Tag Archives: Maryland politics

Reviewing the First Governor’s Debate

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com

May 12, 2014 — Now the important part of Maryland’s gubernatorial election campaign begins. The kickoff took place last week with the first televised debate among the three Democratic contenders.

Gubernatorial Debate May 7

The Scene at College Park

Though far from inspiring, that debate finally focused voter attention on the election. Equally important, it riveted the attention of reporters, who are now intently following comments and policy statements of the three candidates.

There’s roughly six weeks until voters must decide in the June 24 primary. And given the massive majority held by Democrats in Maryland, the results of the primary could be the ball game.

Notes From Debate No. 1

Here are some observations on the first debate, held at the University of Maryland, College Park:

  • Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown tried mightily, but no one drew blood.

Gansler delivered some strong blows on Brown’s flubbed role in Maryland’s disgraceful health exchange rollout, but the issue was largely forgotten after the first ten minutes.

Gansler-May 7 debate

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Brown tried to hammer Gansler for not stopping a teen beach party, but the attorney general muted that attack by reminding the audience how difficult it is to make the right decisions when it comes to raising kids.

Del. Heather Mizeur decided to step aside while the two other candidates went after one another.

  • No one delivered a compelling message.

What we heard was standard campaign rhetoric the candidates have voiced hundreds of times before. New ideas never entered the debate. The candidates rushed through their one-minute responses so rapidly there was no time to expound on specifics.

  • Brown “won” by not losing.

As the clear front-runner, the lieutenant governor had the most to lose but he didn’t make a major blunder and stuck to his prepared responses and attacks on Gansler.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown-May 7 debate

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

He didn’t give many Democratic voters a reason to vote for him, but he also didn’t give them much to dislike, either.

  • Mizeur “won” by refusing to attack her opponents.

She tried to show she was the issues candidate but in the process revealed an extraordinarily narrow agenda — women’s rights and wage disparity.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

  • Gansler “won” by presenting himself as the one candidate willing to criticize the O’Malley-Brown administration.

He objected to the administration raising taxes 40 times and worsening Maryland’s anti-business reputation. He suggested voters might want to try a different approach.

  • Kudos to NBC’s David Gregory for running the debate with a firm hand.

No one was allowed to abuse the time limits. When attacks were made, Gregory gave the other candidate a chance to respond. He followed up  on hot-button issues with additional questions. Most questions from the panelists were on the mark — except for the dumb Redskins question that wasted valuable time better devoted to pivotal issues confronting the next governor.

  • All the candidates got away with stretching — or misplacing — the truth in their remarks.

Gansler misled viewers about the reasons he was sanctioned when Montgomery County state’s attorney by the Maryland Court of Appeals for ripping into defendants in criminal cases at press conferences. We haven’t heard the end of this.

Brown inaccurately claimed credit for fixing the health exchange, saying he “changed leadership” (no, the exchange leader quit) and all is now hunky dory. Hardly. He also claimed leadership of the base-realignment effort in Maryland. That’s overstating the case.

Mizeur gave dubious reasons for legalizing marijuana. Her rationale: It is “less harmful to the body than alcohol or tobacco.” (And that makes it a wise public health policy?) Then she switched direction and said legalizing pot would generate enough revenue to pay for all her new programs. (Ugh.)

  • All three blew it on their opening and closing statements.

Gansler: He’ll give “voice to the voiceless” and stand up to unnamed “special interests.”

Brown — He’ll “build a better Maryland” and continue the direction of the current administration.

Mizeur — She’ll “bring results for Maryland families.” She promises “policy, not platitudes.”

Those clichéd statements explain why a majority of voters remain undecided. They may look for the “none of the above” button on primary day.

  • Finally, there’s one thing the candidates agree wholeheartedly about: the winning political color this campaign season is Columbia Blue.

During the debate, Mizeur, Brown and Gansler all displayed that unique shade of blue-gray named after my New York alma mater’s collegiate color.

Governor's Debate

A sea of Columbia Blue

At glance I thought the “in” color for Maryland pols in 2014 was Carolina Blue, named for that university in Chapel Hill, N.C. But a closer examination of photos from the debate revealed the color selection was a darker shade than sky blue.

By the way, Columbia Blue also is the school color of Johns Hopkins University.

And it is, oddly enough, the team color of baseball’s Kansas City Royals (why not Royal Blue?) and in a sad twist of fate, it’s the team color of racist Donald Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.

Wonder what Brown, Mizeur and Gansler will be wearing at the next debate on June 2?

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Defending Joe Vallario

By Barry Rascovar

May 6, 2014 — THERE’S NO DENYING Del. Joseph F. Vallario, Jr. of Prince George’s County is a stingy gatekeeper when it comes to loosening Maryland’s civil and criminal laws.

But is the gruff chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis really the scourge of the legislature, the anti-Christ intent on malevolently doing in all liberal causes?

Judiciary Committee Chair Del. Joe Vallario

Judiciary Committee Chair Del. Joe Vallario

A recent op-ed in The Baltimore Sun by Sidney Rocke, an attorney with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, accuses the conservative Vallario of being a one-man, “dictatorial” wrecking crew — especially on bills Rocke favors.

It’s true Vallario is inordinately protective of criminal defense attorneys. He’s one himself and he takes a hard line on bills that might narrow their legal practices — and their income — or make it more difficult for defense attorneys to win their cases. “Let ’em go Joe” is what Rocke says staffers call Vallario.

But to blame the defeat of liberalizing legislation solely on Vallario is a misreading of the inner workings of the Maryland General Assembly.

Serving Legislative Leaders

Vallario has performed a useful role for legislative leaders over the past 21 years.

He disposes of bills that are too sweeping, too revolutionary, too inflammatory, too impractical, too poorly thought out, too poorly drafted or ahead of their time.

Yet he does so with a majority vote from others on his Judiciary Committee. The panel is intentionally configured to act as the General Assembly’s execution squad.

Every legislature needs such a panel, where the presiding officer sends well-meaning but unrealistic crime and punishment bills for burial.

Intervention Yields Results

Sometimes important bills get the same treatment. Then the House speaker or the governor steps in to urge Vallario and other committee members to yield on bills such as marijuana decriminalization or handgun control. The pressure usually works.

It’s an old story in Annapolis, something Rocke neglected to include in his angry op-ed. Killer committees have been around a long time.

Remember Joe Owens, the highly conservative Judiciary Committee chairman from liberal Montgomery County?

Abominable ‘No’ Man

He dominated that committee for 14 years, earning the sobriquets “Killer Joe” and “the Abominable ‘No’ Man.”

Owens helped defeat or delay all sorts of liberal reforms on gun control, drunk driving, child support and victim rights. One year, 61 percent of the bills sent to his committee bit the dust.

Joe Owens was a colorful and controversial figure: direct, open and honest.

“Let’s face it,” he once said, “the majority of bills we get should not be passed. . . [T]his is not a little contest. . . When we pass a bill, four million people have to live by it.”

Crusty But Lovable

Over in the Senate, irascible Walter M. Baker of Cecil County served the same role for 17 years chairing the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Crusty, curmudgeonly and a determined conservative thinker, Baker had a drawer filled with idealistic reform bills he side-tracked. “The only good bill is a dead bill,” he used to quip to the entertainment of his colleagues.

Former Sen. Walter M. Baker

Former Sen. Walter M. Baker

Still, Baker conducted fair and deliberate hearings. He yielded when pressed to do so by the Senate president or governor while always defending his belief in limited government.

Political Counterweights

Often over the past 50 years conservatives chairing Maryland’s judicial panels have served as counterweights.

Vallario’s proclivity for killing bills balanced the liberal attitude of Sen. Brian Frosh’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Brian Frosh

Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Brian Frosh

Owens’ “killer committee” balanced the liberal mindset of Sen. Joe Curran, who chaired Judicial Proceedings for 16 years.

Earlier in Curran’s tenure running Judicial Proceedings he was paired against another conservative legal thinker chairing the House Judiciary Committee, Thomas Hunter Lowe of Talbot County — who later kept a firm hand on that panel as Speaker of the House.

House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe

House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe

To blame the demise of reform legislation on Joe Vallario is to miss the bigger picture.

Legislating in the State House is a delicate balancing act.

Senators and delegates come together in Annapolis with 188 points of view. They represent different parts of the state whose citizens hold diverse perspectives on the same issue.

Agreement Isn’t Easy

No wonder so many bills fail to win majority approval. Passing legislation is an art. Getting a green light from the Judiciary Committee takes lots of patience, negotiation, coalition-building and tactical smarts. It won’t happen just because a bill is well-intentioned.

Vallario faces a difficult challenge running for reelection this year in a new, unfamiliar northern Prince George’s County district. He may not return. Frosh definitely won’t be back: He’s running for attorney general.

We could end up with two new chairmen of these important committees. One of them might become the next stingy gatekeeper.

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Is Anthony Brown an ‘Empty Suit’?

By Barry Rascovar

April 28, 2014 — LET’S GET THIS out of the way up front: The answer to the headlined question is “no.” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown didn’t graduate cum laude from Harvard and later from Harvard Law without having substantial intellectual chops.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Yet that inelegant question – does Brown have what it takes to be governor? – could become a defining issue as Maryland’s aimless gubernatorial campaign enters the stage where voters start paying attention.

Attorney General Doug Gansler keeps fumbling the rhetorical ball whenever he tries to raise the subject of Brown’s readiness to run the state of Maryland. He must be onto something, though. because the Brown camp is ultra-sensitive to charges of “empty suit-ism.”

Not that his handlers will allow Brown to escape from his self-imposed cocoon to rebut Gansler’s charges. They let surrogates and campaign officials go on the counter-attack instead.

Front-runner tactics 

Brown is following the Rose Garden strategy favored by front-runners, appearing at events where his handlers can control the candidate’s every move and keep him on script.

After all, Brown is very good at reading a scripted speech. It’s when unscripted, detailed questions start flying that Brown hastily looks for the exit.

Gansler sought to stir things up by questioning the notion that Brown’s year in Iraq as a military lawyer qualifies him to be governor.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

He was trying to point out that being chauffeured in an armored caravan to Iraqi government buildings to educate Iraqi officials on American jurisprudence isn’t the same as taking on the Taliban in gun fights. Counseling Iraqi officials does not teach you much about running the state of Maryland.

But Gansler stepped in deep doo-doo when he blurted out that this wasn’t “a real job” – as though service in the military doesn’t count.

Counter-attacking Gansler

Brown and his veterans supporters pounced on Gansler for that faux pas. Why he’s insulted the military! He’s a loose cannon! He’s out of control!

That’s a great way to divert attention from the central point Gansler was trying to make – Brown’s good-sounding resume gets a bit thin when examined in detail.

His decades of military service are not only admirable but courageous. He’s led men on missions. He’s got lots of service ribbons.

Col. Anthony Brown

Col. Anthony Brown, USAR

But his year in Iraq, while a difficult personal sacrifice, was quite secondary and far from the battles waged by Gen. David Petraeus that made an American exit possible.

Brown’s service as lieutenant governor also looks better at a glance than it does under a microscope.

That’s not as much his fault as a quirk of the office.

No Fun Being No. 2

Nearly every lieutenant governor winds up outside the governor’s inner circle. He’s not included when key questions are decided. He isn’t given substantial duties to run parts of government.

So Maryland’s elected No. 2 spends his time touring the state, giving speeches that mimic what the governor has already said. The lieutenant governor isn’t an executive decision-maker. He’s just there in case the governor drops dead.

No wonder Brown’s predecessors – all seven of them – failed to become governor. It’s a jinxed office. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I can’t get no respect.”

So Brown, despite being the early front-runner, has his work cut out.

Questions for Brown

Can he handle ad lib queries from reporters on a wide array of topics?

Can he show where he has been an effective policymaker?

Can he rebut charges that he botched oversight of the state’s much-maligned health care exchange rollout?

The spotlight is turning toward Anthony Brown, who must persuade voters he has not only the resume but more importantly the substantive accomplishments and breadth of knowledge that merit election as governor.

We’re eight weeks from the June 24 primary that almost definitely will determine Maryland’s next governor. At this point, the job is Brown’s to win – or lose.

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Voters must choose governor’s image

Barry Rascovar For the Community Times

March 19, 2014 — Have you seen the first batch of TV ads in the race for Maryland governor?

They are introductory commercials but tell us quite a bit about Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Brown is the early front-runner. He’s got the full weight of the O’Malley administration and much of the Democratic establishment behind him.

Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Gansler, although he’s been the state’s top legal officer for seven-plus years, is running as the outsider, the candidate who — in the words of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “can’t get no respect” from Democratic powers that be.

Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

He started his TV campaign on March 6, which spurred Brown into action the next day.

They take different approaches, which are reflective of the candidates’ styles and strategies.

Gansler’s Direct Approach

Gansler’s ad is casual, personal and direct. He’s dressed in a red polo shirt, looking right into the camera and speaking to viewers at home.

His tone is soft and relaxed.

As he mentions the legal battles he’s won, pictures flash on the screen showing the kinds of individuals he’s helped:

Brianna (a $4.6 billion settlement against polluters), Karen (a $1.6 billion mortgage relief settlement), Myra and her kids (bringing “the beltway snipers to justice” while Montgomery County state’s attorney and fighting child pornography), Eric and Mitchell (fighting for marriage equality in court) and for “thousands of Baltimore kids” (starting an inner city lacrosse league).

“That’s who I am” Gansler says directly to viewers, “I take on tough fights and get thing done. . .”

The ad is meant to convey the impression that Gansler is a doer, not a talker, and that he has fought uphill battles on behalf of John and Jane Q. Citizen and delivered quantifiable results.

Brown’s Indirect Approach

Brown’s ad conveys a different impression. He is stiffer and more formal in appearance and in his speaking. He’s also talking to someone off-camera, not directly to TV viewers.

The words sound strikingly similar to lines he has delivered thousands of times before at campaign appearances describing his parents, his upbringing, his commitment to public service and his military service.

Brown lets viewers know his father was a Jamaican physician who “served others all his life.” That example, a narrator says, inspired Brown to choose “the military over Wall Street.” He joined the Army Reserve. Nineteen years later, Brown explains, he was called to active duty in Iraq.

“It was my responsibility to serve,” he says in the ad.

What Brown doesn’t talk about is his accomplishments in office, probably because as lieutenant governor he’s not in position to do much on his own.

Choice of Image

The viewer is left with an image of Gansler as a candidate who faces up to tough issues and has something to show for it. The image of Brown is less focused — a man on a mission to serve the public.

Voters can judge for themselves which is the more compelling image. Hopefully, the candidates will fill in most of the blanks before the June 24 primary.

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MD’s Obamacare Fiasco Continues

By Barry Rascovar

March 3, 2014 – HOW HIGH will it go? How much more will it cost the O’Malley-Brown administration to fix or totally replace the dysfunctional online health insurance system that it bragged about until it crashed on Day One?

It already is the most costly debacle in state history.

MD Healthcare Connection

MD Healthcare Connection

None of the state’s options are appetizing.  Meanwhile, the problems keep mounting, the latest being $30 million in extra taxpayer expenses due to the computer software’s inability to identify recipients no longer eligible for free Medicaid insurance.

Just fixing this deeply flawed software will cost untold tens of millions of dollars. Moving to a new, proven software system used in another state could send new spending into the stratosphere. Converting to the federal system has heavy costs as well as severe limitations and the potential for more breakdowns.

Frantic Scramble

“It seems like we’re shooting in the dark,” said an exasperated Del. Addie Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican at a hearing last week. She’s right.

State officials have been frantically scrambling ever since the administration’s highly touted online system froze and refused to work as promised on Oct. 1.

Officials are still grasping for straws, hoping the new prime contractor can make lemonade out of this lemon of an IT jalopy.

As for the next step once insurance enrollment closes on March 31, it’s another shot in the dark. Whatever the choice, it will be very expensive.

But will it work? There’s no guarantee that it will.

What a mess.

Loss of Federal Funds

Complicating matters is the looming end of federal largesse. Come 2015, the state is supposed to foot the entire bill for its health insurance exchange.

Maryland has expended $182 million in federal funds with little to show for it.  How much the state will be on the hook after Jan. 1 is another unknown, but we do know it will no longer by Martin O’Malley’s problem.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley on the air

What a distasteful present he’s leaving on his successor’s desk.

It’s baffling that no one running the legislator or the administration is insisting on an immediate and thorough investigation of this historic screw-up. This won’t be viewed favorably by future historians.

Not only is accountability lacking but the O’Malley-Brown administration is running away from this question as fast as it can.

Where’s Anthony Brown?

Note that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the widely promoted point man on healthcare reform, continues to be missing in action. Yet he owes the Maryland public a full and frank explanation of his central role in this debacle.

How this affects Brown’s candidacy for governor remains of pivotal importance.

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on healthcare bill

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on healthcare bill

Does his “deer caught in headlights” performance disqualify him from serious consideration?

Is this the type of evasiveness on vital issues we can expect from him if he’s elected governor?

Do we want a governor who takes cover when controversies rage and lets underlings take the heat for him?

As Desi Arnaz famously said to Lucy, Brown has got “some ‘splainin’ to do.”

More Sinkholes Ahead?

Meanwhile, legislative committees continue to treat this disgraceful public embarrassment with kid gloves. History will not look kindly on their performance, either.

Digging out of this enormous sinkhole hasn’t been easy. The road ahead looks susceptible to similar perils.

What’s lacking is responsible, accountable leadership. That could become a dominant bone of contention as the June 24 primary approaches.

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Read other columns by Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com

What MD’s Early Polls Tell Us

‘Undecided’ Wins in a Romp

By Barry Rascovar

Feb. 21, 2014 — PREDICTING the outcome of Maryland’s primary races for governor based on polls four months in advance of the election is a little like wagering today on the outcome of May’s Kentucky Derby. The odds are strong you’ll get it wrong.

Early political polls are highly inaccurate. That’s clear from past Maryland gubernatorial elections for open seats. Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III easily outdistanced his rivals early in 1978, according to the polls. Lee lost.

Blair Lee III

Blair Lee III

Twenty-four years later, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was a prohibitive early poll favorite to succeed Gov. Parris Glendening. It never happened.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

 Name Recognition Counts

Early poll results depend on a candidate’s name recognition more than anything else. Since neither Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown nor Attorney General Doug Gansler has had high media visibility over the past seven years, it’s not surprising the winner of both the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun early polls is Undecided.

On the Republican side, the big winner once again is Undecided at 68 percent.

The same holds true for attorney general. Still, name recognition counts. State Sen. Brian Frosh, state Del. Aisha Braveboy and state Del. Bill Frick aren’t household names by a longshot. Neither is state Del. Jon Cardin — but his uncle, Ben, the United States senator, is.

That explains Jon Cardin’s preeminence in recent polling, though Undecided wins that race in a romp with 69 percent.

When Voters Pay Attention

In truth, these campaigns won’t begin in earnest till the General Assembly goes home in early April. At the moment, few people are paying attention.

Brown continues to promote a sense of inevitability. He’s got all the establishment endorsements, especially the governor’s. So why not just crown him as the next governor?

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown

Gansler keeps trying to make up for a terrible start last summer (remember “beachgate”?), but any time he says something sensible the Brown camp hysterically denounces it as a hideous crime against humanity.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

You can’t place much confidence in early polls. Still, Brown is obviously ahead in the first part of this race — despite growing criticism about his lack of leadership in the disastrous Obamacare sign-up program in Maryland.

The X Factor in June

What will people care about in late June when the primaries take place? That could prove pivotal. Are they content with the direction of Maryland under Gov. Martin O’Malley? Or do they want a different look and feel to state government?

Neither candidate is proposing a dramatically new path. Brown and Gansler are liberal Democrats, but the attorney general has displayed greater openness to new ideas regardless of ideology.

Polls won’t decide this election. Turnout and effective advertising will.

The June 24 date for this year’s gubernatorial primary is unheard of in these parts. That’s awfully early. This could lead to abysmally low turnout.

Outstanding Questions

Who does that help? Probably Gansler, since Brown’s strongholds have a history of lower voter participation.

Can Gansler persuade Democrats in rural counties and the Baltimore suburbs to vote heavily for him? If so, he might win. He remains the underdog.

Who will the third candidate in this race, Del. Heather Mizeur, hurt the most? She represents Montgomery County — Gansler country — but she appeals to the most ardent liberal Democrats who otherwise would vote for Brown.

Much is riding on which candidate develops the best marketing plan and produces the best ads. Brown is selling himself as a continuation of the liberal O’Malley years. Gansler is the “change candidate” who must go on the offensive to show that Brown is an empty suit.

Which candidate will capture the public’s imagination? Which candidate will come across as most likeable and knowledgeable in the televised gubernatorial debates?

Art, Not Science

It’s helpful to keep in mind that recent polls only give us a Polaroid snapshot of the governor’s race as of the moment — and nothing more. Many things will change in the coming months. The closer we come to June 24, the more meaningful polls become.

But polling is far from perfect. Pollsters can get it wrong. That’s because accurately gauging public sentiment and voting trends is very much an art and not a science.

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Ditched by Dutch

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 23, 2014 — DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER’s gubernatorial ambitions wound up in the political ditch this week. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The six-term Central Maryland congressman and two-term Baltimore County Executive isn’t a gambler. He likes a sure thing. In politics that means a race in which he is the heavy favorite.

Dutch Ruppersberger

Dutch Ruppersberger

That wasn’t the case in the governor’s campaign, where two Democrats already have $13 million on hand and likely will dominate this race.

Yet neither Attorney General Doug Gansler nor Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has sparked excitement from the voting public.  Neither man has come across as anything more than a plastic politician.

That left the door open for the garrulous and personable Ruppersberger, who is never at a loss for words and loves the “people” part of politics.

He’s also the only Maryland politician widely known just by his first name — a sure sign of connection with Jane and John Q. Citizen.

Drawbacks to Consider

But raising $5 million in a short time frame looked daunting. Many of his supporters among the political elite have already endorsed Brown. His polls showed him running well in the Baltimore region, but  he had work to do elsewhere in the state.

Moreover, Ruppersberger, 68, may not have the energy for a statewide campaign where he isn’t the front-runner. He’s also not up to date on in the details of state issues, having focused on congressional matters for the past 13 years.

Leaving a safe seat in Congress isn’t the norm.

On top of that, Ruppersberger is the ranking Democrat for another year on the House Intelligence Committee, which makes him a VIP entitled to special insider briefings, White House invitations and overseas trips.

But he concludes his stay on the intelligence panel after this year, returning to his status as a non-VIP minority member of the House. That unappealing prospect prompted Ruppersberger to consider running for governor.

Now it won’t happen. He’s decided to remain in Congress, even with lower visibility and diminished importance.

Who Else Might Run?

Will another member of the Maryland delegation now jump into the gubernatorial campaign?

John Delaney, a freshman congressman representing parts of Western Maryland and Montgomery County — it’s the state’s “odd couple” district — is staking out ground as a maverick Democrat promoting outside-the-box solutions and tweaking the political powers that be.

John Delaney

John Delaney

Still, a run for governor doesn’t seem likely.

It’s late to start from scratch. Yes, the wealthy Delaney could self-fund his campaign but he has no track record in public office, isn’t well-versed in Annapolis matters and is a total unknown outside of his district.

But Delaney understands that clashing over health care insurance with Gov. Martin O’Malley plays well in Western Maryland and that being out front on raising the minimum wage helps in Montgomery County.

So Delaney’s outspoken jabs serve an important purpose for his reelection bid and for other possible races later. We can expect more of this sort of headline-grabbing from him in the future.

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MD Healthcare Leader? It’s Not Anthony Brown

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

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

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

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

What Webster Says

By every dictionary definition, Brown fails that test.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O’Malley Takes the Lead

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death-Watch Job

None of this is surprising.

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

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

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

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

Evaluating Anthony Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy 90th, Helen Bentley!

By Barry Rascovar

November 27 — HELEN DELICH BENTLEY turns 90 tomorrow. Not only is her longevity remarkable, her accomplishments are truly exceptional.

First female maritime newspaper editor. First female chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. First woman to lead any federal regulatory agency. Five-term member of Congress.

Producer, writer and narrator of a ground-breaking, award-winning television program on maritime activity in Baltimore.

The nation’s preeminent advocate for the maritime industry and, especially, for the Port of Baltimore that now bears her name.

Helen Delich Bentley

Helen Delich Bentley

What a lifetime of achievements.

None of it came easy. Her Serbian parents emigrated to a small town in Nevada that no longer exists. They barely could make ends meet.

She had to battle to succeed. It became a template for the rest of his life.

One Tenacious Woman

Her never-give-up attitude, and her unyielding determination, sets her apart.

So does her feisty, pugnacious and grouchy attitude. She still swears like a sailor and rarely hands out a compliment without a few snarls thrown in.

Before “women’s lib” arrived, Helen Bentley was knocking down barriers.

She remains a legend on the docks and wharfs of Baltimore — a man’s world which she dared enter, ask pointed questions and cover extensively as a journalist.

She didn’t just liberate the waterfront for women, Helen Delich Bentley became the nation’s most important and most influential maritime journalist.

Then she went to Washington as a female regulator in another man’s world. She shook up the FMC. Everyone knew who was in charge for those six years.

Rep. Helen Bentley

Helen Bentley at Ship Christening

Next, Bentley had the tenacity and intestinal fortitude to take on a deeply entrenched congressional incumbent from eastern Baltimore County, Clarence D. Long, because of his unyielding opposition to port expansion.

She lost the first time. She lost the second time. Yet she refused to admit defeat.

On the third try, Helen Bentley did the impossible: She knocked off “Doc” Long, a 22-year congressional veteran and power in the House.

Never Give Up

Few politicians have the gumption to spend six years, and two losing tries, in search of an election day upset. Not Helen Bentley.

Her politics are Republican and deeply conservative. Yet her friends include left-wing Democrats.

Bentley’s ideology never stood in the way of her pragmatic goals and objectives. Results are what counts for her.

Fasionable Helen Bentley

Fashionista Bentley

It was striking at her 90th birthday party at the Baltimore Museum of Industry that praise came from leaders of maritime unions and maritime business leaders, from Democratic and Republican congressmen.

Helen Delich Bentley has been a trailblazer all her life. To use a Latin phrase, she is sui generis“of its own kind/genus” or “unique in its characteristics.” 

So as we celebrate a later-than-normal Thanksgiving Day, let’s also toast the Grande Dame of the U.S. maritime industry — journalist, regulator, congresswoman, advocate and defender par excellence of the Port of Baltimore.

Helen Delich Bentley is indeed one of a kind.

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Mizeur’s Promises, Dirty Tricks and more

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

Instead, they pander to voters.

Mizeur’s Promises

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

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seems to be Mizeur’s recipe, too.

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

Tax Breaks For Nearly Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Patelides

Mike Patelides

It might not matter.

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

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

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

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

No Progress on Key Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What Happened to Accuracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Moring 'tracking' Doug Gansler

Jeff Moring ‘tracking’ Doug Gansler for Brown campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there’s a whopper.

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

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

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

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