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March 31, 2009

No decision in New York special

The first notable election of the Barack Obama era is apparently too close to call, according to the Associated Press and other news organizations.

The House special election in upstate New York, pitting veteran Republican state legislator Jim Tedisco against political neophyte Scott Murphy, a Democrat, is a virtual dead heat. Murphy led by 69 votes out of more than 150,000 cast, with all precincts reporting.

The election, which featured national press attention and outside efforts by everyone from Obama to Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, is for the seat that two-term Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand vacated when she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate job.

A final result in the 20th district of New York isn't likely until military and absentee ballots are tallied, a process that could take several weeks. Or, if the still unresolved November, 2008 election for U.S. Senate from Minnesota is any guide, perhaps it will take several more months after that.

Until then, both sides can claim some measure of victory and everybody else can take a deep breath.

Posted by Paul West at 10:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

End infighting and finger-pointing, Steele demands

by Gadi Dechter -- The Baltimore Sun

Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele lashed out at GOP infighting Tuesday and urged the party faithful – some of whom have expressed discomfort with his erratic statements – to be more like him: “unconventional, unpredictable … to do from time to time the unexpected.”

At a fundraiser for the Anne Arundel County Republican Party at the Annapolis Sheraton, the former Maryland lieutenant governor returned to a hero’s welcome and jokingly acknowledged the rough road he’s traveled since taking over the national party earlier this year.

“Someone told me this whole chairmanship think would be a cakewalk,” he told the more than 400 Republicans who ponied up at least $75 a place to hear him speak. “I’ve learned you can’t please everybody. However you can certainly tick them all off at the same time.”

“That’s part of my strategy,” he said, to laughter, echoing a recent claim that his public tiff with talk show host Rush Limbaugh had been planned.

But Steele also expressed frustration with the public airing of party doubts about his leadership that have dogged his first months as chairman.

“I’m a little sick and tired of the finger-pointing and blaming and complaining,” he said. “Yeah, we have our disagreements. But you don’t play it out there for the press. You’ve got to keep it in the family.”

Del. Warren Miller, a Howard County Republican, noted that the famously off-the-cuff Steele appeared a bit more practiced on Tuesday. "That was one of the first times in my life I've seen him use notes," Miller said.

Del. Anthony O'Donnell, the House minority leader from Southern Maryland said: "I think he was probably saying we have enough detractors from without, we don't have to have detractors from within."

Steele’s appearance at the Republican State Central Committee of Anne Arundel County’s annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner boosted attendance by at least 100, said Louis M. Pope, an RNC’s committeeman for Maryland, who estimated the county party raised more than $36,000.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 9:39 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

White House makes Marylander's nomination official

President Barack Obama's nomination of Maryland Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez to a top Justice department position has officially been sent to the Senate, the White House press secretary's office announced Tuesday afternoon.

Perez, who is Obama's pick to be the nation's top civil rights enforcer, faces likely opposition from conservatives, who have already begun criticizing his past positions on issues such as affirmative action.

Conservative columnist Linda Chavez, the unsuccessful Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Maryland against Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1986, recently took aim at Perez over race-based medical school admissions. Chavez criticized a 2006 law review article by Perez for the University of Maryland's Journal of Health Care Law and Policy in which, she said, he argued for "explicit race-conscious admissions policies for medical school."

Perez has yet to begin making rounds of courtesy calls on members of the Senate, who are to consider his nomination as assistant Attorney General for civil rights, according to a spokeswoman for Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland.

Cardin, a member of the Judiciary committee, hopes to chair Perez's confirmation hearing later this spring. No date has been set yet.

Posted by Paul West at 4:55 PM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley's position on Real ID

UPDATE: See new comments from Mike Miller below.

A number of readers have asked what Gov. Martin O'Malley's position is on Real ID and the varying legislation the two chambers are pursuing related to driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. (In case you're just joining us, the Senate would require proof of legal residency in the U.S. to get a new license or to apply for a renewal, but the House of Delegates wants to grandfather in illegal immigrants who now have licenses and to label theirs as "not federally compliant.") Here's the answer, in an e-mail from O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec that Julie Bykowicz just forwarded me:

Julie – the Governor said this morning that there are legitimate arguments for either bill, and if either were to come out of conference he would sign it. He did give a preference to the House version as a more practical, reasonable solution, but made clear he would sign either one.

-SA

Julie also reports that Senate President Mike Miller is sticking to his guns. Today he said:

I hope the governor will speak out on this issue. Both he and the speaker had previously favored the Senate’s position on this issue. It was their position before the start of the session, and I hope it will continue to be so. It’s not a question of pride. It’s not a question of authorship. It’s a question of effectiveness. I mean the hijackers of 9-11 had state licenses. They were citizens of a foreign country. Those people who committed fraud in obtaining licenses should not be able to renew them. That’s the Senate’s position.

Two-tiered system would allow those people who have fraudulent licenses to continue to renew those licenses. These licenses should not be examined on a case by case basis to make certain that anyone who has a Maryland drivers license complies with Real ID, the federal requirement.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:39 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Speed cameras everywhere in Maryland?

Speed cameras could be coming to many parts of Maryland under a plan that surfaced in the state Senate this morning.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has been seeking approval of statewide speed cameras, expanding their presence beyond just Montgomery County, where they are now.

The proposal appeared all but dead in the Senate, where a committee approved a watered-down version allowing the cameras just in highway work zones. But in an unexpected move, the proposal gained new life thanks to a change proposed by Sen. James Robey, a former Howard County police chief and Democratic county executive, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Julie Bykowicz.

Robey offered an amendment to authorize cameras within a half-mile radius of all schools, which would potentially put them in huge swaths of the state’s urban and suburban areas. Robey's amendment was approved by a wide majority, and the plan received preliminary approval on second reading. (Final Senate approval to come later this week.)

The House of Delegates appears willing to follow suit. House leaders said they have been waiting for the Senate to act, since that’s where a speed camera bill died during the final hours of last year’s session.

The final plan will emerge over the next several days, but its chances look good.

Speed cameras automatically capture a license plate number of a car going above the speed limit. The car’s owner receives a citation for a set amount, regardless of the speed. The penalties are not a moving violation, and no points are accumulated on licenses. Critics call the cameras an unwarranted government intrusion and little more than a means to generate money. Proponents tout the safety features. Senators have place income limits on the cameras to address concerns that local governments will use them as a major revenue source.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:46 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Immigrant driver's license update

The House and Senate appear to be on a definite collision course over how to handle driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Julie Bykowicz reports that last night the Senate passed its version of a bill designed to make Maryland compliant with the federal Real ID act. That bill would require everyone to prove legal residency in the U.S. when getting a new license or renewing one. (That means, presumably, that you wouldn't be able to renew by mail or on-line, at least the first time.)

The House, however, gave final approval last night to a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants who now have licenses to keep driving. If they renew without proving their legal status, they would be given licenses labeled "not federally compliant."

House leaders believe their version would comply with Real ID just as well as the Senate version (more on this below), but the issue here is that Maryland would definitely not be compliant if it does nothing, and there appears to be a real chance that the two chambers will deadlock in the last couple of weeks of the session. Senate President Mike Miller said yesterday that the House plan "rewards criminal conduct," which doesn't sound to me like compromise is in the works.

In other news on the topic, I got an e-mail yesterday from an attorney with the ACLU providing further analysis of the situation (and taking exception to my previous post on the subject) which I'll paste below the jump.

Dear Mr. Green,

My name is Ajmel Quereshi and I am an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and Director of its Immigrants Rights Project. I write in response to your blog post this morning entitled “Here’s Why REAL ID Affects You.” For your information, I would like to provide some clarification regarding a couple of points in your post. I would be happy to discuss these further if you would like.

First, the REAL ID Act of 2005 explicitly provides that a state may, in addition to any compliant REAL ID cards it issues, issue separate non-compliant cards which do not meet REAL ID’s requirements, including lawful presence. See REAL ID Act of 2005, 202(d)(11), Pub. L. No. 109-13, 119 Stat. 315. Section 202 however provides that these cards must clearly state that they cannot be used for federal identification purposes and be marked with insignia differentiating them from compliant cards. Id. House Bill 387 provides that any cards given to persons without lawful status meet these requirements. See HB 387, page 16, lines 13-23. Accordingly, your implication that Maryland, by giving cards to persons without lawful status, would contravene REAL ID’s requirements fails to account for these sections.

Second, in addition, we also question the likelihood that the federal government will actually bar Maryland residents from air travel. This argument discounts the significant opposition to REAL ID nationwide. Eleven states have passed legislation prohibiting implementation of REAL ID. Furthermore, eight additional states have passed legislation denouncing REAL ID. http://www.realnightmare.org/news/105/. Likewise, many of the states’ criticisms have been voiced by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. As governor, she vowed not to comply with the Act, and in June of 2008, she signed a law forbidding her state from cooperating. Matthew Benson, Napolitano: Real ID a No-Go in Arizona, Ariz. Repub., June 18, 2008. While she was chairwoman of the National Governors Association, the organization denounced Real ID, describing it as an unfunded mandate that states could not afford. National Governors Association et al., The Real ID Act: National Impact Analysis (2006). Since becoming Secretary, she has explained that she wants to explore “realistic options” for changes to identification, but not necessarily “under the rubric of REAL ID.” Audrey Hudson, Napolitano Debates Real ID: Will Examine Alternatives to Driver’s Licenses, Wash. Times, Feb. 20, 2009.

Thank you in advance for your attention to these points.

Best,

Ajmel Quereshi

Posted by Andy Green at 10:33 AM | | Comments (3)
        

Steele, Van Hollen bracing for New York verdict

In normal circumstances, the outcome of a special House election would have no bearing at all on the status of a national party chairman. But these aren't normal times for Michael Steele.

The Republican national chairman has attracted outsized attention over the past few months, often as a result of his own missteps. Now, he's likely to feel the fallout from today's election in New York's 20th congressional district, pro or con.

Republicans have a significant registration advantage over Democrats in the upstate district, which takes in rural and suburban areas near Albany, the state capital. Steele has campaigned there and directed hundreds of thousands of national party bucks on behalf of the Republican candidate, Jim Tedisco, a veteran state lawmaker.

Republicans continue to suffer nationally in the eyes of most voters, and Tedisco will be fighting that trend in a district that Barack Obama carried last fall and that went for a Democrat, Kirsten Gillibrand, in the last two House elections.

Stu Rothenberg, an independent election analyst, recently commented that "it's hard to see how" Steele deserves "any blame" if his candidate loses. But, added Rothenberg, "I'm sure someone will fault" him.

We'll be keeping a close eye out for the blame-throwers, if the Republican falls short, and let you know who they are.

Meantime, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who heads his party's congressional campaign committee, also has a dog in this fight. Scott Murphy, a political neophyte with roots in the business world, has pulled even in the most recent polling.

A Sienna College survey, released late last week, gave the Democrat a four-point lead, within the survey's margin of error. Polls close at 9 p.m.

Posted by Paul West at 10:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

March 30, 2009

Howard County delegate in intensive care

An Annapolis Dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter:

Del. Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat, has been in intensive care at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital since Friday. Del. Guy Guzzone, who made the announcement on the House floor moments ago, told lawmakers that Turner was suffering from complications after kidney stone surgery.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:48 PM | | Comments (2)
        

What passes for humor in Annapolis

An Annapolis Dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter:

"The egg does come before the chicken," said Sen. Delores G. Kelley moments ago on the Senate floor.

The Baltimore County Democrat was arguing for a bill that would require the creation of a "business plan" for universal public pre-school. The report, she explained, would be the "shovel-ready" egg eager to hatch into the federally-funded chicken of universal pre-K education. Worried that the bird would hatch some expensive budget items in the future, Republicans tried to scramble the bill by amending a cost-benefit analysis into the budget plan.

The amendment failed.

Next up: Why the chicken crossed the road.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:42 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Democratic fundraiser aiding Palin, ruffling feathers

The affection that big-shot attorney and native Baltimorean John Coale developed for Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign hasn’t gone away, and may be causing some problems in Sarah-land.

Coale, a longtime Democratic donor who lent $500,000 to Martin O’Malley in the closing days of the gubernatorial campaign, met Palin when Coale’s wife – Greta Van Susteren – traveled to Alaska to interview the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Smitten, Coale became an informal adviser, and even endorsed John McCain for president. Coale advised Palin to create a Washington-based political action committee to keep her national profile high, and is still in regular communication with the governor.

Now Politico is reporting that the relationship is something of a problem. Top Palin supporters say that the Washington operation and the Anchorage staff don’t know what each is doing. The Politico article quoted an unnamed Republican saying that “taking advice from Greta and her husband” is a major source of Palin missteps since the campaign ended.

The article also lays blame at Palin’s Alaska state house staff, which some observers say is ill-prepared to help her build and maintain a national profile.

Our Baltimore Sun colleague Laura Vozzella has just talked to Coale about his role with Palin and the criticism he’s receiving. Look for more in her column, published Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:57 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Baltimore native receives congressional citation

Congress has honored Baltimorean Morris Honick for his World War II service and subsequent work as a military historian with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE.

Honick, a Baltimore City College graduate, was aboard a trans-Atlantic convoy during World War II that lost 22 of 62 ships to U-boats but reached Liverpool, “maintaining the Atlantic Alliance,” according to Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington, who obtained the citation for Honick last month.

Honick stayed in the military and became an historian, and, most recently was co-author of “NATO 1948: The Birth of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance.”

“Mr. Honick, through his writing, helped make sure that history would not be forgotten, having written extensively on the history of SHAPE and on NATO-SHAPE affairs,” Inslee said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:25 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Here's why Real ID affects you

Maryland's laws and regulations allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses have always generated a passionate debate, but they have never commanded the state's focus like taxes or electric rates do. But as Julie Bykowicz reports this morning, that may be about to change in the last couple of weeks of this General Assembly session.

Both chambers are moving forward with bills to reverse the state's policy, but they're moving forward with a key difference. The recently-amended House version would grandfather in people with existing licenses, with those who don't or can't prove legal residence getting licenses labeled "not federally compliant," but the Senate version would require everyone to prove legal residence even when renewing a license. That distinction has already sparked lengthy debate (Republicans in the House pulled themselves off the bill as sponsors when the two-tiered license amendment was added), and it's not clear if or how it will be resolved before the assembly adjourns.

So why does it matter to the vast majority of Maryalnd drivers? Because we're coming up fast on a set of deadlines for the state to demonstrate a plan to comply with the federal Real ID act, which mandates a legal presence requirement. The first of these deadlines is in October, making this legislative session our last chance to change the law. If we don't demonstrate compliance, Marylanders could find that their driver's licenses are no longer good for getting onto an airplane or into a federal building. I'm betting that the minute people start getting turned away at BWI is the point at which this becomes an issue everybody is passionate about.

Posted by Andy Green at 8:13 AM | | Comments (30)
        

March 28, 2009

Cummings talks, The Street listens...will Obama?

The collapse of American International Group, and its messy $173 billion government bailout, have boosted the reputation of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, whose stock started soaring after the insurance giant’s tanked.

The West Baltimore congressman began going after AIG last year, and some dismissed him as a gadfly. During a contentious CNBC appearance, a news anchor for the financial channel demanded to know what business Congress had running AIG.

Now, when Cummings talks, Wall Street listens—especially on the Obama administration’s handling of the economic crisis.

One of “the most powerful men on Capitol Hill on the economy” is how ABC’s Diane Sawyer described Cummings the other day.

That inflated assessment of his clout drew an exuberant laugh from Cummings when it came up during an interview at his Washington office.

But, in fact, his role has evolved significantly over the last six months.

He’s now a closely watched barometer of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s performance. And that has put the liberal Democrat in a potentially uncomfortable spot.

Cummings, an early and enthusiastic Barack Obama supporter, says the president’s success is crucial to turning the economy around. But Cummings insists he won’t be blindly loyal.

“There comes a point where one has to part ways with someone to maintain your own credibility,” he says in discussing Geithner. “While I have some questions about Geithner, I believe he’s competent and I believe that he needs to have an opportunity to do his job.”

Cummings, an early populist critic of AIG, grilled company executives last fall about a week-long retreat at a California spa only days after the first $85 billion bailout.

“They were getting manicures, their facials, their pedicures and their massages, while the American people were footing the bill,” he said, in a sound bite replayed on the network news.

Before long, Cummings was the news media’s go-to guy on AIG, logging hundreds of appearances on television and radio and in the columns of leading newspapers and magazines.

“You’ve been ahead of this thing,” gushed Chris Matthews of MSNBC. “Great work, as always,” chimed in David Shuster, a fellow host on the liberal cable channel.

Cummings may get more airtime this week, when the Oversight committee holds its first AIG hearing of the year. He’s also one of 27 House Democrats who just called for a federal investigation into payments by AIG to other banks. Bloomberg News, whose reporting into AIG has repeatedly been cited by Cummings, described him as the leader of that effort.

Cummings thinks the administration needs time to get the nation’s economic problems under control, but he also says he’s occasionally wondered whether someone other than Geithner, who is closely tied to Wall Street, would have made a better Treasury secretary.

At the request of Geithner’s department, Congress removed a provision from the stimulus bill that could have prevented the latest round of performance bonuses from being paid. And Geithner’s honesty was called into question after he claimed that he wasn’t fully aware of those bonuses until about three weeks ago.

Cummings, who began airing the issue in December, says Geithner should have known.
“He says he didn’t,” says Cummings. “I think anybody who watches the news should have known.”

Cummings isn’t prepared to say that Obama made a mistake in picking Geithner, because he trusts the president to do the right thing.

“The greatest asset that Barack Obama has, as brilliant as he is, is trust,” he says, adding a cautionary note: “I’m telling you, he loses that trust, he’s got problems.”

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

March 27, 2009

Counties want to scale back on education funding

The Maryland Association of Counties, an influential group that represents big local governments in the state, is seeking an unusual waiver of a requirement that member counties spend at least as much yearly on per pupil eduction as they spent the past year.

The Gazette newspaper is reporting that MACO wants lawmakers to grant a blanket waiver to a requirement known as “maintenance of effort.” Currently, counties can ask individually for a waiver if they feel they can’t afford the commitment.

As the Gazette reports, the request is not without precedent. “The General Assembly enacted legislation in 1992 that waived the maintenance of effort requirement for fiscal 1993, when a national economic downturn similar to the current one put counties in a fiscal bind,” the paper said.

While powerful teachers’ unions oppose the move, lawmakers could look kindly on it, given that the state budget they are about to pass makes deep cuts in local aid.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:00 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Friday fun: Try the Maryland Politics Quiz

Click here to try our quiz on all the latest developments in Maryland politics.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:33 PM | | Comments (1)
        

A few budget issues could be tough to resolve

The House and the Senate take turns on which chamber will deal with the state's annual budget first, and this year was the House's turn. That chamber last night passed a $13.9 billion operating budget after cutting out about $850 million. There's some talk in the Senate about what could be a big, fundamental shift in state budgeting -- the idea of freezing mandated spending formulas -- but it's unclear how far along those discussions are. Even if that doesn't materialize, there are a handful of issues that could become big arguments when the two chambers meet in conference committee.

*Stem cell research: The House wants to spend $18.4 million but the Senate wants to cut that to $5 million. The moral issue over whether the state should fund that kind of research was settled a few years ago, but does the federal government's recent loosening of pursestrings for embryonic stem cell research obviate the need for a large state investment? Or does Maryland need to keep it up to stay competitive with other states?

*Medevac helicopters: The House is sticking with expanding on Gov. O'Malley's proposal and plans to spend $55 million to begin replacing the state's fleet. One Senate committee has endorsed a plan to delay the purchase, but the Budget and Taxation Committee has yet to say whether it will keep the money in the budget. If Maryland starts replacing helicopters, it would effectively shut out a private medevac operator that has been trying to crack into the business here. Watch for some heavy lobbying on both sides of this one.

*Higher education: The House is planning steeper cuts for the University System of Maryland than the Senate has endorsed so far. System Chancellor Britt Kirwan has already raised the alarm about tuition increases if the cuts stand. O'Malley has made a huge political point out of tuition freezes, so watch for him to do whatever it takes to keep them.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:45 AM | | Comments (2)
        

March 26, 2009

If death penalty restrictions pass, what happens to death row?

One of the odd things about Maryland's current debate over ending capital punishment is that, for the moment, the state doesn't really have the death penalty. The reason? The courts found that Maryland's current procedures for carrying out capital punishment were not properly adopted. That has, for the last couple of years, left the ball in the court of staunchly anti-death penalty Gov. Martin O'Malley to draft or not draft such regulations.

One of the many amendments offered by Republicans in the House of Delegates yesterday and rejected by the Democratic majority was one that would have made the proposed new restrictions on capital punishment contingent on O'Malley enacting the regulations.

The governor has said he will do it, though we don't know exactly when. And if he does put them through, what will he do with the people now on death row? As the governor, he has the responsibility to sign death warrants and the power to commute death sentences to life in prison. What will he do if it comes to that, and what should he do?

Correction: As some commenters pointed out, I goofed in saying Maryland's governor signs death warrants. Judges in this state do that. However, governors do typically conduct thorough reviews of death penalty cases before executions to decide whether they should go forward. Former Gov. Ehrlich, for example, devoted a great deal of time and attention to doing so before the two executions that took place during his term. Sorry for the error.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:17 AM | | Comments (22)
        

Senate panel nixes licenses for illegal immigrants

UPDATE: The House Judiciary Committee has also passed a bill restricting driver's licenses to those who can prove they're in the country legally. Their version, however, grandfathers in those who already have licenses.

The AP reports that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted late Wednesday night to bar illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses or state ID cards. Maryland is now one of just four states that allows people to get licenses without proving they're in the country legally and is the only one east of New Mexico, which some people say makes the state a magnest for illegal immigrants up and down the East Coast. Immigrant advocates, though, say licensing people regardless of immigration status at least ensures that people on the road know how to drive. (After all, if you've already broken immigration laws to get here, why not break traffic laws and drive without a license?)

This is a pretty big step for Annapolis after years of contentious debates on the issue. It's hard to know how things will go from here, but it looks like there's a decent chance that this will actually pass in the next couple of weeks.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:49 AM | | Comments (11)
        

Baltimore County and other local governments take a hit

Those muted gasps you hear are local government officials grappling with the hits they are taking as lawmakers craft a state budget in Annapolis.

They’re muted because as bad as the cuts are, locals realized they could have been worse, if Assembly leaders followed through on ideas such as requiring counties and Baltimore to pay much more of the cost of teacher pensions – a tab that for now is carried by the state.

The Associated Press has released a list of how two cuts – in the county share of piggyback income tax, and in local transportation funds – hits each municipality.

Worth noting is that Baltimore County gets hammered particularly hard; their representatives were telling us this week that when all cuts are added together, no other county was hit harder.

Budget legislation in the House of Delegates makes significant cuts in local aid. Here is a county-by-county breakdown of how the larger cuts affect counties and Baltimore.

The $60 million cut to the local share of the piggyback tax:
Allegany — $319,000
Anne Arundel — $9 million
Baltimore city — $3 million
Baltimore — $8.9 million
Calvert — $1.2 million
Caroline — $304,000
Carroll — $1.6 million
Cecil — $1 million
Charles — $1.6 million
Dorchester — $320,000
Frederick — $2.6 million
Garrett — $350,000
Harford — $2.2 million
Howard — $3.2 million
Kent — $239,000
Montgomery — $12 million
Prince George's — $5.6 million
Queen Anne's — $682,000
St. Mary's — $947,000
Somerset — $108,000
Talbot — $968,000
Washington — $1.3 million
Wicomico — $569,000
Worcester — $1.9 million
———

The $102 million cut to local transportation money:
Allegany — $1.8 million
Anne Arundel — $7.9 million
Baltimore city — $19.8 million
Baltimore — $10.7 million
Calvert — $1.7 million
Caroline — $1.2 million
Carroll — $3.6 million
Cecil — $2 million
Charles — $2.6 million
Dorchester — $1.4 million
Frederick — $4.7 million
Garrett — $1.6 million
Harford — $4.1 million
Howard — $4 million
Kent — $714,000
Montgomery — $11.2 million
Prince George's — $9.8 million
Queen Anne's — $1.4 million
St. Mary's — $2 million
Somerset — $849,000
Talbot — $1.2 million
Washington — $3 million
Wicomico — $2.4 million
Worcester — $1.7 million

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:40 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Wrong time for public campaign financing?

The death of public campaign financing this year is both surprising and predictable. Surprising because Senate President Mike Miller endorsed it in a bit of a Nixon-goes-to-China moment but predictable for a couple of other reasons.

For one thing, as Miller pointed out in Laura Smitherman's story today, it looks bad to start a public financing system at the same time that the state is slashing the budget. "The general sentiment was, we should be focusing on the budget, and this would be perceived as assisting ourselves in campaigning and electioneering as contrasted to working for the public good," Miller said. The bill was eventually amended so that it the public financing fund would only come from voluntary income tax check-offs -- amounts that people donated on top of their regular tax bills -- but in this climate, that still wasn't enough.

But another factor here is that campaign laws are something that defies the usual deference Annapolis affords to its committees. Generally, legislators defer to the expertise of the standing committee that handled a bill, which is why it's fairly rare for things to be defeated once they get to the floor of a chamber. But everybody in the General Assembly is an expert (or at least considers him or herself one) in campaign finance. Moreover, they all got elected under the current system, so where's the incentive?

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

Dixon case in court, mayor at a fundraiser

The first motions in the state's case against Sheila Dixon are scheduled to start at 10:30. So what's a mayor to do on such a potentially stressful morning? Hold a fundraiser!

According to an e-mail from Friends for Sheila Dixon, the mayor hosted a breakfast fundraiser this morning for her re-election campaign. Tickets were $250 for individuals or $1,000 for sponsors of the event.

In the department of particularly amusing timing, the mayor who's on trial for gifts she's accused of taking from developers is giving the fundraiser a development theme. The subject line for the e-mail solicitation is, "Come Enjoy a Warm Meal and Get Hot Information about Baltimore's Superblock Development!" The rest of it reads:

Dear Supporter

Tomorrow morning, March 26, join Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon from 7:30-9am for her Annual Business Breakfast at Lucy's Irish Restaurant (formerly Maggie Moore's), 21 North Eutaw Street in Baltimore.

Find out the latest about the Superblock Development from John Small, Vice President of Development at BLDG Management Company, and enjoy the best breakfast buffet on Baltimore's West Side: fruit, muffins, sweet breads, oatmeal, cheese grits, potatoes with peppers and onions, scrambled eggs, quiche, French toast, corned beef hash, Irish bacon, American bacon, Irish sausage and juice, tea coffee, soda and iced tea.

Tickets can be purchased at the door and are $250 for a Guest and $1,000 for a Sponsor (includes 2 guest reservations).

For more information or to RSVP for this event, go to sheiladixon.com or contact Rice Consulting at (toll free) 1-866-838-0037 or riceconsulting@verizon.net.

Team Dixon looks forward to seeing you!

By Authority: Friends for Sheila Dixon, Geneva L. Smith, Treasurer

Posted by Andy Green at 10:02 AM | | Comments (4)
        

March 25, 2009

Steele tells CNN he would 'consider' running for president -- UPDATED

CNN's Don Lemon had an interview with Michael Steele, during the course of which the RNC chairman said he would "consider" running for president, and that his comments about Rush Limbaugh were part of a calculated strategy.

The CNN political ticker reported that Steele "stressed he has never given serious thought to a potential White House bid," but that he said he may decide to seek the presidency at some point if he determines that's "where God wants me to be."

"God has a way of revealing stuff to you, and making it real for you, through others," Steele said, according to CNN. "And if that's part of the plan, it'll be the plan….[If I run] it'll be because that's where God wants me to be at that time."

As for his run-in with Rush Limbaugh, which led to a public apology for calling the radio host an entertainer who is deliberately inflammatory: "I am a cause and effect kind of guy. So if I do something there's is a reason for it. Even if it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there is a rational, there is a logic behind it. It's all strategic."

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:37 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Steele wins rap-off with Colbert

Yes, we're a few days late posting this. But, we guarantee you'll get a chuckle.

Michael Steele never appeared on Colbert's show to accept the rap-off challenge, but Colbert's staff put together a brilliant montage that the host declared the winner. Enjoy.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:02 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Steny Hoyer debuts "Daily Dose"

Barack Obama wants to make overhauling the nation's health care system a signature domestic initiative of his presidency.

Other politicians are climbing aboard the bandwagonm, including House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Hoyer has made himself a point man in the House on the issue. On Thursday, he'll hold an initial press event in his office to discuss his views.

Meantime, he's just launched a new Web site about health care, called the "Daily Dose."

You can catch the premiere video here.

Hint to Hoyer's media guru: Pin a microphone on your guy. Hollow sound doesn't cut it in the YouTube age and makes Hoyer's video seem amateurish.

Posted by Paul West at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Official “state walking stick” bill stumbles in committee

An Annapolis Dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter:

An effort by Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, to make the “shillelagh” the official Maryland “walking stick of statesmen and gentlemen,” is dead.

The Health and Government Operations Committee voted it down on Tuesday.

Here’s a backgrounder on the shillelagh from the Department of Legislative Services:

“A shillelagh is a wooden club typically made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end that is associated with Ireland and Irish folklore. Shillelaghs are traditionally made from blackthorn wood or oak. The wood is smeared with butter and placed up a chimney to cure, giving them a black shiny appearance. Shillelaghs are commonly the length of a walking stick.”

Still to come, for those of you keeping up with this year’s fights over state symbols: the fate of state song “Maryland, My Maryland.” The ditty is under mounting pressure of rewriting or replacement by the legislature this year on account of its disparaging reference to “Northern scum.”

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

House commemorates Negro League baseball

The House of Delegates Wednesday morning gave preliminary approval to a bill marking the second Saturday in May as “Negro Baseball League Day,” every year in Maryland.

Read the Baltimore Sun’s David Steele column about the legislation, sponsored by the city’s Del. Melvin Stukes.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
        

A crackdown on prayers in the Senate

The Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter sends over this dispatch from the State House:

A J-bomb went off in the Maryland Senate this morning, Julie Bykowicz tells the basement, who tells you.

During the morning prayer, a pastor from Bowie uttered the name of Jesus. This is a no-no, because it is considered insensitive to non-Christians, and possibly unconstitutional.

Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller shook his head in disgust as the name was said and later said the prayer would not be journalized.

He ordered the secretary of the Senate to review prayers from now on.

This was the latest in several times this session that visiting pastors failed to refrain from mentioning the name of their Messiah, despite admonitions from Senate leadership to keep it ecumenical.

The House of Delegates used to have this same problem, so several years ago they simply decided to have delegates recite prayers instead of having visiting ministers, rabbis, priests and imams do the honors.

Still, lawmakers in the House also slip up occasionally. Earlier this session, Del. Donna Stifler, a Harford County Republican, mentioned the “prince of peace,” a reference to Jesus, in her convocation, though she quickly corrected herself and said she meant to say “God.”

Posted by Andy Green at 10:51 AM | | Comments (8)
        

State: Frederick schools can't report number of illegal immigrant kids

The Baltimore Sun's Liz Bowie reports this morning that the state school board released a legal opinion yesterday forbidding the Frederick School District from releasing a count of the number of children of illegal immigrants attending school there. At least one county commissioner, John L. Thompson, wanted such a tally and wanted to make funding for the schools next year contingent on their providing it. Federal courts have ruled that illegal immigrants' kids (some of whom are citizens because they were born here) cannot be denied public education.

"One effect of collecting information on immigration status would be to make some immigrant parents so fearful that they will not enroll their children," the opinion said.

What do you think? Should the schools be able to provide the information? (Not names of course, just statistics.) Or is it none of the county commission's business?

In addition to leaving comments below, please participate in a poll on the subject, a first for the Maryland Politics blog. If it works, we'll do this more.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:13 AM | | Comments (4)
        

March 24, 2009

State delegate falls ill during committee hearings

An Annapolis Dispatch from The Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter

The two ambulances that raced up to the Lowe Office Building in Annapolis at about 6:00 p.m. were for Del. Michael D. Smigiel, Sr., who fell ill during a Judiciary Committee hearing.

The Cecil County Republican was seen being escorted by EMTs into one of the ambos under his own power, with Del. “Dr. Dan” Morhaim by his side.

Del. Curt Anderson,a judiciary commite member, said that Smigiel complained of dizziness during committee hearings and asked for Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and physician. Morhaim inspected Smigiel and suggested he take a precautionary ride to the hospital.

-- Gadi Dechter

We will update.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:16 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Overheard in Judicial Proceedings

The Sun's crime columnist Peter Hermann went down to Annapolis this afternoon for what may have been the first legislative committee hearing in his many years reporting here. It was, apparently, an illuminating experience for him.

The first BlackBerryed e-mail of desperation arrived at 1:16, a mere 16 minutes after the scheduled start of the hearing. Apparently Peter failed to heed my last words of advice before he left Baltimore: Bring a book.

Hearing is delayed till 130. I'm down to reading hints from heloise in post style section while a group of people discuss moble home parks in st marys county with a woman I think is a lobbyist. Now they're going around a circle talking about what have I learned? I learned that politicians are people too one said. Politicians do listen said another. Added a woman. Its not what you say that matters its the relationships.

How did you do this? If I don't see a body soon I'm going to go crazy!

Four minutes later:

Hint number three from heloise. Put dog toys in a wicker basket. Why do I feel that's the best advice ill get all day? And why do I feel that whatever this moble home park thing is will be ahead of what I'm interested in? The guy next to me brought a crossword puzzle book. A pro.

Peter was in Annapolis for a hearing on a bill to restrict the number and manner of strip searches conducted by police and corrections officers in Maryland, the subject of a number of lawsuits, one of which was recently granted class action status. Evidently, they got around to it eventually. At 3:32, safely out of the capital, Peter sent over another e-mail, subject heading, "quote of the day: body cavity searches"

Gladden: "Why do you need a health officer? It's usually squat and cough."

Brochin: "When you put your hand up somebody's rectum, I don't think it's unreasonable for a health official to be there."

Posted by Andy Green at 3:35 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Senate President: Time has come to change the state song

Annapolis Dispatch from The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz

The Senate president — a huge history buff — made a startling announcement during session Tuesday, the eve of “Maryland Day,” celebrating the state’s 375th birthday. Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the time has come to change the state song.

Breaking with his past unfailing support of keeping Maryland, My Maryland just the way it is, despite what some say are its pro-Confederate rantings, Miller told lawmakers they should at least change “a couple of stanzas” at the end.

The final stanza of James Ryder Randall’s 1861 poem, later set to the tune of O Tannenbaum and adopted in 1939 as the state song, is particularly inflammatory:

“She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb — Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum! She breathes! She burns! She’ll come! She’ll come! Maryland! My Maryland!”

“Even I agree there need to be some adjustments made,” Miller told senators in an off-the-cuff speech as session ended Tuesday afternoon.

Miller’s remarks came as his fellow senators consider a proposal by Sen. Jennie Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat, to change the song to a more pacifist rendition.

While a Senate committee is weighing the move, a House panel has voted against similar legislation.

When Miller told senators that Wednesday is Maryland Day, Forehand rose to ask — tongue in cheek — whether they might be able to sing the state song to celebrate.

Miller shot her a look and grumbled, “Sure.” Then he added: “You can sing the last verse, senator.”

-- Julie Bykowicz

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:30 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Harford councilwoman dies

Long-time Harford County Councilwoman Roni Chenowith died today after a long battle with leukemia and pulmonary disease. Despite her deteriorating health condition, she continued to attend council meetings and participate in county decisions. The Republican, who was in her fourth term, was 70.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:52 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Rawlings-Blake zings Dixon on group home issue

Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake today blamed Mayor Sheila Dixon for lack of neighborhood support for legislation that would make it easier for group homes that treat drug addicts and other disabled people to locate in Baltimore.

Speaking on Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on WYPR, Rawlings-Blake said she withdrew her support of a Dixon-backed plan to ease group home rules because that’s what her constituents wanted. If Dixon had spent as much time promoting the initiative as she has touting the city’s new garbage and recycling pick-up schedule, Rawlings-Blake said, the idea would have more support.

Federal authorities are poised to launch a discrimination lawsuit against Baltimore, arguing that the current law which requires City Council approval before small group homes are allowed to open violates civil rights. The Justice Department has indicated that because Rawlings-Blake does not back the mayor’s plan, legal action is imminent.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:13 PM | | Comments (1)
        

WashPost: Obama signed executive order extending Jenna Bush's Secret Service protection

The Washington Post's Reliable Source column has more today on why Baltimore resident Jenna Bush continues to receive Secret Service protection even though she no longer qualifies under the law.

Columnists Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts reported that Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan "told us President Obama signed an executive order giving Jenna and sister Barbara Bush continued protection, but Donovan declined to specify for how long"

The Secret Service Web site outlines the rules for protection: children of former presidents are typically entitled to protection until they reach the age of 16.

A van used as part of the protection team for Jenna Bush (legally now Jenna Hager) was towed last week from its parking space in South Baltimore after it had accumulated six tickets, news organizations including the Baltimore Sun reported.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:23 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Steele taps former Microsoft exec for RNC media position

Michael Steele continues to build his team at the RNC, announcing the hiring former Microsoft exec Todd Herman as director of new media.

Based on the RNC's news release, Herman's background sounds relevant and intriguing -- and he appears to have the experience needed to reach out to voters in cutting edge ways. In a statement, Steele said Herman will help Republicans "reclaim the lead in the use of digital media to communicate with America."

From the RNC:

"Until September 2007, Todd was a Microsoft executive where he held a number of senior leadership positions, most recently General Manager, Media Strategy and Monetization for MSN. Todd was the Streaming Media Evangelist at MSNBC.com where he wrote the initial strategy and business plan for MSN Video Product Unit. Under his leadership, MSN Video inaugurated over 100 traditional TV brands into broadband video and its revenues grew four fold over four consecutive years. Prior to joining Microsoft, Todd was Co-Founder and CEO of theDial, a venture-capital backed Internet radio network. theDial’s syndication network was the first to welcome Fortune 500 companies and national consumer brands to Internet radio advertising. His most recent company is SpinSpotter, a venture-capital backed, semantic web business and winner of a 2008 DEMOgod Award.

"In 2008, Streaming Media Magazine named Todd one of the 25 initial inductees into the Streaming Media All Stars for his role in launching both the Internet radio and broadband video industries. AdAge Magazine named Todd “the media guy” at Microsoft, and he has been featured in Business Week, The New York Times and profiled in the Seattle Times.

"Todd is a provocative speaker on media strategy, new media audience dynamics, digital-politics and pop culture. He has been a featured solo speaker at The Future of TV, VON, Ogilvy’s Verge Summit, Ad:tech, The National Association of Broadcasters, Streaming Media and Digital Hollywood. He is a frequent guest lecturer at UCLA’s Anderson School for media and entertainment. Previously, Todd was a nationally known radio talk show host perhaps most remembered for beginning the movement that contributed to the defeat of sitting House Speaker Thomas Foley in 1994."

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Parties in committee offices

The Washington Post reports this morning that House Speaker Mike Busch wants to make a rule against lobbyist-sponsored parties in legislative buildings in the wake of reports that Del. Sheila Hixson's St. Patrick's Day bash, held in her Ways and Means Committee suite, was sponsored by lobbyists for the horseracing industry.

Now, don't get too worried. Lobbyists will still be allowed to sponsor lavish parties for legislators -- they'll just have to do it the old fashioned way, in a hotel or restaurant. Because the location is really the issue, not the fact that monied special interests are buying steaks and cabernet for lawmakers en masse.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:51 AM | | Comments (11)
        

March 23, 2009

Del. McDonough takes aim at The Sun

We've gotten a barrage of e-mails today from supporters of Del Patrick McDonough who are upset that he was not quoted in stories last week about the $32 million in bonuses that Constellation Energy had planned to give to senior managers. (The company has since abandoned the bonuses, saying they had become "a distraction.") It appears that Del. McDonough has e-mailed his supporters to encourage them to write to our business editor and to the author of the story, Hannah Cho, and has provided them with talking points.

For the record, we recognize that Del. McDonough is one of the most consistent and vocal critics of Constellation in the legislature. We have quoted him on this issue many times before and will do so again. (In fact, I mentioned him on the radio this morning when discussing the case.) Copied below is a portion of the talking points Pat sent to his supporters:

State Senator James Rosapepe, a liberal Democrat from Montgomery County, was quoted frequently throughout the report. Senator Rosapepe has not asked for the resignation of Mr. Shattuck or created any legislation about Constellation management. Rosapepe did not hold a news conference about the bonuses. It seemed a bit odd that he would be mentioned so frequently in the Sun article.

Delegate McDonough's news conference was covered by many other newspapers and all 4 major television stations. The news conference was the lead story on television.

Delegate McDonough is the only elected official who has called for the removal of Shattuck and seriously questioned the executive leadership at Constellation.

Delegate McDonough handed out a news release to the Sun and other media outlets containing 20 key questions about Constellation.

There is no question the major media considered the McDonough news conference important and newsworthy. They all were in attendance and reported the story in a balanced and professional manner. None of them reported anything about Senator Rosapepe or his opinions.

Either the Sun is engaged in obvious biased reporting by snubbing Delegate McDonough or they lack the professional rigor to report all facts related to a story.


Posted by Andy Green at 2:05 PM | | Comments (3)
        

The Annapolis version of earmarks

In Congress, they’re called earmarks, those much-maligned pet projects tucked into huge bills by legislators.

The Florida legislature has a different word – turkeys. Good-government types go turkey hunting every year in Tallahassee, pointing out the fat birds that have been tucked in the budget.

Maryland has its own version of the system, which generally receives little scrutiny. In Annapolis, the biggest source of political patronage is a pot of capital projects money doled out through a process known as “bond bills.” After the General Assemble passes a bond bill for a project, the state borrows money and taxpayers pay it back.

Dozens of projects get money that way each year, from arts centers to historic buildings to training centers and soup kitchens. They’re almost all worthy, and almost never of state-wide importance. Generally, the projects help one community or one neighborhood.

One could construct a decent argument for doling out money this way. In many cases, the state is providing seed money or matching funds, which allows an organization to approach donors and say: “See, the state thinks this project is important; we need your help so we can put the matching funds to use.”

Plus, the money is for bricks and mortar, not operations. So it’s designed to be a one-time layout rather than an annual expense.

But there’s lots of minuses, as Baltimore Sun reporters Gadi Dechter and Laura Smitherman carefully and illuminatingly documented in Sunday’s paper.

Many lawmakers get named to the boards of groups, and then submit legislation to get funding for that group. Often, they don’t report the relationship on state ethics forms. It seems clear that many organizations invite legislators to serve for just this purpose.

Because hundreds of bond bills get submitted each year, none get very much scrutiny. There’s no system that ranks projects so that those more worthy get put at the top of the list. The more senior and influential a lawmaker is, the more likely it is that his or her bond bill will get approved.

The one-time nature of capital funding seems to be subverted, because many of the same organizations come back repeatedly for more money. And once the state ha s spent money, there’s a vested interest to make sure the project gets completed. As far as taxpayers are concerned, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ seems to be the Annapolis rule when it comes to bond-bill funding.

Smitherman and Dechter highlighted these problems with the system, which is set to hand out $15 million this year. And with the state looking for $500 million in budget cuts, it would seem there’s every incentive to curtail these projects. But with lawmakers eager to attend ribbon-cuttings for projects they helped build, or make connections through getting on the boards of organizations, what are the chances for change this year? We’ll see.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:12 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Constellation bonuses: Is the damage already done?

It's pretty clear from Constellation Energy Group CEO Mayo Shattuck's statements Friday that the company's decision to abandon a plan to dole out $32 million in bonuses to senior managers was a political one.

Shattuck pointed out that the money was coming from the French firm that's buying Constellation's nuclear business, EDF, and that the money would have no bearing on BGE rates. And unlike AIG, Constellation hasn't gotten any taxpayer money.

"Nonetheless, we have determined that this issue has become a significant distraction to the important long-term benefits for Maryland that our strategic partnership with EDF represents," Shattuck said, adding that the company wants to "remove this compensation issue from the critically important review of our transaction with EDF."

If you needed any proof that Constellation is legitimately worried about re-regulation or state oversight of the EDF deal, look no further. Preliminary votes on partial re-regulation could come as early as today. The question now is whether giving up the bonuses will be enough to stop the anti-Constellation momentum that had been building in recent weeks.

Is the fact that they gave up the bonuses proof of good faith, or is the fact that they were there in the first place evidence that the state needs to keep Constellation on a tighter leash?

Posted by Andy Green at 6:00 AM | | Comments (9)
        

March 21, 2009

Steele vs. Van Hollen in New York

Upstate New York, a cradle of modern party politics, is the unlikely site of a showdown between a pair of Maryland pols, Michael Steele and Chris Van Hollen.

Their minidrama is playing out in the background of the first voter test of Barack Obama’s presidency, a special election to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives.

It opened up when Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, had the good fortune to get appointed to Hillary Clinton’s spot in the Senate. The March 31 election gives both parties a chance to score an opening victory in the runup to next year’s House and Senate elections.

Steele, the Republican national chairman, has put himself on the line by making the New York contest a top '09 election challenge for the party.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor has visited the district twice to campaign for the Republican candidate, Jim Tedisco.

“We've come to play, and we've come to win," Steele declared in Albany last month.

At one time, a Republican victory looked like a safe bet. Early polling showed the Republican far ahead in a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats by a substantial margin.

Even though Obama carried the district narrowly last November, it voted for George W. Bush twice and had sent Republicans to Congress for decades until Gillibrand stole it away in 2006.

Steele is investing more than his words. He’s directed at least $200,000 of national party money into the state and dispatched early, on-the-ground help for Tedisco, a veteran state legislator.

But as the race developed, independent voters appear to have moved toward the Democratic candidate, Scott Murphy, a wealthy political outsider. Polls have tightened and the contest is seen as a virtual dead heat.

Stuart Rothenberg, a leading analyst of House elections, recently described the upcoming election as “a barnburner.”

Despite Steele’s involvement, special House elections are more typically tests for the national parties’ competing House campaign committees.

Enter Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic committee. The congressman from Montgomery County recently served as co-host of a Washington fundraiser for his party’s candidate, along with House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who has also been to the district to campaign.

Van Hollen’s committee is investing heavily in the New York contest, though he has been much more low-profile than Steele. In an interview last month, he tried to keep expectations down, calling it “a tough seat to hold.”

According to the Almanac of American Politics, the Hudson River, which flows through the district, “gave birth to America’s passionate party politics.” It was the home of President Martin Van Buren, credited with helping invent national political conventions and found the Democratic Party.

No matter which side comes out on top later this month, the results are sure to be invested with a degree of importance that far exceeds the filling of one seat out of 435 in the House.

Anti-Steele Republicans, smelling blood, have portrayed the New York vote as a litmus test for him. Some have even predicted that Steele will lose his job if the Republicans don’t pick up the seat, a claim dismissed as nonsense by dispassionate party insiders.

A better question is how much Steele stands to be helped personally by a Republican victory in a district that leans the Republican way. As a former head of the House Republican campaign committee, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said in a recent Politico interview, "unfortunately, for a win, the market has already discounted that."

Meantime, Steele seems to be doing the Democrats a favor by stealing the spotlight. And that is helping to make Van Hollen the Marylander with more to gain and less to lose when New Yorkers vote.



Posted by Paul West at 2:47 PM | | Comments (1)
        

March 20, 2009

UPDATED: Web site: Secret Service vehicle dispatched to Jenna Bush towed for unpaid tickets

The Web news site investigativevoice.com, a creation of former Baltimore Examiner staffers, has just broken the news that Baltimore parking officials towed a Secret Service vehicle from the city's Federal Hill neighborhood. The vehicle may be part of the protection for former first daughter Jenna Bush, who moved to Baltimore last year after getting married.

UPDATE: Investigativevoice and this blog originally reported that the vehicle was a limousine; it now appears that the vehicle in question is a van, according to Baltimore Sun reporting.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:57 PM | | Comments (12)
        

Report: House committee holds a secret meeting

Alan Brody of The Gazzette reports this morning that the House Judiciary Committee held a closed-door meeting with federal officials for a briefing on the Real ID Act. The story quotes several Republicans questioning the need for holding the briefing behind closed doors, particularly based on what Brody describes as the extraordinary lengths the committee went to in an effort to avoid having a quorum and triggering a mandatory open meeting: When a new Democrat arrived, a Republican was asked to leave, Brody reports.

Republicans in Annapolis often feel left out of things, but that, if true, would be extremely unusual. Furthermore, given the passions that surround Real ID on both sides of the issue, it's surprising that no one made more of a stink to hold the briefing in the open. If anyone knows more about this, please write in.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:36 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Pressure on GOP's Pelura to resign

Pressure is mounting for Maryland Republican Chairman Jim Pelura to give up his position.

According to the Gazette newspaper, Republican lawmakers are circulating a letter that calls for Pelura’s resignation, citing problems with party registration, grass-roots organizing and fundraising.

The Gazette said that “at least half” of the 14 Republicans in the 47-person Senate have signed the letter. There are 36 Republicans in the 141-person House of Delegates.

Lawmakers are unusually harsh in their assessment of Pelura, an easy-going veterinarian with ties to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. who faces the unenviable task of trying to lead a party crippled in recent elections in a state that appears to be trending to the left.

"I would be hard-pressed if asked to state what his accomplishments are or even what his priorities have been since he's been in office," Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County is quoted as saying in the Gazette. "It's clear the party's rudderless. There's a lack of direction."

Added Senate Minority Leader Senate Allan H. Kittleman: "I don't think the party is in a position now to provide the assistance necessary to support Republican candidates in 2010."

In February, the Baltimore Sun’s Laura Smitherman was among the first to report on discontent with Pelura, when Del. Christopher Shank, the minority whip from Washington County, told her that he had "no confidence" in Pelura, adding that the chairman has not focused on his duties and meddled in caucus affairs.

But could anyone do a better job overseeing the party right now? If not Pelura, then who? Ehrlich remains on the sidelines; Michael Steele has moved to the national stage; state Sen. Andy Harris is gearing up for another congressional run; U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett has never shown interest in party building. Party enrollment is falling behind Democrats, and there’s a Democrat a few miles down the road in the White House. Not a pretty picture.

What can be done to help Republicans in Maryland? Is Pelura part of the solution, or part of the problem? What’s your view?

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:18 PM | | Comments (19)
        

Will Angelos be the savior of the Preakness?

It's not so surprising that Peter Angelos would be the first person to step up and pledge his fortune to keep the Preakness in Maryland. He's got the money, he's got the interest in horse racing and he's got the attitude of a civic leading man -- the sort of sort you saw a lot of back in the Schaefer days. It takes some chutzpah, after all, to anoint yourself the savior.

Angelos has toyed with the idea of buying a track before. (Or, rather, his family has toyed with the idea, since Major League Baseball is not keen on its team owners also running gambling establishments.) But previously, his interest had seemed to wax and wane with the possiblity of getting a piece of the (presumably much more lucrative) slots action. Based on the way the bidding for Maryland's video lottery terminal licenses has unfolded, it's hard to imagine someone even so influential as Angelos pulling off a Preakness-slots combination somewhere.

But the Preakness might be glory (and profit) enough to hold his interest, even without slots. Before, he was talking about buying Rosecroft, a dusty harness track in Prince George's that would only be a surefire moneymaker with one-armed bandits attached. But the Preakness is profitable enough to support an entire year of racing by itself.

The question is, does Maryland want Angelos to save the Preakness? If his ownership of the Orioles were up to a popular vote, I shudder to think how that would go. But what are the alternatives? Magna keeps running the thing? The totally broke state of Maryland takes it over? How far should the state go to keep the second race of the Triple Crown?

Posted by Andy Green at 12:15 PM | | Comments (6)
        

March 19, 2009

O'Malley weighs in on Constellation bonuses

Gov. Martin O'Malley just issued a statement decrying the $32 million in bonus payments due to Constellation executives that Hanah Cho reported today:

The Public Service Commission is currently investigating the proposed 50% acquisition of Constellation’s nuclear fleet by EDF to determine whether it would put EDF in a position to exert substantial influence over Constellation or BGE and, if so, whether the transaction is in the public interest. That proceeding is underway and the PSC’s request for details on executive compensation is what prompted this disclosure on executive bonuses by Constellation. The PSC will continue to review these troubling bonuses to determine whether they are in the public’s best interest. I find it hard to believe that they are.

This is another reason why we must move forward with legislation to create rational reregulation of our energy markets. Our legislation proposes to use a public interest determination for energy generation going forward, rather than a private for-profit determination. These bonuses are yet another example that deregulation has not worked for residential ratepayers.

It is hard to accept the necessity of paying $32 million in retention bonuses during record unemployment. And it is hard to accept the injustice of paying these bonuses at a time when our State and Federal governments are spending record amounts in energy assistance to thousands of vulnerable families throughout our state.

Posted by Andy Green at 5:50 PM | | Comments (8)
        

California congressman gets Maryland tax break after declaring Anne Arundel waterfront home as primary residence

Bloomberg News is reporting that Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat who is the second-ranking majority member of the Ways and Means Committee, has received tax breaks for declaring his $1.7 million waterfront home in Anne Arundel County as his primary residence.

Stark received state and county homestead tax breaks worth $3,853 in 2007 and 2008, Bloomberg’s Tim Burger reported. Stark told the news organization that while he lives in the home for about two-thirds of the year, he votes in the California Bay Area district he represents, and he and his wife have California driver’s licenses.

Assessment officials in Maryland have said they will look into the matter.

A week ago, the Associated Press reported that Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat who represents the Bronx, was declared ineligible to receive a homestead exemption in Montgomery County, where county officials now say they will review the property records of members of Congress living there.

Maryland property records show that Stark’s home – owned with his wife, Deborah – is valued for tax purposes at $1.7 million, and sits on 6.35 acres of waterfront property in Harwood. It appears he has owned the home since 1992.

petestarkneighborhood.jpg
The area of Pete Stark's Chesapeake Bay home, in Anne Arundel County's Harwood neighborhood, which he claims as a primary residence.


Posted by David Nitkin at 2:57 PM | | Comments (9)
        

Steele Lands A Big Fish

For his latest addition to the top staff at Republican Party headquarters in Washington, national Republican Chairman Michael Steele has picked up a highly regarded operative, Gentry Collins, to be the RNC's political director.

Collins was the Midwest regional campaign director for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, a job he won after running Mitt Romney's statewide operation in Iowa.

In a statement, Steele said he was "thrilled to announce the addition of Gentry to the RNC team. He brings with him a proven record of success at building broad bases of grassroots and volunteer coalitions."

The former Maryland lieutenant governor went on to say, as party chairman, his "primary task a the RNC is to grow our party and elect more Republicans and this appointment allows us to take another step towards those goals."

Collins has a solid working familiarity with his party's operation in Washington, having served as national political director for the Republican Governors Association and as an assistant to then House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

An Iowa native with a political science degree from Iowa State University, Collins has also served as executive director and deputy chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa.

His hiring adds to a growing number of top positions that Steele has filled in recent weeks. He cleaned house at the party's office on Capitol Hill shortly after his election in January, with the number of those who either quit or were fired estimated at somewhere in the 70 to 100 range.

Posted by Paul West at 12:21 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Constellation: Impeccable timing once again

Ohhhh, Constellation.

Remember a couple of years ago when Constellation was trying to merge with another company, and the top executives were getting big bonuses, and BGE was pushing for a rate hike. Oh, and in case that combination wasn't explosive enough, we were in the middle of an election. That worked out well.

And now, we've got the company trying to sort-of merge with another company (a foriegn one this time, to boot!), BGE is trying to get a rate increase and, Hanah Cho reported today, the executives are due for big bonuses, in spite of the fact that the company was, six months ago, on the brink of bankruptcy. But at least this time, there's not some big external event going on that would focus public ire on the company's executives and prompt populist outrage from politicians over something like bonuses. Oh, wait, never mind.

For a company whose whole raison d'etre is to game the energy market by buying low and selling high, it sure has lousy timing. Especially since there's a bill hearing today for Del. Pat McDonough's proposal for a Cosntellation Energy Group Review Commission. That and the hearings on Gov. O'Malley's partial re-regulation plan may get a whole lot more interesting.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:53 AM | | Comments (7)
        

March 18, 2009

RNC fundraising under Michael Steele's leadership

The Republican National Committee has announced its first monthly fund-raising totals since Michael Steele became chairman, and the figures may not quell his critics.

The RNC said it raised $5.1 million in February, and has $24 million cash on hand.

“The Republican National Committee is in a strong financial position thanks to our motivated base of supporters and contributors,” Steele said in a statement. “We are building the organization we need to be successful in 2009 and beyond.”

The numbers have been highly anticipated by those watching Steele’s tenure and examining whether his self-inflicted wounds would inflict lasting damage. One of the main functions of the chairman is to raise money, so high levels of contributions could dampen criticism.

The February figures, however, don’t appear to stack up well against recent historic parallels.

As Adam Nagourney of the New York Times reported: “At a similar moment in the political calendar in February 2005, also just after a presidential election and the start of fundraising for the mid-terms, the Republican National Committee raised $12.5 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. In the first two months of that year, the committee, under Ken Mehlman, raised $23 million.

“Mr. Steele’s advisers argued that the beginning of 2005 is not a fair yardstick, since Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House then. ‘We’ve just lost the White House — it is what it is,’ said Curt Anderson, a senior adviser to Mr. Steele. ‘Every Republican committee has to deal with the new reality ’cause everyone got fat and happy having the White House.’

“In that same period in 2005, the Democratic National Committee, which was out of power — but not quite as out of sorts — raised $6.5 million. ‘We’ll hold our own,’ Mr. Anderson said. ‘I think we’ll do fine.’”

The RNC released only its topline number; reporters and political operatives will soon dive in to the details of expenditures and receipts.

Politico blogger Anne Schroeder Mullins writes that “sources say [the fund-raising report] will have some lavish expenses.”

We’ll soon see whether Steele’s supporters and critics think the party is doing fine.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

For Franchot, cooled heels leads to hot head

From the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter:

It was not a pleasant morning for Comptroller Peter Franchot – and he let it show.

First the tax collector was made to twiddle his thumbs for 30 minutes while Gov. Martin O’Malley was briefed on today’s Board of Public Works meeting at a “pre-meeting” Franchot boycotts on principle.

Then the comptroller then had to sit through another lengthy presentation by O’Malley officials celebrating their accomplishments with Maryland’s Minority Business Enterprise program.

So did a standing-room only crowd of bureaucrats, contractors and lobbyists who packed the governor’s sweltering reception room. About 40 of them had to stand for about an hour before the actual contract-approving business of the meeting began.

It was enough to make Franchot briefly abandon the lovey-dovey-with-the-govey act he’s been putting on since the Montgomery County Democrat – who once could be counted on to liven up the often-boring bimonthly meetings with jabs at O’Malley – found himself on the losing side of the slots referendum in November.

“We’re supposed to start at ten,” an exasperated Franchot said at 11:00 a.m., when the pre-meeting and presentation were finally concluded. “Maybe in the future we can start the meeting on time and telescope some of these presentations … It’s a little frustrating.”

Franchot noted that the board, which includes Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, had before it more than $5 billion in complicated state health contracts to vote up or down.

O’Malley seemed taken aback, but gamely apologized. For the next hour, the three-member board plodded through its seemingly endless agenda, which entailed a protracted discussion of gypsy moth eradication and the aforementioned health contracts (approved unanimously).

Franchot has said he avoids the semi-private “pre-meetings” out of concern that they violate the state’s Open Meetings Act. Kopp attends, as do staff to the board, treasurer and governor.

The meeting’s existence is now advertised in the board agenda, but to gain entrance one has to persuade a beefy security guard to unlock a door at the end of a long hallway on the second floor of the State House. (It’s usually not worth the effort, but reporters show up out of paranoia, and because it’s fun to get the guard to unlock the door.)

The thirty-minute presentation that so irked Franchot yesterday was led by Luwanda W. Jenkins, secretary of O’Malley’s Office of Minority Affairs. At the governor’s request, Jenkins detailed the state’s recent success in awarding in 30 percent more dollars in state contracts to minority-owned firms than it had in 2006.

In fiscal year 2008, certified “minority business enterprises” were awarded $1.3 billion in state contracts, up from $1 billion in fiscal year 2006.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:17 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Special session to make sure the Preakness doesn't become the next Colts?

From the Baltimore Sun's Laura Smitherman:

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said today he would be open to holding a special session of the General Assembly if legislation is needed to ensure the Preakness Stakes stays in Maryland.

The lawmaker, a staunch supporter of horse racing, has been talking in recent days about the possibility of the state taking over the race in case its owner, the bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp., seeks to sell the rights to an out-of-state buyer.

"It’s not only a matter of pride, it’s a matter of economic development," Miller said. "The question is do you want the Preakness run in Florida or California? Or even worse do you want the Preakness run in West Virginia or Delaware?"

The current legislative session ends next month, and Miller said state officials must wait for Magna’s next move. The best option, he said, would be for a "white knight" buyer to take over Magna’s tracks in Maryland and keep the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. While Maryland law gives the state the option to buy the Preakness if it is for sale, that would be the last resort, Miller said.

Remember what happened with the Colts? Not this time, he said.

"We all remain traumatized by the Colts moving out of Baltimore in the middle of the night," he said. "That’s not going to happen. We’re forewarned. The Preakness is going to stay in Maryland, period. Guaranteed."

-- Laura Smitherman

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:13 PM | | Comments (7)
        

The symbolism of Michael Steele's new job

Writing in The Hill’s online publication, Texas Republican polling company owner David R. Hill said the symbolic value of Michael Steele’s selection as Republican National Committee chairman has proven to be of limited value in the early weeks of Steele’s tenure, and that Steele's success will rest on substance.

“While Michael Steele seems like a good and decent man, worthy of respect and honor, we have to be frank and admit that his selection was driven by symbolism,” Hill writes. “Like African-Americans who have fallen into the trap of one-party politics, Republicans have wandered into an ambush of one-upmanship on race. The Democrats gave you a black president; we’ll give you a black party chairman. Michael Steele didn’t have the most party administrative experience. He didn’t have the coolest technology plan. He didn’t even necessarily have the best story to tell about why he’s a Republican. Yet we chose him, because we wanted to send a symbolic message about race.”

Hill continues: “Eventually, Steele will be a fine chairman. He’s doing a thorough job of evaluating the party’s bureaucratic structures. And he’s welcoming new faces into that process. These are hopeful first steps that will doubtless be followed by others. He clearly wants to succeed and has the skills to do so. But it’s a little ugly in the unfolding. And when all is said and done, Steele will succeed on substantive issues rather than symbolic imagery. Centrists, liberals and minorities are not going to be fooled into rethinking our party just because we have a black chairman. It’ll actually take some substantive shifts to successfully woo any of those votes to our side.”

Hill concludes that Republicans should be “leaving symbolic politics to the Democrats." To read the full piece, click here.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:57 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Tough budget choices by Mayor Dixon

Here's one big difference between state and local government. When the state makes cuts, they often affect a small group of people deeply but are abstract for most others. If, say, the state furloughs government workers, it hurts them a lot, but the 5.1 million other Marylanders can go on with their lives with little interruption. If tuition goes up, it hurts people with kids in college, but everybody else can ignore it if they want.

But the cuts Mayor Sheila Dixon proposed in her budget today will affect just about everybody in Baltimore. Water rates would go up. Trash collection in the city would go down to once a week (compensated for, somewhat, but increased recycling pickup). Libraries would be open fewer hours. Swimming pools would close. Recreation centers would cut hours or close altogether. People tend to focus more on national or state politics, but local government is unmatched in terms of offering direct services that people use every day, and mayors don't have anyone else to pass the buck to.

It will be interesting to see what kind of pushback, if any, Dixon gets on her proposal. In previous years, the City Council has more or less rubber stamped her budgets. But I wouldn't be surprised to see a much stronger reaction this time, if not from the council then from people who find services they've long relied on suddenly gone.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:41 AM | | Comments (13)
        

Arundel residents don't want slots at the mall

The Center for the Study of Local Issues at the Anne Arundel Community College conducted a survey last week that found extremely low support for the plan to put a slots parlor at Arundel Mills Mall, which now looks like all but a foregone conclusion. Just 17 percent of those surveyed approved of the plan, while 44 percent said they wished slots had gone to the Laurel racetrack instead. Some other interesting results from the survey:

  • The economy is far and away the most important issue in Anne Arundel County. Forty-eight percent of poll respondants said it was the most important, with taxes coming in a distant second at 10 percent.
  • A majority (54 percent) don't want to repeal the death penalty.
  • Fifty-four percent favored an increase in the alcohol tax.
  • A whopping 83 percent want a law against texting while driving.
  • President Obama's approval rating in the county is 53 percent. (He got 48 percent of the vote in Anne Arundel in November.)
  • And in a potentially troubling sign for County Exec. John Leopold, who's up for re-election next year, 47 percent of Arundel residents think the county is on the right track, down from 52 percent last October. (Not terrible numbers, of course, but it would be better if they were going in the other direction.)

The random sample of 625 county residents was conducted March 9-12. There is a 4 percent margin of error.

Posted by Andy Green at 6:10 AM | | Comments (18)
        

March 17, 2009

Miller says the state should consider running the Preakness

Gadi Dechter reports the latest from the sage of the Senate: Mike Miller this morning floated the idea that, if the owners of Pimlico try to sell the track and move the Preakness out of state, Maryland should resurrect the idea of building a supertrack in Baltimore and run the race itself.

Nuts, you say, that the state would consider shelling out big bucks to build a horse track at a time when it's talking about cutting education and furloughing employees? Maybe so. But consider the following:

1. It's generally believed that government can't run a business as well as the private sector. If the excpetion proves the rule, the exception in this case may be called "Magna."

2. A supertrack site near the stadiums would mean that, in this case at least, there would be slots near the track.

3. A track might actually make money if it were only open for the Preakness and not any other day of the year.

4. The people now running the Preakness are already doing their best to suck the fun out of it, what with the ban on bringing booze to the infield.

5. The race is already overrun with politicians as it is, so what's the difference?

Posted by Andy Green at 3:35 PM | | Comments (8)
        

Death penalty is O'Malley's top priority. Unless it's St. Pat's Day.

It's a big day in the House Judiciary Committee. Members are due to debate the death penalty restriction bill the Senate passed earlier this month, and Gov. Martin O'Malley is scheduled to come testify in support of it.

But Julie Bykowicz reports that they're not going to get to the issue right away when the committee meets at 1 o'clock. Instead, they'll delay debate on the highest profile issue they'll hear this year until 3:00 because O'Malley has a conflict. According to his public schedule for the week he'll be in Washington at noon to attend Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon in honor of Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.

O'Malley will have the honor of singing the Irish national anthem at the luncheon (something he's done twice before at such events). Julie reports that the governor's spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, says the scheduling conflict was something that "couldn't be avoided." He said the governor wanted to testify about death penalty and that if the committee wanted to hear from him, “they had to make some sort of accommodation.”

Posted by Andy Green at 11:49 AM | | Comments (3)
        

O'Malley on "fringe" governors and nonsensical brackets

Some tidbits from Gov. Martin O'Malley's appearance on WTOP radio today:

1) O'Malley, the new vice-chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, took a shot at some of his more prominent Republican counterparts. Only "fringe" governors, O'Malley said, were talking about rejecting elements of the Obama stimulus plan. He then named two of those governors he considered way out of the mainstream: Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

2) Asked about his picks in the NCAA basketball championship tournament that features two Maryland teams, O'Malley made selections that make no sense. O'Malley said his picks for the Final Four were University of Maryland, Morgan State, Duke and North Carolina. But Morgan and North Carolina are both seeded in the South regional, meaning the governor's are way off, if parochial.

3) Speaking about proposed restrictions on death penalty cases that are emerging as a compromise to a full repeal that the governor backed, O'Malley said that Attorney General Doug Gansler's objections (as first reported in today's editions by The Washington Post) are not substantive. While Gansler told the Post that the evidence restrictions were "clumsy" and needed reworking, O'Malley said Gansler's views were "more a reflection on the fact he does not want the application of [the death] penalty narrowed" than on flaws with the Senate compromise legislation.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:17 AM | | Comments (3)
        

More road projects for Maryland

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced this morning a second stage of transportation projects funded by federal stimulus dollars, and said that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties would receive an additional $60 million for road, bridge and tunnel projects.

Speaking on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program and tailoring his remarks to the Washington-oriented audience, O’Malley said that the state’s two most populous counties in suburban D.C. would now be getting $127 million in upgrades “thanks to President Obama and the Democratic Congress.

The Democratic governor said Central Avenue in Capitol Heights and U.S. 1 in University Park were two of the roads that would be resurfaced. Details about the projects would be available later today on the state’s stimulus-tracking Web site, recovery.maryland.gov, the governor said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:16 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 16, 2009

Steele dismisses global warming

Michael Steele hosted Bill Bennett's radio show on March 6, and engaged in a lively dialogue over global warming and other issues.

As reported by Domenico Montanaro of MSNBC, Steele pointed to the name of Greenland as evidence of cyclical climate changes.

"We are cooling," Steele said, according to MSNBC. "We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I use my fingers as quotation marks, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? Not very long."

Steele insisted that he would not let Democratic critics get the best of him, or force him to resign as RNC chairman.

"Trust me. Not me, baby. Not happenin.' "No way, no how," he said to a caller

Read the full blog posting from MSNBC on the link below (or, to go to the Web site directly, follow the above link.)

Note: An earlier version of this post included an incorrect date for Steele's radio appearance.

How does the current RNC Chairman have the time to host a radio show?

Anyway, on the program, he was his usual boisterous, free-wheeling self.

"I've survived my first month of RNC Chairman," he proclaimed. He called charges against him "99% made up by our opponents," specifically CNN and MSNBC, who are trying to "blow things up."

He added that his tough week, spurred mostly by a GQ interview in which he called abortion an "individual choice," was "part of an orchestrated plan by [James] Carville and Rahm Emanuel. ... "It's been an instructive week." [Baltimore Sun editing note: the time references in this paragraph appear to be incorrect; Steele's comments in GQ were publicized several days after the radio appearance.]

Several conservatives criticized Steele after his "choice" comment, including Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins and Ken Blackwell, who ran against Steele for RNC Chairman and whose backing may have put him over the top, ultimately.

Steele said Democrats are harping on Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Bill Bennett and other conservative talkers to distract.

"This is the noise," he said. "This is the distraction."

He said conservatives need to stay "focused" in the face of criticism. But he went on to criticize Republicans -- for putting earmarks in the budget, for not presenting enough original ideas and saying that Republicans need to stay true to conservative values or they could lose elections. (Steele had to backtrack from his own earlier comments, in which he implied that the RNC could support primary challengers to Republicans who don't adhere to conservative values.)

"Talk to me girl, go ahead," he said to a caller from Texas, who had confirmed with Lamar Alexander's office that he'd requested earmarks yet voted against the bill. "No, he didn't," Steele added.

To another caller, who said Republicans need new ideas, Steele responded, "[Y]ou're being too logical. ... That's way too easy."

Steele threw red meat out there for the conservative audience, saying the Obama administration is moving the country toward "Americanized socialism." And that they are "socializing" through a "Marxist mechanism." He likened Rahm Emanuel to Nixon's H.R. Haldeman.

Steele accused Obama and Democrats of talking down the economy during the 2008 campaign, thereby precipitating a downfall in the market. Now, though, he's not exactly Mr. Positive on the economy, as he warned that the U.S. is just at the beginning of the recession, not the middle.

He rollickingly refuted the existence of global warming. And as evidence, he uses Greenland, which "was once called Greenland for a reason, right?"

"We are cooling," Steele insisted. "We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I use my fingers as quotation marks, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? Not very long."

He also got the first name wrong of Italian fascist Benito Mussolini, calling him "Roberto."

But don't think Steele is giving up his seat any time soon. We've pointed out before that it's pretty difficult to force out a sitting RNC chairman. Two-thirds of its members would need to vote him out. And additionally, the optics of having parted ways with a Hispanic chairman and the first black chairman would not be good optics for the party.

A caller said he hopes "Begala doesn't convince you to resign," referring to former Clinton adviser Paul Begala (now a CNN analyst.)

Steele guffawed: "Trust me. Not me, baby. Not happenin.' "No way, no how."

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:45 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Frederick's Dougherty makes another bid for mayor

It seems like Jennifer Dougherty of Frederick has really been bitten by the political bug.

Dougherty announced today that she will run again for mayor of Maryland's second-largest city. The former restaurant owner held the position from 2001 to 2005, but was defeated in a primary when she sought reelection.

Dougherty, a Democrat, ran last year for Congress, but her chances of defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett were always considered slim.

The Frederick News-Post reports that Dougherty says she learned from the "personality conflicts" that marked her previous term, and that she learned a lot about the region during her congressional bid.


Here's the Associated Press account of Dougherty's annoucement:

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty wants her old job back.
The outspoken Democrat announced her campaign Monday for the Sept. 15 mayoral primary.
Dougherty lasted just one term, from 2001 to 2005, before losing a primary re-election bid.
She promises to be a more fiscally responsible chief executive than Republican incumbent Jeff Holtzinger.
Critics say the former restaurant owner is too abrasive, but Dougherty says she has learned a lot since being ousted from City Hall in 2005 and losing a congressional race to Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in November.
Dougherty has just one Democratic opponent — union activist Jason Judd. Former candidate Jack Lynch dropped out Monday to support Dougherty.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Cummings fumes over AIG -- UPDATED

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings continues to fume over bonus payments to AIG executives to be paid this month, and is demanding that AIG CEO Edward Liddy resign.

Cummings sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, asking that Treasury do everything in its power to keep bonus payments to AIG as low as possible, or possibly eliminate them.

Cummings has also invited the media to his Baltimore office today to talk more about the issue.

*UPDATE* -- The congressman's office has just released the text of his prepared remarks for the media availability. They include a renewed call for Liddy to resign. They are available by following the link below, as is the full text of the letter to Geithner.

Thank you all for coming today.

Last year, Congress passed the Troubled Assets Relief Program—TARP—to assist failing financial institutions.

Although this legislation was not perfect, it was necessary to stop the bleeding on Wall Street—because without stopping the bleeding on Wall Street, we will never be able to stop the hemorrhaging on Main Street.

And there is no doubt that there is hemorrhaging on Main Street.

This is not just a working class problem; many middle class families are finding themselves drowning in the effects of our failing economy with very few lending lifelines being extended to them from financial institutions.


Families cannot get home loans, students cannot get college loans, and small business owners are frequently finding their credit lines frozen.

TARP was designed to restore confidence in the market and enable institutions to begin lending again.

Unfortunately, some of the institutions receiving these TARP funds have been spending this money in reckless and irresponsible ways.

AIG is by no means the only offender, but it is certainly the most egregious.

This is an institution that has received some $180 billion in hard-earned taxpayer dollars from the very people who are suffering just to make ends meet.

And then, they are turning around and slapping these American taxpayers in the face by continuing the profligate spending and business-as-usual attitude.

Since November of last year, I have been critical of AIG’s so-called ‘retention payment’ programs.

I have never been able to fathom why AIG’s CEO Edward Liddy felt it necessary to spend one billion dollars—one BILLION dollars—on these bonuses—because, let’s face it, that’s what a ‘retention payment’ is.

Mr. Liddy and AIG have been very reluctant to release the information about these bonuses, and it is apparent why.

For months, we have been witnessing a pattern of deception by this company with regard to these payments.

First, they were just for 130 people.

Then, 168.

Then, a few thousand—but with no payments being made to employees of the Financial Products division whose reckless actions drove the company into the ground.

And, then, of course, we learned that 450 MILLION dollars were to go to the FP division that put AIG on the brink of collapse.

As we learned over the weekend, a $165 million installment of that $450 million program will be made this month.

This behavior is outrageous and insulting to the American people who are footing the bill to keep this company afloat, and it must come to an end immediately.

Mr. Liddy has repeatedly claimed that these retention payments are necessary to keep the top talent at his company, but any credibility for this argument was lost last month when we learned that $57 million of these payments are going to employees who will be terminated!

This morning, I sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner expressing my outrage at AIG.

In the letter, I asked for three key things:


· I want Treasury to identify exactly who at AIG’s FP division will be receiving multi-million dollar retention payments, as well as how many of these recipients are foreign employees in overseas offices.


· I want Treasury to forbid AIG from making any contractual arrangements involving employee compensation and bonuses until all federal aid has been repaid to the government.

The American taxpayers did not sign up to give millions of dollars in bonuses to executives while they are struggling to keep their own jobs and homes.


· I want Treasury to provide me with a detailed explanation of how it plans to hold AIG accountable to its written commitment to reduce retention payments due to the members of the FP division for their employment in 2009.


Unfortunately, AIG’s retention payments are not the only cause for concern today.

After months of prodding by Members of Congress, the company finally released information regarding its counterparties.

As I reviewed this information, two things jumped out at me.

I cannot help but be concerned by the $12.9 billion given to Goldman Sachs, given the relationship between these two companies.

Now, I am not saying that there was foul play involved in this situation, but I will certainly be calling for an investigation to ensure that this is nothing more than a coincidence.

I am also greatly concerned by the default swaps.

It appears that the swap-related claims were paid in full.

Many sources today have rightly asked whether this was appropriate and whether more could or should have been done to reduce the payments and, in essence, share the pain.

We need to know whether this was truly the best use of taxpayer funds.


I have repeatedly called on Edward Liddy to resign from his position as CEO of AIG, and I renew that call today.

It has become increasingly clear that he is not the right man for this job.

AIG is now essentially a publicly owned company, and the Americans who own this company deserve better.

-----------------------------------------
March 16, 2009


The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner

Secretary, Unites States Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Secretary Geithner:

As a Member of Congress and the elected representative of the 7th Congressional District of Maryland, I have been deeply outraged by the retention payment and bonus plans that the American International Group, Inc. (AIG) has continued to implement even after the receipt of what is now some $170-$180 billion in taxpayer assistance following the virtual collapse of the firm.

The retention payment plan “installment” that is due by March 15, 2009, to the employees of the Financial Products (FP) division of AIG constitutes the continued payment by that firm – and now, by the American taxpayers – of bonuses for the abject failure of the FP division. In light of the ongoing bailout provided by the American taxpayer, it is time that we stop rewarding failure. In fact, it is long past time that those who destroyed AIG and, by the Department of the Treasury’s own account, created through their reckless actions a significant systemic risk to America’s economy be held accountable for their failures.

The retention payment “installment” due in March 2009, which reportedly totals approximately $165 million, is part of a larger “retention payment” program created by AIG in early 2008 at a time when, apparently, it became aware of a significant decline in the performance of the FP division that it obviously believed would cause employees to leave the firm. Thus, according to an AIG filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), “In the first quarter of 2008, AIGFP established an employee retention plan, which guarantees a broad group of AIGFP’s employees and consultants a minimum level of compensation for each of the 2008 and 2009 compensation years, subject to mandatory partial deferral which, in certain circumstances, will be indexed to the price of AIG stock. The deferred amounts may be reduced in the event of losses prior to payment. The expense related to the plan is being recognized over the vesting period, beginning in the first quarter of 2008” (quoted from AIG’s 10-Q filing for the quarterly

period ended March 31, 2008, page 76). (A similar disclosure is repeated in AIG’s subsequent SEC filings.)


Mr. Edward Liddy, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AIG, wrote in his letter to you that these retention payments are “binding obligations” on AIG and that despite AIG’s best efforts to restructure these payments, they cannot be altered and must now be paid. Once again, the American taxpayers – who never made any contractual obligations to AIG’s employees – are apparently bound to pay for AIG’s management failures.

It would appear from the AIG white paper on AIGFP retention plan that several hundred million dollars in retention payments are to be due to employees engaged by AIGFP in 2009. AIG writes in its letter to you that it “commits to use best efforts to reduce expected 2009 retention payments by at least 30%.” I write today to request that the Department of the Treasury explain specifically what steps it will take to hold AIG to this commitment and to ensure that any contractually obligatory retention payments paid by AIG to personnel in the FP division for the year 2009 are as low as possible or, preferably, that they are not made at all.

Information provided by AIG in its white paper indicates that the individual retention awards paid to FP personnel will “range from $1,000 to slightly less than $6.5 million.” Seven employees will receive more than $3 million. I request that you work to identify who those individuals receiving multi-million dollar retention payments are and to determine whether they had any specific and attributable role in the downfall of the FP division. Further, I would like to know how many of the recipients of the FP-related retention payments are foreign employees located in overseas offices.

Additionally, I urge that you analyze all other contractual arrangements that may bind AIG to make obligatory compensation payments of any kind and that you work to require to the fullest extent possible given the current relationship between the U.S. government and AIG that such contractual arrangements are eliminated. Further, Treasury must ensure that AIG does not create any future contractual arrangements that guarantee any level of compensation to its employees so long as even a single penny of U.S. taxpayer aid to the company has not been repaid to the government.

I also bring to your attention a note on page 222 of AIG’s most recent10-K filing (Annual Report for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2008) attached to a chart discussing “Total Restructuring and Separation Expenses” which states “Restructuring expenses include $44 million of retention awards and Total amount expected to be incurred includes $57 million for retention awards for employees expected to be terminated.” In light of this troubling information, I ask that you determine and report how much AIG has awarded in retention payments for “employees expected to be terminated” (and for employees who have as of today been terminated) – both within the FP division and under other retention payment programs instituted by AIG. Specifically, are any individuals receiving retention payments under the FP scheme expected to be terminated prior to the full dismantling of that division?


Separately, Mr. Liddy wrote in his letter that Treasury has “also asked AIG to rethink our 2008 corporate bonus proposals.” I request that Treasury detail exactly what bonus plans AIG will be allowed to implement going forward, how much these plans will cost, and how much each recipient of an AIG bonus will receive. In fact, I would like to understand why AIG should have a bonus pool at all given its current condition.

In his letter to you, Mr. Liddy stated “we cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses – which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers – if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.” If the employees of AIG are worried that their compensation is “subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury,” I can assure them that the U.S. taxpayers now paying their salaries are outraged by the “continued and arbitrary adjustment” of the bailout we are funding for AIG. Simply put, we as a nation can do better than this.

I appreciate your attention to these matters and thank you for your ongoing work to ensure the most effective and efficient use possible of taxpayer funding. I look forward to working with you as we create a regulatory structure that will ensure that the types of failures that have led to the current economic crisis are never rewarded or repeated.

Sincerely,

Elijah E. Cummings

Member of Congress

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:22 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Editorial cartoon skewers Steele

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from Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:47 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Maryland high court limits spoils system

The idea of newly-elected officials firing holdover employees who supported their opponents goes back centuries, but Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the practice has limits.

The court ruled in favor of two former employees of the Caroline County State's Attorney's office, Susan Runnels and Marjorie Cooper. The two had worked there for two and 15 years, respectively (Runnels was even the SAO's employee of the year in 2001), and both supported their boss, Robert Greenleaf, a Democrat, in the 2002 election. Greenleaf lost in the general election to Jonathan Newell, a Republican. Before taking office, Newell pulled the pair (and a third employee) aside and informed them they would be terminated when he took office, which they were. The pair sued, claiming the firing was based on their campaigning for his opponent and were thus a violation of their constitutional rights.

The court ruled that Newell had no right to fire them because of their off-duty political activities and that their termination for those reasons amounted to abusive discharge, which entitles them to damages.

Also interesting in this case was the court's intro to its unanimous decision:

The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince. And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.

NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI, THE PRINCE 103 (W.K. Marriott trans.,
Borders Classics 2006) (1532).

The words of Machiavelli, a government servant who, following a regime change in
his city, found himself placed on the rack because the new administration suspected he
supported the outgoing administration, seem apt to the present occasion, more than a half of
a millennium after they were written: is the populace’s faith in a public official often
determined by the successes and failures of those who formulate and implement policy on
behalf of the official? Springing from the 2002 election of Jonathan G. Newell to the office
of State’s Attorney for Caroline County, Maryland, the present case bears on the rub which
occurs when government employees, after throwing their support behind an incumbent
public official who ultimately is ousted by the electorate, seek to retain their positions under
the new administration. We here consider what has changed since Machiavelli’s time.

Deborah Jeon, the legal director of the ACLU of Maryland, which helped bring the suit, said in a news release that "over the last 40 years, the courts and the Maryland legislature have placed essential checks on the government¹s ability to stifle its employees¹ political expression. The Court of Appeals recognizes that what passed muster with public servants in Machiavelli¹s day is a world apart from the way Marylanders want their government to treat employees today."

Posted by Andy Green at 10:09 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Steele defense grows with Frum endorsement

Add former Bush speechwriter and neoconservative thinker David Frum to the list of those who believe Michael Steele should stay as RNC chairman, despite his rocky start.

Frum was on Meet the Press on Sunday, and was asked about Steele's comments during a GQ interview during which he seemed to support abortion rights.

“It should represent a view within the Republican Party,” Frum said of Steele's comments, according to the Web site The Moderate Voice. “It should be permissible to say such a thing. I speak as a Republican: we need Michael Steele. He’s exciting. He’s warm. He has a marvelous TV presence. That’s the face that our party should be presenting to the country and we need to support him. And the very fact that he is opening up, talking to constituencies that need to be reached — these are valuable and fresh things. And I’m sick about the kind of level of attack he’s taking. Because we need him.”

According to the Web site, Frum is a frequent critic of talk radio's exclusionary culture.

Posted by David Nitkin at 9:51 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

March 14, 2009

Congress fiddles while....

Is Congress fiddling while America burns?

That question might be worth posing to members of Congress, but very few were on hand in Washington at the end of the week to provide answers.

Maybe it was superstition, but Congress took Friday the 13th off. The House was not in session. Neither was the Senate. No votes were taken. No action occurred.

The seemingly relaxed pace of work is nothing new. A Monday night through Thursday week in Washington frees up time for more politicking back home or fact-finding trips abroad.

But things have changed. The nation is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Still, that hasn’t stopped some legislators from wondering why they should bother coming to Washington at all, according to House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

“Some members have said, ‘Well, gee whiz, we’re not meeting very often on the floor and why are we here?’” Hoyer told reporters.

Hoyer said the answer was that work was going on in committees. But on Friday the 13th no committees met in either the House or Senate. None of President Barack Obama’s nominees received confirmation and his ambitious legislative agenda wasn’t considered.

A recent visitor to Washington from Philadelphia, a man who knows a few things about government, took a hard shot at Congress’ work ethic. He made the comment in response to claims that Obama is overloading the system, by pushing major overhauls of health care and energy, instead of focusing only on the economic crisis.

“How hard do you think our Congress works? Do you think they work full-time, eight hours a day--give ‘em eight--five days a week? Could they expand their workload? Of course they could. Of course they could,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat with three decades of government experience.

“Until you can show me that you bust your hump every single day of the week, that you’re working ten hours a day, five days a week and that you have meetings on Saturdays, until you tell me that, don’t tell me you’re working too hard.”

A leisurely official work schedule isn’t the only old habit Congress seems to have trouble breaking (though Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi took steps in that direction two years ago). When it comes to stuffing pet projects into spending measures, the “old way of doing business” – as Obama put it—is alive and well.

Democrats are in charge, so they took the heat for conducting business as usual, though Republicans were responsible for about $2 of every $5 in earmarked spending.

And Republicans seemed more interested in scoring political points than making laws, as they tied up the Senate for days on a measure to fund the federal government for the rest of the year. Republicans forced votes on more than 20 amendments, all of which were defeated.

“You’d think that Congress is living on another planet. Most Americans don’t appreciate the endless bickering over how to proceed,” says Paul Light of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

“Let’s get on with it, and not try to find a campaign theme that will resonate two years from now,” he added, “and not try to amend bills to death while the country burns.”

National opinion surveys show rising approval for Congress. But Light thinks that, at least in part, is just Obama’s personal popularity rubbing off on the legislative branch.

“Right now, Congress is the impediment,” he says. “The Congress needs to get serious. This is not a time for game-playing.”

Posted by Paul West at 8:00 AM | | Comments (3)
        

March 13, 2009

Death penalty restrictions gain momentum

Julie Bykowicz reports that Del. Sandy Rosenberg, one of the chief death penalty opponents in the House, said today that he will support the capital punishment restriciton bill that came out of the Senate this year. That bill, in case you missed it, greatly restricts the circumstances in which prosecutors can seek capital punishment, requiring videotaped evidence or a confession or DNA evidence. Scott Schellenberger, the Baltimore County state's attorney, says the bill will make it almost impossible to seek capital punishment.

But it was always unclear whether the House, which has generally been considered to be more amenable to a repeal than the Senate, would go for anything short of a total end to capital punishment. Rosenberg's statements, and similar ones from House Speaker Mike Busch, suggest that the Senate version is pretty likely to pass.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:39 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Looks like a texting-while-driving ban may happen

The Senate gave preliminary approval this morning to a ban on texting while driving, classifying it as a primary offense, meaning cops could pull you over for that alone. Meanwhile, Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the operative committee in the House, tells Laura Smitherman that she believes her chamber will pass some kind of texting ban this year as well. It's not clear that the House will adopt precisely the same approach as the Senate, but this bill looks to be creeping closer to reality.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:35 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Michael Steele: the GOP's Urkel?

As Maryland's Michael Steele gets slammed for his GQ interview marks that seemed to indicate he supports a woman's right to chose and abortion (he later clarified them), some are coming to his defense.

Slate blogger Meloynce McAfee says she finds Steele's fumbling attempts to make Republicans hip and cool to be endearing.

"We can’t all be as cool as 44; Steele knows he’s the Steve Urkel to Obama’s Stephan Urquelle," McAfee writes. "And is that so bad? Politicians like Steele and Obama are constantly having to straddle the line between the black community and the mainstream. Calling Steele out for being out of touch with hip-hop culture smacks of the 'not black enough' heat both he and Obama have faced—an experience many a bookish black kid can explain in detail."

Urkel? Not bad! We can help make McAfee's case stronger: wonder if she knew that when not performing in plays, Steele's high school extracurricular activities included fencing.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Don Dwyer rift with Republican Caucus in Annapolis

Donald Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican and one of the most socially and religiously conservative members of the General Assembly, appears to have left the Republican Caucus. According to progressive blogger Judd Legum, Dwyer became upset when the caucus refused to endorse his proposal for a constitutional amendement that would define a person from the moment of conception -- effectively prohibiting all abortions.

The Baltimore Sun's Laura Smitherman approached Dwyer in the State House today to get to the bottom of things. As the following exchange shows, she didn't get very far:

Smitherman: Are you leaving the Republican Caucus?
Dwyer: No comment.
Smitherman: Are you still a member of the Republican Caucus?
Dwyer: No comment.
Smitherman: That raises more questions than it answers.
Dwyer: I can say I am still a member of the Republican Party.
Smitherman: I don't understand why you can't say you're a member of a caucus.
Dwyer: I can say I will no longer be attending the meetings.
Smitherman: Can you say why you won't be attending those meetings?
Dwyer: Oh no.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:22 AM | | Comments (3)
        

March 12, 2009

Hopkins provost named to Obama administration post

President Barack Obama has tapped Johns Hopkins University Provost Kristina M. Johnson to be under secretary in the Department of Energy.

Johnson had been a candidate to succeed recently retired Hopkins President William R. Brody.

In an email to students, faculty and staff, Hopkins president Ronald J. Daniels said "If confirmed by the Senate as under secretary, Provost Johnson will be responsible for leading administration initiatives aimed at promoting energy efficiency and developing solar and wind power, geothermal energy, clean car technology, and other forms of renewable, green energy."

Here's how the White House described the appointment:

Kristina M. Johnson, Nominee for Under Secretary of Energy

Kristina M. Johnson is currently the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs of Johns Hopkins University. Previously, Johnson served as the Dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering from 1999-2007 where she helped to set up interdisciplinary efforts in photonics, bioengineering and biologically inspired materials, and energy and the environment. Before that she was on the faculty of the University of Colorado, Boulder from 1985-1999 where she led an NSF Engineering Research Center and involved engineers, mathematicians, physicists, chemists and psychologists in working to make computers faster and better connected. Johnson is an electrical engineer with more than 129 US and foreign patents or patents pending. These inventions include pioneering work on liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) microdisplays and their integration into demonstration and commercial systems such as heads-up automotive displays (HUD); pattern recognition systems for cancer prescreening, object tracking and document processing; HDTV and 3D projection displays; and 3D holographic memories. She has co-founded several companies and is the author of 142 peer reviewed publications. Johnson has received several awards including the John Fritz Medal, widely considered the highest award in the engineering profession. She earned degrees from Stanford University including a Ph.D. in 1984 and both a bachelor's and a master's degree in electrical engineering in 1981.

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:15 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Republican Steele's "days are numbered," says ex-Democratic chairman

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, a former Democratic national chairman, said this afternoon that Michael's Steele's "days are numbered" as Republican national chairman.

"Fortunately for us," Rendell added. He described the embattled Steele as an "engaging personality" whose failing was his desire to expand the Republican Party.

"I don't think the forces that control the Republican Party really want a big tent," Rendell told a group of Washington reporters over a lunch organized by the Christian Science Monitor.

He said the Republicans don't want a "pro-choice" chairman, referring to Steele's apparent support for abortion rights.

That's why Steele "is in trouble," said Rendell.

The Democratic veteran, who is the current head of the National Governors Association, said that Steele's personal qualities had enabled him to win the Republican chairmanship back in January in an election against "a field that was less than charismatic."

But now that Steele has the job, conservative Republican forces want him out.

"So I think Michael Steele's days are numbered--fortunately for us," said Rendell.

The governor dismissed out of hand the suggestion that the outcome of this month's special election in upstate New York to fill the seat vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, should somehow determine whether Steele should stay in his post.

"Nah," said Rendell.

Posted by Paul West at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

GOP Steele detractors in a bind

Red Maryland has an interesting post up from a Michael Steele detractor who, nonethless, thinks the party shouldn't dump him. The post outlines a laundry list of questionable things Steele has said or done but concludes that the thing for Republicans to do is to work with the guy instead of trying to dump him:

Political Wire reports that Steele will most likely face a no confidence vote after the March 31st special election to fill Kirsten Gillibrand's seat in NY-20. Unofficial word, and I have nothing more substantial than that, is that failed nominee Katon Dawson is a mover in this boneheaded scheme.

For those who don't know, Dawson's campaign foundered when it scored an own goal. Dawson allegedly at some point in his life belonged to a whites only club that wasn't the US Senate and was unable to effectively address the allegation. The whole thing seemed tenuous to me and I figure if a former Klan recruiter can be president pro tem of the Senate then let bygones be bygones.

We are already suffering from allegations of tokenism in our election of Michael Steele. Very unfairly, I might add, as the first choice of a lot -- but not enough -- of us was Ken Blackwell. The last thing we need right now is a palace coup pulled off by someone with Katon Dawson's baggage.

And that's the issue the GOP faces -- even if it wasn't playing the politics of symbolism in choosing Steele, it would certainly get whacked by the politics of bad symbolism if it dumps him.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

More on domestic violence

Maryland Politics Watch went through the votes on Del. Simmons bill allowing expungement in some circumstances of domestic violence protection order records to identify the people who voted against the measure one day but then voted to reconsider it the next. The plan is for the bill to go back to committee for amendments, but the list of mind-changers is interesting nonetheless. According to Md. Politics Watch they are:

Saqib Ali, D-MoCo
John Bohanan, D-Southern Md.
Rudolph Cane, D-Eastern Shore
Virginia Clagett, D-Southern Md.
Steven DeBoy, D-BaltCo
Adelaide Eckardt, R-Eastern Shore
Donald Elliott, R-Western Md.
James Gilchrist, D-MoCo
Guy Guzzone, D-Howard
Marvin Holmes, D-PG
Stephen Lafferty, D-BaltCo
Murray Levy, D-Southern Md.
James Malone, D-BaltCo
Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard
Justin Ross, D-PG
Frank Turner, D-Howard

Posted by Andy Green at 12:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Domestic violence heats up in Annapolis

The General Assembly is constantly debating ways to alter Maryland's domestic violence laws, but this year the issue is becoming the sleeper topic of the session. Most of the legislation under debate would strengthen domestic violence laws (such as a proposal to take guns from people who are subject to restraining orders), but the one that has sparked controversy this week nudges the law in the other direction. The proposal, sponsored in the House by Del. Luiz Simmons and in the Senate by Sens. Norman Stone and Mike Miller, would allow for the expungement of records related to a temporary restraining order if it never becomes a permanent order. According to Julie Bykowicz's story today, "records would be cleared if a judge denies an order after hearing from both the petitioner and respondent or if the accuser does not come to court."

Simmons, who managed to resurrect the idea after it narrowly failed in the House earlier this week, calls it a matter of fairness. If a person is not found to have committed abuse, he or she should not have to live with the taint, Simmons says. Opponents of the idea say falsely filed domestic violence complaints are rare and that victims often have a good reason -- such as intimidation -- for not coming forward.

What do you think?


Posted by Andy Green at 11:51 AM | | Comments (2)
        

March 11, 2009

Michael Steele: Pro-choice after all?

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele ran for the Senate from Maryland in 2006 as an opponent of abortion rights.

Last fall, Steele's role as co-founder of a moderate Republican organization nearly cost him his chance to become chairman. That's because the leader of the group was former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, whose abortion-rights advocacy is anathema to many Republicans.

But Steele maintained that he was solidly opposed to abortion rights and his selection as party chairman was hailed by anti-abortion groups.

“Roe versus Wade was wrongly decided. It should be overturned in my personal view," he told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in early December. "We (the Republican Party) value life, born and unborn, and we will fight for that and I will fight for that as an individual and I will fight for that as chairman of the party.”

But now, Steele seems to have revealed what some suspected all along: that he believes women should have a right to choose an abortion.

At least, that's the implication of remarks by Steele in a recent interview with Lisa DePaulo of GQ Magazine.

Here's an excerpt:

How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?

Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that—I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it… Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

Explain that.

The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

You do?

Yeah. Absolutely.

Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?

Absolutely!

How so?

You know, Lee Atwater said it best: We are a big-tent party. We recognize that there are views that may be divergent on some issues, but our goal is to correspond, or try to respond, to some core values and principles that we can agree on.

Do you think you’re more welcoming to pro-choice people than Democrats are to pro-lifers?

Now that’s a good question. I would say we are. Because the Democrats wouldn’t allow a pro-lifer to speak at their convention. We’ve had many a pro-choicer speak at ours—long before Rudy Giuliani. So yeah, that’s something I’ve been trying to get our party to appreciate. It’s not just in our words but in our actions, we’ve been a party that’s much more embracing. Even when we have missed the boat on, uh, minority issues, the Bush administration did an enormous amount to advance the individual opportunities for minorities in our country. In housing. In education. In health care.

Posted by Paul West at 6:28 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Marylander to federal Smart Growth position

We're reposting here a blog post from The Baltimore Sun's Tim Wheeler, who writes on environmental issues:

John Frece, a longtime advocate for "smart growth" (and former Baltimore Sun reporter) has been tapped to run the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Smart Growth.

Frece, associate director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, confirmed he starts on Monday in Washington.

He joins EPA as a green-leaning Obama administration promises a more aggressive federal stance on climate change and other environmental issues. Both President Obama and his EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, have voiced support for "smart growth" Frece noted.

"There will be a lot of climate change activity in this administration, and EPA will be in the center of that," he said. "I hope and believe that smart growth will be a piece of that."

In the job - a civil service rather than political one - Frece will run an office with 18 staffers and a $1.4 million budget. It promotes walkable community development nationwide, providing technical assistance to state and local governments and underwriting research. Frece said he hopes to coordinate more closely with related federal agencies to promote smart-growth principles in federal policies on transportation, housing and urban development and disaster recovery.

Frece, who lives in Annapolis, served seven years on the staff of Gov. Parris Glendening, where he was coordinator, advisor and chief spokesman for the state's Smart Growth policies launched by Glendening in the late 1990s. Before that, Frece had worked many years as a newsman covering politics and state government for The Baltimore Sun and other organizations.

He is the author of Sprawl & Politics: The Inside Story of Smart Growth in Maryland and co-author of an autobiography of former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes.

As associate director of the smart growth research center, Frece handled public outreach and coordinated publications. He also lead the center's involvement in the Governors' Institute on Community Design, a series of workshops on land use held to assist state officials around the country.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:54 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Budget update

The budget news of the day appears to be coming from the legislature, not the governor. House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller just announced a joint task force that will meet after the 2009 session to evaluate all state aid to counties. The federal stimulus money will run out in two years, they said, and after that, the state needs to rethink the billions it sends every year to the counties for pensions, education, highways, etc.

In the immediate term, they suggested more employee furloughs and cuts to education aid are possible.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:50 PM | | Comments (17)
        

No slack for O'Malley's March

In her column today reporting on the release of the new O'Malley's March CD, Laura Vozzella asks a simple question: "Ehrlich took more than a few hits from Team O'Malley for playing lots of golf while in office. Can't O'Malley be fairly accused of strumming while Maryland burns? Or should Republicans and Dems alike just concede that eveyone needs a way to blow off gubernatorial steam?"

Apparently not. The state GOP sent out a release this afternoon with the subject, "O'Malley Fiddles While Maryland Burns" that includes:

“Maybe Martin O’Malley should have been spending more time working to really streamline Maryland’s government and relieve the burden on working families and less time recording his latest ‘O’Malley’s March’ album,” [state GOP chairman Jim] Pelura concluded.

“In the midst of a budget crisis, during one of the most difficult economic times our state and nation has faced in recent years, Martin O’Malley is holding a “CD Release Party” in Baltimore on Saturday, March 14th to promote his newest album. Tickets are $25,” said MDGOP Executive Director Justin Ready. “Perhaps Governor O’Malley could donate the proceeds from that event to help state employees keep their jobs.”

And then the GOP includes this picture. Because they consider it flattering, I'm sure:

omalley.bmp

Posted by Andy Green at 2:14 PM | | Comments (7)
        

What's worse, layoffs or pay cuts?

All the pain Gov. O'Malley had said would be staved off by the federal stimulus package is now back on the table, with another new twist thrown in: In addition to the possibility of layoffs, lawmakers are now considering the idea of a 1 percent pay cut for all state employees.

Another possibility that hasn't gotten much traction yet is a major shifting of costs to county governments. Legislators have been talking about it for years, but O'Malley has resisted the idea, on the grounds that it just transfers the pain from one place to another without accomplishing anything. I wonder how much longer that can last. The state has now been squeezing fat out of the budget for a year, but I'm not sure that most counties have yet had to do the same.

O'Malley's office just sent out an announcement that he'll be talking about the budget at 1:30, so stay tuned...

Posted by Andy Green at 10:30 AM | | Comments (7)
        

March 10, 2009

State worker layoffs could be back on the table

The word from Annapolis is that the revenue projections the state is set to adopt tomorrow could reflect a new $450 million hole in Maryland's finances, a dent so significant that it could overwhelm the help the state is expecting from the federal stimulus bill.

The O'Malley administration is saying it is still formulating a plan to cope with the steadily worsening economy and that employee layoffs could be back on the table. So could a reversal of the University System tuition freeze that O'Malley has worked to maintain.

House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller say they'll fight any state worker layoffs, but it's hard to know where they'll come up with enough cuts to fill so large a gap. In a further ominous sign for state workers, the Department of Legislative Services is floating a proposal for 1 percent pay cuts for all government employees. The senate Republican caucus yesterday pounced on the bad news in an e-mail:

At budget and personnel briefings before the Senate Budget and Tax Committee today, the administration admitted that the state revenue decline expected to be announced tomorrow will be much worse than anticipated by O'Malley's chief budget advisors.

So state employees are whip-lashed by conflicting O'Malley personnel
policies: the administration's SB 264 will require employees to pay mandatory union fees (from $243 to $513 per year) out of their own pockets at the same time that they face salary decreases/furloughs and increased benefit costs through the administration's measures to balance the budget.

We'll post more details as we get them, but suffice it to say, state workers who have already been forced to take at least two furlough days aren't out of the woods yet.

Posted by Andy Green at 6:40 PM | | Comments (8)
        

A nun, a reporter and the governor of Maryland walk into a bar...

Notes from Annapolis: A dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter

Just another Monday night in Annapolis: Gov. Martin O'Malley stops by Castlebay Irish Pub for a Guinness, is joined by Sister Helen PreJean for beery commiseration over their failed attempt to repeal the death penalty -- and ends the night reciting Yeats with his arm around that "skinny jerk" and scourge of execution-haters everywhere, Sen. Jim Brochin.

Our tale begins at 193 Main St., at an Irish watering hole popular with O'Malley and lawmakers who flock there after the Monday night session.

Moments earlier, the House of Delegates had offered a sort of sorry-it-didn't-work-out salute to death penalty foe Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame). So when Del. Tom Hucker pops into Castlebay for a beer and sees the governor there, the Mongtomery County Democrat seizes an opportunity to make a match (and probably score some points with the gov in the process.)

Hucker, a former do-gooder activist/lobbyist, whips out his Blackberry and calls the death penalty opponents who had accompanied Prejean on this valedictory visit to the state capital. Hucker tells the Prejean entourage to turn the car around pronto and beat it back to the bar.

And so they do, and the group (among them activist Jane Henderson, lobbyist Jay Schwartz and Hucker) repaired to a quiet table where Prejean regales them with war stories from the anti-capital punishment trail, according to Hucker.

Meanwhile, who comes in but the unprepossing young(ish) senator who singlehandedly eviscerated the abolition bill last Tuesday with an amendment that simultaneously repealed the repeal and threw his august chamber into apparent chaos.

Brochin, as you can imagine, was not invited to joint the Prejean-O'Malley caucus. But he gamely made do with free drinks offered by circling reporters and easy chatter with Sen. Alex Mooney, a Republican and fellow defender of state executions.

And that's where it looked like it would end: winners at the bar, losers by the window, keeping their peace and distance, separated by philosophy, united only by a love of beer.

But then O'Malley, on his way back from the restroom, sidles up to Brochin, wraps one muscular gubernatorial arm around the shoulder and asks how the "skinny jerk" is doing.

Uneasy laughter all around. Brochin tries to make small talk with the governor, but O'Malley is preoccupied with weightier themes. He lifts his chin and recites into the half-empty bar the entirety of William Butler Yeats' great poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.


OMALLEY_bar%20002.jpg
O'Malley, Hucker and Prejean in Castlebay

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:12 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Baltimore's Gary Gensler: Caught in the Maw

Add the name of Baltimore's Gary Gensler to the list of Obama administration nominees from the critical financial sector who are s-l-o-w-l-y making their way through the Senate confirmation process.

It's been almost two weeks since the confirmation hearing for Gensler, nominated to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the nomination has yet to make it out of committee, much less to the Senate floor for a final vote.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Committee said Gensler's name was "still pending" before the panel. There's "no holdup," said Kate Cyrul, the committee's press secretary.

It's "just a scheduling thing," she insisted, after explaining that it wouldn't even be necessary for the committee to meet for a vote to take place that would move the nomination along.

That action could come as early as this week, she added.

Gensler's nomination was controversial because of his background as an official of the Clinton administration during the period when the foundation for today's financial mess was being laid. But senators from both parties have insisted that he'll get confirmed. Eventually.

Gensler is a bigtime Democratic money man and once served as treasurer of the Maryland Democratic Party. He was a leading supporter and fundraiser for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign before switching his allegiance to Barack Obama after he defeated her in the primaries.

Posted by Paul West at 11:24 AM | | Comments (1)
        

No smoking: There's kids in the car!

Our breaking news blog has a story up about Sen. Mike Lenett's bill to ban smoking in the car when kids are present, the kind of bill that causes many to scratch their heads at the prospect of a nanny state gone amok. Though it's certainly true that Annapolis appears to have a great interest this year in regulating what you do in your car (texting, talking on your cell phone, whatever it was John Leopold was up to...) it's worth mentioning that Lenett has introduced this bill twice before and has seen it get killed both times in the Senate Finance Committee. This year, he did get a member of the House to cross-file the bill, but still, the list of sponsors of this one hasn't changed much. The bill has a hearing today, but that shouldn't be taken to mean it's got a good shot. It can still get killed.

Here are a few fun facts from the legislative analysis: California and Bangor, Maine, currently prohibit smoking in the car when any minors are present. (Lenett's bill would only apply to kids younger than eight.) Arkansas and Louisiana (believe it or not) have similar laws.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:07 AM | | Comments (7)
        

March 9, 2009

Maryland lawmaker caught in the act -- updated

Citizen journalist Frank Winstead, a resident of Ward 3 in the District of Columbia, was none too pleased at the Honda Element with Maryland House of Delegates plates parked illegally in his neighborhood on Saturday.

He snapped some photographs, and posted them on the Web site nowpublic.com. The plate bears the notation "46A," and Winstead notes that the three lawmakers who represent District 46 are Pete Hammen, Carolyn Krysiak and Brian McHale -- all Baltimore Democrats.

I profess a little confusion at how plate numbers work. It's possible that plate 46A is not from District 46 at all. (There are three delegates in each of 47 Senate districts -- it's possible, if memory serves, that plates 1 through 3 go to Senate district 1. Under that configuration, the plate belongs to a delegate in District 15. But I may be way off.)

In any event, here's a photo that Winstead snapped. Please let us know if you recognize the car (or the driver, partially visibile in one of Winstead's shots). And please let me know how the plate numbers run. I have a feeling we'll get to the bottom of this before too long.

illegallyparked2.jpg
Vehicle with House of Delegates plates illegally parked on Saturday

UPDATE: I spoke with Del. Craig Rice, who represents District 15 in Montgomery County, who confirmed that he was sitting in the car while picking up his wife. He said he called ahead to tell her he was arriving, and said he never shut the vehicle off. Rice acknowledges that he stopped the vehicle in a "no standing" area, but said he was there for perhaps a total of two minutes. He says he certainly would have moved along if a police or parking enforcement officer -- or Winstead himself -- had asked him to move.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:08 PM | | Comments (11)
        

Michael Steele's technological problem

Part of Michael Steele’s pitch to Republican National Committee members picking a new chairman was that he was the right person to oversee a technological overhaul of the party.

But his rocky start has undercut that claim.

As James Oliphant of the Tribune’s Washington bureau reported, the RNC has lost some of its top technological talent in the house-cleaning overseen by Steele.

“Last week, the organization lost Cyrus Krohn, who was credited with modernizing the GOP online effort,” Oliphant wrote in a story he filed for use in the Tribune’s weekend papers. “Krohn’s departure was curious because Steele had spoken often about the need to compete technologically with Democrats. A Silicon Valley veteran, Krohn increased the party’s e-mail list from 1.8 million to 12 million in little more than a year.”

Once he makes up with Rush Limbaugh and quells the concerns of some who are demanding he step down already, Steele faces the challenge of making lots of hires to fulfill his pledges.

To read the full Oliphant story, follow the link below.

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON

This hasn’t been the smoothest rollout for the new chairman of the beleaguered Republican Party, Michael Steele. As debuts go, it may rank right up there with New Coke and the movie Waterworld.

Steele celebrated his ascension as head of the Republican National Committee by almost immediately picking a fight with Rush Limbaugh — the one party icon still standing amid the rubble of stinging election defeats in 2006 and 2008 that cost Republicans control of Congress and then the White House.

A black man, Steele raised eyebrows by using street lingo in promising a “hip-hop” GOP outreach effort that would be “off the hook” and saying he would show one Republican politician some “slum love.” More problematic, Steele suggested that the RNC might not support several moderate Senate incumbents in primary races, remarks he quickly withdrew.

For a party that is looking for fresh guidance, Steele’s first weeks have left more than a few faithful wondering if their promised new direction might head them straight off a cliff.
But Steele’s supporters say he has undertaken a monumental challenge and should be given sufficient time to accomplish his work.

A former lieutenant governor of Maryland and unsuccessful Senate candidate, Steele has been assigned to rebuild the Republican brand from the ground up.

Polls show that there is ample work to do. A recent New York Times/CBS News survey showed that Americans identifying themselves as Democrats outnumber those who say they are Republicans by 10 percentage points, the largest gap in party identification in 24 years.

Even as Republicans on Capitol Hill say they have made themselves politically relevant by taking a strong stand against President Barack Obama’s economic policies, his approval ratings have stayed consistently high. GOP numbers continue to fall.

A fight last week within the party involving Steele and Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio host, probably didn’t help.

Steele criticized Limbaugh on a late-night talk show. Limbaugh, along with his ardent supporters — some of the party’s most dedicated rank-and-file — blew a gasket.

“It’s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking-head media star, which you’re having a tough time pulling off,” Limbaugh said.

Katon Dawson, who was the runner-up to Steele in the party vote for the new chairman, said the dispute with Limbaugh was regrettable because the RNC risked alienating the small “$25 to $100” donors who are the “heartbeat” of the party.

Steele ended up apologizing to the radio host, and Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina GOP, said it would be up to Limbaugh, not Steele, to help “heal that wound.”

But Dawson said he supports Steele, saying, “He has the promise to be a tremendous chairman.” Steele’s closest aides acknowledge that Steele perhaps should have spent less time early in his tenure trying to be the public face of the party and more time working to rebuild the party organization.

“We are going to try again to be a more bottom-up organization,” said Curt Anderson, a political consultant recruited by Steele to help restructure the RNC.

The first act has been gutting the staff in Washington, D.C. Anderson said that the RNC was still staffed at “presidential levels” when Steele took over, failing to reflect the party’s minority status. Steele also inherited an expensive polling project conducted after the election, Anderson said, that ended up telling the party what it already knew: It was deeply unpopular nationally.

Since then, more than 70 people have lost their jobs at the RNC, and Steele currently has no senior staff. Last week, the organization lost Cyrus Krohn, who was credited with modernizing the GOP online effort.

Krohn’s departure was curious because Steele had spoken often about the need to compete technologically with Democrats. A Silicon Valley veteran, Krohn increased the party’s e-mail list from 1.8 million to 12 million in little more than a year.

Not long ago, the RNC was viewed as a model of political efficiency and a strategic powerhouse that mastered the craft of getting voters to the polls on election day. Obama’s presidential campaign was modeled in part on RNC tactics — but he took them one better.
Anderson says as much. “There’s nobody I know who can say we didn’t get our clock cleaned in our use of technology in 2008,” he said.

The RNC did make one key appointment last week, naming California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring the head of the committee of state chairmen, meaning he will help coordinate strategy on the state level. “We will be focused on being the clearinghouse for the exchange of research, best practices and ideas among state Republican leaders,” Nehring said.

Steele will take his time filling slots at the RNC, Anderson said. One thing in his favor: The committee is being flooded by resumes. These are hard times for Republican job-seekers.
“We didn’t get in this in a month, and we’re not getting out of this in a month,” he said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Rod Rosenstein could stick around

Given what a lightning rod his predecessor was, it's pretty remarkable that Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, a Bush appointee, is still in his job two months after a Democrat took office in Washington. But, as Tricia Bishop reports this morning, nobody seems to be in too much of a hurry to replace him. There are, to be sure, Democrats lining up as possible applicants for the post, but the powers that be in the state say they have higher priorities and, in the meantime, feel like Rosenstein is doing a fine job.

At first glance, you might think: Of course the Democrats think he's doing a fine job; he hasn't been spending all his time going after the "front-page" indictments in public corruption cases like former U.S. Atty. Tom DiBiagio did. With the notable exception of the investigation into Prince George's County state Sen. Ulysses Currie, most of the public corruption action in the last couple of years has come from the state prosecutor's office, not the feds.

On the other hand, a big, active corrpution investigation could be just the thing to secure your job; one of the few Republican U.S. Attys whose post is now totally secure is Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, who is in the process of prosecuting former Illinois Gov. (and Democrat) Rod Blagojevich. If Rosenstein were the one prosecuting Mayor Dixon, firing him would look like poor form, indeed. The president who has twice avoided being seen with Dixon probably would steer far clear of looking like he was meddling in her case.

What's really going on here is that Rosenstein has been working well with Baltimore and state officials on law enforcement priorities: Guns, drug trafficking and violent crime. All three levels of government appear to be on the same page in terms of how they're going after those criminals. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, whose say-so will have a huge impact on who is in this post, is more focused on filling a vacancy on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, known as one of the most (if not the most) conservative appealate courts in the nation. As long as top Maryland officials are calling Rosenstein "wonderful" (Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler) and saying he's displaying "unprecedented cooperation" (Gov. O'Malley), she has no reason to move him up her to-do list.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 7, 2009

Republican Steele's biggest challenge isn't on television

The media have piled on poor Michael Steele.

From Rush Limbaugh’s radio network to the columns of the Baltimore Sun, the Republican national chairman got pummeled for his dumb remark on a comedy show that nobody watches. A few days after Steele’s appearance on D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, CNN quietly announced that it was dropping the program.

But Steele’s biggest challenge won’t be found in a TV studio. Instead, it lurks within the insular world of party politics.

As soon as he became chairman, the former Maryland lieutenant governor cleaned house at the national headquarters. Perhaps as many as a hundred people were let go.

Even some loyalists now fear he cut too deeply. And in his hunger to grace the airwaves, he hasn’t taken the time to plug those holes.

As a result, doubts are growing about Steele’s management skills, always the biggest question mark to many insiders.

It may sound more like the problems of a corporate CEO. But that’s what a chairman is.

Scoring points on the Sunday morning shows (where, incidentally, Steele’s been error-free so far) is less important than keeping the machinery humming. Doing the grunt work—banking hundreds of millions in donations, upgrading voter databases, launching opposition research, overseeing a large staff—provides the true measure of success.

A crushing recession figures to complicate Steele’s effort to attract contributions for the 2010 campaign. The enemy, meantime, has a popular leader in President Barack Obama, who helped Democrats build an edge in areas where Republicans once excelled: technology and finance.

“Michael’s biggest problem, obviously, during the chairmanship race, was, did he have the management skills, the leadership skills, to do the job?” said a member of Steele’s transition team. “People are starting to say, ‘Aha, he wasn’t ready.’”

“Personally, I wouldn’t have left my office until I had a chief of staff. He’s sitting here, five weeks later, with no chief of staff, no finance chairman, no political director, no national finance director, no legal counsel. Those are pretty big positions.”

Steele’s defenders argue that he was wise to order a month-long review of the national organization.

“Especially in light of the fact that we got our clocks cleaned for two straight elections, it would have been absolute malpractice to come into the RNC as if nothing had happened,” said Wisconsin state chairman Reince Priebus, who heads Steele’s transition team.

At the same time, Steele’s erratic performance as a spokesman has attracted an excessive amount of negative publicity. It damaged his perceived strength as a talking head, honed largely as a commentator within the friendly confines of Fox News Channel.

Steele says his job is to help craft a message and balance the opinions of various figures within the party. But in an NBC interview, he acknowledged that “I wasn’t that effective at it this week.”

The worst blunder--dissing Limbaugh while trying to sound hip--was “a rookie mistake” that Democrats were quick to exploit, said Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “But (Steele) will figure it out.”

If he doesn’t, an all-too familiar Republican scenario could play out again.

It goes like this: In an effort to project a more diverse image, the party has developed a tendency--a very cynical and self-destructive one, in the eyes of some Republicans--to promote women and minorities before they’re ready for national scrutiny.

As a result, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been ruined. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will need a long time to recover from his disastrous debut as a national spokesman.

And Steele? The jury is still out. Republicans hope he can get his act together, though some think that he doesn’t take criticism well and doesn’t seem to recognize when he’s made mistakes.

One thing is obvious already: Whether he rises or falls, the whole media world will be watching.

Posted by Paul West at 8:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

March 6, 2009

Steele's urban hip hop GOP gets parodied

For the record, this video is totally inaccurate and unfair in its portrayal of RNC Chairman Michael Steele. He is, in fact, much taller.

Posted by Andy Green at 5:12 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Mike Davis, Baltco political force, dead at 49

Mike Davis, a Venable attorney and longtime aide to C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger when the congressman was Baltimore County Executive, died yesterday afternoon.

Davis, 49, is survived a wife and three children – one of whom is a midshipman at the Naval Academy.

The son of a Baltimore police officer and a Gilman, Harvard and Maryland Law School graduate, Davis had been considered among the sharpest minds in local and state politics.

His love and knowledge of politics was fostered in the class of legendary coach and Gilman history teacher Nicholas Schloeder. His first campaign experience came when he volunteered for Sen. Paul Sarbanes’ 1976 campaign as an assignment for Schloeder’s class, the same assignment that launched several other prominent Maryland political careers. Davis and Schloeder developed a lifelong relationship and formed a political consulting firm, working for judges and other local candidates.

As a Baltimore County aide to Ruppersberger, Davis was a quiet and forceful presence who was central to nearly every decision made by the executive branch of government – often displaying the hard-nosed instincts of the football fullback he had been at prep school.

A 1996 profile by the Baltimore Sun’s Larry Carson described him as “labor negotiator, lobbyist, political guru, confidant and friend” to the county executive who “also finds time to coach his children in sports.” Davis left the Ruppersberger administration to run Sarbanes’ final campaign, in 2000.

Joining Venable, he worked on land use issues but maintained a keen interest in politics.

Davis and his wife, Ann, contracted Hepatitis A last summer. While she recovered, Davis suffered significant liver damage and received an organ transplant. He was hospitalized recently and many of his bodily organs shut down.

Check baltimoresun.com or the print edition of the paper for a full obituary.

mikedavis.jpg
Mike Davis, center, with Bob Barrett and John Hohman in 1996

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:34 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Miller's campaign finance about-face

The world eagerly awaits word on what on earth has changed Senate President Mike Miller's mind on public funding of State House campaigns. Gadi Dechter reported this morning that an increase in the contribution limits for private contributions may have been key, though the numbers they're talking about -- upping the individual limit from $4,000 to $4,400 per candidate per cycle and the total an individual can contribute to all candidates $10,000 to $15,000 -- don't seem like a huge increase, given how long the current limits have been in place.

And the reason Miller objected before -- the cost -- seems just as pressing now. Here's what he said in 2007, from an article I wrote at the time:

Miller said that even if the state could afford it, the symbolism would be poison with voters.

Said Miller: "How can we go to the public [next year] and ask for higher taxes and at the same time ask them to pay money to finance our campaigns?"

Posted by Andy Green at 10:00 AM | | Comments (2)
        

March 5, 2009

Update: Mike Miller commits to public campaign financing

Gadi Dechter is hearing word that Senate President Mike Miller has committed to pushing public campaign financing through his chamber, to take effect in the 2014 election cycle. (The one after next.) The plan as it stands would give candidates for the House of Delegates up to $80,000 and Senate candidates up to $100,000. The House has previously passed public campaign financing, but propoosals have always failed in the Senate before, in no small part because of Miller's vehement objections.

Miller has built up much of his political power by helping raise money for fellow Democrats in the Senate. It's pretty shocking to see him walk away from that. This could be an indication that he is really looking at the possibility of life after the legislature.

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

Ehrlich is soliciting campaign funds

I just got forwarded a campaign solicitation from Bob Ehrlich, though it's not clear that he intends to use the money he raises on his own race. He doesn't explicitly say one way or another, but he does indicate that he intends to use it to help elect likeminded people in the state and local 2010 elections. Even if he doesn't run in 2010, that could help keep him relevant in the state GOP and help him with a comeback later if he's so inclined.

Ehrlich Solicit

Posted by Andy Green at 2:52 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Mike Miller backs campaign finance reform?

Here's the headline on a press release I never thought I'd see: "Common Cause Maryland and Allies to Join Senate President Mike Miller, Senator Paul Pinsky for Major Announcement." Common Cause is to Mike MIller as Superman is to Lex Luthor (or vice versa, depending on your point of view). Miller has been the group's boogeyman for years, public enemy number one in their fight for public campaign financing. (Or, he's been the one guy standing between them and you the taxpayer footing the bill for every General Assembly campaign in the state.) This'll be interesting.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Magna declares bankruptcy

This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, but after years of losing money hand over fist, Magna Entertainment Corp., the parent company of Laurel Park and Pimlico, just decalred bankruptcy. They filed Chapter 11, so the tracks can theoretically keep operating, but this probably makes their already dim hopes of getting slot machines in Maryland that much dimmer.

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

Perez to Homeland Security?

The Washington Post is reporting that Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Tom Perez is the likely pick to head citizenship and immigration services in the Department of Homeland Security. Perez was one of the top guys in Obama's transition team and is an old DC hand, having worked various justice department jobs in the Clinton administration. He'd be the only high-ranking official from Maryland state government so far to get a spot in the Obama administration.

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

After the death penalty debate, how does O'Malley look?

The governor who pledged to use all his (considerable) power to repeal Maryland's death penalty this year has been pretty muted in his response since the Senate voted yesterday to limit but not end capital punishment here. Yesterday afternoon, O'Malley's office released this statement:

"This is a painfully difficult issue. I appreciate that the full Senate chose to consider the important work and conclusions of the Death Penalty Commission.”

“While I do not think we can ever make the application of human justice perfect, the amendments passed in the Senate strengthen the standard of proof required to apply the death penalty in Maryland.”

“Last year, we achieved the second largest reduction in homicides in Maryland since 1985. Our mission to improve public safety in every community and neighborhood in our State continues.”

(I think that last paragraph is actually just part of the signature line on the press office e-mail account; it seems to pop up quite a lot in their press releases.)

That doesn't quite sound like somebody declaring victory. O'Malleywatch (not surprisingly) had a particularly stinging analysis of how this makes the governor look inside the Annapolis bubble. But will this register outside State Circle? Does it make him look weak in the eyes of voters, does it look like he got as much as could be gotten, or do people have other things on their minds and not really care?

Posted by Andy Green at 11:32 AM | | Comments (5)
        

O'Malley, Alonso slam Steele

Looks like the folks at Frederick Douglass were not amused about being held up by RNC Chairman Michael Steele as the poster children for urban eduational disfunction. Baltimore Schools CEO Andres Alonso and Gov. Martin O'Malley, who happened to be at the school for a town hall meeting last night, demanded an apology. Steele's comments in a CNN interview struck a particular chord, since he had been to the school three years before and promised a personal effort to improve the place. So far as anyone can tell, he hasn't been back since.

"I don't think Michael Steele has been here since he came in an election year to demagogue, kick around our children," O'Malley said last night before his town hall meeting at Douglass on education and the economy.

In the scheme of the criticism Steele is facing these days, ticking off some Democrats in Baltimore doesn't quite register on the same scale as going toe-to-toe with Rush Limbaugh and blinking. But if party members continue to grumble about their new chairman, this could fit into a narrative about a guy who's a little too glib for his own good.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:40 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

March 4, 2009

Death penalty debate gets personal

As they were considering a full repeal of Maryland's death penalty, senators received the following email from Del. Craig Rice, a 36-year-old first-termer, sitting in the other side of the State House. It may have been the first time many senators had heard of or from Rice, but I wouldn't be surprised if his story affected some decisions:

From: Rice, Craig Delegate (Laptop)
Sent: Tuesday, March 03, 2009 2:52 PM
To: Senate Laptops; Senate of Maryland
Subject: My personal story...that I think you should know regarding the death penalty.
Senators,
I know you many of you do not know this, but back in 1993, my aunt, Mildred Horn, her quadriplegic son, Trevor (my cousin) and his full-time nurse Janice Saunders were all murdered by a man named James Perry. They were killed 5 houses down from the house I lived in and my mother was the person who discovered their bodies.

Mr. Perry, a Detroit man, was convicted and sentenced to death in Maryland for the murders of my Aunt, Trevor, and his nurse, Janice Saunders. Lawrence Horn, the divorced husband of my aunt, was sentenced to 3 life sentences for contracting the killings in an effort to inherit the proceeds from a medical malpractice settlement stemming from Trevor's condition.

I beg of you for my family and the numerous victims across the state, please do not repeal the death penalty.

My family, namely my mother and now deceased Aunt Gloria fought a tremendous battle to strike up the courage and nerve to testify in the initial hearings that lasted months and the subsequent appeals to get and preserve a death penalty verdict.

My mother still has nightmares about James Perry and Lawrence Horn and will continue to do so until they are no longer on this Earth. Just 2 months ago, my mother called me at 3am in the morning because her alarm had gone off and told me that Perry was trying to get her. She and my family will never be the same.

Senators, my personal story may be unique in the legislature, but is not unique in our State. For me as a victim, and not as a Delegate, I ask you, PLEASE DO NOT REPEAL THE DEATH PENALTY.

Respectfully,
DELEGATE CRAIG L. RICE
District 15
Maryland House of Delegates
House Office Building, Room 223
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3090, (301) 858-3090
1-800-492-7122, ext. 3090 (toll free)
e-mail: craig.rice@house.state.md.us
fax: (410) 841-3112, (301) 858-3112

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:47 PM | | Comments (10)
        

Leopold inquiry is still alive

The Anne Arundel County Council upped the attention to the mysterious case of John Leopold and the 911 call last night when members suggested that a female county employee's car was parked near Leopold's in the mall parking lot when officers came to investigate suspected sexual activity in the back of a car that turned out to belong to the county executive. Julie Scharper and Tyeesha Dixon report on Arundel Police Chief James Teare Sr.'s appearnace before the council:

The chief said that he had not asked Leopold whether he had been alone in the car. After the meeting, Teare said, "I did not ask him because I was not conducting a criminal investigation."

Middlebrooks suggested that members of the council believe that a county employee had been present with Leopold that day and that her silver-colored sport utility vehicle had been parked next to the county executive's. "We all know whose SUV it was, by the way, but we don't have to go down that road," he said.

The councilman described the situation as "suspicious." "I don't buy it for one minute," he said. "It smells bad."

And now Leopold has issued another statement:

"Chief Teare's testimony speaks for itself," Leopold said in the statement. "Proper police procedure was followed, and an anonymous call was deemed unfounded. There is too much important work to be done in this county to engage any further in this political circus."

Something tells me we aren't anywhere near hearing the end of this one.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:57 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Michael Steele takes a shot at Baltimore high school

Sara Neufeld reports on the Inside Ed blog that Rush Limbaugh wasn't the only one Michael Steele took a swipe at in his CNN interview over the weekend. He also criticized Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore as a place where Democratic leadership is failing inner-city kids. This is particularly interesting given that:

--Steele once pledged to personally ensure that Douglass improved

and

--Gov. O'Malley happens to have a town hall meeting there tonight to discuss the federal stimulus package and its impact on Maryland education.

Sara will be covering the meeting tonight, so check back to see if this comes up.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:33 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Death penalty in Maryland: Right time for the debate?

Gov. Martin O’Malley has made repeal of the death penalty one of his top priorities this year. The Maryland Senate has spent portions of two days locked in debate. The issue could soon go to the House of Delegates, where more discussion will take place.

The arguments are being waged as the state wrestles with a severe economic downturn. Tax revenues are down. Deep budget cuts are needed. The Chesapeake Bay continues to deteriorate. Roads are clogged. Crime is problem in urban areas.

So the question is germane: Is this the right time for the governor and the General Assembly to focus on the death penalty? Does the debate demonstrate misplaced priorities? Or is the issue of capital punishment so vital that it deserves attention even during these difficult economic times?

What’s your view? We may publish some of your comments in the print edition of The Baltimore Sun.

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:47 AM | | Comments (22)
        

Senate agrees to death penalty compromise

Senate Prez. Mike Miller and Sen. Ed Kasemeyer announced this morning that the two sides had reached a compromise in the death penalty debate. They will move forward with the amendments offered yesterday by Sens. Jim Brochin and Bobby Zirkin, which limit the application of the death penalty to cases with physical evidence, a move designed to reduce the risk of executing an innocent person. No more amendments will be accepted, and Miller promises no more reconsideration of the issue, and no conference committee to hash out some kind of compromise with the House.

(This is, for those of you keeping score, somewhat reminiscent of the "my way or the highway" negotiating posture Mike Busch took on a slot machine gambling bill the House passed during the Ehrlich administration, which caused Miller's head to pop off and fly around the room.)

We'll see what the House -- and Gov. O'Malley -- think of this.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:54 AM | | Comments (3)
        

Senate death penalty debate about to start

Looks like they're not so punctual this morning (big surprise) but I'll provide updates as often as I can on Twitter.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:14 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Rematch: Harris versus Kratovil

In a fund-raising letter to supporters, Republican state Sen. Andy Harris says he has decided to run again for the 1st Congressional District seat he narrowly lost last year to Democrat Frank Kratovil.

“After talking with my wife, my family and my closes supporters, I’ve decided that I will in fact run for the U.S. Congress once more and am asking you for your help to make this campaign a success.”

The conservative-leaning 1st District was crafted to elect a Republican, and Kratovil knows he’ll be targeted. He’s already received attention and criticism for voting for the $787 billion federal stimulus bill in its final form (he had earlier voted against the House version).

Harris’s fund-raising letter included a Washington Times article that includes criticism of Kratovil’s vote. He said he hopes to raise $100,000 by the end of the month.

harrisetter


Posted by David Nitkin at 7:30 AM | | Comments (7)
        

March 3, 2009

Turmoil in the Maryland Senate

The Republican Caucus of the Maryland Senate has done a fine job chronicling the turmoil on the Senate floor today as the death penalty debate unfolded. Here's their account:

Proving the point that committee work is best done in a standing committee and not on the Senate floor, the Senate approved two amendments to SB 279 - Criminal Law - Death Penalty - Repeal that gutted the repeal provisions of the bill and substituted stricter requirements before the death penalty can be applied in a criminal case.

First, Senator James Brochin (D - Baltimore County) offered an amendment to strip the repeal provisions but require that a defendant could not be sentenced to the death penalty solely on the basis of eyewitness evidence.
Under Brochin's heightened requirements, prosecutors would have to provide physical evidence in addition to any eyewitness testimony before the death penalty applied. This amendment passed by a vote of 25 yeas and 21 nays.

Second, Senator Robert Zirkin (D - Baltimore County) offered an amendment that provided more specific requirements for physical evidence that must be introduced before a defendant can be sentenced to a death penalty. The Zirkin provisions require that a prosecutor introduce either: (1) biological or DNA evidence; (2) a videotaped voluntary interrogation and confession of the defendant; or (3) a video-recording that conclusively links the defendatn to the murder.

After adoption of these amendments, action on additional amendments floundered as Senators requested an explanation of the impact of prior amendments. When informed that the bill no longer contain repeal provisions, several anti-death penalty members expressed dismay at the course of the floor proceedings.

"What we are getting is a real mess!" bemoaned Senator Delores Kelly (D - Baltimore County). President Pro Tem Nathaniel McFadden added, "This is not one of the high points" of the Maryland Senate.

After about an hour of tumoil on the Senate floor, Senator EJ Pipkin (R - Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's & Caroline) move to recomit the bill back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The motion to recomit failed on a tie vote of 23 to 23.

When the next amendment was offered by Senator David Harrington (D - Prince George's), a motion was made by Senator Pipkin to lay the amendment over with the bill under the rules. During the first 80 days of session, a motion to lay over until the next day is automatic.

The Senate recessed and will re-convene to continue the death penalty floor action at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Copies of the Senate votes on the amendments will be posted on our website www.mdsenategop.com later this evening.

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:15 PM | | Comments (7)
        

First stimulus road project in Montgomery County

During a visit to the Department of Transportation today, President Barack Obama said that just 14 days after he signed the stimulus law, "we are seeing shovels hit the ground."

He referenced a highway rebuilding project that is starting in Montgomery County, and is employing a family-owned Pennsylvania firm, American Infrastructure, according to The Baltimore Sun's Paul West, who was with the president.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised Maryland transportation chief John Porcari for getting the project off the ground fast.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said later that construction will start this week on a $2.1 million road resurfacing and improvement project along New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County.

“Just two weeks after President Obama signed the Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, we are putting people to work in Maryland,” said O’Malley in a statement. “With the start of this project, we begin the aggressive investment in our roads, bridges and transit systems that has the potential to support up to 17,500 jobs. The road to recovery begins here as we start our effort to build a stronger Maryland.”

It is the first time the road has been resurfaced in 17 years, officials said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:22 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Death penalty: What would you tell your senator?

Now that the procedural questions are out of the way, the Senate is set to engage in a full-fledged debate over whether to repeal Maryland's death penalty, to amend it or to leave it the same. The issue is complicated, and people on both sides are arguing their positions for a wide variety of reasons: The rights of victims, the worry that the state could execute the innocent, the cost of capital punishment, the need for an ultimate penalty for the most heinous crimes, etc. What do you think your state senator should consider when he or she votes later today?

Posted by Andy Green at 1:10 PM | | Comments (46)
        

Toe to toe with Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele blinked first

In the battle between RNC chairman Michael Steele and talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Steele blinked first.

But the feud may not dissolve anytime soon.

The flap began over the weekend, and has become fodder for cable news shows and political blogs.

Steele made a weekend appearance on the DL Hughley show on CNN, and fielded a question over whether Limbaugh – who had just delivered a fiery speech at the CPAC convention – was the “de facto” head of the Republican Party.

Not so, said Steele. Limbaugh was an entertainer, the former Maryland lieutenant governor said. And he sometimes used “ugly” rhetoric, such as hoping that President Barack Obama’s economic policies would fail.

To be sure, there was no way that Limbaugh would stay quiet. On his radio show yesterday, Limbaugh lashed into Steele.

Limbaugh said Steele needed to focus more attention on backroom party building, and less on being a talking head. Limbaugh accused Steele of being ungrateful after the host had Steele on his show during Steele’s 2006 Senate bid.

After the impact of Limbaugh’s words sank in, Steele had second thoughts. He told Politico’s Mike Allen that he called Limbaugh to apologize.

“I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren't what I was thinking," Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people ... want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he's not."

Some national commentators are painting the flap as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

It is also the nation’s first in-depth look at the glib, off-the-cuff Michael Steele – which Marylanders have witnessed for years.

Millions are now learning that Steele’s first instincts are to make comments that while sometimes clever, are not particularly well thought-out in hindsight.
The tendency has been on display locally. In 2005, when asked his view about Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his political partner, holding a fund-raising event at an all-white country club, Steele responded: "I don't know that much about the club, the membership, nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don't play golf. It's not an issue with me."

He later apologized for appearing to be insensitive.

As a Senate candidate in 2006, he explained his opposition to stem cell research, telling a predominantly Jewish audience in Baltimore that they should understand better than anyone the dangers of experimentation on humans, a clear reference to Nazi-era scientific work.

He later apologized, called the remarks “irresponsible.”

Steele lost the Senate race. He’s no longer lieutenant governor. He’s now got a much more visible platform, though. The stakes are higher.

How many more mistakes will he get?

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:49 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Death penalty voting lists

The first procedural vote to bring the death penalty repeal bill onto the floor despite the negative committee vote passed 25-22:

Yea
Conway, D-Baltimore
Currie, D-PG
DeGrange, D-Arundel
Della, D-Baltimore
Exum, D-PG
Forehand, D-MoCo
Frosh, D-MoCo
Gladden, D-Baltimore
Harrington, D-PG
Jones, D-Baltimore
Kelley, D-BaltCo
King, D-MoCo
Kramer, D-MoCo
Lenett, D-MoCo
Madaleno, D-MoCo
McFadden, D-Baltimore
Mooney, R-Frederick
Muse, D-PG
Peters, D-PG
Pinsky, D-PG
Pugh, D-Baltimore
Raskin, D-MoCo
Rosapepe, D-PG
Stone, D-BaltCo
Zirkin, D-BaltCo

Nay
Miller, D-PG/Calvert
Astle, D-Arundel
Brinkley, R-Frederick
Brochin, D-BaltCo
Colubrn, R-Middle Shore
Dyson, D-Southern Md.
Edwards, R-Western Md.
Garagiola, D-MoCo
Glassman, R-Harford
Greenip, R-Arundel
Haines, R-Carroll
Harris, R-BaltCo
Jacobs, R-Harford
Kasemeyer, D-BaltCo/Howard
Kittleman, R-Howard
Klausmeier, D-BaltCo
Middleton, D-Charles
Munson, R-Western Md.
Pipkin, R-Upper Shore
Robey, D-Howard
Simonaire, R-Arundel
Stoltzfus, R-Lower Shore

On the second procedural vote, which left the bill open for amendments this afternoon:

Della and Stone switched to nay, but Astle switched to yea, for a 24-23 result.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:15 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Death penalty debate begins

The Senate has just begun debating whether to bring the death penalty repeal bill up for a floor vote. If you've got some time on your hands, you can listen live here.

I'm also Twittering the debate.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:17 AM | | Comments (3)
        

O'Malley tries again on electric rates

If you're drawing up a list of Gov. Martin O'Malley's vulnerabilities, electric rates have got to be right at the top. Yes, he did secure credits on BGE bills last year and some other concessions from the company, but did he roll back the 72 percent rate increase he bludgeoned Bob Ehrlich with in the 2002 campaign? Not so much.

So he came back to the issue yesterday with a partial re-regulation plan that would allow the state to regulate future power plants, essentially giving the Public Service Commission the power to decide where and when new plants would be built. It is, O'Malley concedes, not "a quick fix by any means." That's for sure. Best case scenario, it would take years to increase the state's generation capacity enough to tip the supply-demand scales, and even then, we the ratepayers would have to foot the bill for the new plants.

That said, there are clearly problems with the way things are going now. Maryland is a major importer of power, and our ability to get more supply from other states is severely hindered by bottlenecks in the electric grid. And under the current system, the company that's most likely to build new plants in the state (Constellation) is also the one that's making big profits from selling power to us via its subsidiary, BGE. What's their incentive?

(Constellation, incidentally, is open to O'Malley's idea, which is, in some people's minds, prima facie evidence that it's bad. A big factor here is that Constellation's proposed third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant would be exempt.)

The problem O'Malley has is that it's not so easy to roll back electric rates in the short term, and it's in the short term that he's being judged. The governor pointed out yesterday that his budget includes a record $90 million in energy assistance for low-income Marylanders, but they're not the ones he has to worry about in the 2010 election. It's the thousands of people who get sticker shock when they open their BGE bills but don't qualify for (or wouldn't even think of applying for) the aid.

How potent is this issue? On a day when the wind chill is 5 below, The Sun's editorial page printed an unscientific poll asking whether people believe BGE's explanation that their high utility bills this winter are mainly due to cold weather. Nine percent of people believe that, and 89 percent don't. That doesn't strike me as indicating a populace interested in considering a nuanced, long-term plan to rejigger the electric markets.

Posted by Andy Green at 7:27 AM | | Comments (6)
        

March 2, 2009

Will the Census save Frank Kratovil?

The folks over at Red Maryland bring up an interesting point today about Maryland's newest Congressman, Frank Kratovil.

The Eastern Shore Dem has been taking great pains since getting into office to telegraph his independence from his party's national leaders, sending out frequent press releases to highlight every time he so much as casts a skeptical glance up at Nancy Pelosi. Red Maryland's contention is that he's a spineless opportunist who's just trying to play moderate until after the 2010 Census and the 2012 redrawing of Congressional district lines. Their theory is that the Democrats in Annapolis will give him a safer district and then he'll drop back into the party's fold.

I don't know about all of that, but I do wonder whether Democrats will try to redraw the seats to make the 1st District safer for Kratovil. I don't see that as a sure thing. Every Democratic voter they give to Kratovil is one they take away from one of Maryland's other Democratic lawmakers, and they might not be so happy about that. In particular, the distircts that would be easiest to pilfer of Ds are the 2nd and the 3rd, represented by Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, respectively. There was enough grousing in 2002 about how many safe Democratic precincts were split from the 3rd to create a seat for Dutch; I can only imagine how tough it would be to convince two, more senior Democrats to give up reliable voters to shore up what is likely to be a marginal (at best) Democratic 1st District. Kratovil may well be on his own.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:19 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Databases for death penalty debate

When Gov. Martin O’Malley said he would do “everything in my power” to overturn the death penalty in Maryland this year, that apparently included tapping into large databases he has amassed as a politician and as governor.

O’Malley distributed mass emails today and yesterday, both urging recipients to contact their state senators and urge them to vote to end capital punishment.

A key Senate vote could come as soon as tomorrow. “It looks like the vote will be close,” O’Malley said in Sunday email, which was distributed by his campaign.

Perhaps things changes a little overnight. Says today’s email, which was sent directly from the governor’s office: “The vote tomorrow is expected to be very, very close, and results may very well hinge on last-minute decisions by just a handful of senators.

O’Malley’s campaign database includes tens of thousands of names. His official one is even larger. The potential impact of the governor’s outreach is significant. Our sources tell us that a third electronic mailing is on the way, from the O’Malley-controlled state Democratic Party.

The campaign email directs supporters to a link on the campaign Web site, which allows users to identify their own senator and immediately send a pre-written email. It also provides anti-death penalty talking points for those who want to customize the message. The official email steers Marylanders to the website of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

It’s worth noting that the economic argument against the death penalty is becoming more prominent, aided by a front-page article in the New York Times last week that featured the Maryland debate.

A commission studying the death penalty “found that the cost to taxpayers of pursuing a capital punishment conviction was three times as much as the cost of pursuing a non-death penalty homicide conviction,” O’Malley said in both emails

“During these times of economic crisis, those are funds we could be investing in crime prevention or assisting victims’ families,” he said.

We’ll try to find out which senators get the most emails, and what they think of them, based on O’Malley’s efforts.

Click below to see the full email from the governor.

Om Alley Death Email

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:07 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Leopold moving forward with slots plans

Assuming the Anne Arundel County Council meets tonight, County Executive John Leopold is set to introduce a bill that would allow slots under his county's zoning law at either Laurel Park or Arundel Mills Mall. That's a pretty remarkable turn of events considering how staunchly Leopold opposed slots when he was in the House of Delegates -- he voted against the only slots bill to pass the House when he was there, HB 1361 of 2005, despite intense pressure from then-Gov. Ehrlich for support from his fellow Republicans. (The arm twisting was so intense that the final vote came from Del. Nancy Stocksdale, a Carroll County Republican who had made slots opposition the centerpiece of her campaign for office.)

Leopold has been taking the line that since the people of Maryland voted for slots, he's not going to stand in the way. It's a tricky political issue -- it's never good to stand on the opposite side of the majority of your constituents, but then again, public opinion may be changing now that the slots bidding process has turned into a huge mess. Of course, Leopold is also in a different position now -- rather than being one of 141 delegates, and in the distinct minority at that, he's now the guy in charge of balancing the budget. That could certainly change your perspective, particularly as the financial situation of the state and counties gets worse by the day.

That said, will somebody call him a flip-flopper in 2010? No doubt.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:37 AM | | Comments (0)
        
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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