Tag Archives: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Sharfstein’s Scarlet Letter

By Barry Rascovar

August 11, 2014 — For a 44-year-old, Josh Sharfstein has accomplished much: Baltimore City health commissioner, Maryland health secretary and chief deputy commissioner at the Federal Drug Administration.

Josh Sharfstein

MD Health Chief Joshua Sharfstein

Yet when Sharfstein leaves his state post at year’s end, his many achievements will be eclipsed by one giant failure: Maryland’s terribly botched health insurance exchange rollout.

This glitch-plagued rollout — the costliest debacle in Maryland state history — was a monumental disaster that should have been foreseen.

There were plenty of warning signs in the year leading up to the Oct. 1, 2013 enrollment opening. The exchange’s computer software immediately crashed — and remained dysfunctional for months.

Standing Tall

To his credit, Sharfstein shouldered the public blame for this immense fiasco. The other chief culprits, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, deflected criticism to protect their political futures.

Even worse, they connived with legislative leaders to cover up the true story by avoiding an in-depth accounting of what went wrong until mid-2015. This intentional lack of transparency and accountability will remain an indelible blot on the O’Malley-Brown administration. It will haunt both of them in the years ahead.

Sharfstein took the fall at legislative hearings. He was the only one connected with this ill-fated project to apologize and take responsibility for a truly screwed-up rollout.

It is ironic this happened on Sharfstein’s watch because he’s known as a hands-on micro-manager who drives underlings crazy with his detail-oriented obsessions.

Loss of Control

This time, though, Sharfstein ran afoul of a bone-headed decision by O’Malley and Brown to set up the new Maryland health exchange as a separate, independent agency — instead of wrapping it neatly into Sharfstein’s health department.

That twist meant huge additional expenses — a separate set of backroom jobs had to be created and filled that could easily have been tacked onto existing services within the health department.

The biggest problem in giving the exchange its independence was loss of control.

MD Healthcare Connection

Sharfstein never gained direct authority over the health exchange because O’Malley set up the new agency outside the health secretary’s purview.

Yes, he co-chaired the oversight board with Brown, but that group served as a rubber-stamp for whatever Rebecca Pearce, the insurance executive hired to run the exchange, suggested. The panel didn’t challenge her assessments — a serious mistake.

Even worse, there were no traditional checks and balances to make sure the pivotal choice of technology contractors didn’t veer off-course (sadly, it did).

Nor were the health department’s seasoned computer experts in position to monitor the exchange’s faltering software development.

The department was left on the outside with no authority to intercede or blow the whistle on the prime contractor’s inept performance and failure to meet deadlines.

Righting the Ship

Sharfstein, a pediatrician whose entire career has been in government and public health, was ill-prepared to act as overseer of a highly complex information-technology project.

But as an experienced manager, and with a wealth of IT expertise available in his department, he probably could have avoided the computer crash that proved so costly.

To his credit, Sharfstein accepted responsibility for the disaster. He worked tirelessly to find a work-around and a fix (the first succeeded, the second didn’t). Now the old exchange system is being junked and a new one that is functioning well in Connecticut is being superimposed — at an enormous cost.

The health secretary will stay on to see if this latest stab at building a health insurance exchange works. He wants to walk away without leaving a health exchange headache on his successor’s desk.

That determination says a lot about Sharfstein’s commitment to righting the ship.

He can take pride in the fact that despite horrendous obstacles, over 400,000 people (mostly Medicaid recipients) signed up for health insurance through the exchange. If the Connecticut software system works in Maryland, that number should grow in Year Two.

Moving to Hopkins

We haven’t heard the last of Josh Sharfstein.

He’ll take up residency at Johns’ Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health as an associate dean with a full workload, but the urge to serve the public could lure him back, especially during a Hillary Clinton presidency.

If that’s the case, he’ll still have to explain what went wrong that led to Maryland’s costly health exchange snafu. It’s a scarlet letter he will wear, whether deserved or not.

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Hogan’s Public Financing

By Barry Rascovar

July 14, 2014 — Larry Hogan, Jr., the longshot Republican nominee for Maryland governor, made a smart move accepting public financing for his general election campaign.

It frees Hogan from the time-consuming and sometimes humiliating chore of brow-beating friend, supporters and strangers for donations over the next five months.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr.

Public financing also lowers the cost of running a campaign.

Fund-raising isn’t cheap. Professional fund-raisers keep a sizable chunk of dollars raised for themselves, thereby creating the need for candidates to launch more rounds of solicitations.

It’s a vicious cycle Hogan has avoided. He did the same thing in the Republican primary and breezed to election.

Hogan’s Advantage

Hogan seized the high road and can blast the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, for accepting huge sums from special interests eager to “own a piece” of the next governor — or at least “buy” access when the need arises.

That’s an overly cynical view but it’s what Hogan is likely to put forth in his campaign.

He’s become the “good government” candidate running without the need to grovel for funds from vested interests that will demand their part of the quid pro quo later.

Between the $2.6 million in public financing and the maximum $3.7 million the state Republican Party and its local affiliates can spend on his behalf, Hogan can mount an effective campaign — though Brown still will have a giant edge when it comes to buying advertising time on TV and radio.

Independent Spending

What could level the imbalance is unlimited spending by independent groups. That’s now allowed under the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision.

If some of Hogan’s well-healed developer friends or national conservative groups backed by billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson decide to advertise in Maryland for lower taxes and an end to big-spending government, Hogan could narrow Brown’s funding advantage.

It will not, though, erase the Democrats’ gigantic voter registration lead. That will be hard to overcome regardless of how much Hogan and his compatriots spend.

But at least Hogan avoids the fund-raising distraction.

Issues Focus

He can concentrate exclusively on issues he wants voters to get “mad as hell” about — the Democratic administration’s limited success creating jobs, 40-plus tax increases, the health-exchange scandal and cover-up, the continuing spending-to-revenue deficit, continuing hostility toward businesses and favoritism for Democratic special interests.

Hogan badly needed the Democratic primary to end in a bloodbath that shattered party unity. It never happened.

Anthony Brown quickly gained strong endorsements from his two opponents. He goes into the general election with the kind of enthusiasm and party unity that will be hard to beat.

Anthony Brown

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown

That’s especially true for a candidate who would be Maryland’s first black governor (technically he not African-American since his father was born in Cuba and his mother in Switzerland).

Minority communities, especially in populous Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, cast a majority of votes there. That’s the case in Charles County, too. Brown can count on near-unanimous support from those voters, who will be reminded endlessly about the imperative to elect “one of their own.”

Steep Challenge

It’s going to be an arduous climb for Hogan, to be sure. He has, though, set a moderate tone that will help him with independent voters and middle-of-the-road Democrats.

Can he win?

It’s a possibility.

But Hogan will have to be amazingly lucky and conduct a brilliantly skillful campaign even to make it close in November.

 

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Politics Ahead of Budgets

By Barry Rascovar

July 7, 2014 — The $77 million in budget cuts approved last week by the Maryland Board of Public Works mark the first recognition there’s a price to be paid for placing election-year politics ahead of fiscal realities. It won’t be the last spending pullback, either. Budget balancing Maryland has a serious, ongoing imbalance between its high spending habits and its lower than expected revenue receipts. Everyone knew this was coming.

Winter’s Frigid Blow

Much of it is a result of the severe cold weather over the past winter, which devastated sectors of the economy, drove up heating and electric costs and put a severe crimp in job creation.

Yet early this year Gov. Martin O’Malley, with the support of Democratic legislators, introduced a budget for the current fiscal year that was wildly out of sync with prevailing economic conditions.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley

The larger problem, which O’Malley chose not to confront head-on, is that Maryland’s spending isn’t affordable without more rounds of tax increases — or sizable reductions in agency budgets.

The $77 million in cuts approved last week amounts to a small down payment on what is likely to come later.

Maryland’s economy remains stalled, as Comptroller Peter Franchot underlined at last week’s Board of Public Works meeting in the Annapolis State House.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Wage growth is near-zero. Sales tax growth is about one-fifth of what it should be in a recovery. Withholding taxes are about two-fifths of the norm for a recovery.

Making matters worse was O’Malley’s failure to use the Great Recession to assess government services and identify cost efficiencies on a grand scale.

Instead, O’Malley simply slowed state government’s rate of growth during hard times. He papered over the need to downsize, shift or reinvent the way non-essential services are delivered.

Troubling Imbalance

At the end of the 2014 General Assembly session in early April, legislative analysts predicted Maryland’s spending would exceed incoming revenue by $236 million for the fiscal year that started July 1.

Ominously, those analysts noted O’Malley’s budget anticipated a whopping 5.2 percent economic growth in this fiscal year and general fund revenue growth of 4.6 percent.

While recent national economic reports for June indicate a stronger recovery in the months ahead, it is doubtful Maryland can reach its rosy revenue projections for this fiscal year.

Expect more spending reductions this winter.

The key question is whether O’Malley confronts that issue or passes the buck to his likely successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

Even before Maryland’s revenue projections turned south, legislative analysts had warned Maryland faces a growing cash shortage that could reach $404 million in the next fiscal year.

It would take an imposing 7.1 percent surge in state tax revenue to wipe out that structural imbalance — or a major retrenchment in state spending, which is highly unlikely.

Growing Cash Shortage?

Given the discouraging outlook that prompted last week’s budget cuts, next fiscal year’s  projected cash shortage of $404 million could grow by leaps and bounds.

O’Malley, though, will continue to “spin” this story in a politically positive way.

Other states — New York New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — he notes, are in far worse shape (though we don’t have a handle on how bad the situation really is in Maryland — and won’t till September at the earliest).

O’Malley’s Concerns

The governor wants to put a shine on his Maryland legacy as he moves toward a presidential campaign.

He also wants to keep Maryland’s budget woes on the back burner until Brown is safely elected governor in November.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. will try to convince voters “the sky is falling.” But the worst news from last winter’s deep freeze is over and the national economy is showing encouraging signs of finally springing back to life.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

That is good news for Brown in the short term.

But come December and January, Governor-elect Brown could be faced with an ugly reality — a far deeper state deficit, painful and immediate spending cuts and a budget for the following fiscal year that can’t deliver on his expensive campaign promises.

Read more from Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com

Did Gansler Lose It or Brown Win It?

 By Barry Rascovar

June 30, 2014 — Did Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown run such a flawless Rose Garden campaign that his victory in Maryland’s June 24 Democratic gubernatorial primary was inevitable?

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Or did his chief rival, Attorney General Doug Gansler, lose the election with an ineffective campaign that badly missed the mark?

As is usually the case, a combination of factors from both camps contributed to the outcome. Neither candidate proved a sensation with voters.

The only spark came from the third Democrat, the ultra-liberal Heather Mizeur.

Heather Mizeur

Heather Mizeur

Her clarity and sharp focus on issues appealing to younger voters helped her top the 20 percent barrier. It was more than enough to cost Gansler any hope of catching Brown.

The lieutenant governor ran a bland, “the world is great” campaign that trumpeted Gov. Martin O’Malley’s progressive achievements while adding the tagline, “but we can do better.”

Brown’s staff effectively wrapped him in a tight cocoon, denying the media unfettered access for fear Brown might have an ” ‘Hispanish’ moment” (remember that flub by gubernatorial contender Kathleen Kennedy Townsend?).

No Stumbles

This Imperial Guard mentality might prove a detriment in the two-candidate general election race against Republican pragmatist Larry Hogan Jr.

Yet with virtually the entire Democratic Party establishment behind him, Brown had to stumble badly to lose the primary. His rock-solid support among African-American voters gave him an unprecedented advantage.

Still, there were enough discontented voters that this should have been a much closer primary. Gansler, though, tripped himself up early. He never delivered a compelling, visionary message that excited Democrats.

Doug Gansler

Doug Gansler

He turned into a “me, too” candidate, trying not to offend Mizeur supporters or Democrats who generally liked what O’Malley and Brown have done.

While Brown promised to continue O’Malley’s progressivism, and Mizeur promised a radically different tomorrow, Gansler never effectively articulated how his election would improve life for John and Joan Q. Voter.

Weak Democratic Choices

The Democratic electorate was left with three unappealing choices.

Brown proved the most palatable. It was the weakest set of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in memory.

No one has ever captured the Democratic nomination in Maryland with such a slim political resume — and radical ideas — as Mizeur’s.

No attorney general has captured the governorship in 68 years. Voters recognize that running the equivalent of a big law firm doesn’t train you for the state’s most important job.

Brown, meanwhile, could become the least qualified Maryland governor in 80 years. (The same applies to Hogan, too.)

“Where’s the Beef?”

Brown’s resume looks great but it gives credibility to the words “paper thin.” As former Vice President Walter Mondale used to say, “Where’s the beef?”

Brown has been lieutenant governor for nearly eight years, with little in the way of accomplishments. It’s a grand-sounding job that carries no official duties.

To his credit, he served a year in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserve — but as a lawyer. Not exactly the sort of achievement that comes with action photos.

Helicopter Training

After college, he served six years on active military duty as a helicopter pilot. Not the sort of training that prepares you to run state government.

with a small list of achievements, also similar to Mizeur. It’s not nearly enough legislative seasoning to impress anyone.

Brown’s lucky that his November foe, Larry Hogan Jr., is a successful land developer with zero elective experience.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan’s political resume fills a single line — a minor appointed post in the Ehrlich administration finding people willing to serve on boards and commissions.

Why Brown Won

No wonder turnout was appallingly light on primary day.

Brown owes his victory mainly to O’Malley’s hard work over eight years — a solid record guiding Maryland through a terrible recession while implementing a raft of progressive reforms.

Democrats are generally satisfied, as Gansler discovered.

He could have made the primary interesting had not Mizeur split the “anti” vote. He never found his rhythm, though, and never connected with voters.

Brown ran on O’Malley’s record, his broad Democratic establishment support and those overwhelming vote totals among African Americans.

That should be more than enough to get Anthony Brown through the general election, too.

Bland is proving beautiful.

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Rushing Toward MD’s Primary

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com WITH TWO WEEKS to go till Maryland’s June 24 primary for governor, here’s where we stand on the all-important Democratic side.

Televised debates, all three of them, are over, as is the one and only radio debate among Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur.

Brown (left), Gansler, Mizeur

Anthony Brown (left), Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur

The good news for Brown: he didn’t make any blunders – though he took a deserved  pounding for ducking the second debate. Brown came across best on the 90-minute WOLB-AM radio confrontation, heard mainly by an early-morning, African-American audience in both the Baltimore and Washington areas.

‘Cool’ vs. ‘Hot’

As Marshall McLuhan pointed out after the first presidential debates (Nixon vs. Kennedy in 1960), radio is a “cool” medium, while television is a “hot” medium.

On radio, people listen more closely and judge candidates on what they say; TV presents viewers with both a visual and an audio image that can be difficult for candidates to reconcile.

Brown clearly isn’t comfortable under harsh TV lights. He’s more at ease before a radio microphone.

WOLB Radio Debate

WOLB Radio Debate

In both the third TV debate and the lone radio debate, Brown harped on achievements of the past eight years and the need to continue progressive reforms. He repeated time and time again, “more work to do” and “we can do better.”

Gansler is separating himself as the lone critic of the O’Malley-Brown years: 40 new or expanded taxes, a machine-like party establishment of special interests seeking a Brown coronation and the need for change in Annapolis.

He won the third debate. He was much more fluent, more relaxed and less hesitant. He made contact directly with his studio audience. His theme: jobs, jobs, jobs.

Turning Negative

Gansler also was combative in trying to bring Brown, the apparent leader in this campaign, down a notch. On TV, he said Brown “has an uncomfortable relationship with the truth.”

On radio, he told listeners Brown and Gov. Martin O’Malley “failed you and failed Baltimore” while Brown “ran away” from Maryland’s embarrassing health exchange debacle.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Brown and his camp have not hesitated to make far nastier charges against Gansler in their statements and in their ads.

The third candidate, Mizeur, continues to promote a far-left agenda that appeals to segments of Maryland’s liberal Democratic Party. Her polite, demure attitude, a well-delivered summary of her goals and her refusal to join Brown and Gansler in tit-for-tat criticisms helped her immensely in these debates.

Mizeur: Pro and Con

Of the three, she is the most hostile to businesses and the wealthy. She has excoriated shale-oil fracking, millionaires, chicken farmers, a natural gas export plant in Southern Maryland and any thought of a tax cut for corporations or a reduced estate tax.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

She’s in favor of legalized marijuana, universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and three-year-olds, state subsidized child care, a living wage of $16.70 an hour, tax cuts for the middle class, tax breaks for small businesses, an end to income inequality and campaign finance reform.

How she pays for her proposals is an exercise in hype and gross exaggeration.

 

TV Advertising

Because the vast majority of voters don’t watch debates, much will depend on the impact of TV ads.

Brown has the most money to throw into a TV blitz, but Gansler isn’t far behind. Mizeur’s bankroll is dwarfed by the others and thus you won’t see many ads from her.

So far the best commercials belong to Gansler. His silent ad slamming Brown for his debate no-show was unusual and effective in getting viewer attention. His ad in which he casually reads from critical Brown editorial comments in the Washington Post about Brown’s failings in the health exchange disaster is another winner.

Brown’s numerous commercials, meanwhile, are slick and well conceived but lack potency. The ads avoid specifics and stick to feel-good generalities.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

While Gansler may be winning the ad war and gaining in later debates, he’s got an uphill road ahead of him.

Among Democrats, the governor remains fairly popular, which rubs off on his lieutenant governor. Gansler is bucking nearly the entire Democratic Party establishment at a time when the call for change is coming mainly from Republicans.

His hopes are further diminished by Mizeur’s presence. The anti-Brown, anti-O’Malley, “it’s time for a change” vote will be split between Gansler and Mizeur.

This is reflected in the latest poll (Baltimore Sun, June 8), with Brown’s two competitors making a close two-person race a runaway (Brown: 41 percent, Gansler: 20 percent, Mizeur: 15 percent.)

Attorney General’s Race

Meanwhile, in the other contested statewide Democratic race, state Sen. Brian Frosh is gaining momentum as state Del. Jon Cardin keeps slipping.

Attorney General candidates Jon Cardin (Left) and Brian Frosh

Del. Jon Cardin (left) and Sen. Brian Frosh

What Cardin has going for him is his last name. He’s counting on voter confusion and the popularity of his Uncle Ben, Maryland’s United States senator. But Jon Cardin is proving his own worst enemy. He missed 75 percent of committee votes in the legislature this year — an inexcusable act. Frosh is using this misstep to show that Jon C. is not ready for prime time.

More Criticism

An extraordinary coalition of former state senators and a councilwoman from Cardin’s own Jewish community in northwest Baltimore County and city condemned Jon C.’s failure to take his legislative duties seriously. They slammed his “lackluster career.”

Then Jon Cardin promoted an endorsement from a Baltimore-based rap artist — only to discover Ski Money is facing multiple charges of human trafficking. The candidate’s later denunciation and rejection of that endorsement just drew attention to Jon Cardin’s stumble.

Even worse, the No.1 Democrat in Maryland, Martin O’Malley, attended a Frosh event in Greenbelt and warmly endorsed the Montgomery County senator. The party’s big guns are lining up solidly behind Frosh.O'Malley endorses Frosh The state senator also has a growing advantage in fund-raising. He received strong endorsements from the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun.

While early polls showed Cardin with a large lead, his odds of winning are rapidly diminishing.

Jon C. may yet gain the Democratic nomination, but only if people go to the polls believing they’re voting for the other Cardin.

Barry Rascovar’s writings can also be found at his blogsite, www.politicalmaryland.com.

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MD’s ‘Empty Lectern’ Debate

By Barry Rascovar

May 28, 2014 –THE MOST IMPORTANT person in the second Maryland governor’s debate didn’t bother to show up.

The empty lectern (center)

The empty lectern (center), WBFF governors debate

An empty lectern replaced Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown as the focal point of last evening’s dialogue between two other Democratic contenders, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur.

Brown was a no-show, as expected.

It robbed the event of its potential to highlight the differences among the three.

Brown’s Strategy

Brown, the frontrunner, played it safe. How many people will remember that he ducked this confrontation when they vote June 24?

Yet it was a huge disservice to Marylanders and an indication of the arrogance and hubris likely to accompany Brown if he makes it into the governor’s office.

Both Gansler and Mizeur profited from Brown’s absence. Anyone who tuned in will pick between the two and ignore the man who ran away from this debate.

Given that the debate was on WBFF-TV, which slants its news reporting to reflect the owner’s conservative views, the audience likely contained a lot of center-right Democrats who could play a key role on Election Day.

Plus for Gansler?

That should be good news for Gansler, who is clearly the centrist candidate in this primary contest.

While he didn’t wow anyone with his halting debating skills and less than scintillating campaign pitch, Gansler came across as experienced, thoughtful and a take-charge official.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

He criticized the O’Malley-Brown administration’s 40 tax increases and Brown’s refusal to apologize for the state’s health exchange debacle that Gansler termed “a national embarrassment.”

Mizeur’s Winning Ways

Mizeur won the night’s politeness and demeanor award while sticking to her far-left positions on issues.

She came across as a classic tax-and-spend liberal with few realistic financing plans. She is the candidate least likely to succeed in wooing businesses (and jobs) to Maryland.

Mizeur is a different kind of gubernatorial candidate with lots of imaginative ideas. People like the thought of a different approach.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

But is she ready to manage a $39 billion budget and a work force of 80,000? Her resume is sorely lacking in executive experience.

Lessons Learned

What did we learn from the ‘Empty Lectern’ Debate? Not much that wasn’t known before. Gansler says he’d be The Jobs Governor:

  • He’s courageously supporting a lower corporate tax to make Maryland competitive with Virginia in the hunt for new businesses.
  • He says he’s identified $1.5 billion he can cut from the state budget.
  • He favors merit pay for teachers.
  • He favors the Cove Point natural gas export terminal as a jobs generator.
  • He favors natural gas hydraulic fracturing as long as studies show it is safe.
  • He opposes legalizing marijuana.

WBFF governor debate Mizeur says she’s The Champion For The Middle Class.

  • She wants across-the-board pay hikes for teachers.
  • And a living wage for low-income workers.
  • And a fully funded pension program for state workers and teachers.
  • And universal pre-kindergarten programs.
  • And a business tax cut for small businesses.
  • And a tax cut for middle-class families.
  • And affordable child care, after-school programs and summer programs for kids.
  • She views natural gas hydraulic fracturing as a cardinal environmental sin.
  • She places the Cove Point export terminal in that same class.
  • She wants to legalize and tax marijuana.

There’s nothing surprising in any of that.

Upcoming Events

Now it’s on to the final TV debate on June 2 that Brown says he’ll attend, plus a morning radio debate the next day few will hear.

It’s been a disappointing campaign season, capped now by Brown’s in-your-face no-show.

This doesn’t help voters make up their minds.

++++++++++

AS IF THE incomplete governor’s debate wasn’t enough, the day’s activities also included a three-way televised discussion by the lieutenant governor running mates.

It demonstrated the irrelevancy of that office.

Not only was the event aired Tuesday morning following the Memorial Day weekend — when nearly everyone was tending to other chores — it was broadcast on a Washington-area news cable station whose viewers live mainly in Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Going Out of State

To compound the insult, the Maryland candidates debated one another in NewsChannel 8’s Northern Virginia studio.

Thus a Maryland election debate took place at the out-of-state studio of an obscure cable station at a time when few were watching. Moreover, those who did tune in likely can’t vote in Maryland.

Isn’t time to recognize  Maryland made a mistake when it resurrected the office of lieutenant governor in 1970 after a 102-year hiatus?

The office has no constitutional powers.

It is a huge waste of tax dollars. (Brown earns $125,000 a year and has a staff of nine. Virginia’s lieutenant governor earns $36,321. Quite a contrast.)

Death Watch

Maryland lieutenant governors serve as surrogate campaigners and regurgitate the governor’s position on issues.

The occupant of this office is around simply in case the governor dies or becomes incapacitated.

Why not abolish the office, designate a line of succession and streamline state government?

It’s foolish to continue this charade in which we pretend that selecting a lieutenant governor really matters.

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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.

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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?

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Garrett County’s Isolation — Responses

By Barry Rascovar

May 4, 2014 — Who woulda thunk it? A column on Garrett County’s isolation in mountainous, far Western Maryland produced a tsunami of responses — both pro and con — including one from an offended gubernatorial wannabe’s staffer and another from an offended O’Malley administration.

And here I thought I was saying something nice for a change!

Garrett County

A few local residents felt I was too kind in my admiration; others appreciated that someone from the big city three hours away noticed there’s more out to Garrett than state forests, ski lifts and a man-made lake.

The governor’s folks didn’t like being accused of “benign neglect” when it comes to promoting and aiding the state’s most decidedly Republican county. The administration’s opus, though, inadvertently proved my point.

The letter noted that O’Malley has poured $70 million into Garrett’s roads since 2007. There’s another $10 million coming this year, too — nearly all of it to improve state highways in the county.

The Rest of the Story

Here are some facts left out of the O’Malley administration’s letter: Garrett received 20 percent less in local transportation aid, 15 percent less in recreation and natural resources aid, 4 percent less in library aid and 2 percent less in education aid from Annapolis this year — even as the overall state budget grew by 4.3 percent.

So much for the O’Malley-Brown administration’s claim of putting Garrett County on its priority list.

Indeed, there’s scant evidence either O’Malley or Brown have thought much about helping Garrett boost its economic potential as a recreation wonderland.

Ever hear about the governor or lieutenant governor making news by vacationing at Deep Creek Lake or at the Wisp ski resort?

Deep Creek Lake

Deep Creek Lake

Ever catch O’Malley or Brown cutting commercials that promote Garrett as a retreat for families who like outdoor activities?

To them, it’s a forgotten, Republican part of Maryland not worth their time.

Wisp ski resort

Meanwhile, a spokesman for businessman Larry Hogan Jr. wrote to protest the column’s assertion that no candidate for governor cares about Garrett County.

“Western MD is absolutely a priority for Hogan,” says Adam Dubitsky of the Republican candidate’s campaign staff, “which is why he visited shortly after announcing and will be back again. . . .  Larry has repeatedly criticized Annapolis elites for ignoring Marylanders who live west of Frederick City and especially those who reside west of Sideling Hill.”

Fracking Can Be Fractious

Other readers took issue with the column’s concern that overly strict state regulations could doom hopes for an economic boost tied to drilling for natural gas in Garrett County using hydraulic fracturing techniques, better known as “fracking.”

One resident wrote, “I live in Garrett county and do not want fracking here. Don’t be too quick to judge.”

Here’s another: “Thank you so much for your article about Garrett County. . .  in most areas you ‘hit the nail on the head’.  However, many in the county do not want fracking, many are concerned about the impact on our tourist industries including the lake and the many local state parks. . . .  noise and water pollution are the major concerns.  Fracking is a big, noisy business with big trucks and constant disruption.  I know that simplifies a problem. . .  but it is a concern, as well as a drop in the property values.  After living near a natural gas storage pumping site for 25 years. . .  the traffic and noise are an impact on daily living and enjoyment of property, or small acreage.  Just sayin’. . . Thank you for ‘listening!’ ”

A resident of Lonaconing wrote: “Very interesting article, although a couple minor errors, plus, I wanted to give you a little additional insight. . .

“First, Garrett Co is not the only county that will benefit from fracking. . . . Allegany County will also. . . western Allegany County (the George’s Creek valley) also sits over the Marcellus Shale reserve.

“Secondly, as far as gubernatorial candidates. . . when [Doug] Gansler did his Western Maryland tour, he only went as far as Cumberland (Allegany Co.). . . He never touched Garrett. . . Hogan is the only candidate I know of that’s gone to Garrett for a political visit. . .

“Other than that, nice article. . . nice to get a little focus up this way.”

Community College Guarantee

Here’s another response concerning Garrett County’s guarantee of a community college education for its high school graduates:

“As a Western Marylander, I appreciated this column. I thought you would be interested to know that, inspired in part by the Garrett County Commissioners’ decision to pay for community college for Garrett students, the Allegany County Commissioners have dedicated most of the revenue they receive from the new Rocky Gap Casino to paying for local students to attend Allegany College of Maryland and Frostburg State University. In discussions I heard, they talked about both the economic development benefit of having a better-educated populace, as well as the ability to keep our young people from having to leave the county for opportunity.”

From the president of Garrett College, Rick MacLennan, came this comment:

“Thank you for your recognition of the County/College partnership.  Existence of the County scholarship program was a significant variable in my decision to accept the presidency (and yank my family across the country from the state of Washington) in 2010.

“It was very nice meeting you—come back and see us again.”

 

Garrett Co. MD

Garrett County (in pink)

 

Others didn’t see it that way. Here’s a correspondence from Grantsville:

“I liked reading it, but I think you drank the Cool-Aid a bit too heavily! I have only lived out here for 6 years, so I hardly qualify as a resident let alone a local. I am a retired software engineer and teach at Garrett College (one course in computer science).  Some observations that I have gleaned:

  1. The average Garrett Scholarship student is ill-prepared for much of anything out of high school.  90% going to Garrett College have to take remedial math and English! . . . It may be that those going to other institutions are better-prepared, but I suspect it is self-selection rather than ability.
  2. Of my students, I have lost about 20% after the first week, 60% by the mid-terms, and 20% will pass. . . I am extremely lenient with no dings for late homework, open book and unlimited time for tests, etc. and still see only a couple of students get through the semester with good grades!
  3. The primary school system does not seem to adequately provide for vocational training. . . I suspect a lot of students should be pushed toward building trades, communications, wind turbine maintenance, etc.
  4. A lot of Garrett’s problems are self-inflicted.  There is a lot of NIMBYism that is often misplaced.  For instance, the objections to zoning prevent any useful regulation of land use including fracking, wind turbines, suburban sprawl, etc. . . .

“On the positive side:

  1. The roads are incredibly well-maintained, especially in the winter.
  2. The temperatures are about 10F lower than certainly Baltimore and even Cumberland (more like 8F there).
  3. Services are adequate and Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Morgantown, or Altoona (or even Frederick, D.C., or Baltimore) are a reasonable distance.
  4. Arts are OK — I . . . travel back to Frederick weekly to play in the Frederick Symphony because there is nothing close even at Frostburg University. We do have some arts at Frostburg, Cumberland, GLAF [Garrett Lake Arts Festival], and Music at Penn Alps. . . .
  5. The fall is fantastic!  Winter is a real winter (if you like that — if not, don’t come out here!)”

Missing Key Points

Here’s a different perspective from a Garrett resident:

“The article totally misses several key facts . . .

“Garrett County (GC) residents are partially responsible for their political isolation. They lean so far right that ordinary (above and below middle class citizens) hardly ever speak out regarding their concerns about important issues. . . . .

“The lack of public outcry has caused a severe excommunication of area residents. Since they don’t raise their voice, it leaves only wealthy business owners to push political ideas. This has turned Garrett County into a mecca for minimum wage. Our leaders complain that families don’t stay in the area, yet college educated people are left working at Lowe’s or Wisp, for a scant $ 7.25 per hour, because our local government has done nothing to address wage inequality. . . .

“While the state has certainly been unfair to the county, county government has done nothing but benefit a few select business owners, while largely ignoring the struggling working population.”

That’s a portion of the responses to my rather mild column.

Folks speak their mind in Garrett County, though they do so with extreme politeness. I found it a neighborly place that isn’t given sufficient attention by the powers in Annapolis. The citizens of that remote mountain county deserve better.

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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.

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