Tag Archives: Maryland politics

Bob McDonnell’s History Lesson

Shades of Marvin Mandel

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 15, 2014 — You’ve got to pity Bob McDonnnell, former Virginia governor and recently convicted felon. He never learned from the political-corruption history of Virginia’s neighbor to the north, Maryland.

Had McDonnell familiarized himself with the trials and legal tribulations of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (1969-1978), he might have avoided the ethics lapses and quid pro quo exchanges of gifts and cash that did in McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Indeed, the similarities between the McDonnell and Mandel sagas are stunning:

  • Both men were highly popular, successful governors.
  • Both were dogged by federal prosecutors pursuing complex public corruption and bribery cases.
  • Both prosecutions stemmed in large part from marital discord and payoffs to the spouses.
  • Both cases involved governors whose bank accounts were seriously depleted even as they faced ballooning expenses
  • Both cases led to humiliating, intimate public disclosures about the two governors’ personal lives and weaknesses.
  • Both involved payments of cash, fancy clothing, trips and other luxuries in exchange for government actions that would enrich their friends.
  • Both involved incredibly weak government codes of ethical conduct.
  • Both men maintained to the end their complete innocence.
  • And both cases rested on the fuzzily defined notion that the public is entitled to “loyal and honest services” from its elected leaders.

Improper Gifts

The McDonnells were convicted Sept. 4 of receiving improper gifts and loans from a Virginia businessman peddling a miracle vitamin pill. In return, the businessman gained access to state health officials and other key individuals who could help him, thanks to the McDonnells’ direct efforts.

Mandel was found guilty in 1977 of receiving from friends cash, an expensive wardrobe, jewelry for his wife, valuable waterfront land and interest in an office building in exchange for his help in gaining lucrative thoroughbred racing days.

Mandel “loved beyond his means,” as the late Mary McGrory brilliantly put it.

Marvin Mandel with second wife, Jeanne

Marvin Mandel with second wife, Jeanne

He split from his loyal wife in a highly publicized and messy move (she refused to vacate the governor’s mansion; he lived in a hotel) so he could marry his longtime paramour.

It turned out Marvin Mandel couldn’t afford the divorce settlement or his new wife’s expensive lifestyle without help from his wealthy business friends — who even connived with a Catholic religious order that lent Mandel the divorce money.

The governor’s “thank you”: He dropped his opposition to a doubling of racing days at the Marlboro track (from 16 to 32). Marlboro had just been bought (in secret) by his friends.

Mandel followed up with strenuous arm-twisting to pass legislation giving Marlboro an additional 62 days of racing. A rinky-dink harness track would suddenly morph into a major-league thoroughbred track with 94 racing dates.

‘Serious Mistakes’

To this day, Mandel denies wrongdoing. “I said then, and I say now, that I never did anything illegal as governor of Maryland,” he wrote in a book he penned at age 90.

Mandel’s appellate lawyers cleverly defined his actions as, at worst, “a non-criminal scheme of non-disclosure.”

The trial judge, Robert Taylor, disagreed. “You made some serious mistakes,” Taylor said.

Mandel went to federal prison in Florida, was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan and had his conviction later overturned on a technicality (prosecutors had stretched the legal interpretation of federal racketeering and mail fraud laws too far).

The incriminating evidence — and there was plenty of it — was never disputed.

Cash Poor Governor

This brings us back to Bob McDonnell — politically rich, but cash poor.

He couldn’t afford his daughter’s over-the-top wedding and his wife’s outrageously expensive gowns without help from an exceedingly generous businessman who befriended them in exchange for — he hoped — state endorsement of his miracle vitamin pill.

Like the Mandel trial, which exposed backstage maneuverings by friends to extricate Maryland’s governor from a strained marriage and keep him happy, the McDonnells’ courtroom drama in Richmond revolved around their family soap opera.

Maureen McDonnell was portrayed as an out-of-control shrew, demanding more and more largesse from her financially strapped, henpecked hubby. He threw her under the bus, essentially blaming her for the whole mess.

And, of course, he denied all wrongdoing.

Ethics Loopholes

Why not? Virginia’s laughable Ethics Code makes almost any gift to a public official legal as long as you disclose it.

Maryland’s Ethics Code is even more of a Swiss cheese affair. Mandel as governor issued this code of conduct, making it applicable “to all officers and employees of the executive branch.”

It made it unethical to do exactly what Mandel later carried out.

But here’s the catch: Maryland’s Ethics Code doesn’t apply to constitutionally elected officers, i.e., the governor.

So Mandel can say with a straight face he did nothing wrong under the state’s code of conduct. Let’s call it “technical deniability.”

High Public Expectations

Still, neither he nor McDonnell could evade the long arm of federal prosecutors.

In Virginia, a jury convicted McDonnell of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. He could be sent off to prison, but if so his stay almost surely will be brief compared with Mandel’s 19 months behind bars.

Neither man understood what was expected of them as elected public officials.

They were living under an old-fashioned standard of acceptable political behavior: Take whatever you can get as long as you do it quietly and don’t directly harm the public.

That’s not how citizens view public service today, or in the 1970s. They expect their leaders will act ethically. Don’t accept valuable gifts, even from close friends. Don’t do favors for your friends. Don’t grease the wheels for your friends.

It’s not hard to understand. Politicians in high office, though, sometimes forget they’re expected to be above suspicion.

McDonnell now is paying the price for his failure to pay attention. Had he studied Mandel’s political and personal downfall, he might not have ruined his life — and his reputation.

#  #  #

Diversion Tactic in MD Governor’s Race

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 10, 2014 — When you are caught with your thumb in the cherry pie, what do you say?

“Ma, look what Mikey’s doing! He’s up to no good.”

That diversionary tactic doesn’t work on moms, and Anthony Brown’s finger-pointing tactic doesn’t work, either.

Hogan's disputed Windsport

Hogan’s disputed Windsport

Brown may have a serious campaign fund-raising violation to explain to the state elections board.

So what does he say?

He accuses his Republican foe, Larry Hogan Jr., of low-balling his monthly rental fee for a recreation vehicle decked out in campaign logos.

Why, Hogan should be paying a lot more than $683.77 a month to fully reflect the cost of operating this mobile campaign headquarters, Brown’s operatives complain.

What a bunch of malarkey.

What Is Reasonable?

A state elections official has already said covering the full monthly payments on Hogan’s bus — which Hogan owns and is renting to the campaign — qualifies as a “reasonable” standard.

What it costs to fill up this gas-guzzling Windsport daily and oil, grease and repair the recreation vehicle for heavy-duty operation through Nov. 4 isn’t part of the rental agreement. That’s something the Hogan campaign must cover anyway.

So in effect, Hogan’s operatives are already paying “fair market value.”

Brown’s ploy is a canard, a decoy designed to shift media focus from the serious complaint Hogan lodged against the Democrat — coordinating fund-raising efforts of his campaign with that of a labor-supported, independent Super-PAC (Political Action Committee).

That’s illegal, according to the Supreme Court. The Maryland elections board already has said campaigns cannot share with independent Super-PACS “campaign material, strategy or information.”

Coordinating Efforts

The problem for Brown is that one of his top chief fund-raisers, Colleen Martin-Lauer, is also the fund-raising coordinator for the supposedly independent labor Super-PAC that is designed to boost Brown. Hogan’s folks maintain it is “simply impossible” for Martin-Lauer and a second joint fund-raiser not to coordinate their solicitation efforts.

Brown did the same thing (overlapping fund-raisers) in the primary election and got away with it. But what if he runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s difficult-to-enforce edict? It could impair his ability to raise as much money as he had hoped.

Millions could be at stake in that complaint. Thousands could be at stake in Brown’s penny-ante subterfuge against Hogan.

It is just another sign of the insipid tactics being employed in this campaign, especially by Brown’s team, which has not hesitated to smear Hogan with blatantly false accusations.

###

Needed in MD: Truth-in-Campaigning

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 25, 2014–Do Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates in the November election take voters for fools?

Do they really think they can con the electorate with promises of vast spending programs (Democrat Anthony Brown) eclipsing $1 billion a year or sweeping tax cuts and givebacks (Republican Larry Hogan Jr.) also topping ten figures?

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

What’s lacking from each nominee is truth-in-campaigning.

The only thing in doubt is which nominee is being more deceptive with voters.

At the moment, Hogan has the lead, though Brown isn’t far behind.

The Republican nominee for governor pledged at an event at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville to drop all state income taxes on pensions. (He already had said he’d do the same for police pensions and for veterans.)

Cheers from the seniors.

How’s he going to pay for this?

Silence.

Transportation Promises

A few days earlier, Hogan pledged to county officials meeting in Ocean City he would immediately restore $350 million in transportation funding to subdivisions once in office.

Cheers.

Which transportation programs will be stripped of $350 million to make that happen?

Silence.

Brown, of course, felt he had to match – or come close to – Hogan’s outrageousness at the Ocean City meeting. So he told county officials he’d also restore the lost Highway User Revenue – but it would occur gradually.

No Funding Plan

Does Brown have a plan for stripping state transportation programs of $350 million to pay for this fund transfer or for hiking driving fees?

Silence.

Irresponsible might be the kindest way to describe the performance of these two politicians. They keep promising the impossible, as though voters take what they say as gospel.

Any citizen who believes promises of massive tax cuts or giant new spending is living in a fool’s paradise.

Government Spending

It’s not going to happen.

Seniors already receive big tax breaks from Maryland: Their Social Security checks are free of state taxation (but not federal tax).

They also get an extra $1,000 personal exemption on their state income tax return each year.

And if their Social Security amounts to less than $27,800 a year, their other pension income is exempt up to that level.

Lots of bills have been proposed by Republicans and Democrats in recent years to expand these retirement exemptions, but none has gotten out of committee.

Why? The enormous cost involved.

Pulling It Off

With the state of Maryland facing a minimum of $400 million in revenue shortfalls, how is Hogan going to pull off this prestidigitation?

Well, he’ll cut the shreds out of state spending like any good Republican.

But wait a minute – isn’t the vast bulk of state expenses mandated by statute?

Yes, indeed.

So slashing state taxes by a billion or so isn’t realistic – certainly not for a Republican governor in a state where liberal Democrats have a stranglehold on the Maryland legislature.

Tax Cuts

Nor is Brown’s pledge of a countless new program spending any more realistic.

The lieutenant governor, for instance, claims he can pay for $108 million in affordable housing appropriations through budget cuts suggested by state employees.

Is he serious? A hundred million in savings via the suggestion box?

If he’s lucky, these ideas might lead to savings of one-one-hundredth of that amount. Or maybe an optimist might aim for one-tenth of Brown’s wild-guess of what employee-prompted savings would bring in.

Wonderland

It’s all an adventure in fantasy budgeting.

Let’s call it, “Larry and Anthony in Wonderland.”

If a conservative Republican governor like Bob Ehrlich couldn’t rein in state spending by billions of dollars, how is a more moderate Larry Hogan Jr. going to pull that off in a solidly Democratic state?

Bob Ehrlich (left) and Hogan

Bob Ehrlich (left) and Hogan

And if a liberal Democratic governor like Martin O’Malley couldn’t find the means to launch massive new spending initiatives – despite raising taxes over 40 times – how is Anthony Brown going to carry out a far more ambitious agenda?

Neither candidate is leveling with the Maryland public.

The state’s economic recovery remains uneven. State finances are falling short of projections due to federal spending hold-downs and weak job growth.

Unrealistic?

Both Hogan and Brown are setting up supporters for bitter disappointment. Neither candidate can deliver on their sweeping promises.

At best, the November winner will muddle along pretty much the way Ehrlich and O’Malley did in far more difficult economic times.

Ehrlich moderated state spending growth during his term and left a fat surplus,  but he failed to achieve permanent government downsizing.

O’Malley will leave office in January having raised lots of taxes and raided a variety of funding sources to keep social programs intact during the worst recession in 80 years. He failed, though, to dramatically expand government social services affecting working families.

Brown (left) and Martin O'Malley

Brown (left) and Martin O’Malley

Neither governor proved a miracle worker.

Brown and Hogan aren’t political magicians, either.

It’s time for them to start speaking the truth to Maryland’s electorate.

###

MD GOP Nightmare

By Barry Rascovar

August 18, 2014 — Just what the Maryland Republican Party didn’t need — a theocratic, paleo-conservative candidate who has renounced the General Assembly as ungodly and is deeply involved in a group advocating a white, Christian nation of the South.

Worst of all for the Maryland GOP, this 61-year-old, Bible-spouting secessionist with a bizarre view of government is the favorite to win the November election in Anne Arundel County’s Broadneck Peninsula-Severna Park-Arnold councilmanic district.

His name is Michael Peroutka, a smooth-talking, debt-collector attorney. He ran for president of the United States in 2004 on the Constitution Party ballot line. He got 150,000 votes out of 122,000,000 cast (0.1 percent).

Constitution Party logo

Yet in June, he shocked the GOP establishment by winning Anne Arundel’s District 5 council primary by a razor-thin 38 votes.

The Republican nominee for governor, Larry Hogan Jr., disassociated himself from Peroutka. So did the GOP’s nominee for county executive, Del. Steve Schuh. Annapolis Del. Herb McMillan isn’t supporting Peroutka, either, because his views “are the exact opposite of the Republican Party.”

Like the slick lawyer he is, Peroutka is trying to sweet-talk District 5 voters into believing he’s an ordinary conservative who rails against the misnamed “rain tax,” abhors all taxes and demands drastically limited government.

It’s a con.

Peroutka didn’t even belong to the Republican Party until this year.

Peroutka button 2004

He and a Christian Reconstructionist cohort, David Whitney, tried to hijack the District 5 election by seeking to win both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

That would have guaranteed a seat on the County Council for this oddball alliance, which centers around Peroutka’s extreme Christian Institute on the Constitution, which he runs out of his law office in a strip shopping center along Ritchie Highway.

Peroutka is out to re-create the Anne Arundel Republican Party, and eventually the Maryland GOP, in his image. His pseudo-conservative rhetoric masks a deep hatred for the Republican Party of Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Here’s what he said last October about the GOP:

“Anyone, including those who identify with the ‘Tea Party,’ who loves America and desires real reform, would do well to disengage themselves from the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.”

Fifth-Column Action

Peroutka isn’t even following his own advice. Instead, he’s infiltrated the “Godless, unprincipled” GOP.

This fifth-column action is part of his campaign to turn the Republican Party into a Christian party that follows Peroutka’s “biblical view of law and government.”

To him, “the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law — PERIOD.”

Any other government actions — what he calls “pretended laws” —  are heretical and should be ignored or resisted. No wonder he spoke at a radical Second American Revolution rally last November in Washington. He’s out to dismantle the entire American system of government.

Peroutka at Second American Revolution rally

Peroutka at Second American Revolution rally

How wacky is Peroutka?

He said last year the Maryland General Assemby is “no longer a valid legislative body” and its actions should be disregarded because they violate God’s law.

Of course, Peroutka is the one who decides what’s legitimate and what is “Godless.”

According to him, “It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give health care to . . . ANYBODY.” Government, Peroutka says, has no authority to take any role in education or alleviating poverty. Government must enforce only the word of God spelled out in the Bible.

Misleading Appearance

Peroutka doesn’t come across as a madman. He’s got a distinguished mane of white hair, a grandfatherly look and a soothing voice. How could someone so sincere and seemingly erudite promote such nonsense?

Peroutka is a board member of the League of the South, an Alabama group that openly advocates Southern secession and establishment of a white, Christian Reconstructionist society.

According to its website, the League of the South is “a Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic.”

At this group’s meeting last fall, Peroutka called “Dixie” the country’s national anthem.

Should Michael Peroutka win in November, he’s sure to use County Council sessions as a platform for bringing his theocratic notions of government into the proceedings. It will be his launching pad for an internal Republican Party revolution.

Just what the Maryland GOP didn’t need.

It already is struggling for relevancy in the state’s largest jurisdictions. Peroutka’s ravings as an elected Republican leader could be the nail in the coffin for the Republican Party’s hopes of winning over independents and conservative-leaning Democrats.

Can He Lose?

Stopping him will be difficult, but not impossible.

District 5 hasn’t elected a Democratic councilman in 24 years. It’s a wealthy, conservative part of the county stretching from Severna Park to the Broadneck Peninsula that ends at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Yet there’s hope in the voter registration numbers: 25,800 Republicans live in the district against 21,100 Democrats and 11,600 independents. Given the GOP leadership defections already announced, Peroutka’s election isn’t a sure thing.

He’s got millions of his own money he can funnel into his campaign, though.

Democratic Foe

He’s also running against a political youngster, Patrick Armstrong, a 31-year-old retail store manager who entered the Democratic primary to prevent Peroutka’s theocratic collaborator, David Whitney, from furtively gaining the nomination.

Armstrong did better than okay in the primary. He trounced Whitney, gaining nearly two-thirds of the Democratic votes in June.

He’s also not, as he put it, “a liberal boogie man. I’m a reasonable person” who grew up in District 5, graduated from Anne Arundel Community College in the district, and lives with his parents in Cape St. Claire.

He’s smart enough to run in this district with a pledge to never vote for a new tax or fee increase but instead “come up with creative ways to find solutions to our problems.”

Being Responsible

Yet he’s also wise enough to recognize that opposing the “rain tax” isn’t going to win over district voters who care deeply about the well-being of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the Magothy and Severn rivers that define District 5’s boundaries.

He calls the stormwater-runoff fee “the responsible thing to do.”

With strong backing from state Democratic leaders, Armstrong might give Peroutka all he can handle. But he’s got to get the word out about Peroutka’s dangerous views of government and the U.S. Constitution.

After all, Peroutka is advocating the dismemberment of the United States and turning what’s left into a society ruled by Biblical law.

The problem is that even if Peroutka’s Republican charade is unmasked in time and he loses in November, he will remain the Maryland GOP’s nightmare: In June, he also won for himself a seat on the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee.

That gives him an opportunity to use the county’s GOP Central Committee as a launching pad for converting Republican governing bodies into advocates for Christian government.

As a central committee member, Peroutka also will attend statewide GOP meetings, where he can poison the well with radical resolutions and speeches meant to Christianize the state party. He’s leading God’s crusade against the Republican infidels.

Ignoring Godless Laws

On top of that, another Peroutka theocratic soulmate, Joe Delimater, was the lone GOP candidate to file for county sheriff.

Delimater will be on the November ballot against the incumbent sheriff, Democrat Ron Bateman, hoping to win the right to wreak havoc on Anne Arundel’s court and criminal justice system by ignoring laws and government orders he believes are Godless.

What a mess for the GOP.

Peroutka & Co. pose a serious challenge to the viability and future of the Maryland Republican Party.

#####

Primary Differences: Women & Turnout

By Barry Rascovar

July 21, 2014 – In a primary election wrap-up message e-mailed to his supporters, former state Sen. Art Helton of Harford County listed reasons why he lost his latest effort to re-gain his seat in the General Assembly.

Art Helton

Art Helton

Poor turnout, especially among African American voters, he wrote, hurt him in his race against fellow Democrat Mary-Dulany James. (The Senate seat is now held by Republican Nancy Jacobs, who is retiring.)

The results: James, 4,705 votes (61 percent); Helton, 2,997 votes (39 percent).

Mary-Dulany James

Mary-Dulany James

The other reason Helton gave for his loss:  the dominance of female candidates in Democratic primaries.

He listed 10 female Harford Democrats who were victorious in the June 24 primary.

“[N]ot one woman lost unless challenged by another woman,” he wrote.

“The percentage of women voting in the Democratic [p]rimary was 63.4%. You can view the results and draw your own conclusions.”

Making a Difference

Women indeed are becoming a pivotal force in local and state elections in Maryland. They are more likely to go to the polls than men. Given the right candidate, it can make a difference.

Baltimore City ousted its incumbent state’s attorney and replaced him with a woman. After November, three of the four citywide elected offices in Baltimore will be held by women, all African Americans.

Also after the general election, four of the city’s six state senators will be women.

Women in the Senate

Half of Montgomery County’s eight state senators will be female, too.

As many as six new women could take seats in the Maryland Senate in January – Gail Bates of Howard County, Susan Lee and Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County, Addie Eckardt from the Eastern Shore, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam from a joint Baltimore city-county district, and James from Harford County.

Susan Lee

Susan Lee

They aren’t neophyte politicians, either.

Combined, they have served 88 years in the General Assembly. They will enter the Senate as highly seasoned lawmakers.

Bates and Lee are concluding their third four-year terms in the House, James is finishing her fourth term. Eckardt and Nathan-Pulliam are 20-year legislative veterans. Kagan previously served two terms in the House.

Addie Eckardt

Addie Eckardt

Yet the “women are dominating Maryland politics” theme shouldn’t be oversold.

Only 11 of 47 state senators today are women. After the November election, the number may rise a tad in the Senate to 13.

Cheryl Kagan

Cheryl Kagan

Many counties have few women in elective offices.

Overall, the fair sex remains under-represented in elective positions, but not as voters.

*     *     *     *     *

Turnout in Maryland’s primary election was, as predicted, abysmal.

It proved an embarrassment to leaders in Annapolis who devised the early June 24 primary schedule.

Voting booths

Only 20.7 of the state’s nearly 3.4 million registered voters cast an early, absentee or election-day ballot: 561,030 registered Marylanders voted; 2,831,570 didn’t.

Turnout proved truly terrible in the Washington suburbs – 18 percent in Prince George’s County, despite the fact the leading Democratic candidate for governor came from P.G.

In neighboring Montgomery County, total turnout was just 16 percent, even though two of the three Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls were local residents.

Best Turnouts

Baltimore County led the list of large jurisdictions with a turnout of just under 25 percent – still a terrible showing in a representative democracy.

The best results came from small, rural counties, such as Kent County (30.6 percent) and Garrett County (26.6 percent). Voting poster The highest vote totals came from Montgomery (84,100) and Baltimore County (82,900), followed by Prince George’s (69,800), Baltimore City (54,600) and Anne Arundel County (50,500).

Democrats far out-voted Republicans in the larger jurisdictions – a hint of what will follow in November.

One-Sided Figures

In Montgomery, 68,179 Democrats voted vs. 12,516 Republicans.

In Prince George’s, 64,982 Democrats cast ballots vs. 4,167 Republicans.

Baltimore County saw 59,980 Democrats vote vs. 22,906 Republicans.

In Baltimore City, the imbalance was far worse: 51,730 Democratic voters vs. 2,894 Republicans. Voting sign Howard County, once a toss-up jurisdiction, saw 19,193 Democrats cast ballots, vs. 8,967 Republicans.

The primary vote totals were close in Harford County – 11,795 Democrats vs. 14,935 Republicans.

In Anne Arundel County, voting numbers were almost even – 24,655 Democrats and 25,806 Republicans.

That could lead to a tight race for county executive in the fall between Republican state Del. Steve Schuh and the county’s former sheriff, Democrat George Johnson.

###

Politics Ahead of Budgets

By Barry Rascovar

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

Winter’s Frigid Blow

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

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

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley

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

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

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

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

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

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

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

Troubling Imbalance

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

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

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

Expect more spending reductions this winter.

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

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

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

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

Growing Cash Shortage?

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

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

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

O’Malley’s Concerns

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

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

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

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

That is good news for Brown in the short term.

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

Read more from Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com

Did Gansler Lose It or Brown Win It?

 By Barry Rascovar

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

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

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

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

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

Heather Mizeur

Heather Mizeur

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

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

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

No Stumbles

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

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

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

Doug Gansler

Doug Gansler

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

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

Weak Democratic Choices

The Democratic electorate was left with three unappealing choices.

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

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

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

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

“Where’s the Beef?”

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

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

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

Helicopter Training

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

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

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

Larry Hogan Jr.

Larry Hogan Jr.

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

Why Brown Won

No wonder turnout was appallingly light on primary day.

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

Democrats are generally satisfied, as Gansler discovered.

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

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

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

Bland is proving beautiful.

Sign up for immediate delivery of these columns by clicking on the “subscribe” key in the right-hand column of www.politicalmaryland.com

#   #   #

Eric Cantor Meet MD’s Bev Byron

By Barry Rascovar

June 16, 2004–The stunning June 10 primary election defeat of the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Virginia’s Eric Cantor, robbed the Old Dominion of a dominant power in Washington who soon might have been Speaker of the House.

Eric Cantor

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

Yet what happened to Cantor — too much complacency and too much focus on all things Washington — has happened before.

Cantor should get to know Beverly Byron.

Maryland lost a wealth of political influence and congressional power when Bev Byron was ambushed in her Democratic primary in 1992.

At the time, the seven-term congresswoman chaired the Military Personnel and Compensation Subcommittee and was a major player on defense and nuclear disarmament issues.

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron

Byron also came from Western Maryland political royalty. She shouldn’t have lost in 1992, or ever. Yet she did, ironically by the same 56-44 percent margin as Eric Cantor.

Byron, a conservative Democratic vote in the House for the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush (Bush the Good) administrations, forgot that in Democratic primaries liberals come out in droves and can make the difference, even in right-leaning Western Maryland.

Three-term Del. Tom Hattery of Mount Airy understood that dynamic and capitalized on it in 1992.

He pilloried Byron for voting in favor of a $35,000 congressional pay raise during a national recession. He mocked her frequent, taxpayer-paid overseas trips as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Hattery’s Attacks

Hattery’s effective radio ads listed her ports of call and labeled her travels “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Liberal interest groups — labor unions, environmentalists and educators — filled Hattery’s coffers and helped get out the Democratic vote.

Byron, still focused on her congressional duties and confident of reelection, didn’t know what hit her.

Not that it did Hattery any good.

His liberalism proved toxic in the Western Maryland general election: An ultra-conservative Republican farmer-scientist, Roscoe Bartlett, won an easy victory and stayed in Congress for 20 undistinguished years.

Safe Virginia Seat

Cantor’s loss, though, isn’t likely to cost Republicans a seat in Congress. His Virginia district is deeply conservative and deeply Republican.

For Bev Byron, her loss ended the Byron congressional saga in Western Maryland.

Bev had succeeded her husband, Goodloe, who dropped dead of a heart attack at 49 while jogging on the C&O Canal.

Congressman Goodloe Byron

Congressman Goodloe Byron

Goodie Byron, as he was known, had served four terms in Congress and likely could have kept his safe seat for decades had he taken his cardiologist’s advice to stop training for marathons.

Goodie’s father, William Devereux Byron II, had represented Western Maryland in Congress from 1939 to 1941. He died in an airplane crash in Atlanta. (Also seriously injured in that Eastern Airlines crash was World War I aviation ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who at the time ran Eastern.)

Congressman William D. Byron II

Congressman William D. Byron II

Goodie’s mother, Katharine E. Byron, the granddaughter of Maryland U.S. Senator Louis E. McComas (1899-2005, U.S. House, 1883-1891), won a special election to succeed her husband, serving until 1943.

Rep, Katharine E. Byron

Rep. Katharine E. Byron

U.S. Sen. Louis E. McComas

U.S. Sen. Louis E. McComas, R-MD

Beverly Butcher Byron had golden political connections, too. Her father, Harry Butcher, was a naval aide to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. Ike is her godfather.

Her defeat 22 years ago remains one of the biggest primary upsets in Maryland history. An established and influential member of Congress usually has nothing to fear at election time in the party primaries.

Maryland suffered for the next 20 years from Bartlett’s incompetence and lack of influence, even among his fellow Republicans.

Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett

In both Cantor’s case and Bev Byron’s loss, anti-incumbent fervor played a big role in giving insurgent candidates momentum.

Each incumbent seemed aloof and Washington-centric, more attuned to inside-the-beltway machinations than inside-the-district concerns.

Now the northern suburban and rural counties surrounding Richmond will suffer a lack of clout in Washington for years to come.

Economics professor Dave Brat, a tea party acolyte, just won’t be able to bring home the patronage bacon the way a heavy-hitter in leadership like Cantor can do.

It’s similar to the power outage that happened in Western Maryland in 1992. That outage lasted two decades.

#  #  #

Rushing Toward MD’s Primary

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

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

Brown (left), Gansler, Mizeur

Anthony Brown (left), Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur

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

‘Cool’ vs. ‘Hot’

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

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

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

WOLB Radio Debate

WOLB Radio Debate

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

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

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

Turning Negative

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

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

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

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

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

Mizeur: Pro and Con

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

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

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

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

 

TV Advertising

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

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

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

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

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

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

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

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

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

Attorney General’s Race

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

Attorney General candidates Jon Cardin (Left) and Brian Frosh

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

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

More Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

Racing: Green MD Industry

 

By Barry Rascovar

June 2, 2014 — Not far from my home, down a steep patch of Greenspring Avenue on the way to Glyndon, lies a glorious environmental sight — and a stark contrast between the past and present for Maryland’s horse industry.

Descending into the Worthington Valley, a broad, green panorama of horse farms reveals itself.  This is prime Maryland horse country.

As the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes approaches, with the best chance in decades to witness racing’s elusive Triple Crown for three-year-old thoroughbreds, it’s appropriate to review the state of Maryland racing.

Sagamore’s Renaissance

The vast 530-acre thoroughbred spread known as Sagamore Farm, restored to its earlier glory by UnderArmour founder Kevin Plank, dominates Worthington Valley, highlighted by Sagamore’s white painted fences and corporate training center mansion atop a distant ridge.

Sagamore Farm, training track

Sagamore Farm, training track

Far to the right lies Hunt Valley and the blueblood horse farms that have hosted the grueling, four-mile Maryland Hunt Cup timber race for 92 of its 118 years.

In the foreground, though, lies beautiful but empty barns on 100 acres of land. Their sad fate underlines the fragility of Maryland’s horse industry, just as Sagamore Farm and the Maryland Hunt Cup illustrate the strength of the industry’s future.

The empty barns used to have a sign on its gates that read “Maryland Stallion Station.” Prominent horse breeders joined together in 2003 to make the Worthington Valley once again famous for its thoroughbred champions.

Maryland Stallion Station

Maryland Stallion Station

What the owners didn’t count on was Maryland’s resistance to doing what neighboring states had done to resuscitate their horse industries: legalize slot machines and dedicate a small portion of the proceeds to rebuilding race  tracks and dramatically boosting purses — the lifeblood of the industry.

Horse owners quickly recognized there was money to be made in Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania as purses soared at tracks in those states. They took their horses and left Maryland.

Meanwhile, politicians in Annapolis ignored the obvious trend and resisted legalizing slots.

Declining Racing Industry 

As a result, Maryland’s horse industry spiraled deeper and deeper into decline.

At its worst point, the state lost 80 percent of its stallions, mares and foals because of the poor business climate here.

Finally, the industry’s distress became so obvious Gov. Martin O’Malley asked his Labor Secretary, Tom Perez (now U.S. Secretary of Labor) to study the state of racing in 2007.

Tom Perez

Tom Perez

His impartial and persuasive report laid out the facts.

Citing a University of Maryland study, he wrote, “The horse racing and breeding industry in Maryland accounts for over 9,000 jobs, and has an economic impact of more than $600 million.”

“A decade ago Maryland led its neighbors in handles and purses — the amount bet on races and the prize money awarded to winners — and the number of horses being bred. These statistics are the lifeblood of the racing industry. But the introduction of slot machines in Delaware and West Virginia has resuscitated and revitalized the previously moribund horse racing and breeding industries in those states. As a result, Maryland’s horse racing and horse breeding industries have been placed at a distinct competitive disadvantage.”

Perez continued, “The economic impact of slots on the horse racing industries in surrounding states is undeniable. Slots have generated thousands of jobs in these areas, and are subsidizing other priorities, such as education and transportation. In fact, Marylanders playing slots in Delaware and West Virginia are subsidizing education and other priorities in these states to the tune of approximately $150 million per year.”

Out of State Competition

The fate of Maryland Stallion Station confirmed Perez’s findings. It couldn’t compete against breeding farms in neighboring states offering generous racing subsidies.

Who would want to breed valuable race horses in Maryland when the purses, coupled with large bonuses for locally bred thoroughbreds, were growing huge in nearby states, thanks to slots revenue?

Maryland Stallion Station barn, 2005

Maryland Stallion Station barn, 2005

The owners of Maryland Stallion Station made a valiant effort, but they couldn’t overcome the state’s lack of favorable business conditions.

They relocated their stud animals in 2008 and went out of business.

Revived By Slots

Eventually, with the booming success of Maryland Live! Casino at Arundel Mills, the state’s racing slowly started to rebound, just as Perez suggested.

Sagamore’s fortunes are proof that this formula — tying a percentage of slots revenue to the racing industry — works. Both Sagamore’s breeding and training businesses are on an upward track.

The optimism of horse owners, trainers and breeders on Preakness Day illustrated the turnaround that is taking place.

Most encouraging has been the breeding uptick at Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County, Bonita Farm and Country Life Farm in Harford County, the Rooney family’s Shamrock Farms in Carroll County and the impressive Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County.

Northview Stallion Station

Northview Stallion Station

But danger still lurks in Annapolis.

Politicians already are talking about reneging on their agreement with the racing industry and stripping away some of the slots money reviving the industry. They want the money for other, more politically appealing programs.

What these politicians ignore is the giant environmental benefits flowing from a strong racing industry. They should review Tom Perez’s findings:

Green Racing

“Horse farms occupy over 685,000 acres of land, roughly 10 percent of Maryland’s open space. Horse racing and horse breeding go hand in hand. Preserving a viable horse racing industry helps maintain horse farms and protect open space. . . .

“The importance of reviving horse racing and breeding in Maryland extends beyond merely supporting the industry. Every breeder that can’t sustain his or her business because of a declining industry means one more farm that might succumb to development pressures. Growth in Maryland will continue, and without a vibrant horse breeding sector those open spaces could become prime real estate for developers.”

Perez noted that Maryland’s agricultural land is disappearing. Between 1970 and 2005, the state lost one million acres of farms to development — one-third of the state’s farmland.

“Retaining Maryland’s agricultural land is critical to the environment, and particularly the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” he wrote.

Sprawl Buffer

“The key to keeping farmers on their land is ensuring their operations remain economically viable. . . . As Maryland’s population grows and development pressures force farmers out, protecting the state’s horse industry becomes more and more critical to sustaining the legacy of rural Maryland and maintaining a healthy environment.”

Perez concluded that the racing industry “is an important economic engine for Maryland, and provides an important buffer against sprawl development.”

The governor’s office reports that Maryland’s horse industry today is valued at $5.6 billion. The horses are worth $714 million. The farms employ 28,000 people.

It also notes this surprising fact: Maryland contains twice as many horses per square mile as Virginia, Texas, California or Kentucky.

This state’s racing traditions run deep as symbolized by the large crowds drawn annually to the Preakness and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Maryland Hunt Cup timber race

Maryland Hunt Cup timber race

After Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino opens late this summer, more slots dollars will flow into thoroughbred and standardbred racing purses. When the MGM Grand Casino opens in about two years at National Harbor, still more revenue will come racing’s way.

What lies ahead could turn into a grand revival for horse racing in Maryland.

Necessary Upgrades

Of course, that will depend on the ability of track owners to use slots revenue for major modernization upgrades that appeal to 21st century sports lovers.

The industry also must find a way to underwrite year-round racing. (There will be no Maryland racing at all this summer.)

Maryland’s political leaders have a responsibility to foster the growth of horse farms and high-quality racing in places like the Worthington Valley.

It’s great for the environmentl, strengthens an important agricultural business and is a sport worth saving.

Worthington Valley

Bucolic Worthington Valley

A prosperous racing industry is a decided plus for citizens of the Free State, one that politicians need to encourage, not discourage, in Annapolis.

###