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May 28, 2009

Steny Hoyer, a Pelosi puppet?

The National Republican Congressional Committee, expanding a new line of attack against House Democrats, says it is beaming automated telephone calls into Rep. Steny Hoyer's southern Maryland district that accuse the House Majority Leader of being a Pelosi puppet.

The robo calls say Hoyer has voted with Pelosi "99.6% of the time" (hardly a shocker, since they are the top two Democratic leaders in the House). The woman's voice on the call also points out that Hoyer voted to block an investigation into Pelosi's claim that the CIA lied to Congress about its use of torture tactics (not only that--Hoyer was the one who actually made the formal motion to reject a Republican attempt to investigate Pelosi's claim; Democrats voted unanimously in favor of Hoyer's motion).

"Tell him to stop voting to protect Nancy Pelosi," says the Republican "important voter alert."

Hoyer has, in fact, gone out of his way to defend Pelosi. That sort of loyalty would be required of a top Democratic leader in any case. In this instance, it was particularly necessary. Hoyer had to shoot down speculation that Pelosi's job was in jeopardy and that he would move up to take her place.

Robo calls are a cheap way for the Republicans to hector a leading Democrat, which is probably a good thing for the GOP (the low price, that is), since Hoyer's seat doesn't seem to be in any jeopardy.

The calls are part of a broader NRCC effort to tie House Democrats to their less than wildly popular speaker with a series of taped phone messages and radio and TV ads.

According to the NRCC, Democrats whose constituents will be hearing radio attack ads include Reps. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello of Virginia; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, Vic Snyder of Arkansas and Harry Teague of New Mexico.

Republicans said that robo calls are going out to the districts of Democratic Reps. John Boccierri of Ohio, Bobby Bright of Alabama, John Hall of New York, Ann Kirkpatrick and Harry Mitchell of Arizona, Walt Minnick of Idaho, Mark Schauer of Michigan, Steve Kagen of Wisconsin and Larry Kissell of North Carolina.

Most of those on the hit list are considered potentially vulnerable in next year's congressional elections.

The latest attacks come the heels of a new Republican TV campaign against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, which starts airing today in Maryland's first district. See the previous entry in Maryland Politics (click the link at the top of this page) for details.

Posted by Paul West at 5:18 PM | | Comments (2)

May 27, 2009

Democrat Kratovil vs. Republican Harris: Let the air wars begin!

Republicans are about to launch their first attack ad of the 2010 campaign against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland.

The 30-second TV spot links the freshman congressman to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the controversy over whether the CIA deceived her about the torture of detainees.

Done as a takeoff on the old "Mission: Impossible" TV and film series, the Republican ad goes after Kratovil for taking Pelosi's side by voting to kill a Republican effort to launch a House investigation into the speaker's statements. In a low-budget "morph," an unflattering photo of the Baltimore-born speaker becomes one with a grinning Kratovil.

The ad doesn't mention that Kratovil was one of 250 House Democrats and two Republicans who voted that way (or that no Democrats voted with 172 Republicans in favor of an investigation). Technically, the vote revolved around a parliamentary ruling about whether the investigation should have been considered as a regular piece of legislation.

And while the ad, accurately, portrays Kratovil as voting with his party (and thus Pelosi) about 89% of the time, that's actually below average for Democratic party support among House members this year.

“The more that Democrats like Frank Kratovil side with Nancy Pelosi, the more that she will become a political liability in increasingly competitive districts. Even when it came to investigating the Speaker’s outrageous accusations against the CIA, Kratovil caved to his party leader rather than supporting the values of his constituents in Maryland,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which paid $23,000 to air the spot over the next week.

Kevin W. Lawlor, a spokesman for Kratovil, said the congressman "is busy focusing on his job --being the most effective advocate he can be for the residents of the First District. If a bunch of party hacks in DC want to start in with political smears 18 months before Election Day, then that's their right, but I think most folks across the district are pretty tired of that sort of petty partisanship."

The attack on Kratovil is part of what some regard as perhaps the most successful Republican tactic thus far in the (very young) Barack Obama era: making Pelosi the prime target of partisan attacks, rather than the popular Democratic president.

Pelosi's poll numbers have fallen over the past few months, and her approval ratings are even lower than congressional Democrats as a group. However, as a general rule, tying members of Congress to their party's leader in the House has had, at best, limited success over the years.

In the 1980s, Republicans tried to make portly House Speaker Tip O'Neill a symbol of bloated, liberal Democratic government. TV attack ads featured an actor impersonating the old-time Irish pol from the Boston area. Democrats, in the 1990s, returned the favor, using Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich as a punching bag in congressional campaigns.

One problem with that tactic, at least in the past: many voters don't know (or perhaps care) who the speaker is.

In 2008, the national parties and special-interest groups poured more than $3 million into the First District, which includes the entire Eastern Shore and jumps the Bay to take in a significant portion of Western Shore counties.

Kratovil, who won last year by the skin of his teeth, is facing a rematch with Republican State Sen. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, who figures to get considerably more support from the national Republican Party than he did last time.

The Republican ads against Kratovil, slated to begin airing Thursday on Salisbury's WBOC-TV, aren't the first TV commercials of the 2010 campaign in the district, already among the most hotly contested in the nation.

The drug industry fired the opening round a week ago, a pro-Kratovil TV ad that is running more often than the Republican one (both buys are moderately heavy, meaning they will likely be seen by many voters).

The industry ad praises Kratovil for voting earlier this year to expand health care coverage for children in Maryland whose families lack insurance.

Drug manufacturers, who fought to kill health reform in 1994, are taking a strikingly different tack this time. They are siding with those who favor overhauling the system, hoping that as a result they'll gain more leverage over the key issue (for them and everyone else) of prescription prices.

"We are committed to helping build greater consensus and support for reform that ensures all Americans have access to high-quality and affordable health care coverage," said Ken Johnson, a senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, whose group sponsored the pro-Kratovil spot as part of a broader national campaign.

And to think that Election Day is just 523 days away!

Posted by Paul West at 7:07 PM | | Comments (3)

If this is Thursday, it must be...

The current break in the action on Capitol Hill, referred to by most people as the Memorial Day recess, is officially known as a "district work period."

The reason for the latter terminology is pretty obvious, but members of Congress sometimes stretch the definition of "district."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, is leading a high-profile mission of six House members to China. Other lawmakers are also off on far-flung, taxpayer-financed ventures, though they didn't seek advertise that fact.

More often than not, members of Congress slip out of town without notice (public disclosure of the travel is required, but not until long after the trip has ended). Their office-bound staff back home keeps churning out press releases, presumably to make it look as though the senator or congressman is hard at work in Washington, when they might be on some beach, somewhere, instead.

A rare exception to the pattern is Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, who not only invited reporters to join her trip to the Netherlands this week, but also issued press releases from the scene.

Also in Europe's low country this week is House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, who has returned to his Danish roots. The southern Maryland congressman is on an official trip to Copenhagen for talks with government officials on issues ranging from that country's commitment to Afghanistan (about 700 of the 58,000 NATO forces are Danes) to climate change (a big global conference on that subject will be held in Copenhagen this December). Just today, in fact, Sen. John Kerry said that the success of the Copenhagen conference could hinge on critical talks over the next few weeks. Kerry made that remark in China, where he's leading his own overseas mission.

Maryland's senators can be found in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the spectacular Adriatic coast. The British playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked that "those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik." Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski are there, however, on an Aspen Institute-sponsored trip to a conference about "political Islam."

Overseas travel by members of Congress usually follows predictable patterns.

It tends to take place early in the congressional cycle, as far away from Election Day as possible, to help insulate the travellers from political fallout--in particular, the criticism of enemies who tend to regard all such ventures as junkets.

Frequent congressional travellers are often those with the least to fear, politically. Cardin, for example, won't face voters again until 2012. Mikulski, whose seat is up next year, has yet to draw a challenger; her office said it's been 10 years since she took a foreign trip like the one she's on now.

Hoyer, who rarely slows down, is squeezing Europe in between the Bowie Memorial Day Parade and Pax River Air Show last weekend and campaign-related travel to Ohio on behalf of Reps. Mary Jo Kilory, John Boccieri, Steve Driehaus and Betty Sutton, before Congress gets back to work next week.

Also on an overseas jaunt: Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards. The congresswoman from Prince George's County was in Israel on a trip sponsored by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Meantime, freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland's Eastern Shore, the only member of the state's congressional delegation with a big re-election fight on his hands at the moment, is staying close to home. He scheduled a full slate of events this week across his far-flung district, including a tour of Perdue Food Inc.'s chicken raising and processing facilities in Salisbury on Friday, when temperatures are forecast to hit the low 80s.

Posted by Paul West at 12:07 PM | | Comments (2)

May 21, 2009

Michael Steele "partied his butt off" at Hopkins

Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, resurrects a sometimes overlooked part of his biography for a speech to students at Woodson Senior High School in Washington — that he got kicked out of Johns Hopkins University after partying too hard his freshman year.

“My first year at Johns Hopkins, I had a good time. I really did,” Steele said during a talk taped by C-SPAN for its "Students & Leaders" program. “I partied my behind off. I heard there were classes, and some people told me I really should go, but I was having a good time. I was freshman class president. I knew most of my classmates by the end of my first week of school. I just networked the heck out of that bad boy. I was talking. I was grooving. I was having a ball.”

Then, he said, he got a letter that summer informing him that he had been kicked out. After some angst, he said he cut a deal and had to earn straight A’s in four summer classes to regain his place at the prestigious school. He credits his mother for being a quiet force pushing him to return.

“Moral of the story: perseverance,” Steele explained. “And recognizing you have the potential within yourself to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, sometimes you just got to push yourself to realize it.”

The program featuring Steele will be shown in its entirety on C-SPAN on Monday, May 25, at 7p.m.

-- Laura Smitherman

Posted by David Nitkin at 4:55 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Michael Steele

Davis and Perez in holding pattern

Two Maryland-related nominations by President Barack Obama were put on hold after a Republican objection was lodged at a brief session of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
The committee postponed action on U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis' elevation to the Court of Appeals and Maryland Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez's nomination to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice department.
If any senator objects, a delay is automatic under rules of the committee, which will take up the nominations at its next meeting. That won't be until after the Senate's Memorial Day recess and no date has been announced.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the panel, said that several Republican senators were concerned because Judge Davis of Baltimore had "several reversals on criminal cases" by the Fourth Circuit Court, the one to which he's been nominated. He would not identify the senators.
Sessions gave a surprisingly upbeat assessment of Perez's prospects, noting the Marylander's background as a prosecutor in the office he's been picked to head.
"He's in pretty good shape to go," said the Alabama senator, a former judge, who then stopped himself by saying that he "shouldn't prejudge it."
Assuming they make it out of committee, which is highly likely, since Democrats are in control and no Democratic opposition has emerged, both men still must be approved by the full Senate.
Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a member of the panel, said afterward he is optimistic that both will be confirmed, though he did not predict how long that might take.

Posted by Paul West at 11:02 AM | | Comments (1)

May 19, 2009

Republican Steele: A New Era of Class

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, in what his press secretary has billed as "an important speech," will call for civility and a return to the nuts and bolts of party-building at a luncheon for Republican state chairmen in Prince George's County.

"The era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over. It is done," Steele said in prepared remarks that were provided to the Associated Press. "We have turned the page, we have turned the corner. No more looking in the rearview mirror. From this point forward, we will focus all of our energies on winning the future."

He said Republicans will continue to criticize the Democrats. But, he said, unlike the "shabby and classless way" Democrats took on Bush, Republicans will take on Obama with class and dignity.

Steele, whose early months as RNC chief have been marked by an unusual amount of internal party bickering, assured the Republican state leaders at a private session this morning that he's whipping the national headquarters into shape and has gotten beyond the stumbles that have worried Republicans and provided easy targets for Democrats.

Earlier, in an appearance on "Fox and Friends," Steele said Republicans need to intensify their party-building efforts.

"It's time for us to get our heads out of the clouds and out of the sand and stop moping," he said, "and lay out an agenda that looks forward to the future."

Even as he attempts to refocus attention away from his own gaffes and internal dissent, Steele finds himself on the defensive over salaries paid to staff members.

The Washington Times reports that the RNC is paying former White House aide Angela Sailor, the party's outreach director, an annual salary of $180,000, more than twice the pay of the last person to hold the job.

A rare session of the full Republican National Committee is to be held Wednesday at the conference site, the National Harbor resort on the Potomac River just south of Washington.

One item that had been expected to draw unwanted attention, a resolution by conservatives to have the RNC formally brand the Democrats as a "Socialist" Party, appears to have been headed off. Revised wording, which still must be voted on, would say instead that the Democrats under President Barack Obama are taking the country in the direction of socialism.

Posted by Paul West at 11:30 AM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Michael Steele

May 18, 2009

Longtime lawmaker Pauline Menes dies

Del. Pauline Menes died last weekend.

The following is an obituary prepared by Sheilah Kast of WYPR in Baltimore:

Pauline H. Menes, co-founder and first chair of the caucus of women legislators in the Maryland General Assembly, died of pneumonia Saturday, May 16. She was 84.

Mrs. Menes was elected to the House of Delegates by the same Democratic wave in 1966 that brought Benjamin Cardin and Paul Sarbanes to the House and Steny Hoyer to the State Senate. Del. Menes represented College Park, Beltsville and other areas of the 21st District in Northern Prince George’s County for 40 years, until she retired, in 2007, having served longer than any other current member of the General Assembly.

She was the first woman to serve on the Judiciary Committee, from 1979 on, and used the assignment to work on legislation for juvenile justice and criminal justice, as well as aging, the arts and a broad range of women’s issues.

For many years she chaired the Special House Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. She successfully sponsored legislation mandating AIDS testing of prisoners, setting up needle exchange programs and requiring that suspected child abuse be reported by medical personnel, teachers and social workers.

She also served on the Rules Committees, and in her last few terms she was the House’s Parliamentarian. When she announced her retirement, Speaker Michael Busch of Annapolis said, “No one knows the rules and procedures of the House better than Pauline.”

In 1967, there were eleven women in the General Assembly – six in the House, five in the Senate. She told an interviewer that women were not given substantive committee assignments, and she felt resented by many of the male legislators. Forming the
Women’s Legislative Caucus, she said, was a way to fight the intimidation and isolation.

One of the best documented episodes sprang from the fact that there was no ladies room near the House chamber. The female delegates had to walk to the other side of the Capitol, across a hallway often filled with lobbyists, to reach the public rest room. After Del. Menes’s female colleagues picked her to talk to Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe about the problem, he named her chair of the Ladies Rest Room Committee in 1971.

The following year, at the suggestion of the late Sen. Rosalie Abrams, D-Baltimore, the female legislators started their caucus. Del. Menes said it was the first in the nation, before there was a women’s caucus in Congress. Several years later she organized the women’s Legislative Network of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

She was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame last year. The Maryland National Organization for Women gave her the Ann Landon Scott Award for Legislative Excellence in 1976, and the College Park Business and Professional Women’s Association named her Woman of the Year in 1978.

Pauline Herskowitz was born in New York City in July 16, 1924. After graduating from Grover Cleveland High School, she earned bachelor of arts degrees in business economics and geography from Hunter College in 1945. As soon as she finished college, she came to the Washington area to work as economist in the Office of the Quarter Master General. It was a temporary wartime job, and she trained a young officer named Melvin Menes to replace her. They fell in love, and were married Sept. 1, 1946.

Mrs. Menes worked as a geographer for the Army Map Service in 1949 and 1950.

Her husband died in 2000. Survivors include three daughters, Sandra Ashe of Atlanta, Robin Elvord of Chicago and Bambi Menes of San Francisco, and a sister, Shirley Schwarz (cq) of Coconut Creek, FL.

In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy can be made to The Pauline Menes Fund at the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, PO Box 719, Brooklandville, MD 21022-0719.

Sun columnist Laura Vozzella wrote this cute item about Menes during the lawmaker's final days in the Assembly, in 2006:

Why say it with flowers when muskrat will more than do? Del. Pauline Menes, a 10-term Democrat from College Park who is retiring at the end of the session, received a muskrat-covered toilet seat the other night at a surprise party thrown by the women's caucus and the House Judiciary Committee.The odd gift was just like the one then-House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe had presented to Menes 35 years earlier. This time, the seat was meant to honor Menes, not embarrass her.

In the early 1970s, Menes and the handful of other women in the House had to put up with lots of indignities. Among them: no ladies' room in the State House and no women chairing any standing committees. Menes complained about the former, and Lowe presented her with a furry toilet seat during a legislative session. It was his way of appointing her chairman of the Women's Restroom Committee.

The gag backfired, dashing Lowe's hopes of running for Senate, Menes, 81, recalled: "The mail and the calls came down on him. It was right at the beginning of the women's movement."

Of course, the stunt couldn't have hurt Lowe's reputation too badly, since the delegates' office building was named in his honor.

Even so, Menes had the last laugh. The new seat hangs on the wall of her office in the Lowe Building. A photo of the late speaker sits in the center.

Not that easy to find on eBay

Where can you get a muskrat-covered toilet seat anyway? Grace Mary Brady, Menes' longtime assistant, said it came from Del. Adelaide Eckardt, a Republican from Dorchester County.

"She lives on the Eastern Shore," Brady said by means of explanation.

"She had three people get the muskrats. It's handmade. It's a gorgeous toilet seat."

What happened to the original? Menes says Lowe, who died in 1984, took it back. "I'm sure it went in a trash can," Brady said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:16 PM | | Comments (0)

May 12, 2009

Open audition: State senator needed to replace Greenip

The race is on in Anne Arundel County now that the Republican state central committee is formally accepting applications from candidates to replace state Sen. Janet Greenip, who is leaving the General Assembly after 15 years and more than a year before her term ends.

Greenip’s resignation becomes effective May 29. The committee must submit a nominee to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who will make it official. After taking applications, the committee will announce the candidates later this month and accept public input before voting by secret ballot at a June 2 meeting.

Some contenders have already emerged, including Del. James J. King, owner of the popular Rockfish restaurant in Annapolis who has been lobbying heavily. Greenip said she’s throwing her support behind Anne Arundel County Councilman Edward R. Reilly.

In her resignation letter last week, Greenip wrote: “It is with careful consideration, wise counsel, and much prayer that I offer my resignation... Family considerations must come first for all of us, and I can delay no longer. It is necessary for me to give my family more complete attention.” In an interview, Greenip said she simply felt it was time to retire.

If you’re interested in her job, you can find the application starting Wednesday at You have until May 22.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 5:07 PM | | Comments (0)

Does the Leopold "scandal" need a name?

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold is battling sexual harassment allegations, and few will be surprised if more tales of indiscretion emerge, given the chatter that's going on among those in the know.

As yesterday's minor developments show, Leopold is not going to lie back quietly, and is intent on going after those he perceives to be his enemies.

If this is a story with "legs," perhaps it needs a name.

Those "-gate" endings, like grope-gate, or oggle-gate, are pretty trite. One of our devious wag friends is recommending "The Sexexecutive."

We suspect the perfect name is out there. Perhaps you've already thought of it.

If you've got a suggestion, let us know. You could coin a phrase. And in this realm, it may be a coin with some value.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:30 AM | | Comments (9)

May 11, 2009

No help for county executive wannabes

Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith sounds an awful lot like a candidate for comptroller in a story by the Baltimore Sun's Mary Gail Hare that ran on Sunday.

Smith, a Democrat, is raising money, traveling the state, and providing only the thinnest of endorsements of the Democratic incumbent. Asked by Hare if he thought Franchot was doing a good job, Smith responded that everyone has their own way of doing things. Faint praise indeed.

Smith is prevented by term limits from running again, and any would-be successor would love to tap into his organization and network of supporters. But at least publicly, Smith isn't backing a successor, which means councilmen Joe Bartenfelder and Kevin Kamenetz and legislators Jim Brochin and Pat McDonough (the latter a Republican) will be largely on their own if they decide to get in the race.

“I am going to stay out of it,” Smith said. “I will have my hands full.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:50 AM | | Comments (3)

May 8, 2009

Maryland GOP vet plucks RNC plum

Kevin Igoe, a veteran Republican strategist from Maryland, has been named to a top position at the Republican National Committee by Chairman Michael Steele.

Igoe, who helped Steele get the job back in January, will be the RNC's deputy chief of staff.

“I am excited to have such an outstanding and accomplished person become a part of our team. Kevin’s many years of private and public service will be extremely helpful in his new role as Deputy Chief of Staff. I look forward to working with him as the RNC charts a course to enable Republican candidates to compete and win,” Steele said in a statement.

The low-key political operative from Owings has a record of involvement in Maryland politics that stretches back to 1980, when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 5th District against Democratic Rep. Gladys Spellman (who, it must be reported, was in a coma at the time, from which she never recovered).

Igoe worked as a HUD lobbyist during the Reagan administration and has done a couple of stints as a staff aide on Capitol Hill. He was the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party in the early 1990s. He also helped direct Ellen Sauerbrey's nearly successful gubernatorial campaign in 1994 and joined the Bush/Cheney recount army in Florida following the 2000 election.

Posted by Paul West at 12:02 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele

May 6, 2009

O'Malley may get Democratic challengers

Gadi Dechter is reporting this story, which is running in Thursday's print editions of the Baltimore Sun:

George W. Owings III, a former Democratic delegate and party leader from Calvert County, is “actively considering a challenge” to Gov. Martin O’Malley in next year’s election, the former majority leader told The Baltimore Sun.

The 64-year-old Vietnam war hero from Dunkirk, who served on Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s cabinet, said he was “45 to 60 days” away from deciding whether to challenge O’Malley in the 2010 Democratic primary. He acknowledged that the odds of anyone unseating the incumbent governor “are very long.”

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O’Malley said the governor would not be distracted by election talk. “There will be a lot of speculation in the coming months about who may or may not run for governor,” Abbruzzese said. “In the meantime, Gov. O’Malley will continue to fight for policies that put our families first.”

Matthew P. Crenson, a retired Johns Hopkins University political scientist and long-time observer of Maryland politics, said stirrings of internal dissent show “there is diffuse dissatisfaction with O’Malley” but said the cause could be the dismal economy, not O’Malley policies. “It’s not necessarily O’Malley’s fault,” Crenson said.

After serving in the House of Delegates from 1988 to 2004, Owings was Ehrlich’s secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. A conservative Democrat, Owings said he believes the state party has “strayed from its working class roots” under O’Malley’s leadership.

The former mortgage banker said he began mulling a challenge after the governor pushed unpopular tax hikes through the General Assembly in 2007 in order to confront the massive structural budget deficit he inherited.

“I see a lot of good, solid working-class Democrats with serious concerns about the direction we are taking,” Owings said. He said he has “the mechanics in place” for an organized campaign, including “some guarantees of operating money” from a “loosely knit financing committee.”

Separately, Annapolis has been buzzing with speculation that former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry may also be thinking of taking on O’Malley in the primary. Two people familiar with Curry’s thinking told The Baltimore Sun that he was preparing a poll to test the viability of his candidacy, and would only then make a decision.

Curry did not return requests for comment.

“Even if they’re not true, the fact that there are so many rumors suggests that O’Malley is perceived as vulnerable,” Crenson said.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:32 PM | | Comments (8)

We're not talking Colts-level defector, but Baltimore "expat" is latest Obama pick

Dr. Tara O'Toole, who left the staff of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies in 2003--and took the rest of her colleagues with her to the University of Pittsburgh--is President Obama's choice for Under Secretary of Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, the White House announced late Wednesday.

O'Toole was one of the original members of the Hopkins Biodefense center, where she served as director from 2001 to 2003. In a surprise move in September, 2003, she and the staff departed to create a similar operation under the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (actually, the office remained in Baltimore and is located near the Inner Harbor on Pratt Street).

The Pittsburgh neé Baltimore biodefense center calls itself an "independent organization dedicated to improving the country’s resilience to major biological threats."

According to the center's web site, O'Toole is "known for her work on biosecurity and on health and safety issues related to the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Her publications in the biodefense field include articles on the response to anthrax, smallpox, and plague biological attacks; containment of contagious disease epidemics; biodefense research and development strategies; and hospital preparedness."

During the Clinton administration, she was assistant secretary for Environment, Safety and Health at the Department of Energy. From 1984, she practiced internal medicine at community health centers in Baltimore.

She is a graduate of Vassar College, with an M.D. from George Wshington University and an M.P.H from Hopkins. After completing her training as a resident at Yale, she had a fellowship in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Hopkins.

Posted by Paul West at 5:47 PM | | Comments (1)

And now, a word on our behalf by sponsor Ben Cardin

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is asking his colleagues in Congress to pass a measure he has drafted that is aimed at helping financially pressed newspapers survive in the Internet age.

Critics, including many in the journalism field, are leery of getting the government involved in efforts to save the business. Of course, government has long been involved, for example, by waiving antitrust regulations to allow competing papers to operate their printing operations jointly in order to allow both to stay in business.

Cardin's plan, which would let papers operate as non-profit organizations, might make a difference in Baltimore, where the Abell Foundation (founded by former owners of The Baltimore Sun) has been widely reported to be interested in purchasing The Sun, should the Tribune Company decide to sell.

But the lifeline Cardin wants to throw comes at a cost: newspapers would no longer be able to endorse candidates for public office. While the value of newspaper endorsements is often inflated (particularly by those doing the endorsing and seeking the endorsements), they have been shown to have considerable value, particularly in local contests where voters are not as familiar with the candidates as they are in races for president or governor.

Unlike the auto industry, banks and others, nobody in the newspaper business is asking for a government bailout. And the prospects of the Cardin plan becoming law are unclear. But his timing certainly seems to be good. He got a chance to air it Wednesday afternoon at a Senate hearing chaired by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, whose hometown Boston Globe has been threatened with closure by its owners, the New York Times Co.

Here, as provided by his office, is Cardin's prepared testimony from the hearing:

Today, newspapers across the country are closing their doors, slashing their staff, and shuttering bureaus in the United States and around the world.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Post –Intelligencer, The Rocky Mountain News, the Philadelphia Daily News, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe and my own Baltimore Sun are either in bankruptcy, or facing bankruptcy and closure.

Newspapers and the investigative journalism they provide play a critical role in our society. Watergate. AIDS. Tobacco. ENRON. AIG. These are all news stories, uncovered by journalists, which brought the most important stories of our nation’s history to the front page and into public debate.

Newspapers provide a form of accountability. They provide a “check” on local governments, state governments, the federal government, elected officials, corporations, school districts, businesses, individuals and more.

Despite the 24/7 availability of news from print, broadcast and digital sources, there remains one clear fact: when it comes to original in-depth reporting that records and exposes actions, issues, and opportunities in our communities, nothing has replaced a newspaper.

Google, Yahoo!, blogs and even most local and national broadcasters, pull their original news from the laborious and expensive work of experienced newspaper reporters diligently working their beats over the course of years, not hours. Newspaper reporters forge relationships with people; they build a network, which creates avenues to information.

These relationships and the information that follows are essential in a free, democratic society. Without it, accountability is lost.

In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, the relationship between corruption and “free circulation of daily newspapers per person” was examined. The study found that the lower the circulation of newspapers in a country, the higher it stands on the corruption index.

Just recently, Princeton University released a report, entitled “Do Newspapers Matter? Evidence from the Closure of the Cincinnati Post.” This report found that while “The Cincinnati Post was a relatively small newspaper, with circulation of only 27,000 when it closed…its absence appears to have made local elections less competitive along several dimensions: incumbent advantage, voter turnout and the number of candidates for office.”

The Princeton University study concluded that “if voter turnout, a broad choice of candidates and accountability for incumbents are important to democracy, we side with those who lament newspapers' decline.”

The economy has caused an immediate problem for newspapers, but their business model, based on circulation and advertising revenue, has been weakening for years.

At the end of 2008, advertising revenue was down by about 25% and according to a December forecast by Barclays Capital, advertising revenue will drop another 17% in 2009. According to the Pew Project for Excellence, during 2008, U.S. newspapers eliminated 5,000 newsroom jobs, approximately 10% of total newsroom jobs in the industry.

Circulation is down 13.5% daily and 17.3% on Sunday since 2001. The Project for Excellence in Journalism surveyed 259 newspapers in early 2008 and found that 59% reported reductions in staff, but even more disturbing was that 61% said that less space was being devoted to news. The impact has had an especially severe effect on overseas bureaus, in state capitals, and in Washington. Half the states no longer have a newspaper covering the U.S. Congress.

While the newspaper industry is in the midst of major transition, we need to protect and nurture the information gathering abilities that currently reside with newspapers.

The Newspaper Revitalization Act could help some in the news industry continue their vital role of newsgathering and investigative reporting. My bill would allow newspapers who choose to operate as non-profit organizations under 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes.

It would create a new category under the Internal Revenue Code for a “qualified newspaper corporation.” This would be the same IRS status that is utilized by churches, hospitals, educational institutions, public broadcasting and other non-profit entities.

Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax deductible.

A change to non-profit status would not mean government control of the media. It would not bring about the end of the First Amendment and free speech.

Religious and educational groups operate as non-profits without government interference. A newspaper operating as a non-profit would continue to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns, it just would refrain from making political endorsements.

Whether conservative, liberal, or middle-of-the-road, each newspaper would maintain its editorial voice and be able to clearly state its position on issues affecting their community – local and national.

I also want to make this point very clear -- this is not another government bailout of a failing industry. Taxpayer funds will not be used to buy shares or an interest in any media corporation. This legislation should cause minimal revenue loss to the federal government as most newspaper profits have been falling for years.

While this may not be an optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains interested in profit, it should be an option for many smaller, local newspapers fast disappearing in our states, cities and towns.

In this economic climate, and with the real possibility of losing community newspapers, this would be a voluntary option for owners to save their paper. It is also a model that could enable local citizens or foundations to step in and preserve their local papers. However, this is only an option that would be made available, not a requirement. The decision would be made by the paper and the members of the community who are interested in preserving the paper as a non-profit entity.

Thomas Jefferson, a man who was vilified by newspapers daily, once said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” Like Jefferson, I believe that a well-informed public is essential in our democratic society. We need to save our community newspapers and the investigative journalism they provide.

Posted by Paul West at 4:39 PM | | Comments (1)

Mr. Smith wants to go to Annapolis?

Attorney General Doug Gansler is fueling speculation that Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. intends to challenge Peter Franchot for Comptroller next year, according to the Gazette, which got it via WTOP.

“During an interview Friday on WTOP radio in Washington, [Gansler] voiced the widely held belief that Smith will mount a primary challenge to … Franchot,” the paper reported.
Smith, who must leave the top job in Towson because of term limits, is only saying he’s taking a look at some kind of statewide role.

By allowing the talk to churn unofficially, Smith gets the benefit of political attention without the unpleasant scrutiny of candidacy. What interest does Gansler have in floating Smith’s potential challenge to Franchot? Unclear, except that both Gansler and Franchot are Montgomery County Democrats who could be gunning for Government House in 2014. A dethroned tax collector could make a less likely gubernatorial contender.

There’s plenty of time before primary season, but Smith probably does not enjoy Franchot’s name recognition. The feisty “chief fiscal officer” may have lost the slots referendum but as figurehead for the “no” side, he got plenty of press across Maryland.

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)

Hoyer may touch third rail

Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland is already a point person in the House on overhauling the nation's health care system, the biggest domestic policy initiative of the Obama administration.

Soon, he could be grabbing another tough problem: fixing the Social Security system. Changes are needed in order to meet future obligations and keep the federal retirement and disability benefit program from going broke.

Efforts to craft a solution could begin later this year. If they do, Hoyer is expected to be a central player.

In a noontime speech on Wednesday at a Bipartisan Policy Center forum, the congressman from Mechanicsville outlined what some believe could be the formula for putting Social Security on firmer fiscal ground.

The ingredients: increasing Social Security taxes, raising the retirement age and trimming benefits for wealthier retirees.

Hoyer put it this way, according to an excerpt from his prepared text: "Of our entitlement programs, I believe we would have the easiest challenge in reforming Social Security. Here, the options are well and widely understood. We can bring in more revenues. We can restrain the growth of benefits, particularly for higher-income workers, while we strengthen the safety net for lower-income workers. And/or we can raise the retirement age, recognizing that our life expectancy is significantly higher today."

Hoyer added: "What is missing here is not ideas--it is political will."

Nothing new about that last comment. It explains why nothing has been done to deal with the problem in decades and why the cliche about Social Security as the third rail of American politics has frightened a generation of elected officials away from making the inevitable changes.

Hoyer said that recent expressions of interest by Republicans in working on the problem--South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is one--"gives us a real opening for progress."

Bipartisan action "will prevent either party from exploiting those solutions for political advantage," according to Hoyer.

Posted by Paul West at 9:32 AM | | Comments (0)

Perhaps the camel's nose isn't under the tent

Here's a headline that caught us by surprise today: the Delaware House has rejected a plan by Gov. Jack Markell to reauthorize sports betting.

With Maryland poised to launch slots gambling and Delaware heavily reliant on its own gambling proceeds, the smart money was on Delaware expanding gambling to fight off the competition.

And that's exactly what gambling opponents in Maryland have long feared: that slots and other games are a race to the bottom, with competiting states driven to more and more ways to part residents and visitors with their money.

But as the Associated Press reported, Markel's legislation "received a favorable vote of 23-15, but fell two votes short of the required three-fifths majority."

As the AP notes, Delaware is one of only four states, along with Nevada, Montana and Oregon, grandfathered under a 1992 federal law that bans sports gambling.

"Officials say that Delaware's status as the only state east of the Mississippi River that can offer sports betting could provide an economic buffer against slot machine competition in neighboring Pennsylvania and Maryland and help the state close a projected budget shortfall," the wire story says.

At the very least, the development is a relief to Maryland policy makers still working to get their slots program off the ground.

Posted by David Nitkin at 9:07 AM | | Comments (0)

May 5, 2009

O'Malley gets an earful from Joe Biden

Or maybe it was the other way around.

Gov. Martin O'Malley was one of five state executives on a conference call today with Vice President Joe Biden, whose job includes riding herd on the progress of the $787 billion stimulus package.

The calls--there were two of them, with mayors and county executives of both major parties also taking part--are a regular part of Biden's effort to keep in touch with some of the people responsible for spending the money that Washington has been doling out.

Biden's office did not release any details of the calls, so it wasn't clear what transpired on them. Or if the Veep told the governors, mayors and county execs about the most exciting part of his day: his lunch with President Barack Obama at Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia, a five-minute drive from the White House (if you have a motorcade and plenty of cops to clear the intersections).

Joe had a swiss cheese burger with jalapeno peppers and paid cash.

Here's a list of those on the calls, as provided by the VP's office:


Governor Jon Corzine (D-NJ)

· Governor Christine Gregoire (D-WA)

· Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD)

· Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)

· Governor Bob Riley (R-AL)


· Mayor Michael Coleman (D – Columbus, OH)

· Mayor Jill Duson (D – Portland, ME)

· Mayor Jim Humphrey (R – Fort Myers, FL)

· Mayor Sam Jones (D – Mobile, AL)

· Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel (D – Evansville, IN)

· County Commissioner Keith Langenhahn (D – Marathon County, WI)

· County Judge Executive F.G. ”Buddy” Villines (D – Pulaski County, AR)

Posted by Paul West at 5:45 PM | | Comments (4)

Cardin, David Simon to discuss future of journalism

Sen. John Kerry will be chairing a Senate hearing tomorrow on the future of journalism, and a couple of prominent Marylanders are scheduled to testify.

First up will be Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Maryland Democrat who has introduced legislation that would allow newspapers to operate as non-profit organizations. Later comes Wire creator David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who is now among the newspaper’s most prominent critics.

Also scheduled to appear before Kerry’s commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet will be Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Dallas Morning News publisher James M. Maroney, former Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll and former Miami Herald publisher Alberto Ibarguen.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:14 PM | | Comments (2)

May 4, 2009

Harford delegation turmoil continues

The drama in the Harford County delegation continues.

Recently ousted co-chairs, Dels. Rick Impallaria and Susan McComas, sent a letter to their successors, demanding they resign.

“We regret that we have arrived at a point where it is necessary to request that you both … step down as Chair and Vice-Chair in order that new and effective leadership can be put in place,” Impallaria and McComas wrote to Dels. J.B. Jennings and Wayne Norman.

Impallaria and McComas were joined in their protest letter, dated April 20, by Del. Pat McDonough.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 3:29 PM | | Comments (5)

May 1, 2009

Maryland labor official is Obama FEC pick

John J. Sullivan, a labor union lawyer from Maryland, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to a vacant seat on the Federal Election Commission, the White House announced late Friday.

The FEC is the often toothless agency that is supposed to regulate national politics. Vacancies on the commission, which is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, have hampered its effectiveness in recent have rules that require a majority vote on commission actions, which critics see as a built-in way to keep the FEC from getting much done.

As of Friday, Obama had three vacancies to fill on the six-member panel and Sullivan was his first pick.

Sullivan has been associate General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union since 1997. The SEIU is one of the most politically active unions in the country. Its primary endorsement of Obama in February, 2008, helped him build momentum against Hillary Clinton at a key period during the nomination contest.

The nomination is likely to cheer organized labor, as well as critics of the FEC, which has suffered from weak leadership over the years. Sullivan is a respected election lawyer, with substantial experience in the field.

He has been vice president of the Montgomery County board of elections, and is still listed as a board member on the county Web site. He also served on Gov. Martin O'Malley's election reform transition team. Prior to joining SEIU, he was a lawyer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and has represented the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in public employee organizing campaigns, according to the White House.

He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Boston and has a law degree from Northeastern University. He was part of the Democratic recount effort in Florida after the 2000 presidential election and worked as a volunteer legal advisor in 2008 Democratic presidential primaries in three of the most hotly contested states, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Posted by Paul West at 5:50 PM | | Comments (1)

Franchot: Maryland economy hasn't bottomed out

Maryland's economy and finances are still sliding backward, with no quick reversal in sight, Comptrolle Peter Franchot said.

Speaking to the Baltimore Sun's editorial board, Franchot dismissed news reports that contained glimmers of economic hope, such as an uptick in consumer spending.

"We don't see a single indicator of that" in state revenue figures, the state's top tax collector said.

Franchot said that collections from sales, income and capital gains taxes are sliding, and will soon negate the budget-cutting work done by lawmakers earlier this month, who cut programs and funds to create an extra cushion.

"I think that $100 million cushion, when we do the next (revenue) estimate will have evaporated," Franchot said.

Franchot touched on other issues.

On slots, Franchot -- a critic of the gambling program who led an effort to defeat the constitutional amendment allowing the machines -- indicated that the bidding for slots licenses was a disgrace. Only four valid bidders have emerged for five slots locations, meaning, right now, no license will be awarded by a slots commission through a competitive process.

"If (bidding) were done at the Board of Public Works, they would be rejected," Franchot said, refering to the state spending panel on which his sits.

On his 2010 re-election: Franchot said "yes" to a question on whether he would seek re-election, and said he did not know whether term-limited Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith would run against him. But he said his slots opposition has sparked such anger in some quarters that "I may have to suffer through a primary challenge" because of it.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
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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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