reminds me that all the buzz about the number of Obamacare sign-ups since October 1 is highly misleading and meaningless.

As anyone in the insurance game will tell you, a new client doesn’t count until that individual writes a check to cover the first month’s invoice.

This won’t occur until close to the sign-up deadlines under the Affordable Care Act — late December and late March.

Until then, ignore the sign-up propaganda emanating from the White House, the State House and Republicans saboteurs. Two months from now we’ll know a lot more about the success or failure of this dreadfully managed rollout.

*     *     *     *     *

ISN’T IT IRONIC that no one is protesting as Baltimore City is about to spend at least $83 million on “smart” meters to help the city accurately bill residents for water usage?

When BGE and PEPCO sought to install similar “smart” meters to measure precise, real-time electric use, alarmist groups protested before the Public Service Commission about alleged health hazards from the meters’ wireless signals.

Smart Meter Protest in California

Smart Meter Protest in California

Those strident protests persuaded the PSC — despite the lack of scientific evidence — to impose needless smart-meter restraints on the utilities that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

As the Tea Party and smart-meter protesters have learned, it pays to yell at the top of your lungs.

Baltimore City officials are getting off lucky.

###

You can subscribe to receive all future columns. Click the subscribe button in the right-hand column of this website, politicalmaryland.com.

Gansler, Craig Stumble in MD Governor’s Race

Red-Light Runner vs. Environment-Killer

By Barry Rascovar

October 20, 2013 — EARLY STUMBLES IN Maryland governor’s race are expected. Sometimes, though, those slips have lasting consequences. Already, both Attorney General Doug Gansler and Harford County Executive David Craig have shot themselves in their political feet — wounds that might prove fatal.

Gansler’s trip-ups could be symptoms of a larger problem.

When the story broke that he’d been acting like an impatient cowboy in his state-owned car — sirens blaring, charging through red lights and far exceeding the speed limit — he lashed out at the Maryland State Police and accused the governor of leaking news about critical State Police incident reports to help Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s gubernatorial campaign.

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Gov. Martin O’Malley had kept this an internal matter for two years until John Wagner of the Washington Post made a public information request for documents that show how Gansler’s hyper-active personality extended to ordering troopers to ignore traffic and safety laws simply because he was in a hurry.

The reports — by at least seven different troopers — are highly unflattering.

Gansler needed to apologize, promise to end his back-seat driving commands and move on.

Instead, he launched a PR effort to downplay and discredit the State Police documents. Bad move.

Then he blamed Brown and O’Malley for planting the story for political purposes. Second bad move.

Next, he partially apologized only to go on TV and blast “henchmen” in the State Police for trying to destroy him politically. Terrible move.

Unprecedented Response

It set off a volcanic reaction within the State Police and an unprecedented 500-word broadside denying Gansler’s assertions and strongly defending the troopers for doing their jobs. The statement vociferously rejected Gansler insinuations the Maryland State Police had entered the gubernatorial political fray.

Gansler repeatedly mishandled his responses.

He allowed the controversy to overshadow his selection of Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s County as his running mate. Moreover, it left the strong impression he may not be ready for prime time as governor.

Doug Gansler is a fast-talking, quick-paced lawyer who got in trouble. and was reprimanded in 2003, by the state’s highest court for mouthing off inappropriately about court rulings he didn’t like while Montgomery County state’s attorney.

He’s an aggressive campaigner (and an aggressive lacrosse player, too) who appears equally aggressive on the highway — and in his public comments.

That may not be the sort of person voters want in the governor’s mansion.

Would he run political red lights as chief executive, trample on protocol and offend legislators to get his way?

Would he act impetuously on important issues instead of following the rules of the road in the State House?

O’Malley’s Role Questioned

Gansler may be right that O’Malley and his minions leaked word of the State Police reports — though it is more likely a veteran reporter like Wagner got word of Gansler’s misbehavior from an angry state trooper or a Brown ally with State Police connections.

More curious is the lengthy State Police statement criticizing Gansler. The name of Marcus Brown, the State Police superintendent and an O’Malley appointee, appears nowhere on this document. The superintendent was conspicuously missing from this food fight.

It’s also next to impossible to release such a harsh statement without first gaining approval from the governor. The timing of the release — right before Gansler’s event introducing Ivey as his running mate — is equally suspect.

In public, O’Malley kept above the fray, simply praising the state troopers and the leader of the executive protection unit for providing quality security.

Gansler sees all this as more evidence of “dirty politics” and “dirty tricks” similar to an earlier episode where a video suddenly surfaced showing Gansler dismissing Brown as a do-nothing lieutenant governor.

But without concrete evidence to support his claims, Gansler is left with egg on his face yet again.

He’s gotten into a pitched battle he can’t win. The longer he continues to deny and denounce, the longer and deeper the damage.

There’s plenty of time for his wounds to heal. But there’s also a chance these self-inflicted injuries could fester if Gansler isn’t careful.

Turning to the GOP Race

David Craig’s early mistakes could be equally serious.

He’s got a dual problem: Winning a Republican primary against far more conservative  candidates in an era of successful Tea Party challenges in GOP primaries across the country, and then presenting a moderate face in the general election.

Swing hard right in June, march toward the center in November.

Harford Co. Exec. David Craig

Harford Co. Executive David Craig

Craig is seeking to out-conservative his primary foes but he may already have created such a right-wing image that he’s killed his general election chances.

He’s been the favorite to win the primary. But the growing influence of Tea Party activists and ideological purists may have made him leery of being viewed as a soft-spoken moderate conservative.

So he has strayed farther and farther to the right in his statements, especially on the environment.

To date, Craig has called for eliminating state-mandated charges on impermeable surfaces (the so-called “rain tax”); repealing one of the key environmental statutes protecting the Chesapeake Bay, the Critical Areas Law; wiping out a law banning increases in stormwater runoff, and abolishing a law setting limits on farm fertilizer and waste runoffs.

He’s also called for tighter time limits on those receiving food stamps and other benefits. And late last week he said the state should defy the federal government and ignore Washington’s Common Core standards for raising education performance in public schools.

In one-on-one conversations, Craig sounds a lot more reasonable and moderate. He’s not abandoning the Chesapeake Bay, he says. He simply wants programs that are effective in cleaning up this vital estuary. He comes across as a pragmatist, which has defined much of his public career.

The trouble is that in issuing harsh right-wing statements on environmental, health and education issues, Craig cannot retract them after the June primary.

Democratic Response

No Democratic or independent voter who cares about the environment is going to forget that Craig called for abolishing the pivotal Critical Areas Law. To them, that’s equivalent to trashing the Chesapeake Bay.

Democratic politicians will tar Craig for being an anti-environmentalist. He’ll be portrayed as an antiquarian seeking to erase a half-century of progressive legislation in Maryland.

None of what Craig proposes is realistic. A heavily Democratic legislature wouldn’t tolerate the notions he is advancing. He’s seriously harmed his electability.

The irony is that we still don’t know the strength of Tea Party politics in Maryland GOP primaries. It could be loud but localized. If that’s the case, Craig is needlessly pandering to the absolutists while losing any chance of pulling off a November miracle.

###

Maryland Governor: The Race is On

Establishment vs. Outsider?

By Barry Rascovar

September 30, 2013 — NOW THE RACE for Maryland governor starts for real. The two main contenders are in the ring for what promises to be an aggressive contest race that has no precedent in Maryland history.

What makes the 2014 gubernatorial election so unusual is the timing.

Ballot Box

Ballot Box

Rather than holding the primary in September as is traditional, this one takes place June 24. That early date will cut down substantially on turnout, play havoc with fund-raising and compress the full fury of the campaign into about 80 days once the General Assembly ends its session on April 7.

Making History

It’s also unusual in that the leading contenders hold two jinxed state offices.

No lieutenant governor has ever been elected to succeed his boss in Maryland.  Blair Lee III, Sam Bogley, Joe Curran, Mickey Steinberg, Kathleen Kennedy Towson and Michael Steele all had dreams of sitting in the governor’s chair but never did.

No attorney general has won election to the state’s top office in 75 years, either. Most settled for prestigious judgeships but a few considered running or failed trying — Tom Finan (1966), Bill Burch (1978) and Steve Sachs (1986). None made it past the primary. (The last attorney general elected governor was Herbert R. O’Conor in 1938. Ironically, he was succeeded eight years later by William Preston Lane, who had been attorney general  just before O’Conor.)

So Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler not only are battling against each other but also battling against history.

Two-Way Contest

They are far and away the ones to watch.

Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County is a peripheral issues candidate who is making this high-visibility campaign her political swan song. Republican candidates can’t come close to winning in Democratic Maryland unless there’s a inside-the-party revolt against the Democratic primary winner.

That’s not likely to happen.

Even worse, Republican candidates are taking extreme positions to appease Tea Party voters, thus eliminating their already slim chances. (More in a future column.)

Divergent Strategies

Brown prematurely kicked off the campaign by declaring in May — a stunningly early announcement.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

He followed by making an early choice for a running mate and announcing a slew of endorsements meant to show his bona fides. Yet few voters pay attention so far from Election Day.

Now, though, the media has turned its sights on the gubernatorial race because a second heavyweight, Gansler, has announced. He’s running as “the outsider” against the “entrenched political establishment.”

It’s an apt description given that Brown had been running a “coronation campaign” stressing the inevitability of his elevation.

Gansler wasted little time debunking that campaign myth. It’s now a two-person race with Mizeur providing intriguing side-commentary.

Brown is Gov. Martin O’Malley’s anointed choice. The governor will work hard to get his No. 2 elected. Why not? Brown claims credit for all of O’Malley’s achievements and then promises voters he’ll “do more.”

In fact, Brown was not a major contributor to most of O’Malley’s legislative successes and only played a role on a few issues late in the administration’s second term.

But O’Malley is joined at the hip with Brown and will push hard to make his No. 2 look good in the next legislative session. It’s the best way for the governor to ensure his legacy is embellished and extended.

Gansler the Outsider

Gansler had even less to do with O’Malley’s achievements so he can rightly claim the title of outsider. Indeed, the more endorsements Brown announces, the more Gansler can rail about the political establishment’s cabal to keep control of the state’s highest office.

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Brown’s approach is to lock in all the top Democratic endorsements and ride to victory on the strength of O’Malley’s liberal record, the political establishment’s clout with voters and the unified support of Maryland’s large African American community, especially in Prince George’s County.

That leaves Gansler room to appeal to moderate and conservative Democrats who have been largely abandoned by O’Malley and Brown and to his strong base in Montgomery County.

The attorney general has staked out positions slightly to the right of O’Malley — opposing the gas tax increase, criticizing the governor’s embrace of a “zero tolerance” arrest policy, proposing a corporate tax cut, urging steps to bolster manufacturing and criticizing O’Malley’s prison policies.

At the same time, Gansler isn’t abandoning his long-standing liberalism. (He was, for example, one of the first state officials in Maryland to endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy and to endorse gay marriage). He spoke out before others on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 an hour. He proposes legislation to protect women from domestic violence and implement transparent policies for state government.

Two Big Tests

The next General Assembly session will test both candidates. Gansler will pick and choose where he wants to attack the O’Malley-Brown administration. Conversely, Brown has to show success in getting administration bills enacted. Much of what transpires for those 90 days will be colored by the campaign for governor.

Gansler has the clear edge in fund-raising at the moment. If that’s still true come May, he will have the upper hand in advertising his name and face on local television. At a time when neither candidate is a well-known commodity, that’s a big advantage.

What may settle the race are the campaign debates. Gansler is quick on his feet and a fierce advocate; Brown can be an impressive speaker when reading from a script.  How they match up on issues voters care about and how they come across to a large debate audience could determine the outcome.

###

Who Does the Truth Hurt — Gansler or Brown?

By Barry Rascovar / August 19, 2013

THAT OLD ADAGE, “the truth hurts,” could prove a double-edged rapier for Maryland’s main gubernatorial contenders, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Yes, Gansler was too blunt in addressing a group of volunteer supporters. He dared voice what many have been saying privately — that Brown’s sparkling resume masks the fact he has only a smattering of substantive accomplishments.

Attorney General Doug GanslerAnd yes, Gansler blurted out what is all too clear but rarely discussed so openly — that Brown hopes to win election by touting the fact he would be Maryland’s first black governor.

As the attorney general put it, such a “first” is a “laudable goal” but “you need a second sentence” that describes what you’ve done to earn it.

Brown’s Response

Brown’s camp Immediately sought to sensationalize Gansler’s comments. A Brown spokesman said the attorney general was “out of control,” that he should not “attack other Democrats,” that Gansler is “the only one talking about race,”  that Gansler had “belittled the record of a war veteran who served in Iraq.”

Oh, please. Cue the national anthem.

Apparently it would be unpatriotic, un-Democratic, and downright racist to vote for someone with loose lips like Gansler.

While this attack-dog rhetoric makes for a neat propaganda pitch, the truth isn’t nearly so one-sided.

Brown’s campaign promotes the fact he’d be the first black Maryland governor. (Although with a Swiss mother and a Jamaican father it is a stretch to call him an African American.) His followers are trying to rally black voters to his cause by making that very claim. On Friday, the candidate himself even encouraged black county officials to support their own kind.

It’s no small point, either, with up to a third of the Democratic primary vote likely to come from African Americans.

Segmenting the Vote

Brown is quite openly targeting the state’s large African American vote centered in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. To deny that obvious strategy is to deceive Marylanders of your true intentions.

There’s nothing wrong in segmenting the voting populace that way. Gansler is seeking support from the state’s Jewish voters and lawyers. Del. Heather Mizeur is going after the gay and lesbian vote. (This would be another “first” for Maryland.) It is a time-honored tradition — you solicit backing from demographic groups where there is a personal affinity.

Lt. Gov. Anthony BrownAt this early stage, we don’t know what else Brown will add to his demographic strategy. He’s been mute on his campaign platform other than continuing O’Malley’s liberal social spending policies. He’s yet to outline what he’d do differently or how he’d pay for new initiatives.

But we do know Brown’s main objective is to win a lopsided vote from Maryland’s blacks. That is his key to victory.

So when Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, an ardent Brown supporter, goes overboard and accuses Gansler of “playing the race card,” she had better re-examine how Brown is running his own campaign. The lieutenant governor already is playing that game.

What Has He Done?

Gansler’s second point — Brown’s thin list of achievements next to his own — is what he wants to impress on voters.

Brown’s tenure in the House of Delegates wasn’t marked by great personal accomplishments. His nearly seven years as lieutenant governor have witnessed lock-step loyalty to O’Malley’s programs, continuous speech-making and a few items he claims credit for. It’s not a gourmet menu he offers voters.

Even Brown’s military service has been greatly magnified.

While stationed in Iraq for a year as a colonel in the Army Reserves, Brown wasn’t battling armed Shiite dissidents. Instead, he was shuttled by armored caravan from the heavily fortified U.S. headquarters in the Green Zone to a government-protected building where he  educated Iraqi lawyers on how to run a democratic justice system.

It was important work that seriously disrupted his home life and required enormous personal sacrifice. But this alone doesn’t qualify anyone to be Maryland governor.

The Fallout, Pro and Con

Will Gansler’s “gaff,” as newsies are calling it, damage his gubernatorial chances?

Yes and no.

He has given the Brown camp juicy ammunition that will help pump up enthusiasm for Brown in African American communities. Gansler’s words will be repeated often during Brown’s get-out-the-vote drive next year.

On the other hand, whoever leaked the tape of Gansler’s remarks may have done him an enormous favor.

Gansler is now talking openly about looking beyond a candidate’s race, ethnic origin or sexual orientation to the issues. It’s now mandatory he prove to voters his record in public service (as attorney general and state’s attorney for Montgomery County) is superior to Brown’s.

It may come with the added necessity of going negative — telling Democratic voters what Brown hasn’t done during his two terms as lieutenant governor.

Gansler already is seeking to put Brown on the defensive by asking what the lieutenant governor would do about Maryland’s prison crisis. Thanks to Gansler’s “gaff,” the campaign for governor could develop a sharpened focus sooner than anyone expected. It also guarantees next year’s gubernatorial debates will be humdingers.

Politicians as Truth-Tellers

What the attorney general told his volunteers was refreshing in its directness and honesty. He didn’t demean his opponent or call him names. (Listen to the tapes.) He simply made a statement about Brown’s record and campaign strategy.

Such truth-telling can be a hit with voters. Just ask New Jersey’s outspoken governor, Chris Christie, perhaps the most popular Republican in America. Look at the notoriety Vice President Joe Biden receives when he lapses into political candor.

And remember this state’s fascination and love affair with William Donald Schaefer when as governor and mayor he said what was on his mind, even if it wasn’t politically correct.

Remember, too, that we’re still in the “dog days of August,” many, many months removed from the time when voters look seriously at the candidates.

But we now can say that the first “shot across the bow” in Maryland’s gubernatorial campaign has been fired.

###

Sign up for automatic delivery of future columns by clicking on the Subscribe button on the www.politicalmaryland.com website.