Tag Archives: election

Insulting Post Endorsement

By Barry Rascovar

May 13, 2014 — Forty-five days before Maryland’s primary election (May 11), the Washington Post endorsed in the all-important Democratic race for governor.

Washington Post logo

Nothing wrong in selecting Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. He’s the clear front-runner.

But for a major newspaper to make its endorsement selection six weeks in advance of an election is stunning — and highly risky.

The final weeks of any campaign can be unpredictable.

Anything Could Happen

What if news surfaces that deeply embarrasses Brown? What if it turns out Brown was more involved in Maryland’s dysfunctional health exchange than he admits? What if a scandal erupts in the O’Malley-Brown administration? What if Brown performs poorly in the June 2 debate?

That early endorsement could look ludicrous.

Does the Post consider the rest of this campaign irrelevant? Apparently.

The newspaper’s editorialists seem to regard Maryland with an arrogance and disdain that insult its Free State readers.

Virginia Endorsement

When the Post endorsed for Virginia governor last year, it did so 23 days before the election, not 45.

That Virginia endorsement, running 1,008 words, gave a detailed analysis of the two candidates. The Post’s superficial endorsement for Maryland governor ran just 467 words.

Rather than place its Maryland endorsement prominently at the top of the page, as the Post routinely does for elections in Virginia and the District of Columbia, this one was positioned as the last of three editorials — almost an afterthought.

The editors didn’t even bother spelling out the word “Maryland” in the headline, though they had oodles of extra space.

District Endorsement

When the Post endorsed for D.C. mayor earlier this year, its editorialists produced a carefully reasoned, 1,082-word analysis. Clearly, the writers took great care crafting it — which clearly wasn’t the case with the Maryland governor’s endorsement.

I helped produce editorial pages for the Baltimore Sun for 20-plus years as deputy editorial page editor under the legendary Joe Sterne. I understand the pressures that come with newspaper endorsements.

But the Post’s effort last Sunday was inexcusable in its timing. Anything can happen over the next six weeks.

Weak Arguments

Sadly, the editors based their endorsement on a scant one-hour televised debate that contained more fluff than meat.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

The editorial’s vapid reasoning was a marvel of shaky logic. It brought guffaws from two dozen readers who wrote critical email responses — all of them mocking the Post’s sloppy arguments.

Anthony Brown indeed may be “the best of three Democratic candidates,” but the Post made some laughably weak assertions:

  • He’s “a mainstay of the Democratic establishment and a paragon of the status quo.”

That’s a two-edged sword, as the Post went on to illustrate in mentioning Brown’s role in the miserably managed health exchange rollout. Does this mean the Post is endorsing the status quo in Maryland?

  • He is part of an administration that has a number of “substantive accomplishments.”

A point well taken.

  • Brown “strikes us as a conscientious public servant with broad experience.”

True, but what has he actually accomplished in all those years? That’s the crucial element the Post needed to address.

  • Brown may not have “offered a soaring vision” but “he has also not overpromised.”

Is that the Post’s way of supporting an “O’Malley Lite” administration for Maryland?

  • Brown has “the right approach” to help Maryland “compete with Virginia for jobs,” which would “foster a business climate more conducive to employment growth.” He “strikes us as the best candidate and the one most likely to improve what Democratic leaders concede is the state’s anemic track record in attracting and retaining jobs and employers.”

Those last editorial points are the most baffling. According to the Post endorsement, “the focus of Mr. Brown’s campaign” is a more positive business climate.

You could have fooled me.

Brown and Economic Growth

Brown’s statements, campaign ads and campaign documents don’t emphasize economic development but rather improving life for Maryland families, especially in education.

Is the Post’s candidate improving Maryland’s business climate by calling a plan to lower the state’s heavy corporate tax rate “a $1.4 billion corporate giveaway”?

Maryland’s corporate tax is 37 percent higher than Virginia’s. That’s a huge economic disincentive. No wonder Virginia cleans Maryland’s clock.

Brown’s jobs plan involves increased support for a smattering of business development programs. It will cost an average of $28 million annually for four years. That’s a skimpy investment. It won’t make Maryland more appealing than Virginia.

Paying for New Programs

The Post editorial blasts Attorney General Doug Gansler for lacking “a convincing plan” to pay for his corporate tax cut.  Yet Brown’s payment method for his jobs plan is equally lacking.

Brown wants to offset his jobs program costs through tax receipts from construction of the Purple and Red light rail lines. Those are phantom numbers.

Purple Line

First, little new tax money will be generated by light-rail construction in the early years of Brown’s administration. Delays are inevitable. The heavy work is at least two or three years away.

Second, revenue forecasts based on economic “multiplier” calculations rarely prove accurate.

Third, Brown’s revenue source dries up when construction stops. At that point, he’s left with a big revenue hole.

Fourth, essential federal aid may not come through. The Surfacing Transportation Act expires Oct. 1. Republicans and Democrats are light years apart on what to do. Gridlock could mean major cuts in transit aid.

Red Line logo

That could doom or delay Maryland’s projects, thus erasing Brown’s revenue for his jobs program.

None of this is mentioned in the Post endorsement. Don’t let facts get in the way of a hastily crafted editorial.

There are plenty of solid reasons for a newspaper to support Anthony Brown. Unfortunately, you won’t find many of them in the Post editorial.

The Post’s Predicament

Now the newspaper’s editorialists have to hope Brown doesn’t screw up before June 24.

Instead of critiquing campaign developments with a critical, impartial eye, the newspaper’s editorials must defend Brown if scandal erupts, or refute charges against him. The Post becomes Brown’s defender and advocate.

It’s a wound one of the nation’s best newspapers inflicted on itself by endorsing prematurely.

Holding off until later in the campaign would have given Post editorialists better insight into Brown.

It would have made for a stronger, more thoughtful endorsement.

The newspaper could have produced for readers a more complete picture of the governor’s race.

That opportunity now has been forfeited.

# # #

 

 

Reviewing the First Governor’s Debate

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com

May 12, 2014 — Now the important part of Maryland’s gubernatorial election campaign begins. The kickoff took place last week with the first televised debate among the three Democratic contenders.

Gubernatorial Debate May 7

The Scene at College Park

Though far from inspiring, that debate finally focused voter attention on the election. Equally important, it riveted the attention of reporters, who are now intently following comments and policy statements of the three candidates.

There’s roughly six weeks until voters must decide in the June 24 primary. And given the massive majority held by Democrats in Maryland, the results of the primary could be the ball game.

Notes From Debate No. 1

Here are some observations on the first debate, held at the University of Maryland, College Park:

  • Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown tried mightily, but no one drew blood.

Gansler delivered some strong blows on Brown’s flubbed role in Maryland’s disgraceful health exchange rollout, but the issue was largely forgotten after the first ten minutes.

Gansler-May 7 debate

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Brown tried to hammer Gansler for not stopping a teen beach party, but the attorney general muted that attack by reminding the audience how difficult it is to make the right decisions when it comes to raising kids.

Del. Heather Mizeur decided to step aside while the two other candidates went after one another.

  • No one delivered a compelling message.

What we heard was standard campaign rhetoric the candidates have voiced hundreds of times before. New ideas never entered the debate. The candidates rushed through their one-minute responses so rapidly there was no time to expound on specifics.

  • Brown “won” by not losing.

As the clear front-runner, the lieutenant governor had the most to lose but he didn’t make a major blunder and stuck to his prepared responses and attacks on Gansler.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown-May 7 debate

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

He didn’t give many Democratic voters a reason to vote for him, but he also didn’t give them much to dislike, either.

  • Mizeur “won” by refusing to attack her opponents.

She tried to show she was the issues candidate but in the process revealed an extraordinarily narrow agenda — women’s rights and wage disparity.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

  • Gansler “won” by presenting himself as the one candidate willing to criticize the O’Malley-Brown administration.

He objected to the administration raising taxes 40 times and worsening Maryland’s anti-business reputation. He suggested voters might want to try a different approach.

  • Kudos to NBC’s David Gregory for running the debate with a firm hand.

No one was allowed to abuse the time limits. When attacks were made, Gregory gave the other candidate a chance to respond. He followed up  on hot-button issues with additional questions. Most questions from the panelists were on the mark — except for the dumb Redskins question that wasted valuable time better devoted to pivotal issues confronting the next governor.

  • All the candidates got away with stretching — or misplacing — the truth in their remarks.

Gansler misled viewers about the reasons he was sanctioned when Montgomery County state’s attorney by the Maryland Court of Appeals for ripping into defendants in criminal cases at press conferences. We haven’t heard the end of this.

Brown inaccurately claimed credit for fixing the health exchange, saying he “changed leadership” (no, the exchange leader quit) and all is now hunky dory. Hardly. He also claimed leadership of the base-realignment effort in Maryland. That’s overstating the case.

Mizeur gave dubious reasons for legalizing marijuana. Her rationale: It is “less harmful to the body than alcohol or tobacco.” (And that makes it a wise public health policy?) Then she switched direction and said legalizing pot would generate enough revenue to pay for all her new programs. (Ugh.)

  • All three blew it on their opening and closing statements.

Gansler: He’ll give “voice to the voiceless” and stand up to unnamed “special interests.”

Brown — He’ll “build a better Maryland” and continue the direction of the current administration.

Mizeur — She’ll “bring results for Maryland families.” She promises “policy, not platitudes.”

Those clichéd statements explain why a majority of voters remain undecided. They may look for the “none of the above” button on primary day.

  • Finally, there’s one thing the candidates agree wholeheartedly about: the winning political color this campaign season is Columbia Blue.

During the debate, Mizeur, Brown and Gansler all displayed that unique shade of blue-gray named after my New York alma mater’s collegiate color.

Governor's Debate

A sea of Columbia Blue

At glance I thought the “in” color for Maryland pols in 2014 was Carolina Blue, named for that university in Chapel Hill, N.C. But a closer examination of photos from the debate revealed the color selection was a darker shade than sky blue.

By the way, Columbia Blue also is the school color of Johns Hopkins University.

And it is, oddly enough, the team color of baseball’s Kansas City Royals (why not Royal Blue?) and in a sad twist of fate, it’s the team color of racist Donald Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.

Wonder what Brown, Mizeur and Gansler will be wearing at the next debate on June 2?

# # #

Defending Joe Vallario

By Barry Rascovar

May 6, 2014 — THERE’S NO DENYING Del. Joseph F. Vallario, Jr. of Prince George’s County is a stingy gatekeeper when it comes to loosening Maryland’s civil and criminal laws.

But is the gruff chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis really the scourge of the legislature, the anti-Christ intent on malevolently doing in all liberal causes?

Judiciary Committee Chair Del. Joe Vallario

Judiciary Committee Chair Del. Joe Vallario

A recent op-ed in The Baltimore Sun by Sidney Rocke, an attorney with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, accuses the conservative Vallario of being a one-man, “dictatorial” wrecking crew — especially on bills Rocke favors.

It’s true Vallario is inordinately protective of criminal defense attorneys. He’s one himself and he takes a hard line on bills that might narrow their legal practices — and their income — or make it more difficult for defense attorneys to win their cases. “Let ’em go Joe” is what Rocke says staffers call Vallario.

But to blame the defeat of liberalizing legislation solely on Vallario is a misreading of the inner workings of the Maryland General Assembly.

Serving Legislative Leaders

Vallario has performed a useful role for legislative leaders over the past 21 years.

He disposes of bills that are too sweeping, too revolutionary, too inflammatory, too impractical, too poorly thought out, too poorly drafted or ahead of their time.

Yet he does so with a majority vote from others on his Judiciary Committee. The panel is intentionally configured to act as the General Assembly’s execution squad.

Every legislature needs such a panel, where the presiding officer sends well-meaning but unrealistic crime and punishment bills for burial.

Intervention Yields Results

Sometimes important bills get the same treatment. Then the House speaker or the governor steps in to urge Vallario and other committee members to yield on bills such as marijuana decriminalization or handgun control. The pressure usually works.

It’s an old story in Annapolis, something Rocke neglected to include in his angry op-ed. Killer committees have been around a long time.

Remember Joe Owens, the highly conservative Judiciary Committee chairman from liberal Montgomery County?

Abominable ‘No’ Man

He dominated that committee for 14 years, earning the sobriquets “Killer Joe” and “the Abominable ‘No’ Man.”

Owens helped defeat or delay all sorts of liberal reforms on gun control, drunk driving, child support and victim rights. One year, 61 percent of the bills sent to his committee bit the dust.

Joe Owens was a colorful and controversial figure: direct, open and honest.

“Let’s face it,” he once said, “the majority of bills we get should not be passed. . . [T]his is not a little contest. . . When we pass a bill, four million people have to live by it.”

Crusty But Lovable

Over in the Senate, irascible Walter M. Baker of Cecil County served the same role for 17 years chairing the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Crusty, curmudgeonly and a determined conservative thinker, Baker had a drawer filled with idealistic reform bills he side-tracked. “The only good bill is a dead bill,” he used to quip to the entertainment of his colleagues.

Former Sen. Walter M. Baker

Former Sen. Walter M. Baker

Still, Baker conducted fair and deliberate hearings. He yielded when pressed to do so by the Senate president or governor while always defending his belief in limited government.

Political Counterweights

Often over the past 50 years conservatives chairing Maryland’s judicial panels have served as counterweights.

Vallario’s proclivity for killing bills balanced the liberal attitude of Sen. Brian Frosh’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Brian Frosh

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Brian Frosh

Owens’ “killer committee” balanced the liberal mindset of Sen. Joe Curran, who chaired Judicial Proceedings for 16 years.

Earlier in Curran’s tenure running Judicial Proceedings he was paired against another conservative legal thinker chairing the House Judiciary Committee, Thomas Hunter Lowe of Talbot County — who later kept a firm hand on that panel as Speaker of the House.

House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe

House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe

To blame the demise of reform legislation on Joe Vallario is to miss the bigger picture.

Legislating in the State House is a delicate balancing act.

Senators and delegates come together in Annapolis with 188 points of view. They represent different parts of the state whose citizens hold diverse perspectives on the same issue.

Agreement Isn’t Easy

No wonder so many bills fail to win majority approval. Passing legislation is an art. Getting a green light from the Judiciary Committee takes lots of patience, negotiation, coalition-building and tactical smarts. It won’t happen just because a bill is well-intentioned.

Vallario faces a difficult challenge running for reelection this year in a new, unfamiliar northern Prince George’s County district. He may not return. Frosh definitely won’t be back: He’s running for attorney general.

We could end up with two new chairmen of these important committees. One of them might become the next stingy gatekeeper.

# # #

Brown Ducks Debates: Fear of Flubbing?

By Barry Rascovar

May 1, 2014 — Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown plays by his own rules. If he feels like tilting the playing field in his favor, he’ll do it — even if it keeps him hidden from Maryland voters.

Indeed, it appear that hiding from Democratic voters is exactly what Brown is doing in ducking out on debates agreed upon back in February.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Gone are the three TV debates agreed upon by the candidates’ camps on Valentine’s Day. Instead, Brown will only do two.

 Empty Seat in His Future? 

And out of nowhere Brown comes up with a bizarre debate on a radio station with a tiny audience (the lowest-rated news/talk station, by a wide margin, in Baltimore).

Meanwhile, negotiations for a WBFF-TV debate have gotten nowhere with Brown, who could become an empty seat on the debate stage that night.

All of this is par for the course Anthony Brown is playing. He’s continuing his front-runner strategy that calls for minimizing opportunities to make gaffs in non-scripted situations.

Brown’s handlers seem to be calling the shots, creating new fictions to justify their decision to renege on a three-debate schedule for TV viewers.

Given the dearth of excitement about the June 24 primary and the difficulty in getting people to actually vote on that day, gubernatorial debates should be a priority. The more the better.

Sizing Up the Candidates

Unless Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur present themselves repeatedly in TV debates for voters to judge, how are citizens supposed to size up the candidates for governor?

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

Brown’s vapid advertising campaign tells us nothing about the candidate’s views on hot-button issues.

We don’t have a clue what he’d do as governor about gun control, funding the Red Line, death-row inmates, the state’s enormous pension deficit, fracking, the “rain tax,” the University of Maryland Law School’s crusade against Eastern Shore chicken producers and the botched rollout of Maryland’s Health Exchange that Brown took full credit for — until the system crashed and devoured nearly $200 million of government funds (not to mention the distress  and upset it caused tens of thousands of Marylanders).

Apparently, Brown wants Democrats to walk blindly into voting cubicles and cast a ballot based on his paid propaganda ads and little else: Vote for me because I’m next in line and have the support of the party establishment.

Skeptical View of Voters

That’s a demeaning view of voters, almost Soviet-style politics in which the Politburo’s designated successor is guaranteed victory. The voter becomes almost superfluous.

Ever since the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, televised confrontations between candidates has been the best way for Americans to reach a judgment on contenders.

Brown’s forte may be speech-reading and regurgitating campaign rhetoric day after day, but he’s been involved in State House affairs for 16 years. If he can’t hold his own against opponents on issues fired at them by interviewers, it would be surprising.

At the moment, though, Brown is ducking and running from as many debates as he can.

Why? What’s he worried about? Stumbling over a response? Getting his facts wrong? Not knowing the facts?

The lieutenant governor would be better off agreeing to more televised debates and taking his chances.

As it is, he’s now a prime target for scathing attacks from Gansler, Mizeur and the media about his timidity.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Debates are enlightening and an integral part of statewide elections everywhere in this country.

Brown owes it to voters to set aside his qualms and participate in as many televised confrontations and discussions among the candidates as possible before the June 24 vote.

# # #

 

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.

# # #

 

 

Redistricting, Minimum Wage & TV Debates

A Weekly Roundup

By Barry Rascovar

March 7 — TODAY’S House of Delegates session will mark the halfway point for a bill raising Maryland’s minimum wage in phases from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2017 — nearly 40 percent.

Recent minimum wage protest

Recent minimum wage protest

Without question, the O’Malley administration’s bill will pass. The votes are there. But it’s not exactly the bill Gov. Martin O’Malley presented in January.

There’s no automatic inflation clause. Amusement park workers are exempted (largely to accommodate Six Flags in chairman Dereck Davis’ Prince George’s County). Implementation is delayed six months to ease the transition for businesses.

Senate Action Next

Most of the changes are sensible, but more may be coming in the Senate, where there is a little more skepticism about the advisability of such a major increase in business expenses during the weakest economic recovery in memory.

Rural counties in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore may need special attention. Living expenses are a lot less there. A 40-percent hike in wages for many small, rural businesses might prove counter-productive. Ocean City’s minimum-wage summer help is primarily college students, not adults raising a family.

Too Much in a Weak Recovery?

The bill’s three-year phase-in may be too aggressive during this exceptionally mild recovery. It might be wise to adopt a more gradual rise.

But one way or another, an increase in Maryland’s minimum wage is coming — and is necessary.

It’s now a matter of how willing lawmakers are to heed warnings by business that O’Malley’s original bill  could have unintended consequences.

+++++

ON THE OTHER END of the economic spectrum, Senate and House leaders (but not O’Malley) are pushing a bill to lower Maryland’s estate tax. This is overdue.

Wealthy Marylanders are switching their residences to avoid this state tax. Some of Maryland’s most respected business leaders are among them. The tax makes no sense, especially when surrounding states are benefiting.

A gradual return to the days when Maryland’s estate tax matched the federal levy seemed likely to pass until revised estimates on Thursday showed a new quarter-billion-dollar hole in O’Malley’s budget. That may force lawmakers to delay implementation of the phase-in.

O’Malley has not been part of the estate-tax movement. It doesn’t fit into his presidential playbook.

Instead, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch are leading the charge. They’ve finally recognized the need to start reforming parts of Maryland’s unbalanced tax laws. They’ve figures out that chasing wealthy Marylanders out of the state is a terrible strategy.

+++++

A SIDELIGHT of the minimum wage debate this week was an attempt by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Del. Heather Mizeur to go beyond O’Malley’s bill and raise the standard to $11.37 an hour by 2023.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

Mizeur’s amendment bombed.

She got just eight votes, including her own.

That indicates the narrowness of Mizeur’s ultra-liberal appeal, even in a liberal General Assembly. It does not bode well for her statewide campaign.

+++++

A HANDFUL of bills in the General Assembly seek to reform Maryland’s politicized redistricting process. They aren’t going anywhere.

That’s too bad, because turning redistricting over exclusively to those in power has gotten out of hand.

The current maps are undemocratic and a disservice to voters. Maryland’s congressional maps, for instance, are appalling. No effort is made to create compact districts or keep communities together.

MD's gerrymandered 3rd Congressional District

Gerrymandered 3rd Congressional District

Yet until the Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals change their tunes on redistricting, legislative reforms are meaningless.

The highest federal court has washed its hands of redistricting, claiming it is purely a political matter. So much for ensuring fairness and sane congressional districts.

Interference By Appeals Court

The state’s highest court, meanwhile, has become too deeply involved in redistricting, imposing archaic thinking in drawing legislative boundaries.

As a result, cross-jurisdictional districts that follow neighborhood growth patterns are virtually forbidden. Rigid adherence to county and city lines trumps everything, even when citizens pay no heed to those boundaries in their daily lives.

What a mess. Redistricting, as currently practiced, is giving representative democracy a bad name.

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TELEVISED DEBATES in the race for governor have been set. All three of them.

Don’t expect much.

The candidates will be well rehearsed, especially the front-runner, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who needs careful scripting.

Televised Political Debates

Don’t expect one of these in MD’s 2014 TV debates.

But the real laugher will be the lone televised debate among lieutenant governor candidates.

These hopefuls aren’t elected on their own: They are the conjoined twins of gubernatorial candidates. So on TV, they will mimic positions taken by their far-more important running mates.

No Assigned Duties

That’s because their own views don’t count.

Under the state’s constitution, the lieutenant governor has no designated powers. He (or she) is there in case the governor drops dead or comes down with a disabling disease.

So if you happen to miss the scintillating debate among wannabe lieutenant governors, don’t fret.

Tuning in would be a waste of your time.

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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.

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MD’s Quarter-Billion Dollar Healthcare Fiasco

By Barry Rascovar

Feb. 16, 2014 — ACCOUNTABILITY is sorely lacking when it comes to Maryland’s botched rollout of Obamacare. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown  is nowhere to be found when tough questions are asked. Gov. Martin O’Malley deflects “who’s at fault” inquiries, focusing instead on getting the deeply flawed software partly operable.

The computer system’s main contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions, blames its prime subcontractor, who in turn accuses Noridian — a healthcare services company, not an IT firm — of incompetence and conning the state. Given that Noridian has received $65 million to construct a failed system, the subcontractor may have a point.

No Probe Planned

Perhaps Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein will decide in April or May to pull the plug on this IT horror show and start all over with a proven system from another state or join the federal healthcare sign-up exchange. That will cost a pretty penny.

But no one seems in a hurry to find out who screwed up.

Governor O'Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland's healthcare rollout.

Governor O’Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland’s healthcare computer rollout.

Democratic state lawmakers have put off till the summer a Department of Legislative Services analysis of what went wrong. That fits nicely with their support of Brown’s campaign to succeed O’Malley. It will be a long time after the June 24 primary before that DLS report surfaces.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Those same lawmakers tried to ignore the ongoing scandal during the current General Assembly session, but public pressure led to a series of hearings that deal with fixing the system rather than assessing blame. This helps Brown immensely, since he’s most likely to be fingered as the state official who was asleep at the switch.

First District Rep. Andy Harris wants the Department of Health and Human Services to probe Maryland’s waste of a quarter-billion federal dollars on a nearly inoperable system but that’s a political stunt by a tea party Republican who is becoming a nattering nabob of negativism.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris

Meanwhile, the O’Malley-Brown healthcare exchange continues to limp along with 29,000 Marylanders enrolled in private health plans — just one-sixth of the way to Brown’s previously stated goal of 180,000 and one-fifth of the way toward O’Malley’s 150,000 sign-up goal.

It’s a mess, the worst waste of taxpayer dollars in memory. Yet no one is launching a probe. It’s all being handled with kid gloves and diplomacy so as not to hurt Brown’s election bid or O’Malley’s longshot run for the White House.

Impartial Report

What’s needed is the equivalent of the Preston Report. Back in 1985, Maryland suffered a calamitous collapse of its privately insured savings and loan industry. It cost the state and S&L depositors hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gov. Harry Hughes and lawmakers created the Office of Special Counsel to probe “all aspects of the events” leading up to the S&L crisis. A prestigious Baltimore attorney, Wilbur (Woody) Preston, and a small team of his associates produced a package of legislative reforms and a 450-page report that detailed what went wrong and why. It was a honest and thorough assessment.

Special Counsel Wilbur Preston delivers his S&L report in 1986 (Baltimore Sun)

Special Counsel Wilbur Preston delivers his S&L report in 1986 (Baltimore Sun)

That’s what’s required now — an impartial dissection of this costly embarrassment by someone willing to lay out the facts without worrying about whether the blame falls on the lieutenant governor, the governor, the health secretary or the IT vendors.

How much of the blame belongs to O’Malley, who ultimately is responsible for what goes on in his administration? This was, after all, the most important initiative the state has undertaken in ages.

How much of the blame for this healthcare fiasco sits on Brown’s shoulders?

e’s made a big deal of his leadership on this reform, though he’s recently tried to weasel out by claiming he was only in charge of the legislation (also severely flawed) setting up the exchange.

Brown clearly was a figurehead leader — a general who showed up for the public meetings but left everything to his underlings. Even when he said he learned of the computer snafus, he apparently failed to sound the alarm.

Bleak Outlook  

Since Democratic lawmakers aren’t willing to ask the tough questions before the gubernatorial primary, and the governor has shown no eagerness to create a special panel to probe this scandal, we may never learn enough to reach a conclusion.

Even the DLS report is likely to be scrubbed of any finger-pointing at state leaders. That’s especially true if Brown wins the June 24 Democratic primary. Top Democrats in the legislature will circle the protective wagons around the presumptive governor.

What a mess.

We will glean quite a bit about the exchange’s IT failures from the competing lawsuits filed by Noridian and its prime subcontractor, EngagePoint. But that won’t lift the fog surrounding actions of healthcare exchange leaders, the governor and the lieutenant governor.

Sadly, this is one mystery that may never be solved.

 

 

 

 

 

Ditched by Dutch

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 23, 2014 — DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER’s gubernatorial ambitions wound up in the political ditch this week. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The six-term Central Maryland congressman and two-term Baltimore County Executive isn’t a gambler. He likes a sure thing. In politics that means a race in which he is the heavy favorite.

Dutch Ruppersberger

Dutch Ruppersberger

That wasn’t the case in the governor’s campaign, where two Democrats already have $13 million on hand and likely will dominate this race.

Yet neither Attorney General Doug Gansler nor Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has sparked excitement from the voting public.  Neither man has come across as anything more than a plastic politician.

That left the door open for the garrulous and personable Ruppersberger, who is never at a loss for words and loves the “people” part of politics.

He’s also the only Maryland politician widely known just by his first name — a sure sign of connection with Jane and John Q. Citizen.

Drawbacks to Consider

But raising $5 million in a short time frame looked daunting. Many of his supporters among the political elite have already endorsed Brown. His polls showed him running well in the Baltimore region, but  he had work to do elsewhere in the state.

Moreover, Ruppersberger, 68, may not have the energy for a statewide campaign where he isn’t the front-runner. He’s also not up to date on in the details of state issues, having focused on congressional matters for the past 13 years.

Leaving a safe seat in Congress isn’t the norm.

On top of that, Ruppersberger is the ranking Democrat for another year on the House Intelligence Committee, which makes him a VIP entitled to special insider briefings, White House invitations and overseas trips.

But he concludes his stay on the intelligence panel after this year, returning to his status as a non-VIP minority member of the House. That unappealing prospect prompted Ruppersberger to consider running for governor.

Now it won’t happen. He’s decided to remain in Congress, even with lower visibility and diminished importance.

Who Else Might Run?

Will another member of the Maryland delegation now jump into the gubernatorial campaign?

John Delaney, a freshman congressman representing parts of Western Maryland and Montgomery County — it’s the state’s “odd couple” district — is staking out ground as a maverick Democrat promoting outside-the-box solutions and tweaking the political powers that be.

John Delaney

John Delaney

Still, a run for governor doesn’t seem likely.

It’s late to start from scratch. Yes, the wealthy Delaney could self-fund his campaign but he has no track record in public office, isn’t well-versed in Annapolis matters and is a total unknown outside of his district.

But Delaney understands that clashing over health care insurance with Gov. Martin O’Malley plays well in Western Maryland and that being out front on raising the minimum wage helps in Montgomery County.

So Delaney’s outspoken jabs serve an important purpose for his reelection bid and for other possible races later. We can expect more of this sort of headline-grabbing from him in the future.

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