Tag Archives: politics

Edgar Silver: Political MD’s Unsung Hero

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 11, 2014–For well over half a century, Edgar P. Silver was the “unsung hero” of Maryland politics. Few in the public knew the name, but the politicos sure did.

Edgar P. Silver

Edgar P. Silver

consigliere to elected leaders. Trusted adviser to politicians — left, right and center. A  judge’s judge. A friend to the end.

Known simply as “The Judge” to his legion of acquaintances, Silver, died today at the age of 91.

He mastered two long-forgotten arts — schmoozing and working the phones.

Silver’s Rolodex contained just about every important Maryland politician’s personal phone number. His days were spent with a phone to his ear and nary a stitch of paper on his desk.

Wealth of Knowledge

Politicians loved Edgar Silver, with good reason.

He was a fount of valuable advice and political know-how. You could confide in him your worst secrets knowing he’d keep it private. He would listen, commiserate and then offer comforting, practical guidance.

You could trust “The Judge.” He had rock-solid integrity. He respected your viewpoint. All he wanted to do was help you succeed.

He grew up poor near Druid Hill Park, his mother from Russia, his tailor father from Austria. Eighty years later he still recalled the anguish of accompanying his mother in the dark Depression days to a bank on Pennsylvania Avenue that held the family’s life savings — only to discover the bank could only pay out 10 cents on the dollar.

Young Edgar ran errands for folks on Eden Street. He made himself available to help neighbors in need. He liked people, and politicians. He started manning the polls at 15.

No wonder he won his first race for public office – defeating an unknown William Donald Schaefer. Three terms later, Silver was appointed to the bench (after he let reporters know he might run for the state Senate).

Judge Edgar Silver

Judge Edgar Silver

Silver’s Baltimore courtroom gained a reputation as the place where defendants got a fair shake, where they were treated kindly and respectfully. He’d even read the guilty parties that day’s menu at the City Jail so they’d know what to expect.

One time, he sentenced a robber to prison, then spotted the robber’s young brother. Silver had the lad sit on his lap while he explained what was going on. He didn’t want the child to think badly of judges or the criminal justice system.

What a guy.

Silver handled politicians the same way – with exquisite kindness and understanding. He knew how to use his extensive contacts to smooth over difficult situations, to play intermediary between officials, to offer solid advice.

Governors craved his insights. Senate President Mike Miller became a longtime family friend. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski reveled in his sagacious suggestions. Elijah Cummings treated him almost like a second father.

On and on the list goes. Silver extended a helping hand and discerning suggestions to a wide range of friends – Peter Angelos, Lou Kousouris, Joe and Karin De Francis, Alan Rifkin, Judge Bob Steinberg, Judge Joe Murphy, and even occasionally to Cardinal William Keeler.

Civil Rights Champion

He also was the “unsung hero” of black lawyers seeking judgeships. Silver played a behind-the-scenes role in getting literally dozens of African Americans on the bench. Baltimore’s first black police commissioner got the job largely because of Silver’s intervention. He was a one-man civil rights movement.

When a young legislative aide to Schaefer, Alan Rifkin, started his own law firm, Silver agreed to assist – very briefly as a partner and then as “of counsel” Wise Man of what is now Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan and Silver. He lent the firm credibility and integrity.

“The best is yet to come.”

That was Edgar Silver’s oft-repeated motto. He never looked on the dark side of a problem. He only saw brightness in people and in situations. And he knew how to laugh. He didn’t take anything too seriously for long.

Delegate Edgar Silver

Delegate Edgar Silver

He certainly played a big role in my life. After The Baltimore Sun cut its staff and offered me a buyout, I became a stateless person in search of a new career.

In stepped The Judge with suggestions and ideas. He and Rifkin gave me a desk and a computer while I figured out how to run a one-man communications/writing consulting firm.

Best of all, I got to chat at length each day with Edgar Silver, about politics and politicians and about life. This office dialogue went on for 12 years, and then continued with friendly lunches and phone conversations.

Once in a great while, an individual influences your life. His advice stays with you for eternity. It becomes a guiding light. Such was the case with Edgar Silver in my life – and in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others in Maryland.

What a difference he made.

###

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

The One-Party State Curse

By Barry Rascovar

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

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

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

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

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

But the common wisdom often is wrong.

Democratic Advantage

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Registered Voters

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

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

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

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

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

No Competition

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

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

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

That should be good for the Democratic Party, right?

Wrong.

Cruise Control

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

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

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

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

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

Montgomery’s Ennui

That last figure is the most stunning number of all.

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

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

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

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

Chink in the Armor

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

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

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

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

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

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

#  #  #

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

 

How Brown Blew a Sure Thing

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 7, 2014 — Yes, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. ran a smart, tightly focused campaign that helped him pull off a surprisingly strong upset in the race for Maryland governor. But the major reason he’s the next chief executive is that Democrat Anthony Brown blew a sure thing.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Here’s how Brown turned almost certain victory into a humiliating defeat:

He Blew An 8-Year Head Start 

Brown had two terms as lieutenant governor to put down deep roots in all the right places throughout Maryland. It never happened. Instead, he traveled constantly giving written speeches and then driving off to the next staged event.

He never bothered to familiarize himself with the people of Maryland; instead he limited his circle to elected officials and receptive civic groups.

He failed to jump in and learn about what wasn’t working in the counties — and then help local leaders find a fix.

He didn’t spend his vacations walking the Ocean City boardwalk meeting and talking with common folk.

He didn’t spend his time in Western Maryland getting to understand the unique problems of this isolated, mountain region in chronic need of a helping hand from Annapolis.

He didn’t tour Baltimore City and its vast suburbs to find out what was on people’s minds. He was as alien to them on Tuesday as he was eight years ago.

He Took the Summer Off

Brown started with a huge lead and everything in his favor. He breezed to an easy primary victory. Then he disappeared for the entire summer.

That’s when he should have cemented his relationship with local Democrats, hit every carnival, parade, crab feast and bull roast in sight. Preaching at Sunday services isn’t enough. You’ve got to show your face everywhere  and press the flesh. You’ve got to work up a sweat and convince people you’d make a great next-door neighbor. That’s what Hogan did.

By delaying his campaign till the fall, Brown lost his momentum.

He should have used the summer to organize a statewide tour featuring the full Democratic team — Brian Frosh running for attorney general and Peter Franchot running for comptroller.

He also needed to turn the losing primary candidates, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur, into surrogate campaigners. Brown never gained the trust of Gansler and Mizeur voters because he didn’t bother to try.

He Gave Hogan Free Advertising

Hogan emerged from the Republican primary with little money and low name recognition. But no matter, Brown rode to the rescue by giving Hogan millions of dollars worth of free advertising.

Instead of ignoring Hogan — and letting him struggle to gain visibility — Brown spent most of his advertising budget denouncing Hogan as a “dangerous Republican.” Hogan’s face was plastered on TV ads.

When it turned out that Brown’s charges were bogus and inherently dishonest, this sleazy tactic backfired. Brown ended up wasting his ad dollars, offending voters and promoting Hogan while not telling voters anything about himself.

Negative Attacks Aren’t Enough

The first job was to tell the electorate about Anthony Brown — in his own words. Repeatedly. With emotion and real feelings.

Instead, Brown bombarded the air waves with ruthlessly hostile, negative ads — flagrantly false — about Hogan. The Republican got all the attention, not Brown, who continued to remain a mystery even to Democratic voters.

When Hogan turned out not to be Darth Vader but instead a friendly, mild-mannered Rotarian, Brown’s attack ads lost all credibility. They were unethical. This turned off Democrats and independents. It was a gigantic mistake.

Where Was Martin? 

Brown badly needed Gov. Martin O’Malley on the campaign trail from June through October. Yet Brown never capitalized on O’Malley’s magnetic personality and hands-on approach to campaigning.

Is O'Malley's presidential bid for real?

Gov. Martin O’Malley

Since Brown proved unwilling or unable to articulate what the two had achieved in eight years, what better spokesman for the O’Malley era than the governor himself?

But once again, it never happened. O’Malley was the invisible man in the campaign. Brown got hammered on O’Malley’s record yet there was no one mounting a persuasive defense.

Where Was Heather? 

The surprise of the primary election was Democrat Heather Mizeur. Young and progressive voters flocked to her ultra-liberal crusade. After she lost, she volunteered to campaign for Brown — only to receive a polite snub.

Her supporters lost interest. Many didn’t bother to vote in November. The opportunity to spark interest in the Brown campaign among young progressives was lost.

Isolation Booth Campaigning is a Dud 

Brown let his campaign gurus call the shots — even when the moves made no sense. They isolated Brown from the common folk, from the media and from any human contact that wasn’t carefully scripted.

Brown is a Harvard grad with 16 years of political experience. Yet he was muzzled and insulated from the retail side of campaigning. That’s where a candidate reveals his human side. Voters need to glimpse a candidate’s humanity.

He compounded this sin by excluding his own voice from nearly all campaign ads. He never got the chance in his ads to personally address voters with genuine, heart-felt words.

The Big 3 Isn’t Enough

Brown’s strategy was to win big in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. He largely ignored everywhere else.

Yet he needed to spend lots of time impressing Democrats and independents in all the outlier counties where Republicans dominate. When he failed to pay attention to them, they drifted over to Hogan — or didn’t vote. He lost precious support not only in rural counties but also big jurisdictions like Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties. Hogan won there by giant margins in part because Brown was a no-show in those counties.

No Coordination with Local Democrats 

Just as Brown snubbed Mizeur, he also snubbed local Democrats badly in need of help in their local campaigns.

Other politicians and Democratic supporters pleaded with Brown’s camp to set up small-scale events in their districts to generate enthusiasm and energize local voters. They, too, were rebuffed.

Brown ran a one-man campaign focused on No. 1. As a result, many local pols didn’t go the extra mile to help Brown.

Policy Does Count

To this day, we’re still not sure what Brown specifically wanted to do as governor. He spent his time attacking Hogan rather than laying out a coherent, compelling visions for the next four years.

Hogan was very clear: reduce spending, cut taxes and regulations, support business growth that creates more jobs.

Brown told voters lots of reasons — most of them fallacious — why they shouldn’t vote for Hogan but precious few reasons why they should vote for him.

Voters Saw Through Brown’s Façade

Voters know the office of Maryland lieutenant governor is a worthless job. You shouldn’t put it on your resume, but Brown did. He needed instead to give voters plausible reasons to continue the reforms O’Malley started. He needed to explain what they had accomplished rather than stress his military background and service as light guv.

Brown was content as lieutenant governor to play a figurehead role on commissions and committees (such as the health-care exchange) and relentlessly read prepared texts to safe groups around the state.

When asked during the campaign, what he’d done since 2006 to justify election as governor, Brown couldn’t give a satisfactory answer.

The Media Matters

People get much of their political insights through media outlets. Denying reporters access to a candidate is dangerously counter-productive.

Brown at times ran from reporters. When asked an unexpected question, he looked like a deer caught in headlights.

Hogan stayed behind following the three debates, joked with reporters and responded to their queries. Brown quickly headed toward his chauffeured SUV and drove off.

Like it or not, politicians must romance the media.

Reporters write nicer stories if they get to know and like the candidate. Editorial page editors write kinder opinion pieces about a candidate who is open, friendly and a frequent presence.

That describes Larry Hogan, not Anthony Brown. Guess who won?

# # # #

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

MD Sea Change — Every 8 Years

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 6, 2014–On the way to his coronation as Maryland governor, Anthony Brown lost his crown. He’s still looking for it.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr. picked up the missing package. it was beautifully gift-wrapped for him. When he tried it on, the crown fit perfectly.

So ended the second Maryland gubernatorial upset in 12 years.

Maryland seal

The state’s voting public is volatile and looking for change — always.

A seismic shift seems to happen every eight years.

Back in Time

Go all the way back to 1950. Voters had had it with conservative Democratic Gov. William Preston Lane’s new sales tax. They called the levy “pennies for Lane” and buried him in a landslide. Enter, Republican Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin.

In 1958, the liberal McKeldin gave way to a conservative Democrat, J. Millard Tawes. Maryland voters philosophically swung from left to right.

Then in 1966, voters abandoned the Democrats for conservative Republican Spiro Agnew. Another sea change.

Jumping ahead, the tumultuous Marvin Mandel years, filled with stunning liberal initiatives, were followed by an eight-year period of relative calm as voters elected a “shiny-bright” good-government candidate, Harry Hughes in 1978. The electorate wanted a conservative, cautious and honest leader.

The quiet, deliberate Hughes gave way in 1986 to the colorful, outspoken and spontaneous William Donald Schaefer. Voters replaced a conservative governor with a liberal.

Schaefer’s quirkiness and charisma were replaced in 1994 by a studious, stand-offish professorial policy wonk, Parris Glendening.

Next came a sharp swing to the right with the election of a charismatic conservative, Bob Ehrlich, over a drab liberal, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in 2002.

Political Seesaw

That didn’t work out well. So voters next opted for a charismatic liberal, Martin O’Malley, in 2006. This political seasaw can make you dizzy.

Eight years later, voters got tired of O’Malley’s liberalism and now have put conservative, unexciting glad-hander, Larry Hogan, in the chief executive’s chair. Another sea change.

Conclusions: Maryland voters are unpredictable. Voters grow tired of elected leaders after about six or seven years. They want change. From conservative to liberal — then back again. From charismatic to bland. From Democrat to Republican — and back again.

The state’s demographics may change dramatically, but one thing is certain — Maryland voters won’t stay wedded to one political party or one ideology or one political personality for long. They remain solidly committed to instant gratification, a shifting view toward politics and a skepticism toward the very politicians they select to run the state.

#   #   #

MD Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. — Yes!

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 5, 2014 — Ripped from Maryland’s political headlines:

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr.

  • Toiling in the vineyards produces a mighty fine wine: Hogan’s Harvest.
  • The curse of the MD lieutenant governor’s office continues.
  • Honesty remains the best policy.
  • The end does not justify the means.
  • The MD GOP finally has a strong bench in the counties.
  • Retail politics works; campaigning in an isolation booth doesn’t.
  • Maryland finally joins the rest of the nation.
  • It’s the economy, stupid.
  • And also, KISS works (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
  • If Democrats in MD can’t get their base to the polls, it’s all over.
  • Voters are a lot smarter than political prognosticators.

#  #  #

 

‘Where’s Martin?’ Not in MD

By Barry Rascovar

Oct. 30, 2014 – It’s a puzzle that would captivate devotees of the “Where’s Waldo?” illustrations. Only in this case, the question is, “Where’s Martin?” (O’Malley, that is, Maryland’s two-term governor).

'Where's Martin? --'Where's Waldo?' illustration

Since late spring, the state’s chief executive has been largely MIA – missing in action. He’s done an early fade-out so that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown can capture the media limelight.

This serves dual purposes.

It allows Brown to escape from O’Malley’s shadow after eight years and promote himself as a legitimate co-owner of the O’Malley-Brown administration’s accomplishments.

There’s no dueling press conferences or conflicting media events. Uncharacteristically for the governor, he has limited his in-state public appearances and no longer dominates the local news.

National Travel Schedule

At the same time, this has given O’Malley time to work on his next career move, which involves running for national office, either next year or in the future.

Not a week goes by without his travel schedule including jaunts to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or some other state where there are early presidential primaries or Democratic candidates happy to have O’Malley campaign for them.

'Where;s martin?' -- Martin O'Malley in Iowa

Martin O’Malley in Iowa

This past Monday he was tramping through New Hampshire for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — his fifth visit there.

This may pay off in time for the 2016 Democratic presidential face-off, especially if the presumptive winner, Hillary Clinton, opts not to run.

Otherwise, O’Malley can add to his frequent-flier mileage, develop party contacts, earn the gratitude of Democratic candidates all over the nation, and bide his time until the H. Clinton presidency nears its end in 2020 or 2024.

Flexible Timetable

He’ll still be only 59 in eight years, a prime age for a serious presidential run. By then, he may have gained substantial Washington experience — and national visibility — under the nation’s first female president.

If a Republican wins in 2016, O’Malley’s timetable can be accelerated for a presidential bid in 2020.

All this starts with solid foundation-building this year and next. O’Malley has dispatched paid operatives to key primary states and is engaging in all-out retail politicking at which he excels.

'Where's Martin?' -- O'Malley campaigning

O’Malley campaigning

Yet at home, Maryland seems at times rudderless.

O’Malley is so absent from daily developments that it is hard to remember how he dominated media attention over the past 14 years as mayor of Baltimore and Maryland governor.

Letting Brown take center stage, though, has its drawbacks.

First, Brown seems to have an aversion to O’Malley’s brand of on-the-ground campaigning, the sort of endless meet-and-greet, get-to-know-you politics people adore.

Second, Brown has become Maryland’s “bubble boy” – isolated from the general population in a tightly scripted campaign schedule that avoids unnecessary contact with ordinary folks and the media.

No Personal Connection

Instead of reveling in this opportunity to seize the moment and impress Maryland voters with his political savvy and grasp of issues, Brown has hidden behind a barrage of harsh, inaccurate attack ads and a relentless, unfair pummeling of a “nice-guy” Republican, Larry Hogan Jr.

The lieutenant governor has failed to make a convincing case for the positives of the O’Malley years and has had trouble defending the negatives — especially the botched health exchange rollout that Brown failed to supervise properly.

What’s missing in his campaign is any personal connection between Anthony Brown and voters. That’s most harmful in the Baltimore area, where Brown is pretty much a mystery figure.

O’Malley’s absence from Maryland’s political scene deprives Brown of a valuable asset – especially in Baltimore City, which is a pivotal jurisdiction in the governor’s race.

While O’Malley’s popularity numbers in polls are dropping statewide, he remains a favorite in Baltimore, where the former mayor is fondly remembered.

Baltimore also is Brown’s weak spot. He’s got scant connections there and hasn’t become involved in local issues. He’s not a household name.

Yet Baltimore is such a Democratic monolith that winning big in Charm City is paramount for Brown.

O’Malley could have helped immensely. Why wasn’t he turned turned loose in city neighborhoods with block parties and frenetic double-time door-knocking on Brown’s behalf?

Where’s the Real Anthony?

O’Malley knows how to give campaigns a human dimension; Brown doesn’t. The lieutenant governor is stiff, self-controlled and almost robotic in approaching voters.

The real Anthony Brown isn’t on display.

So Martin O‘Malley’s disappearance from Maryland’s campaign arena could well backfire on Democrats.

With his boss on the campaign sidelines locally, Brown had a golden opportunity to impress state voters.

Yet Brown hasn’t grabbed the brass ring. He seems afraid to reach for it.

#   #   #

Franchot’s Bad News for Brown

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 29, 2014– OUCH! That’s the sound coming from Anthony Brown’s campaign headquarters after hearing of a $405 million drop in expected state revenue over the next 21 months.

This is bad news for the lieutenant governor’s gubernatorial drive.

The shrinking revenue forecast not only buoys Republican Larry Hogan’s campaign, it powerfully reinforces Hogan’s central theme: Maryland’s budget is out of kilter and in need of serious overhaul.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

Hogan received an unexpected boost last week from Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot’s sharp critique of the state’s liberal Democratic spending policies.

At Wednesday’s Board of Revenue Estimates meeting, Franchot took to task the “What, me worry?” attitude being taken these days by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Brown when it comes to Maryland’s continuing revenue shortfalls.

Indeed, Franchot’s comments could be grist for future Hogan ads.

Ignoring Bad News

For example, the state comptroller took umbrage at the O’Malley-Brown administration’s Scarlett O’Hara approach (“tomorrow is another day”) toward bad economic news:

” . . . we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse. . . We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.”

That’s a damning criticism aimed squarely at the governor and lieutenant governor.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Franchot laid out a few of the bleak economic numbers:

“Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades. . . . In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014. . .

“Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.”

This is exactly what Hogan has been saying.

 Maryland’s economy, Franchot notes, “didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013.”

That is an ominous indicator which the O’Malley-Brown team is blissfully ignoring. Why? Because it is politically unpalatable.

Hesitating to Act

Here’s the hard truth, according to Franchot:

“We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result.”

Yet no one is rushing to close this new revenue gap in the state’s budget calculations and tighten up on state spending.

Brown doesn’t want to announce unpopular cutbacks during an election campaign; O’Malley would rather delay nasty decisions until he leaves office.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Brown is ignoring the reality that Maryland could face difficult budget years ahead that won’t allow for the raft of social programs he’s promising voters.

Franchot sagely put it this way:

“As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. . . “

This is what Larry Hogan has been preaching on the campaign trail, albeit in vague, superficial terms.

It is folly to assume, as Brown does, that there will be hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars available for his expensive campaign proposals. That list starts with a statewide pre-kindergarten program and tax breaks for veterans.

Neither may be affordable in the current economy.

Voters and Economics

But are voters listening? Do they understand that what Brown is promising them isn’t deliverable under the present sluggish economy Maryland confronts?

Do they understand that Maryland could face difficult times unless it reins in its borrowing and its overspending?

The public’s grasp of American economics isn’t very deep. Numbers tends to make people’s eyes glaze over. That’s what Brown is counting on.

Meanwhile, the Scarlett O’Hara approach to managing Maryland’s chronic structural deficit continues. Wishing that tomorrow will bring us blue skies and strong economic growth isn’t enough.

Franchot is right. Hope is not a viable economic strategy.

# # #

Needed in MD: Truth-in-Campaigning

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

Larry Hogan Jr. (left) and Anthony Brown

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

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

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

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

Cheers from the seniors.

How’s he going to pay for this?

Silence.

Transportation Promises

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

Cheers.

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

Silence.

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

No Funding Plan

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

Silence.

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

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

Government Spending

It’s not going to happen.

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

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

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

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

Why? The enormous cost involved.

Pulling It Off

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

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

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

Yes, indeed.

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

Tax Cuts

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

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

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

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

Wonderland

It’s all an adventure in fantasy budgeting.

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

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

Bob Ehrlich (left) and Hogan

Bob Ehrlich (left) and Hogan

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

Neither candidate is leveling with the Maryland public.

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

Unrealistic?

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

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

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

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

Brown (left) and Martin O'Malley

Brown (left) and Martin O’Malley

Neither governor proved a miracle worker.

Brown and Hogan aren’t political magicians, either.

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

###

Hogan’s Public Financing

By Barry Rascovar

July 14, 2014 — Larry Hogan, Jr., the longshot Republican nominee for Maryland governor, made a smart move accepting public financing for his general election campaign.

It frees Hogan from the time-consuming and sometimes humiliating chore of brow-beating friend, supporters and strangers for donations over the next five months.

Larry Hogan Jr.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan Jr.

Public financing also lowers the cost of running a campaign.

Fund-raising isn’t cheap. Professional fund-raisers keep a sizable chunk of dollars raised for themselves, thereby creating the need for candidates to launch more rounds of solicitations.

It’s a vicious cycle Hogan has avoided. He did the same thing in the Republican primary and breezed to election.

Hogan’s Advantage

Hogan seized the high road and can blast the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, for accepting huge sums from special interests eager to “own a piece” of the next governor — or at least “buy” access when the need arises.

That’s an overly cynical view but it’s what Hogan is likely to put forth in his campaign.

He’s become the “good government” candidate running without the need to grovel for funds from vested interests that will demand their part of the quid pro quo later.

Between the $2.6 million in public financing and the maximum $3.7 million the state Republican Party and its local affiliates can spend on his behalf, Hogan can mount an effective campaign — though Brown still will have a giant edge when it comes to buying advertising time on TV and radio.

Independent Spending

What could level the imbalance is unlimited spending by independent groups. That’s now allowed under the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision.

If some of Hogan’s well-healed developer friends or national conservative groups backed by billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson decide to advertise in Maryland for lower taxes and an end to big-spending government, Hogan could narrow Brown’s funding advantage.

It will not, though, erase the Democrats’ gigantic voter registration lead. That will be hard to overcome regardless of how much Hogan and his compatriots spend.

But at least Hogan avoids the fund-raising distraction.

Issues Focus

He can concentrate exclusively on issues he wants voters to get “mad as hell” about — the Democratic administration’s limited success creating jobs, 40-plus tax increases, the health-exchange scandal and cover-up, the continuing spending-to-revenue deficit, continuing hostility toward businesses and favoritism for Democratic special interests.

Hogan badly needed the Democratic primary to end in a bloodbath that shattered party unity. It never happened.

Anthony Brown quickly gained strong endorsements from his two opponents. He goes into the general election with the kind of enthusiasm and party unity that will be hard to beat.

Anthony Brown

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown

That’s especially true for a candidate who would be Maryland’s first black governor (technically he not African-American since his father was born in Cuba and his mother in Switzerland).

Minority communities, especially in populous Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, cast a majority of votes there. That’s the case in Charles County, too. Brown can count on near-unanimous support from those voters, who will be reminded endlessly about the imperative to elect “one of their own.”

Steep Challenge

It’s going to be an arduous climb for Hogan, to be sure. He has, though, set a moderate tone that will help him with independent voters and middle-of-the-road Democrats.

Can he win?

It’s a possibility.

But Hogan will have to be amazingly lucky and conduct a brilliantly skillful campaign even to make it close in November.

 

# # #

 

 

Cannabis, Politics & Public Health

By Barry Rascovar

May 27, 2014 — According to the mother of the man who recently crashed his stolen dump truck through the doors of WMAR-TV and stormed through the TV station claiming he was God —  her son was a heavy marijuana user and that’s what caused his latest  psychotic episode.

Psychotic man crashes dump truck into WMAR-TV

Psychotic man crashes dump truck into WMAR-TV

The near-calamity brings new focus to the marijuana legalization debate in Maryland’s June 24 gubernatorial primary.

One candidate, Democrat Heather Mizeur, champions marijuana legalization. She claims its use “is less harmful to the body than alcohol or tobacco.”

A Maryland with legalized, regulated, and taxed marijuana will mean safer communities, universal early childhood education, and fewer citizens unnecessarily exposed to our criminal justice system,” her campaign website states.

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

Note the one area Mizeur does not mention — the impact legalization might have on public health.

The WMAR incident is only the most glaring example of what might happen in the public health arena under cannabis legalization.

Marijuana Concerns

As luck would have it, the most recent issue of Columbia Magazine from Columbia University arrived in the mail recently with a lengthy article on pot legalization and what the university’s researchers have to say.

Writer Paul Hond raised these questions: “What are the harms to individuals from using cannabis? Will legalization lead to more use? Will the roads be less safe? And what about the kids?”

All those concerns require careful examination before entertaining Mizeur’s desire to make pot legal in Maryland.Columbia Magazine

Hond first spoke with Margaret Haney, who has run Columbia’s Marijuana Research Laboratory for 15 years.

When chronic marijuana smokers were asked to quit as part of the lab’s studies, here’s what occurred:

“Sleep disruption is one of the most robust withdrawal symptoms,” Haney says. “The smokers had trouble falling asleep. They woke up in the night. They woke up early. Their mood, too, reflected classic drug-withdrawal symptoms: irritability, anxiety, restlessness. Food intake dropped precipitously. The first two days, they consumed up to a thousand calories less than they did under baseline conditions.”

Haney continues, “The consequences of dependence are not as severe as with alcohol, cocaine, and other things. . . . However, once you’re a daily smoker, your ability to stop becomes as poor as cocaine users’.” Haney notes that “only 15 to 17 percent are able to maintain abstinence.”

Impact on Teens

Haney is most concerned about the consequences of teens who smoke marijuana regularly. “There’s going to be a cost for teenagers doing that. . . . I do worry about the developing brain and the effect of heavy marijuana use on the brain’s cannabinoid receptors” that affect mood, memory and stress.

Herbert Kleber, director of Columbia’s Division on Substance Abuse and former deputy drug czar under President George H. W. Bush (Bush the Good), is alarmed about another aspect: Today’s tokes are loaded with much more of the potent psychoactive compound THC.Marijuana Plants

In this complex, high-pressured world, Kleber understands “a lot of people are looking for escape.” But this isn’t the marijuana of your father’s days.

Back when the Beatles’ John Lennon called marijuana’s effects “a harmless giggle,” the amount of THC in a joint was about 2 percent, Kleber says.

Enhanced Potency

“Now, the THC level of the average DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] seizure is about 12 percent. At the dispensaries in California and Colorado, it’s 15 to 30 percent. . . It’s a very different drug. A very, very powerful drug.”

In previous interviews he has ticked off the public health hazards — “increased likelihood of cancer, impaired immune system, and increased chance of other drug problems, such as addiction to opiates. . . . Recently, substantial evidence has been published linking marijuana use to earlier onset of schizophrenia and other psychoses.”

Kleber is concerned as well about the impact pot has on the young.

Teen smoking marijuana “Marijuana does affect the brain. The younger you are when you start using it, the greater the risk that it will cause brain damage that will be with you the rest of your life.”

True, smoking weed isn’t as dangerous as a drug addiction, concedes John Mariani, director of Columbia’s Substance Treatment and Research Service. “Marijuana problems tend to be less dramatic — you’re not as ambitious, you perform less well. You probably stay home, watch TV, and eat ice cream. The disorder is about the absence of things — what doesn’t happen.”

Is that the brave, new world that awaits Maryland in a Mizeur governorship?

Pot and Driving

Another accusation is that marijuana legalization will dramatically increase highway accidents. Guohua Li, director of Columbia’s Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention, is studying that question. His findings indicate the alarmists are correct.

“First of all. . . the use of marijuana doubles the risk of being involved in a crash. The risk is not as great as with alcohol, which increases crash risk thirteenfold. But when a driver uses alcohol and marijuana, the risk of a fatal crash increases about twenty-four fold. So marijuana in combination with alcohol doubles the risk.”

Li’s 12-year study (1999-2010) of traffic fatalities found that marijuana involvement with car crashes tripled during that time.

Li also took on Mizeur’s main legalization thrust — that marijuana does less bodily harm than  alcohol. “If you argue that because alcohol is worse than marijuana. . . then marijuana should be legalized, that’s a race to the bottom, rather than a race to the top.”

Backlash to Legalization?

Even one of legalization’s supporters at Columbia, Carl Hart, a neuropsychopharmacologist, author and director of the Residential Studies and Methamphetamine Research Laboratories, worries these public safety and public health issues will lead to what Hond calls “a spirited backlash to legalization in the near future.”

Columbia University Prof. Carl Hart

Columbia University Prof. Carl Hart

In the past year, we’ve witnessed in Maryland a stampede among some politicians in Annapolis to give a younger generation of voters what they want — legal pot — even before they examine the possible consequences.

What we’re missing is a frank discussion of the wide-ranging ramifications legalization could have on society. The scientific results from Columbia University are not encouraging.

# # #