Tag Archives: Maryland

Popular Larry Hogan

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 12, 2016 – As Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., starts packing for the friendship/business-development trip to Israel that every Maryland chief executive takes, he can gloat about his crafty propaganda maneuvers that have him sky-high in popularity polls.

Expect more “good news” announcements. There always are when a governor’s entourage makes an economic prospecting tour. These visits don’t take place unless made-in-advance deals are set for unveiling during the VIP procession.

Popular Larry Hogan

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. and wife, Yumi, at 2014 inauguration

Hogan has become a master of positive image-making. He’s got a cheerful public persona, a hearty laugh and a back-slapping camaraderie.

He also recognizes Marylanders are fed up with politicians who flood the airwaves and newspapers with press releases and public utterances. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s declining popularity stemmed in part from the public’s fatigue with his constant campaigning and propagandizing.

These days, people want elected leaders to leave them alone. Staying out of the news is as much a reason for Hogan’s strong poll numbers as anything else.

Popular Side Issues

He’s latched onto tangential issues that sound good to people at first glance. He cut tolls – always a winner with voters – a bit. He lowered some government fees. He ordered schools not to start classes before Labor Day. He held back millions from Baltimore City and Baltimore County for failing to air-condition all school classrooms immediately.

Every one of those actions brought a resounding huzzah and another rise in Hogan’s numbers. At this stage, he looks like a shoo-in for re-election in 2018.

That’s the positive side of the equation.

But here’s the rub. He’s got an abysmal relationship with Democrats who run the General Assembly. Worse, he seems determined to keep it that way into his next term.

Despite phenomenal poll numbers, Hogan can point to few legacy achievements. That’s due largely to his stubborn refusal to seek compromise with opposition-party lawmakers.

Unfinished Business

Yes, he closed the Baltimore City Jail – but he has yet to demolish the eye-sore because he tried to use funds intended for Baltimore-area universities for the jail tear-down. Nor did he bother to consult with community or city leaders about his secretive decision.

Yes, he helped end the 2015 Baltimore civil unrest by sending in the National Guard and touring a few riot-torn streets. But since then he’s been an absentee leader rarely showing his face.

As for a rejuvenation package to aid the state’s most distressed jurisdiction, Hogan has turned a blind eye. Baltimore’s horrific poverty and crime problems remain the albatross around Maryland’s neck – and Hogan is taking the silent, “benign neglect” approach.

Yes, he signed a bill reforming the criminal justice system for low-risk offenders, but credit belongs to Chief Legislative Officer Christopher Shank for that effort at reaching across the aisle to find common ground with Democrats.

The governor talks about joining hands and singing from the same hymnal, but in truth he’s a hard-nosed, partisan Republican who seems to relish insulting Democrats.

Negotiating isn’t in his vocabulary unless it is 100 percent on his terms. His legislative agenda has been thin on substance and thick on unpassable conservative ideology.

Thin Agenda

No wonder Democrats in the legislature have buried much of his agenda. Last session, the governor even ordered his staff not to work with lawmakers behind the scenes to hammer out differences.

There’s been no education package from Hogan in two years, no environmental package, no health-care package, no natural resources package, no major economic-development package, no energy package, indeed no comprehensive proposal except the criminal justice bill.

He killed Baltimore’s mass-transit expansion but has yet to put in place his so-called replacement – a modestly revamped bus system.

Instead, Hogan has directed his energy toward minutia, like feuding with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz over that county’s dwindling number of schools without air-conditioning.

He also humiliated and bad-mouthed the long-time and much-praised director of the state’s school construction program, prompting his resignation.

He has refused on occasion to let foes of his administration’s plans speak at Board of Public Works meetings. Clearly, he doesn’t like to hear criticism.

He issued his executive order mandating that local school systems begin fall classes after, not before, Labor Day without consulting affected educators who overwhelmingly opposed such a move. They say this imperils students’ ability to prepare for national placement tests and could mean an end to spring and winter school breaks.

Appeal to Voters

It’s been a curious year and three-quarters, indeed.

Hogan has picked his issues carefully, keeping in touch with his conservative base, appealing to voters’ base instincts on marginal matters and blaming Democrats for anything and everything that has gone off-track in Maryland.

So far it is a formula for short-term success. Hogan may become the first Republican to serve two gubernatorial terms in Maryland since Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin did it in the 1950s.

Popular Larry Hogan

Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin (1951-1959)

But McKeldin, a liberal Republican who would be drummed out of the party today, amassed a spectacularly successful record in office thanks in large measure to his ability to work with the Democratic legislature.

Hogan is heading in the opposite direction.

He may rival hapless Republican Gov. Harry Whinna Nice (1935-1939) for his paucity of accomplishments during his time in office. (Nice’s sole, lasting contribution was changing the architectural style of the governor’s mansion from Victorian to Georgian.)

Popular Larry Hogan

Gov. Harry W. Nice (1935-1939)

Where’s the Beef?

Hogan was elected with great promise and anticipation, but he has yet to deliver.

Where is the promised major de-regulation package that would free businesses and individuals of unnecessary and expensive bureaucratic red tape?

Where is the elimination of waste and inefficiency from state agencies? Where is the reorganization of state departments?

Where is the downsizing of the state’s work force?

Where is the smaller but smarter state spending program?

Time is on Hogan’s side, though.

He still could recognize that cooperation yields more than constant confrontation.

He could get serious about bringing sound Republican principles to Maryland government rather than following bellicose conservative proposals that stands no chance of becoming law.

Hogan has the opportunity to demonstrate what sensible Republican governance means. He hasn’t done much in that direction so far, which is a shame because it could be a lasting legacy.

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A Third Bay Crossing?

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 6, 2016 – It was ironic that news of Jerry Wolff’s death this past week coincided with the splashy announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. of a $5 million study to examine the site and funding options for a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing.

Wolff was the last all-powerful head of the State Roads Commission during the late 1960s under Gov. Spiro T. Agnew. He was the mastermind behind legislative approval and construction of the parallel bay bridge span.

That 1973 structure cost $148 million. The original Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which was built after a 15-year battle for a mere $45 million, opened in 1952.

The next bay crossing could cost a staggering $7 billion – and probably double that by the time it opens 10 or 15 years from now.

Or rather, if a third span is ever built.

Mega-bucks Needed

Even with federal assistance, Maryland would be hard pressed to find that staggering amount of money for a project that mainly alleviates monster traffic backups on summer weekends. The rest of the year the existing parallel structures easily handle two-way traffic between the eastern and western shores.

Moreover, a critical part of any funding solution – bridge and tunnel tolls – was cut by Hogan to fulfill a campaign promise to lower taxes.

That means a revenue loss to the Maryland Transportation Authority that could approach $1 billion over the next 15 years – just when a third bay span would need to be financed.

A Third Chesapeake Bay Bridge?

Parallel Chesapeake Bay Bridge spans between Sandy Point and Kent Island, MD

Having foreclosed that pivotal revenue source, how in the world does Hogan intend to pay for this massive undertaking?

Answer: He doesn’t.

Hogan is passing the buck, this time to a study group that conveniently won’t report back to him until 2020. Then Hogan can flip the hot potato of how to pay for such a stunningly expensive construction project to the Democratic legislature and blame them for inaction.

Another ‘Boondoggle’?

Ironically, it was Hogan who killed the Baltimore-area’s major transportation initiative, the $3 billion Red Line project – which had $900 million in federal funding lined up. He claimed it was way too expensive. Hogan sneeringly called the Red Line’s downtown tunnel “a boondoggle.”

Yet now he is promoting a third bay crossing at double or triple that amount at a time when the state is short on transportation funds, in part due to Hogan’s populist toll reductions.

Maryland has other enormously expensive toll-road needs that Hogan doesn’t want to confront – or pay for.

The dangerously steep and narrow two-lane Harry W. Nice Bridge spanning the Potomac River between Charles County and the northern neck of Virginia is 76 years old. It’s not in great shape.

Hogan blocked $50 million allocated by his predecessor for planning and design of a new four-lane span, claiming a new $1 billion crossing would be too expensive.

He favors a far cheaper Band-Aid approach to the existing, aging structure, which is a bottleneck and lacks shoulders. Powerful lawmakers, though, are trying to force him to bite the bullet and replace the Potomac crossing.

Then there’s the Thomas J. Hatem Bridge connecting U.S. 40 between Harford and Cecil counties. It, too, is 76 years old. It cost just $5 million when built. But giving it a foundational overhaul will be extremely expensive. Hogan hasn’t allocated a penny for that undertaking.

Playing Politics

Instead, the governor wants to win political points with beachside merchants and summer vacationers headed “downy ocean” by holding out the promise of easy travel across the Chesapeake but leaving the tough funding decisions to someone else.
Already critics are calling Hogan’s plan a new boondoggle.

Even if the state turned to a public-private partnership – which would hand all the revenue and control of the span (and possibly the parallel crossings, too) to a for-profit company – paying the state’s share for a third bay bridge would crowd out virtually every major toll and bridge improvement for years to come.

There’s also the complicated matter of expanding roads leading to the third span on both sides of the bridge. It can’t be done inexpensively or without an environmental cost. Local opposition could be intense.

Hogan, of course, might try to get the job done with a patch-up by adding a single lane to the original bay bridge. But even that falls into the mega-billion-dollar range.

Why a Third Span?

All this begs the question as to whether a third span is essential.

Given the reality of climate change and rising sea levels, by the time a third crossing opens for vehicles much of Ocean City’s beach could be under water. The rush to O.C. might slow dramatically in a quarter-century.

Sen. John Astle, whose Annapolis district includes the western bay bridge approaches, calls this an “impossible problem.” Maryland can’t afford the incredibly high price of a third bay bridge and Hogan has shown zero inclination to raise revenue to pay for it.

Thus, the Hogan study group is likely to produce another report that will gather dust on a shelf. That was true of a study under Gov. Bob Ehrlich and a report under Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Hogan just wants to curry favor with beach-going voters and Ocean City businesses without having to take the unpopular step of raising tolls and other taxes to build a third crossing of the nation’s largest estuary.
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Hogan’s Trump Tendencies

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 29, 2016 – The yin and the yang of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan keep bubbling to the surface.

On the one hand, he’s made it clear he finds Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump offensive. The Republican governor says he doesn’t like Trump, disagrees with his behavior and many of his statements and won’t vote for him.

On the other hand, Hogan continues to dip into Trump’s bag of tricks to win emotional points with voters. Indeed, Hogan was way ahead of Trump in one aspect of propaganda campaigning – the use of a fictitious story as a key election tool.

Hogan'sTrump Tendencies

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.

Trump has become a master of making it up as he goes along. He’s even better at taking a negative development and embroidering it with a fairy tale of malevolence and evil that rivals the Brothers Grimm.

Hogan does the same thing. The most recent example is the absurd furor he’s prompted over his mis-named “road kill bill.” It’s similar to his virtuoso propaganda winner from the 2014 campaign: Hogan’s mis-named “rain tax” – a savvy fabrication that helped win him the governorship.

Evil Bill?

This time, Hogan has latched onto a toothless bill passed by Democrats in the legislature to bring openness to the process of selecting major transportation projects.

Hogan thinks the bill is evil incarnate. It will wipe out every road project in Maryland, he told reporters and county leaders this month. That’s why he calls it “the road kill bill.”

That’s an intentional distortion of the facts for political purposes.

Hogan wants to use this unimportant bill – which he vetoed but then saw overridden by lawmakers – as a hammer against Democrats. He thinks it will help him win another term in 2018. You might call it the second coming of the “rain tax.”

As a candidate in 2014, Hogan harangued Democrats for passage of a bill that allowed 10 counties to impose a local levy on impermeable surfaces such as roofs and asphalt or concrete driveways because these surfaces generate stormwater runoff that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay. The tax revenue would be used to reduce waterway pollution.

But Hogan twisted that bill into something that sounded ludicrous. His TV ads sounded the alarm: Democrats had reached the point where “they’re even taxing the rain!”

Brilliant as a campaign tactic. But untrue.

Better Road Planning

Hogan’s latest invention concerns the Democrat-passed “Maryland Open Transportation Decision Act” aimed at bringing a statistical ranking system to road and bridge projects that the public can understand.

Its preamble sets out the purpose: to create “a public process for transportation planning. . . that provides Maryland citizens with a clear and transparent explanation as to how their transportation taxes and revenues are allocated to fund major capital transportation projects.”

The key phrase: “a clear and transparent explanation.” Not a mandate. Not an order that forces the governor to fund projects he opposes. Just a new planning tool shared with the public.

It could be a useful planning mechanism, just as it is in Virginia and North Carolina, where conservative Republican legislatures passed similar measures. Why? Because it’s a sensible way to get the “biggest bang” for the state’s buck – a very Republican notion.

But Hogan is thinking politics, not government efficiency.

He says the bill will wreak havoc on every county road project. He keeps repeating this flight of fancy. Mentioning “the road kill bill” revs up Republican crowds.

Scaring the Counties

Compounding the situation is an effort by Hogan’s minions to twist reality even further. Deputy DOT Secretary Jim Ports tried terrorizing the counties by claiming none of their projects would be funded next year because of this Democratic-passed law.

Pure buncombe.

To begin with, DOT hasn’t even created the detailed scoring and ranking metrics needed to come to such a conclusion. Most important, these rankings don’t count when the governor names the transportation projects he wishes to finance. He still can do as he pleases.

This is strictly a planning tool, not a funding requirement. The law states quite clearly that the governor can ignore the rankings and toss the list in the trash as long as he “provides in writing a rational basis for the decision.”

Moreover, Ports’ ridiculous assertion that every county’s priority list of road projects would be wiped out by this law is refuted by this wording in the statute: “nothing in this Act may be construed to prohibit or prevent the funding of the capital transportation priorities in each jurisdiction.”

In other words, counties still get to name their top projects and Hogan gets to fund them if he wishes.

Following The Donald

Calling it “the road kill bill” is a Trumpian tactic. How ironic for Hogan, who has positioned himself as the anti-Trump in Maryland’s Republican Party. Now he’s following The Donald’s lead by ignoring the facts and generating a story-line that fits his political purposes.

Unfortunately, we’ll be hearing a lot more about Hogan’s made-up “road kill bill.” He will continue demanding that lawmakers get rid of the statute – which won’t happen.

Meanwhile, Ports has made himself a prime target of angry Democrats, who are nearly certain to revise the law to make even clearer that it creates merely an advisory ranking system for road projects.

But has Hogan set an unintended trap for himself?

He and Democrats could get into a game of transportation “chicken” in which lawmakers dare the governor to wipe out all county road projects, as Hogan says is required – but isn’t – under the new advisory law.

What does Hogan do then – especially since this would be happening in the run-up to Hogan’s reelection bid?

Only by harming counties can Hogan prove his assertion is correct. That’s a huge risk for an incumbent who at the moment looks like a shoo-in for a second term.

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The One and Only Helen Bentley

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 8, 2016 – She was crusty to a fault. Outrageously opinionated. Cantankerous. Indefatigable. Unrelenting. Incredibly effective. Helen Delich Bentley was truly sui generis.

That’s a Latin term meaning “without a counterpart or equal; unique.” Bentley, who died Aug. 6 at the age of 92, indeed was one of a kind.

The One and Only Helen Bentley

Helen Delich Bentley

Where would the Port of Baltimore be without her? For a stunning 70 years she fought like a tiger in every way imaginable to promote Maryland’s biggest and most important economic engine.

Her journalistic coverage at the Baltimore Sun of the port created a national and international reputation for Charm City’s maritime business and for Bentley.

In the process, she shattered the glass ceiling for female journalists, entering the masculine world of the docks in the 1940s with such effectiveness she become the only female maritime editor and the best-known shipping reporter in the world.

Along the way she found time to write, produce and narrate an award-winning television series about the Port of Baltimore that ran for a stunning 15 years.

Maritime Boss

Bentley could cuss like a sailor, ream out union bosses for threatening the port’s stability and talk turkey to shipping executives about the urgency of maintaining labor peace. She settled more than one strike and gained widespread applause for ending Baltimore’s sorry reputation as the only port where longshoremen refused to work in the rain.

Then it was on to Washington, where she bulled her way into the chairmanship of the Federal Maritime Commission – the highest female appointee in the Nixon administration. She spouted off about protecting U.S. trade and building more ships in U.S. ports like Baltimore. Meanwhile, Bentley used her salty language often enough that Time magazine colorfully referred to her as “Tugboat Annie.”

Bentley’s political activism nearly got her in serious prosecutorial trouble when she delivered a bag of illicit cash to Republican campaign higher-ups during the Watergate era.

She bounced back, though, and ran for Congress against entrenched Democratic Rep. Clarence D. Long, an ardent foe of expanding Baltimore’s port if it meant dumping dredged spoils at Hart and Miller Islands off the coast of eastern Baltimore County in his district.

As usual with Bentley, her persistence paid off and she beat Long on her third attempt. She used her time in Congress to bash Japan and Asian nations for their trade policies, pushed hard to gain appropriations for the Port of Baltimore and fought to empower women.

Ten years later, Bentley entered the race for governor as the heavy favorite only to lose shockingly in the Republican primary to ideological conservative Ellen Sauerbrey. Bentley, a pragmatic conservative, was pilloried for daring to have worked with Democrats – especially Gov. William Donald Schaefer – to further the Port of Baltimore.

Bentley’s anger and bitterness over this betrayal of all she had done over the decades to uplift the state GOP led to severed relationships that were never restored.

Port Business and Antiques

But again, she bounced back, getting more involved in her husband Bill’s large antique store on York Road and opening a highly successful consulting business where she continued to be an implacable force for the Port of Baltimore. Somehow she juggled conflicting connections to the Maryland Port Administration, shipping companies and local and international labor executives.

Now wonder Gov. Bob Ehrlich named the Port of Baltimore after Bentley. It was an unexpected honor richly deserved.

I first encountered Helen when she was winding up her newspaper career and I was starting mine.

She would rush into The Sun’s city room close to deadline like a Nevada cyclone, a whirlwind of passion returning from the docks with a hot story to pound out on her typewriter and a maritime section to oversee. Never pausing to take off her hat – a cross between a Mexican sombrero and an Easter bonnet that was made to impress – Bentley started screaming at her staff in her usual scatological way, sending some scurrying while others simply returned her epithets.

It was a daily sight to behold, especially for a naive reporter unused to the Bentley phenomenon.

Over the years, I got to know Helen quite well, covering some of her political races and interviewing her frequently after I joined the editorial page. She was always fun to interview and always full of frank, pointed opinions.

Crusty but Lovable

Helen Bentley also had a soft and endearing side. While she could be infuriatingly brutal with her staff, she could be touchingly sweet to them moments later.

After I reluctantly took a buyout from The (Setting) Sun, Helen not only showed up for a farewell party some friends put together, she gave me one of her favorite antiques – a statue of a young British newspaper “hawker.”

She was, indeed, sui generis.

Even in her final weeks, Bentley continued to defy predictions, hanging on relentlessly like she always did. I visited her with one of her closest friends, David Blumberg, within the past month and found her as feisty as ever.

“What do you think the expanded Panama Canal means for business at the Port of Baltimore,” I asked Helen.

“Not a damn thing,” she acerbically replied. Bentley never beat around the bush, even while battling brain cancer.

Soon afterward, to my surprise, a letter appeared in The Sun from Helen voicing full support for Republican nominee Donald Trump. She never stopped pushing the ball forward, even while in hospice care.

The Port of Baltimore never had a better friend. Helen Bentley accomplished so much in so many ways.

People living in Baltimore and Maryland are the recipients of her largesse. Her lighthouse may have been de-commissioned, but her deeds stand as a permanent reminder of what she gave us.

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Tale of Two Conventions

By Barry Rascovar

Aug. 1, 2016 – The past two weeks have given us remarkable contrasts of political polar opposites and stunning role reversals. This country’s Democratic and Republican presidential nominees haven’t been this far apart in our lifetime.

The contentious and fearful GOP convention might have set back Republican hopes for victory in November, but Democrats’ more unified and positive gathering sent spirits rising. In the process, you may have noticed Maryland delegates played a largely silent role in Cleveland but a highly visible and important role in Philadelphia.

Tale of Two Conventions

That’s no accident. It reflects the state’s mirror-like standing within the two political parties.

Republicans know Maryland is hostile territory for their presidential candidates. This year, Donald Trump is even persona non grata at the Republican governor’s mansion. The national GOP and Trump strategists have largely written off heavily Democratic Maryland.

No wonder Marylanders were missing from the GOP podium – except for ex-Marylander Ben Carson, now residing in Florida, who energized his fans with a typically rambling speech that included a baffling reference tying Hillary Clinton to Lucifer.

Democratic Doings

Compare that to the frequent Marylander sightings at the DNC in Philly: Retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski delivering a rousing farewell from the podium as well as nominating Clinton for president; Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presiding over the roll call of state delegates; Rep. Elijah Cummings blasting Trump from the podium, and forgotten former Gov. Martin O’Malley starting a political comeback with a slashing, crowd-pleasing anti-Trump denunciation.

The most surprising performance came from O’Malley. Twice before he bombed as a convention speaker. He laid a giant egg as a presidential candidate this year, too.

But his righteous anger and overblown theatrics played well last week (at least with those in the convention hall) as he lit into Trump with vigor and fiery indignation. The partisan crowd roared.

Will this be the break O’Malley needs to re-start his stalled political ambitions? Perhaps. Speculation has O’Malley being named the permanent new DNC chair, where he could continue ramming Trump with gusto.

More likely, the Clinton brain trust will want more than a one-dimensional firebrand, especially since O’Malley delayed endorsing Clinton. His best shot at a prominent Washington post in a Clinton administration is to take up the role of a pent-up surrogate for the Democratic ticket.

That way he could continue the retail politicking he loves and hopefully impress Team Clinton with his sincerity and effectiveness.

Surrogate Heaven

Surrogates will play a big role in Hillary Clinton’s 100-day campaign.

Whereas Donald Trump pretty much is a one-man show featuring The Donald extemporizing at large pep rallies and on Twitter, the Democrats are turning to a star-studded list of Trump attackers: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Team Clinton is portraying Trump as an imminent danger to American society and world peace, a from-the-guts speaker with no political experience but plenty of wild, unprincipled and impractical ideas.

Democrats start with an unexpected advantage. Dissension within the GOP and Trump’s unpopularity with several traditionally Republican core groups – women and college-educated males – give Clinton a rare opportunity to appeal to a far broader audience than usual for a Democratic nominee.

Trump’s unorthodox and extreme views has left the GOP adrift, no longer anchored to some of the party’s historic planks – free trade; a muscular foreign policy; a hostile attitude toward Russian autocrats; limited government spending; restrictions on presidential powers and respect for traditions and constitutional precedents.

Playing the Reagan Card

No wonder Clinton, in her acceptance speech quoted Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt, both icons of modern-day Republicans. The Democrats’ position on many issues is now more in sync with the GOP’s historic traditions than is Trump’s.

Reagan spoke repeatedly of enlarging the Republican Party’s base to include discontented Democrats and independents. This was his “Big Tent” theme.

Clinton has embraced the Reagan strategy while Trump has opted for an approach that excludes appeals to minority groups – the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Instead, he is pinning his presidential hopes on winning over vast numbers of discontented white blue-collar voters.

If Trump triumphs, he’ll have to do well across the country among that demographic group, including in Maryland. He’ll have to exceed expectations in the Baltimore region and even the Washington suburbs.

That’s a tall order, especially when Trump’s limited resources aren’t likely to be spent in the Free State. At the moment, he’s targeting pivotal states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Florida. Yet two of these states haven’t gone Republican in a presidential election in over 20 years.

Clinton, meanwhile, may have secured victory in the battleground state of Virginia by choosing Old Dominion Sen. Tim Kaine for her ticket.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court last week unanimously banned North Carolina’s discriminatory voter ID law, a ruling that may now give Democrats an unexpected bump in that toss-up state.

Yet with over three months still to go, this year’s presidential race remains unpredictable and very much up for grabs. Trump may appear as the underdog, but no one expected him to seize the GOP nomination, either. We’re in for a wild ride between now and early November.

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Trump All the Way

By Barry Rascovar

July 18, 2016 – This is a big week for Republicans – their quadrennial national convention in Cleveland. For Maryland’s conventioneers, it’s “Donald Trump All the Way.” Nary a discouraging word will be heard from them – unless they’re talking about Hillary Clinton.

Trump All the Way

Republican National Convention delegates meet in Cleveland this week.

The state’s GOP delegates’ loyalty to Trump, the party’s flamboyant and controversial presumptive nominee, was sealed when the New York real estate tycoon thrashed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the April 26 Maryland primary.

Most of the GOP convention-goers from Maryland are chosen by congressional districts. They are bound to the primary winner in that district in the opening rounds of balloting.

Trump made the math easy, though: He won all eight congressional districts handily.

He took the Maryland primary with 54 percent of the vote, scoring a high of 63 percent in the Eastern Shore-Harford County First Congressional District and a low of 46 percent in the Baltimore City-dominated Seventh C.D. and the Montgomery-Frederick counties Eighth C.D.

His lowest margin of victory, 14 percentage points, occurred in the liberal Seventh Congressional District.

Unity in Cleveland

If there are rumblings of discontent among Maryland’s GOP faithful, those dissenters are staying far away from Cleveland.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., who grudgingly told the media he would not be voting for Trump (though he still hasn’t explained precisely why), has found an ideal excuse: the annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield – the can’t-miss high point of Maryland’s political summer season.

Hogan hasn’t been a big fan of building up the state GOP infrastructure, anyway. He has yet to attend a Lincoln Day fund-raiser supporting local central committees. He also skipped the last two big annual Republican fund-raisers.

That makes sense, since Hogan was elected after running an outsider campaign on Facebook through his Change Maryland organization. Hogan’s novel approach may have set a new paradigm for statewide GOP campaigns and debunked the value of relying on the local party apparatus for support and backing.

Some Maryland conventioneers remain angry at Hogan’s “no” vote on Trump and his refusal to give silent assent in Cleveland.

Hogan’s Sidestep

But he would have done so at a cost. Democrats were itching to tie Hogan to Trump and the nominee’s sometimes insensitive broadsides. Hogan safely sidestepped that problem by staying home and announcing he’s washed his hands of national politics.

While some die-hard Trump supporters say they won’t forget Hogan’s snub of their hero, they are small in number next to the horde of Democrats and independents he might alienate through a Trump endorsement.

Maryland, after all, is a heavily Democratic state. For Hogan to win a second term, he can’t afford to turn off the state’s large pool of centrist voters. They helped him win in 2014.

Hogan’s second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, won’t be in Cleveland, either. He’s made it clear that Trump “is not my choice at all.” Rutherford will be joining his boss at the Tawes schmooze-fest.

Kittleman’s ‘Strong Feelings’

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has been the most prominent Maryland Republican to cite emphatically his disapproval of Trump’s sometimes racist comments.

Kittleman, whose father Bob was one of Howard County’s most prominent civil-rights leaders, stated that Trump does not represent his “strong feelings” on civil right and diversity. “That’s not how I was raised.”

Still, those voices of dissent won’t be heard on the Cleveland convention floor or in the convention hotel hallways.

This is Donald Trump’s moment to shine and he’ll get no argument from his staunch delegate supporters from Maryland.

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A Journalist’s Best Friend

By Barry Rascovar

July 11, 2016—Every Maryland journalist who has filed a freedom of information request or challenged efforts by officials to keep public deliberations secret owes a debt of gratitude to Jim Keat, who passed away July 6 after a prolonged bout with cancer.

Keat passionately detested public secrecy. He led the fight to enlarge and put teeth in Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and its Freedom of Information Act.

Investigative journalists and State House reporters would have been thwarted in their demands for government documents and entrée to state and local government meetings were it not for Keat’s fierce determination to remove the shadows from official public actions.

I knew Jim longer than anyone in my newspaper career. When I held down a summer internship at the Baltimore Sunday Sun after graduating from college, Jim gave me a shot at a job he could offer me once I completed my master’s degree at Columbia University.

The job entailed editing news-analysis copy for a brand-new Sunday opinion section Keat was starting from scratch, called Perspective. I botched the editing test quite badly but you’d never know it from the way Keat diplomatically suggested I stick to learning the reporting trade.

I’m eternally grateful for that rejection, since it saved me from a life on the copy desk far from what I really wanted to do: report on political and governmental news of the day.

Unsung Newsroom Hero

Keat later served 16 years in a key but unheralded role as assistant managing editor for The Sun’s news sections. Every newspaper has someone like Jim Keat, whose name is not widely known to the public but who keeps the complex internal workings of a newsroom in sync and on time.

No news-gathering problem was too big or too small for Keat to handle. He had superb news judgment and vast knowledge of foreign and national affairs as well as what was “hot” on the local scene.

He served as a buffer for journalists when things got heated in editorial meetings. Keat’s boss, Paul Banker, was a reclusive man of few words who rarely dealt with the local staff. It was left to Jim to serve as an intermediary and mentor to us lowly city-desk reporters.

When I joined the newspaper’s Washington Bureau, Keat became our go-to guy for reporters with complaints about how their stories were handled and for those lobbying to pursue tips that might lead to a Page One “scoop.” He saved my hide on numerous occasions.

Then when Jim was winding up his nearly 40 years with the Baltimore Sun, he joined me and his old pal Joe Sterne in the editorial department, where he coordinated daily production activities of the opinion pages. He edited letters to the editor and pounded out well-crafted editorials with an élan and rapidity that spoke to his skills as a consummate journalist.

Advocate for Openness

But it was Jim’s sterling work on behalf of government openness, both at the newspaper and in retirement, that set him apart.

Keat once admitted that he was “frustrated by the inability of the people, not just newspapers, to find out what the government is doing.”

He became a leader of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association’s freedom of information lobbying in the Annapolis State House and before county and city councils.

He led two MDDC public records audits of Maryland agencies that demonstrated the closed-door nature of bureaucratic fiefdoms. Keat also plunged into public battles over cameras in the courtroom, court records access and the necessity of regular government audits to test if agency records indeed are accessible to the press and public.

Keat became a constant spectator and testifier at hearings that unmasked weaknesses in Maryland’s Open Meetings Act. Throughout his long career he remained a passionate and demanding voice for freedom of the press and government openness.

Give Thanks

So the next time you read an expose or article on government wrongdoing made possible by documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, take a moment to thank Jim Keat.

And when you read stories about officials unsuccessfully trying to slam the doors to public meetings, again thank James S. Keat.

He was a Maryland journalist’s best friend. Jim’s relentless work advocating for open access to the people’s government made a lasting contribution to this state.

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Sifting Truth from Hogan’s Fiction

By Barry Rascovar

July 5, 2016 – He’s at it again. Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. keeps promoting a phony story line to justify attacking Democratic lawmakers and scaring local officials into believing vital road projects are in grave jeopardy.

If that’s the case, why hasn’t the governor named those highway construction projects that are on the “kill list” because of those evil Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly?

He can’t do so because there’s no such animal. Hogan’s bluster is just that: hot air lacking factual back-up.

Last week, Hogan went before conventioneers at the Maryland Municipal League and tried to scare them out of their pants.Sifting Truth from Hogan's FictionHe told them “we cannot and will not let” the General Assembly’s Democratic majority hinder road and bridge repairs.

He did not give one example of such a dastardly deed.

Rally ’Round the Governor

Then he amped up the volume, declaring Municipal League members must rally ’round Hogan to safeguard their local highway aid.

“We’re going to keep fighting to make sure these priority road projects in every jurisdiction continue to move forward,” he said.

“But we need our municipal and our county officials, each and every one of you, to stand with us so our roads and highways don’t go back down a path of neglect and under investment.”

So what is this despicable act perpetrated on local governments and its citizens by the Democratic legislature, according to Republican Hogan?

It centers on a  bill passed in 2015 by lawmakers that forces the state to rank all highway, bridge and transit projects costing more than $5 million that increase capacity. Structural deficiencies and urgent repairs are not included in this ranking.

Hogan vetoed the bill but Democrats easily overrode that veto this year. The law went into effect July 1.

These transportation projects will be rated according to nine objective metrics, such as how much each undertaking improves transportation safety, the economic benefits each project brings to the counties and state and each project’s impact (negative or positive) on the environment.

Hogan’s own transportation department will pick the measurement criteria and do the analysis, not some liberal do-gooder group.

Toothless Law

Once the annual ranking is produced, that’s the end of the story.

Hogan need not follow this priority list. He can ignore it completely.

All he must do, under the law, is explain why he’s disregarding this objective listing of Maryland’s most important road, bridge and transit projects.

It’s a feel-good law lacking any teeth. There’s no enforcement provision. Hogan’s ability to pick and choose transportation winners and losers remains fully in place.

Had this law been in effect in 2015, Hogan still could have killed the Baltimore Red Line subway project and shifted those funds to rural highways where his most ardent supporters live. Nothing would have changed.

All the new law does is provide some welcome transparency. Finally, citizens will get a glimpse into a previously closed-door government process that historically has led to corruption and blatant political favoritism.

Finally, there will be a values-based rating of road, bridge and transit projects and a ranking of which ones score highest.

It Could Get Uncomfortable

Does this endanger local officials’ favored road projects? Not at all. Hogan can still distribute road and bridge goodies as he chooses.

But the rankings may raise uncomfortable questions if county leaders are pushing for a project that scores extremely low.

Yet listening to Hogan’s rants one gets the impression a cataclysmic event is upon us.

He has called it a “terrible, terrible piece of legislation” that threatens “every bridge and every road” project in Maryland!

He has made the blanket statement – lacking concrete, follow-up proof: “We would have to kill pretty much all the road projects in 22 of the 24 jurisdictions. Every bridge and every road.”

Where’s the Proof?

What’s missing are the names of those endangered projects. Until Hogan produces such a list of the road and transit projects he’s been forced to kill because of the new law, his words amount to political bombast.

One of the governor’s likely opponents in 2018, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz put the new law that Hogan keeps screaming about in perspective: “I think it’s fair for the General Assembly to ask how do you establish priority.”

Indeed it is. It’s time to remove some of the mystery surrounding the selection of road, bridge and transit projects and start telling the pubic why some road widenings go to the top of the list and others go to the bottom.

We’re not talking small potatoes here. Maryland’s six-year transportation program amounts to nearly $16 billion.

Shining a bit of sunshine on the selection process is long overdue.

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

 

Applying the Law, Not Emotion

By Barry Rascovar

June 27, 2016 – If there is a bright spot in the widespread damage done to Baltimore and Maryland by the Freddie Gray conflagration and its aftermath, it is the sterling performance of Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams.

While Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby placed politics and placating the city’s riotous crowd above her duties to pursue prosecutions based on rigorously impartial and complete investigations, Williams did the opposite.

Applying Law, Not Emotion

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams

He ruled only on the basis of facts and the law. He didn’t let mob psychology or the passions of protesters seeking a scapegoat deter him from doing his duty as an officer of the court.

He wasn’t swayed by pressure from fellow African-Americans demanding convictions of police officers because someone had to be held responsible for Freddie Gray’s unexplained death in the back of a police paddy wagon.

He didn’t take Mosby’s bait to rush to judgment against the officers on the basis of her prosecutors’ suspect conspiracy theories, novel legal theories and “logical inferences.”

Instead, Williams quietly and sternly administered the law to the nth degree. He gave weight only to solid, verifiable facts, not suspicions.

Sparkling Example

He took seriously the legal precept that the accused can’t be found guilty unless there is so much evidence there is no longer “reasonable doubt.”

All this comes from a lawyer who spent much of his career in the U.S. Justice Department investigating and prosecuting bad cops who gave prisoners “rough rides,” denied defendants their legal rights or harmed minorities in their custody.

Williams has been a sparkling example of how a judge is supposed to act in trials large and small. Like Detective Joe Friday in the old TV series “Dragnet,” Williams wants, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Then he applies the factual presentation of defense and prosecution lawyers against what is written in the Annotated Code of Maryland and in appellate court interpretations of the law.

That’s the way justice is supposed to be meted out in the United States. The highly politicized rulings of the current Supreme Court don’t appeal to Williams. He remains faithful to the law, not emotions or social movements of the moment.

Such bedrock reliance on fact-based and statute-based decisions deserves widespread applause.

Indeed, the next time U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin is asked to recommend a name to the White House for a federal judicial post, Williams should be on Cardin’s short list. And the next time Gov. Larry Hogan is in the market for an appellate judge from Baltimore, Williams should get top consideration.

Faithful to his Oath

There’s a reason Williams was selected to preside over a complex series of hyper-sensitive trials. He runs a strict, no-nonsense courtroom. He’s super-smart. He doesn’t get caught up in Court House politics or appeasing an angry populous. He remains faithful to his oath to apply the law fairly and without partiality.

Williams has more Freddie Gray cases on his docket – unless Mosby drops the cases rather than risk looking inept and foolish for stubbornly pursuing cases that already seem to have more holes than Swiss cheese.

Within legal circles, Mosby’s reputation has taken a mighty hit. Her hurried prosecutions are imploding. She doesn’t appear up to the job. Yet she should have no trouble getting reelected given her star power within the city’s African-American community. She almost certainly will be challenged, though.

Applying the Law, Not Emotion

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby

More serious is her frayed – some argue broken – relationship with the city’s police department. It’s a situation of her own making that could lead to future blow-ups and deep divisions hurting her ability to piece together winnable cases.

How Baltimore’s all-but-certain next mayor, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, handles this delicate and highly explosive situation could determine whether the city’s criminal justice system wages an effective fight against those bent on victimizing and harming Baltimore residents.

That issue has been ignored amid the media and political focus on Freddie Gray.

Maybe it’s time for cooler heads to prevail. City officials certainly could take their cue from the way Judge Williams objectively handles the “hot-potatoes” tossed into his courtroom.

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Crunch Time for P.G. Hospital

By Barry Rascovar

June 13, 2016 – Here we go again: Another liberal-conservative showdown over a new hospital for Prince George’s County. Only this time, the confrontation isn’t between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. and the Democratic legislature.

Instead, the tug-of-war is between a conservative political scientist from a Republican think-tank and Democrats in the county who control its hospital system.

Crunch Time P.G. Hospital

Proposed Prince George’s Regional Medical Center

The think-tank guru, Robert Moffit, was placed on the Maryland Health Care Commission by Hogan. It’s his second time around, having been on the panel before under Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.

Due to a quirk in the way the commission conducts its business, Moffit has life-or-death powers over the proposed $655 million Prince George’s Regional Medical Center. He’s been assigned to evaluate this project and if he’s unwilling to sign off, the panel won’t issue the essential certificate of need (CON) for construction.

Wring Price Concessions

At the moment, Moffit is playing hardball.

He wants to wring $112 million from the project’s cost by cutting the number of acute care beds and dramatically shrinking room size. Moffit’s modifications call for fewer inpatient beds, fewer operating rooms, fewer emergency room bays and no specialty wing run by the Mt. Washington Pediatric Center.

It would be a stripped-down model designed to break even with far fewer customers coming through the doors.

That’s in keeping with both conservative Republican manta (do more with less) and a trend in health care that stresses outpatient treatment over hospital admissions.

Moffit, who works at the Heritage Foundation, doesn’t want a white elephant – a hospital that is half-empty and unable to pay its bills or avoid red ink.

That’s been the sorry state of county hospitals for decades under Dimensions Healthcare System, which has shortchanged county residents through long-standing management incompetence, political cronyism and an inability to offer quality medical care.

Deal in Annapolis

A running battle in Annapolis finally led to an agreement in which the state and county governments would chip in for a brand-new regional medical center in Largo, replacing the run-down, 75-year-old hospital at Cheverly and consolidating county in-patient beds at one site.

What sealed the deal was agreement by county politicians to relinquish control to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which has a record of turning woebegone hospitals into winners for patients and the bottom line.

But Moffit doesn’t seem impressed with what UMMS brings to the table. He’s so focused on the financials that he may be missing key, unspoken elements.

First, Prince George’s County is a health care desert. It is bereft of a comprehensive medical center. No wonder sick residents go elsewhere for in-patient hospital care – to Southern Maryland, to Anne Arundel County, to Montgomery County and to the District of Columbia.

A gleaming, ultra-modern regional medical mecca at Largo, with all the bells and whistles patients and doctors demand, could reverse the out-migration of patients in a hurry.

Indeed, the combination of a cutting-edge, high-tech hospital run by a nationally ranked teaching hospital could result in a stampede of primary care physicians seeking office space nearby. The dearth of primary care docs has been a major shortcoming in the county – a situation UMMS already is working hard to fix.

Different Fruits

Moffit also wrongly compares costs for the P.G. regional medical center to the new community hospital Washington Adventist Hospital is building in Montgomery County. The two have as much in common as apples and oranges.

The Largo project will be far more expensive because the demands for services are far greater in Prince George’s – and infinitely more complex.

The current Dimensions hospital in Cheverly is the second busiest trauma center in Maryland. With violent crime rising in the populous county, you can expect an even greater need for more emergency room bays and high-cost trauma medical care. That’s not factored into Moffit’s equation.

Nor does the commissioner take into account the enormous size of the county with a population that will hit 1 million in the not too distant future. Yet there’s a lack of even one high-caliber hospital.

That’s unacceptable.

Centerpiece of Change

Moffit concedes “a new general hospital campus in Prince George’s County is needed.”

What he doesn’t acknowledge is that this large, fast-growing subdivision with a huge minority population has always been short-changed. For too long, this populous region of Maryland has been denied a first-class regional medical center that can handle diverse and complex cases.

The last thing Prince George’s needs is a shrunken, run-of-the-mill general hospital.

Additionally, Moffit fails to take into consideration that a highly competent and experienced operating team from a premier teaching hospital will be running things.

Moreover, the mission isn’t just cost-efficient management of the new Prince George’s hospital. There’s a larger goal: to transform the county’s entire health care delivery system.

The centerpiece of that transformation is the new regional medical center.

Dumbing down the medical centerpiece denies county residents the kind of top-flight regional inpatient facility they deserve. It sets the stage for a penny wise/pound foolish decision from the Health Care Commission.

It also could lead to an angry response in Annapolis from dismayed Democratic legislators who are unwilling to accept a second-rate compromise.

They could demand sweeping changes in laws governing the Health Care Commission, reconstituting the panel and ensuring that one commissioner no longer gets to rule with near-dictatorial authority on hospital-construction projects.

There’s still time for a sensible resolution. Dimensions and UMMS have until Aug. 31 to respond to Moffit’s unreasonably stiff demands. It would be just as unrealistic to under-build as to over-build at Largo.

This is one decision the Health Care Commission had better get right.

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