Tag Archives: Maryland politics

A Republican MD Senator?

By Barry Rascovar

March 16, 2015 — Did Republican Larry Hogan Jr.’s surprisingly large victory for governor last year blaze the path for a GOP upset in next year’s open seat for the U.S. Senate?

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.

Probably not. Then again, politics is a mercurial business. Given the right circumstances, a longshot scenario might come true.

No Hogan Clones

Here’s the problem: The presumptive GOP candidates aren’t following the winning Hogan formula.

They are very much right of center and outspoken in their conservatism. In liberal Maryland, that’s a distinct turn-off for general election voters.

To understand the state GOP’s dilemma, look at the reasons Hogan won:

  • He stuck to a narrow, economic-driven campaign pitch — high taxes, overreaching government and politics as usual — with virtually no details.
  • He ignored bitterly divisive social issues, much to the discomfort of hard-nosed conservatives, and charted a moderate course.
  • He came across as Maryland’s “Happy Warrior” with a winning smile and demeanor.
  • His opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, ran a dysfunctional campaign and turned off voters with his arrogance and aura of entitlement. His voters stayed home.

It’s no secret that for a Republican to win statewide in Maryland, the Democrats really have to mess up. Did they ever in 2014.

It is entirely plausible Maryland Democrats once more will eat their own and wind up with a far-left candidate who turns off a large chunk of the state’s moderately liberal electorate.

Right-Wing Believers

That would set the stage for a strong Republican Senate challenge, backed by tens of millions of national GOP donor dollars.

But none of the names being floated are likely to resonate with dissatisfied Democratic voters and independents. They are angry, right-wing true believers who denigrate the kind of middle-road, non-ideological, problem-solving Maryland voters tend to favor.

Consider the individuals being mentioned as possible Senate candidates:

Bob Ehrlich. The former governor would win the primary in a cakewalk, but since he left office he’s moved more and more rightward into knee-jerk, pessimistic anti-Obamaism. His four years as governor disappointed Democrats and Republicans, he lost reelection and his attempt to recapture the office in 2010 proved an embarrassing flop, losing by nearly 15 percentage points. Portraying Ehrlich this time as a moderate Republican would be a stretch.

Andy Harris. The First District congressman is as far right ideologically as you can get and still be elected in Maryland. He can come across as arrogant and stridently sure of himself on just about any issue. A former state senator, Harris’ vocal and energetic conservatism might generate a backlash that results in a heavy Democratic turnout on Election Day. He’s far from an ideal statewide candidate in Maryland. Besides, he’s got a lifetime seat in his House district that he’d have to give up.

Dan Bongino. The almost-congressman nearly upset Democratic Rep. John Delaney in a gerrymandered district that includes Western Maryland and portions of Montgomery County. He lost by less than 3,000 votes. Bongino also ran against U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in 2012 and got clobbered, winning just a quarter of the votes. He’s charismatic and a former Secret Service agent. But he’s all conservative all the time. He’d have little drawing power outside rural and exurban areas.

Michael Steele. The former lieutenant governor and GOP national chairman doesn’t have much to crow about other than espousing traditional conservative Republican themes. He lost badly when he ran for the Senate in 2006, losing to Cardin by 10 percentage points. He has no base beyond traditional GOP precincts and no credibility in Democratic strongholds.

Kendel Ehrlich. The other half of the Ehrlich team, she considered running for judge in Anne Arundel County and is not bashful about expressing her hard-edged conservative views. She’s never held elective office and has few credentials to promote. She’s much farther to the right in her political thinking than her husband.

That’s hardly an exciting list of GOP contenders. Too many retreads or not-ready-for-prime-time players. None of them fits the winning Hogan mold.

Still, the fate of the GOP primary winner may lie more in the hands of Democratic primary voters. Should Dems select another dud like Anthony Brown last year (or Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002), anything would be possible for Maryland Republicans.

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Rating MD’s Senate Contenders

March 9, 2015 — The stampede began almost immediately — just as retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski predicted.

The savvy senior U.S. senator knew her announcement last week would shake up political Maryland and give ambitious younger officials an opportunity to consider entering the race to succeed her next year.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski

Many are mulling the possibilities, but in the end most will choose to remain in their present jobs.

After all, running for Mikulski’s seat is no sure thing. These contenders have to weigh the risks, which are considerable.

Do you give up a prestigious, hard-won seat and gamble your entire career that you can win a difficult, crowded Senate contest?

Can you put together a statewide operation in a little over a year after only running far smaller district campaigns?

Can you raise $5 million or more in the next 12 months when others are likely to hit up the same donors with similar requests?

Can you run a campaign with statewide appeal? That’s no easy feat. Washington-area officials and Baltimore-area officials are looking at this race but none has appeal outside his or her parochial boundaries.

Given those imposing caveats, let’s look at the early list of wannabes.

Most Likely to Run

Chris Van Hollen, Jr. — He’s popular in heavy-voting Montgomery County. He’s been tabbed as a rising star in both the Maryland General Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives. His ambitions always included ascending to the U.S. Senate.

Unlike the others, he’s had phenomenal success raising tens of millions of dollars for Democratic congressional candidates across the country. He will tap those same sources for a Senate race. He starts with $1.7 million already in his campaign account.

Giving up his seat was’t be easy because he’s a member of leadership and a potential future speaker of the House. But he’s crossed the Senate Rubicon.

Van Hollen, 56, is likeable, an excellent speaker and telegenic. He’s a typical Montgomery County liberal, which puts him in the mainstream of today’s left-leaning state Democratic Party. He’s also gained enormous expertise on federal budget issues.

He could be the class of the field.

Donna Edwards — The most liberal of Maryland’s congressional Democrats, she owes her political career to her strong ties to organized labor, which could go the extra mile for her.

She has decided to risk her prominent role in Congress as an outspoken voice for labor, civil rights and women’s issues.

Edward, 56, is not beloved by her colleagues and she is not wildly popular among constituents, who have found her lacking on constituent service. She would rather speak out loudly on national issues she cares about.

If she is the lone African-American in the race and the lone woman, Edwards might squeak through in a crowded Democratic primary. But her far-left liberalism would make it difficult for her to win in a general election if Republicans nominate a moderate Senate candidate.

John Delaney —  He used his self-made multi-millions to finance a successful run for the House in 2012, thanks to a gerrymandered district that favored a Montgomery County Democrat. Yet he barely won reelection last year.

Still, he’s got burning ambition and he considered running for governor last year. Given his shaky performance in last year’s congressional race, Delaney, 51, may figure it is time to move up or out.

He’d have no trouble financing a Senate race but he is unknown in much of the state. His campaign also is likely to be run by the same individual who put together such a dreadful political operation last year for former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Delaney has carved out a moderate, pro-business posture in Congress focusing on his sensible infrastructure-funding bill that has drawn support from both sides of the aisle. That’s not a good campaign sound-bite, though. He may well run (since he’s not a career politician) but he won’t be the favorite in a Democratic primary where a heavy turnout among liberal voters is expected.

John Sarbanes — The son of a popular retired U.S. senator who has been in Congress three terms, he’s a chip off the block — quiet, publicity-shy, intelligent, diligent and super-cautious.

At age 52 he’s got to determine if he wants a long career in the House of Representatives or is he willing to roll the dice and possibly sacrifice his political future. His father, Paul, did but this time the odds are much steeper.

John Sarbanes could tap into the affluent Greek-American community for campaign funds. Still, does he want to spend all year begging donors to contribute and flying around the country to line up financial support?

His father’s name is well known in the Baltimore region but not so much elsewhere.  John Sarbanes is a solid liberal vote in Congress and he’s a down-the-line Democrat but his bland personality and cautious disposition aren’t ideal in a crowded race.

Less Likely to Run

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — Baltimore’s mayor has a big decision to make. Does she abandon her so-far successful effort to resurrect Baltimore’s fortune or does she set her eyes on a career in Washington?

Rawlings-Blake, who is only 44, has been an elected Baltimore official for 20 year. She would roll up a big vote in Baltimore and in parts of the metro region but she’s an unknown in the D.C. suburbs and rural Maryland.

She’d also start with zero funds in the bank — none of the dollars she has raised for her reelection bid next year can be used in a federal campaign. That’s a huge detriment.

Running a complex and troubled city like Baltimore while simultaneously mounting a statewide Senate campaign could be a bridge too far.

Compounding her decision is that there is no highly competent successor waiting in the wings to succeed her as mayor. Apres moi, le deluge?

Dutch Ruppersberger — If he were 10 years younger, the Baltimore County congressmen would be in the “likely” category. But at age 69, with a succession of surgeries over the years, taking on a grueling statewide campaign while maintaining his normal congressional schedule might not be his cup of tea.

Ruppersberger’s huge popularity in Baltimore County and his district’s reach into key parts of the Baltimore metro area would give him a solid vote base. How he would fare in the Washington suburbs — where he’s not a familiar face — is a tougher question.

Raising such a huge amount of campaign dollars isn’t something Ruppersberger would relish, either.

He’d also have to give up his House seat, where he is one of the leading experts on cyber security. Chances are he opts to remain where he is.

Elijah Cummings — The Baltimore congressman has never ventured beyond district races but he is a fiery speaker and determined fighter for Democratic Party ideals. If he were the only African-American considering the Senate race, he’d be tempted.

Putting together a statewide operation and raising such sums of money could be distasteful and difficult. Cummings, 64, is unfamiliar with much of the heavy-voting Washington suburbs but he’d do exceptionally well in Baltimore.

He’s a national spokesman on liberal and civil rights issues in the House and often in the national spotlight. Why give that up?

Tom Perez — The Obama administration’s labor secretary and former high-ranking Justice Department official wanted to run for attorney general but couldn’t because he hadn’t practiced law in Maryland.

He is ambitious and well-liked in his home base, Montgomery County, but in a large field his support could be too narrow. He also might have trouble raising enough dollars.

Will he give up two more years in a national Cabinet position for a longshot bid? It’s possible but unlikely.

Kweisi Mfume — The former congressman and former head of the NAACP tried once before to win a Senate race, narrowly losing the primary to current incumbent Ben Cardin nine years ago.

Mfume, 66, might jump at a second chance to start a Senate career were he a bit younger. He’s eloquent and has a riveting life story to tell. But fund-raising was a problem in his last Senate attempt and he’s not been part of Maryland’s political dialogue since then.

Already Out

Martin O’Malley — The former governor and Baltimore mayor would have been a favorite but instead opted to run for president (really!). He loves the executive role and knows he would chafe in the Senate with its snail’s pace and bitter partisan gridlock.

If he plays his cards right, O’Malley, 52, could gain a high executive post in a Democratic administration and build his credentials for a future run for the country’s top post.

Steny Hoyer — At age 75, it makes sense for the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives to stay put. He ran once on a statewide ticket, in 1978 as lieutenant governor, and lost. He knows how tough it would be.

Besides, Hoyer is far too valuable to Maryland in the House. With Mikulski’s departure from the Senate, he’ll be the only “go-to” guy in Congress in prime position to secure funds and advantages for the Free State.

You’ve Got to Be Kidding

Heather Mizeur — Yes, the former delegate ran an impressive and respectable race for governor last year as an ultra-liberal but now she’s supposedly farming on the Eastern Shore.

Her appeal is to the gay/environmental/feminist community. That proved not nearly enough for her last year (roughly 20 percent of the primary vote). Does she want to spend 12 more months trekking through Maryland on a crusade going nowhere?

Ben Jealous – Another former leader of the NAACP, he is considering jumping into the race. It would be primarily ego-driven. Jealous has no political roots in Maryland and the most tenuous of ties to the Free State. He’s not well known in any part of the state.

Even if he is the only African-American in the race, Jealous is unlikely to prove a big draw among his own constituents. In other communities, he’d barely register on Election Day.

Doug Gansler — Yes, he still wants to run statewide again — though he was embarrassed in last year’s race for governor, getting embroiled in pointless controversies.

The two-term former attorney general is just starting a career with a Washington law firm. Jumping back into fund-raising mode and 24/7 campaigning so soon may not be his best option.

Ken Ulman — The former Howard County Executive gave up his gubernatorial dreams last year in part because of the fund-raising challenge.

Running for the Senate would pose a far more daunting financing obstacle. Besides, he’s just beginning his new job trying to juice up College Park’s economic development efforts.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend — Whaaa?? She says she’s considering a run. It sounds preposterous given her pathetic run for governor in 2002 and the lack of political sympathy for her poor performance. Still, politics is in the Kennedy family’s DNA.

Townsend, 63, may want to redeem herself, but she has been absent from Maryland politics for over a dozen years. It would be a Quixotic effort that almost certainly would end in a humiliating second defeat.

That takes care of the likely Democrats considering the Senate primary. As for the Republican wannabes, that is grist for another column.

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Hogan’s Era of Good Feeling

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 21, 2015 — At least for a brief moment, Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s Era of Good Feeling ruled Annapolis.

Hogan Inauguration

We’ll soon learn if his strong message of bipartisan harmony and mutual respect can survive the harsh reality of Hogan’s first, greatly diminished budget, which he’ll release Thursday.

Hogan’s inaugural, with snow flakes falling faster and faster as the event progressed, struck all the right chords.

“Dignity, respect and camaraderie” is what we expect from our public servants, said Jim Brady, who presided over the outdoor ceremonies on the State House steps and also ran Hogan’s transition team.

“Focus on things that unite us” and “work across party lines,” was how Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford put it.

“Compromise and consensus are not dirty words,” emphasized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who introduced the new Maryland governor and championed Hogan’s election.

Hogan’s Themes

“A rebirth of our spirit and common purposes,” is how the 62nd governor of the Free State expressed it. No more “wedge politics and petty rhetoric.” A “new beginning.” A “sense of optimism.” “Limitless possibilities.” “An environment of trust and cooperation” where ideas are acted upon “based on merit.”

All the right words. It was a typical inaugural, full of positives and good wishes.

Hogan came across as he always does: a down-to-earth fellow who wants to run government with the focus on efficiency and effectiveness, not political ideology. He repeatedly used the term “common sense” to describe how he will govern.

He quoted a Democrat (John F. Kennedy) and a Republican (Abraham Lincoln) to stress the need for a new approach in political Annapolis that sets aside differences and finds “middle ground.”

A Little Red Meat

There were a few digs sprinkled among the words of comity, especially when Hogan spoke of “rebuilding the forgotten middle class” and getting government “off our backs and out of our pockets” — red-meat Republican applause lines straight from his campaign monologue.

Once the celebrations are over late tonight, the real work begins. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be met with unified applause.

Hogan promised to set Maryland on a different course, one that re-shapes the bloated state budget in ways Democrats are likely to resist.

The Inauguration Scene

The Inauguration Scene

There is growing agreement even on the Democratic side that Maryland has been living beyond its means, that spending on programs is expanding faster than the tax receipts coming in.

But will lawmakers stand by idly as cuts are made to education and health care? Are they willing to forego mass transit lines? These are the kinds of questions intentionally left out of inaugural speeches.

Putting Maryland on a more sustainable fiscal footing is an admirable goal that could help Hogan meet his pledge to lower taxes. Yet it will be difficult to achieve in the short term and possibly even in the long term unless Hogan gets  a boost from the national economy.

On another front, Hogan can take early, unilateral steps to cut red-tape and bureaucratic regulations. It’s been needed for a long time. The push-back from special interests could be intense, though.

For a day, Larry Hogan’s vision of a less partisan, more practical state government in Annapolis held sway.

The Hogans and Rutherfords in the State House.

The Hogans and Rutherfords in the State House.

His unfailing optimism and ability to search for areas of agreement are his greatest assets. He’s taking a more accommodating track than Maryland’s last Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich.

So far, Hogan is off to a cheery and encouraging start.

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The O’Malley Years: An Assessment

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 12, 2015 — One of the ironies of Martin O’Malley’s eight years as Maryland governor is that a progressive, liberal Democrat spent most of his time cutting budgets and raising taxes just to keep the ship of state afloat.

Gov. Martin J. O'Malley

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley

Another irony is that O’Malley started his tenure in 2007 by acting too slowly to stem a predicted tide of red ink in Annapolis. Now he is ending his second term by again responding too late to a huge, looming budget deficit.

However, when the history of the O’Malley years is assessed by scholars decades from now, what will stand out is the ease with which Maryland navigated the Great Recession — the nation’s worst economic decline since the 1930s.

The credit belongs to Martin O’Malley.

He eventually bit the bullet and did what Democrats hate above all else — he cut back on government services to the middle and lower classes, especially those who need a helping hand.

He found ways, though, to temper these hammer blows — shifting large sums from flush government accounts, borrowing heavily on the bond market, converting cash payments for farmland and Chesapeake Bay preservation into 15-year bonds and raiding the transportation fund.

Turning to Taxes

When that wasn’t enough, O’Malley taxed the wealthy, raised the corporate tax, raised the sales tax, raised the tobacco and alcohol taxes and, belatedly, the gasoline tax.

These weren’t popular moves, but it meant that social services for those without much money or with disabilities still could turn to Annapolis for assistance.

It still remains a mystery why O’Malley, who had weathered a host of fiscal storms as mayor of Baltimore for eight years, hesitated to recognize the brewing recession as he took office.

Legislative analysts already were predicting a future budget hole of $1.5 billion. Yet O’Malley ignored these forecasts.

Instead, in his first budget he hiked school construction handouts to a record $400 million, froze tuition for state college students by pouring extra funds into those institutions, and stripped the state’s Rainy Day fund of $1 billion to paper over Maryland’s financial woes until the economy improved.

Storm Clouds

Yet even as O’Malley’s initial budget was being passed, the state’s sales tax collections were declining along with other revenue sources. Loud alarms should have sounded in the governor’s suite.

Within months, O’Malley was forced to backtrack. He raised a slew of taxes, cut his initial budget requests and reversed his opposition to casino gambling.

The state’s worsening fiscal reality followed O’Malley throughout his two terms.

By the end, he was still unwilling to take proactive steps in mid-2014 to prevent what became an 18-month, $1.2 billion fiscal hole created by an agonizingly slow economic recovery and budget reductions coming from Washington.

Only in the past week did the governor seek $400 million in reductions so he could leave office with his final budget in balance.

Yet his last-minute actions did nothing to close the $800 million budget hole he bequeaths to Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, Jr.

Big Government

O’Malley’s budget hold-downs also were never meant to represent a permanent reduction in state government’s expanding role in Maryland society.

He is a strong believer in the good government can do for people. He wants to deliver more education help, more health care access, more social services for the state’s underclass and more aid to the counties and the middle class.

O’Malley’s faith in Big Government puts him on the far left of the Democratic Party’s spectrum. “Big things done well make even bigger things possible,” he said early in his first term. He still feels that way.

The governor certainly put his ideas into action.

  • He expanded health insurance in Maryland way before Washington acted.
  • He was quick to crack down on handgun and assault weapons sales in Maryland.
  • He fought vigorously to allow gay marriages in Maryland.
  • He raised the minimum wage.
  • He abolished the death penalty.
  • And he made it easier for children of immigrants to attend local colleges and universities.

Green Governor

He also won the hearts of environmentalists — another core group within the Democratic Party.

O’Malley raged against the “greed” of utility executives intent on selling Constellation Energy and demanded stiff concessions, including monetary support for wind and other alternative power sources.

He signed a super-expensive agreement to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

He pushed through legislation providing a lucrative subsidy for off-shore wind farms.

He restricted the use of chicken manure as fertilizer on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

He delayed approval of hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits for oil and natural gas drilling in far Western Maryland.

He promoted an aggressive “smart growth” strategy.

Low Points

Not all these steps were popular or successful.

The governor’s “rain tax” to stem excessive stormwater runoff ran into heated local opposition.

His failure to keep an eye on the terribly mismanaged Obamacare rollout remains a major black mark.

But overall, O’Malley leaves Maryland with a record of accomplishments that defines him as a progressive Democrat who largely delivered on his promises, despite governing in extraordinarily difficult economic times.

Political Powerhouse

As a politician, Martin O’Malley cobbled together a strong Democratic coalition throughout the state. He dominated political Maryland.

Yet he largely disappeared from last year’s gubernatorial campaign, refusing to defend his record. That was a huge mistake. Republican Hogan had a field day pummeling O’Malley, who was never there to rebut the charges.

Hogan’s easy victory on Nov. 4 signaled a sharp change in the state Democratic Party’s fortunes. The efficient statewide organization O’Malley had built crumbled.

The party lost much of its previous support in towns and communities beyond Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Without O’Malley, Maryland Democrats appear leaderless and in disarray.

On the National Stage

Now it is on to what O’Malley hopes will be much bigger things.

He’s actively exploring a run for president. A pipe dream? Tell that to Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton — small-state governors who beat the odds.

O’Malley was far from an ideal governor, but he gave Maryland honest, intensely dedicated service. The state is better off than it was when he arrived in 2007 to take the oath of office.

Best of all, Marylanders of this generation will be able to tell their children and grandchildren that thanks to Martin O’Malley:

“We beat the Great Recession and lived to tell about it.”

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Marylander of the Year

Gov. Martin J. O'Malley Martin Joseph O’Malley

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 31, 2014 — Sometimes the most important man in the room isn’t there. That was the case with 2014’s Marylander of the Year, Gov. Martin O’Malley.

The state’s 61st chief executive dominated events throughout 2014, even when he often wasn’t present.

He was the centerpiece of the summer-fall gubernatorial campaign — though his name didn’t appear on the ballot and he was rarely spotted on the campaign trail.

He forcefully took control of Maryland’s fatally flawed health insurance internet exchange, assigned his best technology aides to take over — and didn’t say much after that.

As he has done in past years, O’Malley won nearly all his fights with the 2014 General Assembly — a much-needed higher minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, domestic violence laws, expanded pre-kindergarten, education investments and public safety overhauls. Yet he did much of his work quietly this time.

He ended the year with a splash, too, grabbing headlines by commuting the death sentences of the last four inmates in Maryland on death row.

O’Malley also dominated what proved one of the state’s biggest stories — the ever-expanding billion-dollar budget deficit — by hesitating and then taking a meek step to tamp down expenses. He absented himself from stronger executive action that could have proactively reduced the troubling deficit for his successor.

Since the election of Republican Larry Hogan Jr. as the next governor, O’Malley has pretty much disappeared from view — except for his frequent forays to early primary states in his quest for the presidential nomination in 2016.

Most puzzling was the governor’s political vanishing act during the summer and fall.

This came as Hogan started pounding away at O’Malley’s tax-raising, big-spending record — the prime theme of the successful Hogan campaign.

By removing himself from the political fray, O’Malley thought he was doing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown a favor. How wrong he was. Brown never seized control of the campaign.

Brown turned out to be a terrible defender of the eight-year O’Malley-Brown administration. The lieutenant governor essentially ran away from his own administration’s record.

Instead of trumpeting the good the Democratic team had achieved, Brown chose to ignore it. That left Hogan with the perfect opening to drum into voters’ minds the “evils” of the O’Malley-Brown years — dozens of new taxes, rampant overspending, open hostility to job-creating businesses and meager economic growth.

Without effective push-back from Brown, and with O’Malley missing in action, Hogan’s message resonated in the empty room.

By failing to take the field to defend his eight years in office, O’Malley damaged his reputation with voters.

Ironically, the governor is one of Maryland’s best-ever campaigners. When he rolls up his sleeves and plunges into crowds, when he pours out his story and tells what he’s been able to accomplish, Martin O’Malley is a powerful persuader.

Yet this time he failed to heed the clarion call to battle. He allowed Hogan to speak at length about the negatives of the O’Malley years without anyone raising a vocal, convincing counter-argument.

The governor also wasn’t present to energize the Democratic Party’s base. No wonder turnout was abysmal in key Democratic strongholds. Brown turned people off instead of turning them on.

It will be years, or even decades, before historians place Martin O’Malley’s record into proper context. The negative image of O’Malley’s years in office,  planted in Marylanders’ minds by Hogan, will remain with them for a long time.

“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” (Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar)

This is the case with O’Malley’s years in the State House. His good deeds aren’t what’s being talked about.

It need not have been this way. There was ample time for the governor to mount an effective counter-argument, but he fixed his attention firmly on what comes next after he leaves Government House on Jan. 21.

For his continuing role as the most dominant presence in the Free State’s political drama — even when he wasn’t on the stage — Martin Joseph O’Malley has justified his selection as 2014’s Marylander of the Year.

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Abolish MD’s Lt. Gov.

By Barry Rascovar

Dec. 1, 2014—If we learned anything from Anthony Brown’s eight years as Maryland lieutenant governor it’s that the office isn’t worth the taxpayer dollars it consumes.

Indeed, there is no good reason to have a lieutenant governor. There are sound fiscal and management reasons to abolish it.

No Powers

Brown’s mediocre performance was in keeping with others who have held the job since the office was re-established in 1970 by voters after a 102-year lull. The lieutenant governor has no constitutional powers. He or she does whatever the governor dictates.

Sometimes the governor hands out a few assignments, such as coordinating criminal justice issues (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and J. Joseph Curran Jr.).

Sometimes the governor delegates budget decisions to his No. 2 (Blair Lee III).

At times, the governor may use the lieutenant governor to lobby bills and mediate differences between senators and delegates on important pieces of legislation (Mickey Steinberg).

Sometimes, the office holder is asked to act as a middle-man for local governments (Sam Bogley III and Michael Steele).

But more often than not, the lieutenant governor isn’t allowed to do heavy lifting. During the final terms of Gov. Harry Hughes and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Bogley and Steinberg were left twiddling their thumbs.

Figurehead Roles

Brown was given a few figurehead roles on commissions – health care is the most glaring example – and he did take the lead on a small number of legislative bills.

But he made a mess of at least two of those.

He allowed lawyers for private developers to seize control of the governor’s public-private partnership bill to the point that lawmakers killed the measure. It passed the following year without the outside interference that had screamed political favoritism and financial windfall.

Brown also shepherded the fatally flawed health exchange bill through the legislature. What he created turned out to be a disaster.

The bill established the Obamacare insurance exchange as an independent agency. There were no oversight or management controls or back-office support from the state health department.

The bill also exempted the exchange from state procurement laws. That led to a horrendous outcome in which an under-qualified bidder won the IT contract by low-balling the price and over-promising its capabilities.

No wonder the health exchange’s IT system crashed on Day One.

That fiasco created an image of Brown in this year’s gubernatorial election as an incompetent and clueless office holder.

Mocking the Office

Composer George Gershwin once mocked the plight of No. 2 placeholders in a Pulitzer Prize winning playing, “Of Thee I Sing,” in which the vice president, Alexander Throttlebottom, has so little to do he spends his days in the park feeding pigeons.

Brown’s life was a bit better than that: He got to fill his calendar with speaking engagements, rushing from one meaningless event to a somewhat meaningless event reading prepared remarks, shaking hands and smiling a lot.

Is that worth $125,000 a year? Is a staff of eight really necessary to support such a pointless office?

The only job given to the lieutenant governor is to fill in if the governor is incapacitated, or to succeed to the top office if the governor dies.

‘Back to the Future’

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. can save a quick million dollars by taking steps that would eventually abolish the office of lieutenant governor, streamline the executive department and establish a more sensible line of succession.

Hogan should go “back to the future” by turning the secretary of state into his No. 2.

In the early 1800s, that was the line of succession. The secretary of state already has designated record-keeping, election and foreign relations duties that are real and substantive. He’s got a staff of 25 and a $2.4 million budget.

Before the lieutenant governor’s office was re-established, Gov. Marvin Mandel named then Sen. Blair Lee III to serve in the official role of secretary of state and the unofficial role of lieutenant governor until voters decided if they wanted this new office.

There’s no reason the two jobs can’t be merged. Many other states do it that way. The secretary of state could step in if the governor is temporarily unable to perform his duties, and to serve as acting governor until a special election is held.

Combining the Jobs

Hogan could simply announce that Boyd Rutherford, his lieutenant governor, will also take over as unofficial secretary of state, with a combined, slimmed-down staff.

The new governor then would ask the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment abolishing the position of lieutenant governor, making the secretary of state next in line if something goes wrong and mandating a special election within 90 days of a governor’s death.

Voter then could decide if they approve of this new arrangement in 2016.

It’s pointless to continue the charade that has existed for 45 years.

Highly Paid

Rutherford is ideal for the job because his expertise is government management, not politics. He can contribute to developing a more efficient and cheaper state government.

But he could do the same thing for the governor as secretary of state.

As things now stand, Rutherford will be the seventh highest paid lieutenant governor in the United States ($137,500), and the third highest paid by the end of his term ($150,000).

Yet he has no constitutional powers. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Let’s use common sense and get rid of this meaningless office that is wasting a million dollars a year. That’s the kind of practical step voters expect from Hogan.

It would send a powerful message.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

 

 

For This They Give Thanks

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 27, 2014–On this day of the year, we give thanks for our blessings. In political Maryland, here are some folks who have lots to appreciate as the cranberries, sauerkraut and turkey are served:

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. His Thanksgiving blessing will probably be directed toward the state Democratic Party for heavily backing an artificially impressive lieutenant governor for governor.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown turned out to be a lightweight who made all the wrong campaign decisions. Hogan knew what he was doing; Brown didn’t.

Comptroller Peter Franchot. Easily re-elected, he is now the most important Democrat in the State House, thanks to the election of a Republican governor.

On the powerful Board of Public Works, Franchot will hold the crucial swing vote. He could lead the Democratic opposition to Hogan or work out middle-ground compromises. Either way, he’s the pivotal player.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. He should be thankful for the weak Republican opposition he encountered. George Harman of Reisterstown lacked campaign experience and spent almost no money. His campaign was a joke.

Yet he still received nearly 44 percent of the vote. It was a Republican year and Kamenetz might have had a difficult fight on his hands had the GOP recruited a better-known candidate.

Doug Duncan. He’s got to be thankful he lost in the June primary to incumbent Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. Instead of getting his old job back, Duncan can continue working for Leadership Greater Washington or even as a member of the new Hogan administration.

Either way, it will be Leggett who must confront what figures to be a four-year budget battle in the county. Montgomery citizens demand a high level of services. Yet tax revenue is likely to continue to decline, federal aid to the counties and states is shrinking and state aid is almost certain to drop. What a mess.

Senate President Mike Miller. He quietly blessed Hogan’s triumph on Nov. 4. Miller knows he can deal with the new Republican governor. The two worked cooperatively years ago in Prince George’s County. Hogan knows Miller is the key go-to legislator.

Miller could not have looked forward to four years of frustration dealing with the remote and detached Brown, especially with a highly protective staff shielding Brown from reality.

Ken Ulman. The outgoing Howard County Executive now has been given a reprieve by voters. Instead of four years of boredom and gritting his teeth as Brown’s powerless lieutenant governor, Ulman gets to spend time with his young children, build a law practice and prepare for his re-entry into elective politics.

Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin. He’s glad the next attorney general will be Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County. Frosh gave up his chairmanship of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to run for higher office. Now Zirkin is a favorite to be tapped for this leadership slot — but only if he’s willing to follow the lead of Senate President Miller.

Retiring State Sen. Norman Stone. After a half-century in the General Assembly, Stone planned his exit at just the right time. He leaves triumphant instead of being blown out in the Republican sweep of his Dundalk-Middle River district.

Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young. His Thanksgiving blessing extends to all the old-time practitioners of sleazy, backroom deal-making and “what’s-in-it-for-me” politics.

Having been defeated for the new post of Frederick County Executive, Young turned around and lined up the votes on the lame-duck county commission to get appointed to a five-year term on the county’s important Planning Commission. Developers are cheering.

The residual stench must have made carving the turkey tough to take for the rest of the Young clan.

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McIntosh Bites the Budget Apple

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 24, 2014 – Until last week, Del. Maggie McIntosh was an important member of the House of Delegates leadership.

Del. Maggie McIntosh

Del. Maggie McIntosh

Now, suddenly, she’s a Very Important Person.

The new chair of the House Appropriations Committee holds the second-most powerful post in the chamber. It even could put her in prime position to succeed House Speaker Mike Busch whenever the Annapolis lawmaker decides to give up his gavel.

McIntosh is no overnight success.

She’s put in 23 long years as a savvy and loyal worker in the legislative vineyards. It paid off when she was named chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee in 2003.

The Baltimore City delegate worked diligently to produce bills that advanced sensible environmental goals without going overboard.  She succeeded in maintaining good relations with both environmentalists and the business community.

Quiet Negotiator

McIntosh always has been a skilled political operative, someone you’d want running your campaign or developing a detailed get-out-the-vote drive.

She doesn’t crave the spotlight. Rather, she prefers quietly working to bring opposing groups together to find common ground.

She’s also highly regarded by her colleagues. She can be firm but always even-tempered. She likes to enliven conversations with a dash of humor.

Her promotion is well deserved, especially after serving as chair of the Environmental Matters Committee for 11 years. She’s also served on three other panels and dozens of joint committees and task forces.

She doesn’t come to Appropriations as a novice. McIntosh spent six years previously on this key budget panel. She got to study under one of the keenest minds to chair Appropriations – the late Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings.

Democratic Mishaps

Maggie McIntosh was thrust into this new role through a series of mishaps by the Democratic Party.

Redistricting dramatically changed many local political maps and persuaded a slew of House Democratic veterans to retire.

Then Democratic lethargy on Nov. 4 led to the defeat of many well-established members of House leadership, including Appropriations chair Norman Conway of Salisbury.

Del. Norm Conway

Del. Norm Conway

Add to that a number of delegates who decided to run for the state Senate and you have a recipe for a massive loss of leadership on Appropriations.

Eleven of the committee members elected in 2010 aren’t coming back. Most of the panel’s moderate Democrats are among the missing.

No wonder Speaker Busch decided to move McIntosh over to run his most important committee.

Big Cuts Coming

She assumes command at a very difficult time for Democrats, especially those who must grapple with the state’s perplexing budget deficit.

New Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. focused his campaign on sharply cutting state spending, Democratic lawmakers will be in a defensive mode when dealing with budget matters.

Given the large budget hole facing Hogan, he will cut existing spending levels by a substantial amount.

While McIntosh and other progressive Democrats will want to reverse Hogan’s cuts, the state constitution doesn’t allow it: The General Assembly can only reduce the governor’s spending plan. It has no power to increase appropriations – unless it raises taxes.

That last option isn’t going to happen this year. Maryland voters sent a clear message they’ve had it with the dozens of tax increases during the eight-year reign of Gov. Martin O’Malley.

In a Tough Spot

So McIntosh will be in a bind come January.

As a committed urban liberal, she understands the unmet needs in her community. Yet she also recognizes the weak hand she has been dealt. Hogan holds the budget high cards.

What McIntosh can do is quietly negotiate compromises with the new governor’s budget team to soften some of Hogan’s budget blows.

Meanwhile, her committee will be finding its own share of excess spending in the $16 billion general fund budget. Some of those cuts might give her leverage for striking a budget deal with the Republican chief executive.

It’s going to be a tricky few years for McIntosh. She’s proved that she is good when placed in delicate situations. Much will be riding on her succeeding in her new job.

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Barry Rascovar’s political blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

 

O’Malley Pitches, Hogan Receives, Gansler Swings

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 19, 2014 — My, how the wheel turns — for Gov. Martin O’Malley, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. and outgoing Attorney General Doug Gansler.

O’Malley Pitches

The lame-duck governor is in fund-raising mode. He’s all but officially running for president (despite guffaws from the home folks), which takes lots of moola. So it was off to New York to impress prospective donors.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley

Thursday, O’Malley hosts a songfest with musician Steven Stills. It was originally scheduled to be held in a lounge at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, with tickets ranging up to $10,000 for the O Say Can You See Committee, the front group for O’Malley’s presidential ambitions.

It also was also conceived as a post-election celebration after the sweeping gubernatorial win of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Oops.

A funny thing happened on the  way to Victory Lane — Brown got clobbered, Republicans in Maryland staged a remarkable recovery and O’Malley drew voters’ ire for an endless string of tax increases and outsized spending.

The Stills event now has been moved to a large tent at the home of major O’Malley supporter Martin Knott.

One longtime Democratic donor was inundated with solicitations. Would he buy a $5,000 ticket? As the event drew closer, he was asked, how about a $1,000 ticket? Days later, the request came down to a $500 ticket. Finally, he was told, “Oh, what the heck. Just come. We’ll let you in.”

Roughly 100 supporters are expected to attend.

The ever-energetic O’Malley also has a fund-raiser planned Friday night at the home of federal lobbyist Terry Lierman. He will be celebrating his daughter’s election to the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore as well as toasting O’Malley.

Meanwhile, O’Malley is bolstering his liberal environmental record by cracking down, through tough regulations, on use of phosphorus fertilizers, especially on poultry farms. The cost could be devastating for small farmers, but O’Malley is thinking about his own political future, not the future of Eastern Shore farm families.

He’s also issuing frequent press releases from the governor’s office on such issues as climate change and the Keystone heavy-oil pipeline, siding with the environmentalists he wants to romance nationally.

As for governing Maryland, that’s less of a priority. O’Malley’s thoughts are turning to making national news all the time.

Hogan Receives

While O’Malley is struggling to draw fund-raising crowds, Governor-elect Hogan has no such problem. He held a small soiree for VIP supporters and raised $250,000 for the state GOP. He’s now a very popular guy. He’ll have no trouble wiping out the $500,000 loan he made to his own campaign.

That won’t be the case for the guy Hogan defeated, Anthony Brown. He borrowed $500,000 from a local labor union and failed to raise enough money to pay back the loan on time. Even with this last-minute loan, Brown ran short of funds and failed to keep pounding away with TV commercials in the final days of the campaign.

Now he may be pounding hard to find donors willing to help a defeated candidate pay off this giant IOU before 2018. If he doesn’t, Brown will have to repay the loan himself.

Gansler Swings

Attorney General Gansler didn’t expect to lose the gubernatorial primary to Brown, but he ran into a united front from Democratic Party big shots determined to elevate Brown. He also discovered that a third candidate, Heather Mizeur, chipped away at his liberal support.

Gansler didn’t have a backup plan. For him, failure wasn’t an option — but it happened nonetheless.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Faced with having to find a job as a lawyer after 16 years in public service, Gansler was flooded with enticing offers. He chose a relatively new firm that quickly has gained status in legal circles for its work helping businesses, BuckleySandler. It’s a Washington firm with offices in the Big Apple, San Francisco, Chicago and (how nice) London.

Don’t expect Gansler to disappear from the Maryland political scene, though. He’s going to wind up on a slew of non-profit boards and is continuing to work vigorously to grow his inner-city lacrosse league in Baltimore.

With no obvious front-runner among Democrats to take on Hogan in four years, Gansler may make another stab. Once you’ve been bitten by the political bug, it’s hard to let go.

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For more columns, click on www.politicalmaryland.com

 

 

The One-Party State Curse

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 10, 2014–Republican Larry Hogan Jr.’s stunningly easy romp over Democrat Anthony Brown in Maryland’s race for governor can’t be written off as a fluke.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Fundamental changes are taking place that could give Republicans an advantage down the road in what is generally considered a deeply blue state.

You can call it the curse of the one-party state.

Common wisdom has it that given the Democrats’ 2-1 commanding lead in Maryland’s voter registration, Democratic victory in big races is a foregone conclusion.

But the common wisdom often is wrong.

Democratic Advantage

In three of the state’s biggest jurisdictions, Democrats hold such a massive registration lead that the local Republican Party is on life support. Big turnouts in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County should be enough to ensure statewide Democratic triumph.

Yet that didn’t happen this year because turnout in those three locations was terrible.

Only 36 percent of city voters went to the polls; 38 percent in Prince George’s and just 39 percent in Montgomery.

Compare that with the turnout in counties where Hogan piled up big numbers: Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County, 49 percent; Baltimore County, 49 percent; Frederick County, 51 percent;, Harford County, 54 percent, and Howard County, 52 percent.

Democrats must be scratching their heads. This shouldn’t be happening!

If the Big 3 jurisdictions had turned out in force, Brown would be addressing invitations to his inaugural ball.

More Registered Voters

Even more puzzling is the fact that all three of those jurisdictions have seen big jumps in registered voters over the past 12 years — 79,000 more voters in the city, 168,000 more in Montgomery and 178,000 more voters in Prince George’s — nearly all Democrats.

With 1,553,000 Big 3 registered voters, who usually support the Democrat by 4-1 or 5-1 margins, how could Brown possibly lose?

Blame it on the Democrats’ greatest strength — their huge advantage in people identifying with the party. In this case, it is a curse rather than a blessing.

Here’s what’s happening: In Baltimore City, there hasn’t been a Republican mayor in 50 years. There hasn’t been a Republican state legislator or councilman from the city in 60 years. No Republican has held elective office in Baltimore in half a century.

So it’s no surprise Baltimore voters don’t take the mid-term general election seriously.

No Competition

All the local races this year were decided in the June Democratic primary. Indeed, only one of the city’s six state Senate districts even had a nominal Republican on the ballot. He got 6 percent of the vote.

The situation is similar in Prince George’s, where the last Republican county executive was Larry Hogan’s father and namesake — 34 years ago. No Republican has held a local office in decades.

Montgomery is follow that same trend. James P. Gleason was the one and only Republican county executive, last elected in 1978. Republicans used to capture local seats in the upper sections of the county, but no more. It, too, is now a one-party monopoly.

That should be good for the Democratic Party, right?

Wrong.

Cruise Control

One-party rule turns general elections into mere formalities. Local political clubs don’t get energized. Local politicians don’t bother campaigning. The local party is on cruise control.

Democratic voters feel the same way. Why go to the polls in November 4 when all the local races already have been decided?

This trend started decades ago and we’re now seeing the corrosive effects.

The last time there was an open seat for governor — 2002 — the general election turnout was 53 percent in the city, 52 percent in Prince George’s and 64 percent in Montgomery.

Contrast that with this month’s turnout and you see a precipitous plunge in voters going to be polls. The decline in Baltimore was 18 percent, 14 percent in Prince George’s and a shocking drop of 25 percent in Montgomery’s voter participation.

Montgomery’s Ennui

That last figure is the most stunning number of all.

Montgomery County is famed for its acute awareness of a citizen’s obligations to cast a ballot and take an active role in local government. Good government and close attention to political issues is deeply rooted in this county.

Yet even with 168,000 more registered voters than 12 years ago, 48,000 fewer ballots were cast this month in Montgomery.

The ennui in Montgomery should deeply disturb state Democrats. A 25 percent decline in turnout over a 12-year period is a calamity.

Add that to the similar trends in Prince George’s and Baltimore and you begin to understand why a Republican is hiring The Kane Co. to move his furniture to the Governor’s Mansion.

Chink in the Armor

It’s ironic. The Democrats’ greatest attribute is now a potentially fatal flaw.

Without competitive, two-party elections, the party in power relaxes. It gets sloppy and complacent. It gets lazy and even arrogant. It can’t energize its members.

Hogan capitalized on this chink in the Democrats’ armor because his strongholds turned out in big numbers. His supporters were highly motivated. They showed up to vote.

What will happen four years from now? Or in eight years?

One-party Democratic rule won’t change in the Big 3 any time soon — if ever. The one-party mentality could grow even stronger — with lackluster turnouts in mid-term November elections.

It’s an Achilles heel that the Democratic Party, despite its huge edge in identified supporters, doesn’t know how to protect.

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Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.