Tag Archives: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Brown’s Healthcare Albatross

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com

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

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

Week One of the General Assembly session brought no relief.

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

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on healthcare bill

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on health care bill

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

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

What Wasn’t Asked

This left a number of key questions hanging:

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

We may never get complete answers.

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

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

Questions Won’t Go Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown’s Dilemma

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

How is he going to explain all of this?

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

Still, Brown appears well positioned to capture the governorship.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

MD’s Fundraising Loophole

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

Loophole in State Law

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

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

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

Brown-Ulman campaign

Brown-Ulman campaign

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

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

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

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

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

Clear and Present Danger

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

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

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

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

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

Craig-Riccio-Haddaway team

Craig-Riccio-Haddaway team

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

Unfair?

You bet.

Unethical?

Yup.

Illegal?

If it isn’t, it should be.

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MD Healthcare Leader? It’s Not Anthony Brown

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Dec. 23, 2013 – Who’s in charge of Maryland’s computerized Obamacare rollout? Until recently, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown wanted you to believe he was the man.

For years, he’s been describing himself as Gov. Martin O’Malley’s “point man” on this crucial health insurance program. The governor’s press staff dutifully gives Brown co-authorship and quotable lines every time there’s a press release.

Yet it has become painfully clear Brown is not the “point man” on Obamacare, Maryland-style.

What Webster Says

By every dictionary definition, Brown fails that test.

Point man: “a person in the forefront of an economic or political issue” (Webster’s College Dictionary).

Not so. Brown is in his usual position – in the background as the governor’s second banana. At media events, he talks only when the governor directs him to do so.

Point man: “A man who has a crucial, often hazardous role in the forefront of an enterprise” (American Heritage Dictionary).

This doesn’t describe Brown’s role, either. His healthcare designation is symbolic, not substantive.

He co-chairs an oversight panel on healthcare reforms but it is Maryland’s health secretary, not Brown, who’s done the crucial, heavy lifting and taken the brunt of criticisms from legislators.

Point man: “the leader or spokesperson of a campaign or organization” (Collins English Dictionary).

Brown is neither leading the pack on Obamacare nor acting as spokesman for the computerized rollout – except when the governor is out of the country.

O’Malley Takes the Lead

More often than not Brown has had little to add to what more informed officials have to say about this terribly botched IT programming that continues to plague Obamacare in Maryland.

He’s avoided tough-questioning reporters and responded only in a few choreographed situations.

 

Anthony Brown brushes off healthcare questions from WBAL's Jayne Miller.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown brushes off healthcare questions from WBAL’s Jayne Miller.

Once the governor returned this month from his business development trip to Latin America, he stepped forward to answer the difficult questions about the healthcare insurance rollout. Brown has been relegated to a cheerleading role:

  • O’Malley is the one who ordered emergency IT fixes by mid-December.
  • O’Malley is the one who turned day-to-day authority for the exchange over to his top healthcare adviser.
  • O’Malley is the one who dispatched his information technology guru to figure out how to fix this deeply flawed project.
  • O’Malley is the one who announced hiring a Columbia-based computer management company to end this software nightmare.
  • O’Malley is the one holding a flurry of media events to discuss the rollout, both pro and con.
Governor O'Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland's healthcare rollout.

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

Other than comments to back up the governor’s remarks, Brown has contributed little to the discussion.

Death-Watch Job

None of this is surprising.

Lieutenant governors in Maryland are pitifully neutered. They hold office for a single constitutional purpose – to replace the governor if the state’s leader dies or is incapacitated.

Brown has spent the vast majority of the past seven years in campaign mode, delivering prepared speeches at every conceivable event around the state.

He’s not deeply involved in policy decisions – no lieutenant governor is. The governor’s tight-knit inner circle of aides and advisors makes sure of it.

How Brown explains all this to voters is his biggest problem now that his lack of real responsibility has been laid bare.

Evaluating Anthony Brown

The lieutenant governor may be O’Malley’s heir apparent, but does this heir deserve that title?

His track record is slim. Until the botched healthcare rollout put Brown in an embarrassing spotlight, he was an unknown to most voters.

His future depends in large measure on O’Malley’s ability to find a way out of this healthcare debacle.

If enough IT patches make the Maryland Health Connection reliable and usable for both applicants and insurers, public ire may die down by the June 24 primary – D-Day for Brown.

But if computer glitches and foul-ups persist and tens of thousands of Marylanders are denied enrollment, if the state can’t provide insurers with accurate customer data and if public fury increases by early summer, Brown’s chances of winning could tumble.

The Obamacare debacle in Maryland has exposed Brown’s vulnerabilities. It could mark an inflection point in the nascent 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

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Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Obamacare

By Barry Rascovar

December 9, 2013 — Let’s face it: Maryland dropped the ball on implementing Obamacare. To date the rollout has been a failure.

Thirty-seven hundred sign-ups since October 1? That’s pathetic.

Who bears ultimate responsibility?

Let’s start at the top with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his designated point man on the healthcare rollout, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Ever since 2010, Brown has promoted his leadership role in the Obamacare implementation.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown of Maryland

The lieutenant governor co-chairs the Health Care Reform Coordinating Council responsible for spending $163 million in federal funds on an internet signup website.

Until recently, he’s been quick to take credit for this initiative’s potential to extend health care to more of the state’s 800,000 uninsured.

Missing in Action?

Yet when the Maryland Healthcare Connection computer system froze, the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.  E-mails released to the Baltimore Sun confirm that Brown was a no-show in keeping on top of this vitally important state technology program.

When Maryland’s connector system crashed and continued malfunctioning, Brown let others take the heat.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing to discuss systemic problems plaguing the state’s botched website, Brown was absent.

Instead, it was Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein who had to admit there’s no telling when the state’s website will be glitch-free.

Josh Sharfstein

Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein

It was Sharfstein, not Brown, who had to admit there’s nothing the state can do to help people who are losing their healthcare benefits through no fault of their own.

A similar scenario played out before a House committee in Annapolis. Brown remained a no-show.

Then on Wednesday, WBAL-TV’s ace reporter Jayne Miller tracked down Brown and asked about his responsibility for the health care sign-up mess.

She got an aggressive brush-off from a man who sounded offended that his leadership was being questioned.

Brown caught a break Friday when Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the troubled health exchange, resigned after O’Malley sent in his staff to oversee the crippled IT operation.

Now Brown has a scapegoat. Yet he’s having increasing difficulty responding to criticisms that he was too busy campaigning to bother with the nitty-gritty of this IT implementation.

He’s promised to address all this at a carefully scripted and rehearsed press conference sometime this week — if he can fit it into his busy campaign schedule.

Brown’s campaign advertises that he is a proven leader. His websites brag about his role in bringing to fruition the Affordable Care Act. He’s gotten a national award for it.

But he doesn’t have any answer to why he was asleep at the switch, why he wasn’t on top of this exceedingly complex IT operation that cried out for strong, forceful leadership from someone like Brown with a military background.

This is already a central point in the campaign for governor.

Attorney General Doug Gansler accused Brown on Thursday of “ducking responsibility” for the problem — an apt summation of the current situation.

That same day, Brown conceded, “Everyone that has been involved. . . is responsible and that includes me.”

That’s a great way to minimize your own culpability. But it won’t fly in the hothouse arena of a gubernatorial campaign.

Brown may be the general in charge of this operation, but he seems eager to have his  lieutenants take all the grief for a botched mission.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Where was he when feuding contractors were at war with one another in developing the IT system?

Why wasn’t he doing something to remove bureaucratic barriers from Washington that were constantly gummed up the IT system?

Why wasn’t he aware the system hadn’t undergone comprehensive testing?

How will he explain the fact that he didn’t find out the state’s IT program was messed up until it crashed?

Was he a leader in name only?

MD Healthcare Connection

Maryland Healthcare Connection

Slow Fix Hurts Brown

Brown’s dilemma is that Democrats pick their nominee for governor in late June. That may not be enough time to fully fix this technology disaster.

Giant back-end headaches could emerge even as front-end computer glitches are resolved.

Insurance companies may announce large, unexpected losses as a result of the government’s incompetence.

Tens of thousands may continue to experience enrollment failures or wind up uninsured because of flaws in the computer software. Confusion and screw-ups could persist.

Legislative hearings during the upcoming General Assembly session could prove intensely embarrassing.

This has been, to date, an epic implementation fiasco.

If public anger builds rather than dissipates, there will be political consequences especially in a state like Maryland with its early primary elections next year.

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Mizeur’s Promises, Dirty Tricks and more

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

Instead, they pander to voters.

Mizeur’s Promises

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

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seems to be Mizeur’s recipe, too.

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

Tax Breaks For Nearly Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Patelides

Mike Patelides

It might not matter.

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

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

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

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

No Progress on Key Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What Happened to Accuracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Moring 'tracking' Doug Gansler

Jeff Moring ‘tracking’ Doug Gansler for Brown campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there’s a whopper.

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

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

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

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

Gansler, Craig Stumble in MD Governor’s Race

Red-Light Runner vs. Environment-Killer

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unprecedented Response

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

Gansler repeatedly mishandled his responses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

O’Malley’s Role Questioned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning to the GOP Race

David Craig’s early mistakes could be equally serious.

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

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

Harford Co. Exec. David Craig

Harford Co. Executive David Craig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic Response

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

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

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

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

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Maryland Governor: The Race is On

Establishment vs. Outsider?

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

Ballot Box

Ballot Box

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

Making History

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

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

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

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

Two-Way Contest

They are far and away the ones to watch.

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

That’s not likely to happen.

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

Divergent Strategies

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

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gansler the Outsider

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

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

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

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

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

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

Two Big Tests

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

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

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

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Who Does the Truth Hurt — Gansler or Brown?

By Barry Rascovar / August 19, 2013

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

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

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

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

Brown’s Response

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

Oh, please. Cue the national anthem.

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

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

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

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

Segmenting the Vote

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

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

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

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

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

What Has He Done?

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

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

Even Brown’s military service has been greatly magnified.

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

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

The Fallout, Pro and Con

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

Yes and no.

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

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

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

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

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

Politicians as Truth-Tellers

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

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

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

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

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

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Maryland’s New Taxes: Why Now?

By Barry Rascovar / July 2, 2013

TAXES ON GASOLINE in Maryland went up 3.5 cents on Monday; crossing toll bridges and tunnels got a lot more expensive, especially for truckers. Fees to combat stormwater pollution kicked in as well in the greater Baltimore-Washington area.

Higher gas taxesIt’s a big pill to swallow, even in a state whose leaders have felt no compunction about raising over 40 taxes, especially on businesses and the well-too-do, during the O’Malley-Brown reign in Annapolis.

Yes, the fees and taxes that commenced July 1 are necessary over the long run. We may not like it, but progress comes with a price.

Land of Toxic Living?

Would we rather watch bridges collapse, beltway congestion mushroom and pollution of streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay turn Maryland into the “Land of Toxic Living”?

It’s the timing and the size of these tax increases that are so terrible.

The burden imposed on businesses and non-profits is harmful and counter-productive. Critics have a right to mock the state’s chief executive by cynically shouting: “Pile high the taxes, Martin!”

Wait Till Later

Even worse, the first stage of the gasoline tax in Maryland pales compared with future increases dictated under the new law that could total 65 cents. The cries of anguish and anger will dog the next administration in Annapolis — a gift from the departing governor.

It didn’t have to play out this way.

A thoughtful, practical and courageous approach by political leaders in the Maryland State House would have led to action much sooner. That would have meant smaller levies phased in over time and two decades of transportation and environmental upgrades.

A Better  Way

It’s no surprise that more must be spent today to stem pollution caused by stormwater runoff. If Maryland had acted sooner, the fees would have been more modest and the remediation would have been cheaper.

Instead, O’Malley & Co. waited . . . and waited . . . and waited until the Environmental Protection Agency strong-armed Maryland and other nearby states to commit to big pollution cleanups.

It also was no surprise Maryland needed more money to repair dilapidated bridges and highways. Yet no governor and no legislature in the last 20 years had the courage to do the right thing..

Gone With The Wind

Instead, they took the Scarlett O’Hara approach: They put off difficult decisions until Maryland faced a transportation crisis and construction costs had soared.

As a result, Marylanders face a raft of gas tax increases that eventually will make this state one of the costliest in the nation at the pump. The new tolls for some truckers are so severe it may put their businesses in jeopardy.

Governors and legislators also dramatically raised the cost for fixing transportation and environmental shortcomings by waiting.

Parris Didn’t Get It

Had Gov. Parris Glendening overcome his political trepidation and acted in the best, long-term interests of Maryland he would have insisted in the 1990s on a gas tax increase tied to inflation. He also would have imposed modest fees to stem sewage plant and stormwater pollution of the Chesapeake.

The same can be said of Bob Ehrlich, who jacked up transportation licensing fees instead of biting the bullet with a far larger tax increase at the pump. He deserves credit, though, for imposing an unpopular “flush tax” to modernize sewage treatment plants. It didn’t win him points with conservatives — and hurt his reelection chances — but it was the right thing to do.

O’Malley failed to seize his moment (“carpe diem”) in 2007 when he had a golden chance to ram through a gas tax increase along with slots legalization. A small environmental cleanup fee could have been tacked on at that time, too.

So Many Missed Opportunities

We could have averted the current round of tax hikes but no one in the State House took the high road. They worried about re-electability instead of Maryland’s long-term viability.

We would have had better roads and bridges, too, and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay had our political leaders acted wisely in the past. Two decades of progress in transportation and the environment were lost.

Our leaders haven’t been very courageous. We’re paying the price for that today.

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