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December 31, 2008

Speaking styles mean Caroline Kennedy and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend share more than a name

Caroline Kennedy's verbally awkward political roll-out is drawing comparisons to another family member with a sometimes twisted tongue: her cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Maryland.

Kennedy agreed to a series of recent interviews to make her case about why the 51-year-old daughter of John F. Kennedy who has led a life of relative seclusion should be tapped by the New York governor for the seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.

During a discussion with New York Times reporters which was recorded and transcribed, Caroline Kennedy inserted the verbal tic "you know" 142 times. As in: "So I think in many ways, you know, we ant to have all kinds of different voices, you know, representing us, and I think what I bring to it is, you know, my experience as a mother, as a woman, as a lawyer, you know...."

For some observers, Caroline's comments raise the specter of another Kennedy. And not in a good way.

"Miss Kennedy, who has nver held an elected office and often neglected even to vote, is in danger of emulating her cousin Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy," wrote Toby Harnden, a Washington correspondent for the Telegraph of Great Britain. Harnden calls Maryland's former lieutenant governor an "uncomfortable campaigner" who "slumped to an ignominious defeat" in her 2002 gubernatorial bid.

Gregory Kane, a columnist for The Examiner of Baltimore (and formerly with the Sun), offered Caroline this advice: "Don't try it." Kane warned that Townsend's middle name was of no help, and said "I'm a little skittish about Kennedys who use their family name to run for political office."

Tom Brune of Newsday used KKT as an example of how "being a Kennedy does not necessarily make you a good politician."

Townsend holds the distinction of being the only Kennedy to lose a general election. And she did so twice: For congress, in 1996, and in the governor's race.

By 2002, her accumulated verbal gaffes after eight years as lieutenant governor hung heavily around her neck, and created a perception among voters that she was ill-prepared to lead.

The examples became the stuff of cringe-inducing legend. As Sun reporters Tom Waldron and Jeff Barker wrote nearly seven years ago: "She once bragged about hiring people who speak 'Hispanish.' She raved about how the Ravens had scored a dramatic 'football.' And her public remarks rarely unfold without at least one or two awkward pauses or stammers that can leave an audience squirming."

It doesn't sound like Caroline Kennedy is quite as bad a speaker. But if she gains a seat in the Senate, it will not be because of her oratory. It will be in spite of it.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:06 PM | | Comments (2)

December 30, 2008

Hoyer aide picked for Biden office

A top aide to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader from Southern Maryland, has been selected as director of legislative affairs for Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Sudafi Henry is currently a counsel and senior policy adviser to Hoyer, and has also worked for congressmen from New York and Missouri during his 10-year Capitol Hill career.

Hoyer, in a statement, said Biden "could not have picked a better and more qualified director of legislative affairs."

According to a release from the presidential transition office, Henry, a Los Angeles native, received his undergraduate degree from College Park.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:43 PM | | Comments (0)

Steele: "Magic Negro" CD one of GOP's "self-inflicted wounds"

The flap over the distribution of a compact disc by a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee could boost the prospects of Maryland's Michael Steele, another candidate for the job.

Chip Saltsman of North Carolina, who managed Mike Huckabee's presidential bid, has endured several days of negative publicity over the distribution of a Christmas gift intended to promote his chairmanship bid. The gift contained a copy of a parody song entitled "Barack, the Magic Negro," first aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show and based on a column in the Los Angeles Times that discussed how white voters were supporting Obama to assuage their guilt.

Naturally, the media has sought out the views of the two African-American candidates seeking to replace Mike Duncan at the helm of the Republican Party: Steele, the former lieutenant governor and head of GOPAC; and Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state.

Blackwell defended Saltsman, pointing to "hypersensitivity in the press in the matters of race."

But Steele has been more critical, saying that "the leadership necessary to face these turbulent times requires that we appreciate how our actions and our words are often times used to define who we are as Republicans." Stopping short of a direct rebuke of Saltsman, Steele said in a statement "we must be mindful that self-inflected wounds not only distract us from regaining our strength as a party, but further diminish our credibility with an increasingly diverse community of voters."

He pledged that if he were leading the party, he would be "a lot smarter about such things."

Fresh attention to the GOP's racial views comes at an important juncture for Steele.

Next week, Steele, Blackwell and other candidates for RNC chairman will appear at a recently scheduled forum called by RNC members themselves to meet and hear from candidates.

The CD flap will not have fully faded by then, giving Steele a chance to present himself as a unifier who can build the party across racial lines. It's too soon to say whether Steele or Blackwell will get a real boost, but they have gained more of an opportunity than just a few days ago.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:55 PM | | Comments (3)

O'Malley weighs in on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Democrat Gov. Martin O'Malley said today that Hamas "chose to provoke" a military response from Israel through "endless rocket attacks" in recent weeks, and that the U.S. will stand firmly behind its democratic ally in the Middle East against terrorist attacks.

Why did the governor of a small state feel the need to weigh in on an international conflict raging half a world away?

First, Maryland is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the U.S., outside of New York, Florida and California. While the Baltimore region's Jewish voters tend to lean Democratic, a signficant portion regularly back Republicans, and helped former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. achieve victory in 2002. With his re-election effort now less than two years away, O'Malley needs to make sure the coalition that carried him into office -- which includes Jewish voters -- remains intact.

Second, perhaps the time has come when O'Malley feels the need to stretch his wings beyond the state's borders. If he has aspirations that extend beyond Annapolis, he needs to stake out positions on a range of issues, including the Middle East.

See below for O'Malley's full statement on Hamas and Israel.

“Israel, like every nation, has the right to defend herself and her people from attack. Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks indiscriminately against civilian targets in Israel.”

“Just as Hamas chose to provoke a military response from Israel with endless rocket attacks, Hamas also has the choice to reject terror and violence with an immediate ceasefire, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and accept the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians as they work toward a just and lasting peace.”

“In this current conflict, the United States stands with its democratic ally Israel in her desire for a lasting peace in the Middle East with secure borders.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:09 PM | | Comments (8)

December 29, 2008

Kendel Ehrlich's peek into the future

We're getting the sense that the new blog authored by Joe Steffen, better known as the Prince of Darkness who did Bob Ehrlich's dirty work for years, will be the gift that keeps on giving.

In his most recent post, Steffen delights with the detail that former Maryland First Lady Kendel Ehrlich is a fan of tarot card readings and astrological predictions.

"I know this first hand as, along with a few others, I'd attended card readings with Mrs. Ehrlich," Steffen writes. "Additionally, shortly before her youngest was born, she asked me to write-up a basic rundown of how the siblings (and family unit as a whole) would relate to one another based upon their respective astrological signs. This, I did - and I hope I was fairly accurate!"

Steffen is on the outs with the Ehrlichs these days. So if Kendel Ehrlich is going to look to the stars to determine whether she should run for a state senate seat or for Congress, or if her husband has a chance at reclaiming the governor's mansion, she'll need another practicioner of the dark arts to help her out.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:44 PM | | Comments (11)

Gilchrest CoS to green group, Take 2

Tony Caligiuri, the former chief of staff to defeated Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, re-announced today that he is joining the National Wildlife Federation as regional executive director of the group's new Chesapeake Atlantic Natural Resource Center in Reston, Va.

First word of Caligiuri taking the job came back in October. Since then, he split duties between the group and the congressional office during the transition. But with the 111th Congress -- sans Gilchrest -- convening next Tuesday, the time has come for him to move to full-time green status.

Caligiuri and his wife, Lynn, actively supported Democrat Frank Kratovil during the general election for the 1st Congressional District. Lynn Caligiuri was a fund-raiser for Gilchrest, but collected money for Kratovil after the incumbent's primary defeat. Tony Caligiuri began attending Kratovil events well before his boss gave public support to Kratovil.

Tony Caligiuri's "long tenure" with Gilchrest and "devotion to conservation in the Chesapeake Atlantic region make him an ideal leader of our new regional Natural Resource Center," said NWF president and CEO Larry Schweiger in a statement.

Caligiuri had been chairman of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund for a decade.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:15 PM | | Comments (1)

December 23, 2008

State workers: What are you doing with your furlough day?

Any state workers out there who are reading this, please write in and let us know what you're planning to do on Friday (particularly if you would not otherwise have had the day off.) We're hoping to get a story about it in Saturday's paper. Please include an e-mail address so we can contact you. (If you don't want your e-mail to be visible on the website, send it to me separately at

Posted by Andy Green at 11:01 AM | | Comments (16)

December 22, 2008

Santa's back!

Everyone's new favorite Grinch, AFSCME's Maryland State Santa, is back with a new video featuring an assortment of annoyed state employees:

Posted by Andy Green at 2:55 PM | | Comments (1)

December 19, 2008

One more legislator furloughs himself

This just in: Del. Keith Haynes, a Baltimore Democrat, is also furloughing himself. He, along with a growing (though still relatively small) list of his fellow lawmakers, is giving up $515.36 out of solidarity with state employees who are being forced to take some time off.

Posted by Andy Green at 5:51 PM | | Comments (1)

Did O'Malley punt on the question of budget cuts?

Mayor Sheila Dixon said this morning that she’s got no new news from the state on impending budget cuts.

But, its not for lack of trying. As she watched the Ravens buckle under the Steelers’ Drive last weekend from the city’s skybox at M&T Bank Stadium, she found time to buttonhole the Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was presumably watching from his state-owned skybox.

“Sunday we had a brief conversation at the game,” Dixon said today at her City Hall news conference. “But when you talk about a $200 million [in state budget cuts] and now $400 million [in state cuts] we are going to be impacted by that.”

-- Annie Linskey

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:09 PM | | Comments (0)

Legislators give back

Del. Rick Impallaria, a Republican who represents Baltimore and Harford counties, just announced that he'll voluntarily participate in the state worker furloughs. He's also sending out some shots at the Democrats while he's at it:

“I am issuing a further challenge to Governor O’Malley to cut the salaries of his political appointees in state government back to the level of their predecessors. I also challenge all County Executives, the Mayor of Baltimore City, and Patricia Jessamy, who has recently gotten a raise, to do the same. It’s time.”

(Of course, some of O'Malley's appointees would be thrilled to be making what their counterparts did in the Ehrlich administration; others, not so much.)

Posted by Andy Green at 12:21 PM | | Comments (2)

If the state budget is growing, why are there cuts?

This week's Spending Affordability Committee report touches on one of the mysteries of the state budget. The committee decided that the budget could be allowed to grow by about 0.7 percent next year, a level that its members said would require massive spending cuts.

Huh? The budget is growing, so we have to cut the budget? Doesn't seem to make much sense, does it?

Here's the explanation: Various things the state spends money on are tied to formulas that grow whether tax revenues do or not. For example, the state spends a certain amount per student in public school, so if enrollment grows, the state budget grows. Ditto with the prison population. Then there are costs like state worker health care. Just giving state workers the same benefits they got this year will cost quite a bit more next year.

The Department of Legislative Services does an exercise in which it figures out a "baseline budget" showing how much more it will likely cost next year just to hold state services steady. Their estimate for next year is a little bit over $1 billion. That's a problem when state tax revenues are, at latest estimate, expected to grow by something like $100 million next year.

So is everything in the baseline budget really necessary? Listed below are all the items that are expected to increase in cost next year (per the spending affordability committe report). Take a look for yourself; some of them may seem more crucial than others.

Items expected to grow in cost in the fiscal 2010 budget. Numbers in millions.

Medical assistance -- enrollment growth, inflation, managed care rates

$ 182.8

Teachers' and librarians' retirement

$ 130.4

Education formulas

$ 35.4

Community colleges

$ 35.8

Foster care -- increased costs, lower federal aid

$ 28.6

Mental hygiene -- enrollment growth, inflation

$ 21.1

Temporary cash assistance -- increased caseloads

$ 13.3

Sellinger aid for private higher ed

$ 10.8

Local jail reimbursements

$ 7.6

Dispairity grant to low-wealth counties

$ 6.8

St. Mary's College/Baltimore City Community College

$ 5.2

Local libararies -- formula aid

$ 3.5

Formula aid to local governments for police and health

$ 2.5

Mandated increases for agricultural devleopment/soil conservation

$ 1.2

Private donation incentive grant program

$ (1.4)

Prince George's Hospital Authority

$ 4.0

Reimbursement to local gov'ts for BRAC zone incentives

$ 2.5

Other new legislation

$ 2.5

Geographic Cost of Education Attainment phase-in

$ 49.3

Increased cost of electric universal service program

$ 15.6

Annualization of costs for new fiscal 2009 services -- DDA

$ 9.5

Medicaid -- phase two of dental rate increases

$ 7.0

University System of Maryland/Morgan State

$ 83.0

Higher education investment funds replaced with general funds (USM and Morgan)

$ 66.9

2 percent general salary increase

$ 64.2

Employee retirement

$ 48.7

Employee and retiree health insurance

$ 42.0

Provider rate increase of 3.58% (DDA, MHA, ADAA)

$ 38.0

Employee increments

$ 35.0

Major information technology projects

$ 28.2

Juvenile services -- 2009 underfunding/unavailability of federal funds

$ 18.2

Correctional institutions overtime costs

$ 12.0

Increase in electricity, natural gas and propane

$ 10.6

Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center -- opening of new ward

$ 9.7

Correctional institutions: inmate medical contract

$ 7.0

Increase in vehicle fuel

$ 6.3

Workers compensation premiums

$ 5.0

New judgships and related personnel

$ 4.8

Additional public defenders to meet caseload standards

$ 4.6

Need-based scholarships

$ 3.8

Breast and cervical cancer program -- cost growing 5% per year

$ 3.5

Higher ed investment funds for workforce development grants replaced by general funds

$ 3.0

Correctional institutions -- increased prison population and food contracts

$ 2.4

Other changes

$ 1.5

Rosewood closure -- savings

$ (18.5)

Public safety communication system

$ 10.0

Housing programs

$ 3.4

Drinking water and water quality programs -- less federal funds to match

$ (1.9)


$ (2.2)

Transfer to MTA for ICC

$ (22.0)

Unappropriated fund balance from FY 2008

$ 175.7

Remove excess FY 2007 fund balance

$ (146.5)


$ 1,070.4

Posted by Andy Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (1)

December 18, 2008

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Furlough!

AFSCME fights back. Check it out:

Posted by Andy Green at 2:54 PM | | Comments (1)

Baltimore native Gensler is Obama pick for commodities board

President-elect Barack Obama has selected Baltimore native Gary Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Gensler, 51, served as a top treasury official in the Clinton administration, and was and adviser to former Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

He is also former treasurer of the state Democratic Party, and once ran for chairman. During the primaries, he was bundler for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A graduate of Pikesville Senior High School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Gensler made millions at Goldman Sachs during the 1990s before becoming heavily involved in politics.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:20 AM | | Comments (1)

December 17, 2008

O'Malley's first cabinet departure: Edgerley at DBED

Gov. Martin O'Malley's office announced last night the first departure of a cabinet secretary: David Edgerley is leaving the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Traditionally, DBED has been one of the most coveted -- and challenging -- administration jobs. Coveted because it allows officials to travel the state, hob-nob with business leaders, take the occassional foreign trip and build connections that can lead to private employment down the road. Challenging, because a main role is convincing business leaders that Maryland's reputation as a high-tax, business-unfriendly state is unfounded.

Usually, there's a lot of jockeying for the spot. Edgerley's predecessor, the high-energy Aris Melissaratos, liked the job given to him by Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. so much that he lobbied hard to stay under O'Malley.

The job also can have a political tinge. Former Secretary James T. Brady resigned from the Glendening administration in protest over policy decisions, and then toyed with the idea of challenging Glendening for governor.

Edgerely came from a government background, overseeing economic development first in Allegany County, and then in Montgomery. He knows the ins and outs of public service. His resignation announcement, posted below the jump, makes a reference to his wanting to pursue a career in the private sector or education.

Usually, there's a bit more to the story. If you have any insights, we'd love to hear them.

From: David Edgerley
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 5:01 PM
Subject: farewell

Dear Staff,
I want to let you know that, after very careful consideration, I have decided to resign my position as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. After serving as a member of the Cabinet for two years, it is time for me to pursue other opportunities in my life. I have been honored to be associated with the DBED team and know that, with your continued good work, the State of Maryland will continue to earn its place on the world map as the preeminent Center of Education, Research and Technology. After all, Maryland is the best place to live, work and raise a family.

I have always harbored an interest to eventually pursue a career in the private/education sectors. I have decided that now is the right time to begin that new chapter. The rigors of being DBED Secretary, (not to mention the long commute!), have prepared me for this new endeavor and while I know I will miss this job, I also know this is the right decision for me and my family.

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the State of Maryland in a way that few people ever have. I have given the Governor my full support to ensure that the transition to new leadership at DBED is done as smoothly and efficiently as possible. I am so proud of DBED's record of accomplishment: the Maryland Biotechnology Center, new International Division, an aggressive Tourism program, extraordinary Arts programs, BIO 2020 and the location of new businesses all around the State. This is a long and continuing legacy we can all be proud of.

I would be remiss if didn't also mention my personal thanks to each of you. You have all been a pleasure to work with! And, of course, we couldn't have been successful without the continued support of the Maryland business community and our regional and local partners. Most importantly, your work to provide quality growth is fundamental to the future of our State, our Communities and our Citizens. While my last day will be Jan. 30, 2009, please know that I will always champion the Governor's vision, and mine, of "ONE MARYLAND."
David W. Edgerley

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:13 AM | | Comments (4)

O'Malley on MPT tonight: Get your questions ready

Gov. O'Malley is on MPT tonight for his monthly gig on Direct Conneciton with Jeff Salkin. The appearance comes at an auspicious time, as he faces huge budget shortfalls and orders state employee furloughs. You can submit questions at or call in to the show live, 1-800-926-0629. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

What would you like to see Jeff ask him about?

Posted by Andy Green at 9:46 AM | | Comments (3)

December 16, 2008

More on state furloughs

House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller plan a joint announcement at 2:45 today on legislative furloughs. They can't force other legislators to particpate in the furloughs (the state constitution actually forbids it), but individual members can agree to furloughs on their own. More than a dozen of them (both Democrats and Republicans) have so far. But the presiding officers could, theoretically, order furloughs for legislative branch staff.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:06 PM | | Comments (0)

Maryland state employee furloughs are official

Gov. O'Malley's office just sent out word that he signed an executive order this morning making his furlough plan for state employees official. Looks like it remains pretty much as the governor proposed it a couple of weeks ago. The plan is expected to save $34 million. It comes on a day when the state is getting new (and significantly worse) revenue estimates for this year and next, which means this may not even be the end of it. Here are the details:

All employees subject to this Executive Order shall be required to forego the equivalent of at least two days of pay, and employees making more than $40,000 will also be required to take 16 or 24 furlough hours on or after January 14, 2009 and before June 30, 2009.  Employees earning salaries of less than $40,000 will not be required to take furlough hours, although they will be included in the two days of pay equivalent salary reduction, which are pre-designated for December 26, 2008 and January 2, 2009.  

To mitigate the impact of the required two days salary equivalent reduction on permanent employees, these salary reductions will be spread over the remainder of FY 2009.  Employees earning greater than $40,000 per year, depending on pay, are required to take additional 16 to 24 furlough hours between January 14, 2009 and June 30, 2009.  These additional furlough hours will be in the form of leave without pay, and will be reflected in the actual pay period in which the employees do not work.

Employees in 24/7 health and public safety positions are exempt from these pay reductions.  State employees are encouraged to visit the “State Employees” section of, where the full Executive Order is posted along with Frequently Asked Questions.


Posted by Andy Green at 1:59 PM | | Comments (16)

Franchot chief of staff heading to Van Hollen's office

Peter Franchot's loss is Chris Van Hollen's gain.

Van Hollen, the Democratic congressman from Montgomery County, announced today that his current chief of staff is moving to a new position as policy director in Van Hollen's assistant to the speaker office, creating a vacancy that will be filled by David Weaver.

Weaver is currently chief of staff to Comptroller Peter Franchot, and had spent 12 years as communications director to former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.

Van Hollen cited Weaver's "vast knowledge of Maryland" in making the announcement. Weaver is widely respected in Annapolis and throughout the state as a solid professional and straight-shooter.

His position in the comptroller's office will be filled by a deputy, Len Foxwell. It's likely that Foxwell's job may not be filled, a cost savings that could keep the budget-cutters and Franchot critics such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller at bay. Miller went after the comptroller's staffing last year, and Franchot aides are fearful of another effort soon.

Weaver also liked to get involved in campaigns. We wonder: Is this further evidence that Peter Franchot won't be running for governor in 2010? Or, to put a finer point on it, perhaps it's evidence that the smart money is on Van Hollen becoming senator before Franchot becomes governor.

-- David Nitkin and Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:11 PM | | Comments (1)

It's not the economy, stupid!

Former Ehrlich budget secretary Cecilia Januszkiewicz, whose tenure ended far too soon after I learned to spell her name, is out with a well-timed op-ed in today's Examiner about the role the state's Spending Affordability Committee has played (or failed to play) in managing state budget growth over the years. The committee, which holds its decision meeting today, is supposed to act as a brake on state spending increases, making sure the budget doesn't increase faster than the economy.

She argues that Maryland's budget problems have everything to do with spending and nothing to do with the economy: "Our elected officials would like us to believe that the state's budget problems are because of the dismal state of the economy. The reality is that budget crises are created by making new commitments without any plan to pay for those new commitments even as the state has insufficient resources to pay for its existing commitments." 

There's some truth in that -- she points correctly to the passage of the Thornton education plan without any money to pay for it -- but saying the economy has nothing to do with the state's budget woes is a little hard to swallow. The Board of Revenue Estimates is also set to meet today and is all but certain to write down (again) the amount of money Maryland is expected to collect in taxes. And it's not like Maryland is some crazy exception to the good times everywhere else; dozens of states are now facing similar budget problems, some much worse than Maryland's.

As further evidence of Annapolis' spendthrift ways, C.J. also points to the recent adoption of a committee report on higher education funding in Maryalnd that calls for a $758 million annual boost for colleges and universities. That's also a bit of a red herring in that the chances it will actually pass anytime soon are somewhere slimmer than none. She also ignores the hundreds of millions the state has cut in the last two years -- more than her boss cut during his term -- with state worker furloughs and more cuts on the way.

But she's definitely on solid ground in questioning just how much the spending affordability committee has done over the years to keep spending affordable. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the committee has never recommended that the state budget stay steady or shrink. In the last 25 years, it has never recommended less than 2.5 percent growth and has averaged more than 6 percent.

C.J. writes: "Rather than avoiding deficits or limiting state spending, the spending affordability process has contributed to the creation and perpetuation of deficits. It has provided a false sense of fiscal restraint and has facilitated continued budget growth -- even when structural deficits appear as far into the future as estimates are made."

So when the fiscal wise men of Annapolis meet this afternoon, what's the over-under on how much they think Maryland's budget can grow during the worst fiscal crisis in 75 years? I'd peg it at 3, maybe 3.5 percent.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:15 AM | | Comments (4)

December 15, 2008

One more legislator takes the furlough

Just to keep up with the running tally, Kirill Reznik, a Democrat from Montgomery County who was appointed in 2007 to fill a vacancy, says he'll join executive branch employees who have been ordered to take furlough days to help balance the state's books. He says in a news release:

“With a faltering economy and a budget crisis well over a billion dollars, it is necessary for me as an elected official to make sure that I join all of the other employees of our State in this sacrifice. Every year, we vote on the budget and make the big decisions that affect the everyday lives of our constituents across the State, including thousands of State employees. It seems only fair that should we ask them to take a furlough to help us through these difficult times we are willing to take this furlough with them.”

Posted by Andy Green at 5:30 PM | | Comments (0)

PolitckerMD is gone

Our inbox was a little lighter this morning without the wake-up call synopsis from PolitckerMD, an ambitious online project of the New York Observer that has been vastly curtailed in the wake of the economic crisis facing all of us.

The plan was to have a local politics site in every state, and Politicker got up to about 17 or 18 before cutting back to all but a handful last week. We can't find a formal announcement, but the demise was reported by Gawker and FishbowlDC, as well as some of Politicker's sources in Maryland.

The Maryland site is one of the casualties.

Republican lobbyist and political adviser Don Murphy is hosting a farewell luncheon today for Politicker's Maryland reporter, the omnipresent Danny Reiter, at Paul's Restaurant in Arbutus. As best we can tell, Reiter never had an office. But with a cell phone and a laptop, he covered a lot of terrain. We don't like seing any journalist lose their job, and especially those with an organization thought to be at the vanguard just a few months ago.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:36 PM | | Comments (1)

Obama not the first Pres.-elect to take train through Baltimore

Barack Obama has never been one to shy away from Lincoln symbolism in his presidential run (for example, making his campaign announcement on the steps of the old state house in Springfield, where the 16th president served). Like Lincoln, Obama plans to arrive in Washington by train. (Lincoln rode the rails all the way from Illinois; Obama's just picking up a train out of Philly.) But he's looking for a somewhat more triumphant stop in Baltimore than Lincoln got in 1861.

The Illinois Republican's election precipitated major secessionist uprisings throughout the south; six states seceeded before inauguration day, but border states, including in Maryland, stayed in the Union. But Baltimore was still a hotbed of anti-Lincoln sentiment, and the president-elect's chief of security, Allan Pinkerton, went to extraordinary lenghts to get him through the city safely. There's some dispute among historians about whether the plot to kill Lincoln in Baltimore was real, but Pinkerton evidently thought so. Lincoln's security forces cut telegraph lines between Baltimore and Pennsylvania to cut off communications among potential conspirators, and the president-elect left Harrisburg on a secret night train. To avoid running afoul of a city law prohibiting the running of trains through downtown at night, Lincoln's cars were drawn through by horses.

When crowds gathered to greet Lincoln's train the next day, they discovered he was already gone.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:57 AM | | Comments (5)

Electoral college votes

Maryland's electors for president are voting this morning, making today, in a sense, the acutal election day. But in this state at least, there's no suspense whatsoever. In some states, "faithless electors" can go out on their own and vote for whomever they like today, but that's not the case in Maryland. Section 8-505 of the elections article of the Maryland code specifies that "the presidential electors shall cast their votes for the candidates for President and Vice President who received a plurality of the votes cast in the State of Maryland." So here, at least, they are theoretically bound to follow the results of the election here, which went handily for Barack Obama.

 What would happen if an elector broke that law? The code doesn't address that. Some states have specific penalties for faithless electors, and some nullify their votes. The last case of a faithless elector came in 2000 when one of Washington D.C.'s electors chose not to cast her vote for Al Gore (as she had pledged to do) as an act of protest for the lack of Congressional voting rights for the district.

Of course this could theoretically all change. Maryland was the first state to pass a law that could circumvent the electoral college altogether. It says that the state will award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote (not the state's popular vote). But it only goes into effect if states with a sufficient number of electoral votes to constitute a national majority pass the same law. That way, the winner of the national popular vote would always win the electoral college. (Assuming there aren't any of those pesky faithless electors...)

Posted by Andy Green at 10:32 AM | | Comments (3)

Salisbury mayor to retire

The Daily Times of Salisbury reports that the city's mayor, Barrie P. Tilghman, will retire this spring after 12 years on the job. The Democrat is the town's first woman mayor and, according to a nice appreciation of her in the Daily Times, one tough lady.

I only met her a few times on trips out to the Shore, but she struck me as focused and very much in  charge. Any intel on her (or scuttlebut on why she's hanging it up now) from folks on the other side of the bridge would be much appreciated.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:04 AM | | Comments (1)

December 12, 2008

Another legislator furloughs herself

Sen. Janet Greenip, an Anne Arundel County Republican, last week joined the dozen or so legisaltors who have siad they will voluntarily give up part of their pay to share hte pain with rank-and-file state employees who will be furloughed to save money. She is, to my knowledge, the first senator to announce she's volunteering for a furlough.

Posted by Andy Green at 5:25 PM | | Comments (1)

O'Malley: I never shook Blagojevich's hand

Gov. Martin O'Malley appeared on CNN today to discuss the need for a infrastructure-based stimulus package that would provide jobs as it launched road and bridge projects. The governor said he thought the government should spend $500 billion on such projects.

"President Obama -- and the governors agree with him -- believes that if we're going to borrow these dollars, at least we should be doing things like rebuilding our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our mass transit systems, so that our children will have some legacy benefit from this effort to restart our economy," O'Malley said.

O'Malley pegged the blame for the collapse of an auto bailout plan on Senate Republicans, and said he hoped President-elect Barack Obama would revive the issue. He said jobs at Allison Transmission and cargo traffic at the Port of Baltimore would be impacted if GM or another auto company went out of business.

Interviewer Tony Harris then asked O'Malley for his reaction to the travails of another Democratic governor, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, charged this week witth seeking personal financial gain in exchange for filling the Illinois Senate seat.

O'Malley said he found the "brazeness" of Blagojevich's demands, caught on tape, to be shocking. He then took pains to distance himself from the Illinois governor as much as possible.

"I've never shaken the governor's hand," O'Malley said. "I really don't know the man very well."

O'Malley said that Blagojevich has not attended meetings of the Democratic Governors Association for the past two years, but did participate in a recent governors meeting with President-elect Barack Obama in Philadelphia.

-- Andy Green and David Nitkin

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:29 PM | | Comments (2)

Maryland universities furlough workers, too

Sun higher education reporter Steve Kiehl reports this morning that the University System of Maryland Board of Regents voted to require its employees to take furloughs of between two and five days, a move that is expected to save $16 million. The move comes on the heels of Gov. O'Malley's announcement that he's furloughing all executive branch employees (except for public safety types) for a like amount of time.

The regents debated how to structure the furlough to avoid canceling classes if possible (the UB president said he'd ask profs to schedule furloughs on days when they didn't teach), though the board rejected an amendment from its student member that would have prohibited the canceling of classes. Yes, that's right. The STUDENT MEMBER wanted to avoid any canceled classes.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this one plays. A lot of state employees were angry over O'Malley's furlough plan, and this one has the real potential to divide some of the system's highly paid employees (professors, administrators, etc.) from the blue-collar workers who sweep the floors, run the cafeterias, etc.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:56 AM | | Comments (0)

How much was Dixon's raise?

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon wants to put the pay raise flap behind her by announcing today that she will donate her quietly approved $3,700 cost of living increase to charity.

But there is still a little matter of arithmetic to clear up.

Added together, the cost of living increases for the mayor, comptroller, city council president and other members of the city council come to $28,700.

But when the the city Board of Estimates approved the raises on the day before Thanksgiving, with no discussion, it set aside $29,700.

Who's getting the extra $1,000?

No one, we hope.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said that the numbers came from the city’s Human Resources department and said that city’s payroll office would catch an error in paychecks if one emerged.

-- Annie Linskey

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:06 AM | | Comments (0)

O'Malley to appear on CNN today

Gov. Martin O'Malley will appear on CNN at noon today to discuss the "shovel-ready" projects in Maryland that could be built as part of a federal economic stimulus package, his office said.

O'Malley met with members of the state's congressional delegation today to discuss the projects, according to spokeswoman Christine Hansen.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)

December 11, 2008

House Speaker Busch and other lawmakers will forgo pay

More than a dozen members of the state House of Delegates have told Speaker Michael E. Busch they will give up a portion of their $43,500 annual pay, voluntarily complying with an expected state employee furlough plan being developed by the O'Malley administration.

O'Malley's furlough order, when it comes, will apply only to executive-branch employees; leaders in the legislative and judicial branches of government must decide if they will impose similar restrictions.

Busch has already said he would contribut a portion of his pay equivalent to four days to the state general fund, and the Maryland Politics blog has reported on similar pledges by delegates Steven R. Schuh and Nicholaus R. Kipke, Anne Arundel County Republicans. (Busch earns $56,500 as a presiding officer.)

Other delegates who have told the speaker they will give up pay are: Prince George's County Democrat Justin Ross; Baltimore Democrat Sandy Rosenberg; Charles County Democrat Murray Levy; St. Mary's County Democrat John L. Bohanan Jr.; Baltimore County Democrats Adrienne Jones, Eric Bromwell and Stephen W. Lafferty; Cecil County Democrat David D. Rudolph; and Anne Arundel County Democrat Pamela G. Beidle.

Two lawmakers have agreed to furloughs but do not want their names publicized, the speaker's office said.

NOTE: This entry has been updated to correct the recipient of Busch's pledge, and the amount to be donated.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:56 PM | | Comments (1)

Marylanders have high expectations for Obama

Two of three Marylanders think Barack Obama will be a "good" or "great" president, compared with fewer than one in five who say he will be "so-so" or "bad," according to survey results provided today by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks.

"The president-elect has inspired great confidence," said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks.

The company, which has polled for The Baltimore Sun but compiled the most recent figures independently, gave 1,015 randomly selected Marylanders reached by telephone a choice of four categories to describe their expectations for the Obama administration.

Thirty-two percent said Obama will be a "great" president, and 34 percent picked "good," for a total positive score of 66 percent. Twelve percent think Obama will be "so-so" and 6 percent think he will be a "bad" president. Seventeen percent of respondents provided no answer, or said the were not sure.

Marylander's opinions of Obama are slightly higher than those found nationally in a survey by Quinnipiac University, which asked the same question.

The survey was conducted Nov. 20-30, and has a 3.1 percent error margin.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:58 PM | | Comments (0)

Dixon to donate salary increase to charity

Apparently two solid days of critical news coverage and brutal reaction from voters was enough for Mayor Sheila Dixon, who announced she will donate to charity the $3,700 cost of living increase she received through a quiet vote of the Board of Estimates last month.

"After much thought, I decided to donate my cost of living adjustment to a local charity that is helping the less fortunate in Baltimore, " the mayor said in a statement. She did not specify the charity. The mayor is uring other elected officials who received the increaseto do the same.

The decision is a full retreat for the typically steel-spined mayor in a day's time. On Tuesday, when asked if she would donate the raise to charity, Dixon said "no," citing "what I do, seven days a week, 24 hours [a day], trying to raise a family, a daughter in college."

Dixon's raise, to $151,700 yearly, drew outrage because it came at a time of budget cuts and an elimination of police and fire overtime. The Baltimore Sun broke the story on Wednesday; the Nov. 26 vote by the Board of Estimates included no discussion of the raises, and documents did not list the jobs that were getting "salary adjustments."

Today's decision seems like a no-brainer. But why did it take her two days to reach it? Is it too, little, too late? Has too much damage been done?

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:46 PM | | Comments (4)

December 10, 2008

Dixon and the City Council get a raise

The Baltimore Sun broke the story today of how Mayor Sheila Dixon, Comptroller John M. Pratt, Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and other city council members are receiving 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustments through a quiet vote of the Board of Estimates.

The current pay raises, city officials note, are the result of a relatively new voter-approved process creating an independent commission to recommend salaries and annual cost of living adjustments. The panel recommendations become law unless the City Council votes them down, which didn't happen in 2007 -- the first time they were used. The process is designed to take politics out of the decision.


There's no way to remove politics from what is inherently a political decision. And the way the raises happened this year -- with no public discussion, and through an agenda item written in a way that obfuscates the matter -- is not likely to convince anybody that politics weren't involved.

Why shouldn't the public weigh in on cost of living adjustments, especially during a time of budget cuts? Why shouldn't elected officials explain why the time is right for them to get raises, when by all appearances it is not?

The money at issue is not large. But that's not the point. The desire to avoid a heated debate during which gadflies and government-haters excoriate their mayor is understandable, but wrong-headed.

What we're left with is a symbollic problem that Dixon, Pratt and Rawlings-Blake made themselves. They wanted to avoid exactly what is happening now. Let's see how they get out of it.

What's your suggestion for what Dixon et. al. should do with their raises? Chime in. The floor is yours.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:06 AM | | Comments (192)

December 9, 2008

Pelosi expands Van Hollen's leadership role

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Montgomery County Democrat who chaired the party’s 2008 house election operation to a 20-seat gain, is being rewarded with an expanded role in the House leadership.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has championed Van Hollen’s rise in the House, named him an assistant to the speaker focusing on policy issues and incumbent retention.

“Chris Van Hollen is a first-rate thinker and political strategist who knows the policy, politics, and people that are essential to House Leadership successfully developing and executing our agenda for change with the Caucus and the incoming Obama Administration,” Pelosi said.

The announcement comes after Van Hollen, elected to a fourth term last month, accepted the thankless task of a second term chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. After winning more than 50 seats in 2006 and 2008, House Democrats will have their hands full in 2010 simply holding onto the seats they’ve gained.

After the election, Van Hollen said he wasn’t seeking another term with the DCCC, and floated the idea of succeeding departing Rep. Rahm Emanuel as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. It was Pelosi, looking to avoid a battle for the position between Van Hollen and current caucus Vice Chairman John B. Larson of Connecticut, who persuaded Van Hollen to run the political operation for another cycle.

“Chris Van Hollen was the maestro of this year’s historic election,” Pelosi said. “He is uniquely positioned to lead House Democrats’ official incumbent retention efforts and help our new Members succeed. As DCCC Chairman next cycle, Chris will provide the continuous leadership needed for the more than 30 new Members of the Democratic Caucus and the challenging mid-term election ahead of us.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:23 PM | | Comments (1)

Illinois governor indicted; how do corrupt Maryland pols stack up?

The big news of the day is the indictment and arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod J. Blagojevich on federal corruption charges. Among the allegations: That he tried to sell the senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama. He stands a chance of being the third of the last four Illinois governors to go to jail.

Maryland has certainly had its fair share of political corruption convictions over the years (Sprio Agnew, Marvin Mandel, Dale Anderson, the list goes on...) Does anything in the Free State stand up with the Land of Lincoln?

Posted by Andy Green at 2:09 PM | | Comments (0)

December 8, 2008

Another legislator furloughs himself

Nic Kipke, a first-term Republican delegate from Anne Arundel, just announced that he, too, will voluntarily participate in the state government furlough. He joins his delegation-mate Steve Schuh, who announced his intention to participate in the furlough this afternoon.

"I believe it is only fair that elected officials be included in the furlough plan that is being forced on our state employees. We are the people who make decisions that determine the direction of state spending and should not be immune to the consequences of our actions," Kipke said in a statement.

No word on how Kipke will handle the actual mechanics of participating in the furlough; the state constitution prohibits the government from forcing legislators to give up part of their salary, so it's not clear how he would accomplish it. Schuh said today that he'll donate part of his legislative salary to the American Red Cross of Anne Arundel County.

Posted by Andy Green at 6:41 PM | | Comments (2)

Legislators and furloughs: One down, 187 to go

We just got our first commitment from a legislator that he will voluntarily participate in the state government furlough. Maryland's contsitution actually prohibits the state from forcing legislators to take reduced salaries during their term in office -- even if the legislature votes to require it, they can't make it stick. This was an issue back in 1992 when the Senate voted to take furloughs, an entirely symbolic gesture that didn't actually force anyone to give up a nickel.

But today Del. Steve Schuh, a Republican from Anne Arundel County and something of a rising star in the legislature becuase of his fiscal accumen, sent out a news release announcing that he will donate an amount of salary equivalent to a furlough to the American Red Cross of Anne Arundel County.

“As a result of the national economic situation and persistent overspending by the state, Maryland faces a budget deficit approaching $1.5 billion," Schuh said in a statement. "If state employees are being asked to be part of the solution, I believe it is appropriate that I make an equivalent financial contribution.”


Posted by Andy Green at 3:28 PM | | Comments (4)

Steffen blogs the Ehrlich reunion

Check out this fascinating entry on former Prince of Darkenss Joe Steffen's blog. Steffen's relationship with Ehrlich world is complicated, to say the least, so take his account on the event with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, he's someone who had an inside view to virtually every race Bob Ehrlich ever ran, so his perspective is certainly worth hearing.

The entry focuses on the Ehrlich entourage's view of Andy Harris' defeat in the 1st Congressional District and on what Steffen perceived as some jealousy on Ehrlich's part over Michael Steele's rise as a contender for the Republican National Committee chairmanship.

If anybody out there attended the event, write in and let us know whether you agree with Joe's take.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:07 PM | | Comments (0)

O'Malley talks up Obama's economic plans on MSNBC

Gov. Martin O'Malley's office says the guv is scheduled to appear on MSNBC at 1:45 today to talk about Barack Obama's economic recovery plan. In case you're in suspense about how O'Malley feels about it, he put out a statement over the weekend praising the president-elect's radio address on the topic. O'Malley has been talking up the idea of greater federal spending on infrastructure projects for a long time, so the latest stimulus idea from Obama is right up his alley.

On a more political note, it may well be the highest profile bit of Obama surrogacy the former Clinton supporter has done.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:50 AM | | Comments (0)

How much can Maryland afford at a time of furloughs?

Taxes are in the tank. The state government is set to furlough employees for the first time since 1992. And more cuts are supposed to be on the way. Against that backdrop, we'll have a bit of a surreal exercise next week: A committee that will decide how much the state budget can grow next year.

The Spending Affordability Committee is scheduled to hold its annual decision meeting next Tuesday and, if history is a guide, it will decide that economic conditions warrant a small increase in state spending. The idea is the committee, made up of legislators and a few outside experts, figures out how much the state's economy is growing and sets a benchmark for spending so that theoretically, the budget doesn't expand faster than that.

The committee has been making reports since the 1983 legislative session, and it has never recommended growth of less than 2.5 percent. Over the course of that time, the recommendations have averaged 6.24 percent. In a sense, the committee has done what it is supposed to do: Over the last 25 years, the recommendations have always amounted to spending of between 7 percent and 7.6 percent of Marylanders' personal income, a pretty narrow band of variation. 

But in another sense, they're pretty limited. The recommendations don't include all spending. (Higher education, for example, isn't included). The governor is not at all bound by them (O'Malley so far has kept his proposals under the mark, though Ehrlich often did not), and they bear no direct relation to the state's actual budget situation. Just becuase the economy is expected to grow by a certain amount doesn't mean that tax receipts will. The committee has recommended healthy spending growth at times when the Department of Legislative Services has predicted big deficits, as it does right now.

And then there's another limitation: The board is a political creature and makes political decisions. The legislature tries hard not to approve budgets above the spending affordability mark. But in years when that would mean making big (and unpopular) cuts to the governor's appropriations, they've been known to reconvene and, effectively, move the goalposts. That happened a couple of times under Ehrlich when the housing bubble was swelling state coffers. The committee gave him fairly generous benchmarks, and with revenues coming in heavy, he exceeded them. Rather than change spending to fit the benchmark, the committee twice changed the benchmark to better fit the spending. In 2005, it bumped the initial recommendation up from 5.7 percent to 6.7 percent, and in 2006, it increased the target from 8.9 percent to 9.6 percent.

I remember going to the meeting two years ago, shortly after O'Malley was elected but before he took office. Everybody in the room knew that the state's budget was in trouble, and people were already clamoring for the new governor to make fixing the state's long-term structural deficit the focus of his first session. I figured we'd be looking at a recommendation of 4, maybe 5 percent. The committee discussed the tough times ahead and approved a benchmark of 7.9 percent, well above the historic average. The explanation? The Democrats who controlled the committee said they wanted to give the governor some room to make good on his campaign promises.

So what's the point? Well, there was one year when the committee decided not to make a recommendation at all. The legislature and governor came in a month later and pushed through a budget that grew a whopping 10 percent. That was 1992. Long-time state workers now contemplating another round of furloughs remember how well that one turned out.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)

December 5, 2008

Prince of Darkness is back

Joe Steffen, AKA the Prince of Darkness, just started a new blog this week in which he promises to write about whatever he feels like. (Is that redundant?) Anyway, he promises that he's no longer a partisan hatchet man and is speaking his own mind:

Know one thing, though: There will be no more strictly partisan attack moves coming from out of the Darkness. Nor will there be any more taking of swords or biting of bullets to protect anyone, dense or otherwise. My words will speak for themselves, without need or promise of further explanation. In the political world and elsewhere I'll rave when I feel a rave is deserved and I'll rant when I deem a rant to be justified.

Just call me an equal opportunity offender.

To prove the point of his independence from his former boss, Bob Ehrlich, Steffen concludes his inaugural post, "PS: Today is the 30th day since Maryland voters passed a slots bill. Bring on the Slots Machines!" A little off message for his old boss...

(Note: My apologies for forgetting to insert the link in an earlier version of this post.)

Posted by Andy Green at 3:59 PM | | Comments (1)

Sharfstein floated as FDA head

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the Baltimore health commissioner, is the choice of some in Congress to head the Food and Drug Administration.

Sharfstein's name has emerged as criticism mounts over the possibility of Barack Obama naming a longtime FDA insider as interim head of the agency. The Journal reports that Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, an influential Democrat on a panel that oversees the FDA, is opposed to the appointment of any current FDA employee, saying the agency needs a top-to-bottom overhaul.

Sharfstein, who has ties to congressional Democrats from his time in Rep. Henry Waxman's office, is working on the Obama transition.

Read more to see the full Journal article.

DECEMBER 5, 2008
Lawmakers Divided Over Next FDA Head, Fixing Safety Issues Article

WASHINGTON -- A top House Democrat is asking President-elect Barack Obama to avoid naming any current officials of Food and Drug Administration to lead the agency, even temporarily, reflecting a divergence of views on Capitol Hill on how to fix the FDA's problems.

Congressional aides said Democratic officials have discussed naming Janet Woodcock, a longtime FDA official, as interim head after the expected departure of the current commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach, a George W. Bush appointee. People close to the pharmaceutical industry also have been floating Dr. Woodcock's name as either interim or permanent FDA chief.

But Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who holds a key post on the House committee that oversees the FDA, is seeking to forestall that choice. In a letter Wednesday to Mr. Obama, Rep. Stupak wrote, "I would encourage you not to appoint any current senior FDA employee as Commissioner or Interim Commissioner of the FDA."

He added, "Current senior FDA employees are too close with the industries they regulate, creating a question of who they are working for." He called for a "complete change in the FDA's leadership." The letter doesn't name any officials.

The agency has come under fire from both parties in Congress in recent years for problems related to pharmaceutical safety, and Dr. Woodcock, director of the drug-safety division, has been involved in several controversies. They include contamination of the blood thinner heparin from Chinese ingredients; the 2004 withdrawal of the painkiller Vioxx, which was tied to heart attacks; and the FDA's delay in approving the Plan B contraceptive for over-the-counter sale amid political pressure.

Rep. Stupak, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations panel, called for Dr. Woodcock's resignation this year during the heparin scare. The ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, has asked for a congressional agency investigation of the FDA on this issue. He also has cited Dr. Woodcock for failing to disclose some meetings with industry representatives as required by federal law. Her office called it an administrative error.

Dr. Woodcock's supporters include other Republicans in the Senate and House and some Democrats, as well as members of the medical community. Jeffrey Drazen, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said "it's clear that she's made some mistakes," noting the long delay in the removal of Vioxx from the market.

But he called her a "smart, capable leader" who is able to learn from her errors. He said, "Someone's going to have to run the agency while they decide on a commissioner."
Raising the pressure for a quick decision is the departure of Dr. von Eschenbach, who hasn't announced his plans but is expected to leave soon. An interim appointment would give the Obama team more time to choose a permanent commissioner and let interested parties argue longer for their candidates. Dr. Woodcock said she has met members of the Obama transition team, but she declined to detail the discussions.

Some agency critics say the FDA needs an outsider to give the agency a top-to-bottom overhaul. Names floated by these critics include Joshua Sharfstein, who is head of the Baltimore Health Department and successfully pushed the FDA to limit the use of over-the-counter cough medicines in young children.

Another name floated is Steven Nissen, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who has raised questions about the safety of two blockbuster drugs, the anticholesterol medicine Vytorin and the diabetes pill Avandia.

Dr. Woodcock, a 20-year FDA employee, has defended both drugs publicly, and said in an interview, "People have convicted them without a trial."

Write to Alicia Mundy at

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:56 PM | | Comments (1)

More info on O'Malley salaries

Just got my hands on the Department of Legislative Services analysis of O'Malley's office staff budget for this year. This is a little wonky, but bear with me:

Traditionally, several staffers who worked in the governor's office have technically been paid through another agency. So although they work on the second floor, they would be paid by the department of budget or transportation or whatever. This year, O'Malley transferred some of those positions into his office, which accounts for 5.5 of the 7.5 new positions in the office this year. The other two are actually new. According to DLS, $423,000 of the net $496,000 increase in the office's budget this year is attributable to transferring those jobs. That mitigates the picture quite a bit.

You can check it out for yourself if you'd like. The pertinent parts are on pages 4-5.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:42 PM | | Comments (1)

Cardin to Obama: Lift that emissions ban

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is urging President-elect Barack Obama to fulfill a campaign pledge and lift a ban on strict California vehicle emissions limits that Maryland plans to mimic.

Cardin joined a bi-partisan group of senators who signed a letter to Obama today, asking him to quickly reverse a Bush administration decision prohibiting California and other states from enacting tough state-level limits on greenhouse gases pumped from car and truck tailpipes.

"When it comes to the challenge of global warming, time is not on our side," the letter says. "Every day that we delay action makes it harder to achieve the cuts in pollution that are needed to avoid the most dangerous effects of global warming. The time to start is now.

"Granting California’s request for waiver authority under section 209 of the Clean Air Act will in turn allow all other states to adopt the same program under section 177 of the Act," the letter says. "Fourteen other states have adopted California’s standards, or are in the process of adopting them. Another four are moving toward adopting the California standards. All together, those 19 states represent more than 152,000,000 Americans – a majority of the U.S. population."

In January, Maryland joined California and 14 other states in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Bush decision. In 2007, Maryland lawmakers adopted a law requiring a 30 percent reduction in vehicle greenhouse gases by 2016. Obama could make the lawsuit moot.

Cardin was one of 15 senators to sign the letter. Sen. Barbara Mikulski wasn't one of them.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:06 PM | | Comments (0)

Salaries in O'Malley's office

A number of people have commented on yesterday's post about furloughs that first thing, O'Malley should cut the salary increases he gave to his staff when he took over for Ehrlich. Some of his department heads make significantly more than their predecessors did during the Ehrlich administration. It's the price of getting top talent, O'Malley says (and peanuts in the grand scheme of the state's budget problems), but the symbolism isn't good. (Kinda like how paying GM's CEO a dollar a year wouldn't do much to fix the company's problems, but it sure makes people feel better to know they aren't sacrificing to pay that guy a huge salary.)

It'll take a little while to compile all the figures for cabinet heads and such, but a pretty simple comparison of the budgets for the governor's office itself shows O'Malley is spending more there than his predecessor did. In his final budget, Ehrlich spent $7,827,872 on salaries and benefits for 80 employees in his office. This year, O'Malley budgeted $8,397,992 for salaries and benefits for 87.5 employees. (We won't know until well after the end of the fiscal year how much will actually get spent, but that's what O'Malley proposed in the fiscal 2009 budget, so it's a reasonably fair comparison.)

O'Malley's salary of $150,000 is set by law and is the same amount Ehrlich earned. Same goes for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's pay of $125,000, which is unchanged since the days of Michael Steele. And Ehrlich paid his chief of staff, Chip DiPaula, $198,117, according to budget documents, wherease O"Malley's top aide, Michael Enright, is pulling down $150,000.

After that, it's a little difficult to make person-to-person comparisons. Ehlich's communications guys (Paul Schurick and Greg Massoni) made way more money than Rick Abbruzzese does, but the structure of that and other offices is a little different than it was then, so it's probably best to look at the overall figures.

In his last budget, Ehrlich had 77 aides, administrators and managers in his office, pulling down a total of $5,195,616 in salary. O'Malley's most recent budget calls for 84.5 employees making a total of $6,133,483.

Overall, O'Malley  budgeted for payroll in the governor's office of 15.7 percent more than it was in the last year of the Ehrlich administration.

It's interesting to note that salaries and benefits in the governor's office actually went down slightly in O'Malley's first year, but they jumped up quite a bit in the governor's proposal last January. (Right after the special session with the tax increases and budget cuts in various agencies.)

Posted by Andy Green at 9:50 AM | | Comments (31)

December 4, 2008

AFSCME trying to kill furloughs

State AFSCME folks tell us they're trying to negotiate a money-saving plan with O'Malley that wouldn't include furloughs. They won't say what their alternative is, though. If anybody out there knows, by all means, drop me a line.
Posted by Andy Green at 6:37 PM | | Comments (10)

GOP weighs in on Maryland furloughs

The state Republican party sent out a broadside against Gov. Martin O'Malley's plans for state worker furloughs this afternoon, calling them "sleight of hand." The party chairman, Jim Pelura, says in the news release:

"While I would applaud attempts to cut truly wasteful spending, this game that Governor O’Malley continues to play is bordering on the ridiculous. In one hand, O’Malley dangles unpaid leave for state employees, including those making less than $40,000 who can least afford it.  This follows revelations from earlier this year that O’Malley’s senior staff got huge raises over their predecessors when they were hired. Perhaps they should take reductions.

“If the governor had taken the suggestion of Republicans in the General Assembly and level funded the budget for a year, there would be no need for these antics.  Instead of playing shell games, Governor O’Malley and the Democrat leadership in the General Assembly should sit down and really make some hard choices to cut out wasteful spending.  In addition, the Republican leaders in the General Assembly have put politics aside and repeatedly offered to assist in this effort. They should be taken up on that offer."

(In fairness, it should be noted that this isn't exactly O'Malley's only budget cutting plan; it comes on the heels of well over $1 billion in budget cuts over the last year or so, and is prelude to about $200 million more in cuts the governor has said he will propose in the coming weeks.)

Posted by Andy Green at 4:51 PM | | Comments (33)

Maryland budget crunch? Frank Conaway's got a plan

Based on many of your comments to the earlier posts about state employee furloughs, there may be some popular support for City Circuit Clerk Frank M. Conaway's plan for saving government money: Stop paying elected officials so much. He just sent out a news release calling on "all elected and appointed offficials in every branch of government in Maryland to voluntarily give back a portion of their paycheck."

"All elected officials are drinking out of the public trough, and in these difficult times, elected officials should lead the way in showing that the burden of sacrifice falls first on those with the greatest responsibility.

"I call on all elected and appointed officials, regardless of their positions, to plant themselves at the forefront of this action. Furthermore, I hope to find a way for any contributions made by Maryland taxpayers to be a tax deduction."

If state lawmakers accepted Conaway's challenge, most would give up about $700 (based on a $43,500 annual salary and 250 yearly workdays; although some hard-cores could argue for a $1,900 give-back if they assume that part-time lawmakers are compensated for the 90-day Assembly session and nothing more).

Given the public anxiety over the economic situation (and the general call for the heads of corporate execs who take bailouts and then go on corporate retreats and such), it's surprising that we're not seeing more populism of this sort from elected offcials, particularly from Republicans. I'm kind of shocked that my prediction from yesterday that the Maryland GOP would be blasting us with press releases about the juxtaposition of buying state preservation land and pursuing employee furloughs at the same time has not come true.

In fact, the only word we've heard from the state Repbulican party today was a fund-raising appeal from Chairman Jim Pelura who wants to make sure you keep the GOP in your holiday gift-giving plans.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:59 PM | | Comments (4)

Seize the day off!

Looks like Gov. O'Malley is going to take his five furlough days along with the rest of state employees. (Cost to him: Somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,900, depending on how you calculate it.) Any suggestions for what he should do with his new free time? O'Malley's March reunion tour? Go to Ireland and don't come back?
Posted by Andy Green at 9:34 AM | | Comments (89)

December 3, 2008

Who was that woman in the red dress?

We thought we'd provide a little more information about that mysterious woman who appeared on page 3 of today's Baltimore Sun.

Our colleagues, reporter Brent Jones and photgrapher Elizabeth Malby, were assigned yesterday to cover a Baltimore reception of the Weinberg Foundation, at which $100 million in grants to non-profits were distributed.

The event attracted some of the most powerful and well-known figures in the state, including Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin. The photograph, however, featured someone you may not recognize: Kristin Jones.

For those of you who don't know, Jones certainly ranks among the influentials in Maryland. As the top aide to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Jones's fingerprints are on much of the important legislation that comes out of Annapolis, particularly in the area of health care.

Her name and image aren't regularly publicized, however. Today, we thought we would rectify that. (She's also half of a notable Annapolis power couple, but Andy Green says we should let her stand on her own merits.)


Posted by David Nitkin at 2:15 PM | | Comments (0)

Maryland buys land amid budget crunch

Today the governor is announcing a batch of land purchases through the state's preservation program -- expected to total between $60 million and $70 million. That's coming at the same time that the governor is talking about the need for major budget cuts and likely the first furlough of state employees since the early 1990s. Talk about awkward timing!

The budgetary answer for why this isn't completely nuts is that the land preservation funds come from a dedicated pot of money generated through real estate transfer taxes, and the cuts and furloughs are meant to address an expected shortfall in the general fund. Moreover, it makes sense to buy land when real estate prices are dropping. Nonetheless, I can already imagine the Grinch-who-stole-Christmas press release coming out of the legislature's Republican caucus.

So why go forward with the land purchase when the state's in so much financial trouble?

Whatever the short term political hit, it does contribute to a very conscious effort by the O'Malley adminsitration to address problems differently than the Ehrlich administration did. During its tough budget times, the Ehrlich administration raided state open space funds (and transportation funds and whatever other funds they could find) as part of an effort to avoid at all costs raising the income or sales tax. Beyond not buying new land, Ehrlich famously (and unsuccessfully) attempted to sell off some of the land the state already had.

O'Malley sharply criticized Ehrlich for those moves during the 2006 campaign, saying his Republican predecessor was robbing Peter to pay Paul in an effort to avoid hard choices. O'Malley, on the other hand, appears to take some perverse pleasure in cultivating an image of someone who tackles problems head on, whatever the cost. Thus, using open space funds for something other than open space is not the kind of thing he'd do.

In 2006, back when things were going relatively well, Maryland voters picked O'Malley's approach over Ehrlich's. How things will look in 2010 is anybody's guess.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:51 AM | | Comments (21)

December 2, 2008

Harris campaign manager moving on, but remains focused on Maryland

Chris Meekins was all smiles for most of the summer. His candidate, state Sen. Andy Harris, had knocked off incumbent Wayne Gilchrest in a congressional primary, and Meekins had been promoted from spokesman to campaign manager.

A win by Harris -- which seemed probable for much of the year -- would make the world his oyster.

But Harris's fortunes faded, and Democrat Frank Kratovil won the 1st District. So instead of going to Capitol Hill as a chief of staff, Meekins is back to the grindstone, drumming up political clients and looking for the next big thing.

"I have joined Jamestown Associates in the D.C. office. Jamestown Associates is a full-service political consulting and public affairs firm specializing in television advertising, direct mail, and issues communication," Meekins said in an email that landed in reporters' in-boxes today. "I will be working with members of Congress on their franked mail, finding new clients, and assisting with the development of direct mail, television, and radio advertisements for races around the country (VA election less than a year away).

"While I enjoyed the 80-100 hour work weeks and the marathon 17-month long campaign, it is nice to be returning to a 'normal' life. I am still living in Maryland and plan to remain involved in Maryland politics. I will continue to advocate for issues I believe in and assist candidates who will move our state in a positive direction."

We wish Chris -- a sharp young political mind with a bright future -- all the best.

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:09 PM | | Comments (4)

Obama should copy DeMarco, author says

As Barack Obama and his advisers turn a campaign organization into a lobbying movement, they should model themselves after Maryland's own Vincent DeMarco.

That's the view of Michael Pertschuk, the co-founder of the Advocacy Institute who is writing a book about DeMarco.

Pertschuk penned a piece in the most recent edition of The Nation that describes DeMarco's evolution from a Johns Hopkins University student who became a leader of Young Democrats of Maryland into a statewide organizing tsunami who, over two decades "defeated...the gun lobby, six times; the tobacco lobby, three times; and, five times over the past ten years, the insurance and other corporate lobbies, including Wal-Mart, that were defending the healthcare system status quo."

DeMarco is currently head of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, which continues its push in Annapolis for better access to healthcare.

Pertshuk says that DeMarco's campaigns share common features that Obama should emulate:
reaching out to broad constituencies; educating the public about the worthiness of the goal before lobbying begins; and focusing on the election cycle.

Pertshuk provides a good answer to the question of why Obama needs such a strategy, given his impressive victory and the gains made by Democrats in Congress. "The answer is the 15,965 registered Washington lobbyists, who spent $2.4 billion on lobbying just between January and September."

DeMarco knows a thing or two about facing down high priced lobbyists, and winning. Click to below to read the full Nation article, which, as part, we assume, of "educating the public," was forwarded to us by DeMarco himself.

Election's Over--Time to Begin
By Michael Pertschuk
This article appeared in the December 15, 2008 edition of The Nation.

You've built an organization in your community and across the country that will continue to work for change--whether it's by building grassroots support for legislation, backing state and local candidates, or sharing organizing techniques to effect change in your neighborhood. Your hard work built this movement. Now it's up to you to decide how we move forward. --David Plouffe, Obama campaign manager

 Election's Over--Time to Begin
Activism & Organizing
Michael Pertschuk: How millions of Obama volunteers can go to work for a progressive agenda.
What do the Obama campaign organizers do now?

In the election's wake, left without a common cause are at least 20,000 seasoned and tested organizers. Newsweek's Howard Fineman reports that by election day, these organizers had mobilized 5 million volunteers. To them must be added the hundreds of thousands of organizers and volunteers who performed parallel service for MoveOn, ACORN and other independent election campaign organizing efforts.

So, what, if anything, are the organizers to do next? Why not harness their skills to mobilize the millions of Obama volunteers--many of whom found their work to be the uplifting and energizing experience of a lifetime--into an army of demand for Congressional action on the Obama agenda and, where needed, to demand even more than Obama is willing to ask for?

With a progressive president and a progressive Congress, why should this be necessary? The answer is the 15,965 registered Washington lobbyists, who spent $2.4 billion on lobbying just between January and September. Doubtless, with a Democratic president and Congress threatening actually to re-regulate business, they will have at least this formidable a war chest for 2009.

There was a blustery derby in the Democratic primaries about who could be tougher in standing up to the lobbies. But belligerent talk is a featherweight counterweight to the entrenched power of money. Fear, not bluster, is the only counterweight--the officeholder's fear of getting thrown out of office in the next election. But generating reality-based fear among power holders can be done only by massive organizing that threatens retribution at the polls.

Frustrating the vision of elected progressive leaders is what establishment lobbies do. But there are also models of progressive grassroots organizing that have added weight to bolster good leaders' demands. I want to describe one in particular, a template that the Obama organizers, volunteers and funders should find as engaging and rewarding as the work they have just finished.

This model had its genesis in the mid-1980s, when a small cadre of political students at Johns Hopkins University won control of the Young Democrats of Maryland, and for the next several years took turns lobbying through the State Legislature a series of significant progressive reforms. They never stopped. By 1989 their leader, Vincent DeMarco, with his Hopkins colleagues and a growing band of activists, was recruited by frustrated progressive executive and legislative leaders, blocked in the legislature by lobbyists, to mobilize public opinion.

Over the next two decades, they defeated, in serial statewide legislative and initiative campaigns, the gun lobby, six times; the tobacco lobby, three times; and, five times over the past ten years, the insurance and other corporate lobbies, including Wal-Mart, that were defending the healthcare system status quo. DeMarco's campaign template employs three strategies that conventional public interest campaigns overlook, or shun, but Obama campaigners would find useful: (1) reaching out to constituencies far broader and deeper than does the usual policy advocacy coalition; (2) educating the public to the need, the urgency, the worthiness of the policy before lobbying; and (3) then focusing on the election cycle.

DeMarco's campaigners organized uncommonly broad coalitions of children and youth advocates, health policy advocates, unions, civic associations, churches and other faith communities, and even some less benighted business interests: by 1996 in support of handgun control measures, more than 150 such organizations statewide; by 1999 for huge tobacco tax increases, more than 350 organizations statewide; by 2004 for several measures to reach toward "Healthcare for All," more than 1,000 Maryland organizations.

The breadth of their organizing was manifest July 30 when a new coalition that DeMarco had visualized and organized, working with the National Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, succeeded in gaining a veto-proof 326-to-102 majority in the US House of Representatives for broad FDA regulation of the tobacco industry and its marketing practices. This they achieved, after decades of strong opposition from the tobacco lobby, by bonding traditional health advocates with multi- issue faith lobbyists ("Faith United Against Tobacco"), from the liberal United Methodists to the conservative Southern Baptists. This unlikely alliance with the Southern Baptists produced yes votes from half of House Republicans.

What makes these achievements resonate now is that in most similar policy campaigns, Obama's campaign veterans could engage in aggressive voter education designed to pressure all candidates for executive or legislative office to sign a pledge to vote for Obama's priority legislative proposals. The campaigners would follow up by publicizing the names of the pledge supporters and the refuseniks. In each election the voters rewarded pledge supporters and kicked out at least some of the nonsigners. Then the campaigners monitored the legislators, making sure they remained faithful to their pledges. (And held their feet to the fire if they didn't!)

Just as in this past election, participation in these successive campaigns can prove equally rewarding and addictive. The words of DeMarco's colleagues attest to this. One activist explained that these campaigns "give those liberal activists who are involved in various causes something to do that's very concrete, very tangible." Another: "You get that incredible feeling that you're doing good for the world; you're about to save somebody's life; you're about to prevent suffering. Like everybody else involved, when the opportunity comes around to work on another issue campaign you jump right back on. You know you're going to be on a wonderful ride, a ride worth taking."

And most relevant for those who toiled in the Obama campaign is this from one of DeMarco's co-organizers: "When you're successful in a campaign, you get it in your blood. You realize how exciting it is, and you want to keep doing it forever!"

For the progressive legislative leaders who enlisted DeMarco's support, the effect was also empowering. Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, now the highly celebrated chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, served for many years in the Maryland Senate. He was a close ally of DeMarco's and the "inside" leader in many of his campaigns. Unlike all the other public interest lobbyists who came to him, says Van Hollen, DeMarco brought with him "a grassroots army of citizens paying attention."

The DeMarco template is well suited to the tasks performed by Obama's organizers and volunteers, because these policy campaigns succeeded by focusing on elections. President-elect Obama's supporters have a capacity to initiate and lead election campaigns focused on policy pledges--but on a much grander scale. The traditional progressive constituencies are primed to work for his agenda. And the thousands of organizers who marshaled those constituencies for Obama, not unlike DeMarco and his co-workers, are fully capable of making that happen.

The challenge is to transform a grassroots Goliath organized with only the election in mind into an equally formidable, coordinated and empowered force to transform the public will on the policies that the voters supported into focused political pressure on Congress.
And when even a good president strays or caves, hold his feet to the fire.

 Get The Nation at home (and online!) for 75 cents a week!
 If you like this article, consider making a donation to The Nation.

About Michael Pertschuk
Michael Pertschuk, co-founder of the Advocacy Institute, is completing The DeMarco Factor: Transforming Public Will Into Political Power, to be published in fall 2009.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:41 PM | | Comments (0)

Schaller: U.S. isn't so conservative

Tom Schaller makes an interesting argument in his column today on The Sun's op-ed page, essentially attempting to debunk the conventional wisdom peddled by Karl Rove et. al. that the U.S. remains a center-right nation, Barack Obama's victory notwithstanding. The chief piece of evidence in the debate is the fact that roughly the same percentages of people identify themselves as liberal, moderate and conservative as they have for years:

The center-right talking point emerged because despite a 9-point net swing in the margin of Mr. Bush's popular-vote victory four years ago and Mr. Obama's four week's ago, the shares of Americans who in 2008 polls identified themselves as "liberal," "moderate" or "conservative" essentially held steady from 2004. Those describing themselves as "liberals" edged up from 21 percent to 22 percent, while self-described "conservatives" slipped from 45 percent to 44 percent, with "moderates" holding steady at 34 percent.

Schaller's contention is that this statistic is basically meaningless, in that "moderate" can mean a lot of things, as can "liberal" and "conservative." When someone says "modrate" they may lean liberal on a host of issues, or they may not.

The whole thing strikes me as a cousin of the argument over whether Maryland is a liberal state. There's no question that it's a solidly Democratic state, but what that means in various individual circumstances can vary tremendously. You've got, for example, Democrats Dutch Ruppersberger and Donna Edwards in the state's Congressional delegation. But would anyone argue that the two are philosophical soulmates? She and her constituents are pretty clearly liberal. He and his would, by most measures, be called conservative. There are plenty of Democratic legislators who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and plenty of others (particularly in the Legislative Black Caucus) that are fiscally liberal but pretty socially conservative.

The argument about just how liberal or conservative Maryland's electorate is gets raised all the time by groups like Progressive Maryland and Health Care for All, both of which claim that despite being overwhelmingly Democratic, the state's leaders are less liberal than voters on a whole host of issues. Things like the smoking ban or state funding for stem cell research poll through the roof in Maryland but had tough going in the legislature.

The trick, though, is the same as the liberal-moderate-conservative question in national polls: It all depends on how you frame the issue. Liberal advocacy groups routinely wave around polls showing widespread support for their proposals, even if they would mean higher taxes. But as evidenced by Gov. O'Malley's horrible poll numbers in the wake of last year's special session, voters are a lot less sanguine when tax increases are real and not hypothetical.

So is Maryland a liberal state? It depends on who you ask, and how you ask the question.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:01 AM | | Comments (1)

Cummings whacks AIG on bonuses

Rep. Elijah Cummings kept up his fusilaide against AIG today with a letter sharply criticizing the company for continuing a "retention bonus" program for its executives even as it accepts taxpayer financed bailouts to the tune of $150 billion. Cummings had some national profile when he was head of the Congressional Black Caucus (he had enough juice and/or prescience, for example, to get a certain Senate candidate from Illinois to do a fund-raiser for the group back in 2004), but the AIG bailout has really launched him into the big time. He's getting loads of interviews on CNN and plenty of camera time grilling executives during hearings of the Joint Economic Committee.

Today's letter lets 'em have it: "...given the massive layoffs occurring at other major financial entities, such as Citibank – the American taxpayers have a right to know why senior executives at AIG, who are frankly lucky to still have jobs, need to receive additional bonus payments of any kind to retain them at AIG."

Cummings is demanding to know who's getting the bonuses, how much they're getting and where the money is coming from.

As long as the economy is in turmoil, it looks like there's no downside to populist outrage. Cummings has a good thing going, politically speaking, and it looks like he has no intention of letting up.

Full text of the letter after the jump.

Mr. Edward M. Liddy
Chief Executive Officer
American International Group, Inc.
70 Pine Street
New York, NY 10270
Dear Mr. Liddy:
I write today to request that American International Group (AIG) fully disclose to the public the extent of the payments being made to senior company executives under your employee “retention program.”  The limited information that is currently available to the public about this program is insufficient to constitute the level of disclosure that the American taxpayers, who have bailed out this firm repeatedly in recent weeks, have the right to expect.
In form 8-K dated September 22, 2008, and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), AIG disclosed the following: “On September 22, 2008, a retention program of American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”) became effective. The program applies to approximately 130 executives and consists of cash awards payable 60 percent in December 2008 and 40 percent in December 2009.”
AIG has recently indicated that it will not provide performance bonuses in 2008.  However, in what appears to be a disingenuous “slight of hand,” AIG has announced its intention to continue to provide the retention program payments (commonly known as retention bonuses) previously announced in September – albeit some executives have apparently opted to delay receipt of these payments (but not to forgo them).  Thus, in form 8-K dated November 24, 2008, and filed with the SEC, AIG disclosed the following: “On November 24, 2008, the Executive Officers of American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”) who participate in its previously disclosed retention program, including Chief Financial Officer David Herzog and Executive Vice President Jay Wintrob, volunteered to delay payments thereunder, with the first installment being delayed from December 2008 until April 2009 and the second installment being delayed from December 2009 until April 2010. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Edward M. Liddy does not participate in this program.”
In September of this year (and several days prior to the SEC filing announcing the “retention program”), the U.S. taxpayers provided a bailout loan of $85 billion to keep AIG afloat; in return, the federal government received an ownership stake in the firm.  Subsequent actions increased the total size of the bailout to more than $150 billion – and restructured some of the initial loans provided to the firm.  Without taxpayer intervention, AIG would have ceased to exist and, to be blunt, all of its employees would have lost their jobs.
Against this background – and given the massive layoffs occurring at other major financial entities, such as Citibank – the American taxpayers have a right to know why senior executives at AIG, who are frankly lucky to still have jobs, need to receive additional bonus payments of any kind to retain them at AIG.  To that end, I request that AIG disclose to the public the following information:
  1. Which executives in which AIG divisions are receiving the retention payments – and how much is each executive receiving?  What are the base salaries of the executives receiving the retention payments?
  2. Are all executives delaying receipt of these payments until April 2009 – or, if any executive is not delaying receipt of the payments, which executive or executives is/are receiving payments in December 2008 and how much is each executive receiving?
  3. Why is it necessary for any AIG executive to receive a retention payment – and why is it necessary that these be scheduled for April 2009 and April 2010?
  4. What will be the source of the retention payments provided in 2009 and 2010?
AIG has previously claimed in correspondence to me that it is working “to create a transparent, accountable culture to regain the trust of the American people.”  The disclosure of the information requested here will be a first step toward providing the kind of transparency that the American people have the right to expect from a private firm to which they have provided more than $150 billion in financial assistance.
Elijah E. Cummings
Member of Congress
Posted by Andy Green at 10:11 AM | | Comments (3)

December 1, 2008

Martin O'Malley: Buttering both the White House and Foggy Bottom sides of his bread

Gov. Martin O’Malley praised President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. That’s not surprising, considering O’Malley strongly backed Clinton in her bid for the Democratic nomination against Obama.

But when asked about news of the Cabinet pick today, O’Malley made a point of mentioning his ties to both former rivals. O’Malley will be among the governors meeting with Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden in Philadelphia tomorrow for a summit during which they will discuss the economic crisis.

"I’m filled with hope and optimism about this new administration," O’Malley said in Annapolis today. "I’ve got to go catch a train and go meet with President-elect Obama, and I haven’t been this hopeful about our country’s future in eight years. It’s a very exciting time, and he’s made some great selections today in Hillary Clinton and the others that he’s chosen."

Meanwhile, O’Malley reinforced his already deep ties to the Emerald Isle by hosting a luncheon for Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness. They dined at the governor’s mansion before sitting through a presentation on StateStat, the performance-based evaluation system that O’Malley’s administration uses to track agencies.

-- Laura Smitherman

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:13 PM | | Comments (1)

Death, taxes and Vinnie DeMarco

In Maryland, there's a third thing you can count on: When January rolls around, Vinnie DeMarco will have a bill he's pushing in the General Assembly. This year's entrant looks to be a push to increase Maryland's alcohol taxes, which are among the lowest in the nation and which haven't been changed in decades, in an effort to fund an expansion of health care. He's got a press conference scheduled to push the idea on Wednesday.

Vinnie, who is the head of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, has been working for years to expand health care access in Maryland, with enough success to seriously annoy his detractors. His strategy is to go after health care expansion one piece at a time, rather than pushing for a Massachusetts-style all-in-one push for universal coverage.

This year's piece -- increasing the alcohol tax by about a dime a drink to fund health care expansion -- would seem to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that Annapolis is all tax-increased out after the 2007 special legislative session, and that legislators will be loathe to support any expansion of spending at all amid Maryland's fiscal free-fall.

But say what you will about Vinnie, he never gives up, and he's accomplished some pretty improbable things before, notably last year's $1 a pack cigarette tax increase and the infamous Wal-Mart bill of 2005. Even if this year's session gets subsumed in fights over the budget and the death penalty, look for him to make sure health care is at least part of the discussion.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:33 PM | | Comments (0)

Obama cabinet picks and what might have been

When Gov. Martin O'Malley saw Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano on stage today being nominated as the next secretary of Homeland Security, did he have a twinge of what might have been?

O'Malley was one of the first governors to endorse New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for president. Napolitano provided a key Obama endorsement just after his loss to Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. Napolitano has key homeland security credentials because of her experience with immigration as governor of a border state. O'Malley has key homeland security credentials because of his advocacy on the issue as Baltimore mayor.

There's no telling whether O'Malley would have been interested in leaving the State House for a federal post. But if Hillary Clinton had been on the stage today as president-elect instead of future secretary of state, might Maryland's governor have been standing next to her ready to take a seat in the cabinet?

Posted by Andy Green at 1:44 PM | | Comments (1)

Marylanders opening wallets for Obama transition

The Obama transition operation, which is supplementing government funds with private donations to finance its activities, released its first list of donors today. As of Nov. 15, a total of $1,170,937.44 had been raised from 1,776 donors, including two Maryland couples that gave $10,000 each.

The Obama-Biden Transition project says it only accepts contributions from individuals' personal funds. It refuses all donations from corporations, labor unions, and PACs. Individuals may not donate more than $5,000. It also refuses all contributions from registered federal lobbyists and registered foreign agents.

Here are Marylanders who have donated $1,000 or more, with their place of residence and their employer, as reported by the transition office.

$5,000--Stewart Bainum Jr., Chevy Chase, Choice Hotels International.
Sandra Bainum, Chevy Chase, self-employed.
John Hursman, Ellicott City, Hursman Econometrics Advisors
Miriam L. Johnson, Cheverly, self-employed.
Aris Mardirossian, Potomac, Technology Patents, Inc.
Marianne Mardirossian, Potomac, no employer listed.
Majid Naderkhani, Bethesda, Excelacom.
John Register, Ellicott City, no employer listed.
Frank White Jr., Silver Spring, no employer listed.

$2,500--Colette Rhoney, Cabin John, George Washington University.

$1,000--Mayer Baker, Baltimore, self-employed.
Paul Berman, Silver Spring, Covington & Burling.
Barbara Fletcher, Bethesda, retired.
David Rogers, Bethesda, McDermott Will.
Michael Rowny, Chevy Chase, Rowny Capital.

A full list of donors can be found at

-- Paul West, Washington Bureau

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:46 PM | | Comments (0)
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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