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April 29, 2009

Top lobbyist settles lengthy ethics case against him

An Annapolis Dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter

Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano has settled a years-long fight over an alleged ethics violation by accepting an admonishment from the state ethics commission — but no formal finding of wrongdoing and no restrictions on his lucrative practice.

Under the settlement terms made public on Wednesday, Bereano agrees to reimburse the commission about $29,000 in expenses and is admonished to be more careful in how he crafts fee agreements with clients.

In 2002, the ethics panel ruled that Bereano had violated Maryland law by having a contingency agreement with one of his clients. The commission imposed a $5,000 fine and a 10-month suspension of Bereano’s license.

The lobbyist fought for years to clear his name, previously sullied by a 1994 mail fraud conviction. In March 2008, the state’s highest court reversed lower court rulings that upheld the sanctions against Bereano.

He declined to make any public comment on Wednesday.

The ethics investigation into Bereano’s lobbying practices followed articles in The Baltimore Sun that raised questions about a 2001 fee agreement with Pennsylvania-based Mercer Ventures Inc., which was then vying for government contracts for foster care services.

Throughout his appeals, Bereano has consistently remained one of top earners among Annapolis lobbyists. From November 2007 to October 2008, he received more than $800,000 in compensation, according to the most recently available public records.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:21 PM | | Comments (6)

Republican Steele faces new internal challenge

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele's adversaries on the Republican National Committee have mounted what one Steele defender describes as "a hostile attempt to embarrass and neuter the chairman."

The effort, by the RNC's treasurer and several respected former party officers, appears designed to force Steele to make good on his campaign promise to impose new checks and balances on the hiring of outside consultants.

Amid the latest debris for the party--the defection of Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to the Democrats and the loss of the upstate New York congressional seat that Steele and others had been heavily invested in winning---the latest contretemps may not seem like much.

But it's a new sign that Steele has still not calmed the internal upheaval that followed his election in January.

Details of the latest challenge, reported by the redoubtable Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times, can be found here.

The RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Steele, who is in the midst of a coast-to-coast fundraising swing, has kept a relatively low profile in recent weeks. That has helped calm much of the negative publicity that rocked national party headquarters back in the late winter.

The internal challenge for control of the organization's purse strings is evidence that Steele has not yet convinced his rivals on the RNC that he is up to the job. And that's more bad news for a party that's already bumping along at its lowest point in decades.

Posted by Paul West at 10:19 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Michael Steele

April 28, 2009

Governor names new agriculture secretary

Gov. Martin O’Malley today has elevated deputy agriculture seecretary Earl “Buddy” Hance to head the Department of Agriculture.

Hance replaces Roger Richardson, 75, who announced his retirement today. His last day is May 5.

“I want to thank Secretary Richardson for his service to the State of Maryland and to the agricultural community,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Secretary Richardson is a lifelong farmer, has served in numerous capacities in Maryland’s agricultural community, and has been instrumental in working together with the environmental community to help build a sustainable future for Maryland.”

O’Malley said: “I am also proud to appoint Deputy Secretary Buddy Hance as Secretary to oversee Maryland’s department of Agriculture. Buddy is highly respected in both the environmental and agricultural communities and I am confident that he will continue the work that Secretary Richardson has done to build our vision for a smarter, greener, more sustainable State, while protecting our family owned farms, and Maryland’s rich agricultural heritage.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:43 PM | | Comments (0)

April 27, 2009

Congresswoman Edwards arrested in Darfur protest

Rep. Donna Edwards was one of five lawmakers to submit to civil disobedience arrest today outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington at a rally to protest detoriorating humanitarian conditions in the Darfur region.

“Last week we commemorated Holocaust Remembrance week,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said in a statement. “During the somber years of the Holocaust, 6 million Jews and approximately 6 million others were killed.

“These events left one of the darkest blemishes on our world history and shed light on the importance of acting swiftly and globally to stop mass atrocities and violence. We, in America, vowed to never let the Holocaust happen again; we vowed that we would not remain silent and complacent next time.

“And, yet, here we are today – the Darfur genocide has killed more than 400,000 civilians and displaced 2.5 million people from their homes. The people in this region of Sudan continue to live in abhorrent and unsustainable conditions – facing the threat of rape, starvation, and violence on a daily basis.”

Also arrested were Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a veteran of the struggle for civil rights in America, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim member of Congress, and Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Lynn Woolsey of California. All are Democrats.

Edwards and the others called on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow the return of international humanitarian groups expelled from Darfur last month.

Edwards lauded the appointment of Scott Gration as special U.S. envoy to Sudan, and said the Obama administration must now “lead a truly international effort, using all available sticks and carrots as appropriate and necessary to make progress towards the shared goal of achieving peace for Darfur and all of Sudan.”

“We can no longer be silent and complacent, in the face of death, starvation and inhumanity,” she said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:27 PM | | Comments (1)

O'Malley "surprised" by Arundel Mills slots bid

Appearing on the Dan Rodricks show on WYPR, Gov. Martin O'Malley was asked today if he was surprised by the Cordish Cos. bid to build a slots and entertainment complex at Arundel Mills Mall.

“Sure, I was taken by surprise,” O'Malley said. “I was even more surprised…that Magna couldn’t come up with the good faith money" required as a slots license fee.

“It's a tough time to sell a house; it's a tough time to sell a car, and it’s a tough time to sell a slots license,” O'Malley said.

While Magna-owned Laurel Park had been considered a front-runner for a slots facility, the company has filed for bankruptcy, and Arundel Mills Mall now appears to be the favored location. But many residential neighbors of the mall oppose the plan, and the Anne Arundel county council faces a difficult decision on whether to adopt a zoning change to allow the complex.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:36 PM | | Comments (6)

Unintended consequences of new death penalty rules

At least five pending capital punishment cases could be affected by new evidence restrictions in death penalty cases recently adopted by the General Assembly, The Washington Post is reporting.
One of those cases involves the 2007 shooting of a police officer in Washington County, according to the newspaper.

The restrictions were approved by the Assembly as part of a compromise hatched in the Maryland Senate. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was seeking a repeal of the death penalty. Many lawmakers wanted to keep it. What happened was a law to restrict murder cases that include DNA or other biological evidence, a videotape of the crime or a voluntary, video-recorded confession.

Some prosecutors say those limits will create an effective end to the death penalty.

Under the legal language of the compromise, the restrictions would be in place for cases that are decided after Oct. 1, and officials are saying that five cases could fall in that category – meaning the death penalty may not apply.

The Washington County police shooting has the potential to attract the most attention.

“This is certainly going to cause some righteous indignation among my constituents and law-enforcement officers statewide,” Del. Chris Shank, the House Republican whip from Western Maryland, told the Post.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:08 PM | | Comments (1)

April 24, 2009

UM student catches Obama's attention

Barack Obama spoke about college affordability at the White House today, where he was introduced by a University of Maryland student.

Here's a description from the White House pool report, prepared by

"Stephanie Stevenson, an African American Junior at the University of Maryland who hopes to get her graduate degree in public policy, introduced Obama. Stevenson is a first-generation college student. Obama looked on from Stephanie's right while she read her introduction. She emphasized the importance of higher education. Her mother stood to her left.

"Obama wore a dark suit, light blue shirt and slightly darker blue tie with a pattern and, of course, his American flag lapel pin. Stephanie wore a black skirt and a brown patterned blouse. Stephanie's mother wore a brilliant pink skirt suit in a Jackie O style.

"Stephanie's introduction lasted approximately two minutes. She then stood to Obama's right.

"Stephanie delivered her introduction smoothly. Obama, when he took the podium, remarked, 'She might have to run for something some day. That was terrific."'

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:34 PM | | Comments (10)

The Friday Maryland Politics Quiz

Test your knowledge of events during the past week. Good luck. Click here to take the quiz, and please come back and tell us how you did.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:54 PM | | Comments (5)

April 23, 2009

Enviro officials, advocates make Bay push on Hill

Officials from state government and environmental organizations are pushing for a stepped-up federal role in fighting pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, calling the start of a new, potentially more environment-friendly administration in Washington the right time to act.

They found a receptive audience among Democratic members of the Maryland delegation, who invited them to a 90-minute discussion in a Senate hearing room on Thursday afternoon.

“I organized this meeting to proclaim that it’s a new day for the Bay,” said Barbara A. Mikulski, the state’s senior senator.

But as speaker after speaker pointed out, it's same-old, same-old when it comes to identifying the sources of the problem and the solutions. What also hasn't changed is the remedy.

Turning things around will require breathtaking sums of money and a level of coordination among various arms of government that doesn’t currently exist.

Everything that’s been done at the local, state and national level to help restore the Bay is “well-intended, but we’re not getting the results we need,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who held a similar future-of-the-Bay session earlier in the week in Annapolis.

Cardin intends to propose updating a section of the Clean Water Act in an effort to give the federal government greater authority to reduce pollution and improve the health of the Bay.

Earlier this week, at the Annapolis hearing, J. Charles Fox, newly appointed senior advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River, said the agency would “consider adopting new tools to improve the health of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.”

That presumably refers to the sorts of tougher legal tools that Cardin envisions and several of those at the hearing endorsed, at least in general terms.

A representative of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, state Environment secretary Shari T. Wilson, wants Congress to hold states accountable for the promises they've made to double the rate of current cleanup efforts. She also advocated doubling the budget for EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, currently about $20 million a year.

Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who also endorsed giving EPA more authority over the Bay, said cleanup by states in the Bay watershed to coordinate their cleanup efforts have often been ineffective.

“With rare exceptions, the six states have made their own plans and programs independent of one another. Shared responsibility is no responsibility,” Coble said in a written statement.

The Bay Foundation is advocating that EPA consider using its existing authority to stop the issuance of permits to projects that would add more nitrogen or phosphorus pollution to the Cheseapeake ecosytem. That idea has not been endorsed by the state and was not discussed by lawmakers at the informal hearing.

One of the most cost-effective things the feds can do, the panelists agreed, is pump more money into the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District of Columbia.

Wilson said upgrading Blue Plains is “probably the largest single action” that could be taken to help the Bay.

Blue Plains is the biggest single source of nitrogen discharges into the Bay, officials said. It is responsible for nearly 4 million pounds of the roughly 100 million pounds of nitrogen each year that severely degrades water quality.

Making a pitch for more federal dollars, a representative of the Chesapeake Bay Commission described Blue Plains as “the nation’s sewage treatment plant,” citing its location (just across the Anacostia from downtown DC). The facility treats all of DC’s wastewater as well as portions from southern Maryland and Virginia.

The price tag for upgrading technology at the plant? $3.2 billion. Several members of the Maryland delegation have requested $135 million in earmarked federal funds for Blue Plains in 2010. That would supplement money from the two states and DC, which have already spent almost $700 million over the last ten years.

Panelists and lawmakers also saw opportunities in the upcoming rewrite of the federal highway law, a priority this year for Congress. They discussed adding provisions that would require newly constructed roadways to built in ways that would capture and filter runoff, a major and growing source of Bay pollution.

Mikulski, who chaired the session, attended by six of the state’s senators and congressmen, declared that “every bill is a Bay bill” and said Maryland lawmakers needed to leverage their positions on key committees to push Bay-cleanup measures.

Posted by Paul West at 7:12 PM | | Comments (0)

A new twist in illegal license debate

The debate over drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants in Maryland may not be over.

Lawmakers rushed earlier this month to put aside their differences and adopt new rules that require applicants for new licenses to prove they are in the country legally, starting June 1. The biggest debate was over what to do about illegal immigrants who already have licenses. The General Assembly decided that licenses that fall into that category would expire by 2015.

Lawmakers said they had to adopt a compromise to meet a deadline of the federal Real ID Act.

But now CNN is reporting that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants to repeal the contentious law.
According to CNN, “Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, said she has met with governors of both parties recently ‘to look at a way to repeal Real ID.’ She said she wants to substitute the federal law with ‘something else that pivots off of the driver's license but accomplishes some of the same goals. And we hope to be able to announce something on that fairly soon.’ ”

If that’s the case, Maryland’s license law could be a veto target of Gov. Martin O’Malley. And lawmakers may also be willing to revisit the issue when they meet again next year. There were so many opponents to the compromise plan – both from the left and from the right – that the debate could easily continue.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)

Fort Mac getting ready for its closeup?

Fort McHenry, the Antietam battlefield and the C&O Canal are among the historic sites that will get freshened up with $6.6 million in new federal aid from the National Park Service.

The infrastructure projects are being financed from a $750 million slice of the stimulus package, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is designed to provide badly needed rehab to 750 projects nationwide and employment opportunities as well.

In Baltimore, the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine will receive $736,000 for energy efficiency improvements in two buildings, a new fire suppression system in four historic buildings and to fix solar lights on the entrance road and in the parking lot.

"The Recovery Act is about jobs, jobs, jobs," Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a joint statement with her junior Democratic colleague from Maryland, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

At Fort McHenry, officials said the new state-of-the-art fire suppression system is needed to protect four nationally significant buildings in the Star Fort.

“The buildings are over 200 years old, made of dry wood and plaster, although they withstood the bombardment of 1814, they are fragile,” Chief of Interpretation Vincent Vaise said in a prepared statement.

The installation of 50 historic wooden shutters will give the fort a more historic look. They were removed years ago because of rot and the expense of maintaining them. The new shutters, though made of special, easier-to-maintain materials, will appear to be historically accurate.

Among the Maryland projects, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal will receive the largest single amount. $1.235 million is being allocated for repointing the masonry on canal locks, replacing a boat ramp on the Potomac River at Point of Rocks, and expanding the existing boat ramp at Brunswick. Money will also go into the labor-intensive job of ridding the DC-to-Cumberland waterway of exotic plants.

Controlling exotic species will also be one of the goals of a $247,000 project at the Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, along with continuing rehab of the historic Baker barn.

Antietam will get $731,000 for paving, preserving historic headstones and replacing the roof on the administration building.

Catoctin Mountain Park, near Camp David, is getting $1.18 million for work on the underground electrical system and relocation of the fueling station.

A substantial amount of Park Service money will go into repair and restoration work in Washington, including fixing the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial ($30 million) and shoring up the seawall at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial.

Posted by Paul West at 10:44 AM | | Comments (0)

April 22, 2009

Greenip tells Annapolis newspaper she's retiring

Sen. Janet Greenip, who has been in the Maryland General Assembly since 1995, plans to announce in the coming weeks that she will retire with one year left in her term, according to The (Annapolis) Capital.

Her departure not only leaves Sen. Nancy Jacobs as the only woman in the Senate GOP caucus but also sets up a potentially raucous fight to replace her.

Republican delegates looking to move up could include James J. King, Robert A. Costa and Tony McConkey. Other names being floated are Anne Arundel County Council members Edward R. Reilly and Cathleen Vitale.

The Republican state central committee in Greenip's district would select a person to fill the vacancy, forwarding the name to the governor.

-- Laura Smitherman and David Nitkin

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:39 PM | | Comments (5)

Biden, and his mom, praise O'Malley

A Landover Dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Laura Smitherman:

Vice President Joe Biden — and his mother, apparently — quite like Gov. Martin O’Malley. Biden, in an Earth Day appearance in Landover, heaped praise on the Maryland governor, saying the fellow Democrat has blazed a trail among state leaders with his environmental policies.

"This guy here is the real deal," Biden said, gesturing to a beaming O’Malley before invoking the opinion of his 92-year-old mother, as he frequently does. "She said, ‘I love that guy,’" Biden relayed, "and she lives in Delaware." O’Malley met Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Biden when she and her son, who was then in Congress, attended one of his fundraisers, the governor’s spokesman said.

Of course, O'Malley has only recently begun reciprocating the affection. The Maryland governor didn't endorse Biden or Barack Obama during the 2008 primary. His pick: Hillary Clinton. But times have sure changed.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)

The politics of Earth Day

Welcome to Earth Day, when politicians get to show how green they are.

Maryland was the backdrop for an announcement by Vice President Joe Biden today that state and local governments could get $300 million in recovery act funds to convert transit and fleet vehicles to alternative fuels and other environmentally friendly technology.

Biden was joined at WMATA maintenance facility in Landover by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Ben Cardin and other officials.

But Republicans in Maryland don’t want to cede the environmental issue to Democrats.

The state Republican Party is announced that it has formed the MDGOP Commission for Environmental Solutions.

“This commission includes representatives from the Maryland General Assembly, the recycling industry, green construction, water and sewage treatment, agriculture, the power industry as well as experts from the field of natural resources,” the state party said in a release.
The commission, it said, will allow for “reason, rational thinking and science to lead the way for developing a responsible approach for saving our most precious natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay.”

But don’t expect any big spending programs such as the one announced by Biden. “The Maryland Republican Party realizes that more money is not the answer,” the release says.

OK, then. Money won’t solve environmental problems, but a commission will?

On Earth Day, perhaps anything is possible.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:15 PM | | Comments (4)

April 21, 2009

The money behind Maryland's speed cameras

The connection between money and legislation is often worth exploring.

A Web site that says it examines automotive issues from a political perspective has done just that, after the Maryland General Assembly adopted a statewide speed camera program earlier this month.

The results are intriguing – but also a bit misleading.

The site has compiled campaign contributions and lobbying expenses of four companies it says are in the automated camera business. It concluded that American Traffic Solutions of Arizona; Affiliated Computer Services of Texas; Sigma Apace of Maryland and Traffipax of Germany made $183,780 in Maryland campaign donations between 1999 and 2009.

Those four companies also dished out $213,055 during the same period to lobbyists representing their interests in the State House. (Receiving the most: Alexander and Cleaver, at $79,285)

Thenewspaper then adds the money that Nationwide, Geico and State Farm spent on campaign contributions, and concludes that the special interest money spent to get the speed camera bill passed was nearly $700,000.

Here’s why the figures are a bit misleading. Most of the campaign contributions came from one company: ACS. A ten-year frame of reference is awfully broad; it works out to less than $5,000 per company per year in donations. Plus, insurance companies are heavily regulated by the state, and have a broad range of interests – not just speed cameras.

Still, the report illustrates an unassailable truth: Some company or companies will make a lot of money when speed cameras come to Maryland. And to do business with the state, a company needs to pay to make sure its back is covered.

The report came to our attention from a posting on the Baltimore Sun’s message board by poster abrahamhlincoln, who found it on the Web site For those outraged at the speed camera program, the figures will only add to the fury.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:03 PM | | Comments (3)

Signs of life in the BaltCo GOP?

Most of the action so far in the race to replace BaltCo Exec. Jim Smith has been on the Democratic side, with two or three councilmen raising money and preparing for a run next year. On the Republican side, there hasn't been much going on -- nobody's raising much money or making many waves.

But a letter to the editor in yesterday's paper piqued my interest. It was written by Steve Bailey, a Republican who has run county-wide before. (He was Sandy O'Connor's hand-picked successor as state's attorney, but he lost to Scott Shellenberger, Jim Smith's hand-picked candidate for the seat.) I ask you, does this read like a letter from someone who might be interested in running for office? Sounds like it to me:

Every year for the past six years, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has submitted a budget that spends more than the previous year ("Balto. County avoids budget blues," April 15). And every year, Mr. Smith claims, and the media dutifully report, that his budget holds the line on property taxes.

What Mr. Smith refuses to acknowledge and the media often fail to report is that although the property tax rate has remained the same, the amount of tax that many homeowners pay has increased 4 percent a year each year Mr. Smith has been in office.

That's because every year, the county is allowed to increase by 4 percent the portion of the value of the property that is subject to the property tax.

In 2002, the year Mr. Smith took office, I paid $2,600 in property taxes on my Towson home. In 2008, I paid $3,300 on the same property. By the time he leaves office, I will be paying $3,570 a year in property taxes.

Thank goodness for term limits.

I can't afford to have Mr. Smith fighting to protect me from the tax man.
Steve Bailey

Posted by Andy Green at 11:22 AM | | Comments (5)

Republican Steele's new job makes Democrat Mikulski "very happy"

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is a die-hard Democrat, but she finds a lot to like in the Republican Party's decision to pick former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele as national chairman.

Mikulski isn't announcing that she's a huge Steele admirer. She's just glad he won't be on the ballot in Maryland next year.

During a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun, the state's senior senator discussed the outlook for 2010, when she, Gov. Martin O'Malley, the state's congressmen and women and members of the Maryland General Assembly will be seeking re-election.

"I was very happy that the Republican National Committee picked Michael Steele to run it, which kind of ties him up," she said, just after commenting that it was unclear which Republicans would be running.

Take that as a backhanded compliment, if you want, but Mikulski, one of the savviest politicians around, is clearly pleased not to have Steele as a candidate in her state next year. The last time Steele ran statewide, it was for the U.S. Senate in 2006. He raised $8 million and got 44 percent of the vote against Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin.

For more about Mikulski's re-election run, click here.

Posted by Paul West at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele

April 20, 2009

Steele and RNC keep money edge but gap may narrow

The Republican National Committee under chairman Michael Steele is out-raising the Democratic National Committee, according to just-released figures for last month.

Steele's RNC raised $6.7 million in March, compared with $5.6 million for the DNC, led by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. FEC reports for the two national committees, which file monthly, are due today; the figures come from press releases issued by each party.

The RNC was the brightest Republican fundraising story during the 2008 campaign cycle, when Republicans were otherwise out-collected at the national level by Barack Obama's record-setting fundraising operation and by Democratic House and Senate campaign committees.

In the 2007-2008 campaign, the RNC raised $427.6 million, compared with $260 million for the DNC under the leadership of Howard Dean, who never got deeply into the task of charming big bucks from the wallets of major funders.

When Steele won the chairmanship of the RNC in January, there were doubts about his prowess as a fund-raiser, too.

The party's ability to bring in money was further clouded by a mass firing at Republican national headquarters in Washington. But predictions of disaster by Steele's critics have not materialized.

Steele, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, is currently in the middle of a coast-to-coast fundraising effort that is scheduled to extend into next month.

The RNC finished March with $23.9 million in the bank and no debt. By comparison, the Democrats reported $9.8 million in cash and had $6.7 million in debt, for a net of just $3.1 million.

It is much too soon to conclude, though, that the RNC will continue to hold a big financial edge over the RNC, at least not at the level that the party enjoyed in the '07-'08 cycle.

Obvious differences include the Democrat's biggest advantage: a popular president in the White House, with proven fund-raising appeal, which his party has barely begun to exploit. Republicans, meantime, no longer have an incumbent president to stoke their cash machine.

An early sign of the steep road ahead for Steele and the RNC could be glimpsed in a comparison between last month's take by the RNC and the comparable period in the previous cycle. Looked at from that perspective, the RNC's monthly receipts fell below the $7.2 million collected in March, 2007, according to FEC figures

The deep recession is hurting the fundraising of both parties, of course. But Democrats did slightly better in March 2009 than they did in March 2007, another indicator of what Steele and the RNC will have to contend with.

Posted by Paul West at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele

Poll: Who's your pick for a Republican gubernatorial nominee?

Former Ehrlich speechwriter Richard Cross published an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun last week that examined Gov. Martin O'Malley's re-election prospects, and asked the question about whether the GOP had a shot at the office. Cross called Ehrlich the "prohibitive favorite" for the nomination if he wants it, and briefly touched on other potential candidates: Harford County Executive David Craig; Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin and RNC chairman Michael Steele.

Within months, the 2010 elections will be in full swing. It's not too soon to be thinking about candidates. We've set up a poll for you to select whom you'd like to see as the Republican nominee to take on O'Malley (presuming the incumbent seeks re-election); and whether you think O'Malley will be re-elected.

Click here to take the poll, and please come back and post your thoughts here.

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:41 PM | | Comments (10)

This one may put you to sleep

Results are in from the first round of the expected rematch in the First Congressional District between freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil and his Republican challenger, state Sen. Andrew P. Harris. That would be the fundraising numbers for the first quarter of 2009.

And the leader, by a wide margin, is Kratovil, who, not surprisingly, is capitalizing on incumbency by collecting bucks from a wide variety of special interest sources. Between New Year's and the end of March, Kratovil raised just over $300,000. Harris pulled in less than $80,000.

Harris was able to tap a network of fellow anesthesiologists in a dozen states and the District of Columbia. They gave a total of more than $15,000--or nearly a quarter of his total haul--which included a $2,500 donation from the American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC.

Not to be outdone on the mind-numbing front, Kratovil banked a $2,500 donation from the Nurse Anesthetists PAC. If you're still awake, here's the rest of the story:

Kratovil got more than two-thirds of his money from political action committees. Among those were PACs representing labor unions and a wide variety of corporations in agriculture and health care, among other interests.

Reflecting the Eastern Shore congressman's moderate-conservative image--and the fact that he's got a vote in the House--the National Rifle Association PAC gave $1,000, a rare source of campaign cash for a Maryland Democrat.

Kratovil's individual contributors included former Gov. Parris Glendening, who listed his occupation as "environmentalist" on the form he filled out with his $250 donation.

Among Kratovil's individual donors were a host of Washington-based lawyers and lobbyists, who got on board early for the Democrat.

The largest single bank of givers to Kravotil, though, are his fellow Democratic pols. In all he got about $50,000 from various House Democratic sources.

The givers (through their personal campaign organizations and related political funds) ranged from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Maryland representatives Dutch Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (whose congressional campaign account is still active). The party's House campaign committee (chaired by Van Hollen) gave, along with the conservative Blue Dog PAC ($10,000) and various liberal PACs.

Kratovil's single biggest angel is Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. The House Democratic leader chipped in $14,000 from committees he controls, and he has funneled another $14,200 to Kravtovil through earmarked donations to his leadership PAC.

In the all-important cash-on-hand category, Kratovil began the second quarter with $251,815 in the bank to Harris' $117,383.

Last year, when they competed in one of the most closely fought House contests in the nation, Harris, the Republican, spent a total of more than $3 million, while Kratovil came in under $2 million (those figures include primary spending).

Thanks to incumbency and the economy's drag on political giving to both parties, but especially to Republicans, that advantage may go the Democrat's way in 2010. Without Barack Obama on the ticket to gin up Democratic turnout, the congressman will likely need every advantage he can muster.

Posted by Paul West at 12:25 PM | | Comments (5)

April 17, 2009

Friday Maryland Politics quiz

Let's see how closely you paid attention this week! Click here to take the Friday quiz.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:33 AM | | Comments (3)

April 16, 2009

UPDATED: Hate speed cameras? Sign here.

Voters who don't want to see speed cameras in their neighborhood now have a chance to vent their frustration.

A petition drive is being launched to overturn the law authorizing speed cameras approved by the Assembly this month.

It's not easy to get a law overturned. Petition gatherers have to collect more than 53,000 signatures -- and they can't all come from one jurisdiction; they have to be spread out across the state. And there's a tight deadline.

Still, this could be an issue that generates enough outrage that a legislative result is overturned. If the petition drive is successful, the question would be on the 2010 general election ballot.

UPDATE: Here is the contact information for the petition organizers:


Posted by David Nitkin at 1:29 PM | | Comments (21)

Tea parties -- populism or GOP plot?

There's been a lot of debate on this blog and elsewhere over the last few days about whether yesterday's tea parties were genuine grassroots populism or a partisan ploy by the Republican Party, Fox News, et. al.

Let's assume for the moment that Rush, Bill O'Reilly and company were in fact using their powers for cynical and opportunistic reasons. Let's say they don't really believe any of this and are just trying to gin people up to boost their ratings, embarrass President Obama, help launch a GOP resurgence or whatever.

I say, so what? Even if they were talking up the events and their significance for the wrong reasons, I have no doubt that at least the vast majority of people standing out in the rain yesterday believed what they were saying. Take, for example, the manifesto I posted a few days ago by Betty Nottrodt, a 76-year-old Towson woman who compiled 70 theses (last I heard from her, she'd run out of time before she got up to 95, but I have no doubt she's probably well past Martin Luther's mark by now). Anybody think she did that because Bob Ehrlich or Jim Pelura told her to? Look at the comments here. They're not cookie-cutter regurgitations of talking points. People are expressing their own grievances in their own way. Good for them.

Now, it remains a fair question whether the people who protested and wrote comments represent a passionate minority or, as many of them believe, a suddenly not-so-silent majority. Time will tell. But either way, I see no cause for insulting them by suggesting they're just acting as lemming dittoheads.

There's a rule in Maryland's legislature (and maybe in others too, for all I know) that you are not allowed in debate to question another person's motivations for making a vote or an argument. The idea is that you should debate points on the merits. I think that should apply to this issue as well.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:53 AM | | Comments (12)

More domestic spying issues at NSA

The New York Times has an important story in today's editions about the domestic spying program at the NSA, reporting that the super-secret Maryland-based agency "intercepted private email messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits" set by Congress last year.

The Times is reporting that the agency told Congress that it had trouble complying with the law, leading to "overcollection" of information.

On a related note, the Times also discloses that the NSA "tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant," after obtaining information that the unidentified representative "was in contact" with an extremist with terrorist ties as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 and 2006.

The developments provide a major national security test for the Obama administration, and will raise questions about an agency that prefers to operate with as little public attention as possible.

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:52 AM | | Comments (3)

Who's at fault for Baltimore's misplaced $40 million?

The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey is reporting on $40 million "found" by an audit in a Baltimore City account, and, as expected, reaction is strong.

The message boards on the Baltimore Sun's Web site are alive with several interesting thoughts and observations:

a) Poster Occam raises the question of why previous audits had not raised questions about this account. Are auditors at least as much to blame as the city finance department?

b) George-WNEC sheds some light on municipal financing practices, alerting us that government officials are often adept at "hiding" money in sub-accounts so that their agency budgets don't get penalized for unspent funds by seeing reductions in subsequent years. While that doesn't seem to be what happened here, but it's an interesting observation.

c) And Jethro666 coyly raises a good point: Where was O'Malley's vaunted CitiStat program while these funds were accumulating.

Let the debate continue. Here's some more questions: Should heads roll? If so, whose?

Or is this just something that happens in large, complex organizations, especially those with workforces of, shall we say, uneven talent?

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:43 AM | | Comments (4)

April 15, 2009

Rehabbed Cardin home to be featured on cable television

The renovated eco-friendly Owings Mills home of Jon Cardin, a Democratic delegate from Owings Mills and nephew of Sen. Ben Cardin, will be featured on an upcoming edition of Renovation Nation, a Discovery Channel show.

A film crew is to be at the home on April 18 and April 20, according to a release from the delegate’s office.

According to the release:

Cardin began renovations on his house, located at 12112 Garrison Forest Road in Owings Mills, MD, last year and is on the verge of completing a sustainable, energy efficient, green home. His house, known as the Old Gill School was originally constructed in 1871 as a one-room school house on the corner of Walnut Ave. and Garrison Forest Rd. in Owings Mills. It was sold to a former student, Elise Durham, and her husband in 1933, and they converted it into a tiny three-bedroom home to raise their three children there. Mrs. Durham died in 2005 and her daughters sold it to Cardin 2006.

Cardin lived there for a year while designing the green expansion and renovations with his architect Bruce Finkelstein. Ashley Homes did the bulk of the renovations over a period of 18 months.

Green Improvements include but are not limited to:

- Geothermal heating and cooling
- Reinstallation of a functional wood stove
- Use of overstock wood, tile, and brick from previous work sites
- Low/No VOC paint, finish, stain
- Recycled plastic carpets and decking
- Solar panel installation
- High-density insulation
- Reuse of original dirt cellar as a functional wine cellar

Cardin takes pride in leaving the original façade and returning the interior to a single room reflecting the original school.

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:52 PM | | Comments (7)

Taking the partisanship out of local politics

All politics may be local. But do local politics need to be partisan?

That’s what aldermen in Frederick, Maryland’s second largest city, will discuss tonight when they consider a proposal to switch Frederick municipal elections to non-partisan status– meaning no party affiliation would be listed on the ballot.

Reporting on the development for the Frederick News-Post, reporter Adam Behsudi uncovered some interesting statistics:

Just four of the 157 municipalities in the state hold partisan elections – according to the Maryland Municipal League: Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick and Hagerstown.

And 21 of the 30 largest cities in the country hold non-partisan elections.

Local politicians will often tell you there’s no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole. Responsive local government is about balancing budgets, plowing snow, picking up the trash on time and making sure streets are safe. The issues are nuts-and-bolts, not ideological.

But here’s another view: Those four cities – Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick and Hagerstown – are vibrant places where politics is woven into the municipal fabric. They’re some of the most interesting places in the state. Perhaps a partisan political vein has something to do with that? (I know, I know – there’s only one party in Baltimore, right?)

Where is the right place to draw the line on partisanship? In places with elected school boards, those elections are almost always non-partisan, and rightfully so.

But there’s no talk, nor should there be, about making county council races in the largest jurisdictions such as Baltimore County, Anne Arundel and Howard non-partisan. After all, county councilmen become county executives, and county executives (and mayors) become governors. Local government is often the training ground for upcoming politicians and public officials.

So, should municipal elections be non-partisan? My vote is no. What’s your opinion?

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:21 AM | | Comments (4)

Tea Party day -- what are you protesting?

There's been massive interest over the last few days in the Tea Party protests being held at several locations in Maryland and across the nation. Though discontent over taxes and spending is at the heart of the movement, people seem to be seeking to raise grievances about plenty of other things as well. If you're going to one of the protests, wish you were, or think the whole thing is hooey, write in and give us your opinion.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:59 AM | | Comments (58)

April 14, 2009

Is the tea party a GOP event?

Based on the comments we've gotten on posts related to tomorrow's Tea Parties in Maryland and across the nation, I'd have to conclude that participants aren't coming at this from a particular partisan bent but out of general frustration and outrage at the leaders of the state and the country. It strikes me then as odd, and maybe a little ill advised, that at least here in Maryland, the GOP seems to be trying to lay some claim to the events. As we noted a few days ago, Michael Steele, our former Lt. Gov. turned RNC chairman, tried to get a speaking role at a Chicago tea party but was denied. And check out this e-mail from Maryland GOP Chairman Jim Pelura. Not only is he saying the state Republican Party is sponsoring the events here but he's also using the occasion for a fund-raising pitch:

Dear MDGOP Supporter,

Are you tired of higher taxes? Will you help us make a stand on Tax Day?

The Maryland Republican Party has set a goal of raising $2009 by midnight Wednesday, April 15th. Please click here to help us reach this goal. What is this money going to be used for?

At MDGOP, we are not just marking time or whining about the state of our nation. We are exposing the Democrats' wasteful spending and tax-happy practices but also promoting positive, common sense Republican solutions. We're recruiting candidates for races all over Maryland and funding training for these candidates and grassroots activists. But...we must have the financial resources to make the difference in the 2010 elections. Would you click here to contribute $29, $58, $129, $258, or even $10 or $20 to help us reach our goal?

April 15th Tax Day Tea Parties:

In addition to our messaging and candidate recruitment efforts, MDGOP is sponsoring and promoting April 15th Tax Day Tea Parties all over Maryland including Annapolis, Baltimore, Bel Air, Cecil County, Chestertown, Cumberland, Frederick, Hagerstown, Havre de Grace, Salisbury, and Westminster.

To reach our goal of $2009 we need just 70 people to give $29 in the next 2 and a half days…will you be one of them? Click here to give your best gift no matter how large or small…whether you can give $29 or $58 or $258 or even a gift of $20, $10, or $5. You'll be taking a stand against higher taxes and helping MDGOP elect strong, fiscally conservative candidates to the Maryland General Assembly and U.S. Congress!

Please click here to make a special donation of $29, $58, $129 or even $258...whatever you can spare in the next 58 hours!

Also…if you'd like to commit to a monthly sustaining contribution of as little as $5, $10, $25, or $50, you can sign up to do that here as well.

MDGOP is committed to fighting for working families and small businesses as well as giving grassroots activists like you a stronger voice in Maryland. While money is not everything, the 2008 elections showed us that it is difficult to win elections when being outspent 4-1.

Your contribution of $29, $58 or whatever you can spare in the next 58 hours will help us be in a position to compete and win in 2010. As always, feel free to contact us by responding to this email and please visit us at or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for your support!


Dr. Jim Pelura


Maryland Republican Party

Posted by Andy Green at 1:04 PM | | Comments (17)

A protest of the tea party protest

Reader Bassinman29 just e-mailed this countervailing view of tomorrow's planned Tea Party protests:

For those People Protesting Taxes Tomorrow, Just think what you are doing by not sharing the wealth!

1. Roads Bridges and Infrastructures won't get fixed, since there won't be any money,

2. Education will be gutted and America will fall behind the rest of the World.

3. Health Care will Lose when more Charity Hospitals Close and More People will die for lack of treatments they can't afford! (Tax resistors will Fight Nationalized Heath Care as they have no conscience anyway and don't want to pay for it)

4. More People will become Homeless and lose their Health insurance, (Tax Resistors don't care about them either as long as they don't have to pay for it)

5. Poverty will increase (Tax Resistors don't Care anyway)

6. Rich will get richer and Poor and Middle-class will struggle like never before (Tax resistors love the sound of Money)

7. The Protest is NOT about Taxes but saving the Rich from paying and sharing the Wealth with the Blue Collar people of America and Bailing out the Poor who have nothing!

8. April 15th Protest will show that Greed and Corruption and Heartless Rich People will do anything to STOP the advances of the Middle-Class and Poor from enjoying a Good Life!

America has truly become a sick an obsessed nation that worries more about money than it's fellow man!

Posted by Andy Green at 11:31 AM | | Comments (18)

Dems gut campaign fund GOP wanted to use

Laura Smitherman reports this morning that on the final day of the General Assembly session, Democratic lawmakers approved a plan to take $2 million from a fund available to finance gubernatorial campaigns. Republicans are up in arms about this, given that there's almost no chance Gov. O'Malley will take advantage of it but a Republican might. In fact, Mike Pappas, a Republican attorney who is considering a run for governor, has indicated he might try to use it. Just about anyone other than former Gov. Ehrlich who tries to run from the GOP would probably need it.

Compared to the money that was spent in the last gubernatorial race -- more than $15 million on each side -- the $2 million wouldn't come anywhere close to leveling the playing field between O'Malley and a Republican opponent. And any oddsmaker would have to give O'Malley a major edge in a re-election fight, given the state's demographics, the power of incumbency and his ability to raise money.

But still, you never know if this money would make a difference. Ellen Saurbrey was the last one to use the fund, in 1994, and she came within a few thousand votes of defeating Democrat Parris Glendening. It would take a major storm of voter discontent to replicate the environment in which she was able to come so close, but the world is certainly an unsettled place right now. Anything could happen.

For that reason, expect the GOP to fight this move in court. I'm betting we haven't heard the last of this issue.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:55 AM | | Comments (6)

April 13, 2009

Annapolis dodges a bullet on immigrant license legislation

Many Marylanders will be upset at the compromise the General Assembly struck on illegal immigrant driver's licenses. People on the right will decry it as amnesty (if temporary) for illegal immigrants. People on the left say the legislature approved a plan that will make Maryland's roads less safe; illegal immigrants will keep driving but without licenses and insurance, they argue. In fact, I'm betting people who voted for this bill -- which grandfathers current illegal immigrant license holders in until 2015 -- will get no end of grief for it.

Even so, I'd say the last-minute passage of the bill was much better for them, politically speaking, than the alternative. If the bill hadn't passed, an impending federal deadline to implement the Real ID act would likely have forced a special session on the issue. And if people are upset about the issue now, imagine a scenario in which the legislature is debating nothing else -- and spending extra taxpayer dollars to do it.

There's plenty legislators have to worry about between now and possible re-election in 2010 -- billion-dollar budget shortfalls, for example. But at least they can cross this one off the list.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:52 PM | | Comments (7)

Immigrant driver's license bill passes

The Senate just adopted the compromise with the House, so the most contentious issue of the day is resolved.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:25 PM | | Comments (4)

Senate debate on licenses now starting

Sen. Brian Frosh is explaining the bill now, clarifying that the bill would allow current illegal immigrant drivers to keep their licenses through 2015 but that the bill would cut off the process of getting new licenses as soon as it becomes law. (Note: The House didn't pass the bill with enough votes to make it an emergency measure, which would have gone into effect immediately, so there will be a period of a few months before the new licensing of illegal immigrants stops even if the Senate gives its overwhelming approval.)

(I'll keep posting updates to this thread as I did with the House debate.)


Sen. Kittleman is questioning whether other states now accept Maryland driver's licenses and whether this bill would cause them to do so. He said the MVA administrator told the GOP caucus that several states (six or eight of them) already don't accept Maryland licenses.


Senate is now considering whether to limit debate, a necessary step at this point if it is to pass tonight.


Motion to limit debate succeeds. Proponents get 10 minutes, opponents get 10 minutes. Miller says the step is necessary, otherwise the Senate would spend the entire rest of the time debating this and not get to other important measures. Republicans are not impressed with this logic and say the bill merits serious debate.


Sen. Jim Brochin is arguing on behalf of the compromise. He's the ultimate swing vote in the Senate, so if he's arguing for it, it's got a good shot.


Sen. Andy Harris says "everyone east of the Rockies knows you have until June 1 to get a driver's license (in Maryland) and then it's amnesty after that." If you need to get your licensed renewed, he says, get ready to wait in line.

So far, only Republicans in the Senate are arguing against the bill, which, again, suggests that it will pass. So does the party-line vote on limiting debate. No guarantee, of course; some wild things can happen at 11:30 on sine die, but compromise is looking good.


Bill passes.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:01 PM | | Comments (0)

Illegal immigrant driver's licenses

UPDATE: Not to destroy the suspense, but the bill just passed the House. Read on for the fairly dramatic proceedings.

The debate is going on in the House now. The House is about to consider amendments that came out of the conference committee on the subject, but this time with the understanding that all the grandfathered licenses for illegal immigrants would expire in 2015. Previously, many in the House had been under the impression that those without documentation of legal status would be allowed to renew through 2015.

The two chambers have to agree to this compromise plan in the next 90 minutes, and it's not altogether clear whether the support will be there or whether they can get this done in time. As evidenced by all the comments on the topic on this blog over the last couple of months, the issue sparks some passions, so the debate could take a while.

(I'll continue to update this post as the debate goes on.)

Minority leader Tony O'Donnell is questioning whether 2015 would really be the end of licenses for illegal immigrants. Once the system is in place, he says, it would be all too easy to change the date.


The House moved quickly to call the previous question, a maneuver to cut off debate. This is the difference between the House and the Senate -- can't do that kind of thing in the Senate. Word in the House is that it might be going down.


Right now the votes are up on the board, but Busch -- the only guy in the chamber who has on his computer monitor a count of how many people are green and how many red -- isn't calling the vote. People are now "explaining their votes," which is often a means for the House leadership to stall and try to round up enough votes to pass. If Busch had the votes, he'd take the call.


The final vote: 76-60. Bill passes.


I'm betting Busch didn't have the votes when it first went up on the board. But in those situations, he can send the whip team out to flip a few key votes while legislators explain their votes. Happened with slots and other major legislation. Now, on to the Senate.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:01 PM | | Comments (0)

Inheritance tax for domestic partners

The Senate just voted to adopt House amendments on a bill that would allow domestic partners to avoid interitance taxes on a primary residence when one of them dies. The bill is general aimed at same-sex partners, but the House amendments strip out the "same-sex" bit so that unmarried heterosexual people would qualify, too.

Sen. Alex Mooney argued that the bill undermines marriage. The state gives certain special benefits to married couples, and giving those marital benefits to others diminishes them, he says. (The gay rights lobby, I suspect, would be happy to just go with same-sex marriage instead, but I think that's not what the good senator from Frederick was driving at.)

Posted by Andy Green at 9:00 PM | | Comments (1)

Success at last for Alex Mooney

Looks like Sen. Alex Mooney's long quest to secure hate crimes protection for homeless people may finally become law. For a number of years, Democrats looked at the Frederick Republican's efforts on this issue cyincally, assuming that he was really trying to water down existing hate crimes protections for minorities, gays and others. But he's stuck with it, and, with some compromises, it looks like it might actually go through this year.

Posted by Andy Green at 8:34 PM | | Comments (1)

Senate debating school arbitration bill

The Senate just moved to limit debate on a binding arbitration measure for collective bargaining disagreements between unions and boards of education. The bill long appeared dead, but it was resurrected this weekend in a last-minute compromise. Local governments and boards of education are worried about this one, but Senate President Mike Miller's move to quickly cut off debate suggests that the skids are greased. A few minutes ago, Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford Republican, tried to offer amendments, but they hadn't been printed up yet, so Miller ordered the bill moved to third reading without waiting. After their endorsement of the slot machine gambling referendum, the state teachers union could well have some major pull with the Senate president.

Posted by Andy Green at 7:20 PM | | Comments (3)

Key O'Malley labor bill being debated

UPDATE: The bill just passed the House, but with amendments, so it will still require more action in the Senate and possible negotiation if it is to become law.

The House of Delegates is now debating the "Fair Share Act," a key piece of Gov. O'Malley's agenda and a top priority of organized labor in the state. In a nutshell, state employee unions now represent members and non-members in their negotiations over wages, working conditions, benefits, etc., but the non-members don't pay dues. This bill would allow the unions to negotiate a requirement that people pay to support the costs of negotiations even if they aren't members of the union.

O'Malley and labor backers say it's only a matter of fairness. Opponents, chiefly in the GOP but also among some Democrats, say it amounts to an involuntary tax on state workers.

"Ladies and gentlemen, state workers are hurting ... and this legislation is nothing more than a $400 tax coming out of their pockets at the worst possible time," said Del. Chris Shank, the minority whip from Western Md.

But proponents say the bill simply enables the unions to negotiate for the fee.

"This is not fait accompli," said Del. Galen Claggett, a Frederick Democrat. "The most important thing is the opportunity for it to happen so the fees are fair and the unions are able to negotiate in the best possible way."

Del. Kumar Barve, the Majority leader from MoCo, said the non-dues-paying workers are like stowaways on a train who are getting a free ride.

"What an agency fee does, it essentially says to the people riding on the train, 'You need to buy a ticket,'" Barve said.

The other big upshot of this: If the bill passes, it's a major feather in O'Malley's cap going into re-election. The unions backed him big time in 2006, and I'm sure he'd like to have their support again in 2010.

Posted by Andy Green at 6:26 PM | | Comments (13)

Marylanders votes on Obama budget

I just got a phone call from a reader wondering how Maryland's congressmen voted on Obama's budget last week. We reported it in the paper and on the Web at the time, but in case anyone else is wondering:

Voting yes:

Voting no:

Paul West from our D.C. bureau reported at the time:

Bartlett and Kratovil were the only House members from Maryland to vote against Obama's budget. Both criticized it as too expensive.

In defending his vote, Kratovil said that hard-pressed American families are "sacrificing some of the things they have become accustomed to" and criticized the president for failing to make tough choices that reflect similar sacrifices.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:47 PM | | Comments (4)

Preakness condemnation bill passes

The House has passed the Preakness condemnation legislation that the Senate adopted over the weekend. It now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley for his signature.

The governor wanted the legislation to protect the state during Magna Entertainment Corp.'s bankruptcy proceedings. The state wants the ability to buy the race to keep it in Maryland. Critics say a bankruptcy judge would likely not allow a condemnation to take place; O'Malley aides and lawyers acknowledge that the law's best use may be as a bargaining tool.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:30 PM | | Comments (3)

Tea party movement picking up steam

In case you haven't heard, people across the country are gathering on Wednesday (Tax day, April 15) for symbolic "tea parties" to protest government taxation and spending, though people seem plenty hopped up about various other issues, too. Several are planned in Maryland. In the last few days, we've been getting phone calls and e-mails from people trying to get the word out, a couple of which I'll post here.

Today, I got an e-mail from Ken J. Bower, who apparently doesn't share the aversion to government spending that many in the tea party movement have but is plenty upset about other things. He wrote:

I am disappointed that People would rise up against spending, especially since it would help America solve the health care crisis as well as improve America overall, Sure Taxes are tough but Money is what America is all about, Our Politicians in Washington already get the best health care in the world and they voted it for themselves, They also Vote for their own pay raises, and can change the law anytime to suit their own needs; I think it is time to take the power back with strict limitations on Politicians pay and Salaries and other expenses by rolling back these items and make sure that Congress and the Senate as well as the Administration starts thinking of the people whom they are supposed to be serving; Too often after an election the rules go out the door and Washington goes into a self-preservation mode while ignoring the Nation! Meanwhile People lose their jobs and Health Insurance and Die because they can't pay their bills, Wall Street becomes greedy and takes whatever they can steal, It is like the American Peopl don't matter anymore and are powerless to do anything about it; Maybe it time to tear down this Government and completly rebuild it with strict rules that made by the people and not the Foxes in the Henhouse! So if their is anything to Protest it should be against the Government in Washington, To force these people to first get their hands out of the cookie jar and start thinking of the American People and their problems and start solving these problems so all Americans can share in the Wealth of this Great Nation; and NOT just the Few who have the Money to invest in Corruption and Greed which denies every American his Basic rights to the Pursuit of Life Liberty and Happiness!

Also, I've gotten a couple of phone calls and e-mails from Betty Nottrodt, a 76-year-old Towson woman, who can't make it to one of the tea party events but plans instead on tacking 95 theses on the door of her congressman's local office. When last I heard from her, she'd gotten up to 70, which I've pasted below the jump.

1. Why are you taking our money and giving it to other people without our consent?

2. Why are you taking our money and giving it to other countries which are not our friends?

3. Why are you taking more of our money than is needed for legitimate purposes of government?


4. Why have you interfered with a once superior system of education?

5. Why have you usurped the rights of the state?

6. Why have you usurped the rights of parents?

7. Why do churches not have the right to express opinions about subjects vital to their function?

8. Why are the lives of criminals more important than the lives of the unborn and the just-born?

9. Why are illegal aliens preferred to American citizens?

10. Why is bad behavior subsidized?

11. Why is responsibility punished by high taxation?

12. Why is Guantanamo closing?

13. Why are counterproductive regulations written by uninvolved bureaucrats?

14. Why are you passing bills that you have not read?

15. Why are you inventing words, i.e. anti-Islamic activity when you mean Islamic terrorism?

16. Why are you protecting the porn industry?

17. Why should I find it necessary to take time away from my pursuits to make this list?

18. Why was our January gas and electric bill $582 so that the caribou in Alaska do not have to look at a pipeline?

19. What are the advantages of socialism/Marxism over American democracy?

20. Why has there been no investigation into the current devastating financial crisis?

21. Why are those responsible still in office instead of jail, where we certainly would be for lesser crimes?

22. Why does the “stimulus bill” stimulate government and corrupt officials but not the people?

23. Why is carbon dioxide, which is necessary to life, considered a pollutant?

24. Why is carbon, a vital component of all living things, regarded as poison?

25. Why do “international” treaties require the unilateral compliance of the US?

26. How does the US benefit through membership in the UN?

27. What do you see wrong with the Constitution?

28. Why is this document not taught in our schools?

29. Why have you allowed environmentalism to become a religion hostile to human progress?

30. Why do millions die of malaria because of the ban on DDT?

31. Why are university students allowed free speech only in certain restricted areas?

32. What are the advantages of citizenship (of the US)?

33. What are the responsibilities of citizens?

34. Are illegal aliens absolved of all responsibilities?

35. Why are there 9,000 earmarks in the “stimulus” bill?


36. Why has the government destroyed black families with welfare?

37. Why does our country belong to and/or support anti-Semitic organizations?

38. Why is the US rebuilding Gaza?

39. Why is the tax code not understandable to the average citizen?

40. Why does Congress not represent or respect the individual citizen?

41. Why are Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd, and Charlie Rangels still in office?

42. Why are your “plans” and “packages” so unsuccessful?

43. Why is the moral base of this country dissolving?

44. Why are the same people allowed to stay in office for so long and why are their children and grandchildren then allowed to take over?

45. Isn’t that nepotism?

46. Why are traditional American values not taught in schools and are consequently unknown by a large segment of the population.

46. How many zeroes and commas are now in our national debt?

47. Why are facts not important to the Congress?

48. Why can’t we defend ourselves with guns?

49. Why is the government hostile to small business?

50. Why are US designated terrorists allowed to publish in major newspapers and magazines in this country?

51. Isn’t that treason?

52. Why is truth in government nothing more than a distant drum?

53. Why can individual citizen taxpayers not be “bailed out”?

54. Why is solid evidence not considered before passing a bill?

55. Why is government intervention the precursor of failure, i.e. in housing, banking, education, the free market, health, to name a few?


56. Why have you not addressed the culture rot and moral degeneration that is ruining our entire society at home not to mention our image abroad?

56. Why is race always your overriding consideration, to the exclusion of character?

57. Why have you not protected our borders?

58. Why have you supported the teachers unions over parents and children?

59. Why are felons retained in government?

60. Why are you raising taxes when everyone knows that low taxes generate more jobs and more government revenue?

61. How can you sleep at night?

62. Have you read the Bill of Rights?

63. Do you believe that the rule of law applies to illegal aliens also?

64. Should our wealth be equalized?

65. Would you like Iran for a next door neighbor?

66. Should we have an army or will “diplomacy” suffice?

67. Is an American identity important to you?


68. Why does crime have no consequences?


69. Why do only democrats have freedom of speech?

I’ve run out of time; more later.

70. Why are amendments to the Constitution no longer relevant?

Posted by Andy Green at 12:49 PM | | Comments (47)

How bad will the state budget get?

As if designed to illustrate Laura Smitherman’s front page story in the Baltimore Sun, the comptroller’s office today released March revenue figures that show the state continues to be on shaky financial footing.

While March income tax receipts were 2.2 percent higher than a year ago, the year-to-date growth is in the negative range – down 1.5 percent.

General fund sales tax collections fell 9.6 percent in March, and revenues from the lottery were down 2.6 percent, even though sales grew.

“Collections remain depressed relative to last year, consistent with current economic conditions and on par with expectations,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “I remain concerned, however, about the risks of a more rapid deterioration in revenues than currently expected.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:14 PM | | Comments (3)

Steele reaches back to Ehrlich team for talent

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele has chosen another veteran of Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration, Boyd K. Rutherford, for a key post at national party headquarters in Washington.

Rutherford, 52, will be the chief administrative officer of the Republican National Committee, a job that will put him in day-to-day charge of operations in DC.

Steele, in a prepared statement, said he was "very pleased to have an individual with Boyd's credentials" at the RNC.

Rutherford, who served as assistant secretary for administration in President George W. Bush's administration, has a reputation as a tough-minded boss who isn't afraid to say no.

He served in Annapolis as Secretary of General Services in Ehrlich's executive council from 2003 to 2006. Prior to joining the governor's administration he spent two years as an administrator in Washington with the General Services Administration, which manages the federal government's real estate dealings.

A native of Washington, DC, Rutherford graduated from Howard University and got a law degree from the University of Southn California. He was a member of the Howard County Republican Central Committee for six years and a member of the Howard County chapter of the NAACP.

He also served on the Baltimore City Brownfields Redevelopment Council from 1998 to 2000, according to his official biography in the Maryland Manual.

Posted by Paul West at 12:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele

It's sine die; who are the winners and losers?

Another legislative session is about to come to an end. Who came out well and who didn't over the last 90 days?

Posted by Andy Green at 11:43 AM | | Comments (6)

Budget crisis during an election year?

The impending passage of a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins in July doesn't look like it's going to mean much when it comes to Maryland's long-term fiscal health. Laura Smitherman reports this morning that the state is on track to face a budget shortfall of $1 billion -- and maybe a lot more -- next year, right before an election.

The state government has a fabulous track record of fiscal stewardship during election years. Like the time it cut income taxes right before Gov. Glendening was facing a rematch with tax hawk Ellen Sauerbrey -- without any plan to cut spending to compensate. Or the time the legislature passed a multi-billion education funding plan just before the 2002 election without identifying a way to pay for it long-term. (Or, as some Republicans snidely put it, the funding source was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. That worked well.) Or how 'bout this one: Ehrlich's budget in his first year in office grew by 2 percent. The year he was seeking re-election? More than 11 percent.

O'Malley came into office talking a good game about a once-and-for-all reckoning of the state's budget issues, cutting wasteful spending, revamping the tax code for a modern economy and enacting slots. But on the way to passage in the Nov. 2007 special session, the tax revamping mostly turned into a simple sales tax increase (with a bonus computer service tax that got reversed months later), slots became a constitutional amendment that has resulted in lackluster bidding for gambling licenses and the whole thing got packaged with spending increases to make it more attractive to legislators. It produced balanced budgets on paper, but as soon as the economy went south, the plan crashed and burned.

And that was at the beginning of a four-year term.

So what will happen next year? Here's betting it won't be pretty.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:53 AM | | Comments (10)

April 10, 2009

UPDATED: Del. Myers' son killed in accident

The son of Del. LeRoy Myers of Western Maryland was killed in a motorcycle accident Thursday night, the AP reports. Ryan Myers was 23.

UPDATE: Gov. Martin O'Malley issued the following statement:

“I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Ryan Andrew Myers, who died suddenly in a tragic motorcycle accident yesterday.

“My thoughts, and the thoughts and prayers of all Marylanders, are with the family of Ryan Myers, including his father, Delegate LeRoy Myers, on this very difficult and sad day.”

Posted by Andy Green at 3:01 PM | | Comments (4)

Campus pornography policies in the works

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents today directed system Chancellor William E. Kirwan to develop policy recommendations regarding sexually explicit material on state university campuses, the Baltimore Sun's Stephen Kiehl tells us.

The plan is to be presented to the regents this summer, before a Sept. 1 deadline set by the legislature. Lawmakers asked for a policy to be developed after the University of Maryland scheduled a screening of a hard-core film in the student union. The university canceled the screening, but students showed it on their own in a campus lecture hall Monday night.

And the screening of "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" reminds on the minds of commentators everywhere.

Blair Lee IV, a political commentator and developer from Montgomery County, made this interesting observation in his column published today in the Gazette newspapers:

The porn film was a bad idea from the beginning. Why university officials didn't understand that is a mystery. But here's a window into the university's thinking. This week, in the midst of the porn film controversy, the U.M. senate voted 42 to 14 to eliminate the opening prayer from this year's graduation ceremony.

Porn, yes. Prayer, no. Welcome to the University of Maryland whose idea of a morally objectionable film is probably "The Passion of The Christ."

Still, we may be nearing the end of the line for this particularly intriguing kerfuffle.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:53 PM | | Comments (1)

It's quiz time again!

Click here for this week's Maryland Politics quiz.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:47 AM | | Comments (4)

My two chiefs of staff

O'Malleywatch is going after House Speaker Mike Busch for having co--chiefs of staff (Kristin Jones and John Favazza) with a new video. It's amusing, but maybe not so fair. When he became speaker, Busch had one chief of staff, Tom Lewis, who subsequently left to work for Hopkins. Rather than hire someone to replace him, or promoting either Kristen or John over the other, Busch left both in place as co-chiefs of staff. There are fewer people working in the speaker's office than there were when Tom left in 2005. In any case, we also learn that Martin Watcher apparently has the hots for Senate President Mike Miller's chief of staff, Victoria Gruber (who also happens to be Tom Lewis' wife).

Posted by Andy Green at 9:36 AM | | Comments (18)

April 9, 2009

Tea party event organizers reject Michael Steele speaking request

The Washington Independent and other news outlets are reporting that organizers of an anti-spending Tea Party in Chicago have rejected a request from Republican national chairman Michael Steele to speak there.

"We prefer to limit stage time to those who are not elected officials, both in Government as well as political parties," according to a written response from Tea Party oganizer Eric Odom, posted on the Washington Independent site.

Odom pokes Steele, saying the chairman "has only just decided to reach out after realizing how big the movement has gotten."

Tea Party "revolts" against government spending are being organized throughout the country on April 15, including several in Maryland.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:32 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Michael Steele

Supreme Court paved way for possible Preakness condemnation with Kelo decision, delegate says

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who teaches law, has an interesting observation about Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to try to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore through eminent domain, if necessary.

Such a strategy is only an option, Rosenberg writes in his legislative diary, because of the Supreme Court's controversial decision in the Kelo case that quickly became the ire of civil libertarians and others.

Here's what Rosenberg wrote:

If Susette Kelo had won her case in the Supreme Court four years ago, Governor O’Malley’s bill to save the Preakness could not have been introduced [Wednesday].

Ms. Kelo challenged the constitutionality of the City of New London’s using the power of eminent domain to buy her home against her will.

The public purpose that prompted the City’s taking of her property was economic development.

Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Stevens held that the Court had a “longstanding policy of deference to legislative judgments” as to what should be considered a public purpose, where the state has formulated a plan that “it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.”

“Today the Court abandons…[a] long-held, basic limitation on government power,” said a dissenting Justice O’Connor. “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public.”

House Bill 1578 would give the State the authority to exercise eminent domain to buy Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Stakes. The Governor’s legislation declares that the race “has a very significant and positive economic development impact on Baltimore City and the State.”

When Ms. Kelo lost her case in 2005, if you had wagered that it would have an impact on the Preakness, you would have gotten great odds. And today, you would have collected your winnings.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:19 PM | | Comments (9)

Phelps wins over General Assembly, hopes Preakness stays in Maryland

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

Michael Phelps transformed lawmakers in the House of Delegates into a salivating swarm of paparazzi this morning when the Olympic swimmer and Baltimore bad boy visited the Maryland General Assembly.

Politicians took pictures on their cell phones, whistled and gaped as House Speaker Michael E. Busch introduced the “very special guest” to the legislators, whom he described as “not many great swimmers … but they all know how to tread water very well.”

Addressing the House, a somewhat nervous-seeming Phelps smiled and said it “feels good to be back home” in Baltimore, causing the Baltimore delegation to leap to its feet.

After posing for photos with delegates in the House lounge (at least that’s what we were told, since press was forbidden from entering that inner sanctum while Phelps was there), the grey-suited swimmer walked across the lobby for more squeals – this time from senators.

On the way between the chambers, Phelps opined on the issue of the day: fear that the Preakness Stakes could be sold out of state under a bankruptcy auction.

Phelps, who has been known to enjoy a party, told The Baltimore Sun that he has never been to the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico and hopes to attend this year.

“To have it leave Baltimore, I can’t really see that happening,” he said, adding that such a turn of events “would be devastating.”

While Phelps was being lauded on the Senate floor by Sen. Jim Brochin for his generosity to his fans, a group of admirers -- mostly women, many gussied up -- stood in the lobby waiting for a sliver of that generosity.

They were upset to learn from security moments later, that Phelps had exited the State House through a side door. One state worker told Sun photographer Monica Lopossay: "Great, now I have to go home and tell my son .. that Michael Phelps can't be his hero anymore.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:16 AM | | Comments (19)

Immigrant driver's license fight coming Friday

Julie Bykowicz reports that a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of restrictions on illegal immigrant driver's licenses is likely to be held Friday. (To recap: The Senate wants to eliminate driver's licenses altogether for people who can't prove they're in the country legally, whereas the House wants to grandfather in illegal immigrants who already have licenses but label theirs as "not federally compliant.")

There's not a lot of room for compromise between the two chambers' positions, as Mike Miller said yesterday. But if you're reading the tea leaves, it looks like the Senate may be more committed to its position than the House. Speaker Mike Busch noted that the vote in his chamber to establish the two-tier license system was close, whereas the Senate vote was not. We're getting into a battle-of-will situation, so the side that cares more is likely to be the one that wins, and Miller has certainly appeared more passionate about his chamber's position than Busch has about his.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:59 AM | | Comments (3)

What bills do you wish would pass?

There's been a lot of commentary on a post from a couple of days ago about the ability of committee chairmen to kill bills, and people have mentioned by bill number a few they're upset about. So, here's your forum. Tell us what the bills you care about would do and why you think they're a good idea.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:53 AM | | Comments (18)

April 8, 2009

Porn Wars -- More to come?

Sen. Andy Harris' attempt to tie the soon-to-be-developed porn policies of Maryland state univiersities with their budgets went down yesterday as his ersthile rival for the 1st Congressional District seat joined the effort to simmer things down over in the upper chamber of the General Assembly. According to Julie Bykowicz, Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican who lost in the congressional primary to Harris last year, said he has been receiving calls from angry constituents who thought debating porn was a big waste of the Senate's time, an argument many have made on this blog. So might we see a rehash of this argument in a Republican primary sometime soon? Could be.

Meanwhile, Sara Neufeld, my colleage over at the Inside Ed blog found this tidbit while surfing education websites (or so she claims...): A high school class in Denver got a sneak peek at a porn film in geography when a substitute teacher happened accidentally upon the regular teacher's private stash. Read the report from the local ABC affialate here. So for all those upset about porn at College Park, it could have been a whole lot worse.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:27 PM | | Comments (3)

Does the Preakness need saving?

As Gadi Dechter reports today, Gov. O'Malley is seeking authority to take the Preakness, Pimlico and Laurel Park by eminent domain, if necessary, to keep the second leg of the Triple Crown in Maryland. Gadi also notes that it's entirely unclear whether that law, like the existing one giving the state the right of first refusal to buy the race, would be accepted by the judge handling Magna Entertainment Corp.'s bankruptcy.

But here's the interesting thing: We've now got at least four people saying they want to bid for the tracks and keep the Preakness in Maryland. Peter Angelos stepped in first, expressing his interest in a meeting with the governor and presiding officers of the legislature. Then came David Cordish, who wants to buy the tracks at the same time that he's angling for a slots license at Arundel Mills. Next up: Carl Verstandig, a Pikesville developer who first said he wanted to raze Pimlico and didn't much care about the Preakness but who has changed his tune. And then there's Halsey Minor, a tech millionaire and racing enthusiast who wants to buy the Maryland tracks and most of Magna's other properties.

Contrast that with the anemic bidding for Maryland slots licenses.

I realize that fretting about the future of the Preakness is a Maryland tradition as rich as the black eyed Susan, but it's hard to look at the evidence so far and conclude that Magna's bankruptcy is truly putting the race at risk.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:37 AM | | Comments (16)

April 7, 2009

It's good to be chairman

O'Malleywatch has an interesting post today about the power of committee chairmen to kill legislation, more or less at will. I don't know much about the particular bill Martin Watcher describes (it's a bill that would make it a separate crime to commit an act of violence in front of a child) or why Sen. Brian Frosh, the Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman, apparently decided to sit on it for so long. Maybe he has very good reasons or very petty ones. I don't know. But it certainly goes to show how a handful of people who answer only to a small portion of the voters in the state can exert tremendous power over what legislation moves forward.

Their power really goes only one way. Chairmen can't do much to get a bill passed (witness, for example, the failure over the years to get a death penalty repeal bill out of Frosh's committee), but they sure can kill one.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:14 PM | | Comments (30)

Preakness bill coming?

The word in Annapolis is that legislation may be coming today to strengthen the state's hold on the Preakness Stakes. The capital has been nervous about the fate of Maryland's premier sporting event since Magna Entertainment Corp, the owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park, declared bankruptcy earlier this year, but it really reached a fever pitch last week when a Pikesville shopping center developer floated the idea of buying the tracks and razing at least Pimlico.

But can the state really do anything about it? Nobody knows. The other thing is, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not like there's a horse racing governing body like NASCAR or the PGA that says "these races shall be the triple crown." The Preakness is a big deal by tradition, by the money involved and by virtue of where it lands on the calendar vis a vis the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. How do you pass a law saying "there will be a race in Maryland between these other two races that all the top horses will compete in?" I guess we'll find out.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:46 AM | | Comments (7)

Porn Wars: The morning after

A rebel band of UM students screened the porn film Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge last night in what sounds like about the least titilating circumstances possible. (What could be less arousing than watching porn in a lecture hall after a spirited discussion of the First Amendment?)

Meanwhile in Annapolis, Laura Smitherman reports that an amendment will likely be introduced into either the capital budget or the state operating budget today requiring the university system campuses to come up with a policy on how/when/where they'll allow porn to be shown. It's a compromise move between Sen. Andy Harris, who wanted to cut off funding to UM if it allowed the movie to be shown, and others who felt it was inappropriate for the legislature to interfere.

So how does Harris, who clearly harbors ambitions to run again for Congress, make out politically in all this? There have been a number of interesting comments on both sides to previous posts on the topic, though most seem to be running against his taking up the issue.

In terms of basic publicity, it's probably good. It gets his name out there on the news, and that's good for him in and of itself. But how it ultimately plays in the 1st Congressional District probably depends on how he frames it. I've checked in with some astute observers of that part of the state from both ends of the political spectrum who think it can work if he couches it as a taxpayer fairness issue (who wants their tax dollars supporting porn, even indirectly?) but not if he goes on a morality crusade.

Last time he ran for the seat, he had to take out an incumbent Republican in the primary, and he did it by running to the right. If I had to guess at why he lost (besides a national wave against Republicans) it would be that he didn't sufficiently change his strategy for a general election. He ran as Mr. Conservative in the primary and Mr. Conservative in the general, and it didn't work.

This time around, the primary won't likely be as tough, but he will need to make a better pitch in a rematch against Rep. Frank Kratovil to the independent, socially libertarian types who returned Wayne Gilchrest to office for years. My guess is he can make this issue work for him if he keeps focused on this as a taxpayer issue and doesn't push it too far. Harris isn't known for subtlety, though, so...

Posted by Andy Green at 10:03 AM | | Comments (15)

April 6, 2009

Porn Wars: Revenge of the Senate

Here's the latest on the UM porn saga: A group of students, decrying the university's decision to cancel a screening of the porn film Pirates II as a violation of free speech rights, is planning to show the thing tonight on their own. State Sen. Andy Harris, who has been the bulwark against porn in the General Assembly, is prepared to hail down retribution if the university doesn't find a way to stop them. His latest plan: Strip capital funds for the university if the film is screened. His press release follows:

Maryland State Senator Andy Harris (R., 7th) today proposed to deny capital funds earmarked for the University of Maryland unless such funds are not used to screen hard-core XXX pornography. Harris’ proposal was made as students at the University of Maryland College Park made plans to show a hard-core pornographic XXX rated movie on University property with the consent of the University, even after the University Administration removed its sponsorship of the film last week.

“I know some students would like to portray this as a free speech issue,” said Harris. “It is not. This is about the use of taxpayer dollars and the Maryland General Assembly acts every day on issues concerning the use of taxpayer dollars. Just because someone is on a college campus they do not have a right to spend the hard-earned money of Maryland’s taxpayers on something as detrimental to our society as hard-core XXX pornography.”

Harris noted that taxpayer money was used to construct the building where the film is to be screened and would be used to provide security, allow vehicle parking and provide the electricity for the building being used to show the film.

Harris called upon the University Administration to reverse their decision to allow the screening and to assert its authority. “The taxpayers are paying a high six figure salary to a lot of people who are supposed to be running that campus. They need to take control of this situation. If they cannot handle this situation, they cannot handle the type of money that is earmarked for them in the capital budget either.”

Harris also noted that there has been a significant crime problem both on and near the College Park campus. “I cannot understand why anyone would allow or want to engage in promoting activity, such as hard-core XXX pornography, that has been scientifically demonstrated to be linked to violent actions against women. I wonder how many of these students have called home to ask their parents how they see this XXX rated hard core pornographic movie fits into their education.”

Harris said he would propose his amendment on the floor of the State Senate. He said that he expects significant bi-partisan support. “I would prefer not to do this,” said Harris. But the students, by their actions, and the Administration, by its inaction, are leaving me no choice.”

And thus we continue to ensure that the makers of this film get more publicity than they ever dreamed of. Show of hands: Who out there had heard of Pirates II before last week?

Posted by Andy Green at 2:42 PM | | Comments (19)

One week to go...

The Sun's State House crew sums up the remaining issues before the General Assembly this year, and compared to what we've seen in the past, they look rather manageable. The budget conference committee seems to be moving right along, despite all the cuts they've dealt with this year. The death penalty, speed cameras, texting while driving, climate change, etc., have already been dealt with.

Re-regualtion of electricity always has the potential to become a huge fight, but with Economic Matters Committee Chairman Del. Dereck Davis skeptical of the bill, it's hard to see major momentum for its passage so late in the session. Lawmakers, Davis included, are wary of big changes to the state's utility laws after approving what many now consider an ill-advised deregulation scheme in 1999. Davis is smart and well respected in the House, and it's unlikely that his committee, much less the whole chamber, would buck him on something like this.

That leaves us with illegal immigrant driver's licenses. For those who missed the news last week, both chambers are moving ahead with plans to bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Real ID law but with a key difference: The Senate wants to require proof of legal residence for all new licenses and renewals. The House wants to grandfather in illegal immigrants who now have licenses and create a two-tier system, so that their licenses would be labeled "not federally compliant" for the purposes of getting into federal buildings, boarding airplanes, etc. Gov. O'Malley says he'll sign either bill but prefers the House approach.

There was some news on this front over the weekend in that the Senate dropped a clause from its budget bill that would have denied funding for the MVA to provide licenses to illegal immigrants. I wouldn't read too much into that, though. The two chambers will fight out the policy issue in legislation; no need to hold up a $14 billion budget over it.

Two factors could make this issue the big fight of the last week of the session. For one, there's pressure to do something before the legislature adjourns because of a federal deadline to come into compliance with Real ID. The other is that there's not obvious compromise. One side or the other is going to have to cave.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:51 AM | | Comments (10)

April 4, 2009

Have Republicans hit bottom?

The power shift that ousted the Republicans and put Democrats in charge of Washington may be approaching a turning point. Evidence is still sketchy, but the trend that favored Democrats over the last five years may have run its course.

Remember that special election for a congressional seat from New York? The one that would be the first referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency and a make-or-break test for Republican national chairman Michael Steele?

It wound up a virtual tie, snuffing out attempts to exaggerate its significance. But the returns helped illustrate the changing political scene, almost half a year after the 2008 election.

First, this is still a divided country. Even in the age of Obama, a swing district, like that one in upstate New York, can still swing Republican.

Democrats carried it in the last two elections. But if the Democratic candidate manages to pull out a victory—a risky bet, with thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted—it will be by a hair.

Nationally, opinion surveys differ on whether the key group in the middle—independents—is moving away from the Democrats. But the Democratic voter advantage seems to have stopped expanding.

Instead, there is growing agreement that disaffected Republicans are returning to their old party, now that the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove is over. That’s a necessary step in fashioning a turnaround that still seems a long way off.

“Republicans are in better shape now than we were in November or even January,” says Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster who conducts surveys for National Public Radio. “We’ve seen some modest movement for Republicans on party identification.”

That’s not to say that “suddenly, everything’s wonderful” for Republicans, he cautions. “It’s not like [voters] are in love with the Republicans.”

Second, bipartisanship turned out to be a mirage. Polarization is back.

In the weeks leading up to Obama’s inauguration, Americans were unusually optimistic that Democrats and Republicans would work together to solve the nation’s problems, polls showed. But that hasn’t happened.

The more partisanship flares up in Washington, the more it is likely to stoke populist outrage among voters. If bickering intensifies, it could further anger a public already fuming over taxpayer dollars used to bail out corporations.

Meantime, a new Pew Research Center analysis finds that Obama’s early job approval ratings are already the most polarized of any president in the past four decades.

“Republicans who were somewhat disposed to Obama in January and early February have moved away from him in pretty substantial numbers,” says Andrew Kohut, who directs the non-partisan Pew Center.

Third, Obama’s policies are less popular than he is, polls show.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs the House Democratic campaign committee, says the fate of congressional Democrats and Obama “are very closely tied together.”

But with joblessness expected to run high for many months, the economy could hurt Democrats who must face voters next year, when Obama won’t be on the ballot. Increasingly, Democrats in Congress may see their choice coming down to either backing Obama’s ambitious and expensive agenda or saving their own necks.

“A lot of what we saw in 2008 was an Obama phenomenon,” says Steve Jarding, a Democratic campaign strategist. “The Democratic Party has to be very careful, because they’re living a little bit on a false pretense that somehow this Obama phenomenon reaches beyond Obama. You can’t just live on those coattails.”

Democrats can’t rely, either, on Republicans continuing to struggle for a message or a leader. “I remember the headlines when Jimmy Carter got elected,” about the Republicans being dead, he says. “Four years later, we had the Reagan revolution.”

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

April 3, 2009

Porn Wars: Return of the Porn

Higher education reporter Steve Kiehl tells us that some students at College Park are staging a guerrilla effort to show what by now must be everyone's favorite porn film, Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, somewhere else on campus now that the screening at the Student Union has been canceled. It's all about free speech, we're assured, no prurient motives here...

Posted by Andy Green at 2:44 PM | | Comments (3)

Porn film distributor upset at College Park cancellation

A spokesman for the distributor of Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge said the company was upset and disappointed that University of Maryland officials canceled a screening of the $10 million XXX-rated movie after Maryland lawmakers threatened to withhold state funding.

Christopher Ruth of Van Nuys, Calif.-based Digital Playground, said at least five other universities, including Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon and the University of California, Los Angeles, had screened the film and none had canceled before.

“Showing a movie like this opens up a discussion, a discourse on sexuality and gender roles, and for them to stifle that discourse from happening is amazing,” Ruth told the Baltimore Sun’s Stephen Kiehl.

A debate over pornography raged in the Maryland Senate on Thursday after lawmakers learned that the movie was to be screened midnight Saturday at the College Park Student Union. No public funds were to be used to obtain the rights to the showing, but lawmakers threatened to withhold the state’s $400 million contribution to the campus unless the event was canceled.

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

Take the Maryland Politics Quiz!

It's Friday, and that means it's quiz time! Click here and see how well you've been paying attention.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:35 AM | | Comments (6)

Porn Wars: The Senate Strikes Back

The University of Maryland caved pretty fast on its plans to screen the XXX film Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge in the Student Union when the state Senate started talking about withholding the school's funding. Putting aside the question of whether the university should have been showing such a thing in the first place, was it right for the General Assembly to get involved? Legislators say it's a state institution funded by taxpayer dollars, and they don't want to be paying for this kind of thing. Civil libertarians say the Senate action was a dangerious encroachment by government on free speech. What do you think?

Posted by Andy Green at 10:38 AM | | Comments (7)

If a buyer wants to raze Pimlico, can Maryland save the Preakness?

Hanah Cho reports this morning that shopping center magnate Carl Verstandig plans to bid on Pimlico and Laurel Park and wants to redevelop them into retail centers. His preference, he says, is to raze Pimlico, and he doesn't seem all that enamored of keeping Laurel running, either. Horse racing? He doesn't really care. And in the heresy of all heresies, he seems not all that concerned about what happens to the Preakness.

"There is enough interest in keeping the Preakness," he said. "There are plenty of locations they could use. They could run it in Timonium or any other location. I don't think it has to be specific to the Pimlico racetrack."

This has sparked some quick outrage.

“Any proposals that lead to Baltimore City losing the Preakness should be off the table,” City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said in a statement this morning. “Prospective bidders for the track need to understand that any plan that would effectively take the Preakness away from Baltimore City will meet significant resistance from the Baltimore City Council.”

“The 134 year old Preakness Stakes is a tremendous asset for the City of Baltimore that has a global reach,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Great care must be taken to preserve that tradition by keeping the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.”

It's a little unclear what the City Council could do to stop someone from moving the Preakness out of Baltimore, but it could certainly make any redevelopment plan for the site difficult through zoning and other means.

The state is also taking a stake in this, with Senate President Mike Miller saying the legislature, governor and attorney general's office are all fully engaged in keeping the race. A state law, which may or may not be worth the paper it's printed on, says Maryland has the right to buy the Preakness if anyone tries to move it out of state.

But if not at Pimlico, where? Timonium? Given how York Road backs up for your average Saturday gun and knife show at the Fair Grounds, the mind reels at the traffic jam Preakness would cause there. Laurel is an obvious spot, but not if it, too, becomes a big shopping center. Would this just renew the old debate over the state building a supertrack downtown?

Posted by Andy Green at 9:51 AM | | Comments (24)

April 2, 2009

UPDATED: Speed cameras pass senate, after failing, after passing

The fat lady hasn't sung on speed cameras. The final vote of 27-20 in favor of the cameras shows that four votes changed from last night. Those who switched: Mike Miller, Ulysses Currie, Bobby Zirkin and Nancy King. All are Democrats. Our reporters will talk to those who switched and figure out their reasoning.

It will be fascinating to learn what happened last night, and what happened between last night and this morning.

My guess: It's less than meets the eye, and more a comedy of errors than some sort of grand strategy. Stay tuned.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:30 AM | | Comments (28)

UPDATED: Speed cameras not dead yet

UPDATE 3: The 10 minutes expired, and Miller called a vote -- after E.J. Pipkin once again talked about Big Brother and unwarranted government intervention. The final vote was 27-20. Wow. What a turn of events.

UPDATE 2: The Senate just approved, at about 11:03 a.m., a cloture vote to limit debate on the speed camera bill, ending Mooney's filibuster. The vote got exactly the 29-person supermajority needed. Miller said the chamber needed to get to the budget; Mooney said he was "disappointed." So debate will end after 10 minutes.

UPDATE: The motion to reconsider the legislation has been overwhelmingly approved, and the Senate is again debating speed cameras. Several of the senators who voted yes for preliminary approval and no on the final plan voted "yes" to reconsider -- namely, Mike Miller, Bobby Zirkin and Ulysses Currie. So the debate is going on again, at 10:55 a.m., and Sen. Alex Mooney, a Republican, is waging a filibuster.

Aides to Senate leadership say that the speed camera legislation killed by a single vote Wednesday night is not quite dead yet.

Expect a procedural move to reconsider the vote this morning, aides tell The Baltimore Sun's Laura Smitherman.

A bill authorizing speed cameras within a half-mile radius of all schools, as well as highway work zones, appeared cleared for passage Tuesday, when it gained preliminary Senate approval. So Wednesday night's rejection was a complete surprise.

The legislation is a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley's. It's likely that he is working behind the scenes to build support.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:15 AM | | Comments (10)

Speed cameras: What just happened here?

The Senate's rejection of speed cameras last night came as a surprise to just about everyone, including the legislators voting on it. On Tuesday, the chamber voted 26-19 for an amendment that would allow the cameras near schools. It is poor form, generally, to vote for an amendment like that if you don't intend to vote for the bill. But the next day, the chamber voted it down 24-23. What gives?

For one thing, this is a reminder that nothing's over in Annapolis until the confetti drops. Things that look sure to pass can die, and things that look dead can be resurrected. (In fact, the word from the Senate is this bill still isn't dead.)

Another thing is you can never quite figure out Mike Miller, who voted for the amendment and against the bill, as did one of his top lieutenants, Ulysses Currie. Miller is so experienced and so masterful at counting votes and managing the process in the Senate that people generally operate under the assumption that nothing happens there that he does not intend. I think that fact may be his greatest asset. Maybe this turn of events was actually a bit of random happenstance. But the Miller mystique will lead many to assume he has an angle that the rest of us are just too dense to see.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:48 AM | | Comments (0)

April 1, 2009

UPDATED: Speed camera legislation fails

Just a day after it looked as if Maryland was poised to expand the use of speed cameras to zones around schools throughout the state, the Maryland Senate turned back the contentious plan by a single vote.

On Tuesday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a speed camera expansion bill, unexpectedly adopting an amendment that broadened a narrow version that came out of a committee by allowing them within a half-mile radius of all schools. The schools amendment came from Sen. James Robey, a Howard County Democrat.

But on Wednesday, several senators reversed themselves -- when some of those who voted for the school-zone plan decided to vote against the final bill. The plan went down to a surprising defeat late Wednesday.

Speed cameras are currently authorized just in Montgomery County, under a pilot program. Gov. Martin O'Malley supports a statewide expansion.


The voting lists are in. Four lawmakers switched their votes between Tuesday and Wednesday. They include Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a master of the legislative process and an opponent of the cameras, and Sen. Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County, a committee chairman who often votes Miller's way. Both are Democrats. The other two: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Democrat; and Sen. Rich Colburn, a Republican:

Robey amendment to include school bills – Tuesday vote – 26 yes, 19 no, 2 absent

Voting yes:

Miller, Colburn, Conway, Currie, Exum, Forehand, Frosh, Garagiola, Gladden, Harrington, Jones, Kasemeyer, Klausmeier, Kramer, Lenett, Madaleno, McFadden, Middleton, Muse, Peters, Pinsky, Pugh, Raskin, Robey, Rosapepe, Zirkin

Voting no

Astle, Brinkley, Brochin, DeGrange, Della, Dyson, Edwards, Greenip, Haines, Harris, Kelley, King, Kittleman, Mooney, Munson, Pipkin, Simonaire, Stotzfus, Stone


Glassman, Jacobs

Final passage of speed camera plan on Wednesday – 23 yes, 24 no

Voting yes:

Conway, Exum, Forehand, Frosh, Garagiola, Gladden, Harrington, Jones, Kasemeyer, Klausmeier, Kramer, Lenett, Madaleno, McFadden, Middleton, Munson, Muse, Peters, Pinsky, Pugh, Raskin, Robey, Rosapepe

Voting no:

Miller, Astle, Brinkley, Brochin, Colburn, Currie, DeGrange, Della, Dyson, Edwards, Glassman, Greenip, Haines, Harris, Jacobs, Kelley, King, Kittleman, Mooney, Pipkin, Simonaire, Stoltzfus, Stone, Zirkin

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:33 PM | | Comments (6)

Md. Senate approves bill to stop employers from labeling workers as independent contractors

An Annapolis Dispatch by the Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter

The Maryland Senate advanced a bill penalizing companies that improperly classify employees as independent contractors, but adopted an amendment that limits workers’ ability to sue for damages.

The so-called Workplace Fraud Act of 2009, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, is designed to ensure that companies — particularly in the construction, landscaping and delivery business — provide employees with required benefits, such as workers compensation insurance.

The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, that would limit workers’ rights to sue for damages if they have received restitution or other compensation for the misclassification.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said Conway’s amendment so weakens the deterrent power of the bill that “the juice is hardly worth the squeeze,” but her change was adopted in a 25 to 21 vote. The bill still requires final approval in the Senate and reconciliation with the version passed by the House of Delegates.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:30 PM | | Comments (0)

Miller, Jacobs mix it up over the budget

An Annapolis dispatch from Laura Smitherman:

Budget battles in the Senate turned testy today when an admittedly frustrated Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Democratic strongman of the chamber, tried to end debate on a Republican proposal from Sen. Nancy Jacobs, the minority whip.

Republican Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus leaped to Jacobs’ defense saying "it’s not fair to cut off a lady." He and other Republicans objected, arguing that senators have a right to be heard no matter their party affiliation. Jacobs, who was proposing an amendment for more disclosure of retention bonuses for professors that are already reported quarterly, later said she felt Miller was "rude" and failed to maintain a "degree of decorum."

A visibly upset Miller pointed out during the debate that a budget committee member had pledged to address her concerns as the chamber continues to work on the annual spending plan. He said it was "disrespectful" for Jacobs not to believe the other senator, and suggested the committee not include the language she sought after all. So Jacobs pressed her amendment that failed on a vote of 33-to-8.

Afterward, Miller admitted to "overreacting." He had told the chamber Tuesday that he wanted to end the morning session early to attend a career day with his grandkids.

UPDATE; Before an afternoon session today, Miller and Jacobs hugged. Everybody clapped.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:58 PM | | Comments (5)

Is the texting ban the prelude to no talking while driving?

The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a ban on text messaging while driving, and the resolution of a few minor differences with the Senate is all that stands in the way of it becoming law. The 133-2 vote stands in marked contrast to the heated debate the assembly has been engaged in for more than a decade over restrictions on talking on your cell phone while driving, and to the failure of texting bans last year. (Three separate bills got killed in committee in the House last year.)

It's a bit of a mystery why something will fail in Annapolis one year and sail through the next; sometimes an issue's time has just come. But I'm not sure that passage of the texting ban indicates any greater willingness to take up an all-out cell phone ban anytime soon. Annapolis has been debating that one since well before most people had cell phones, and opinions seem pretty hardened on the matter.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:03 PM | | Comments (10)

A Republican with real power in Annapolis? Just kidding!

An Annapolis Dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz:

It was just after 10 a.m., and the 78th day of the 2009 General Assembly session was about to begin.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, was nowhere in sight.

In his place at the podium in the historic House chambers was Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, the Republican leader from Calvert County.

He was standing in a place no Republican has for the better part of a century: at the speaker’s rostrum, ready to lead the gathering of 141 lawmakers.

O’Donnell banged the gavel and asked the guards to close the doors to the chamber, the instructions that start legislative business.

Republican applause erupted. Del. Susan McComas of Harford County was among those who stood and pumped fists in air. It was a vision that the small group of 36 lawmakers thought they might never see.

O’Donnell led the Pledge of Allegiance and introduced Del. Todd L. Schuler, a Baltimore County Democrat, to give the traditional daily prayer. Before Schuler bowed his head, he looked at O’Donnell and then looked heavenward: “Please, God, tell me that it’s April 1st.”

Of course, that was the reason. After the prayer, O’Donnell quickly returned to his regular seat, and a smiling Busch sauntered over to the podium, taking his spot at the position of power.

Just like Democrat Cas Taylor did before him.

And Democrat Clay Mitchell before that. And Democrat Ben Cardin before that. And Democrats John Hanson Briscoe, Thomas Hunter Lowe, and Marvin Mandel before that.

April Fool’s indeed. No wonder the cheering from Republicans quickly subsided.

-- Julie Bykowicz

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:40 PM | | Comments (1)

Senate takes more steps to stop illegal immigrant driver's licenses

By Julie Bykowicz -- Baltimore Sun

The Senate is serious about not wanting illegal immigrants to have Maryland driver’s licenses.

In the middle of a lengthy debate Wednesday about the state operating budget, Sen. David R. Binkley, a Republican representing Carroll and Frederick counties, offered an amendment prohibiting the Motor Vehicle Administration from spending any money to issue licenses to people who fail to provide proof that they are “lawfully present in the United States in accordance with federal law.”

Brinkley’s colleagues voted 27-20 to adopt the amendment. It appears to be another strategy to combat the House of Delegates’ plan to allow illegal immigrants who already have Maryland licenses to continuing renewing them. The Senate earlier this week approved a stricter measure that would prohibit renewals for illegal immigrants.

Both chambers are rushing to pass legislation that would allow the state meet an October deadline for the federal Real ID Act, a security measure enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The two plans would appear to help the state come into compliance; a conference committee must work out the differences between the bills. Brinkley’s amendment to the budget would also need to be approved by the House.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:31 PM | | Comments (3)

Dems in legislature want to gut public campaign fund

Laura Smitherman reports that Republicans in Annapolis are up in arms over plans advancing in both the House and Senate to take money from Maryland's Fair Campaign Financing Fund and use it for other purposes. Either plan, Republicans say, would leave it effectively broke. The fund comes from voluntary income tax contributions from Maryland citizens and can be used by candidates for governor. Ellen Saurbrey, for example, used it to run against Parris Glendening.

House Democrats want to use the money to pay for early voting-related expenses, and Senate Democrats want to use it to help pay for optical scan voting machines.

Republicans say this is a partisan exercise, since they see little chance that Gov. O'Malley will avail himself of the cash in his re-election bid. At least one Republican, Mike Pappas, has indicated that he might use the money to challenge O'Malley. Sen. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, says he'll introduce an amendment requiring that at least $2 million be left in the fund, though he and others argue that it's illegal to take the money and use it for other purposes anyway.

UPDATE: The Senate has accepted Harris' amendment and will leave $2 million in the fund.

Posted by Andy Green at 1:18 PM | | Comments (0)

Can Doug Duncan make a comeback?

Laura Vozzella writes in her column today about a speech former MoCo Exec and gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan gave at Sheppard Pratt this week about his battle with depression, revealing an extensive family history with the disease that was not previously common knowledge in Maryland's political community. In fact, word that he was dropping out of the race for governor in 2006 was such a surprise that some people wondered if he was making it up as an excuse to leave of a contest he seemed unlikely to win. (The consensus eventually was, probably not; I mean, wouldn't you make up something other than that?)

Vozzella writes that Duncan wouldn't rule out running for office again and even took a couple of swipes at his one-time rival, Gov. O'Malley. Duncan's case raises an interesting question: With all we've learned over the years about depression, is it still enough to make someone unelectable? It's been a long time since Thomas Eagleton was forced to drop out as George McGovern's running mate in 1972 because of his previous hospitalizations for mental health troubles, and treatments have certainly come a long way since the electro-shock therapy he received. Duncan said he's on medication and happy about it. Would voters accept that, or would they still be reluctant to vote for him? I'm not sure.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:15 AM | | Comments (3)

Speed cameras: Matter of public safety, or government money grab?

It looks increasingly likely that the legislature will adopt a law this year allowing speed cameras statewide in highway work zones and near schools. What do you think? Are they an important tool to protect kids playing and walking to school, as proponents argue, or a blatant attmept by government to find a new way to pluck $40 out of your pocket? Details of the legislation under consideration, courtesy of Julie Bykowicz, are posted below.

Senate plan How it works: Cameras could be placed within a half-mile of any school or in any highway work zone where the limit is 45 mph or higher. Motorists going at least 12 miles per hour over the posted limit could be fined.

The penalties: A $40 citation would be mailed to the vehicle's registered owner, regardless of who is driving. The offender would not receive any MVA "points" on his or her license, so insurance premiums could not increase. Motorists could protest the citations in court.

The revenue: Money from the citations would go first to the local governments operating the camera program. After paying operating costs, the local government would retain up to 10 percent of the total revenue to reinvest in pedestrian and public safety programs. The rest of the money would go to the state general fund.

What happens next: The Senate is set to give final approval to its plan Wednesday. A House committee is expected to forward its more expansive plan, and if that chamber approves, lawmakers would have to work out the differences before the session ends in two weeks.

Posted by Andy Green at 9:57 AM | | Comments (30)

Steele, Van Hollen upbeat on dead heat 20th

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele issued a bullish statement this morning about his party's prospects for eventually capturing the 20th congressional district seat in New York.

Yesterday's election resulted in a virtual tie, with Democrat Scott Murphy leading Republican Jim Tedisco by 65 votes out of more than 154,000 cast. However, there are more than 5,000 absentee ballots yet to be tallied.

"We are confident that the Republican advantage in these absentee and military ballots can put Jim Tedisco over the top, and the Republican Party will do everything in its power to make sure all lawful votes are counted,” Steele said.

A Democratic counterpart from Maryland on the national scene, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, was equally upbeat about his candidate's chances for victory.

"As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead," said the Montgomery County Democrat, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"Murphy's strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans," Van Hollen said.

The absentee count is unlikely to begin until next week, and a recount seems almost certain. That means it could be mid-to-late April, at the earliest, before everything is resolved.

The national Republican congressional committee's executive director, Guy Harrison, in a fundraising email sent out today, said Republicans "cannot afford to allow the Democrats to steal this election....Democrats have almost succeeded in stealing the election in Minnesota and seating Al Franken. We cannot allow them to manipulate electoral results to seat another tax-troubled liberal."

In Minnesota, of course, last November's election continues to drag out, with echoes of the 2000 Florida fight between George W. Bush and Al Gore. One of the top Republican lawyers from that all-out 2000 legal offensive--which some Democrats believe is the main reason Bush eventually won--has been directing the Minnesota courtroom campaign, now in its sixth long month.

Senate Democrats, who lack the votes to block a Republican fillibuster, have been reluctant to press the issue by attempting to seat Democrat Al Franken, who continues to lead in the Minnesota count. Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg admitted this week that the latest court ruling, which favored Franken, makes a re-election victory by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman
highly unlikely. As a result, an appeal to the state Supreme Court will be the next step, prolonging the uncertainty and keeping a likely Democratic Senate seat vacant.

In the House, where Democrats have a solid majority and Republicans don't have the minority power that their Senate counterparts enjoy, those sorts of delaying tactics would have more limited impact.

However, it's by no means clear that Murphy, the Democrat, will remain in front once the absentees are counted.

Steele, who made campaign visits to the area and provided hundreds of thousands in national party funds to benefit Tedisco, has put his own reputation on the line in the New York contest.

Here's his complete statement, as released by the RNC:

“With over 5,000 absentee and military ballots still left to count, this race is far from over. We are confident that the Republican advantage in these absentee and military ballots can put Jim Tedisco over the top, and the Republican Party will do everything in its power to make sure all lawful votes are counted.”

”We are proud of Jim Tedisco and his campaign. Together, and in partnership with the Tedisco campaign, the New York Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee went toe-to-toe with the Obama Democratic machine that looked invincible in the Northeast just a few months ago and showed that our party can and will be competitive in areas of the country where our party hasn’t won recently.”

“President Obama, Senator Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Chuck Schumer all won this district, and a Democrat won the last two congressional races. The fact we are in a dead heat race in NY-20 means we are making progress as a Party standing firm for fiscal responsibility.”

Here is Van Hollen's statement:

"From 21 points down to securing a majority of the vote tonight, congratulations to Scott Murphy who ran an extraordinary campaign focused on his record as a successful businessman who helped to create jobs and his strong support for President Obama's economic recovery act. As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead.

"Scott Murphy's strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans."

Posted by Paul West at 9:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele

Schaefer and Willie IV

Here's some video of former mayor, governor, etc. William Donald Schaefer with his new cat, Willie IV, shot by The Sun's Ken Lam. Note that he's a calico, which is the official state cat. (Yes, we have an official state cat. Long story.)

Posted by Andy Green at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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