Tag Archives: politics

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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Happy 90th, Helen Bentley!

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

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

Helen Delich Bentley

Helen Delich Bentley

What a lifetime of achievements.

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

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

One Tenacious Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Helen Bentley

Helen Bentley at Ship Christening

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

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

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

Never Give Up

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

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

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

Fasionable Helen Bentley

Fashionista Bentley

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

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

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

Helen Delich Bentley is indeed one of a kind.

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Baltimore County’s Housing Exclusion Continues

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 25, 2013 — No one with a sense of history should be surprised by Baltimore County Council’s unanimous rejection of a $13.7 million housing development for low-income families in Rosedale on the county’s eastside.

The county has a long record of strongly opposing housing assistance for families with low or moderate incomes.

Indeed, any politician who ignores the hyper-sensitivity of county voters to keeping the jurisdiction safe for “folks like us” risks defeat.

Map of Baltimore County

Map of Baltimore County

Even the County Council’s lone African American, Ken Oliver, ran for cover last week. He abstained. Oliver voiced heated objections at the council’s private work session but not at the public meeting.

This shameful exclusionary trend — woefully out of step with demographics — isn’t new.

A History Lesson

Nearly 50 years ago, Baltimore County politicians railed against open housing.

When Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin invited Baltimore County Executive Spiro T. Agnew in 1964 to work out a metropolitan wide approach to open occupancy laws — hardly a revolutionary request — Agnew rejected the offer for fear of negative voter response.

County Executive Spiro Agnew

Spiro T. Agnew

Open housing laws, Agnew said, “invade the rights of property guaranteed by our federal constitution.”

Fear of change, and especially fear that poor blacks would destabilize neighborhoods, struck an ugly chord with county residents, especially on the conservative, lower-middle class eastside.

As a “progressive” county executive, Agnew did propose a $27 million urban renewal bond issue for deteriorating parts of Towson and Catonsville.

Foes, though, saw it as a plot to bring public housing, and poor city blacks, to the county.

On election day, voters rejected the bond issue by a 3-2 margin.

‘Malicious, Socialistic’

A month later, the County Council rebuffed Agnew’s request to launch a study of blight in the county.

In early 1965, he proposed a local slum clearance program. Within weeks, the County Council killed it.

The atmosphere among opponents was super-charged. They called Agnew’s plans a “malicious, socialistic cancer.”

County resistance to integrated housing accounted for perennial candidate George P. Mahoney’s surprise victory in the 1966 Democratic race for governor. Mahoney ran on the openly racist slogan, “Your home is your castle — protect it.”

Conservative Mahoney beat liberal Congressman Carlton Sickles by a mere 1,939 votes. He won the election in Baltimore County, where he ran up a huge 19,495-vote lead over Sickles (42 percent to 21 percent).

That paved the way for the more “liberal” Agnew’s election as governor.

The Anderson Years

His successor in Towson, Dale Anderson, had a well deserved reputation for opposing integration and affordable housing. He and his cohorts fed voter fears.

Dale Anderson

Dale Anderson

Here’s an example: At a 1970 meeting in Rosedale, with a smiling Anderson in attendance, Councilman Wallace Williams said, “Dale Anderson and the rest of the team will continue to fight hard to stop any major government-subsidized programs with strings attached from coming to Baltimore County.”

Then Williams added in his southern drawl, “And you know what I mean. You know what I mean.”

Indeed the cheering crowd did.

In November 1970, Baltimore County voters rejected by better than 2-1 a state referendum setting up a Community Development Administration. Anything that hinted at public housing met staunch resistance.

Venetoulis’ Reform Efforts

Reform county executive Ted Venetoulis tried in 1975 to improve the housing situation with $40 million in federal funds. But the County Council and the county’s delegation in Annapolis vetoed that effort.

Next, Venetoulis put forth an urban renewal grant proposal. It met the same fate.

Baltimore County didn’t even have a housing agency until 1987. Three years later, a $2.5 million county bond issue for housing programs lost again on election day, the only bond question (out of 10) to go down to defeat in 1990.

Want more? In 1994, hysteria erupted on the eastside over fears thousands of public housing residents would flood Dundalk, Essex and Middle River under an experimental federal housing program called Moving to Opportunity.

Foes claimed 18,000 poor blacks were coming when, in fact, no more than 40 per year would have been scattered throughout the county under the voucher program.

Fierce voter opposition convinced politicians such as County Executive Roger Hayden and Congresswoman Helen D. Bentley to run for the hills.

That included liberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who killed the federal MTO funds earmarked for Baltimore. It was not her finest moment.

Housing Exclusion Persists

The new century didn’t change attitudes in Baltimore County.

In 2000, 70 percent of county voters voiced strong outrage over County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger’s carefully worked-out renewal plans for Dundalk, Essex, Middle River and Randallstown.

Clearly, housing issues remain Baltimore County’s bugaboo.

So it is not surprising Councilwoman Cathy Bevins hid behind “councilmanic courtesy” to bury the latest affordable housing plan from a nonprofit group. Nor is it shocking the other council members, including Oliver, let her get away with it.

No one had the courage to say, “This is wrong. We’ve got to address our county’s lack of housing for low and lower-middle income people.”

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz tried to play diplomat, noting his “regret” at “the tenor” of the council’s action. It “sent the wrong message,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

His efforts to bring sensible and needed affordable housing to the county won’t be easy.

A New Baltimore County

Back in Ted Agnew’s days as county executive, African Americans made up roughly 3 percent of  the subdivision’s population.

Today, blacks constitute 27 percent of county residents and many of them need better housing options.

The times, they are a-changin’,

At some point Baltimore Countians, however grudgingly, will have to recognize this reality.

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Mizeur’s Promises, Dirty Tricks and more

By Barry Rascovar

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

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

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

Instead, they pander to voters.

Mizeur’s Promises

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

Del. Heather Mizeur

Del. Heather Mizeur

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seems to be Mizeur’s recipe, too.

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

Tax Breaks For Nearly Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Patelides

Mike Patelides

It might not matter.

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

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

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

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

No Progress on Key Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What Happened to Accuracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Moring 'tracking' Doug Gansler

Jeff Moring ‘tracking’ Doug Gansler for Brown campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there’s a whopper.

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

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

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

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

Gansler, Cardin, Obamacare and More

Odds and Ends

By Barry Rascovar

October 31 — THESE ARE THE the times that try Doug Gansler’s soul. Has anyone ever had a bumpier stretch in recent Maryland political history?

The attorney general has been mocked, frequently, on national TV programs for his lame explanation of his appearance at, and hands-off attitude toward, a raucous high school graduation beach blowout this summer.

That followed his argumentative responses to State Police complaints that Gansler is a reckless, back-seat driver oblivious to traffic laws and speeding tickets.

Well, here’s some good news: Gansler’s lack of identity with most Maryland voters (72 percent either didn’t recognize his name or were neutral toward him in the latest Gonzales poll) is a thing of the past.

EVERYONE knows Doug Gansler today.

Jay Leno jokes about him. Local radio talk shows conducted saturation bombing. The story’s gone international.

Gansler explaining himself

Gansler explaining himself

Of course this means Gansler’s negatives have soared, too. Only four percent in the Gonzales poll said they had an unfavorable impression of Gansler. That number is sure to skyrocket.

Here’s the really good news for Maryland’s twice-elected attorney general: Believe it or not, we are still eight long months from the Democratic primary. That’s a couple of lifetimes in politics.

If Gansler can regain his equilibrium and develop a cogent and sensible response to his recent gaffes, we may yet have a closely contested election for governor next year.

*     *     *     *     *

IT WON’T BE easy, though, for Gansler to put this controversy behind him. The media is in a feeding frenzy.

 It’s “get Gansler” time.

The Baltimore Sun delivered a hatchet job on Sunday that sought to compare Gansler’s moments of poor judgment with criminality by other elected officials.

In its print edition, the front-page headline read, “Weathering a political storm.” It was an even-handed account of how officials recover from political gaffes. But the comparisons made in the article, and especially the photos placed next to the front-page text, equated the attorney general’s modest mishaps to far more serious misdeeds that sent Marvin Mandel, Marion Barry and Dale Anderson to prison and Bill Clinton to the brink of impeachment.

Since when is failure to break up a high school graduation beach party a criminal offense?

How does violating traffic laws equate with Mandel’s criminal corruption conviction, Barry’s drug conviction or Anderson’s jail time for corrupt activities while in office?

None of them ever ran for higher office after their scandals, as Gansler is now doing. That’s another unfair comparison.

Clinton’s sex scandal does raise troubling character issues, but comparing that national moment of political angst to Gansler’s situation is ludicrous — and laughable.

Still, the damage has been done.

Just to rub it in, Sunday Sun editors also ran a 1,400-word critique on the way visual television imagery is responsible for Gansler’s pounding.

It was an interesting but way-too-long essay. And, of course, the editors couldn’t resist re-running that condemnatory photo of Gansler at the teen beach party. Another Sun “gotcha” moment.

Lost in the editors’ haste to pile on was The Sun’s October 24 editorial on the Gansler brouhaha — a measured, carefully nuanced analysis about difficult choices parents have to make while raising teenagers. It was a far cry from the tabloid journalism the newspaper’s editors presented to its readers on Sunday.

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QUICK QUIZ: Who is leading the race for Maryland attorney general?

According to the latest Gonzales poll, the winner, by a mile, is that old, reliable favorite — “Undecided”.

Gonzales Polling CompanyThe results show that few voters even know who’s running for A.G.

The only reason Del. Jon Cardin polled 25 percent was due to his well-known uncle, the U.S. Senator from Maryland. Still, “Undecided” beat Jon Cardin in the poll by nearly 2-to-1.

It’s a good thing the office in question isn’t much more than a glorified law firm serving state agencies.

Voters aren’t likely to learn a lot about the candidates running for attorney general by the June 24 primary. It’s not a pressing matter for them. Besides, the gubernatorial candidates will dominate media attention and saturate the state with commercials.

Thus voters could end up picking an attorney general based on “the name’s the same” or the candidate who appears on the most local endorsement tickets.

It’s unlikely the outcome will be decided by deep voter knowledge of the A.G. candidates.

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AN INSURANCE FRIEND reminds me that all the buzz about the number of Obamacare sign-ups since October 1 is highly misleading and meaningless.

As anyone in the insurance game will tell you, a new client doesn’t count until that individual writes a check to cover the first month’s invoice.

This won’t occur until close to the sign-up deadlines under the Affordable Care Act — late December and late March.

Until then, ignore the sign-up propaganda emanating from the White House, the State House and Republicans saboteurs. Two months from now we’ll know a lot more about the success or failure of this dreadfully managed rollout.

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ISN’T IT IRONIC that no one is protesting as Baltimore City is about to spend at least $83 million on “smart” meters to help the city accurately bill residents for water usage?

When BGE and PEPCO sought to install similar “smart” meters to measure precise, real-time electric use, alarmist groups protested before the Public Service Commission about alleged health hazards from the meters’ wireless signals.

Smart Meter Protest in California

Smart Meter Protest in California

Those strident protests persuaded the PSC — despite the lack of scientific evidence — to impose needless smart-meter restraints on the utilities that will cost tens of millions of dollars.

As the Tea Party and smart-meter protesters have learned, it pays to yell at the top of your lungs.

Baltimore City officials are getting off lucky.

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Obamacare: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Troubled Start But Strong Finish Likely

By Barry Rascovar

October 7, 2013–Let’s agree Obamacare’s sign-up period is off to a dreadful start. That Uncle Sam and most states botched the IT implementation phase is obvious. They get an “F” in computer science.

Is anyone surprised? How many times in the past has government screwed up technology initiation?

Flawed computer systems that crash often, can’t deliver on their lofty promises and cost billions to patch up are all too common on massive government IT projects (Exhibit One being the IRS).

Maryland’s botched IT approach to health care sign-ups seems especially ripe for criticism.MD Health Connection

That’s the bad news.

The Good News

On a positive note, this isn’t a dash but a long-distance race. There’s plenty of time to overcome the IT glitches. You’ve got till Dec. 15 to sign up for a health plan to gain coverage starting Jan. 1 and a full six months to get coverage starting later in 2014.

Early hang-ups on such a massive and complex undertaking had to be anticipated. Once computer snags and slowdowns are remedied, it will be interesting to see how enrollment turns out.

In states like Maryland, where the political establishment is a gung-ho backer of Obamacare, there’s a strong likelihood of broad acceptance. In states under Republican control, where leaders have made Obamacare the political Satan, enrollment may not be strong.

Indeed, this country could become a two-tier nation on health coverage split between the haves (states where most obtain health insurance) and the have-nots (states actively impeding efforts to give poor people and America’s underclass health coverage).

The Ugly

What’s playing out is, unfortunately, oddly familiar. An affluent, white, conservative ruling class primarily in Southern, Border and Southwestern states wants to re-create the United States in that image — even though they don’t have the votes to do it.

This also was the situation when Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 and we know what came shortly afterwards.

This time, it is the Tea Party vowing to blow up the federal government to get its way.

The movement’s bitter hatred of the nation’s first black president sounds eerily similar to the vicious personal insults directed at Lincoln. There are strong overtones of racism and classism in the movement’s rhetoric and objectives.

Those with money and power in Tea Party states seek to deny those lacking money and power the right to receive health care, citizenship and the vote. It is a cynical, hedonistic movement pandering to the desires of narrow-minded, well-off folks who have no wish to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Who Wins?

In Maryland, you can spot overtures along these lines from political officials in Frederick and Carroll counties and from the First District’s ultra-conservative congressman, Andy Harris.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris

MD 1st District Rep. Andy Harris

The plight of poor folks and minorities really doesn’t count for those politicians. They are pandering to the Tea Party crowd.

In rural parts of the Free State there’s a strong conservative tone to politics. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.

But the vast bulk  of the state’s population lies in Central Maryland, where liberal Democrats have a near-monopoly on public offices and public opinion.

So we know which side is going to win this argument in Democratic Maryland.

What’s less certain is the ultimate outcome in Tea Party states with fast-growing minority populations, such as North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Next month’s governor’s election in the Old Dominion could give an indication as to which side is gaining the upper hand.

The Fate of Obamacare

Meanwhile, the dreadful stand-off in Washington continues with no end in sight. Republican hardliners don’t have an exit strategy.

One thing seems likely: Obamacare will remain on the books once the dust settles. Time is on the side of the president. As more and more citizens gain affordable health insurance, the Tea Party’s extreme arguments could bear less and less relationship to reality.

In the long run — a decade from now — Obamacare might prove unaffordable and unworkable as Republicans are predicting. Or it might be as ubiquitous and accepted as Social Security and Medicare. But that’s for another generation to debate.

The current leaders in Washington find themselves locked in a pointless and damaging food fight that in a few weeks could do great harm to the country and its economic stability.

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The 50th State: Delmarva?

Pipe Dreams Don’t Come True

By Barry Rascovar

September 25 — Several reader comments, plus a former congressman’s email to MarylandReporter.com, take exception to an omission from politicalmaryland.com’s September 23 column: “The 51st State: Western Maryland.

Why wasn’t secession talk on Maryland’s Eastern Shore part of that blog?

Yes, unhappy Eastern Shore politicians have earned a few headlines in local papers over the decades by submitting secession bills to the Maryland General Assembly that have no chance of being taken seriously.

From ‘Outhouse’ to ‘Our House’

Reader Brian Klaff comments:

“If you’ll recall, this isn’t even the first time this has happened in Maryland.  I distinctly recall that in 1991 when Governor [William Donald] Schaefer called the Eastern Shore “the state’s outhouse” (in not-quite-as-nice terminology), there was a movement for those counties (Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, and Worcester) to secede and start a 51st state called Chesapeake.

“And according to Wikipedia, there were similar proposals for the Eastern Shore in 1833, 1835, 1852, and even 1998 (put forth by State Senators [Richard] Colburn and [Lowell] Stoltzfus) to create a break-away state of Delmarva.”

Maligned and Neglected

Former Rep. Robert E. Bauman, who served the Eastern Shore in both the House of Representatives and state Senate, commented to Maryland Reporter editor Len Lazarick:

Former U.S. Rep. Robert Bauman

Former U.S. Rep. Robert Bauman

“If any area of Maryland has a right to feel neglected it is the Shore, maligned by the late Governor Schaefer as the ‘outhouse’ of Maryland and by H. L. Mencken as ‘booboisie.’ It is viewed by [Governor Martin] O’Malley as a hotbed of Tea Party Republicans who cannot be gerrymandered congressionally, unfortunately from his very partisan perspective.

“In 1972 I sponsored a bill to allow a referendum on the issue in my five Upper Shore counties…. We had a major pro-statehood rally at the State House that drew about a thousand people from all over the Shore, complete with Shore food (oysters, crabs, chicken), music and speeches. Of course the Democrats, led by the late [Eastern Shore] Sen. Fred Malkus, blocked my bill but the publicity contributed to my election to the [U.S.] House in a special election in 1973.

“Research will show that advocacy of Eastern Shore statehood goes back to the 1800s when there were two administrative co-capital cities, one in Annapolis and the other in Easton with separate State Treasurers, Comptrollers and Secretaries of State — and the only transportation connection was by boat.

“When I was asked at the statehood rally by a WTOP reporter what the Eastern Shore state would be called, I replied: ‘Maryland — let those other folks on the western shore get another name.’ ”

Yearning To Be Heard

Indeed, it was a good publicity stunt for Bauman. But it was nothing more. The yearning to be heard and heeded in liberal Annapolis is strong on the conservative Eastern Shore. Conservative Western Marylanders have a similar yearning. Secession talk is a useful way to make that point.

As a separate state,  those nine Shore counties could not make it alone.

Six of the counties have poverty rates above 10 percent. Direct aid from Maryland far overshadows what those counties pay in income taxes. Over 3,000 jobs would be lost if Maryland closed its two college campuses and a big prison on the Shore.

Over $360 million in annual spending at those three Maryland facilities would be lost. The new state would have to create a vast new police force to replace the State Troopers now patrolling much of the Shore for the counties east of the Chesapeake Bay.

A far more sensible approach would be to create an entity called Delmarva, consisting of the nine Maryland Eastern Shore counties, the two isolated Virginia counties to the south and the state of Delaware.

State of Delmarva

State of Delmarva

It would be an ideal geographic fit: the entire Delmarva Peninsula united as a single government entity.

The poor and sparsely populated Delmarva Virginia counties (45,500 folks) have much in common with their Delmarva neighbors to the north.

It’s a rural farming and fishing region.

All of them are separated from the “mainland” by the nation’s largest estuary, the mighty Chesapeake. Why not join them all together in the re-named state of Delmarva?

What Would Wilmington Say?

There’s no chance of a merger with prosperous Delaware, though. Democrats there rule the state capital and all the congressional offices. There’s no advantage for Wilmington to annex two territories from other states that are far more conservative, Republican and less well off.

Perpetuators of the State of Delmarva myth can’t overcome that reality.

If the new state were limited to the nine Maryland counties, it would be unable to afford current government services without increasing — not decreasing — taxes. The Eastern Shore gets far more in Maryland revenue that it returns to the Annapolis treasury.

So while it’s entertaining to give fanciful secession talk media coverage, it’s wishful thinking — the same kind of day-dream I employ when the multi-state lottery reaches $100 million.

In that dream, I’ve already decided not to take the cash option.

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Read more columns at www.politicalmaryland.com

 

The 51st State: Western Maryland

 How to Succeed Without Seceding

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 23, 2013 – The mountain natives are restless in Maryland. They want to have it their way, though they represent just 10 percent of the state’s population.

Here are a few things that annoy them:

  • A stream of tax increases (including one on rain!) from Annapolis.
  • State restrictions that devalue their land.
  • Tougher gun-control laws.
  • A bleeding-heart law that does away with the death penalty.
  • A state law legalizing gay marriages.
  • Political map makers who deprive them of their conservative congressman.

It’s enough to make you want to secede, which is the plan put forth by a Carroll County blogger, Scott Strzelczyk of New Windsor, for the five counties (in red below) often lumped together as Western Maryland.State of Western Maryland-WBFF

The verb “to secede” is a curious term not to be confused with the similar-sounding verb “to succeed.”

Indeed, were the five western counties to secede from Maryland, there would be no chance for that movement to succeed.

It Won’t Happen

Here’s why.

–The 51st state: Western Maryland would be the third smallest by population (less than 660,000). Only Wyoming and Vermont would have fewer residents.

–It would be a state divided between “haves” and “have nots.” Under-populated and impoverished Garrett and Allegany counties would be heavily outvoted by the far more crowded, well-off jurisdictions to the east. As the French say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

–It would be one of the most homogeneous states, close to 90 percent white with few African Americans or Latinos. Nearly everyone would be Christian, too.

–It would be filled with non-productive residents. Folks of retirement age and children 18 years or younger would constitute over 40 percent of the population.

–Two wealthy counties – Carroll and Frederick – would be forced to support the other three jurisdictions that have high unemployment (Washington County’s jobless rate, for instance, stands at 8.4 percent).

–The five counties would lose $622 million in direct Maryland school aid and a lot more Maryland aid earmarked for other social programs. Yet these jurisdictions only produce $326 million in income tax revenue.

Too Many Economic Barriers

How can secessionists afford to cut taxes? How will they pay for essential services without raising what they claim is an already onerous tax burden?

The numbers don’t add up.

The state of Western Maryland would lack a sound employment base.

Moreover, all the thousands of Maryland government jobs in the five counties (especially in the many state prisons) would disappear under secession.

It’s an idea whose time will never come.

Beyond Maryland

Rural counties elsewhere want to try the same thing.

In August, Siskiyou County (population: 44,000) voted 4-1 to secede from California. It wants to join with southern Oregon rural counties to form the new state of Jefferson.

State of Jefferson Flag

State of Jefferson Flag

Their movement, Defend Rural America, started way back in 1941. Secessionists even designed a flag with two Xs – signifying the double-cross of rural residents by the two states.

Their complaints echo what is heard from rural Marylanders:

Urban legislators are attacking our way of life. No one with power listens to our complaints and concerns. Our constitutional rights are being taken away. Land-use laws are depriving us of our wealth. Our religious and cultural beliefs are being undercut.

Colorado has its own secession movement. Six counties vote in November on creating the state of North Colorado.

North Colorado State Flag

State of North Colorado Flag

They hope to be joined by like-minded counties in Kansas and Nebraska.

In Michigan, residents in the Upper Peninsula feel isolated and unappreciated and want to secede.

In New York, politicians have proposed various secessions for New York City, Long Island, conservative parts of the Big Apple and upstate New York.

In California, partition proposals frequently surface. In 1965, the state Senate voted 27-12 to split the Golden State in two.

In Texas, the independence movement remains active. The Texas Nationalist Movement claims 250,000 members, though its website reminds seniors that under secession they’ll still receive their U.S. Social Security checks.

Resisting Change

What binds these movements is disillusionment and a feeling of disenfranchisement.  America is changing and they don’t like it.

Urban and increasingly dense suburban communities control state legislatures. Residents there are growing more polyglot. What was once a white, church-going nation of farmers and small merchants is no more.

The battle to preserve and protect rural America really was lost in 1787.

That’s when urban Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton had the votes to write a Constitution creating a strong central government. This sealed the fate of Jefferson’s agrarian republic in which states would hold the power to define and defend individual rights and liberties.

Pockets of discontent with the governance structure championed by Hamilton and Washington have never disappeared. The only movement that achieved its goal was the breakaway of 50 pro-Union northwestern counties from Virginia during the Civil War to establish West Virginia in 1863. (Few landowners in mountainous western Virginia had slaves.)

Republic of Texas, 1836

Republic of Texas, 1836

Texas also seceded, but from Mexico, gaining its independence in 1836.

Nine years later, in 1845, the Republic of Texas voted to join the United States.

Door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3?

For those unhappy with the current state of affairs in Maryland, there are three realistic options to consider.

Move.

That’s been the answer for many discontented Americans. Religious minorities that felt persecuted sought greener pastures. Those wishing to control their destiny or start a new life moved into the western frontier.

There are plenty of states where strong conservative views predominate. Pick one and live there.

Stay and complain.

Shout at the top of your lungs at public gatherings. Write angry letters to the editor. Vent your spleen on blog posts.

None of this helps achieve your objective. In fact, it turns off the electorate and leaders who count.

But it is salutary and a form of therapeutic self-expression.

Stay and fight.

People with deeply held libertarian or conservative views probably will never be in the majority in Maryland.

Still, they have a shot at influencing public policy with thoughtful, innovative ideas and a willingness to debate, explain, compromise and work collaboratively with those in power. Incremental steps add up over time.

It comes down to whether you want to make a difference or make a statement.

In this country, thank goodness, the choice is yours.

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