Tag Archives: Doug Gansler

Maryland’s Political Prison Puzzle

Corrections Dept.By Barry Rascovar / June 11, 2013

THERE IS NO WAY Gov. Martin O’Malley can make Maryland’s prison embarrassment disappear. Lord knows he’d like to. If he’s serious about running for President, O’Malley must explain why he was so slow to respond to the growing influence of street gangs within state prisons over the past seven years.

He can’t blame this one on his Republican predecessor, Bob Ehrlich. The problem started to build back then but there were clear signs early in O’Malley’s first term gangs had become dangerously powerful inside prison walls.

He can’t blame all his tardiness on the FBI, which took two long years to finish its investigation at the Baltimore City jail. Yes, that stymied efforts to remove suspect prisoners and guards. But there were plenty of other steps — much-needed additional training, rotation of guards not under investigation and a review of the leadership team’s skills, abilities and honesty.

An outside audit earlier this year revealed a shocking lack of attention by the O’Malley administration to the basics: filthy cells, no standard security checks, antiquated security gates and guards ignorant of an inmate’s rights. Part of this is due to budget cuts during the Great Recession and the chronic under-funding of prison programs by government.

However, the audit also revealed a top-heavy, inefficient management structure. How could O’Malley’s highly touted State Stat gurus miss this? Why wasn’t this costly, ineffective administrative excess done away with during the state’s deep recession?

It’s a dilemma for the governor and a headache for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who may have made a mistake with his early announcement of candidacy to succeed O’Malley.

Brown is in the uncomfortable posture of explaining the prison scandal on his watch. Attorney General Doug Gansler’s shot across O’Malley’s bow in asking for an independent inquiry is just the beginning of the political broadsides.

Yet O’Malley has got a right to be angry at the way federal investigators trumpeted their indictments. Instead of holding a joint press conference and sharing credit with state leaders, who had requested the investigation after all, the FBI and U.S. Attorney for Maryland decided to grandstand. They left the clear impression O’Malley and his underlings were asleep at the switch.

That may win federal officials in Maryland gold stars from their Washington bosses but it soured future relations with Annapolis.

Digging out of this mess won’t be easy, as House Speaker Mike Busch noted. One legislative hearing is the beginning of public discussions, not the end.

There are serious mid-level management weaknesses. Those can be corrected by prisions secretary Gary Maynard. He can institute tough new security measures to eliminate most contraband cell phones and drugs. Downsizing the prison bureaucracy is essential. A little money from the governor can make the Baltimore jail cleaner and safer.

Getting rid of dishonest guards at the Baltimore City Detention Center is a must but it brings up an equally serious problem: how to replace them? The pool of guard applicants in Baltimore City who are drug-free and have clean records is small, especially among males. Most applicants come from the same neighborhoods as the inmates. That’s not a healthy situation.

Female applicants in Baltimore City, meanwhile, tend to have self-confidence problems and are susceptible to the amorous sweet-talk of manipulative inmates. Recruiting better guard applicants won’t be easy and won’t happen quickly.

O’Malley erred several times by not personally taking control of the situation and setting the record straight as to who started this investigation, his earlier steps to attack the gang issue and his determination to continue the effort. He could have done this after he returned from his economic development trip to Israel or at last week’s legislative hearing.

Instead, he chose to govern through press releases. It didn’t work.

On this one he needs to lead the crusade. If not, he’ll be dogged by prison scandal questions at every campaign stop across the country — and his preferred successor will be bogged down trying to explain what went so wrong that it left Maryland in an embarrassing national spotlight.

 

 

Remarkable (?) Week in Maryland Politics

By Barry Rascovar / June 8, 2013

We are 13 months away from Maryland’s primary and already we’ve been hit by a tsunami of election news. What’s remarkable about the Week That Was is how unremarkable these developments turned out to be:

• Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced his running mate — Howard County Executive Ken Ulman — a fact we have known for weeks.

• That same day, Harford County Executive David Craig announced for governor on the Republican ticket. He’s only been campaigning for the past year.

• Not to be upstaged by Craig, Annapolis Del. Ron George announced for guv, too. He made his intentions clear weeks ago.

• Attorney General Doug Gansler lobbied for media time by putting out a statement that he isn’t running for a third term. Surprise, surprise: He’s been campaigning for the top state job since the day he was sworn in.

• These events were as predictable as Howard County Sen. Allan Kittleman letting it be known he’s announcing for County Executive on Tuesday. That’s been no secret for months. So was Harford County Sen. Barry Glassman’s County Executive announcement Saturday evening.

• Adding to the fun, Michael Steele — one-time lieutenant governor, controversial national Republican Party chair and TV commentator — told MSNBC he’s thinking about a run for governor in 2014. His name has been mentioned in that capacity since last fall.

What do these happenings have in common?

All these politicos crave publicity. None is a household word. It’s going to be a long, long campaign.

Brown once again proved inept at staging events. When he announced for governor he did so late on a Friday afternoon — terrible timing for TV and print reporters. Next, he buried the most important news angle of the day, the decision by Congressman Elijah Cummings to endorse Brown.  Then he staged his Ulman running mate announcement the same day as Craig’s media blast.

Craig won that match-up despite being a Republican in a solidly Democratic state. He got great front-page coverage in The Baltimore Sun; Brown-Ulman found themselves buried inside.

Gansler shouted loud enough to remind voters he’s still around. He doesn’t plan a formal announcement until the fall so his pitch to the media — “I’m not running again for A.G.” (ho, hum) — got his name in the papers and took some of the edge off the Brown-Ulman event.

Similarly, George couldn’t let Craig soak up the media attention since he sees the Harford County Executive as his main GOP opponent. So he sounded off this week, too.

Steele watched all this happening and decided to send his own media message. Best not to be forgotten.

No one said anything new. Everything was predictable and, frankly, uninspiring. Brown called Ulman a great county executive. Ulman promised he’d do great things in Annapolis, just like Gov. Martin O’Malley. Craig said he’d cut spending and stop Maryland’s Democratic wave of tax increases. George said he’d get rid of taxes, period. Steele said he’s ideally suited for the job.

Anyone still awake?

The only surprise this past week was Montgomery County Sen. Rob Garagiola telling us he’s stepping down as Majority Leader and won’t seek re-election. Ever since he lost in an upset to John Delaney for Congress last year, rumors swirled about Garagiola’s future. Now he is recently divorced, starting a new law practice and with no prospect of upward political mobility. You didn’t need a crystal ball to see his announcement coming.

Here’s another “surprising” development this week: Robin Ficker, Montgomery County’s professional gadfly, former delegate and political pest, is running for Garagiola’s seat. To make matters worse, his son, Flynn Ficker (say that name fast 15 times) is running for delegate in the same district.

One Ficker is too much for most sane voters. Now we might wind up with two?

Mercifully, the week ended without any more scintillating announcements.

 

Political Dimensions of Jim Smith’s New Job

Jim Smith

By Barry Rascovar / June 2, 2013

BY CHOOSING former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith as Maryland’s new transportation secretary, Gov. Martin O’Malley solved multiple problems, especially for his governor-in-waiting, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

O’Malley left the top MDOT post vacant for nearly a year. Smith, apparently, had been the governor’s choice but never accepted until after the governor did the heavy lifting in pushing a multi-year gas tax increase through the General Assembly, After all, what fun would it be to serve as MDOT secretary without $$$ to upgrade Maryland’s transportation network?

Smith has modest experience dealing with state legislative issues outside of Baltimore County delegation matters. He has minimal background in the inner workings of the statewide transportation program and its political underpinnings. He would have been of little use to O’Malley in lining up votes for a hefty gas tax increase.

Now it’s a different story. The gas tax rises by four cents a gallon on July 1 and there’s much more to come in future years. There will be a steady flow of construction announcements and ribbon cuttings. It’s a great time to be Maryland’s transportation boss.

Smith brings administrative skills to the job. He’s also a fiscal conservative, which means projects that bring the biggest bang for the buck will take priority. And he’s a first-rate political operator who knows how to massage egos and quietly seek common ground.

It’s an ideal landing spot for Smith, who sorely missed public service. It’s one of the most important posts in Maryland.

In selecting Smith, O’Malley did a big favor for his lieutenant governor. Smith might have ended up running on Attorney General Doug Gansler’s ticket next year, which would have aided Gansler in the Baltimore suburbs on election day.

But now Smith is locked into the O’Malley-Brown administration. If he wants to keep his job after 2014, Smith knows he’s got to working tirelessly to elect Brown. That could prove pivotal in Baltimore County, which often decides state elections. Smith also has a good chunk of campaign cash lying around, which might help Brown gain name recognition.

O’Malley owed Smith big-time, Without Smith’s hard work and vocal support for the Baltimore mayor, O’Malley might have lost in 2006 to incumbent Gov. Bob Ehrlich. In that election, Smith managed to hold Ehrlich to a draw in his home county, which locked up the race for O’Malley.

The governor has re-paid Smith with perhaps the biggest plum in state government. For at least the next 18 months, Jim Smith will be a big wheel in Annapolis.

 

The Race Is On!

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

By Barry Rascovar / May 21, 2013

LT. GOV. ANTHONY BROWN couldn’t even wait till the Preakness had run its course at Pimlico to announce the obvious: he’s running for governor next year.

He did it in an unorthodox fashion that some labeled bizarre. His kick-off took place at one of the worst possible media times of the week – very late on a Friday afternoon – and at an out-of-the-way location for much of the Maryland media (Largo). Then he followed the next day with mundane mini-events in Frederick and Baltimore City.

Except for the lavish praise from his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Brown’s kick-off was underwhelming.

He cast himself as the uber -liberal in the race (though he’ll have trouble out-liberaling Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County, who says she, too, wants to be governor). Just think of him as “O’Malley-plus.” He wants more, more, more of every social welfare program that’s good for Maryland, and more, more, more of what O’Malley did as governor.

As far-left Congresswoman Donna Edwards told Brown’s kick-off crowd, “He cares about the things we care about.”

That pretty much boxes in Brown in this campaign. He’s running after the left-of-center votes within the Democratic Party, building on a foundation of African-American support and labor unions.
That’s not a bad strategy given the liberal leanings of Democrats in Maryland.

The problem is that this leaves his main opponent, Attorney General Dough Gansler, a huge opening to sweep up the rest of the Democratic vote on June 24 next year. Thanks to the departure of Comptroller Peter Franchot from the governor’s race, Gansler can slide to the center, or even slightly right of center on some issues.

He’s already done that in opposing O’Malley’s gasoline tax increase and he’ll do it on other issues, too. He wasn’t involved in crafting and pushing through controversial legislation over the past seven years. But Brown was.

Gansler now can portray himself as a populist critic of the big-spending, tax-raising O’Malley-Brown administration, just like Franchot would have done. At the same time Gansler has assiduously developed an enviable record as attorney general on social issues that plays well with liberal Democratic groups.

He also has a huge fund-raising lead that could grow now that Brown has a campaign staff to support for the next 13 months. Plus, Gansler won’t be tied down in Annapolis from January through mid-April while the legislature is in session. That could be a big advantage for a high-energy campaigner like Gansler.

Lurking on the horizon is another contender who could throw both Brown’s and Gansler’s plans into disarray: Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County.

In many ways, a Ruppersberger candidacy re-shuffles the political deck. He’s far better known than Brown or Gansler. Ruppersberger’s familiarity among voters is such that most of them refer to him simply as “Dutch.” That’s a big advantage.

Ruppersberger would immediately become the Baltimore-area candidate, but also the top vote-getter in rural parts of the state. He’s a “blue-dog Democrat” in Congress, a fiscal moderate slightly to the right of center but with a sparkling social record both on Capitol Hill and as Baltimore County Executive.

That could be a tough combination to beat, especially since Gansler and Brown (and Mizeur) are likely to split the Washington area vote. Meanwhile, Ruppersberger will pick up a good chunk of Baltimore City votes, thus denying Brown a Prince George’s County – Baltimore City axis.

The congressman’s real strength comes from the Baltimore suburbs, which he has represented for years – Harford County, Anne Arundel County and particularly heavy-voting Baltimore County.
He could become the immediate favorite – if he runs.

Giving up a seat in Congress is no small sacrifice, especially when you’re been a Big Wheel on the prestigious House Intelligence Committee. But Ruppersberger is term-limited on that panel next year, meaning a return to his status as a run-of-the-mill member of the minority party.

Besides, Ruppersberger loved running Baltimore County where he displayed solid skills as a manager and chief executive. He also would enter the race unencumbered by the controversies that now dog O’Malley and Brown – especially the tax issue.

That’s only one reason next year’s gubernatorial election is so hard to predict. Gansler has hordes of campaign cash. Brown has O’Malley’s and party establishment backing. Ruppersberger has the broadest potential voter base.

Will Dutch ditch the race? Will Mizeur steal votes from both Brown and Gansler? Will Democrats support an O’Malley clone or is voter fatigue setting in after two terms?

And how will Democratic turnout affect the outcome?

Legislators unwisely pushed the 2014 primary back to late June rather than in the fall. That’s a big change for voters. History shows early Maryland primaries attract small turnouts. History also shows the lowest turnouts are usually in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City.

That does not bode well for Brown, who also is fighting the curse of Maryland lieutenant governors. Not one has succeeded his or her boss in the state’s top job.

So take your pick. Next year’s race for governor will be just as tough to handicap as Oxbow’s unexpected 15-1 triumph in this year’s Preakness classic.