Tag Archives: politics

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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Brown Ducks Debates: Fear of Flubbing?

By Barry Rascovar

May 1, 2014 — Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown plays by his own rules. If he feels like tilting the playing field in his favor, he’ll do it — even if it keeps him hidden from Maryland voters.

Indeed, it appear that hiding from Democratic voters is exactly what Brown is doing in ducking out on debates agreed upon back in February.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Gone are the three TV debates agreed upon by the candidates’ camps on Valentine’s Day. Instead, Brown will only do two.

 Empty Seat in His Future? 

And out of nowhere Brown comes up with a bizarre debate on a radio station with a tiny audience (the lowest-rated news/talk station, by a wide margin, in Baltimore).

Meanwhile, negotiations for a WBFF-TV debate have gotten nowhere with Brown, who could become an empty seat on the debate stage that night.

All of this is par for the course Anthony Brown is playing. He’s continuing his front-runner strategy that calls for minimizing opportunities to make gaffs in non-scripted situations.

Brown’s handlers seem to be calling the shots, creating new fictions to justify their decision to renege on a three-debate schedule for TV viewers.

Given the dearth of excitement about the June 24 primary and the difficulty in getting people to actually vote on that day, gubernatorial debates should be a priority. The more the better.

Sizing Up the Candidates

Unless Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur present themselves repeatedly in TV debates for voters to judge, how are citizens supposed to size up the candidates for governor?

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

Brown’s vapid advertising campaign tells us nothing about the candidate’s views on hot-button issues.

We don’t have a clue what he’d do as governor about gun control, funding the Red Line, death-row inmates, the state’s enormous pension deficit, fracking, the “rain tax,” the University of Maryland Law School’s crusade against Eastern Shore chicken producers and the botched rollout of Maryland’s Health Exchange that Brown took full credit for — until the system crashed and devoured nearly $200 million of government funds (not to mention the distress  and upset it caused tens of thousands of Marylanders).

Apparently, Brown wants Democrats to walk blindly into voting cubicles and cast a ballot based on his paid propaganda ads and little else: Vote for me because I’m next in line and have the support of the party establishment.

Skeptical View of Voters

That’s a demeaning view of voters, almost Soviet-style politics in which the Politburo’s designated successor is guaranteed victory. The voter becomes almost superfluous.

Ever since the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, televised confrontations between candidates has been the best way for Americans to reach a judgment on contenders.

Brown’s forte may be speech-reading and regurgitating campaign rhetoric day after day, but he’s been involved in State House affairs for 16 years. If he can’t hold his own against opponents on issues fired at them by interviewers, it would be surprising.

At the moment, though, Brown is ducking and running from as many debates as he can.

Why? What’s he worried about? Stumbling over a response? Getting his facts wrong? Not knowing the facts?

The lieutenant governor would be better off agreeing to more televised debates and taking his chances.

As it is, he’s now a prime target for scathing attacks from Gansler, Mizeur and the media about his timidity.

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Attorney General Doug Gansler

Debates are enlightening and an integral part of statewide elections everywhere in this country.

Brown owes it to voters to set aside his qualms and participate in as many televised confrontations and discussions among the candidates as possible before the June 24 vote.

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Is O’Malley’s Presidential Bid for Real?

By Barry Rascovar

Feb. 23, 2014 — YES, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is running for president, but his target isn’t 2016. It’s 2024.

O’Malley’s evolving presidential bid amounts to preliminary maneuvering aimed at securing his future in the next Democratic administration.

Is O'Malley's presidential bid for real?

Gov. Martin O’Malley makes a point.

Running for president between now and 2016 makes sense if you’re O’Malley. It’s the best way to impress Hillary Clinton and position himself so he gets a high-visibility job in her government.

Look at the situation from O’Malley’s perspective. He loves life as an elected official. He excels at full-time campaigning. He’s shown himself to be an effective government executive.

But when his term in office expires in less than a year, what will he do?

His Next Step?

He had a bad experience as a private lawyer years ago. That isn’t an avenue he’s likely to pursue as a career.

All the other important elective offices in Maryland are filled by Democrats who aren’t about to step aside for him.

So how does O’Malley get himself on the national stage?

–By running for president now to make a good impression

–By bowing out once Clinton announces her candidacy

–By working like heck to ensure her election

–And then waiting for the second President Clinton to offer him a choice job.

The ideal spot — other than vice president — would be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

As Baltimore mayor and as governor, O’Malley had taken a leadership role on national security issues. He’s gained local and national expertise. He’d be an effective spokesman for the department and a “do it now” leader in times of emergency.

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley on the air

To get that job, O’Malley has to pull off an elusive misdirection play.

First, run for president over the next year or two. This gets him before Democratic audiences all over the country, making the right contacts within the party and making an excellent first impression.

Second, graciously withdraw from the race if and when Hillary Clinton announces. It’s a longshot that she will stay out of the presidential race. Who wouldn’t want to make history as the first female president and part of the first husband-and-wife team to win the White House in separate elections two decades apart?

O’Malley is a longtime Hillary supporter. He was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic backers of her 2008 candidacy. He’ll work like a tiger as her presidential surrogate on the 2016 campaign trail.

That should put him in good position to secure an important post come 2017.

A Washington Role

By then, he’ll be 54, an ideal age for a high-level Washington appointee. From that vantage point he can gain valuable exposure to the inner workings of the federal government  and develop a nationwide following as he works the media and traverses the country promoting the administration’s agenda.

All that would make O’Malley a legitimate presidential contender at age 62.

Right now, he’s the longest of longshots for 2016. This was confirmed by an embarrassing Baltimore Sun poll and then by a Washington Post poll in which Hillary Clinton had ten or twelve times more supporters in Maryland than the Maryland governor.

That speaks volumes about H. Clinton’s enormous popularity among Democrats, but also to local skepticism that O’Malley is ready for prime time. If he can’t come anywhere close to winning his own state in a mock election, how can he be considered a viable candidate two years from now?

It would be Mission: Impossible, and O’Malley knows it.

So Why Run Now?

But O’Malley needs the national exposure he’ll receive campaigning as a serious presidential candidate. He needs the experience, too.

Then, when Clinton is formally in the race, look for a rapid and strategic retreat by O’Malley as he enthusiastically leaps onto the Hillary for President bandwagon.

Does all that maneuvering and misdirection make sense? You bet it does.

In politics as in life, there are times when you must make a detour to reach your ultimate  goal.

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Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Obamacare

By Barry Rascovar

December 9, 2013 — Let’s face it: Maryland dropped the ball on implementing Obamacare. To date the rollout has been a failure.

Thirty-seven hundred sign-ups since October 1? That’s pathetic.

Who bears ultimate responsibility?

Let’s start at the top with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his designated point man on the healthcare rollout, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Ever since 2010, Brown has promoted his leadership role in the Obamacare implementation.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown of Maryland

The lieutenant governor co-chairs the Health Care Reform Coordinating Council responsible for spending $163 million in federal funds on an internet signup website.

Until recently, he’s been quick to take credit for this initiative’s potential to extend health care to more of the state’s 800,000 uninsured.

Missing in Action?

Yet when the Maryland Healthcare Connection computer system froze, the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.  E-mails released to the Baltimore Sun confirm that Brown was a no-show in keeping on top of this vitally important state technology program.

When Maryland’s connector system crashed and continued malfunctioning, Brown let others take the heat.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing to discuss systemic problems plaguing the state’s botched website, Brown was absent.

Instead, it was Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein who had to admit there’s no telling when the state’s website will be glitch-free.

Josh Sharfstein

Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein

It was Sharfstein, not Brown, who had to admit there’s nothing the state can do to help people who are losing their healthcare benefits through no fault of their own.

A similar scenario played out before a House committee in Annapolis. Brown remained a no-show.

Then on Wednesday, WBAL-TV’s ace reporter Jayne Miller tracked down Brown and asked about his responsibility for the health care sign-up mess.

She got an aggressive brush-off from a man who sounded offended that his leadership was being questioned.

Brown caught a break Friday when Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the troubled health exchange, resigned after O’Malley sent in his staff to oversee the crippled IT operation.

Now Brown has a scapegoat. Yet he’s having increasing difficulty responding to criticisms that he was too busy campaigning to bother with the nitty-gritty of this IT implementation.

He’s promised to address all this at a carefully scripted and rehearsed press conference sometime this week — if he can fit it into his busy campaign schedule.

Brown’s campaign advertises that he is a proven leader. His websites brag about his role in bringing to fruition the Affordable Care Act. He’s gotten a national award for it.

But he doesn’t have any answer to why he was asleep at the switch, why he wasn’t on top of this exceedingly complex IT operation that cried out for strong, forceful leadership from someone like Brown with a military background.

This is already a central point in the campaign for governor.

Attorney General Doug Gansler accused Brown on Thursday of “ducking responsibility” for the problem — an apt summation of the current situation.

That same day, Brown conceded, “Everyone that has been involved. . . is responsible and that includes me.”

That’s a great way to minimize your own culpability. But it won’t fly in the hothouse arena of a gubernatorial campaign.

Brown may be the general in charge of this operation, but he seems eager to have his  lieutenants take all the grief for a botched mission.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Where was he when feuding contractors were at war with one another in developing the IT system?

Why wasn’t he doing something to remove bureaucratic barriers from Washington that were constantly gummed up the IT system?

Why wasn’t he aware the system hadn’t undergone comprehensive testing?

How will he explain the fact that he didn’t find out the state’s IT program was messed up until it crashed?

Was he a leader in name only?

MD Healthcare Connection

Maryland Healthcare Connection

Slow Fix Hurts Brown

Brown’s dilemma is that Democrats pick their nominee for governor in late June. That may not be enough time to fully fix this technology disaster.

Giant back-end headaches could emerge even as front-end computer glitches are resolved.

Insurance companies may announce large, unexpected losses as a result of the government’s incompetence.

Tens of thousands may continue to experience enrollment failures or wind up uninsured because of flaws in the computer software. Confusion and screw-ups could persist.

Legislative hearings during the upcoming General Assembly session could prove intensely embarrassing.

This has been, to date, an epic implementation fiasco.

If public anger builds rather than dissipates, there will be political consequences especially in a state like Maryland with its early primary elections next year.

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