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January 31, 2009

Are Republicans Brain Dead?

Political parties aren’t human beings. You can’t hook them to a machine and check their vital signs.

But when a party goes braindead, it’s usually easy to tell. These days, clues are everywhere that Republicans are fresh out of ideas.

Blaming the messenger or saying the problem is simply a failure to communicate are classic indicators that a party lacks a pulse. Those excuses were prominent lines the other day when the senior Republican in the land, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, addressed party leaders.

McConnell warned Republicans that they were in danger of “slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one." He also said the time had come for the party to “re-examine itself.”

But he offered no new ideas.

It’s “clear our message isn’t getting out to nearly as many people as it should,” he said. “We need to work harder.”

If only it were that simple.

Selecting former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, an African-American, as national chairman should be helpful for a party with a serious diversity deficit. But finding a path out of the wilderness in the foreseeable future could take a long time.

Democrats needed a dozen years to recover from the battering Ronald Reagan gave them in 1980. Bill Clinton eventually led them back to the White House on a new, centrist message of fiscal responsibility.

Republican officials from around the country, who gathered here over the past few days to elect a new leader and ponder their party’s grim prospects, had the future very much on their minds.

They got a brutally honest, three-hour briefing from seven leading Republican pollsters. In depressing detail, they spelled out just how bad things look politically.

Alex Gage, among the gurus who spoke, said the party is worse off than it was after President Richard Nixon’s resignation, almost 35 years ago. Back then, Republicans merely had to rebound from the unpopularity of a disgraced president.

They face far more difficult problems now, including a lack of credibility with much of the public and the disappearance of millions of former Republican voters.

Using business terms, Gage pointed out that the party has lost "25 percent of our customer base." He was referring to the sharp drop in the number of Americans who consider themselves Republicans.

During the Bush era, the letter “W,” taken from the 43rd president’s middle name, was a rallying symbol for Republicans. Today, it could just as readily stand for Whig, an earlier anti-Democrat party that went out of business after breaking apart over the issue of slavery.

Conservative commentator John Fund, addressing Republican National Committee members the other day, hinted that they could follow the Whig Party into oblivion. That might happen if they don’t start attracting the millions of younger Americans who backed Barack Obama by a lopsided margin and are developing a Democratic voting habit that will be hard to break.

An even more dangerous demographic time bomb for Republicans is the widespread rejection of the party’s brand by Hispanics, who will be fully one-fifth of all voters in just 11 years.

“It’s very clear that for Republicans to win in the future, they have to got to appeal more to minorities, especially Asians and Hispanics,” said Whit Ayres, another of the pollsters who briefed party leaders. He was interviewed before Steele’s selection as chairman gave Republicans a new opportunity to reach out.

A significant segment of the Hispanic population regards Republicans as their enemy, party strategists warn. The unresolved issue of immigration reform could further enflame anti-Republican attitudes, especially if conservatives continue to be seen as a major source of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Maybe the best news, at the moment, is that few Americans are paying much attention at all to Republicans, “other than Republicans themselves,” said Jan Van Lohuizen, regarded as one of the party’s smartest thinkers.

That lack of general interest is giving Republicans a chance to repair relations with their base, a first step in the recovery process.

The recent 173-0 vote against the Obama stimulus plan by House Republicans was designed to signal conservatives that the party is returning to its tight-fisted fiscal roots.

At a breakfast yesterday with RNC members, Steele drew loud applause when he praised Republican lawmakers for laying that “huge goose egg” on the president’s desk.

He advised party officials to “rev up your machines back home” and let voters know “that Republicans are working hard to make sure the American people’s wallets, their businesses, their families are protected.”

Party strategists say Republicans still need to devise new ideas that represent solutions to everyday problems of the economy, health care, energy, education and the environment.

"You can’t just say ‘No,’" said Van Lohuizen, the Republican pollster.

For now, though, saying “No,” seems to be the plan. Facing a Democratic president with high approval ratings and a solid Democratic majority in Congress, the Republican comeback strategy is to hunker down and hold out for better days. It could be a long wait.



Posted by Paul West at 4:07 PM | | Comments (13)
        

January 30, 2009

Steele wins RNC chair

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has just been elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, beating South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson 91-77 in the sixth round of voting.

Steele becomes the party's first black chairman.

As Paul West writes,

The election turned into an outsider-insider contest, with Steele attempting to buck tradition by defeating a sitting member of the Republican National Committee. The Marylander served on the panel in the early part of this decade, when he was chairman of the state Republican party, but is no longer active.

He faced an uphill challenge against Dawson, who pulled ahead on the fourth ballot for the first time.

Mike Duncan of Kentucky, the incumbent chairman, led in the first round but faded after it became clear that he could not gain the 85 votes needed to win. He withdrew after the third round but did not publicly endorse a successor.

"Obviously the winds of change are blowing at the RNC," said Duncan, who has served on the committee for 17 years.


Read the rest of the story here.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:13 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Fifth Round RNC Balloting: Steele Leading, Within 6 Votes of Victory

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele pulled into the lead on the fifth ballot in the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Steele was within 6 votes of the 85 needed to win. He leapfrogged over South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson after former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who was running last, dropped out and endorsed Steele.

Following the fifth round, the trailing candidate, Michigan Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis, withdrew without making an endorsement.

Here are the results after the fifth round:

Michael Steele--79

Katon Dawson--69

Saul Anuzis...20

The sixth and presumably final ballot will take place in 15 minutes.

Posted by Paul West at 3:33 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Fourth Round RNC Balloting: Steele Falls To Second In Tough Two-Way Contest

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele slipped into second place after four rounds of balloting today in the race to become Republican National chairman.

The election turned into an outsider-insider contest, with Steele attempting to buck tradition by defeating a sitting member of the Republican National Committee. The Marylander served on the panel in the early part of this decade, when he was chairman of the state Republican party, but is no longer active.

He faced an uphill challenge against South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson, who was pulled ahead on the fourth ballot for the first time. Dawson led Steele by two votes as other contenders failed to progress and their supporters switched sides in the secret-ballot election.

Mike Duncan of Kentucky, the incumbent chairman, led in the first round but faded after it became clear that he could not gain the 85 votes needed to win. He withdrew after the third round but did not publicly endorse a successor.

“Obviously the winds of change are blowing at the RNC,” said Duncan, who has served on the committee for 17 years.

Duncan was hand-picked for the chairmanship two years ago by President George W. Bush and his political adviser, Karl Rove. Republican setbacks in the 2006 and 2008 elections fed a mood for change among the 168-member committee, which has joined other members of the party in criticizing Bush’s leadership.

Two other candidates remained in the race, Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, another outsider. Anuzis failed to gain support in the third round and Blackwell, who was last on every ballot, continued to lose votes.

The results of the fourth round were as follows:

Katon Dawson--62

Michael Steele—60

Saul Anuzis—31

Ken Blackwell—15

Balloting in the fifth and possibly decisive round begins in 15 minutes.


Posted by Paul West at 2:35 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Third Round RNC Balloting: Steele Pulls Ahead

Here are the results of the third round of the race for RNC chairman. It takes 85 votes to win.

Michael Steele--51

Mike Duncan (incumbent)--44

Katon Dawson--34

Saul Anuzis--24

Ken Blackwell--15


See earlier posts today on the Maryland Politics blog to compare the results of the first three rounds and for more background on the candidates.

Between rounds two and three, Steele gained three votes to pull into the lead. But Dawson gained five and will be closely watched in the next round, which could provide a clear picture of the likely winner.
Anuzis gained none. Duncan lost four votes and Blackwell lost four.

At the moment, it looks like a race between Steele, who is regarded as an outsider, even though he once served on the committee, and Dawson, the insider, which is usually the one who wins. Anuzis, another insider, is still alive but a longshot for now. Duncan, the incumbent, who got the job from President George W. Bush, and Blackwell, an outsider, are finished.

The next round of voting will start in 15 minutes.

Posted by Paul West at 1:28 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Second Round RNC Balloting: Steele Tied for Lead

Here are the results of the second round of balloting in the race for RNC chairman. Refer to previous posting on the Maryland Politics blog to compare changes from the first round.

Remember, it takes 85 to win.

Mike Duncan (incumbent) --48

Michael Steele--48

Katon Dawson--29

Saul Anuzis--24

Ken Blackwell--19

There will be a 15-minute break before the next round begins. The third round is expected to show more changes than the second round, and it may well point the way to the winner.

Posted by Paul West at 12:53 PM | | Comments (1)
        

First Round RNC Election: Duncan Leads, Steele A Close Second

Here are the results of the first round of the RNC Chairman's election:

Mike Duncan (incumbent)--52

Michael Steele--46

Katon Dawson--28

Saul Anuzis--22

Ken Blackwell--20

Applause greeted Steele's second-place total, which was much closer to Duncan than many had anticipated. The question now is whether Duncan's total begins to slip.

Looked at another way, the vast majority of votes were cast for change. Where Duncan's votes go, assuming he falls short, could determine the outcome.

There had been rumors, not flatly denied by Steele aides, that Duncan would throw his support to Steele after the first couple of ballots if it became clear that he couldn't win.

Of course, there's no guarantee that his supporters will follow his advice.

It takes a total of 85 votes to win. The next round of balloting will begin in 15 minutes.

Posted by Paul West at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Death penalty repeal gains momentum

Julie Bykowicz and Gadi Dechter report today on some potentially meaningful shifts in Mike Miller's rhetoric on the death penalty. Not only did the pro-death penalty senate prez applaud when the anti-death penalty Gov. O'Malley made his pitch for ending captial punishment in yesterday's state of the state speech, Miller also said the death penalty is "not working" in Maryland. That's a pretty big shift -- he's not saying he opposes capital punishment per se, but he is laying the rhetorical groundwork for facilitating the repeal bill's passage through his chamber.

Perhaps even more remarkable were his comments on the possibility that the repeal bill could be petitioned directly to the Senate floor if it (once again) gets bottled up in the evenly-divided Judicial Proceedings Committee. This is the nuclear option in Maryland politics and the kind of maneuver that the order-loving Senate president generally abhors. He said he would not thwart any effort to petition the bill to the floor if it fails in committee and would work to break up any filibuster by death penalty proponents.

That may not seem like much, but it's a big deal. Seemingly subtle rhetorical shifts by Mike Miller can mean big things in Annapolis. The general rule of thumb is that Miller says nothing by accident, and nothing happens in his chamber that he does not intend. His comments yesterday suggest he wants the bill to move, and if he wants it to move, move it will.

An interesting secondary question is, why the shift now? It's certainly a big chit he can offer to the governor, who said this year that he would do everything in his power to get a repeal passed. Was Miller persuaded by the state task force report on the application of Maryland's death penalty? Is there something Miller wants from the governor? Now that slots passed, it's hard to know what that would be. This issue has suddenly become an interesting one to watch over the next 10 weeks.

 

Posted by Andy Green at 11:20 AM | | Comments (1)
        

RNC Balloting Begins

The first ballot of the RNC chairman's race is now under way. Unless one of the candidates wins a majority, it won't be the last.
Nominating speeches were made for each of the five candidates this morning. The incumbent chairman, Mike Duncan of Kentucky, got the most applause. He's expected to finish on top in the first round, though with five candidates running, he's unlikely to gain a clear majority.
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is expected to get the second highest number in the first round, and the nominating speeches for the other candidates seemed to reflect that assessment.
Katon Dawson, the South Carolina chairman, chose an African-American RNC member from his state, Glenn McCall, to nominate him. Dawson's membership in an all-white country club has been prominently mentioned in news accounts.
Another contender, Saul Anuzis, the Michigan Republican chairman, also picked an African-American RNC member from his state, Keith Butler, to put his name into nomination.
There is only a handful of blacks on the 168-member RNC, but race is an unspoken subtext in the contest to name a new chairman who will be a prominent party spokesman in opposition to the nation's first African-American president, Barack Obama.
Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the other African-American in the chairman's race, was nominated by Oklahoma Chairman Gary Jones, who resorted to a sports analogy in pushing the candidacy of the longest shot in the field.
"No one gave Arizona a chance to be in the Super Bowl this year," said Jones. He also said that Blackwell had gained the support of former RNC chairman candidate Chip Saltsman of Tennessee, who failed to gain enough support to qualify for today's balloting.
Longtime Maryland committeewoman Joyce Lyons Terhes nominated Steele, describing him as a "quality man" and "natural leader."
"Michael Steele works hard. Michael Steele raises money. Michael Steele wins elections," she said. "Michael Steele can communicate messages. Michael Steele can lead."
A seconding speaker for Duncan, the front-runner, took aim at Steele, without mentioning his name. Arguing that the job of party leader is "not about one person on TV," Willes K. Lee, the Hawaii chairman, said "it’s about thousands of us speaking, sharing conservative principles all across the nation."
A total of 168 RNC members are eligible to vote. It will take 85 votes to win.


Posted by Paul West at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Earth To Bob Ehrlich: Maryland Sixth Bluest U.S. State

The buzz around this week's meeting of the Republican National Committee in Washington is that former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has been bragging about recent polling that shows him with 61 percent voter approval in the state.

But before the Republican decides to jump into a rematch next year with Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, he might want to take a look at some other numbers, just released by the Gallup organization.

The independent, nonpartisan polling operation took a long look at the leanings of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and ranked Maryland as the sixth most Democratic state in the nation.

The rankings were based on more than 350,000 telephone interviews, in which Americans were asked which party they identify with or lean toward.

In Maryland, Democrats held a lopsided 26-point advantage in party affiliation over the Republicans, a finding that probably doen't come as much of a shock to Ehrlich or astute readers of this blog.

In ranking the top ten Democratic states, Maryland tied with Connecticut for sixth, behind Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont and New York. The District of Columbia, which is in a class by itself, had a 75 percent Democratic advantage.

Only five states were rated as solidly Republican by Gallup, led by Utah, which tilts Republicans by a 23 percentage point margin.

The entire report can be found here.

Posted by Paul West at 9:30 AM | | Comments (13)
        

Steel(e) Yourself: It's Election Day For Republican National Chairman

Today's the big day in the long-awaited and much-discussed contest for chairman of the Republican National Committee. It's the biggest election in national politics since last November's presidential vote (okay, it's also the only one).

The balloting starts at 10:30 this morning and you can find regular updates on this blog.
For weeks, six men have been aggressively pursuing the party job, which pays about $200,000 a year and is good for the next two years. Along with gaining the opportunity to oversee a national political organization that spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the winner will instantly becomes a leading Republican spokesman at party events, on television and elsewhere else that prominent heads talk.

Contenders include the incumbent, Mike Duncan of Kentucky; former Maryland Lt. Gov. (and former state party chairman) Michael Steele; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and three current or former RNC members, Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis and South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson. The sixth candidate, former Tennessee Chairman Chip Saltsman, withdrew on the eve of the balloting.

The candidates made their final pitches (behind closed doors) to the electorate in the ballroom of the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington last night, followed by several hours of "hospitality" in various suites at the same venue.

Now it's in the hands of the voters, all 168 of them.

Here's how it works: Only members of the Republican National Committee -- three from each state, U.S. territory or the District of Columbia--may vote. It takes a majority of those voting to win.

There is no limit to the number of ballots and no requirement that the low man drop out after each round (as is sometimes done in these events). Unless someone gains a majority on the first round, which is considered unlikely, votes will start to shift from one candidate to another after the first or second round.

Duncan is regarded as the most likely candidate to come out on top in the first round, though probably without a majority. Hand-picked as chairman by then-President George Bush and Karl Rove, the White House political adviser, Duncan has to overcome anti-Bush sentiment on the committee and the feeling of some that the party needs a new face after losing the last two national elections.

If he doesn't win on the first and gain on the second, Duncan is probably done.

Steele and Blackwell, both African-Americans, would be breakthrough choices and the election of either man would send a loud message that the party of Lincoln is changing in the Age of Obama. Steele is regarded as suspiciously moderate by many conservatives, while Blackwell, who is perhaps the most conservative candidate in the field, is also the only one who never served on the RNC.

That matters a lot, since party chairmanship contests, when there's no president in the White House to dictate a choice, more closely resemble student council elections in high school than anything else. In other words, personal connections and concerns (who will get me a prime hotel room at the 2012 Republican National Convention) usually matter more than strategic considerations (who would be the best spokesman for the party).

For such reasons, some Republican veterans think Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman or Dawson, his South Carolina counterpart, may have the best chance if Duncan, the current national chairman, doesn't make it.

Many Republicans are worried about their party being viewed as a regional (read: southern), rather than a national, one. That could open the door for Anuzis, a likeable, if somewhat nerdy, political operator to wind up in the chairman's chair when the music finally stops.

Again, stay glued to this blog for breaking news--or even better, if you haven't done so already,
go to the bottom of that box with the gold outline on the right hand side of this screen and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog. If you do, you'll be sure to be the first to get all the news about Maryland Politics and learn the identity of the next RNC chairman as soon as it happens.

Posted by Paul West at 8:00 AM | | Comments (14)
        

January 29, 2009

Mikulski gets first pen used by Obama to sign first bill

President Barack Obama signed his first bill into law today, a measure that gives workers a longer time frame to sue employers for discrimination based on gender or other factors.

After pledging to do so on the campaign trail, Obama signed the bill named for Lilly Ledbetter at an emotional East Room ceremony, attended by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulksi of Maryland.

Mikulski, the senior woman in the Senate, attended the ceremony, and wept as the ceremony unfolded. The lead Democratic sponsor of this year's version of the legislation, Mikulksi received the first pen that Obama used to sign his first bill. (If she ever needed the money, that token could fetch a tidy sum on eBay.)

Ledbetter was a longtime Goodyear employee who sued after learning that her male counterparts were paid more. Ledbetter won a jury verdict in 2003, but the decision was overturned, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that she should have filed her case within six months of when the discrimination first happened.

Here's a C-SPAN video of the ceremony.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:47 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Andy and David discuss O'Malley's speech


Posted by David Nitkin at 1:59 PM | | Comments (2)
        

O'Malley's State of the State


Here's a link to the full text of O'Malley's address, complete with footnotes, as prepared for delivery:

Maryland State of the State


*********************
The governor is hoping to be bailed out with federal money, House Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell says in a taped response on Maryland Public Television, which gives Annapolis no incentive to change its ways.

O'Malley is using "budget gimmicks" to balance his spending plan, O'Donnell said, and is ingoring the advice of budget experts. Republicans are also coming to the defense of state workers, saying they shouldn't be laid off during tough times.

O'Donnell also accuses O'Malley of using his budget to "carve out a political legacy."

********************
O'Malley's call for a "fair up or down vote" on the floor of both chambers on the death penalty is an old rhetorical trick. It ignores the committee system of legislatures, seeking an end-run around them. Ehrlich called for the same thing on slots. President Bush wanted judges that were blocked to have a fair up-or-down vote. It sounds so easy and common-sensical. But the Assembly just doesn't work that way. If O'Malley wants a floor vote -- meaning pulling the bill out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee -- he'll have to use muscle, not words in a speech.

********************
The speech contains an answer to critics who say that O'Malley's push for a tuition freeze at public universities for a fourth consecutive year is driven by political desires, giving him a good issue to run on next year.

"You're darn right it's about politics," he said, a line that feels destined to be repeated. "It's about the politics of inclusion. It's about the politics of prosperity. It's about the politics of opportunity."

********************
Talk about putting all your budgetary eggs in one basket. There are two reasons, the governor says, why the budget he submitted last week will be better come April. Reason One: Barack. Reason Two: Obama.

I guess it's a good thing that O'Malley's first choice, Hillary Clinton, didn't win the nomination.

********************
O'Malley's challenge to lawmakers: "this session," he said, lawmakers and he must "power through the other side of this recession ahead of every other state."

********************
One mortgage company is mentioned by name as heartless and ignoring the homeowner crisis. Wells Fargo. Why is that company worth singling out? We'll try to find out.

********************
As we expected, the governor has cited real examples of letters he is receiving. "Sandra" from Allegany County worries about becoming homeless because of the cost of electricity. "Robert" from Baltimore County is a 53-year old man who ran out of money for college, blocking him from achieving a "35 year old dream."

But by keeping them anonymous -- not providing their last names -- is the governor muting the effectiveness of these examples?

********************
"Sugarcoat" is the word of the season. The governor never wants to sugarcoat how bad things are. He keeps saying that.

********************
Students from Armistead Gardens, wearing white sweat shirts in the balcony, represent the state's top ranking for public schools. The governor gives them a shout-out.

********************
66 fewer Marylanders are lost to homicide last year, with the "city of Baltimore leading the way." That's a claim that O'Malley could not make when he was mayor, when he had much more control over the situation.

********************
The mention of Barack Obama as a federal partner prompts the first applause -- and it's quite sustained.
********************
The main point: "The state of our state is once again strong enough to overcome the very challenging times at hand." Deft way to handle the big question.
********************
Speech begins.
"Energized" and "optimistic" are the first words out of his mouth. No Carter style malaise here.
********************
We'll publish online the governor's speech as soon as he starts to speak. Worth noting: It's complete with footnotes, so that pesky journalists can check out his claims and facts. They're also a preemptive strike against Republican critics.
********************
Gov. Martin O’Malley will deliver his third state of the state address at noon today, an address that comes at a time of economic hardship and steep proposed budget cuts. Just this week, state officials announced that the Maryland unemployment rate hit a 15-year high in December, at 5.8 percent.

O’Malley and his staff have made a point recently of noting that they constantly hear the concerns of Marylanders who have lost their jobs or suffering because of the bleak economy.
The governor has announced that he has scheduled a series of town hall meetings in the days
after the speech to hear more of those concerns. So expect that theme – a Clintonesque “I feel your pain” – to be a part of the governor’s comments.

We'll be live-blogging the speech right here, so keep checking back for updates.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:52 PM | | Comments (5)
        

O'Malley tries to calm state workers

Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Smitherman obtained a copy of a letter Gov. Martin O'Malley sent to all state workers yesterday.

The letter thanked workers for their service, and steeled them for the challenges ahead. One line in particular is interesting.

"I know there has been speculation and talk about further reductions and possible layoffs over the next year, and I know this has many of you worried about your families’ well being and your future. It is my sincere hope – as we work to protect our workforce in these hard times – that layoffs will not be necessary in the upcoming year."

Speculation and talk about layoffs? Heck, it's not speculation. It's in the budget. The document was presented last week. By the governor. Who wrote this letter.

Click below to read the entire letter.

January 28, 2009

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow, I will have the privilege of delivering my third State of the State address to the Citizens of Maryland and the Maryland General Assembly, but before I do that, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your hard work over this last year, and share with you some of the challenges and opportunities we face together in the year ahead.

While we have made substantial progress to improve public education and public safety, these are not easy times for our nation and our state. Together we have already reduced spending by billions of dollars, you all are doing more with less and you have all sacrificed to help our state government save dollars during this national economic downturn.

I know there has been speculation and talk about further reductions and possible layoffs over the next year, and I know this has many of you worried about your families’ well being and your future. It is my sincere hope – as we work to protect our workforce in these hard times – that layoffs will not be necessary in the upcoming year.

I remain hopeful and optimistic that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act currently being considered by President Obama and Congress will provide much needed economic relief to our State and states throughout our country – economic relief that could provide Maryland with an additional $4 billion over the next two years to help us protect our #1 ranked public schools, invest in school construction, our bridges, roads, tunnels and mass transit, help stimulate our economy and create thousands of new jobs in Maryland.

We have been working around the clock with the Obama Administration and our federal partners to make sure Maryland is prepared to allocate these additional dollars and put shovels in the ground on day one if the funds become available, and I urge you all to contact your member of Congress to show your support for President Obama’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act. www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt

I know many of you are worried about the upcoming year. I have heard from many of you personally over the last few months and we will continue to work with your union representatives to keep you updated and informed. I will also be sending you periodic updates as we work with the Maryland General Assembly to balance next year’s budget and protect the progress we have made to make our state government more efficient and build a strong safety net for our families in need through services that many of you provide.

As President Obama took the oath of office just a week ago, he reminded us that we must "brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come." I believe together, we can and we will endure this current economic storm, and it is my hope that we will be stronger as a people and as a State as a result.

Thank you,

Martin O’Malley, Governor

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:17 AM | | Comments (1)
        

The state of the state is...how to put this?

Gov. Martin O'Malley will soon stand up in the House of Delegates chamber in Annapolis to expound on the state of the state of Maryland. The traditional money line in such an endavor is a resounding, "The state of our state is strong!" But how exactly do you couch things at a time when the unemployment rate is rising ("The state of our state is not as bad as other states"), the deficit has a $2 billion hole ("The state of our state is broke"), juveniles are being killed at an alarming rate in Baltimore ("The state of our state is dangerous"), the Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals are nowhere near being met ("The state of our state is polluted") and we're digging out from an ice storm ("The state of our state is slippery").

NPR addressed this issue a week ago with a story about all the ways governors are evading this tricky little question during a bad season for just about everybody. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius: "The state of our state is not defined by ending balances...It's about the quality and character of the Kansas people." And that was one of the more optimistic assessments. Check back here and on my Twitter feed, www.twitter.com/andrewagreen, for updates during and after O'Malley's speech.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:48 AM | | Comments (3)
        

Kratovil Out of Sight, Not of Mind

Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland's Eastern Shore beat a hasty retreat from Washington just minutes after drawing major attention to himself for the first time as a member of Congress.
The freshman Democrat was one of just 11 Democrats (out of 255) to vote against the administration's $819 billion economic stimulus measure, which is designed to fight the recession with massive federal spending and tax cuts.
Every Republican in the House also opposed the measure, allowing Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio to crow that opposition to the House version of President Barack Obama's package was bipartisan, unlike the purely Democratic support for the measure.
Kratovil's departure, which put him safely out of reach of the public and the press, was previously scheduled.
The First District congressman, who took office earlier this month, is on an his first official trip as a new member of the House Armed Services Committee. A committee spokeswoman says its policy is to provide no public information about official trips until all of the travellers are safely back from overseas.
Kratovil's office confirms that he left on a committee trip and that he'll be back on Tuesday, February 3.
At that point, there will be more details about the journey, and the congressman will likely get an earful from constituents, pro and con, about his first big vote.
In a prepared statement released after last night's vote, Kratovil said the package had too little immediate economic stimulus for such a large price tag. He left open the possibility of voting in favor of the measure after it returns to the House, probably next month, following expected approval by the Senate and further massaging by a House-Senate conference committee.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is already targeting Kratovil for defeat in 2010, sent out a press release several hours before the vote, highlighting a $355 million in the $819 billion package for health education, including programs to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
The Republicans wanted to know if Kratovil would support such liberal, wasteful Washington spending. At this point, the answer is "no."

Posted by Paul West at 10:11 AM | | Comments (3)
        

Mikulski Raking in Re-Election Cash

They are not be eyepopping numbers, by current campaign finance standards, but Maryland's senior senator, Barbara A. Mikulski, is actively raising money for her unannounced (and, for now, unopposed) try for a fifth six-year term next year.

The Democratic veteran collected more than $160,000 in the three-month period that concluded at the end of last month. Most of those donations came in chunks of $1,000 or more from Washington lobbyists and the PACs of corporations, labor unions, liberal interest groups, government contractors and trade associations, including a number from the health care field.

Mikulski, 72, is a member of the Senate Health committee and is heading up a task force this year on health care reform, a top priority of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. She also is a longtime member of the Senate Appropriations committee, one of the most lucrative perches for political money-raising purposes.

Mikulski began the 2009-2010 election cycle with $874,487 in her campaign account, according to her recently filed Federal Election Commission disclosure report. That's not a huge amount of dough for a statewide race, but it's decent seed money for a popular incumbent who is unlikely to draw serious opposition.

In Mikulski's last re-election race, in 2004, she spent $6.5 million. Her Republican challenger, E.J. Pipkin, spent $2.2 million--most of it his own money--for the privilege of getting trounced by nearly two-to-one.

Posted by Paul West at 8:00 AM | | Comments (5)
        

January 28, 2009

Kratovil skeptical on stimulus bill

Maryland's newest Congressman, Frank Kratovil, is taking great pains to let it be known that he's not toeing the Democratic line on the huge economic stimulus bill heading through the House. A Democrat elected in a Republican district, the former Queen Anne's County state's attorney is using the first big votes of his career in Washington to reassure voters that he's no tax-and-spend liberal. His press guy, Kevin Lawlor, has twice sent out a press release to assure voters that Kratovil has twice bucked the Democratic majority in an attempt to "strip wasteful spending" from the bill. The press release reads:

Today, Congressman Frank Kratovil voted twice to strip wasteful spending form a proposed economic stimulus package that the House is planning to take up tomorrow afternoon. First, Congressman Kratovil voted against the rule that establishes the process by which the stimulus package will be considered on the House floor. Congressman Kratovil was one of 16 Democrats who voted against this rule.

The Congressman then voted against a measure designating the stimulus legislation as an “emergency,” thereby allowing the legislation to avoid “Pay-Go” requirements. “Pay-Go” requires that all expenditures are somehow offset in order to keep budgets balanced and not saddle our children and grandchildren with even higher levels of national debt. Congressman Kratovil was one of 27 Democrats to vote against the “emergency” designation.

Kratovil goes on to criticize $200 million in funding to restore the national mall and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. (Apparently unemployed artists aren't important.) "Although these may be admirable causes, they certainly are not emergencies and should not be lumped in with legitimate efforts to strengthen our economy and get people back to work," he says. "Our economy is in crisis, and it’s going to take a combination of tough choices and fiscal responsibility to give it the boost it needs."

The real test comes tonight when the House is supposed to vote on the bill. Will Democrats have enough votes without him, or will Kratovil have to decide whether to buck a party call?

Posted by Andy Green at 3:35 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Sen. Frosh is out of the hospital

As we noted earlier, Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County slipped on the ice this morning and went to the hospital as a precaution. One of his staff members writes in to say he's fine and is back chairing the Judicial Proceedings Committee this afternoon.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Dixon's sister loaned her $15,000

According to state campaign finance records, Mayor Sheila Dixon's sister loaned her campaign account $15,000 on May 6, 2008. The campaign paid her back the $15,000 on November 15, 2008, and Janice Dixon forgave $332.88 in interest the same day. (That's counted as an in-kind contribution.)

Annie Linskey reports this morning that the Dixon campaign isn't answering questions about the loan. She quotes Hopkins political scientist Matt Crenson puzzling over the matter: "Why would she need it now? She is not up for election for another three years. I can't imagine why she would need loans from anybody."

Looking through her campaign finance records, it appears she blew through quite a bit of money in the first five months of 2008 given that she didn't have an election coming up. On Jan. 18, 2008, Dixon reported having $79,151.38 on hand. Between then and the date of the loan, she spent $83,024.79, most of it ($51,526.45) going to Rice Consulting LLC of Bel Air for fundraising expenses. During that time, she reported contributions of $2,105.71. (Things picked up shortly thereafter, and Dixon raised nearly $30,000 between then and the end of June.)

Fundraising is looking like a pretty expensive proposition for Mayor Dixon. In the last year, she's paid Rice $96,058.12 (a figure that includes both the firm's fee and expenses for the fundraisers) and has raised about $180,000 in contributions, less than a 2-1 ratio. In the same reporting period, Gov. O'Malley paid his fundraising consultant, Colleen Martin-Lauer, $30,418.96 and raised $194,000, better than a 6-1 ratio.

Update: A little further digging finds that Rice Consulting also does Jim Smith's fundraising. Last year, he paid the firm $46,271.52 and raised about $602,000. That's a 13-1 ratio. Again, these figures don't necessarily say anything about how much the fundraising consultants are charging but does give a hint about the overall efficiency of the operations. President Obama's internet fundraising machine, for example, is famous for bringing in tons of money with little or no outlay of cash. The traditional model of renting out a banquet hall and springing for an open bar and hors d'ouvre can be quite pricey, especially depending on how many people you get to show up for your big fancy events.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:40 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Brian Frosh in the hospital

Sen. Brian E. Frosh is in Anne Arundel General hospital this morning after slipping on ice and injuring his back, Sen. Lisa Gladden, his vice-chair on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, announced to the Senate this morning.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, was not seriously injured. But Miller said that he insisted Frosh visit the hospital because of his fellow attorney's "little frail frame."

"We want him back and to take charge of his committee," Miller said, with a nod at Gladden, who will lead the Judicial Proceedings Committee today in Frosh's absence. "Who knows what could happen there?"

The committee will this session take up a death penalty repeal bill sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley. Gladden, a public defender, is one of the chief advocates for repeal in the General Assembly, while Miller favors maintaining state executions.

--Gadi Dechter

Posted by Andy Green at 11:19 AM | | Comments (0)
        

How does Sheila Dixon's fundraising stack up?

Annie Linskey reports this morning that Mayor Dixon raised $195,254 for her campaign last year, which isn't much, especially considering $15,000 of that was in a loan from her sister that she paid back and more than $11,000 was a tax refund from the IRS. As mayor, she should be raking in the bucks from developers and everyone else who wants to do business in the city, but so far, she's not. She has $166,000 in cash on hand, which doesn't even give her the top spot among city officials. To put that in a little bit of context:

  • Anne Arundel Executive John Leopold raised $504,000 at a comparable point in his term and had more than $518,000 on hand.
  • Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith raised $507,000 at the same point in his first term (and remember, that was five years ago).
  • Howard County Executive Ken Ulman raised $272,000 in his first full year in office.
  • Martin O'Malley had a comparable amount to Dixon at the end of his first full  year in office, but over the next 11 months, he raised $860,000.
  • Right now, one city councilman and three Baltimore County councilmen have more money than she does.
  • State Sen. Cathy Pugh -- a former city councilwoman and one-time Dixon opponent -- has more than $100,000 in the bank.
Posted by Andy Green at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
        

January 27, 2009

O'Malley announces the same thing he announced yesterday

Gov. O'Malley announced this afternoon that he'll be holding off on cuts to K-12 education, community colleges and other things that he had been planning to take up at tomorrow's Board of Public Works meeting until Maryland knows what it will be getting from the federal stimulus package.

You know, as I was writing that, it was feeling awfully familiar. Like I'd read it someplace before. Oh yeah, in the lead of our story today about yesterday's press conference in which he announced that he would be delaying cuts until after the stimulus package passes.

In the new news department, though, the administration did send out some more detailed information about what may now be off the chopping block.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley to leave Annapolis

Usually, Annapolis is the center of Maryland's political world during the 90-day General Assembly session. The governor and lawmakers live inside a bubble for three months, and then try to re-connect with the outside world later.

But at a time of economic hardship, Gov. Martin O’Malley is breaking with tradition.

The governor has just announced that he will hold a series of town hall meetings after he delivers his State of the State address on Thursday.

“I hear everyday from Maryland families who continue to struggle to make ends meet,” the governor said in a statement. He said he wants to “hear directly from Maryland’s families and talk about the services and programs that are in place to provide assistance during these tough times.”

Previous governors have embarked on such tours after the session ends, traveling the state and touting their accomplishments. O’Malley doesn’t want to wait that long.

Here’s my guess at the political calculation behind the tour:

a) The more time he spends in Annapolis, the more time he gets caught up in negotiations with lawmakers and interest groups over what to protect and what to cut in the beleaguered state budget. Leaving Annapolis allows him to bring the message directly to the people.

b) By heading on the road now, O’Malley will offer a relief valve of sorts to the pressure building up among state residents who are grumbling about “just what are those people doing in Annapolis, anyway?” He’ll get to hear what is on the minds of residents, and maybe make adjustments as he tries to handle the fiscal crisis.

Then there’s the obvious: Who wouldn’t want to spend time in Frostburg in February? (Especially when one gets to speak at a high school located on Nancy S. Grasmick Lane.)

Click below for the complete schedule (so far) of the governor’s listening tour.


WHAT: Governor Martin O’Malley to hold “Governor’s Town Hall on Education and our Economy”
WHEN: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mountain Ridge High School
100 Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick Lane
Frostburg, MD

WHAT: Governor Martin O’Malley to hold “Governor’s Town Hall on Education and our Economy”
WHEN: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Prince George’s County, TBD

WHAT: Governor Martin O’Malley to hold “Governor’s Town Hall on Education and our Economy”
WHEN: Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Eastern Shore, TBD


Posted by David Nitkin at 3:14 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Legislator furloughs ctd.

Laura Smitherman tells me that a blog post of mine on Sunday misinterpreted something from her story about legislator furloughs. The state did give us a list of people who have signed up, but it's not necessarily comprehensive: Some people gave money to charity or back to the state but didn't inform the HR department and thus aren't counted. Also, Laura says there's apparently been a flurry of people giving money back in recent days. (I'm sure her story highlighting the issue on the front page of Sunday's paper had nothing to do with it.) The upshot is that printing a list of people who HAVEN'T given the money back isn't really possible. But below the jump is the list that we've got of people who have. (If you're a legislator who has returned the money but isn't on the list, or if you work for such a lawmaker, let us know.)

Update: Some new names are coming in. I'll add them to the list in bold.

Senators:

John Astle, D-Anne Arundel

James Brochin, D-Baltimore County

Richard Colburn, R-Eastern Shore

Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore

George Della, D-Baltimore

James "Ed" DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel

Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George's

Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery

Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery

Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery

Barry Glassman, R-Harford

Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel

Larry Haines, R-Carroll

Verna Jones, D-Baltimore

Ed Kasemeyer, D-Howard/Baltimore County

Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County

Nancy King, D-Montgomery

Allan Kittleman, R-Howard

Kathy Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County

Rona Kramer, D-Montgomery

Michael Lenett, D-Montgomery

Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery

Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore

Thomas "Mac" Middleton, D-Southern Md.

Mike Milller, D-Calvert/PG

Alex Mooney, R-Frederick

Donald Munson, R-Western Md.

Douglas Peters, D-PG

Paul Pinsky, D-PG

Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery

James Robey, D-Howard

Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel

Norman Stone, D-Baltimore County

 

 

Delegates: Saqib Ali, D-Montgomery

Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore

Sue Aumann, R-BaltCo

Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery

Ben Barnes, D-PG 

Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery

Pamela Beidle, D-Arundel

Wendell Beitzel, R-Western Md.

Joanne Benson, D-PG

Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard

John Bohanan, D-Southern Md.

Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore

Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County

Bill Bronrott, D-MoCo

Mike Busch, D-Arundel

Rudolph Cane, D-Eastern Shore

Jon Cardin, D-BaltCo

Galen Claggett, D-Frederick

Virginia Claggett, D-Arundel

Frank Conaway, D-Baltimore

Norm Conway, D-Eastern Shore

Steven DeBoy, D-BaltCo

Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore

Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery

Adelaide Eckardt, R-Eastern Shore

Donald Eliott, R-Carroll/Frederick

Page Elmore, R-Eastern Shore

Brian Feldman, D-MoCo

William Frick, D-MoCo

Barbara Frush, D-Arundel/PG

Tawanna Gaines, D-PG

James Gilchrist, D-MoCo

Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore

Melony Griffith, D-PG

Guy Guzzone, D-Howard

Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Eastern Shore

Keith Haynes, D-Baltimore

Peter Hammen, D-Baltimore

Sue Hecht, D-Frederick

Sheila Hixon, D-MoCo

Carolyn Howard, D-PG

James Hubbard, D-PG

Rick Impallaria, D-BaltCo

Sally Jameson, D-Charles

Adrienne Jones, D-BaltCo

Wade Kach, R-BaltCo

Anne Kaiser, D-PG

Kevin Kelly, D-Western Md.

James King, R-Arundel

Nic Kipke, R-Arundel

Ruth Kirk, D-Baltimore

Benjamin Kramer, D-MoCo

Carolyn Krysiak, D-Baltimore

Stephen Lafferty, D-BaltCo

Murray Levy, D-Southern Md.

Mary Ann Love, D-Arundel

Jim Malone, D-BaltCo

Roger Manno, D-MoCo

James Mathias, D-Eastern Shore

Susan McComas, R-Harford

Patrick McDonough, R-BaltCo

Kevin McHale, D-Baltimore

Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore 

Warren Miller, R-Howard

Sonny Minnick, D-BaltCo

Heather Mizeur, D-MoCo

Karen Montgomery, D-Montgomery

Dan Morhaim, D-BaltCo

Peter Murphy, D-Charles

LeRoy Myers, R-Western Md.

Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-BaltCo

Doyle Niemann, D-PG

Tony O'Donnell, R-Southern Md.

John Olszewski, D-BaltCo

Josaline Pena-Melnyk, D-PG

Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard

James Proctor, D-Charles/PG

Victor Ramirez, D-PG

Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery

Craig Rice, D-Montgomery

Daniel Riley, R-Harford

Barbara Robinson, D-Baltimore

Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore

Justin "J-5" Ross, D-PG

David Rudolph, D-Cecil

Todd Schuler, D-BaltCo

Tanya Shewell, R-Carroll

Andrew Serafini, R-Western Md.

Chris Shank, R-Western Md. (My apologies for initially putting a "D" after Chris' name; certainly not a mistake that people often make...)

Luiz Simmons, D-MoCo

Ted Sophocleus, D-Arundel

Richard Sossi, R-Eastern Shore

Dana Stein, D-BaltCo

Donna Stifler, R-Harford

Shawn Tarrant, D-Baltimore

Frank Turner, D-Howard

Veronica Turner, D-PG

Kris Valderrama, D-PG

Joseph Vallario, D-PG

Micahel Vaughn, D-PG

Jeff Waldstreicher, D-MoCo

Michael Weir, D-BaltCo

Rick Weldon, I-Frederick

John Wood, D-Southern Md.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Andy Harris wants a rematch

State Sen. Andy Harris, just months off a shocking defeat at the hands of Democrat Frank Kratovil in Maryland's 1st Congressional District, is telling Roll Call (subscription required) that he wants a rematch. He tells the Washington indsider publication that he's planning to meet with the National Republican Congressional Committee within the next couple of weeks to make clear that he is still insterested in the seat. “We were within a percent in what was a terrible year for the Republicans, and I’m hoping 2010 will be a better year,” Harris told Roll Call. He said he's been raising money in his federal account and will continue to do so.

It's usually hard to knock off a Congressional incumbent, but when it happens, it's often after the representative's first term and often after a close election like this one. The 1st District is way beyond marginal for Democrats -- it was specifically designed to be a Republican seat. So it's certainly conceivable that we'll have anouther tough election there next year. The question may be whether Harris gets a free shot in the GOP primary -- I could see other Republicans, particularly Sen. E.J. Pipkin, making their own runs and arguing that Harris' defeat this time shows he's the wrong guy for the job.

 

Posted by Andy Green at 11:20 AM | | Comments (6)
        

Grading O'Malley as a communicator

Sometimes it seems hard to figure out just who the real Martin O’Malley is.

He came on the scene as the brash young mayor, not afraid to make enemies and show emotion.

His frustration and impatience often shined through, such as when he drew stick figures in an acerbic rebuke of the city’s state’s attorney over what he perceived as her reluctance in prosecuting gun crimes. The mayor threatened to fight a radio host who criticized his response to a 2002 firebombing that killed the Dawson family, and he later cried at a dedication service.

But sometime during his 2006 governor’s race, a switch of sorts was flipped. Perhaps he knew from polling that voters found him too brash, and he wasn’t going to give opponents a chance to exploit a weakness. He bit his lip. His responses to questions seemed measured and frequently canned.

He has largely kept that style for more than two years, governing through the worst fiscal crises in generations. About a year into his tenure, he cast himself as the mature leader who was going to take on the state’s fiscal problems once and for all. He called a special session to address a long-term imbalance between state revenues and expenses, and muscled through a sales tax increase and a slots referendum.

Predictably, his approval rating plummeted. So did the economy.

O’Malley’s poll numbers are coming back. But the governor doesn’t give himself very high marks for delivering his message.

“It’s much harder to communicate as governor than as mayor,” O’Malley told Thomas F. Schaller, the UMBC political science professor, in a column published in today’s Baltimore Sun. “It’s a much more diverse, diffuse audience.”

The statement offers a window into the governor’s thinking. It shows that he recognizes that he may not be able to quip or show sarcasm or anger in public – because large segments of the state population might not understand or appreciate it.

When asked by Schaller to grade himself as a communicator, the governor offered up a “C-.” It must have pained him to do so. He’s a history buff and a musician, steeped in literary Irish heritage and modern American politics. He’s toiled on speeches before the Democratic National Convention, and has seen them fall flat. Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands this month during Barack Obama’s appearance in Baltimore, he was booed.

Perhaps he hasn’t quite found the right balance of emotion, enthusiasm and responsibility. Perhaps, despite his apparent charisma and good looks, he isn’t as effective a speaker as his audiences expect.

What grade would you give O’Malley’s communication skills? And how would you advise him to improve?

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:19 AM | | Comments (22)
        

O'Malley promises more stimulus details

Apparently there's more to say on the federal stimulus package beyond what O'Malley outlined in a press conference yesterday. He's supposed to take another whack at it this afternoon, specifically to talk about the prospective stimulus and the geographic cost of education index, the obscure, never quite funded part of Thornton that ponies up mor emoney for disctricts where the cost of education is higher -- primarily MoCo, PG and Baltimore City. O'Malley made a big stink about Bob Ehrlich's failure to fund the GCEI, but he's never fully done so either. In the current budget, he included a portion of the money, but the administration recently indicated that it might be clawing those funds back from the schools to balance the books.

When he talked yesterday about the $3 billion-plus in federal funds Maryland could get over the next two years, O'Malley was a little vague about the cuts that could be reversed if/when the money comes through, so perhaps he intends to be more specific today. We'll post more details after the news conference at 1.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:32 AM | | Comments (0)
        

January 26, 2009

O'Malley: Fed stimulus could reverse layoffs, school cuts

Gov. Martin O'Malley today outlined the aid Maryland would get under the federal stimulus bill as it currently stands, saying the state could be in line for as much as $3 billion over the next two years. Seems like that would go a long way toward wiping out the $2 billion budget shortfall Maryland is facing for the budget year that begins in July. But there are a few catches:

  • There's not guarantee that the state will actually get the money, and if it does, when it will come. O'Malley said he's in constant contact with the state's congressional delegation, and given that it includes two of the top leaders in the House of Representatives, that should give him pretty decent intel. O'Malley is hoping the bill will pass by the middle of February, which would leave plenty of time to adjust this year's budget, but if things get bogged down in Congress, it could get messy.
  • The money comes with strings attached. Some of it looks like straight-up budget balancing assistance, and some of it is targeted to things the state is now planning to cut, such as community colleges and K-12 education funding. Other parts of it -- say, the funds for school construction, or broadband Internet infrastructure -- may augment programs Maryland already has but may not help fill the particular holes we have at the moment.
  • Depending on what happens with the economy, the aid could just have the effect of kicking the problem two years down the road. If the economy recovers, the aid might be just the bridge we need. If it doesn't, we may find ourselves in the same position in 2011 or 2012.

When asked about it at a news conference today, O'Malley didn't promise that a substantial federal aid pacakge would allow him to avoid the 700 state worker layoffs he's planning as part of the coming budget. But he called reversing them "a top priority." Ditto for the cuts to school spending. One practical upshot: O'Malley had been planning to have votes at Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting on tens of millions in cuts to the current fiscal year's budget, but now he's putting that off until after President's Day, when he thinks he might have specifics on the federal stimulus package.

Posted by Andy Green at 4:56 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Lisa Gladden: Md.'s broke, but check out my neat watch

Sen. Lisa Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, whacked the talk radio hornet's nest last week with a flip, Obama-inauguration-euphoria-induced comment that got played on the Fox 45 evening newscast. The YouTube clip below, from a follow-up to the original story, gives a flavor of the reaction she got from the conservative-leaning Ron Smith show's audience on WBAL radio. This is a bit of Lisa being Lisa -- she has an easygoing sense of humor that, in this instance, may not have served her well.
Posted by Andy Green at 9:54 AM | | Comments (5)
        

January 25, 2009

Michael Steele gaining in RNC election

The election for Republican National Committee chairman is Friday, and Paul West reports today that former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is solidly in the hunt and, by some measures, gaining ground.

Steele would bring a lot of things to the job -- media savviness, arguably more moderate politics and an emphasis on expanding the party's reach through new technology. But there is one other thing: He would allow the Republican party to counter the nation's new, eloquent African-American president with an eloquent, African-American chairman. No doubt that Steele is an egaging guy who can give a good speech, but can he compete for attention with Barack Obama?

Remember, this wouldn't be the first time they've gone head-to-head. In 2004, Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and Steele fulfilled the same role for the Republicans. Which speech do you remember?

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

Some legislators slow to take a furlough

Laura Smitherman reports today that about a third of Maryland's lawmakers have yet to return a portion of thier salaries as part of an optional furlough program designed to show solidarity with other state workers who find themselves in a not-so-optional furlough program. Under the constitution, legislators can't be forced to take a pay cut during their terms in office, so unlike rank and file workers, quite a few of whom make less for a full-time job than the $43,500 legislators make for a part-time one, all the state can do is implore them to voluntarily share the pain.

What's more, some lawmakers have chosen to donate their money to charity rather than giving it back to the state, which does nothing to help close Maryalnd's $2 billion budget gap (and gets them a tax deduction to boot.)

All in all, dragging your feet in giving back the money would seem like terrible politics. But we've been through this before -- legislators set up a similar voluntary pay giveback scheme in the early '90s, the last time the state was furloughing workers, and not everybody gave back the money then, either. Part of the issue is that the state won't release the names of people who do or do not give back the money, so there's no way for voters to hold lawmakers individually accountable unless they're dumb enough to volunteer the info that they're keeping the cash.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:23 AM | | Comments (4)
        

January 24, 2009

When Facebook was a facebook, and Gillibrand was Rutnik

The Dartmouth College Class of '88 has produced some notable, and some not so notable, figures. New York Gov. David Paterson put one more class member in the spotlight this week, when he named Tina Rutnik, er, Kirsten Gillibrand, to be the next New York senator.

Here's how Tina introduced herself to the class in the Class of '88 *real* facebook:

Gillibrand joins a growing list of notable Dartmouth alumni from that class. Here's another face you may know, from Saturday Night Live and various movies:


Rachel Dratch

This class member, on the right, has gone on to become president and CEO of one of the world's most prominent advertising agencies, BBDO New York.


John Osborn


This young man, also on the right, became a prominent writer for the New York Times. He now goes by Jacques:


Jacques Steinberg

Then, there's the not so notable ones. This fellow here just completed this blog entry.


David Nitkin


Posted by David Nitkin at 9:50 AM | | Comments (1)
        

January 23, 2009

Dixon says no to legal fees policy change

Mayor Sheila Dixon's office just sent out a somewhat cryptic statement about the current controversy over the city solicitor's efforts to craft a policy for reimbursing city officials for their legal fees. (Kind of a pressing issue, given Dixon's indictment.) The statement reads in its entirety:

Baltimore, MD (January 23, 2009) – Mayor Sheila Dixon issued a statement addressing the research conducted by the Baltimore City’s Law Department regarding legal compensation for city employees involved in certain legal investigations.

“The City Solicitor conducted research on compensation for legal defense expenses,” said Mayor Dixon. “I have not seen the extent of Mr. Nilson’s findings nor do I believe that a new policy is necessary.”

“This was a process exploring several policies already enacted by other local and state governments,” said George Nilson. “It was nothing more than a draft concept which was never submitted for consideration, the lack of an existing city policy governing such scenarios made it necessary to review.”

That's it. Nilson, the city solicitor, refers to the effort in the past tense, so perhaps that means he's dropping it?

Posted by Andy Green at 4:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

More cuts come to light

Sun outdoors writer Candy Thomson tells me the state is eliminating the Department of Natural Resources Police's aviation unit, which performs search and rescue missions and enforcement actions against poachers, among other things. Full details will be in Candy's column this weekend.
Posted by Andy Green at 1:54 PM | | Comments (3)
        

How much bad news is O'Malley's budget hiding?

As the hours pass, the details contained in Gov. Martin O'Malley's latest budget are being ferreted out. They're not pretty.

Reaction to the governor's spending plan was fairly muted when it was unveiled on Wednesday. The governor filled a $2 billion revenue shortfall with a mix of spending cuts and transfers. Many interests groups and local government said they were resigned to sharing the pain. The most critical voices came from Republican lawmakers, who said spending was still too high.

But to coin a phrase, the devil is in the details. Today's Sun reports how local school districts will take a hit. Baltimore schools would receive $23 million less than a year earlier, a reduction that the city schools superintendent calls an "effective roll-back" of the vaunted and cherished schools funding initiative commonly known as the Thorton plan.

One of the largest staffing cut areas come from public safety and corrections. Now it turns out that to decrease staffing and overtime costs, the O'Malley administration wants corrections officers to work 12 hour shifts, up from 8 hours. The change is sparking an outcry among Western Maryland lawmakers, whose districts include many of the state's prisons.Republican delegates LeRoy Myers and Christopher Shank told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that longer shifts for guards could make the prisons less safe.

Stay tuned for more details about what the budget contains. And if you've heard of any yourself that haven't received a full airing yet, let us know.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:48 AM | | Comments (9)
        

More state police spying victims

Julie Bykowicz reports today that yet another advocacy group has come forward to say it was part of the widely condemned Maryland State Police spying program: Equality Maryland, the gay rights group. Its director, Dan Furmansky, says he has learned that police have a photo of him and compiled information on his organzation.

The police have refused to release a full accounting of the groups who were subject to the spying program, which began during former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration but ended at some point, when is not totally clear. The result is that we're getting more and more names coming out, keeping outrage over the story alive -- and demonstrating that the initial explanation for the program, that it began out of concern for the possibility of violent protests surrounding two executions in Maryland, is far from the whole story. We now know the state police were keeping tabs on anti-death penalty groups, peace activists, environmentalists, animal rights activists, people fighting the BGE rate increase, Amnesty International and, now, a gay rights group. They were even keeping an eye on the folks at Red Emma's, the lefty-leaning bookstore/cafe in Mt. Vernon, a pretty tame bunch, unless you count the sale of vegan baked goods as an act of violence.

The state police have said the spying has stopped and have resisted the idea of legal restrictions. Gov. O'Malley is planning to introduce legislation, possibly on Monday, that will implement recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel on the spying that would require the police to show reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Bills introduced yesterday by legislators would go farther, prohibiting police from keeping files on activists. Ordinarily, you'd give the edge to the administration's bill in such circumstances, but the more we learn, the more I'd put money on the tougher restrictions being pushed by the legislature. 

Posted by Andy Green at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Maryland pols get in on Internet video sensation

I'll be honest: I'd rather high-five Soledad O'Brien or Obama Girl. But, Hoyer and Cardin make the cut in this video, pointed our way by Danny Reiter. Worth a watch.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:45 AM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley cuts education

Here's what the O'Malley administration says in the budget document it released this week: 

"Even in these difficult times, we continue to support the tremendous progress Maryland’s children, teachers, and parents are making in our classrooms.

"Because we believe that our children’s future and the strength of tomorrow’s workforce depend on the investments we make today, we are fully funding Thornton and proposing a $5.4 billion investment in K-12 education – a $68.3 million increase over Fiscal Year 2009."

Here's what it doesn't mention: The Baltimore Sun's Liz Bowie and Laura Smitherman report today that the state is pumping an additional $130 million this year into the teacher pension fund but actually decreasing operating budget support for the state's schools to the tune of $69 million. So technically, yes, spending on education is incresasing by $68.3 million, but the amount actually going to classrooms around the state is going down, in some districts, considerably. (It's a bit reminiscent of the infamous Ehrlich press conference in which his administration monkeyed with the numbers in his slots bill. Or the one where they did the same thing for their BGE rate relief plan.)

After several years of record-setting increases in classroom spending as a result of the Thornton education formula, this is the first time in memory that schools have been faced with these kinds of cuts.

Baltimore City Schools chief Andres Alonso isn't mincing words about what this means, calling it "the effective rollback of Thornton."

"It’s economizing on the backs of the neediest students in the state," he said.

Here's the effect on school districts throughout the state. (Note that the impact falls on them very differently based on a complex formula involving enrollment projections, property values, etc., so some districts, notably Montgomery County, come out ahead.)

(Here's a new, abbreviated version of the chart so it will fit on the screen.)

System

Total direct aid

Change from FY 2009

Pct. Change

Allegany

$86,109

($601)

-0.70%

Anne Arundel

$273,395

($5,114)

-1.80%

Baltimore City

$811,391

($23,591)

-2.80%

Baltimore County

$508,143

($8,465)

-1.60%

Calvert

$85,255

($517)

-0.60%

Caroline

$42,113

($877)

-2.00%

Carroll

$139,046

($4,028)

-2.80%

Cecil

$97,674

($1,310)

-1.30%

Charles

$149,321

($1,848)

-1.20%

Dorchester

$29,882

($850)

-2.80%

Frederick

$201,467

($2,594)

-1.30%

Garrett

$24,776

($703)

-2.80%

Harford

$207,329

($3,417)

-1.60%

Howard

$196,216

$628

0.30%

Kent

$10,015

($410)

-3.90%

Montgomery

$449,413

$27,083

6.40%

Prince George’s

$871,833

($35,241)

-3.90%

Queen Anne’s

$30,765

$82

0.30%

St Mary’s

$92,455

($2,499)

-2.60%

Somerset

$23,681

$83

0.40%

Talbot

$10,915

$412

3.90%

Washington

$142,431

$1,644

1.20%

Wicomico

$116,079

$5,786

5.20%

Worcester

$17,391

$262

1.50%

Statewide/Unallocated

$23,361

($12,973)

-35.70%

Posted by Andy Green at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
        

January 22, 2009

Bob Ehrlich not so keen on Obama

We've been reading all sorts of the tea leaves over the last year or two in an effort to figure out of Bob Ehrlich is positioning himself for a rematch with Martin O'Malley. Count his op-ed in today's Washington Post as a big vote for "No."

Ehrlich blasts Obama's inaugural speech as fomenting class warfare and leading to "a full retreat to limited economic horizons and a collective national guilt trip." When it comes to Obama's stimulus plan, new pro-union legislation, an end to Bush-era detention of terrorism suspects without due process, "a future of limited horizons rather than growth and opportunity, and plain old divisive class-warfare rhetoric," Ehrlich asks to be counted among the loyal opposition.

That is perfectly understandable. Ehrlich is, after all, a Republican and an alum of the Gingrich revolution of 1994. It's just not particularly well tuned to the opinion of most Marylanders who, so far, are giving Obama sky-high approval ratings. Ehrlich's ability to get elected statewide in Maryland is dependent on his ability to pitch himself as a moderate. Going after a popular new Democratic president in a Democratic state doesn't seem like the way to do it. 

Posted by Andy Green at 5:26 PM | | Comments (8)
        

Should non-citizens count?

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, just announced that she's seeking an AG's opinion on whether the state could stop counting non-citizens when it apportions legislative districts. She says that the 2000 census counted 283,604 non-citizens in the figures given to the state for carving up legislative (and, presumably, Congressional) districts. That amounts to about 6,000 people per Senate district, she says. "It effectively diluted the votes of all people by about 5.3% statewide and theoretically would vary based on districts with more non-citizens versus districts with less non-citizens," her news release says.

That last part is probably the more significant one. If non-citizens were spread equally around the state, it wouldn't make any difference if they were counted or not. But they aren't distributed equally, and the large concentrations of non-citizen immigrants in some places helps give them more political power than they would have if those people weren't counted. Notably, some areas of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, and probably portions of East Baltimore, get more representation than they would otherwise if the non-citizens weren't counted. Jacobs says:

“I am a strong believer in the Constitutional rights afforded to citizens and voting is one of our most sacred rights.  Voting is a truly democratic principle that must be fairly administered so that each citizen’s vote is equally valued.  The current practice of counting non-citizens for the purposes of drawing up voter districts disenfranchises all Maryland voters, potential voters, and Maryland citizens.  I expect the Attorney General will opine in favor of equality among citizens and that the state will adopt such an opinion into their redistricting process.”

Her logic seems to be that counting people who can't vote to determine the power of those who can isn't fair. But there are other implications to that argument. Despite legal changes making it easier for ex-offenders to vote, there are still thousands of people, particularly in Baltimore, who are ineligible because they are on probation or parole. Should their districts get less representation? What about Western Maryland, where the population (and, hence, political power) is augmented by the presence of the state's major prisons? In any case, Jacobs' idea could be a hot topic of debate as we draw nearer to the time for redistricting.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:12 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Madaleno gives O'Malley a pass on GCEI

Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat and astute budget observer, just sent out a statement on O'Malley's new spending plan. Most of it is the kind of bland, boilerplate congratuations you typically get in these sorts of situations, except for this bit at the end:

Unfortunately, but understandably in this current economic climate, the budget will not wholly fund the GCEI.  While we would like to see this program fully funded in the near future, these trying times call for shared sacrifice and I believe the Governor has his eyes firmly fixed on what is in the best, long-term interest of all Maryland's children.”

What Rich is talking about is the "geographic cost of education indexing," an obscure bit of the Thornton education funding formula that has never been fully funded. (Ehrlich ignored it, which O'Malley blasted him for during the campaign. O'Malley skipped it in his first budget, promising to phase it in. He did in his second budget, but then backed away from it in this new proposal.) Most of the extra cash under the plan goes toward Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the inclusion of the formula was a big factor in winning MoCo votes for Thornton back in 2002. Rich is the head of the county's Senate delegation and tends to be in tune with its members on fiscal issues (notably breaking with O'Malley on the increase to income tax rates for top earners in the 2007 special session), so his willingness to give the governor a pass on this one may be politically significant.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:15 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Taxpayer outrage over paying Mayor Dixon's legal bills

It’s another public relations hit for Mayor Sheila Dixon. As if she needed it.

Not surprisingly, outrage is mounting fast over a plan reported in today’s Baltimore Sun by reporter Annie Linskey for a formal policy that would authorize city tax dollars to compensate the legal fees for Dixon and other city employees involved in a three-year investigation into City Hall corruption.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson discussed the creation of a policy with Dixon last summer. She didn’t object. So the planning is underway. The policy would have to be adopted by the city Board of Estimates, which Dixon, a Democrat, effectively controls.

Among talk show hosts and their callers this morning, there is little sympathy for the high bills facing Dixon, who has hired high-priced attorneys to defend her against the dozen-count indictment on theft, perjury and misuse of office charges brought by the Office of the State Prosecutor earlier this month. The charges stem from Dixon’s personal relationship with a developer who received tax breaks from the city, and from her alleged personal use of thousands of dollars worth of gift cards purchased by that developer and others and intended for needy families. She has said she is innocent of the charges.

The radio show callers say Dixon seems not to recognize the appearance of her actions. They note that Dixon dug her heels in over a recent cost of living increase that she and other city officials quietly approved for themselves, only to promise to donate the increase to charity after days of public outcry.

The legal bills policy has the same feel: something that could wind up getting reversed after outrage mounts.

But here’s the rub: It may be best for city taxpayers if the policy goes through. The plan is modeled after a state practice, which allows compensation for public officials’ legal fees only if they are found not guilty of charges. If they plead or are determined to be guilty, no money.

Nilson says he wants to put in writing something that had been done on a case-by-case basis before. Translation: if the policy proposal dies from public pressure, Dixon and her lawyers could still well get taxpayer reimbursement anyway. So maybe taxpayers should stop and think and ask for a smart policy in writing.

There’s a fairness issue, too. As some radio callers note, lots of taxpayer money was spent on the lengthy investigation into Dixon. Isn’t it right that she taps into public resources for her defense? Sad to say, but it may be there is no way around taxpayers being on the hook for this.

This has the potential to be quite a trial, as the case goes forward. Not only will the fate of Dixon be in the hands of a few notoriously unpredictable Baltimore City jurors, but so will a huge bill for taxpayers.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:06 AM | | Comments (27)
        

State worker layoffs coming, but we know where the empty PINs are

Update: The numbers below reflect only the elimination of vacant positions. The layoffs are yet to come. Still, they show which agencies are already finding fewer bodies to do the work. 

We don't have details yet on which state workers are going to be laid off, but Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget document does show which state agencies are expected to lose full-time employees and which lucky ones are set to grow next year. Bear in mind that the numbers here don't necessarily equate to layoffs because some of the agencies will have unfilled positions to be cut. But this does give some indication of where the pain might be felt the hardest.

(Note: I'm getting calls from agencies saying there's some discrepancy between the 2010 numbers listed in the front of the newly released budget highlights book and those I've printed here, which come from Appendix II in the back of the book, on page 98. I'll let you know as soon as I get to the bottom of it.)

Update: The numbers below reflect the reduction of 1,000 vacant positions proposed by the budget bill. The figures printed in the front of the budget book don't.

Agency

FY2009 positions

FY2010 positions

Difference

University System Of Maryland

21,931

22,072

141

Public Safety And Correctional Services

11,623

11,250

-373

Transportation

9,135

9,135

0

Health And Mental Hygiene

7,237

6,758

-479

Human Resources

6,851

6,598

-253

Judiciary

3,569

3,613

44

State Police

2,441

2,420

-21

Juvenile Services

2,272

2,242

-30

Education

1,601

1,588

-13

Labor, Licensing, And Regulation

1,450

1,441

-9

Natural Resources

1,359

1,343

-16

Comptroller Of Maryland

1,118

1,113

-5

Morgan State University

1,093

1,093

0

Environment

958

950

-8

Office Of The Public Defender

990

942

-48

Legislative

747

747

0

Assessments And Taxation

628

626

-2

General Services

611

598

-13

Baltimore City Community College

527

502

-25

St. Mary’S College Of Maryland

440

435

-5

Agriculture

427

423

-4

Military Department

375

361

-14

Maryland School For The Deaf

320

320

0

Budget And Management

324

319

-5

Housing And Community Development

311

311

0

Maryland Insurance Administration

282

282

0

Business And Economic Development

261

258

-3

Office Of The Attorney General

247

244

-3

Retirement And Pension Systems

190

190

0

Lottery Agency

171

171

0

Planning

167

161

-6

Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission

155

155

0

Public Service Commission

142

142

0

Workers’ Compensation Commission

124

124

0

Information Technology

123

120

-3

Office Of Administrative Hearings

122

119

-3

Executive-Boards, Commissions And Offices

97

99

2

Inst. For Emergency Medical Services Systems

95

94

-1

Executive Department

86

89

3

Veterans Affairs

73

70

-3

Maryland Higher Education Commission

69

66

-3

State Treasurer’S Office

64

63

-1

Aging

56

55

-1

State Archives

48

48

0

Commission On Human Relations

42

42

0

Historic St. Mary’S City Commission

38

37

-1

State Board Of Elections

33

31

-2

Secretary Of State

30

29

-1

Maryland Energy Administration

25

28

3

Disabilities

26

26

0

Office Of The People’S Counsel

19

19

0

Governor’S Office For Children

21

19

-2

Interagency For School Construction

19

18

-1

Subsequent Injury Fund

18

18

0

Supplemental Retirement Plans

14

14

0

Office Of The State Prosecutor

12

12

0

Maryland Health Insurance Plan

9

12

3

Uninsured Employers’ Fund

11

11

0

Maryland Tax Court

9

9

0

Board Of Public Works

9

9

0

Property Tax Assessment Appeals Boards

9

9

0

Board Of Contract Appeals

5

5

0

Canal Place Authority

3

2

-1

Office Of The Deaf And Hard Of Hearing

2

2

0

Posted by Andy Green at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
        

January 21, 2009

First furloughs, now state worker layoffs

Gov. O'Malley's budget antiticpates about 700 state employee layoffs to help balance the budget. That's less than 1 percent of the overall state workforce, but it likely comes as a big hit to employees who largely took an earlier furlough plan pretty well in the belief that it would prevent layoffs. Now, most all state workers are being forced to take unpaid leave only to see some of their colleagues shown the door. Until now, unionized state workers have been pretty solid supporters of O'Malley. Will that change? And was there any alternative? Sen. President Mike Miller says the governor should have passed cuts on to local governments before laying off state workers -- after all, many local government workers have seen better raises in recent years than their state counterparts. Expect a big debate this session over whether anything can be done to save the state employees.

Posted by Andy Green at 5:53 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Watch this video

Video update from your friendly blogger on the governor's budget. The sweater-vest adds a certain professorial air, dontcha think?

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:34 PM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley's on MPT tonight

Gov. O'Malley's regular gig on MPT's Direct Connection is tonight at 7:30. The timing is convenient, given the release of the budget today. You can call during the broadcast (800-926-0629) or e-mail questions to directconnection@mpt.org.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:39 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Maryland's budget: How much is CASA getting?

We get a lot of questions in the comment section when discussing budget matters about how much Casa of Maryland is getting from the state. (The organization's mission is to help immigrants regardless of their legal status. Many people see this as helping people break the nation's immigration laws, though, certainly, others see it differently.) Anyway, it will take quite some time to figure out how much of the new, fiscal 2010 budget proposal would go to that organization. But thanks to a handy new tool from the state, we can figure out exactly how much it got in the 2008 budget.

Created as a result of a "Google government" bill passed last year, the tool allows you to check how much state money is going to any vendor in the state, and from what agency. It's modeled after a federal website (which actually provides a good bit more information than its state counterpart, and was created through legislation co-sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama, along with Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma). In any case, if you want to search for Casa, go to the website, click on "vendor receiving a payment" and type in Casa of Maryland. (Note there are other organizations called CASA Inc., CASA of Caroline and CASA of Baltimore, which, so far as I can tell, are versions of Court Appointed Special Advocates and have nothing to do with the immigration group.)

So, all told, Casa of Maryland got $70,850 from the Department of Housing and Community Development. (By comparison, The Sun got $873,527.63 from 46 different agencies.)

Posted by Andy Green at 3:07 PM | | Comments (8)
        

Maryland's budget: How our fortunes have changed

A look back through budget documents over the last several years shows just how much the economic downturn has affected plans for state spending this year. The first projection for FY 2010 came in Bob Ehrlich's FY 2005 budget. Over the next few years, both he and O'Malley significantly revised that projection upward, with the state anticipating at one point that it would spend more than $16 billion next year. Now O'Malley's proposal -- likely only to be cut more by the legislature -- has us back below where we started from five years ago. You can see the trend in the chart below. (Figures in billions.)

 

FY2010chart.bmp
Posted by Andy Green at 2:40 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Early look at Maryland's 2010 state budget

Gov. Martin O'Malley is unveiling his proposal for the 2010 budget as we speak, but here are a few salient details:

Spending will actually decline next year. O'Malley is proposing a general fund (the part of the budget that is funded by state tax dollars) of $14.4 billion. That's 1.3 percent less than last year's budget of $14.6 billion and even a bit smaller than the budget from the year before. In fact, it's only about $250 million more than Ehrlich's last budget. That's pretty remarkable; given spending on education, Medicaid and other formula-driven programs, state government spending pretty much always goes up. In fact, spending has never declined in the last 25 years.

O'Malley is proposing about 700 layoffs of state employees.

K-12 education funding takes a hit after years of rapid growth as a result of the Thornton formula. But spending on the University System of Maryland increases enough to maintain a tuition freeze.

The administration's figures assume $350 million in federal stimulus money to help fund Medicaid.

O'Malley resolves a $400 million shortfall in the current year budget through $208 million in cuts and $619 million in fund transfers, which also provides some cash to help the state get through 2010.

In spite of all that, the state budget is still out of whack in the long term. The budget department estimates ongoing gaps between general fund expenditures and revenues of $600-$700 million for the next several years.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:39 PM | | Comments (8)
        

Kratovil's first floor speech

Maryland's newest congressman, Democrat Frank Kratovil, has just delivered his first remarks on the floor of the House.

Kratovil used the opportunity to call for a shared approach to problem-solving, which is what he said his constituents want.

"No party has a monopoly on good ideas, and, as always, if we work in a bi-partisan manner we will find that the truth is somewhere in the middle," he said. He learned the same lesson, he said, during his career as a prosecutor.

Click on the link below to read the full text of his floor speech.

Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to address the House for one minute and to revise and extend my remarks.

SPEAKER: WITHOUT OBJECTION; SO ORDERED

I come to Congress as a career prosecutor. Someone, whose job it has been to sort through facts in search of the truth.

In my career I have found that usually the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Running for Congress gave me the opportunity to meet people with divergent opinions;

But what I found was that as differing as their opinions may have been, more often than not they shared the same goals for their families and their communities.

Most wanted more financial stability, they wanted to send their children to college, and they wanted a government that didn’t interfere with their small business, but provided incentive and opportunity to grow.

People agreed that that a clean and healthy Chesapeake was vital to our region, whether they valued the bay for sport, commerce, or tourism, and they wanted a Congress that applied oversight to every penny they appropriated.

The long and short was that among my constituents there were just as many shared goals as there were opposing viewpoints.

In my first few days as a Member of Congress I have found the same to be true among my colleagues.

I pledged to my constituents that I would work with both sides of the aisle in order to help accomplish these common goals and that is the same promise I make to my colleagues.

No party has a monopoly on good ideas, and, as always, if we work in a bi-partisan manner we will find that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:31 PM | | Comments (0)
        

City wants to make it easier to fire the top cop

Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the city delegation, has proposed legislation establishing that the city police commissioner serves “at the pleasure of the mayor.” His bill, introduced at the request of Baltimore officials, would amend an unusual state law that spells out specific conditions that must be met before the mayor can fire the police commissioner.

 That language – unique in the state – contributed to a years-long lawsuit by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, who said he was illegally fired in 2004 by then-Mayor Martin O’Malley. Siding with Clark, the Court of Appeals ruled last March that Baltimore mayors may fire commissioners only under certain circumstances, including official misconduct, inefficiency and incompetence.

O'Malley, now the governor, fired Clark when allegations surfaced that Clark and his fiancee had a domestic dispute. Criminal allegations were later determined to be unfounded. Last July, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge threw out Clark’s $60 million wrongful termination lawsuit, saying he was only entitled to the severance package the city had already given him.

But the lawsuit prompted Baltimore officials to mount a campaign to get the law changed. Reacting to the Court of Appeals ruling, City Solicitor George Nilson said the law has “tied our hands.”

Anderson said his proposal simply “brings Baltimore in line with everyone else.” “No county executive in Maryland does not have this power already,” Anderson said. If General Assembly approves the bill, it would take effect June. 1.

--Julie Bykowicz

UPDATE: Clark’s attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, says the former commish's case is still active. Pettit argues that the judge ignored the Court of Appeals decision and says the case is now awaiting a hearing date at the Court of Special Appeals.

Here’s what HB 92 proposes:

(New language is in caps and text to be deleted is in brackets.) The Police Commissioner is subject to removal [by] AT THE PLEASURE OF the Mayor [for official misconduct, malfeasance, inefficiency or incompetency, including prolonged illness, in the manner provided by law in the case of civil officers], AS PROVIDED IN SECTION 6(C) OF ARTICLE IV OF THE CHARTER OF BALTIMORE CITY.

 

Posted by Andy Green at 11:22 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Kamenetz in the cash lead

Most of the potential Democratic candidates for Baltimore County exec have filed their reports already, and so far, it looks like County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz has a pretty solid lead in the money race so far. This is not terribly surprising, given that he's not had a serious challenge in years and has an affluent district centered on Pikesville. (Perhaps presciently, he snatched up a bunch of Ruxton precincts in the redistricting after the 2000 Census.) He's got more than $725,000 on hand, well on his way to the traditional $1 million benchmark to make a serious run at county executive.

His closest competitor, Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, who rerpresents a piece of the county's East Side, has a little over half the cash on hand that Kamenetz does, about $400,000. After that, things trail off. Councilman John A. Olszewski Sr. (not to be confused with Johnny O. Jr., the delegate) has about $225,000. Sam Moxley, the councilman from Catonsville, clocks in at under $42,000, and neither Vince Gardina nor Ken Oliver, the councilmen from Perry Hall and Randallstown, respective, have filed yet.

Among the state senators who have been talked about as potential candidates, Bobby Zirkin from Owings Mills has about $105,000, and Jim Brochin from Towson has $87,000.

It's still possible that a candidate could come out of the woodwork and sweep into office (see: Smith, Jim), but realistically, he or she would need to start making the rounds pretty soon. The county is too big and too diverse to rely on a low-budget, grassroots operation, and the candidates who have been successful have generally raised enough money to go on TV. That takes time, so anybody who wants to make a serious run had better get started.

More details of the fundraising totals are below the jump.

Candidate

Receipts

Expenditures

Cash on hand

Kevin Kamenetz

$145,409.54

$ 9,631.05

$ 727,080.24

Joe Bartenfelder

$ 69,991.00

$ 36,297.27

$ 401,638.38

John A. Olszewski Sr.

$ 987.94

$ 2,838.52

$ 227,180.01

Bobby Zirkin

$ 65,925.00

$ 17,670.83

$ 105,597.48

Jim Brochin

$ 91,649.63

$ 36,956.60

$ 87,313.21

Stephen G. Samuel Moxley

$ 30,480.27

$ 26,330.17

$ 41,696.32

Posted by Andy Green at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Campaign finance reports due today

It's a potentially telling day in the Maryland political calendar today: Campaign finance reports are due. The numbers will give us some indication of how strong a position potential candidates are in heading into another state election cycle. It may seem early, but big war chests can frighten off challengers or point toward potentially competitive races.

Some of the ones we're looking at now are the nascent race to replace the term-limited Jim Smith as Baltimore County Executive, a potential matchup between Smith and Comptroller Peter Franchot, and the financial strength of Gov. Martin O'Malley. (Whether Bob Ehrlich is raising any serious money will be interesting to know as well.) If there are other races you're curious about, let us know. We'll post updates as the numbers come in, so check back throughout the day.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:37 AM | | Comments (0)
        

January 20, 2009

A purr-fect symbol for Maryland

We recently received a lovely email message from Vicki and Gary Harvath of Elkton, Maryland, which serves to remind us that the season for light-hearted bills has arrived.

"We just viewed some photos of our Christmas and thought that the Cecil Whig and/or Baltimore Sun would like to picture “Cassie” our 9 year old Calico in the paper," the Harvaths said. "The Calico Cat was officially declared Maryland’s State Cat, I believe in 1992."

Well, the Harvaths are off by a decade. The Calico became Maryland's state cat in October 2001, and was slected, according to the Secretary of State web site, because its colors mimic those in the state flag.

In addition to a state cat, Maryland has a state dog (the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, 1964), a state bird (the Baltimore Oriole, 1947), a state crustacean (the blue crab, 1989), a state insect (the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, 1973), a state folk dance (square dancing, 1994), a state drink (milk, 1998), a state sport (jousting, 1962), and a state team sport (lacrosse, 2004).

The latest additions to the list came last year, when laws declaring the Smith Island cake as the official state dessert and walking as the state excercise took effect.

With the legislature back in session and schoolchildren everywhere prodded to participate in real life examples of how a bill becomes a law, there's no doubt that we will be seeing a lot more bills to add to Maryland's official list. If history is any guide, most will fail.

But back to the Harvaths. We were touched by the request, so here's a photo of Cassie, alongside a photo of the Calico on the Maryland Kids Page maitained by the Secretary of State's office. Which do you like better? And if you send us your favorite photo of the state reptile (the Diamondback Terrapin) or state fish (the rockfish), we'll put it up. calicocat.jpg CalicoCat2.jpg

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:04 PM | | Comments (3)
        

What does the inauguration mean for you?

Here's your chance to get published -- in The Baltimore Sun.

We'd like to know: What does the inauguration of Barack Obama mean to you?
Just leave a comment below. We will select a number of comments to be published in the Sun on Sunday, Jan. 25, in the Maryland Closeup section.

Please include an email address in case we need to contact you; it will not be published with your comment.

Thanks.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:32 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Maryland GOP dings four bills

In a fund-raising e-mail today, Maryland GOP Chairman Jim Pelura sounds the alarm about what he sees as Democratic frivilousness (excuse me "Democrat" frivilousness) by highlighting four bills from the young legislative session. They are (with his commentary):

-SB 40: Sales and Use Tax - Snacks

Just what it sounds like, this bill levies a tax on snack food...what will they think of next! 

-SB 41: Higher Education - Tuition Charges - Maryland High School Students

This bill award in-state tuition rates to Illegal Immigrants.  That's right, in the face of a huge budget deficit, Senator David Harrington (and many of his colleagues) want to subsidize the college education of people who are in our country illegally.

-HB 6: Malfunctioning Traffic Light Act

Requires drivers to slow down when a traffic light is out at an intersection.  Yes, that's right, someone actually put in a bill about this.

-HB 34: Environment - Impervious Surface - Statewide Database

Requires the Department of the Environment to maintain a statewide database of all impervious surfaces in the state.  This means that the state would have a complete record of you and your neighbors' driveways as well as your deck or your business's parking lot.  The state would have a record of any area with paving, gravel, stone, or shell.  A little scary huh?

Looks like the early punching bag of the Republicans this year is Sen. David C. Harrington of Prince George's County. (He was appointed to the post in 2008 after the death of Sen. Gwendolyn Britt.) He sponsored both the snack tax and the in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants bills. Both of those ideas have been considered in Annapolis before, to no avail. A previous version of the tuition bill has come much closer to passage, and Gov. O'Malley has been on the record as supporting it.

On the House side, the traffic light bill is sponsored by Saqib Ali of Montgomery County, and could be related to a fatal Howard County accident in January 2006 in which a tractor-trailer ran through an intersection with a broken signal and killed two teens. The truck driver later acknowledged that he knew the signal was out. The impervious surface bill comes from Del. Jon Cardin of Baltimore County.

Fiscal analyses of those bills aren't available yet, so there's no way of knowing yet whether they would be as wasteful as Dr. Pelura suggests.

 

Posted by Andy Green at 1:22 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Boo-birds greeted O'Malley

Gov. Martin O'Malley is in Washington today for inaugural ceremonies. He hopes for a better reception than he received in Baltimore on Saturday, when the boos were audible when O'Malley stepped to a platform in War Memorial Plaza for a speech before Barack Obama's entrance.

The crowd had been standing in the cold for hours, and were eager for the arrival of the 44th president. Our eyes and ears in the throng told us that anyone who wasn't Obama would have received the same coarse greeting.

But if you listen to talk radio or read Baltimore Sun message boards, you know that there is a strong -- if minority -- strain that is heavily opposed to the governor. A poll this month by Gonzales Research & Marketing had the governor's disapproval rating up two percentage points, to 37 percent from 35 percent. Forty-nine percent said he was doing a good job.

What's your opinion? Were you there? Were the boos true anti-O'Malley sentiment, or were they a product of a cold, long afternoon?

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:35 PM | | Comments (37)
        

What should Obama do first?

A poll published over the weekend by The New York Times shows a remarkable 79 percent of Americans are optimistic about Barack Obama's presidency, significantly higher than the figures recorded at this time for presidents (G.W.) Bush, Clinton, (G.H.W.) Bush or Reagan. The poll found that people believe the nation has monumental challenges but are willing to give the president elect some time to deal with them:

Most Americans said they did not expect real progress in improving the economy, reforming the health care system or ending the war in Iraq — three of the central promises of Mr. Obama’s campaign — for at least two years. The poll found that two-thirds of respondents think the recession will last two years or longer.

But it looks like Obama doesn't intend to take his time. He's been moving quickly with his transition, and news reports say he intends to head to the White House this afternoon -- perhaps even before checking out the inaugural parade -- to get some work done.

What should be the first order of business? He's got a shaky cease fire to deal with between Israel and Hamas. Many of his liberal supporters are looking for a quick, clean break from the Bush administration in the form of executive orders restricting interrogation techniques, closing Guantanamo, undoing restrictions on family planning and stem cell research, etc. And there's the economy to deal with. Should he focus on spending or tax cuts? Should he bail out states (Maryland included) that are struggling to balance their budgets?

Posted by Andy Green at 7:40 AM | | Comments (6)
        

January 17, 2009

Obama steers clear of Dixon

Barack Obama did not acknowledge Mayor Sheila Dixon in his stop in Baltimore this afternoon. He had acknowedged the mayor of Philadelphia when he kicked off the whistlestop tour today. Dixon was an early supporter of Obama, but there had been much speculation this week about how the president-elect would handle her presence at the event given her indictment on perjury, theft and misconduct charges.

He started off the speech thanking "Baltimore's own" Nancy Pelosi and "members of Maryland's Congressional delegation." He then garbled the next bit with thanks to "Maryland state and elected officials."

Then, at the end of the speech, "Join Nancy Pelosi in this effort. And join Gov. O'Malley in this effort. And join the Congressional delegation in this effort." 

And that was it.

Posted by Andy Green at 4:18 PM | | Comments (12)
        

Sharfstein staying in Baltimore

Baltimore's Health Commissioner, Dr. Josh Sharfstein, just told The Baltimore's Sun's Dan Rodricks that he will be staying in Baltimore rather than joining the Obama administration. Sharfstein had been rumored to be a candidate to head the Food and Drug Administration.
Posted by Andy Green at 4:14 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Delaware woman to introduce Obama

Quincy Lucas, a Delaware woman whose sister was killed in Catonsville in 2003, has been tapped to introduce President-elect Barack Obama in Baltimore. Her sister, Whitney, was a second-year resident in psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center when she was found smothered to death in her home. Her ex-boyfriend, James William Buie, was charged in her death. Lucas became a domestic violence advocate and gave one of the nomination speeches for Vice-president elect Joe Biden at last summer's Democratic National Convention. (Biden was a driving force behind the Violence Against Women Act). Here's what Lucas said at the convention:

My name is Quincy Lucas. My sister Witney was my best friend. In 2003, she was murdered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. I later learned that she was one of 58 women who lost their lives to domestic violence in Maryland alone that year.

Violence against women often happens in the shadows, out of public view. Since that time, I’ve devoted my life to bringing it into the light. But I can only speak so much. I realize that sometimes to change lives, you have to change the law.

Joe Biden heard my story. In 1994, he wrote the Violence Against Women Act, so every woman would have a place to turn for support. He’s constantly making sure it has the funding it needs. And today, countless women get a second chance at life because of Joe Biden. So it is in memory of my sister and in the name of women all across this country, that I’m proud to place into nomination the name of Joe Biden to be our next vice president. Thank you.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:39 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Can O'Malley swing the death penalty vote?

Gov. Martin O'Malley said thsi week that he would do "everything in my power" to abolosh the death penalty in Maryland this year and floated the idea of doing it through a constitutional amendment rather than a straight-up vote of the legislature. That's the same idea that broke a logjam in the House of Delegates on slot machine gambling in 2007.

So what are the odds? All indications are that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is still a big obstacle. None of the players on that committee have changed since the 2007 vote on the issue, so who can O'Malley sway?

Back then, these people voted for a repeal: Bryan Frosh (D-Montgomery); Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore); Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery); Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's); and Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). These voted against it: Jim Brochin (D-Baltimore County); Larry Haines (R-Carroll); Alex Mooney (R-Frederick); Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel); and Norm Stone (D-Baltimore County). Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) was away for a funeral at the time of that committee vote, but she was on record as opposing a repeal, and her vote didn't matter since a 5-5 tie is insufficient to vote a bill out onto the floor.

Most of the attention in 2007 focused on Alex Mooney, an observant Catholic who has said his faith makes him torn on the question of the death penalty. He was lobbied by the church and by O'Malley, a fellow Catholic, back then, but ultimately, he was unable to get past the question of what would dissuade someone who was already in prison for life from, say, killing another inmate or a prison guard. He proposed the idea of keeping the death penalty just for those sorts of situations, but the repeal proponents wouldn't go for it.

Simonaire has also emerged as someone who is keeping an open mind on the issue. He has indicated that he would be taking seriously the report of the gubernatorial commission that recommended abolishing the death penalty and the witnesses who testify at the committee hearing on the issue.

But realistically, how much more is there to hear on the subject? Is it possible that some gubernatorial arm-twisting could change some votes on the issue, and if so, are those two Republicans the ones who might be most receptive to it?

What about the two no-voting Democrats on the committee: Stone and Brochin? Stone is a conservative Democrat from Dundalk, and Brochin is a determinedly independent Democrat from the Towson area. Stone has faced the heat from a governor before on social issues, breaking with Gov. Parris Glendening's push for gay rights legislation -- and paying an intense price for it. Then again, Stone's still here.

Brochin is a guy who drives other Senators crazy because he's hard to pin down ideologically. But then again, so is his district. He's got rock-ribbed conservative precincts in Timonium and increasingly liberal ones in Pikesville and near the city line in Towson. He, too, has been personna non grata with the administration before, notably on tax votes, so it's hard to imagine that he'd cave that easily either. If his vote swings, it would more likely be because he tends to agonize over tough votes and has been known to change his mind. 

The telling question may be how these four senators react to the constitutional amendment idea. It only takes one of them to switch to get the issue onto the Senate floor, and after that, who knows? There's generally been a sense that a majority in both the House and Senate would coalesce around a repeal, but a super-majority to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot? Nobody knows. And even before it gets to that point, there's the threat of a filibuster in the Senate. There's no doubt that the governor has a lot of power to bring to bear, but it still may not be enough to move this one.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:31 PM | | Comments (2)
        

January 16, 2009

LNG backers play politics

A coalition of labor leaders has long adovcated for the proposed liquid natural gas terminal in Sparrows Point that just won conditional approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and this week, they put out a pointed video aimed at Maryland's usually labor-friendly politicians who have been fighting this project every step of the way. The video opens with a shot of Rep. Elijah Cummings questioning an official from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the nation's dismal employment situation. Cummings, whose district doesn't include the terminal, hasn't been particularly active on the issue, but the video serves as a prod to his colleagues who on the one hand talk about the poor economy but on the other oppose the project. Note also that the people quoted in the video do very little to address the safety concerns that have led to widespread local opposition to the project but instead focus entirely on economics. It will be interesting to see, going forward, if anxiety about the economy will trump anxiety about what could happen in an accident or terrorist attack.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:49 PM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley: Dixon should attend Obama event

On the hotly debated question of whether recently indicted Mayor Sheila Dixon should attend the Barack Obama rally in Baltimore on Saturday or stay home, Gov. Martin O’Malley said today that he thinks she should be there to welcome the next president to Charm City.

“I would recommend that she do her job every day, and when the president of the United States comes to a city, the mayor of that city should be there out of respect,” O’Malley said during a radio interview.

O’Malley also reiterated that he believes progress has been made under Dixon and that he hopes justice is done. And he noted, again, that the investigation has gone on a long time. It’s been more than five years, to be exact. That’s longer than Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation took, the governor said.

-- Laura Smitherman

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:56 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Steele lining up support for RNC bid -- but won't tell the media just how much

As Michael Steele continues his bid for Republican National Committee chairman, it's hard to determine just how deep his support runs.

We've received a memo from a Wisconsin Republican leader who is backing Steele. The memo notes that the Steele for Chairman campaign has 12 whips who are lining up votes for the election later this month, including Maryland national committeewoman Joyce Terhes and Republican leaders from California, Florida, Illinois and Arizona.

Sounds fine. But then there's this line: "Many reporters have asked us to release to them not just our whip list, but also our full list of RNC members who are pledged to vote for Michael. With no disrespect to the press, we of course will politely decline this request...(R)eleasing our full list of supporters in a 6 candidate field would be a strategic error."

It may be a strategic error. But it's also the argument offered by people who perhaps don't have that many votes lined up.

Click below to see the full memo.

January 15, 2009

MEMORANDUM

TO: Steele Team
FR: Reince Priebus, Chairman, Wisconsin Republican Party
RE: Campaign Update

Congrats Team, we now have 12 Whips working hard every day to elect Michael Steele as the next chairman of the RNC.

I know the Lt. Governor is very appreciative of all of our Whips listed below:

Sharon Giese, National Committeewoman, Arizona Republican Party
Shawn Steel, National Committeeman, California Republican Party
John Frey, National Committeeman, Connecticut Republican State Central Committee
Bob Kabel, Chairman, District of Columbia Republican Committee
Betsy Werronen, National Committeewoman, District of Columbia Republican Committee
Jim Greer, Chairman, Republican Party of Florida
Paul Senft, National Committeeman, Republican Party of Florida
Norm Semanko, Chairman, Idaho Republican State Central Committee
Patrick Brady, National Committeeman, Illinois Republican Party
Joyce Terhes, National Committeewoman, Republican State Central Committee of Maryland
Holly Hughes, National Committeewoman, Michigan Republican State Committee
Reince Preibus, Chairman, Wisconsin Republican Party

In addition, some of you have asked which states will be our nominating states. While no final decision has been made on this, we now have at least 7 states to choose from.

Finally, many reporters have asked us to release to them not just our Whip list, but also our full list of RNC members who are pledged to vote for Michael.

With no disrespect to the press, we of course will politely decline this request. As a former RNC member Michael feels strongly that this race is best waged member by member by member…and not in the press. Additionally, I would add the obvious point that releasing our full list of supporters in a 6 candidate field would be a strategic error.

Only 15 days left to victory!

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:27 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Excited for tomorrow's Obama speech?

We're working on a story for the paper tomorrow about Obama's visit and want to talk to people who are excited about the event or desperately trying to avoid it. If you fall into either camp, or in between, please post a comment or send an e-mail to me, andy.green@baltsun.com or to reporter Matthew Brown, matthew.brown@baltsun.com.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (4)
        

The strange web of Baltimore City Hall ethics

The city’s law office issued an opinion this week supporting a notion offered by Mayor Sheila Dixon’s defense attorneys. They say she was under no requirement to disclose gifts from developers doing business with the city because in part because the Ethics Commission didn’t keep a properly certified list of those companies.

The law department letter said that a database the Ethic Commission has used to determine business doing with the city does not conform with rules, and therefore does not count as a list.

Curious to us is the author of that letter.

It came from the desk of Donald R. Huskey, the deputy city solicitor. As our colleague Annie Linskey notes, he also is the law department’s appointee to the five member Ethics Commission.

So a high-level official in a department controlled by Dixon is now opining that another panel on which he serves has not been following the rules for years. Huskey must have had quite a time putting that argument together.

Others on the ethics board include the chair Dana P. Moore a senior attorney at Venable LLC and Alexander Chambers, a City College teacher and the necessary Republican member. There are two vacancies.

Feel free to comment on this, of course.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:56 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Obama event tips

The state Health Department sent out a round of tips on what to wear and what to eat if you're planning to attend tomorrow's Barack Obama speech in downtown Baltimore. Our own Frank Roylance compiled some similar information for today's paper, but the tips bear repeating:

BALTIMORE, MD (January 16, 2009) As residents prepare to attend activities related to the 2009 Presidential Inauguration on January 20, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) offers the following tips on how to dress in cold and inclement weather.

Use the Layering Principle

* Base Layer: Wear fabrics that keep your skin dry and prevent a clammy feeling.

* Insulating Layer: Wear a vest or shirt made of fleece or wool. This may be added or removed depending on how cold you feel.

* Windproof and Water-Resistant Outer Layer: Wear a jacket, preferably with a hood, to help protect you from the elements.

* Briefs: Wear briefs made of synthetic fabric, preferably nylon or polyester. Cotton or cotton-blend fabrics should be avoided since they hold moisture and do not dry quickly.

* Tights or Thermals: Wear tights, winter-weight hose or thermals when temperatures are below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or when it is windy. Silk or polypropylene long thermal bottoms are best. Tights or hose can also help prevent chafing and chapped skin on the thighs and calves.

Hands

* Gloves or Mittens: Keep your hands warm for cold weather comfort and protection. Mittens are warmer than gloves. If you keep your fingers together, they warm each other.

Socks and Shoes

* Hiking Socks: Protect your feet from the elements when you are walking in cold weather. Wear a hiking sock offering a wicking polypropylene liner sock under a wool over sock. Be careful that you don't wear a sock so padded and bulky that it crowds your toes in your shoes.

* Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes: Wear light hiking boots or trail running shoes that are waterproof. Be sure the shoes have a flexible sole.

Protect Your Eyes, Lips, Skin, Neck and Face

* Sunglasses: Protect your eyes from sun glare.

* Sunscreen: Wear sunscreen. Keep in mind winter's sun radiation is more intense.

* Lip balm: Prevent chapped lips. Balms with sun protection are even better in the outdoors.

* Hats, Hoods and Scarfs: Protect your head, neck and ears leaving only your face exposed. A scarf can be pulled up to cover your nose.

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness are signs of hypothermia. Babies with hypothermia have bright red, cold skin, and very low energy. Seek immediate medical attention for if you experience any of these conditions.

For more information on public health and emergency preparedness for the inauguration, click on *Inauguration Tips* at http://dhmh.state.md.us.

____________________________

Health Officials Offer Food Tips for Residents Attending Inauguration Activities

BALTIMORE, MD (January 16, 2009) Many residents are preparing to attend the upcoming inaugural events, and due to expected large crowds and long lines, some may plan to bring food. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends the following examples of small, pocket-size packs of simple, easy to carry, healthy and non-perishable food items:

* Dried Fruit - Dried Apples, Raisins, Cranberries, Apricots, Peaches, Blueberries or others

* Nuts - Almonds, Brazil Peanuts, Cashews, Macadamia, Pistachios, Pecans, Soy and Walnuts

* Seeds - Shelled pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

* Food Bars - Energy and granola bars

* Crackers - Plain and flavored

* Cereal/Granola - Breakfast-type cereals and trail mix,

* Cookies - Graham Crackers, Oatmeal , Gingersnaps

* Chips - Pretzels, Bagel chips, Baked Chips, Pita chips, Air-popped Popcorn

For more information on public health and emergency preparedness for the inauguration, click on *Inauguration Tips* at:

http://dhmh.state.md.us

Posted by Andy Green at 10:56 AM | | Comments (2)
        

January 15, 2009

Del. Elliott's wife dies

Jeanne Elliott, wife of Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Carroll County Republican, died today. A funeral is scheduled for Monday at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Taneytown. Mrs. Elliot's age and cause of death were not immediately available.

--Gadi Dechter

Posted by Andy Green at 4:51 PM | | Comments (0)
        

More booze for Anne Arundel County?

The first bill this session to reach the floors of the House and Senate would allow bars in Anne Arundel County and Annapolis to remain open one hour past their normal closing time during Inauguration Day. The emergency bill was voted favorably out of committees in both chambers today, and floor votes are scheduled for tomorrow morning.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:42 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Franchot has Republican friends

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has sparred with fellow Democrats and particularly Gov. Martin O’Malley, appears to be able to count on Republicans for allies.

At a forum for a business group across the street from the State House today, Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman singled out the state’s chief tax collector for praise, saying Franchot “had it right” when he accused Annapolis powerbrokers of having a spending problem. The comptroller has criticized Democratic leaders and called for a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s spending practices. At the same forum of the Maryland Economic Development Association, also made a point of noting that Franchot stood up to his party.House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell

The bipartisanship did not go unnoticed. “I’m starting to believe Franchot is the new head of the Republican caucus,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch joked.

-- Laura Smitherman

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:05 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Committee shake-up in Annapolis

Word in Annapolis is that House Speaker Michael E. Busch is shaking up some committee assignments, particularly in the Judiciary Committee. Because of a preponderance of trial attorneys, that panel is known as a tough hurdle for tough-on-crime bills -- such as a package of domestic violence laws Gov. Martin O'Malley intends to push this session.

Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican, said this morning that he has been told Busch is reassigning him. Smigiel hopes the speaker will change his mind. "I am the only Republican trial lawyer in the entire legislature," Smigiel said after this morning's brief session. "I see no service to the people of Maryland to pull trial lawyers off the committee."

Another name rumored to be considered from removal from Judiciary is Del. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:14 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Obama in Baltimore

Details are coming into place for Saturday's visit by Barack Obama to Baltimore. Are you excited for the event? Hoping to stay away? What do you want to hear?

Posted by Andy Green at 3:02 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Gift card guilty plea fills in piece of Dixon indictment

The guilty plea by a city housing department official in the theft of Toys R Us gift cards fills in one question from the indictment of Mayor Sheila Dixon: Lindbergh Carpenter Jr. appears to be Employee # 5. According to the indictment of the mayor, he bought the batch of gift cards that included one Dixon allegedly gave to another city employee and five that prosecutors found in her house when they searched it over the summer. According to the state prosecutor's office, Carpenter agreed to cooperate fully in all on-going investigations as part of his plea deal. It doesn't specifically mention Dixon's case, but it certainly raises the possibility that he might be providing evidence related to her alleged use of the cards.

Much of the discussion in the case so far has focused on the prosecutor's charges of perjury in the case, stemming from Dixon's lack of disclosure of gifts she allegedly received from a prominent developer. But that has bogged down in a legal discussion of whether she was, for technical reasons, actually required to report those gifts. But with the gift cards, the question is not the law, it's the facts. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Mr. Carpenter can do to clarify them.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:46 PM | | Comments (0)
        

State House: Purple for a day

At the request of Baltimore Del. Curt Anderson, Speaker Michael E. Busch consented to suspend the chamber's formal attire requirements and allow members of the House of Delegates to sport Ravens jerseys tomorrow.

Before Anderson announced the coming of "Purple Friday" on the House floor, some spirited negotiations took place.

"Mary's fine with the jerseys," Kristin Jones, Busch's chief of staff, told Anderson, referring to House Clerk Mary Monahan. "Don't paint your face, though," Jones warned Anderson.

Busch then introduced Anderson, who represents Northeast Baltimore and is chairman of the city delegation, as "the number one Ravens fan in Maryland," a epithet that aroused some boos on the floor.

Anderson encouraged the 141 members to wear purple tomorrow, in anticipation of the Ravens' AFC championship game Sunday night against Pittsburgh. Jerseys are fine, he said, "but bring a jacket with you." It was not immediately clear whether a lavender-hued down comforter of the type recently sported by Ravens Coach John Harbaugh would be acceptable.

Del. Justin Ross, a Prince George's County Democrat, and presumably a Redskins fan, rose to invite the Baltimore-area members to travel south and "see what a whole trophy case looks like."

Finally, staying true to his role as minority leader, Del. Tony O'Donnell, who was born in Pennsylvania, said he was rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles and had a superstitious beard to prove it. O'Donnell indicated he would not take advantage of the sartorial privileges of Purple Friday. "For this playoff season," he said, "I'll be going green."

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:59 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Maryland state worker layoffs coming

After 18 months of budget cutting, Gov. Martin O'Malley has finally gotten to the point of laying off a large number of state employees, maybe as many as 1,000, Gadi Dechter and Laura Smitherman reported this morning. The news is not so surprising, in that the state has already eliminated hundreds of vacant positions and cut hundreds of millions in spending and still faces a budget gap of nearly $2 billion in the spending plan for the next fiscal year. But the blow still probably comes hard to state workers, many of whom looked on O'Malley's mandatory government furloughs as painful but better than layoffs.

Now you've got furloughs AND layoffs. And that still won't come close to solving Maryland's budget problems. Unless the Obama administration comes through with some significant aid to the states, it looks like tough times are ahead for the people who rely on government services -- and that may lead to some tough elections ahead for Maryland's politicians. 

Posted by Andy Green at 8:05 AM | | Comments (5)
        

January 14, 2009

Kratovil to agriculture committee

Freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil has won a seat on the House Agriculture committee, making him the first Marylander in decades to sit on that panel.
Maryland isn't considered a farm state, but Kratovil, a Democrat, represents a district that takes in the Eastern Shore, home to the state's four largest farming counties. It is also a base for the Maryland poultry industry, which ranked 14th nationally in a 2007 Agriculture Department report.
Kratovil's predecessors in the First District seat held positions on House committees that dealt with the environment and merchant marine affairs. His selection to the Agriculture panel was announced today by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Kratovil, a Stevensville lawyer before his upset victory last November, has called for more federal resources to reduce the flow of pollution into Chesapeake Bay. Runoff of chicken manure from poultry farms has been the focus of a long-running conflict between the industry and environmental regulators.

-- Paul West

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Maryland legislature video update

With the return of the General Assembly today, we're back with the eagerly awaited (at least by my mother) new season of The Session, our video blog about the goings on in Annapolis. In today's edition, we discuss the opening day festivities and the morose tone of a year in which the budget crunch is expected to dominate all other issues.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Obama 2.0: Return of the Machine

For those of you tired of receiving fund-raising solicitations from David Plouffe or invitations to community service from Michelle Obama, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Barack Obama is planning a massive mobilization effort in every congressional district, getting supporters to get behind his agenda and motivating people to help out whenever possible, even after natural disasters, according to exclusive reporting by our Tribune colleague, Peter Wallsten.

The question of what Obama does with the millions of names in his database has been the subject of intense speculation. Typically, a president turns his political operation over to his party's national committee, which takes the reins of fund-raising and candidate recruitment.

But Obama's all about change. And his political machine is the most wired, the most sophisticated, and the most extensive ever constructed. The old model doesn't apply.

In many ways, Obama is trying to become his own political party, and his tech people and political staff feel empowered to create new ways of doing business. As Wallsten reports, however, the $75 million a year effort has the potential to rile members of Congress who may not look kindly at Obama organizers working in their districts, among their constituents.

For more details of the proposed Obama operation, click on the link below.

By Peter Wallsten
Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - As Barack Obama builds his administration and prepares to take power next week, his political team is quietly planning for a nationwide hiring binge that would marshall an army of full-time organizers to press the new president’s agenda and lay the foundation for his reelection.
The organization, known internally as “Barack Obama 2.0,” is being designed to sustain a grassroots network of millions that was mobilized last year to elect Obama and is now widely considered the country’s most potent political machine.
Organizers and even Republicans say the scope of this permanent campaign structure is unprecedented for a sitting president. People familiar with the plan say Obama’s team would use the network in part to pressure lawmakers-particularly wavering members of the new president’s own party-to help him pass complex legislation on the economy, health care and energy.
The plan could prompt tensions with members of Congress, who are unlikely to welcome the idea of Obama’s political network targeting them from within their own districts. Already, Democratic Party officials in the states worry that it could become a competing political force that revolves around the president’s political ambitions while diminishing the needs of down-ballot Democrats.
While the plan is still emerging, one source with knowledge of the internal discussion said the organization could have a budget of $75 million per year in privately raised funds, while another said it would deploy hundreds of paid staff members-at least one in every congressional district in certain politically important states and even more in the larger battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina.
The full-time staff is likely to consist primarily of the presidential campaign workers, many in their 20s, who served as the local points of contact for the campaign’s vast network of neighborhood volunteers. As part of the new organization, these workers would likely focus on similar campaign-style tasks, such as arranging phone banks, distributing signs, recruiting more helpers, buying coffee and donuts for house meetings and reporting voter contact data back to senior officials.
“The only way to keep this thing going is to have boots on the ground,” said a strategist familiar with the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because campaign officials have not granted permission to talk about it.
In what would be another unprecedented step, Obama’s political staff is deciding whether to create a service organization that would use the vast corps of its grassroots campaign supporters. As described by one source knowledgeable with the discussions, this non-profit arm would be used to help victims of natural disasters, but would do so under the Obama umbrella while continuing to build the overall network’s massive e-mail database.
The prospect of a sitting president being able to guide a service or relief agency outside the framework of government is a unique development.
While the campaign-style organizing network would be operated through the Democratic National Committee, the new service organization is envisioned as a separate non-profit group. Obama recently appointed his friend, Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, as chairman of the DNC and his campaign battleground states director, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, as executive director.
A spokesman for the Obama campaign, Ben LaBolt, declined comment, other than to say that any speculation about budget figures, state-specific strategy or staffing levels was premature because the plan had not yet been finalized.
Strategists in both parties said the ideas being discussed would create an on-the-ground weapon for policy battles far more powerful than the traditional speeches, press conferences and donor-targeting techniques used by past presidents.
“No one’s ever had these kinds of resources,” said Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who led political operations under President Reagan. “This would be the greatest political organization ever put together, if it works.”
In operating the network, the Democratic National Committee would work closely with the White House political office, which will be headed by experienced campaign organizers schooled in the Obama tactics of using the Internet to harness the massive network of neighborhood-level volunteers.
Such a centralized system would mark a break from the Democratic tradition of relying more on muscular state and local party organizations. It would more closely mirror the Republican structure created under President Bush, whose political guru Karl Rove engineered the 2004 reelection campaign from his post at the White House using a central Republican Party database.
One key difference, however, is that the GOP used its network to target Democrats and win elections, while the Obama system will be used at least in part to influence members of the president’s own party.
For example, lawmakers in Republican-leaning districts might resist voting for an Obama-backed global warming bill. In that case, the White House or Democratic National Committee could use the new network for phone campaigns, demonstrations or lobbying trips to push lawmakers to stick with Obama.
“You can pretty much target the list to people who haven’t always voted with Democrats,” said a House Democratic leadership aide familiar with the Obama plan.
This aide said the pressure could actually help Democrats in those districts. They could either point to a groundswell of support for the Obama policy as a reason to vote for it-or, alternatively, they could choose to score points with conservative votesr by bucking the activists.
“It could give them cover either way,” the aide said.
Another Capitol Hill strategist, however, said some lawmakers in closely contested districts were anxious about the Obama plan, “watching very carefully to see whether or not they’re going to be pressured at home.”
Similarly, some state party leaders are raising cautions.
“The party needs to be rooted not just around one individual, but it needs to have a grassroots base that can survive the times and even endure past whoever may be in office,” said Jerry Meek, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “Obama brings a log to the table, but on the other hand state parties exist for more than serving the objectives of the president and are in the business to elect county commissioners, school board members and members of the legislature.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Will Sheila Dixon be tried in Baltimore?

Since Sheila Dixon's indictment last week, there's been a lot of chatter on this blog and elsewhere about whether a Baltmiore City jury would be objective in a trial of a popular mayor, with many people, including some savvy attorneys, saying she would have a huge home court advantage.

Now, there's no guarantee that a trial will ever actually happen (Dixon's lawyers are trying to get the whole thing thrown out, a standard move in such situations that may or may not be successful; alternatively, she could always enter a plea if her odds look bad), but the consensus is that there's little chance that the venue would be changed. Veteran legal affairs reporter Julie Bykowicz did some asking around on the issue and tells me:

  • Venue changes are almost always requested by the defense, which would have no incentive to ask for one in this case.
  • Prosecutors can request a venue change, but it would likely look bad for a white, Republican prosecutor from the 'burbs to ask to move the trial of a black, female, Democratic mayor out of the city. The people of Baltimore were qualified to judge her during the election; why not in court?
  • A judge would have to grant such a request if the prosecutor made it, and it would definitely be bad politics for a judge who has to be re-elected at some point by the voters of Baltimore to imply that those same voters are incapable of rendering fair judgment in a high-profile case.
Posted by Andy Green at 8:13 AM | | Comments (30)
        

January 13, 2009

Democrats rule Annapolis with glee

The Democratic luncheon held the day before the start of the General Assembly session has become an annual tradition. It's a welcome-back affair marked by a series of rah-rah speeches from federal and state officials.

The luncheon has been the forum for some terrific one-liners in the past, with the most memorable coming from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

We're at the point now, though, where the zingers aren't so much fresh and new as they are refinements of past hits.

In 2004, the luncheon took place after Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch had spent a year feuding over slots and figuring out how to deal with a Republican governor upstairs for the first time in more than three decades. Busch and Miller had been at each other's throats, but the Senate president promised that the fighting was going to come to an end.

"How close are we going to be?" Miller asked the crowd. "He's going to eat the watermelon; I'm going to spit out the seeds." As The Baltimore Sun wrote at the time: "Then the State House rivals grasped hands and the room roared with applause." It was one of the best-remembered quotes of the year.

Busch made a reference to the watermelon quip today, but indicated that things are now even sweeter. "Today we are sharing whipped cream and strawberries," he said.

Another Miller zinger came in 2006, as Democrats were gearing up for an election battle between Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Miller pledged that Democrats would "get together and we're going to shoot [Republicans] down. We're going to put them in the ground. We're going to bury them upside-down, and it'll be 10 years before they crawl out again."

And so began a session of less-than-ideal bipartisan cooperation.

After last year's election, Miller said yesterday he's feeling energized and excited, budget deficits notwithstanding.

Not too many years ago, "Republicans were riding high," Miller said, according to the Sun's Laura Smitherman. "They had a Republican President of the United States. They had a Republican governor. They had aides walking around with black notebooks with people in the house they were targeting. Ehrlich was doing very well in polls."

"I said, you know they are riding high right now but what’s going to happen is we’re going to come together and we’re going to shoot 'em down. We’re going to shoot 'em down and we’re going to bury them face down, deep and far. So deep and far it’s going to take 20 years for them to come out the other side. They’ll see China from there. But I was wrong. It’s going to take 40 years for them to recover from what we did to them in 2008."

And so begins another session with Democrats in control in Annapolis.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:04 PM | | Comments (31)
        

O'Malley's approval rating climbs

A new poll released today by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies has Gov. O'Malley's approval rating inching up to 49 percent, with 37 percent disapproving. That's up from a 45-35 split in September and significantly better than his apporval ratings from a year ago when voter anger over tax increases passed during the 2007 special session pushed him down into the 30s. It will be interesting to see how that number changes in the coming months as the economy gets worse and he's forced to take more severe action (probably spending cuts rather than tax increases) to balance the budget.

Other key figures from the survey:

  • The economy is, far and away, the most pressing issue on the minds of Marylanders. A year ago, 10 percent of voters cited the economy as their top concern; now, 61 percent do.
  • 53 percent favor the death penalty in Maryland and 41 percent oppose it. That's a narrower margin of support than has historically been the case, perhaps correlated with O'Malley's advocacy on the issue and the report of a gubernatorial task force recommending an end to capital punishment.
  • A solid majority say life without parole is a viable alternative to the death penalty. 65 percent of Maryalnders say it is an acceptable alternative and 31 percent say it isn't.
  • And finally, a whopping 80 percent of Marylanders approve of the way President Elect Obama has handled the transition. Even Republicans approve by a margin of 54-26. (Democrats: 94-3.)
Posted by Andy Green at 12:01 PM | | Comments (17)
        

SRB on Fox Business Network

City Council Prez. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is due to appear on Fox Business Network at noon to discuss the city fire and police pension fund's loss of about $3.5 million in the Madoff Ponzi scheme.
Posted by Andy Green at 11:50 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Will Obama stand with Dixon?

We're getting rumblings that the details of Barack Obama's visit to Baltimore on Saturday are close to being finalized and could be announced officially today or tomorrow. As many as 150,000 people are expected to come to see him speak. Among the many questions raised by such a huge event is, will Sheila Dixon stand by the president elect on stage?

Under normal protocol, the mayor of a city Obama is visiting would probably get at least a photo op with the incoming commander in chief, and that would especially be true here given Dixon's early and ardent support for Obama, not an insignificant thing since it marked a break with Gov. O'Malley's support of Hillary Clinton.

But Dixon is fresh off a 12-count indictment on charges of perjury and theft, and that would, at the least, pose a distraction from what Obama wants to accomplish. It would certainly be embarassing for Dixon if she were told to stay away, but the interests of the president trump the interests of the mayor, and I wouldn't be shocked if these two never quite meet up in public on Saturday.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:44 AM | | Comments (2)
        

January 12, 2009

Graeme Frost, at it again

Graeme Frost, the Baltimore youth whose advocacy of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program a while back drew the consternation of Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and others on the right, jumped back into the fray today.

Now 13, Graeme appeared with Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett at a Takoma Park event to rally support for expanding the program for moderate-income families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

In 2007, when Democrats in Congress were trying to expand the program, they called on the Frost family for help. In the party’s weekly radio address, Graeme, then 12, described how SCHIP helped his family after a 2004 car crash left him and a younger sister comatose.

That drew fire from some conservatives, who took to the blogosphere to speculate on the family’s finances and whether they qualified for the program or really needed the help.

In one memorable comment, a contributor to the conservative web site Redstate said: "If federal funds were required [they] could die for all I care. Let the parents get second jobs, let their state foot the bill or let them seek help from private charities. ... I would hire a team of PIs and find out exactly how much their parents made and where they spent every nickel. Then I'd do everything possible to destroy their lives with that info."

Congress voted in 2007 to expand SCHIP but the legislation was vetoed by President Bush.

A release from Van Hollen’s office quoted Graeme as optimistic that Congress would soon approve and Barack Obama would sign legislation that would expand the number of Maryland children covered from 110,000 to 175,000.

"Children like me across the country will be much healthier thanks to President-Elect Obama and the 111th Congress," he said. "We kids will work with Rep. Chris Van Hollen to make sure the SCHIP bill becomes law soon."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:04 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Former delegate McKee to go behind bars today

Former Delegate Robert McKee of Washington County is scehduled to begin serving a 37-month prison sentence today at 2 p.m., when he heads to the the federal Bureau of Prisons, the Associated Press reports.
McKee pleaded guilty in September to possessing child pornography.
He acknowledged in the plea agreement that sheriff's deputies who searched his home in the unincorporated community of Halfway nearly a year ago found pictures he had downloaded from Web sites showing known victims of child pornography.
Before his arrest, McKee was executive director of the Hagerstown Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:20 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Sheila Dixon's defense

Mayor Sheila Dixon's lawyer, Arnold Weiner, made an interesting claim in his defense of his client on Friday: Even if its true that she took thousands of dollars in gifts from developer Ron Lipscomb and failed to disclose them, it's not actually illegal because Lipscomb does not fit the definition of someone who does business with the city. (Someone who sells City Hall rubber bands, yes. Someone who seeks tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, no.)

He hoisted up some legal-exhibit-style blowups of portions of the city ethics code, underlining them in highlighter to make his point to the cameras. He pointed to the definition section of the code, which reads in part:

§ 2-5. “Business with City”.,

(a) In general. “Business with the City” means any 1 or combination of sales, purchases, leases, or contracts to, from, or with the City or any agency that:

(1) is made or entered into during the reporting period for which a disclosure statement is required by Subtitle 7 {“Financial Disclosure”} of this article; and

(2) involves consideration of $5,000 or more on a cumulative basis.

(b) Determining consideration.For purposes of this section, the total consideration committed to be paid as of the award or execution of a contract or lease, to the extent then ascertainable, is included, regardless of the period over which payments are to be made.

Got that? So according to this section, to be considered an entity that does business with the city, you need to engage in "sales, purchases, leases, or contracts," which, Weiner argues, doesn't apply to Lipscomb, the developer who helped bring you Harbor East and other high-profile projects. 

Looking at the section about financial disclosure forms, you find that you're required to report gifts:

(1) accepted by the public servant or by any other person at the direction of the public servant; and

(2) given by or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person that was:

(i) a lobbyist;

(ii) a person regulated by the City; or

(iii) a person doing business with the City.

The state prosecutor is going after Dixon for perjury for failing to disclose her gifts from Lipscomb on her financial disclosure forms, so the question of whether Lipscomb meets that definition is a pretty important one.

I wonder, though, what Weiner would say about this, from another section in the ethics code:

§ 6-27. Acceptance prohibited.

Except as otherwise provided in this Part IV, a public servant may not knowingly accept any gift, directly or indirectly, from any person that the public servant knows or has reason to know:

(1) does or seeks to do business of any kind, regardless of amount:

(i) with the public servant’s agency; or

(ii) if the public servant is a member or employee of the City Council, with the City Council;

(2) engages in an activity that is regulated or controlled by the public servant’s agency;

(3) has a financial interest that might be substantially and materially affected, in a manner distinguishable from the public generally, by the performance or nonperformance of the public servant’s official duties; or

(4) is a lobbyist with respect to matters within the jurisdiction of the public servant.

It seems logical that the definition of people doing business with the city from above could apply in part (1). But what about (3): "has a financial interest that might be substantially and materially affected, in a manner distinguishable from the public generally, by the performance or nonperformance of the public servant’s official duties." Seems like it would be pretty easy to argue that someone who stands to benefit from city tax breaks would fall in to that category. There are exemptions listed in the gift prohibition section, but none would seem obviously to apply here.

The two sections appear somewhat contradictory; in one section, there appears to be a broad prohibition against city employees taking gifts from those who do business with the city or would benefit from the action of a city official. In another, those city officials are required to annually disclose gifts from people doing business with the city. What gives?

Posted by Andy Green at 1:19 AM | | Comments (24)
        

January 10, 2009

GOP attorney killed in skiing accident

Douglas Thiessen, 35, an Anne Arundel County attorney who was general counsel to the Maryland Republican Party, was killed Friday in a skiing accident, according to a party news release.

Thiessen, a father of five, was skiing with his two oldest daughters in Maryland when the accident took place, according to the release.

"He was a trusted friend," said Maryland Republican Chairman Jim Pelura, in an e-mail statement. "Doug was a great husband, father and dedicated friend to the Republican Community serving in several positions throughout the state as counsel and policy director for the Scott Rolle for Attorney General campaign, legal counsel for the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee and currently as General Counsel for the Maryland Republican Party."

Thiessen was a graduate of Washington & Lee University and Wake Forest University School of Law and was a member of the Maryland and District of Columbia bars, the release said. He leaves behind his wife Sara and have five children, Hannah, Taylor, Heidi, Charlotte and Clara.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:13 PM | | Comments (1)
        

January 9, 2009

Cryor officially out as state Democratic Party head

The official word is now out: As we reported this week, Michael Cryor is stepping down as head of the Maryland Democratic Party. His tenure ends the end of the month. He's a public relations executive and a cool and smooth behind-the-scenes operator. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who hand-picked him for the spot, calls him the "horse-whisperer" for his ability to deliver calming words at the right time.

Cryor is going out on a high note: Obama won Maryland big, and the congressional delegation has more Democrats than ever. Party finances appear strong.

Like past chairmen, Cryor has business relationships that may not mesh well with his public party role. In this case, he's getting involved with a slots client, as the Sun's Gadi Dechter reported this week.

Read below for a release from the Democratic Party on Cryor's exit.

Michael Cryor to Step Down as Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party

Tenure Marked by Record Breaking Success and Growth


A statement from Michael Cryor, Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party

“Several weeks ago I sent a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley indicating my intention to step down as Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party following the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Therefore, January 31, 2009 will be my last day.

I want to thank Gov. O’Malley, the people of Maryland and the Maryland Democratic Party for the honor and privilege of serving them in such a capacity. This entire experience has truly been one of the most rewarding and important moments of my life.

In the past 18 months we’ve made great strides as a party, as a state and as a nation. I am very proud of the work we’ve all done – from Gov. O’Malley to the grassroots – in securing the change our nation so desperately needs.

However, it has not been without sacrifices. I must still work for a living, and so I now turn my attention to my business, returning full time to the private sector.

Before I depart, I plan to bear witness to history on January 20, 2009. As I explained to the Governor in December: ‘As the only African-American Chair in the 50 states, it will be most memorable for me to witness the President-elect be sworn in as our next President.’

Within the eighteen months of my tenure, I have been fortunate to lead a team that has broken records in party growth and electoral success at virtually every level. In 2008 Maryland contributed the largest number of campaign volunteers in the nation per capita to an unprecedented victory. As a result, our state party organized and mounted the most powerful grassroots outreach campaign in the nation and helped the Obama/Biden ticket carry the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

We defied the experts and elected another Maryland Democrat to Congress. We registered over a quarter of a million new Democrats in 2008 at a rate of 5 to 1 over our closest competitor. We broke fundraising, staffing and organizational records after a very successful 2006 election cycle when skeptics wondered where growth was possible. And, we have earned the attention and respect of the President-elect and his new administration.

As I depart, I am proud to say the Maryland Democratic Party is stronger today. We are a party poised for more growth and to become a more vital instrument of change.

I have arrived at this decision with mixed emotions. I will miss the daily effort that I believe has been a benefit to my state and nation. I will remain an active Maryland Democrat and I look forward to helping my party as well as my friends and my colleagues with whom I’ve enjoyed working immensely.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Dixon indicted: Can she survive?

The state prosecutor's office just released a 12-count indictment of Mayor Sheila Dixon, relying on many of the allegations we have printed before stemming from her relationship with developer Ron Lipscomb while she was City Council president. She is accused of taking thousands of dollars in gifts from him while his firm was doing business with the city but not disclosing any of it. If these allegations are true, can she hang on to office? How will Baltimore voters react to this?
Posted by Andy Green at 2:15 PM | | Comments (66)
        

Michael Steele: Closet liberal?

In an op-ed published in today's Sun, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker handicaps the race for Republican National Committee chairman and notes a few conservatives apostasies in regard to local boy Michael Steele (for instance, that he owns no guns whatsoever) and a general sense that he "may harbor liberal thoughts."

Having covered our former Lt. Gov. over the years, I can say with assurance that he's not a liberal, but if the people voting for RNC chair are getting the sense that he's not exactly a central casting conservative, that's true too. First is the obvious part, that while he's staunchly anti-abortion and anti-embryonic stem cell research, he's also opposed to the death penalty, a position many people in the GOP don't much like. And when he was running for Senate, he also took pains to distance himself from President Bush (saying we should start talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq, not endorsing Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court seat, criticizing the Hurricane Katrina response, and so on).

But more to the point, he talks about aiding the poor, rehabilitating criminals and helping drug addicts in a way that you don't hear that often from Republicans. I don't mean to say that no other Republicans care about those things, but Steele, with his urban upbrining, grade-school dropout mother, etc., talks about them in ways that I've seen really resonante with audiences that aren't typically Republican, something that might be appealing at a time when the party is trying to expand its base.

Then again, the exit polls suggest that Steele didn't actually get those people to vote for him, so maybe the appeal is limited.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:51 AM | | Comments (4)
        

January 8, 2009

Is Sheila Dixon in the clear?

It's hard to tell whether Mayor Sheila Dixon breathed a sigh of relief yesterday at the news that State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh had issued indictments for City Councilwoman Helen Holton and developer Ron Lipscomb. For years, it has appeared that Rohrbaugh's probe was aimed squarely at her -- he had previously gone after two of her associates (former campaign chairman Dale Clark and Mildred Boyer, her sister's former employer) and a search warrant affidavit The Sun obtained last year said that the prosecutor believed "a corrupt relationship" existed between Dixon and Lipscomb. But her name appeared nowhere in the indictments, and time is running out on Rohrbaugh's grand jury.

So what does that mean? It's still possible, of course, that more indictments could come before the grand jury wraps up tomorrow. But if it doesn't, is Dixon in the clear?

Not necessarily. Rohrbaugh has been at this investigation for years now and has gone through several grand juries. The problem is, he has to start over from scratch with each new grand jury, so there's some understandable deadline pressure for him to bring any indictments he can before the end of the day tomorrow.

But there might be more pressure even than that. Rohrbaugh can't empanel a grand jury without a circuit judge's OK. After so many years of this investigation proceeding in fits and starts -- an indictment and guilty plea, then nothing; a search of a house or office; then nothing -- Rohrbaugh may want to be able to demonstrate that he's not just twiddling his thumbs so that he has an easier time if he does try to empanel a new grand jury after Friday.

After all, he brought indictments this week not just against Holton and Lipscomb but also against Baltimore County Councilman Ken Oliver. A lot of people in Maryland's political community have scoffed at the severity of the alleged crimes Rohrbaugh is going after, but it's getting harder to argue that he isn't doing something.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:08 PM | | Comments (18)
        

Indictments for a city councilwoman and a developer

Yesterday's indictments of Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton and developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, the former boyfriend of Mayor Sheila Dixon, was not the atomic bomb that the probe into City Hall corruption could have yielded.

But they raise some intriguing political questions that remain unanswered. As our colleagues Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz reported, it is highly unusual for a an incumbent council member in heavily Democratic Baltimore to commission a poll, even if they are considering a run for city-wide office. (Holton was repotedly mulling a run for comptroller, if the position was vacant.) So why did she want a $12,500 survey? Who did the work? (The indictment names Company Z, which intrepid reporters will surely uncover soon.)

And why did Lipscomb agree that his company, Doracon Contracting, would pay for the survey? Lipscomb knows campaign finance laws well, and knows how to exploit loopholes. He knows -- because he has done it -- that a series of limited liability corporations can give campaign donations that, added together, exceed the state limit on donations from individuals and individual companies. Why didn't he use that technique, and the many LLCs he controls, to get money to Holton?

And just how influential has Holton been in getting tax breaks through the city council? Is there really a quid pro quo here? The biggest question of all will be answered soon: Will the mayor be snared in the state prosecutor's investigation before the current grand jury disbands this week?

So many questions. So much time passed during this investigation. So little time left this week.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:01 AM | | Comments (1)
        

January 7, 2009

Changes at the Maryland Democratic Party

It appears as if big changes are afoot in the leadership of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Party chairman Michael Cryor, a public relations exec perhaps best known for his work on the Baltimore "Believe" campaign under then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, is preparing to step aside. The reason: he wants to avoid conflicts with high-profile clients coming his way, including possible slots and gambling clients.

Also possibly out: party executive director Quincey Gamble, who has a lot of contacts who worked on the Obama campaign. Gamble tells us in an email that he has "not decided" if he is making a move.

More high-level changes could be coming. Stay tuned and check back.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Maryland buys more land

The Sun's Tim Wheeler reports that the state has approved the purchase of a large wooded tract on the Eastern Shore this morning for $14.4 million. This is part of a $70 million land purchase Gov. O'Malley announced a few months ago, a deal that raised a lot of eyebrows at the time because many found it crazy to be buying land at the same time that the state is cutting back on spending elsewhere, furloughing employees etc.

(The reason the state is doing it is because land purchase money comes from a dedicated tax that isn't supposed to be used for other purposes, though sometimes it has been in the past.)

But another detail Tim uncovered that could raise some more eyebrows is that the $14.4 million is the higher of two appraisal prices for the land. The lower appraisal was for $12.2 million. $2 million may not mean much in the scheme of Maryland's budget problems, but the question of how the state handles land purchases when two appraisals differ has been a pretty hot topic in the past.

In this case, the state apparently rejected the lower appraisal as flawed because it considered properties from far and wide in trying to come up with comparable sales (there being relatively few such parcels out there to sell). The $14.4 million figure relied solely on sales from the Shore. But it still leaves open a lot of room for debate over whether the state's getting the best deal, not to mention whether it should be buying land now at all.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:20 AM | | Comments (3)
        

January 6, 2009

O'Malley's football loyalties

In response to some controversy on a previous thread about whether O'malley is truly a Ravens fan or possibly some kind of closet Redskins guy because of his DC-area upbrining, I'll throw into the mix this bit of investigative reporting from 2002 by former City Hall reporter Gadi Epstein:

Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy has a dark tale to share about his old friend Martin O'Malley, a family secret that takes on near-scandalous proportions as the Baltimore Ravens prepare to butt heads with their sworn enemy, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the NFL playoffs tomorrow.

It turns out, Murphy says, that the O'Malley family and the family that owns the Steelers, the Rooneys, go back together - a long way back."Art Rooney and Martin's grandfather were contemporaries in the same neighborhood," Murphy reports gleefully of O'Malley's Steeltown roots. "I wonder where Martin's allegiances really are. Isn't blood stronger than anything else?"

Indeed. Dig a little further, and a history of wrongdoing at the highest levels is exposed. Listen to O'Malley deny that he has any sympathy to the Steelers:

"Absolutely false. I have one allegiance, and that is to the greatest city in America," says the mayor, who was reared in Rockville. "There'll be no divided loyalty in my heart, though I have to confess my brothers and I used to get beat up in school for being the only kids with Steeler shirts on."

This tale only gets more interesting upon examining the close ties between O'Malley and Murphy, and between their two administrations.

The two mayors' friendship dates to 1984. O'Malley was a 21-year-old up-and-coming political operative in then-U.S. Sen. Gary Hart's presidential campaign, and Murphy, a 40-year-old Democratic state representative in Pennsylvania, was one of the state's few elected officials backing Hart.

O'Malley and Murphy grew closer during the 1988 Hart campaign.

The two men have been involved in each other's political careers ever since the Hart days. O'Malley was the self-described "out-of-town consultant" on Murphy's underdog bid for mayor in 1989.

Murphy lost, but finished a surprisingly strong second in that race. He and his wife returned the support a year later, in O'Malley's failed bid in Baltimore for a state Senate seat.

O'Malley narrowly lost that race, but Murphy was back again the next year when O'Malley ran successfully for City Council.

Eight years later, O'Malley said of Murphy, "He was one of the people close to me that I talked to before I jumped off the cliff and ran for mayor."

The two mayors have borrowed ideas and advice from each other and their staffs. CitiStat? Murphy has adopted O'Malley's government accountability tool, with his first Pittsburgh CitiStat meeting scheduled soon.

And remember when O'Malley ordered his staff to call thousands of senior citizens during a rough snowstorm two years ago, and had police officers deliver emergency groceries to some who were stuck at home? Murphy had given the same orders years earlier.

"There is, I'm going to bet, almost weekly discussions going on between our staff and Martin's staff," said Murphy, 57.

The mayors regularly talk by telephone - whether about a crisis or being mayor or, interestingly enough, just about their prospects.

"There's a lot of mayors who never go on to higher office," Murphy said, without revealing anything about the 2002 Maryland governor's race. "Over the years we've talked a lot about that. It's hard when you're mayor to keep everybody happy."

O'Malley makes a regular pilgrimage to Steeltown for what he dubs "the O'Malley Open," which is apparently a mediocre exhibition of golf talent by the O'Malley clan, whose membership numbers 200 or more in the Pittsburgh area, the mayor says.

For two summers running, his band, O'Malley's March, has joined him on these trips to play at an Irish bar in town. Murphy has taken in the show and reports: "He'd do well in Pittsburgh politics, too."

Which brings this tale back to O'Malley's Steeltown roots. The story dates to the early 20th century, reports the mayor's father, Thomas O'Malley.

"My grandmother had a grocery store and the Rooneys had a saloon in relatively the same neighborhood" on Pittsburgh's north side, the elder O'Malley said. Both families were from Galway, Ireland.

The future Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Art Rooney, befriended Thomas O'Malley's father, William, a minor league baseball player from Arizona who moved to Pittsburgh's Irish community before serving in World War I. With the rise of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William O'Malley became a Democrat and moved up in party politics, becoming a ward boss. Meanwhile, Rooney built his wealth and played baseball on his own team, the Rooneys.

"My father did his taxes, actually," Thomas O'Malley said. "They were very close."

To this day, the elder O'Malley reports, "the whole family" roots for Rooney's Steelers: "We really have a strong identification with Pittsburgh."

But, he insists, for his son the Baltimore mayor, he'll pull for the Ravens this weekend. The O'Malleys are heading to Pittsburgh for the game, and the mayor expects to see the Rooney family and his friend, Tom Murphy.

"It's going to be intense. We have an intense competition," Martin O'Malley said. "Crabs or pierogies will be given up in this game."

Then (perhaps trying to distance himself from his Pittsburgh background?), O'Malley concludes: "I'm not sure I've ever seen a pierogi."

Posted by Andy Green at 2:11 PM | | Comments (6)
        

County Councilman Ken Oliver Indicted

The state prosecutor's office yesterday announced the indictment of Baltimore County Councilman Ken Oliver on felony theft charges and assorted campaign finance regulations related to two checks he wrote from his campaign account to his personal account. The total alleged take is about $4,000 -- not much compared to the $195,000 he's reported raising since 2001, but it would be against the law nonetheless.

Oliver came to the council in 2002 amid much fanfare -- he was elected from a new district designed to create a majority-minority seat, and he became the first (and so far only) African-American to serve on the body. He had the backing of the Randallstown political establishment and narrowly defeated Democratic activst Penny McCrimmon to take the seat.

The idea of his election and the creation of the new district was to get a different voice on a council that was dominated by white men. But over his years on the council, he hasn't gained much of a reputation for shaking things up. Although he's not in the power clique of the council (Moxley-Kamenetz-Bartenfelder-Olszewski), he's not exactly a thorn in their side either. I covered his election and spent a fair amount of time on the county's west side back then, enough to pick up a strong sense among the residents out there that their community wasn't getting its fair due. I'd be curious to hear from people in the district to see if you think Ken has improved that situation or not.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:07 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Have your say on toll increases

Per a request from frequent contributor bryanintimonium, here's the contact information for public comment on the proposed Maryland toll increases and EZPass fees reported in today's Sun. You can send comments to:  mdtatollrates@mdta.state.md.us or to Ronald L. Freeland, Executive Secretary, Maryland Transportation Authority, 2310 Broening Highway, Suite 150, Baltimore, Md. 21224.
Posted by Andy Green at 9:44 AM | | Comments (28)
        

January 5, 2009

Maryland tolls going up (but not for cars)

It appears likely that Maryland is going to raise tolls for commercial vehicles and, for the first time, to charge people for having an EZ-Pass, whether they use it or not. The O'Malley administration looks like it might be a little sensitive to the politics of the issue, given how hard Democrats slammed former Gov. Bob Ehrlich for raising tolls and other assorted fees during his term. The news release from the Maryland Transportation Authority mentions prominently all the other states nearby that have raised tolls on passenger cars and how much the state raised tolls in 2003, though it's subtle enough not to mention that someobdy else was governor at the time.
Posted by Andy Green at 2:10 PM | | Comments (5)
        

O'Malley takes a stand

You never know what's going to prompt a statement from the governor's office. Last week, it was Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip. This week: the Ravens.

ANNAPOLIS, MD (January 5, 2009) – Governor Martin O’Malley issued the following statement today congratulating Coach John Harbaugh on their [sic] decisive victory over the Miami Dolphins and wishing them luck on their next playoff game against the Tennessee Titans. “I want to congratulate Coach Harbaugh and the entire Ravens organization on soundly defeating the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs. This victory not only allows the team to advance to the next round, but it also secures the Ravens’ position among the NFL’s best teams as they continue their pursuit for a championship. “Best of luck to Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and the entire team as they roll to victory in Tennessee on Saturday. Go Ravens!”

 

 

Posted by Andy Green at 12:33 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Kratovil's swearing-in plans

Democrat Frank Kratovil has scheduled an open house at his new Washington office from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow, his swearing-in day. Kratovil's new digs are Room 314 Cannon House Office Building.

Kratovil staffer Kevin Lawlor was apologetic today in sending out the announcement, saying tasks such as getting office voice mail and learning Kratovil's committee assignments have been slower than expected.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:26 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Mike Busch is running for re-election

Not sure there was any doubt about this, but in case there was, he's holding a fund-raiser at the Camden Club tomorrow morning, hosted by Gov. O'Malley. The Republican Party gunned for him big time in 2006 because of his anti-slots position (to no avail), but with the Maryland GOP on less solid ground now, and with slots a fait accompli, the House speaker from Annapolis looks like a pretty solid bet for re-election.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Mid-Atlantic gambling: slopes getting slipperier

As Maryland embarks on its great slots adventure, surrounding states are not standing still.

Lawmakers in Delaware say the prospects for legalizing sports betting in Delaware are on the rise as Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner leaves office.

As the News Journal of Wilmington reports, Delaware House Speaker Bob Gilligan predicts sports betting will be approved in this year's legislative session. The state Senate's leader said he expects a new bill to get a hearing.

According to the paper, Minner has said she would veto a sports betting plan, but Gov.-elect Jack Markell is undecided about the issue. Delaware faces a $560 million state budget shortfall.

Delaware is one of the states that Marylanders have long travelled to for slots gambling, and has long been concerned about the impact of Maryland gambling on its state revenues. Legalizing sports betting would certainly up the ante (sorry, we couldn't resist) in the regional battle for gambling dollars, and adds weight to the argument of critics who contend that it is nearly impossible to limit gambling once it is authorized.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:11 AM | | Comments (4)
        

January 3, 2009

Weldon of Frederick steps back even further

The Frederick New-Post is reporting that Del. Rick Weldon has chosen to resign as head of the Frederick County delegation.

It's an important post, because in Maryland, county delegations hold broad authority over legislation affecting that jurisdiction, and, by convention, the full General Assembly defers to the wishes of a county delegation. The delegation head can help shape such matters as local liquor licenses and some tax rates.

Weldon is the Assembly's only independent, having left the Republican Party last fall. He has already announced he is not seeking re-election in 2010. Some Republicans were grumbling that Weldon needed to leave the delegation post after he changed his party affiliation. Weldon told the newspaper that he didn't think he could adequately fulfill his responsibilities as president and CEO of Frederick County's United Way.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:58 PM | | Comments (1)
        
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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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