Tag Archives: Maryland politics

Fear ‘The Donald’!

By Barry Rascovar

July 25, 2016 – “Fear the Turtle” is the University of Maryland’s slogan for rallying support at Terrapin sports events. In Philadelphia this week, Maryland delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be using a different slogan to get them energized: “Fear The Donald!”

Fear 'The Donald'!

Donald J. Trump, Republican presidential nominee

What draws Democrats together faster than anything – be they Bernie Sanders delegates or Hillary Clinton supporters – is the pit-in-the-stomach fear Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose over-the-top rants have made him a lightning rod of controversy, will somehow win the November presidential election.

Trump’s bleak, scary and angry rhetoric was on full display when he delivered his 75-minute acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week.

His deep pessimism and loud, sweeping denunciations of President Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for everything that has gone wrong in the world made it clear that in Trump’s mind, only he can act as this country’s savior.

That ought to be more than enough to end internal Democratic divisions. It won’t, though, because the liberal vs. pragmatic split within the party remains as deep as ever.

Philadelphia Divide

Sanders devotees have plenty of misgivings and wounded pride to prompt unruly demonstrations, bitter floor debates and pandemonium in the streets. They may not be content to leave Philadelphia united behind Clinton.

Still, the Trump factor could override all other Democratic concerns once the general election campaign heats up after Labor Day.

By then, this week’s spat over dismissive party e-mails about Bernie Sanders and party donors will be ancient history; controversial party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be long gone.

There are more important thing to worry about than liberal Democrats’ misgivings about Clinton’s middle-road approach and her middle-road running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

As Sanders put it on Sunday, “To my mind, what is most important now is the defeat of the worst candidate for president that I have seen in my lifetime, Donald Trump, who is not qualified to be president by temperament, not qualified to be president by the ideas that he has brought forth.”

Bernie on ‘The Donald’

For Sanders, “Fear The Donald” is real and paramount.

As Trump was delivering his long acceptance speech last week, the Vermont senator tweeted a series of zingers:

Those who voted for me will not support Trump who has made bigotry and divisiveness the cornerstone of his campaign.

Trump: “I alone can fix this.” Is this guy running for president or dictator?

What a hypocrite! If Trump wants to “fix” trade he can start by making his products in the US, not low-wage countries abroad.

Trump’s economic plan: $3.2 trillion in tax breaks for millionaires, cut programs for low-income Americans.

What psychiatrist Sigmund Freud referred to as “transference” is going on. Sanders no longer directs his ire and outrage at fellow Democrat Clinton or the DNC but at Republican Trump.

You can expect a lot of re-directed anger in Philadelphia, kicking off Monday night with kicking off with Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and First Lady Michelle Obama through Thursday night’s acceptance speech.

Dominating News Coverage

Donald Trump is the perfect target. Indeed, Trump relishes being in the Democrats’ bull’s eye. Why? Because it keeps him in the spotlight.

A long time ago a veteran Maryland campaign warrior, George P. Mahoney, pulled me aside after I had written a critical article about his manipulative actions chairing the new State Lottery Commission. He wasn’t mad at all, Mahoney said. “I don’t care what you write about me as long as you spell my name right.”

That, in a nutshell, is Donald Trump’s approach to politics.

Any publicity, in his eyes, is good. He monopolizes the 24/7 news cycle of this Internet Age by posting outrageous tweets and Facebook screeds day and night.

It worked in the Republican primaries. Trump firmly believes in this precedent-setting method of communicating with voters.

Still, Trump will be a hard sell in heavily Democratic Maryland, though Republicans in Cleveland came away thinking otherwise.

GOP Optimism in Maryland

Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich, saw Trump as a “change agent” in this election versus Clinton representing the status quo. That, she feels, could determine the outcome.

Other delegates said Trump appeals to blue-collar Democrats – the sort of (D) voters who helped elect Ronald Reagan.

Still, the situation in Maryland is daunting for Trump.

State Republicans already are split in their loyalty to the GOP nominee, with Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford opposed to Trump. That will hurt statewide organizing and fund-raising efforts.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party under former Del. Bruce Poole has had a resurgence in preparing a well-orchestrated get-out-the-vote effort.

The Republicans’ nearly 2-1 voter registration deficit hurts badly, too.

Democrats’ Challenges

So while Trump is expected to do well in underpopulated, rural Maryland and in outlying suburbs, Clinton should have a lock on Maryland’s major population centers, especially in Baltimore City and the Washington suburbs.

The big challenges for Democrats lie in two areas:

1.) Leaving Philadelphia determined to make sure Trump gets trumped in Maryland, and

2.) Ensuring a large, perhaps record-breaking, turnout of Democrats in Central Maryland. That’s where elections are won or lost in the Free State.

Eight years ago, Republican John McCain got less than 37 percent of the Maryland vote. Four years later, Republican Mitt Romney’s vote total dropped below 36 percent.

November’s election looks like a steep, uphill climb for Maryland Republicans. But their candidate is sui generis – a unique, charismatic populist willing to break the mold in presidential politics.

That poses a unique challenge for Maryland Democrats, a point that will be hammered home repeatedly in Philadelphia this week.

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Memorial Day Musings

By Barry Rascovar

May 30, 2016—A number of thoughts while celebrating the contributions of the men and women who served or serve in our nation’s military:

Baltimore City’s elections on May 27 offered two striking lessons for politicians and state election officials.

Provisional Mistakes

Yes, there was a terrible screw-up: Over 1,100 provisional ballots were mistakenly counted before the legitimacy of voters casting the ballots could be checked.

Memorial Day Musings

City election board officials have been pilloried for this mess. Fair enough, since it is clear there had not been nearly enough education or training of election judges.

But the state election board is culpable as well.

Converting from an electronic, computer touch-screen system – where voting errors are few – to an old-fashioned paper-ballot system that is known to be error-prone – was ripe for confusion and mistakes.

Not one city election-day judge had ever worked with the state’s new paper-ballot/automated counter system before. Baltimore City had used the old lever mechanical voting machines before jumping directly to the computer touch-screens. The city never held a paper-ballot election in anyone’s lifetime.

State election officials knew this. They also knew the city historically has voting snafus.

Yet state officials failed to take extra steps to help the city election board adapt to a brand-new voting system. Nor did they dispatch personnel to assist with training or offer more supervisory help on Election Day.

Instead, the state board and its staff sat back and watched the easily-predicted train wreck occur.

The main problem – confusion over how to handle those casting provisional ballots – could have been avoided if the state board had used treated paper for provisional ballots that the counting machines automatically rejected.

This and other ideas were scotched by the state board in Annapolis.

City election officials say they have learned the hard way and will make sure this doesn’t happen again in November. Perhaps the state election board will do more, too, and start acting like a cooperative partner instead of a stern superior.

New-Age Electioneering?

The May 27 city election held a lesson for young politicians as well. Some of them counted heavily on social media connections to springboard them to victory.

DeRay Mckesson was the most prominent social media star convinced that his heavy Facebook and Twitter presence was all it took to win at the ballot box. Local media made a big deal of his entry into the mayor’s race.

He and others forgot that while millennials might run their lives with a constant eye tuned to social media, the vast majority of voters aren’t plugged in. Indeed, Mckesson’s campaign turned into an embarrassment.

Despite his national Facebook renown, Mckesson received just 3,445 votes – a mere 2.6 percent of the votes cast.

The message is clear: You have to earn voters’ support the old-fashioned way, at least for the next decade or two.

Eye of the Storm

Lucky Elijah Cummings. He gets a starring role at the Democratic National Convention.

Now the bad news: He’s chairing the convention’s Platform Committee, where the hell-hath-no-fury-like-Bernie-Sanders-scorned protests will be heard.

It could get messy, angry and even violent.

Here’s one example. Two Sanders delegates on the committee are determined to have Democrats on record as condemning Israeli violence toward the Palestinian cause. That could set off a cataclysmic response from Jewish delegates and Clinton supporters.

So congratulations to the Baltimore area’s long-serving congressman. But he’d better bring a thick skin and a heavy gavel with him to Philadelphia in July.

Edwards Still in Denial

Defeated Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who lost badly to Congressman Chris Van Hollen in the Democratic primary for United States Senate, remains bitter and angry. She’s gone public now with her sour grapes and excuses as to why she failed to advance her career.

Edwards thinks there’s a “glass ceiling” for black women like herself. That’s why Van Hollen won.

Donna Edwards

Rep. Donna Edwards

Maybe it had something to do with the lousy constituent service Edwards provided for her Washington-area constituents, her grating personality that alienated House colleagues and her failure to sell herself to voters in the Greater Baltimore region.

Maybe her loss had something to do with her meager record in Congress versus Van Hollen’s all-star record.

Elections are won on the basis of merit and executing a solid campaign plan, not proportional representation based on race and gender.

Edwards needs to stop blaming others for her deficiencies. She lost because her campaign focused almost exclusively on race and gender rather than persuading Maryland Democratic she was the best candidate.

School Board Secrecy

Baltimore City’s school board decided to hide its business from the public. So it intentionally circumvented its own rules and picked a new school superintendent in total secrecy. The board didn’t even feel it necessary to tell the public it had fired the incumbent school chief months earlier.

It was a process more suited to the old Soviet Union than the U.S. of A.

What will the board do next behind closed doors?

All sorts of public officials are wringing their hands and criticizing the school board while proclaiming nothing can be done about this outrageous display of heavy-handed secrecy.

That’s not true. There’s plenty both the governor and mayor could have done.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., who appoints half the board members, could have picked up his telephone and read the riot act to school board members for acting in such a cavalier and undemocratic manner. He could have hinted that any shadowy repetition would have consequences when it comes to state funds for city schools.

Meanwhile, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake could have picked up her telephone and shouted at school board officials, too. Then she could have demanded an end to secrecy. She could have gotten the near-certain next mayor, Sen. Cathy Pugh, to echo those sentiments and make clear more secret actions would jeopardize budget support from City Hall.

Both Hogan and Rawlings-Blake dropped the ball.

Hogan doesn’t spend time worrying about what happens in Baltimore City anyway; Rawlings-Blake has been missing in action since announcing her plans to retire.

Transparency and openness in government be damned.

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MD Democrats: Will It Be Symbolism or Substance?

By Barry Rascovar

April 25, 2016—Tuesday’s primary election in Maryland has more drama and national attention than any in recent memory. Democratic voters, in particular, have an eventful choice to make in the U.S. Senate primary: Will they favor symbolism or substance?

If the election were based on achievements and legislative accomplishments, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County would be a landslide winner. His record is heads and shoulders above that of Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George’s County, who has little to show for eight years in Congress.

Edwards’ campaign pitch, delivered almost exclusively to African Americans and women, is that she is a crusader for those two groups. Other voters in the state have been largely ignored.

Edwards is pitching the notion that it is more important to elect a symbolic black female than an accomplished male with solid credentials in the fight for women’s rights and equality for minorities.

Protesters vs. Pragmatisim

In many ways, it is the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders divide all over again. Sanders and Edwards are idealists and protest movement leaders. They excel at sweeping denunciations of the status quo and demanding radical change to obviate social injustice.

But as far as finding practical solutions and realistic ways to solve intractable problems, Sanders and Edwards come up woefully short. They are visionaries and crusaders, not worker-bees and negotiators.

They may claim credit for the ultimate reforms but they weren’t in the room doing the hard work of finding a path forward through a thicket of political and societal obstacles.

Clinton and Van Hollen are pragmatists who recognize Rome wasn’t built in a day (legislatively speaking) and that steady progress toward Democratic social goals is the most pragmatic tactic. It’s not an exciting or emotionally riveting approach but it gets you where you want to go.

When he was in Annapolis as a state delegate and then a state senator, Van Hollen was viewed as a rising star. When he went to Congress, it wasn’t long before he became a key member of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s inner circle. Why? Because he’s effective. He knows how to get things done and to do so in ways that won’t alienate colleagues or blow up compromises.

Views in Congress

Van Hollen is exceptionally well-liked by those who have worked with him; Edwards is not. Fewer than 10 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed her Senate bid, which is a telling slight. The vast majority of elected black officials in Maryland have cast their lot with Van Hollen as well.

Edwards has given residents of her congressional district the back of her hand, preferring to focus on national feminist and African American causes rather than delivering quality constituent service. She also has spent little time canvassing the entire state, especially in the Baltimore region where many voters wouldn’t recognize Edwards if she bumped into them.

One of the oddities of this Senate primary is the peculiarly myopic position of Emily’s List, which has poured nearly $2.5 million into a drive to nominate Edwards, even though Van Hollen has an equally sterling record in support of women’s rights.

It could come back to haunt supporters of women’s rights because Edwards is the Democrat that Maryland Republicans want to run against. She is viewed as vulnerable in the November election.

Edwards’ base of support is narrow, but in a Democratic primary she is hoping that vast numbers of African American women will exert enough voting power to pull her over the top.

In November, though, the African American vote isn’t nearly as great. Republicans see a legitimate chance to cast Edwards as a far left-wing radical who does not represent the views of mainstream Marylanders.

Anger Among Supporters

Emily’s List opted to divert $2.5 million of its funds from other Senate races where strong female candidates could well oust incumbent Republicans if given a big financial boost.

It was not a smart move and it angered many supporters of the group in Maryland who view the group’s endorsement and financial backing of Edwards destructive to the Democratic Party and overtly sexist.

How this primary race turns out is likely to determine the type of senator Maryland gets for the next six years (or more). Van Hollen is far closer to the image of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who speaks loudly and gruffly but knows how to work the legislative system to get what she wants for her home state. Edwards has shown no inclination she would follow Mikulski’s formula.

Van Hollen appears to have the advantage – in recent polls, in the support of elected officials, in key newspaper endorsements, in his fund-raising prowess, in the quality of his advertising and in his ground-level election operations (his team knocked on seven times more doors during the week of early voting than Team Edwards).

Turnout could prove telling, but excitement over the presidential races, two hotly contested congressional races in the Washington suburbs, an equally intense race for Baltimore mayor and the Edwards-Van Hollen contest could boost voter intensity all over the state.

Do Democrats in Maryland want a senator who is an eloquent civil rights protester or a practitioner of the practical? The outcome could weigh heavily on the direction of state politics in the years to come.

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Hogan’s April Fool’s Joke?

By Barry Rascovar

April 4, 2016—On April Fool’s Day, Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. played a whopper of a prank on the Maryland General Assembly: He vetoed a bill that brings public accountability and transparency to an important state government decision-making process.

Surely, Hogan wasn’t serious about this veto. Right?

 

Hogan's April Fool's Joke?

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.

After all, Republican legislatures in Virginia and North Carolina have passed similar “openness in government” laws.

Besides, the Maryland bill he vetoed doesn’t weaken Hogan’s power to do as he pleases in selecting transportation projects.

It’s a “feel good” bill that merely requires that Hogan’s team develop a ranking system for transportation projects and then explain if programs low on the list are given priority status in his budget.

Transparency but No Enforcement

Is Hogan against transparency in government? Does he really want to run a more secretive administration?

Of course not.

Is Hogan serious about terming this toothless bill “the worst kind of policy making”?

Is he sincere when he says this flimsy bill will block needed road and bridge projects?

No, of course not.

It’s got to be an April Fool’s joke.

The bill passed by the legislature is decades overdue. Had such transparency in road projects been in place, the corruption scandals involving Spiro Agnew, Dale Anderson and Joe Alton might never have happened.

Shining a light on government decision-making helps avoid shadowy actions by the governor’s staff that are based on political favoritism or cronyism. The public deserves to know how important choices are made. That builds trust in Maryland’s elected leaders.

Trumpian Statements

Hogan’s comments are so far afield from the facts that it’s all got to be a gigantic charade.

Indeed, Hogan’s rantings about this unenforceable transportation transparency bill are so extreme that he sounds almost Trumpian.

Let’s examine some of his claims.

Does this bill strip power from the governor? No.

Does this bill give more power to the legislature? No.

Does this bill block the governor from choosing any road or bridge project he wants? No.

Does this bill harm any Marylanders? No.

Does this bill harm business development? No.

Does this bill infringe on the governor’s right to identify local road projects he wants to fund? Absolutely not.

So why is Hogan in such a lather? Why did he veto a bill that will be overridden promptly by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly?

Partisan, Republican politics, pure and simple.

Energizer Issue

Hogan is using this bill as a device to energize his followers and true-believers. It is part of Hogan’s ideological drive to portray himself and his supporters as victims of those evil Democrats who control the legislature.

He’s arguing on the basis of emotion, not facts. And he’s sounding distressingly like Donald Trump.

Hogan is correct that Democratic lawmakers are becoming more and more distrustful of his actions, such as cancelling the federally-approved Red Line transit route, the terrible appointments he made to the Baltimore City liquor board, the questionable appointments he made to the state’s handgun control board, the suspect actions of his nominee to the Public Service Commission, and his de-emphasis of mass transit in his budget in favor of road projects in Republican counties.

The transportation transparency bill stems from that distrust. If Hogan continues along this path, distrust of Hogan could grow rapidly, with many more objectionable bills reaching his desk.

Hogan knows he’s going to lose this fight with the legislature. He also knows his powers remain fully intact. It’s all for show – and for political gain.

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Good Larry, Bad Larry

By Barry Rascovar

  March 14, 2016–From day to day, lawmakers in Annapolis don’t know what to expect from Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.
  Will it be “Good Larry” who moderates his comments, works to find middle ground and comes out making everyone happy?
  Or will it be “Bad Larry” who uses heated political rhetoric; sounds false warnings of doom to energize his conservative base, and alienates the very legislators he needs to accomplish things?
Good Larry, Bad Larry

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, at press conference denouncing spending mandates.

   Perhaps someday Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. will learn how to govern and deal with Maryland’s co-equal branch, the General Assembly. So far, though, it hasn’t happened.
  Most of the time Hogan stays in partisan campaign mode, pretending he can have what he wants simply by reminding legislators of his popularity in polls.

Two to Tango

  Then he bumps up against the hard reality of American politics: Without support from the legislative branch, no state’s chief executive can make headway toward his goals.
  The “Good Larry/Bad Larry” dichotomy was on full display last week in the State House.
On Tuesday, “Bad Larry” went ballistic because Democratic lawmakers aren’t about to gift-wrap for him new budget powers so he can make deeper cuts in spending.
  Yet on Thursday, “Good Larry” mollified those same legislators by adding construction dollars for historically black colleges, by accelerating construction of a biomedical sciences building on the University System of Maryland’s Shady Grove campus, and by giving Baltimore City schools funds to partially offset falling student enrollment.
  It was a bravura Thursday performance after an embarrassing Tuesday display of staged anger.

Hogan’s Dilemma

  The Republican governor can’t decide whether he wants to govern or campaign.
  Governing requires that he be practical and pragmatic, compromising with Democrats so he can achieve partial victories.
  Campaigning requires that he abandon any chance of winning over lawmakers and instead launch a continuous barrage of verbal assaults on Democratic legislators in preparation for the 2018 elections – still two-and-a-half years away.
  Usually, Hogan has chosen to stay in campaign mode.

Distorting the Facts

  On Tuesday, he condemned Democrats for not taking seriously his bill to eliminate many of the spending mandates established by legislators over the years. Asking any legislature to cede budget power to the governor is a non-starter – unless the governor can provide some persuasive reasons.
  Hogan failed to do so.
  Instead, he blamed it on “eight years of financial mismanagement” under the prior (Democratic) governor and Maryland’s current “precarious fiscal situation” on the (Democratic-dominated) legislature.
  Neither statement is true.
  The state’s past fiscal woes stemmed mainly from the deep and long Great Recession. As for that “precarious fiscal situation,” it doesn’t exist at the moment – not when Hogan is sitting on a $300 million budget surplus and $1 billion in a “rainy day” account.

Powerful Governor

  It’s campaign hyperbole, as was the chart Hogan continually pointed to at his Wednesday press conference, the one claiming Democrats seek to impose on Marylanders $3.7 billion in spending mandates this session.
  Hogan already has more budget power than any other governor in the country. He doesn’t need extra authority to short-circuit spending mandates in troubled economic times.
  Why? Because he already can make drastic cuts in two different ways – with approval from the Board of Public Works, or with the cooperation of state lawmakers through a budget reconciliation bill.
  Thus, Hogan’s “mandates reform” is a bogus issue put forward mainly for partisan political purposes.

‘Power Grab’ or Transparency?

  The same is true of his earlier wailing over Democratic bills forcing Hogan to explain the rationale for building roads and bridges that appear to be low-priority items.
  Hogan claimed in almost hysterical terms how this was a “reckless power grab” and a “thinly veiled power grab.”
  It is neither.
  The package of bills doesn’t stop Hogan for doing whatever he wants in selecting the state’s transportation projects. The bills simply force him to explain why he’s picked road project F over road project A on the state’s priority list.
  Senate President Mike Miller clearly explained that these bills remove “the mystery of how, why and where roads get built.” The measures encourage government transparency while leaving intact the governor’s road-selection powers.
  What’s wrong with that?

Good Republicans, Evil Democrats

  Hogan and his second-floor Republican ideologues are good at promoting phantom crises they blame on Democrats. They’re applying national GOP tactics to Maryland: Make this a fight between good Republicans and evil Democrats and point an accusing finger at the party of evil.
  No wonder Hogan has won few legislative victories in a Democratic-dominated General Assembly. At the moment, it looks like he’s headed for a large basketful of defeats this session, too.
  That’s why Thursday’s supplemental budget from Hogan is so intriguing. The governor negotiated deals with Democrats on a host of issues and wound up getting praised by his opponents for working out win-win compromises.
  That victory could set the stage for more moments of Hogan playing the role of Great Conciliator as the General Assembly moves rapidly toward its conclusion.
  But he won’t get very far in that direction if he continues to alienate and infuriate key lawmakers with his “Good Larry/Bad Larry” routine.
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Education Politics

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 14, 2015 – He masks it well, but Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. plays a good game of partisan politics. Behind that smile and friendly voice is a fierce Republican eager to further the conservative cause.

Education is a prime example of Hogan’s conservative partisanship trumping over sound public policy.

First, he needlessly nixed $68 million in education aid to 14 high-cost subdivisions, basing his action on the false premise that this money was needed to bolster the state’s pension fund. (The money instead sat unused in the state treasury.)

He tossed a bunch of moderate non-partisans off the Baltimore County school board and named one replacement who is an outspoken social conservative with views on public education that are far from mainstream.

Then he announced a surprise gift of $5.6 million to three Republican-voting counties to help them with their loss of state funds due to shrinking enrollment.

That announcement was bogus, too.

No Done Deal

Hogan is talking as though he can write a check to the three counties – Carroll, Garrett and Kent. He can’t.

In reality, he’s only putting a request for this appropriation in his next budget, due in January. It will be up to the Democratic General Assembly to determine if Hogan’s “gift” to three of 24 school systems is warranted.

It’s highly unlikely Hogan’s maneuver to aid just the three Republican counties will be approved as submitted.

Moreover, this funding from Hogan is only a temporary, one-year sop to the three Republican counties. It does nothing to solve their long-range education budget woes caused by too many school buildings and a dwindling number of students.

But the governor got raves from some Republican politicians and angry parents in Carroll County, who have been waging a concerted effort to keep three schools open, despite the fact that flat migration and slowing birthrates has led to a 7 percent drop in school enrollment, with more losses expected over the next five years.

Education Politics

Declining enrollment in Carroll County schools poses dilemma.

Hogan’s aid plan merely kicks the proverbial can down the road – the very same tactic Candidate Hogan railed against when attacking the O’Malley-Brown administration during last year’s campaign.

Carroll’s Conundrum

Following lengthy studies and deliberations, Carroll’s school superintendent recommended closing three under-capacity schools next fall and possibly two more later. This would save at least $5.2 million. He wants to address $14 million in unmet needs within the school system caused by the county leadership’s refusal to raise more local tax dollars for education.

Hogan is pandering to a few of Carroll’s Republican legislators, who want the state to bail them out of this education dilemma of their own making. The cold, hard reality is that maintaining a quality school system is a costly proposition for local governments.

The option they sought to avoid: Closing no-longer-needed schools, which are expensive to maintain. Such a move is intensely unpopular with those that are affected – parents and their children.

But Carroll’s school board refused to take Hogan’s bait. Members recognized they were being offered fool’s gold. They understood this would only add to the anguish and costs.

A true conservative wouldn’t play this type of political game.

Instead, a true conservative would let the downsizing (or “right-sizing”) commence so the school system spends its limited dollars more wisely and efficiently.

Isn’t the conservative approach espoused by Hogan all about eliminating wasteful government spending?

Longer-range Perspective

Rather than taking a partisan, piecemeal and temporary approach to this problem, why not examine the need to make long-range changes in Maryland’s school-aid formula?

Schools with declining enrollments shouldn’t suffer such immediate and deep aid cuts. That’s a flaw in the state’s education formula. Garrett County, impoverished and isolated, is a prime example of how this portion of the formula unfairly harms jurisdictions most in need.

At the same time, other parts of the formula need fixing. Baltimore City is being penalized because its property wealth grew last year due to waterfront developments. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into more local money for schools.

There’s an even bigger question not being discussed.

With the state likely to show a huge surplus in January, isn’t it time to take a bipartisan look at possibly raising Maryland’s per-pupil spending as the state’s economy gains momentum?

A panel is studying changes in the school-aid formula, with its final report due next fall. Republicans need to open their minds to supporting a future increase in state funding if they truly want to help schools in Republican counties.

Partisanship won’t disappear, though. We can expect a major tug of war on this issue starting in January and extending through the next gubernatorial election.

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Flawed Poll

By Barry Rascovar

October 19, 2015 – True or false: Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore would easily defeat the two most prominent contenders for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski next year.

A Flawed Poll

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore

If you believe the Washington Post poll published last Friday, the answer is “true.”

But don’t believe everything you see in polls, especially polling snapshots that contain serious and disturbingly invalid tabulations.

The Post poll showed Cummings with 33 percent of the vote against Rep. Chris Van Hollen (20 percent) and Rep. Donna Edwards (20 percent), the two declared main contenders for Mikulski’s seat in next April’s Democratic primary.

The results were in line with a private poll commissioned by Cummings last spring.

But if you delve deeper into the poll’s methodology, there is reason to question its reliability.

Only 550 people were surveyed on the Senate question, a small number. Most established polling organizations insist on a sample of 1,000 to 2,000 respondents to get accurate snapshots of voter sentiment.

Poor Decision

Far worse was the decision by the Post and its partner, the University of Maryland, to ask the Senate question to both registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

Note to the Post and UM: Registered independents cannot vote in Maryland primaries. So why in the world would you include them in a survey of voter sentiment on the Democratic Senate race?

The Post’s Senate poll results are tainted.

It may be that even when independents are removed from the tabulations, the numbers stay roughly the same – though the sample then might be too small to accurately gauge true Democratic sentiment.

Independent voters represented one-third of the people surveyed by the Post and UM for this extensive poll. That means the number of Democrats who were asked the Senate question might be quite small, perhaps only 350 or so individuals.

There’s also the problem of polling too early in the election cycle.

Governor Brown?

Well-known names always score best when balloting is far, far away.

In prior elections, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Anthony Brown looked like runaway victors in early polls. Both failed miserably on Election Day.

Cummings says he intends to make his decision on a Senate race this fall. He’s consumed right now by his role as chief defender of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton against smears from House Republicans over the death of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, three years ago.

He’s also a national spokesman on African-American issues and a prime defender of the Obama administration against determined Republican attacks in the House of Representatives.

It could be a difficult choice for Cummings, whose reelection to his congressional seat is a slam-dunk. The Post’s fatally flawed Senate poll won’t be of much use in making that decision.

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Hogan’s Unmistakable Popularity

By Barry Rascovar

October 19, 2015 – Make no mistake: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. is an anomaly in today’s “hate everything” society: He’s a popular public official.

Unmistakable Popularity

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.

Hogan tops out at 58 percent approval in a Goucher College poll and gets a 61 percent rating in the Washington Post poll.

Good for him.

He has carefully avoided most hot-button political issues and sought to minimize controversy during his initial year in office.

Sympathy for Hogan

Yet a substantial part of Hogan’s high ratings in a heavily Democratic state stems from his health problems – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Hogan has been transparent and open with Marylanders about his illness and has become a strong advocate for those with cancer.

His obvious courage and heartfelt effort to boost the spirits of his fellow cancer patients naturally won widespread applause from all corners.

At the same time, Hogan’s aides haven’t missed a beat in pulling on voters heartstrings and reminding everyone of Hogan’s arduous and courageous trips through chemotherapy treatment.

That skews the poll results. By how much we will never know.

Honeymoon Phase

Hogan most likely still would have polled well at this early stage in his administration without coming down with such a serious medical condition.

It’s interesting to compare Hogan’s numbers with Bob Ehrlich’s and Martin O’Malley’s at similar points in their administrations.

Ehrlich encountered huge, unexpected problems with the General Assembly in his first year in office yet managed approval ratings almost identical to Hogan’s.

O’Malley, faced with a huge deficit and joblessness caused by the Great Recession, took immediate and unpopular steps to right Maryland’s fiscal ship of state. That partly explains why his first-year approval rating came in at 52 percent.

But Hogan should take note: This pretty much was the high water mark for his predecessors in polls. The first year in office traditionally is viewed by citizens as a honeymoon period for the governor. He really hasn’t done much to stir anger in his initial months in Annapolis.

Hogan has followed that script closely.

Popular Moves

He’s made some moves he knew would be popular with most Marylanders – cutting highway and bridge tolls, killing an expensive subway project, closing a decrepit jail in Baltimore and coming to the aid of the mayor when rioting broke out in Charm City.

No wonder Hogan did so well in these polls.

But by this time next year, thing might be quite different.

Hogan’s team only now is getting a true handle on the inner workings of state agencies so it can cut spending and shrink the bureaucracy. They’re putting together next year’s budget, which could stun Democratic legislators with the size of cuts to some programs that matter deeply to lawmakers.

The governor also is likely to push hard for conservative initiatives, such heavily promoting charter schools, doing away with common core education standards, loosening business and environmental regulations and reducing the scope of some social services for the poor and near-poor.

Any of these steps could become flashpoints for loud, angry opposition – the sort of controversies that hurt a politician’s poll numbers.

So enjoy the high approval marks while you can, governor. The tough part of your job lies ahead.

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Dems in the Spotlight

By Barry Rascovar

October 15, 2015 – What a contrast between the two recent Republican presidential alley fights and the polite, wonkish policy discussions at the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night in, of all places, a luxurious Las Vegas casino-hotel.

Dems in the Spotlight

Democrats debate (left to right): Chafee, Clinton, O’Malley, Sanders and Webb

Just as Donald Trump seized the spotlight, and kept it, during the raucous GOP debates, Hillary Clinton clearly took center stage and never relinquished her dominance of the five-candidate Democratic field.

There was no doubt who was the most competent and compelling candidate on stage, the only one you could picture sitting in the Oval Office negotiating the fate of the world with Vladimir Putin.

The Others

Wimpy Lincoln Chafee made it embarrassingly clear he would be a lost ball in high grass as president. Jim Webb seemed to have trouble explaining himself. Martin O’Malley (oh, Martin!) too often sounded rehearsed and not-yet-ready for prime time.

Then there was Bernie.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of tiny, rural Vermont, the socialist who turned Democrat at the last minute so he could launch a fervently emotional crusade to rally support for his far-left-of-center utopian ideals.

To Sanders, capitalism belongs in the waste bin of history. Let’s make the U.S. of A. like Denmark!

Similar to Trump, Sanders is capitalizing on public anger over the gridlocked mess in Washington, the dangerously intractable foreign policy quagmires, and the strong dislike people have toward politicians in power. (Sanders may be a U.S. senator but he isn’t allowed to play an influential role.)

Bernie was wonderfully entertaining Tuesday night. He’s a riveting speaker, full of fire and brimstone and loud anger that brought cheers from his fanatical loyalists.

But he was woefully short of proposals that stand any chance of becoming reality. Free college education? Free health care for all? All his ideas would require $19 trillion in new tax revenue. Even Sanders’ relentless demands to tax and prosecute billionaires to the hilt won’t come within a continent of paying for his programs.

Perfect Foil

Sanders is a dreamer and a provocateur. He isn’t going to be president. He’s way too extreme in his notions and way too vague as to how he’d accomplish anything in a Congress that could be controlled by radical Republicans. But his anger and his impossible dreams are perfect foils for the pragmatic front-runner.

Only Clinton stood out as an accomplished presidential candidate who understands the complexities of Washington and recognizes incremental reforms are the only steps that might be possible at the moment.

She came through Tuesday night as someone in command of her facts and her goals — improve life for the middle and lower classes of American society. She is, at this point, the star of a very weak presidential class.

But be aware, we still are over a year away from the general election and over three months from the first primary. It’s a long, long road to the White House and surprises are certain to emerge.

For now, though, the Democratic presidential picture has come into sharp focus. As for the Republicans, we’re still waiting for the three-ring circus to end and real policy discussions to begin.

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Redistricting Reform: Mission Impossible?

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 17, 2015 — Reformers want to take partisan politics out of the redistricting equation. So does the governor. That may be Mission Impossible.

Maryland's Current Congressional Districts

Maryland’s Current Congressional Districts

On the surface, their goal sounds easy to achieve. Pass a state constitutional amendment empowering an impartial panel of citizens to revise Maryland’s congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years (after the new U.S. Census is taken) so the districts conform to the Supreme Court’s 1962 “one-man, one-vote” edict.

Conservative Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. has joined liberal reformers in this crusade. He’s positioned himself so it looks like those mean Democrats are defiantly standing in the way.

As usual, the situation is far more complicated than the cover story.

Hogan’s Goal

The governor’s motives are hardly pure. He’s looking for political advantage for his outnumbered Republican Party. Stripping control of redistricting from the Democratic controlled General Assembly is his objective.

Right now, thanks to manipulation of redistricting maps by Democratic leaders, seven out of eight Maryland congressmen are Democrats. Hogan thinks a 4-4 split would be more like it.

Yet the current distribution isn’t far off the voter registration numbers.

Had state and national Republican organizations given Sixth District challenger Dan Bongino more financial and organizational support last year (he lost by less than 2,800 votes), the congressional split in Maryland would be 6-2, or 25 percent. That’s almost precisely what the GOP’s registered voter figure is in Maryland today.

So maybe Republicans aren’t so bad off under the current redistricting process after all.

GOP Pickup?

Hogan, though, believes creating more evenly balanced districts would benefit the state GOP, particularly in the General Assembly. He’s placing his bet on a non-partisan revision of legislative district lines in 2021 or 2022.

That premise may not be valid, either.

Republicans currently hold 30 percent of the state Senate seats in Annapolis and 35 percent of the House of Delegates seats. Both figures exceed the party’s statewide voter registration percentages.

Even under Democratic control of the redistricting process, the GOP is doing better than expected.

What skews such comparisons are the large number of unaffiliated voters — 672,000 of them statewide. They are neither Republicans nor Democrats yet they make up 18 percent of registered Maryland voters.

Winning over these independents has been the GOP’s downfall in Maryland. When a Republican candidate reaches out to these middle-roaders, like Hogan did, success is more likely.

How unaffiliated voters will react under impartially drawn redistricting maps is unknown. Nothing may change. Or everything.

Miller’s Response

Hogan knows that Democrats in the legislature will not allow him to win this redistricting fight. Senate President Mike Miller, the savviest politician in Annapolis, has said, quite bluntly, “It won’t happen.”

Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch have nothing to gain from cooperating with the governor.  They understand that Hogan will do whatever it takes to help the Republican Party, with or without a new redistricting commission. They’re not going to help him in that effort.

The best practical outcome would be a pledge by both Hogan and the two Democratic legislative leaders to turn to a group of impartial redistricting experts and citizens for their preliminary re-mapping of Maryland after the 2020 Census.

Such early guidance from non-politicians might dissuade either side from creating the kinds of grotesque districts that now dominate Maryland’s congressional boundaries. It also might lead to more sensible boundary lines for legislative districts that respect communities of interest.

Ever since the Supreme Court removed itself from most redistricting decisions, the two political parties have had a field day throughout the country twisting and turning congressional and legislative districts to their advantage. Each party has sinned mightily.

Gerrymandering is a longtime American tradition, starting with Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry in 1812.

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry, Vice President and Mass. governor forever linked to “gerrymandering.”

Trying to remove all political partisanship from this politically sensitive process is wishful thinking.

Still, we can do better than what Maryland has now.

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