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July 30, 2009

Franchot toasts good news about wineries

Comptroller Peter Franchot has apparently grown weary of all the downer economic news out there.

So the state’s chief tax collector took the time yesterday to e-mail supporters and tell them to take heart: Maryland’s wineries are thriving! (The comptroller’s duties include regulating the wine industry.)

He began his missive by laying out the bad news: “Jobs are hard to find. For those who have jobs, salaries are stagnant. Foreclosures are rampant, and decimated home values are hitting every corner of the state. As you saw last week, Maryland is facing severe budget challenges, and painful cuts will have to be made.”

“Things may be gloomy,” Franchot conceded, “but there are some bright spots that deserve our attention and support.”

While not immune to the national recession, Maryland’s wine industry is expanding, Franchot wrote. The number of wineries in the state has doubled in the past four years, and they now support 350 jobs that pay a total of nearly $11 million in annual salaries.

So imbibe, Franchot urged. He has.

“I've had the opportunity to visit vineyards throughout Maryland, and I've been impressed by both the value and the quality of their products,” he wrote. “If you're looking for a day-trip experience this summer that is both distinctive and affordable, visit a Maryland vineyard... and remember to buy Maryland wines when shopping at your local retailer.”

He concluded with one last public service announcement: “When you go on your wine tour, make sure to bring a designated driver and enjoy.”

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 2:59 PM | | Comments (3)

Lollar definitely eyeing Hoyer's congressional seat

We reported on this blog that Charles Lollar, a Republican viewed as a credible political hopeful, might have his sights set on Washington. It turns out that he does. This ran in The Sun this morning:

Charles Lollar has told supporters he plans to form an exploratory committee for a campaign against Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a longtime Southern Maryland Democrat and House majority leader. In an e-mailed letter sent Wednesday, Lollar said he made the decision after meeting with voters who are concerned about "reckless actions" taken by Congress.

Lollar, chairman of the Republican Central Committee in Charles County, had been considering a gubernatorial run but reportedly might not meet the constitutional standard that candidates must have been registered voters in the state for five years before the general election.

He is seeking donations to raise more than $50,000 to open a headquarters, conduct a poll and build a grass-roots organization. He would face a well-financed Hoyer, who is now serving his 15th term in Congress.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 2:09 PM | | Comments (4)

July 28, 2009

Brown hosts lieutenant governor conference, shows off pitching arm

It’s a slow news day when two reporters from The Washington Post, an Associated Press newsman and yours truly show up to a no-news press conference. But while State House staffers still outnumbered us, there we were on the south lawn of the Annapolis capitol this morning.

The draw: Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown showing off his pitching arm in advance of the Orioles game Friday night when he will throw the ceremonial first pitch in his personalized jersey.

Brown is trying to draw attention to his office in advance of the National Lieutenant Governors Association meeting in Baltimore Wednesday through Friday. Lieutenant governors, often overshadowed by their gubernatorial counterparts, plan to discuss how to manage state budgets in this tough economy, cyber-security and environmental conservation. About two dozen lieutenant governors from around the nation are expected to attend, and the conference is projected to generate a half-million dollars in economic activity.

The festivities will be kicked off with Brown hosting the welcoming reception at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he’ll bring the event to a close at Camden Yards. Many politicians toss balls into the dirt when confronted with the surprisingly long distance between the mound and home plate. So while Brown has thrown pitchs at minor league games before, he said he wants to be prepared.

“This is the big leagues,” he said before throwing the ball around with his aides. “This is not going to be a flea flicker. This one’s coming in with heat.”

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 12:52 PM | | Comments (8)

July 24, 2009

On the gubernatorial campaign trail for 2010: Lollar may not qualify; Hogan wants Ehrlich; Owings raising cash

The field of would-be gubernatorial candidates might already be narrowed by one. Charles Lollar, chairman of the GOP central committee in Charles County whose name has been floated as a potential contender for the Republicans, might not meet constitutional standards, The Gazette reported today.

Under the Maryland Constitution, a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor must have been a resident and registered voter in the state for five years before the general election. According to the newspaper report, Lollar’s voter registration card showed he signed his application on June 6, 2006. Lollar, who moved here from Atlanta in October 2005, says he submitted his application soon after arriving and that there was a delay in processing it. The election is in November 2010.

But Lollar may set his sights on Washington rather than governor’s mansion in Annapolis anyway. He's reportedly considering a congressional campaign against U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a long-time Maryland Democrat and the powerful House majority leader. Under the U.S. Constitution, representatives must have been a U.S. citizen for seven years and a resident of state where they are elected.

Lollar is clearly planning some sort of campaign. If a recent e-mail message is a guide, he’s looking at the national stage.

In the e-mail, Lollar weighed in on President Barack Obama’s prime-time press conference on his health care proposal. He accused the administration of ramming the proposal through Congress and declared: “American families want to have a choice in their health care without the mandates and top-down control of Government Care.”

Meanwhile, another potential gubernatorial candidate from the GOP downplayed rumors he might run.

Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., a real estate company executive who almost unseated Hoyer in the 1990s, said in a mass e-mail that he believes Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has a better shot at defeating Gov. Martin O’Malley. Hogan served in Ehrlich's cabinet before the governor lost to O’Malley, a Democrat, in 2006. Ehrlich has yet to decide whether he’ll get in the race. Hogan, for one, seems content to wait.

“I’m certainly flattered that anyone would even consider me as a potential candidate for Maryland Governor, and I’m proud to be called the number one backup to Bob Ehrlich,” Hogan wrote in his e-mail. “But, let me be clear, my friend Bob Ehrlich, after his lifetime of effort, and his many accomplishments, has earned the right to take all the time he needs to make up his mind on this important decision.”

On the Democratic side, the field may soon expand by one. George W. Owings III, a former state delegate and Calvert County Democrat who served as secretary of veterans affairs under Ehrlich, has officially opened a campaign account. He said he’s “actively raising money and speaking to different groups.” Stay tuned for an official announcement from him.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 2:23 PM | | Comments (8)

July 22, 2009

The Wire may be off the air, but O'Malley still dealing with Carcetti drama

The popular HBO series The Wire has been off the air for more than a year, but the show that spun a critical portrayal of Baltimore, its crime, its politicians (and yes, its newspaper) continues to be a topic that Gov. Martin O’Malley is forced to discuss. Witness his appearance on MSNBC Live with Carlos Watson on Monday.

Watson introduced O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor and now Democratic governor, as “one of the real-life inspirations for the mayor of the hit TV show The Wire.”

O’Malley begged to differ: “I would take issue with whether or not I’m the inspiration for The Wire," he said. "I’m the antidote to The Wire.”

Watson replied: “Well said. You ran the city of Baltimore for eight years, I believe it was, and with much greater success than The Wire demonstrates.”

But O’Malley didn’t let it go there: “Forty percent reduction in violent crime, thanks to the people of Baltimore.”

David Simon, The Wire’s creator, has insisted that the mayoral character Tommy Carcetti — while "reflective" of O’Malley — is actually a composite of dozens of politicians he covered when he was a reporter at The Baltimore Sun.

But that hasn’t stopped the comparisons between the fictional and real-life versions of a young, boyishly handsome and ambitious politician who rose to power in City Hall on the crime issue. Even after the last episode — of the show, that is.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 12:13 PM | | Comments (7)

July 17, 2009

Davis, Perez still holding as Sotomayor prepares to land

The prospect of a swift Senate confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is good news for the federal judge from New York. But it's less clear whether a pair of delayed Obama nominees from Maryland will get approved soon, too.

If all goes according to plan, Sotomayor will land her seat on the nation's highest court by early August, just over two months after President Barack Obama submitted her nomination to the Senate.

Federal Judge Andre M. Davis of Baltimore and Maryland Labor Secretary Tom Perez haven't been nearly so lucky. Obama sent their names to the Hill more than two months before Sotomayor's, but they've been in a holding pattern for weeks, circling the Senate chamber while Republicans use Sotomayor as an excuse to delay the inevitable approval of their appointments.

Last winter, Obama picked Davis to fill a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that has been vacant since 2000. That was also the first year that Davis was nominated for the lifetime appointment (the nomination died in the final months of the Clinton administration).

Like his fellow Marylander, Perez was also selected last winter, in his case as head of the Justice department's Civil Rights division.

By early June, both men had been cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote by the full, Democratic controlled Senate, where their confirmation should be a mere formality.

But the story didn't end there.

Republican senators moved to block action on Davis and Perez, and other related nominations, until the Senate disposed of Sotomayor's nomination.

Now that Republican leaders have signaled that they'll allow her confirmation vote to take place without a prolonged delay, the question is: how quickly will they let the Senate move on the others?

Democrats control the Senate, of course, but Republicans enjoy leverage under the chamber's rules that their House counterparts lack.

Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to have the Senate take up the Davis and Perez nominations under a procedure that doesn't require a roll call vote. What it does require, however, is the unamimous consent of all senators from both parties.

Democrats say they think the Republicans will let the nominations move forward relatively soon.

The Sotomayor confirmation vote is expected to take place before the senators start their next, lengthy vacation, on Aug. 7.

There is no sign--yet--that the Sotomayor vote will become a bargaining chip in other legislative dealings. But everyone knows how eager Obama is to see her seated by September, when the court will hear an important case held over from the last term, and some Republicans might be tempted.

Democratic aides say Davis and Perez should finally get confirmed before the senators leave town. But with the Senate, it's never over 'til it's over. So it could still be sometime after Labor Day before the Marylanders are able to touch down in their new offices.

Posted by Paul West at 12:47 PM | | Comments (0)

July 16, 2009

Kratovil widens money lead over Harris

Harvesting the rewards of incumbency, freshman Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil has expanded his financial edge over potential Republican challenger Andy Harris, according to new campaign finance reports.

Their latest Federal Election Commission filings show Kratovil out-raising Harris by nearly two-to-one. The Democrat is sitting on more than twice as much money in the bank than his Republican rival.

The contest for Maryland's first congressional district, which includes the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, already ranks among the most closely watched in the nation. In 2008, Kratovil benefited from a strong Democratic trend, but the district clearly favors a Republican and the Stevensville congressman is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House.

Kratovil padded his money lead in the pre-election year, thanks to the advantages of incumbency. That historic edge appears to be particularly lucrative this year, with sweeping legislative battles in Washington affecting powerful interests across large swaths of the U.S. economy.

In particular, the fights to overhaul the nation's health care and energy sectors helped the Eastern Shore Democrat raise $296,928 in the three-month period ending June 30. That almost precisely matches the amount he collected during the first three months of the year.

Donations from political action committees, representing a wide range of special interests, again accounted for a clear majority of the congressman's campaign take.

Kratovil received more money from PACS--$162,564--than Harris received from all sources combined.

Harris, a Baltimore County state senator, collected $118,299 over the same period, between April 1 and June 30. Most of that--about $91,600--came from individuals, while just over $26,600 was from PACs.

Multi-billion-dollar lobbying/legislative wars over health care and energy brought Kratovil contributions from PACs affiliated with insurance companies, drugmakers, nurses, electric power companies, the nuclear industry and others.

Other PACS contributing to Kratovil included those representing agribusiness, defense contractors, labor unions and telecom companies. Kratovil sits on the Agriculture and Armed Services committees.

The National Automobile Dealers Association PAC gave Kratovil $3,500 in late June. The Eastern Shore congressman is one of the leading proponents of legislation designed to help Chrysler and General Motors dealers who have been ordered to give up their franchises. President Barack Obama strongly opposes the measure and its prospects of becoming law are cloudy, at best.

Kratovil also benefited from the support of Democratic colleagues, from Maryland and elsewhere. Among those whose committees gave during the period: Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Reps. Elijah Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore and Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County.

Harris, who is hoping to avenge his narrow loss to Kratovil last time, continues to attract money from fellow anesthesiologists around the country. He also drew contributions from PACs tied to medical and conservative groups.

A highly publicized Harris fund-raising event with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich does not appear to have attracted many large donations, however. Just over $6,000 in contributions were recorded on the date of the event, including $1,000 from Joe Gaylord, a longtime Gingrich adviser who lives in St. Michaels. Federal law requires that every donor who gives $200 or more to a candidate must be identified by name.

Unlike Kratovil, who is already receiving money through his party's congressional campaign committee, Harris did not get any money from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC is actively working to unseat Kratovil, but it often waits to see if there is a primary contest before providing financial assistance to a challenger. Republicans in Washington and Maryland are currently waiting to see if State Sen. E. J. Pipkin, or some other Republican, will enter the September, 2010 primary for the right to take on Kratovil.

At the halfway point of 2009, Kratovil has just over a half-million dollars in the bank to Harris' $210,000. Both men are stockpiling cash for what would be an expensive rematch.

Kratovil is unopposed for his party's nomination, but a Republican primary fight would be a serious drain on Harris' resources and make challenging the incumbent that much tougher.

Posted by Paul West at 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)

July 15, 2009

Cardin lobs softballs, yanks Ripken into Sotomayor hearing

As the Senate hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor drags into the late innings, the national pastime has again been pulled into the proceedings.

Let's start with the breaking news: In a revelation that can only come as a disturbing development to many in Baltimore, the likely Supreme Court justice revealed today that she is among the countless New York Yankee fans who have made themselves at home at Oriole Park over the years.

Ever since Sotomayor first took the Hill this week, well-worn comparisons between umpires and judges have featured repeatedly at her confirmation hearing.

On Monday, in her opening statement, she made a blatant pitch for support from the fans at home by boasting of her involvement in the 1995 major league baseball strike case.

Today, mere hours after Orioles outfielder Adam Jones drove in the winning run for the American League in the 2009 All-Star game, the judge took another swing at a baseball question, courtesy of Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland.

Those who have watched every pitch may have noticed that friendly Democratic senators frequently offer President Barack Obama's nominee a chance to recover between rounds of hostile questioning from Republicans.

Like a pitching coach or a catcher or infielder visiting the mound, the Dems try to give their star pitcher a few minutes to gather her composure before the next Republican batter steps up.

When it was Cardin's turn this morning, he opened with a little infield chatter.

"I just want you to know that the baseball fans of Baltimore knew there was a judge somewhere that changed in a very favorable way the reputation of Baltimore forever," he said. "You are a hero, and they now know it's Judge Sotomayor. You're a hero to the Baltimore baseball fans."

The judge listened attentively, and the Democratic senator explained.

"The Major League Baseball strike," Cardin said. "You allowed the season to continue so Cal Ripken could become the iron man of baseball in September, 1995."

After a brief ripple of laughter subsided, the senator asked Sotomayor to visit Camden Yards. "And we promise it will not be when the Yankees are playing so you can root for the Baltimore Orioles."

That's when Sotomayor, who has carefully concealed her personal views on hot-stove topics like abortion, may have let her guard down.

The judge, whose likely new office at the Supreme Court is within walking distance of Nationals Park, called the offer to visit Baltimore "a great invitation." Then she revealed that she is one more Yankee fan who found her way to Eutaw Street.

"You can assure your Baltimore fans that I have been to Camden Yards," said Sotomayor, all but certain to become the first Latina Yankee fan to sit on the nation's highest bench.

If this information shook Cardin, and his plan to vote in favor of her confirmation, he didn't let it show. But a few moments later, he committed a clear error, even as he was attempting to toss softballs in her direction on topics like the importance of diversity in the judicial system and the value of pro bono work for lawyers.

"We would all do well," said the normally sure-fingered Cardin, "to remember the advice given to us by our colleague, Senator Edward Kennedy, the former chairman of this committee, as he talks about the civil rights struggle, when he says, and I quote: 'The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.'"

Perhaps Cardin forgot that Kennedy spoke those words, in the most famous speech of his career, to the 1980 Democratic National Convention in Sotomayor's own New York City. But Kennedy was referring to his own, just-ended presidential campaign, not civil rights.

It was an obvious miscue by Cardin, the veteran lawmaker from Maryland, and also a reference that his senior Senate colleague from Baltimore would not have booted. Barbara A. Mikulski, as trivia buffs know, introduced Kennedy to the crowd in Madison Square Garden as he waited in the on-deck circle on that memorable night.

Posted by Paul West at 11:53 AM | | Comments (12)

July 14, 2009

Michael's Steele's complete Republican guide to NAACP speeches

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele promised today that he would depart from the "cut and paste" history of Republican speeches to the NAACP and, instead, tell it his way.

Steele, appearing before the group's 100th anniversary convention in New York City, proposed a "new partnership" between the civil rights organization and the Republican Party. But his prepared remarks offered few specifics and came dangerously close to some cutting-and-pasting of his own.

In 2005, Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman, a Baltimore area native, made headlines with his speech to the NAACP's national convention that apologized for his party's history of playing the race card in appealing for white votes.

"Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization," Mehlman said. "I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."

Lifting a page from that playbook, Steele offered a comment in the same vein, though bland by comparison with his predecessor's remark.

"The GOP and NAACP have very often missed real opportunities to communicate and engage each other," Steele said.

In another familiar refrain from past speeches by Republicans to African-American groups, Steele called for expanding "economic liberty" and "empowering government more than the people." He referred, obliquely, to school choice and putting in place "the tools necessary" to sustain black middle class economic growth and bring others out of poverty.

"My goal: to advance freedom in the African-American community," said Steele, noting his membership in the NAACP's Prince George's County chapter.

He had begun his address by attempting to contrast his remarks with those of previous Republican speakers at NAACP gatherings.

"I spent some time looking at previous remarks by Republicans before this body, and I was struck by the litanty of phrases that Republicans often "cut and paste into a speech," phrases like "'Party of Lincoln,' four or five times. Reminders that Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican and he invited Booker T. Washington to the White House and the Civil Rights Act was passed by a Republican Congress over Democrat filibusters," according to Steele's prepared text.

He went on to highlight "an inextricable link" between the Republican Party and African Americans, his own successes as the first black lieutenant governor of Maryland and as the first African-American to chair the Republican National Committee (mentioned twice in the course of a relatively brief speech).

He also hit perhaps the most familiar theme that Republican leaders have used over the past quarter-century in their appeals to black voters: that the strong allegiance of African-American voters to the Democratic Party hasn't always been the wisest way to go.

Steele deplored the nation's lack of progress in addressing problems of high inceration rates, AIDs infection, school-dropout rates, unamployment and poverty among African-Americans.

Then he added:

"Most of the problems facing black America are rooted in diminished access to quality education and fewer and fewer opportunities to either work a job or own a business. On these points, a one-party agenda often fails to get the job done."

It's a familiar theme that countless Republicans, and Steele himself, have repeated over the years.

Back in 2004, in the same city, Steele said Democrats had marginalized African-American voters, by, he claimed, implying that they would be traitors to their race if they sided with Republicans.

"Absolutely. You are putting people in a box, and you are saying you can only believe or think or feel a certain way because of the color of your skin," Steele said, as he prepared to address the Republican National Convention.

"I did a national talk show this morning, and the first question out of the box, on an African-American station, was 'How can you be a Republican?'" Steele said Aug. 30, 2004. "'How can you be a Democrat?' is my response. Justify your existence. I don't have to justify mine."

As a Senate candidate in heavily Democratic Maryland in 2006, Steele endeavored to break away from the party mold. He offered policy initiatives not usually associated with Republicans: raising the minimum wage, increasing federal spending on the environment and renewing the Voting Rights Act.

Today, as RNC chairman, it's not Steele's role to make policy. Instead, his job is to follow Republican leaders in Congress, who are charting a more conservative path for the party, with an increasing focus on holding the line on federal spending.

His current responsibilities, and his party's abysmal standing with black Americans, put him a tough spot as he went before the NAACP. Along with other Republican chairmen dating back to Lee Atwater in the 1980s, Steele pledged "genuine outreach" to the black community. He hastened to add: "And I do this with a sense of purpose and not cliche."

Critics, anticipating Steele's appearance, cut-and-pasted his words from five yeras ago, when Republican President George W. Bush angered the NAACP by refusing to appear at the group's annual convention. Steele, then lieutenant governor of Maryland, told USA Today back then that the civil-rights group's leadership "has put the NAACP dangerously close to being branded as just an arm of the Democratic Party."

Posted by Paul West at 12:29 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele

July 13, 2009

Cardin highlights Baltimore's racist, anti-Semitic past at Sotomayor hearing

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin threw a spotlight on past racism and anti-Semitism in Baltimore in his opening statement at today's Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

The Maryland Democrat, a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, recalled that the elementary school he attended in Baltimore, Liberty School No. 64, was part of a segregated system "that, under law, denied every student in Baltimore the opportunity to learn in a classroom that represented the diversity of our community."

Cardin, 65, said his parents warned him to avoid certain, unnamed parts of town "for fear of safety, because I was Jewish." Baltimore's community swimming pools, he recalled, had signs that said "No Jews, no blacks allowed."

As did other senators, Cardin related the Sotomayor nomination to that of a trailblazing Baltimore native: Thurgood Marshall. Denied admission to the University of Maryland's law school, because he was black, Marshall went on to become the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.

Cardin, whose vote in favor of Sotomayor is a foregone conclusion, called her "well-qualified," praised her "well-rounded background," and complimented President Barack Obama for nominating her.

Here is a transcript of Cardin's comments, as transcribed by FDCH e-Media:

Well, Judge Sotomayor, welcome to the United States Senate.
I think you'll find that each member of this committee, each member of the United States Senate wants to do what's right for our country. Now, we may differ on some of our views, as will come out during this hearing, but I think we all share a respect for your public service and thank you for your willingness to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, and we thank your family for the sacrifices that they have made.

I am honored to represent the people of Maryland in the United States Senate and to serve on the Judiciary Committee as we consider one of our most important responsibilities, whether we should recommend to the full Senate the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The next term of the Supreme Court that begins in October is likely to consider fundamental issues that will impact the lives of all Americans. In recent years, there have been many important decisions decided by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote.

Each justice can play a critical role in forming the needed consensus in our nation's highest court. A new justice could and very well may have a profound impact on the direction of the court.

Supreme Court decisions affect each and every person in our nation. I think of my own family's history. My grandfather came to America more than 100 years ago. I'm convinced that they came to America not only for greater economic opportunities, because of the ideals expressed in our Constitution, especially the First Amendment, guaranteeing religious freedom.

My grandparents wanted their children to grow up in a country where they were able to practice their Jewish faith and fully participate in their community and government. My father, one of their sons, became a lawyer, state legislator, circuit court judge, and president of the synagogue, and now his son serves in the United States Senate.

While our founding fathers made freedom of religion a priority, equal protection for all races took longer to achieve. I attended Liberty School No. 64, a public elementary school in Baltimore City. It was part of a segregated public school system that, under law, denied every student in Baltimore the opportunity to learn in a classroom that represented the diversity of our community.

I remember with great sadness how discrimination was not only condoned, but more often than not, actually encouraged against blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities in the community. There were neighborhoods that my parents warned me to avoid for fear of safety, because I was Jewish.

The local movie theater denied admissions to African-Americans. Community swimming pools had signs that said "No Jews, no blacks allowed." Even Baltimore's amusement parks and sports clubs were segregated by race.

Then came Brown v. Board of Education and suddenly my universe and community were changed forever.

The decision itself moved our nation forward by correcting grievous wrongs that were built into the law. It also brought to the forefront of our nation's consciousness a great future jurist from Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall.

Marshall had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School due to the color of his skin, but went on to represent the plaintiffs in the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education. And in 1967, it was Marshall, the grandson of a slave, who was appointment by President Lyndon Johnson as the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court have the tremendous responsibility of safeguarding the framers' intent in guiding values of our Constitution while ensuring the protection of rights found in that very Constitution are applied to and relevant to the issues of our day. At times, the Supreme Court has, and should, look beyond popular sentiment to preserve these basic principles in rule of law. The next justice who will fill Justice Souter's place on the court will be an important voice on these fundamental issues.

It is my belief that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were created to be living documents that stand together as a foundation for the rule of law in our nation. Our history reflects this. When the Constitution was written, African-Americans were considered property and counted only three-fifths of a person.

Non-whites and women were not allowed to vote. Individuals were restricted by race as to who they could marry. Laws were passed by Congress and decisions by the Supreme Court undeniably moved our country forward, continuing the progression of constitutional protections that have changed our nation for the better.

Before the Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate was not equal, the law permitted our society to have separate facilities for black and white students. Before the Court rule in Loving v. Virginia, a state could prohibit persons from marrying based on race. Before the court ruled in Roe v. Wade, women had no constitutional implied right to privacy.

These are difficult questions that have come before the court and that the framers could not have anticipated. New challenges will continue to arise, but the basic framework of protections remain.

I want to compliment President Obama in forwarding to the United States Senate a nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who is well qualified for our consideration. Her well-rounded background, including extensive experience as a prosecutor, trial judge and appellate judge will prove a valuable addition to our nation's court.

As a relatively new member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as I prepared for this week, I considered a few key standards that apply to all judicial nominations. First, I believe nominees must have an appreciation of the Constitution and the protections it provides to each and every American. She or he must embrace judicial philosophy that reflects mainstream American values, not narrow ideological interests.

They should have a strong passion to continue the Court's advancements in civil rights. There is a careful balance to be found here. Our next justice should advance the protections in our Constitution but not disregard important precedents that have made our society stronger by embracing our civil liberties.

I believe judicial nominees also must demonstrate a respect for the rights and responsibilities of each branch of government. These criteria allow me to evaluate a particular judge whether she or he might place on their personal philosophy ahead of the responsibility of their office.

As this committee begins considering the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, I want to quote justice Thurgood Marshall who said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." It was -- Judge Sotomayor is a perfect example of how family, hard work, supportive professors and mentors and opportunity can come together to create a real American success story.

She was born in New York to a Puerto Rican family and grew up in public housing projects in South Bronx. Her mother was a nurse, and her father was a factory worker with a third-grade education. She was taught early in life that education is the key to success, and her strong work ethic enabled her to excel in school and graduate valedictorian of her high school.

She attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and she received the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. At Yale Law School, she was editor of the Law Review where she was known to stand up for herself and not be intimidated by anyone.

Nominated by both Democrats and Republican presidents, for 17 years, she has been a distinguished jurist and now has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in the last hundred years.

This week's hearings are essential. With some understanding of the context of Judge Sotomayor's life and the role she potentially is about to fill in the Supreme Court, I believe it's particularly important during these confirmation hearings to question Judge Sotomayor on the guiding principles she would use in reaching decisions.

For example, it is important for me to understand her interpretation of established precedent on protecting individual constitutional rights. I believe it would be wrong for the Supreme Court justices to turn back on landmark court precedents protecting individual constitutional rights.

It is likely the Supreme Court will consider important protections in our Constitution for women, our environment, and consumers as well as voting rights, privacy, and separation of church and state, among others, in coming years. The Supreme Court also has recently been active in imposing limits on executive power. It will continue to deal with the constitutional rights in our criminal justice system, the rights of terror detainees, and the rights of noncitizens.

All of these issues test our nation's and the Supreme Court's commitment to our founding principles and fundamental values. For this reason, we need to know how our nominee might approach the issues and analyze these decisions.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from Judge Sotomayor on these issues and expect that she will share with this committee and the American people her judicial views and her thoughts on the protections in our Constitution.

Once again, Judge Sotomayor, I want to thank you for your public service and readiness to take on these great responsibilities for our nation. I also, again, want to thank your family for their clear support and sacrifice that has brought us to this hearing today.

Posted by Paul West at 2:22 PM | | Comments (5)

Katie O'Malley reveals horror stories from the campaign trail

Catherine Curran O'Malley grew up in a political family as the daughter of former state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran. And now she has political family of her own as the wife of Gov. Martin O’Malley. But apparently the first lady never did develop a penchant for the quadrennial bedrock of a politician’s life — the campaign trail. As she admitted on Baltimore’s Center Stage on Friday for her guest appearance in the Stoop Storytelling series, she found campaigning was for the birds.

“Every four years from the time I was a little kid until now, something horrible would occur,” O’Malley said, eliciting the first big laugh. “It was called the Democratic primary.”

A good politician’s wife, Katie O’Malley repeated the caveat that most people she encountered on the campaign trail were “very nice” and “receptive.” But the voters who stuck out most in her mind were the not-so-genial ones. There was the guy who said (and she recalled in a sneering voice), “You’re father’s trying to take my gun away.” Her father had to make up for that frightful experience by buying her a Slurpee. When she got older and bolder and told a menacing man that her father’s campaign didn’t want his family’s 13 votes anyway, she was taken off the trail and put on envelope-stuffing duty.

The worst encounter, though, happened during another election cycle on the Fourth of July parade route in Catonsville.

One parade-goer followed her father and his entourage, calling Joe Curran corrupt and accusing him of being on the take. After five minutes of the badgering, she had had enough. “And I just gave him the bird,” she said, to her biggest laugh of the night. Her husband, the current governor, happened to be her father’s campaign manager at the time. Nonetheless, she was ordered back to envelope stuffing.

So why did she continue in public life with its endless campaign routine? Well, she simply found the best excuse for avoiding the dreaded campaign trail — she became a judge whose political activities are restricted by court ethics laws.

“Now I’m fortunate to be a district court judge, and I don’t have to campaign ever again,” she boasted.

You can catch a replay of the first lady’s 5-minute monologue on the radio. It will air on WYPR - 88.1 FM on July 17 at noon and 7 p.m., and again at those times on July 24.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 12:49 PM | | Comments (13)

July 9, 2009

Smith as Ehrlich blocker

Democratic Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he changed his mind about running for comptroller because he didn’t think the statewide job would be a good fit for him. The sudden nature of announcement has political types guessing about his future, and about how he might spend his more than $1 million bankroll.

Among those who should keep an eye on the money: former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County native who is waiting on the sidelines, possibly contemplating his best route for a return to politics.

Speculation is building about what position Ehrlich will run for, if any, in 2010. While he'd instantly be the most viable Republican in any race he decides to enter, the former congressman and Arbutus native is nothing if not a pragmatist. He doesn't get into races he doesn't think he can win.

Some believe Ehrlich is pondering a run for comptroller, a job that would put him back in Annapolis and allow him to serve as a thorn in the side of his arch-rival, Gov. Martin O'Malley. That's a role that was perfected by Ehrlich's ally and role model, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who ended his career as the irascible comptroller and all-around gadfly. Political columnist Blair Lee IV recently wrote that Ehrlich's chances of getting into the comptroller's race are 50-50.

Others wonder whether Ehrlich might be interested in becoming Baltimore County executive, the job Smith now holds but is leaving because of term limits. A clear front-runner has not yet emerged, and Ehrlich, with his name recognition and broad base in the county, would be a more-than-viable contender.

But in both scenarios, Smith's recent decision comes into play.

Smith and Ehrlich don't get along. The county executive was miffed that Ehrlich never returned phone calls when he was governor and didn't include him in decisions.

It was no surprise that when the 2006 election rolled around, Smith threw all his support -- as well as money and his campaign apparatus -- behind O'Malley, a longtime ally. In 2002, Ehrlich carried Baltimore County by 65,000 votes en route to a victory over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, basically his margin of victory statewide. In 2006, Smith helped keep the margin down to about 8,400 votes. Ehrlich still carried the county, but by nowhere near enough to carry the state.

Smith is now poised to deny Ehrlich more victories. By bowing out of the comptroller race, Smith helps clear the way for incumbent Peter Franchot, a fellow Democrat, to retain the seat. A Democratic primary between Smith and Franchot would have been a bruising affair, leaving the victor (the incumbent, most likely) battered by negative advertisements and a lot poorer. If Ehrlich enters the race, he'll now face a stronger, better-funded incumbent -- and he knows how unlikely it is that incumbents lose, especially in such a Democratic state.

If Ehrlich decides to make a play for the Baltimore County executive seat (a job he has never really indicated he wants), Smith could deploy his formidable war chest -- he has raised over $1 million in donations that he now doesn’t seem to need -- to help the strongest Democrat vying for the county executive job. There's no doubt he would take great pleasure in once again helping orchestrate an Ehrlich defeat.

So as Ehrlich ponders his next move, he needs to ask himself not just, "Can I win?" There's another question that's nearly as important: "What will Jim do?"

-- with David Nitkin

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:36 PM | | Comments (2)

No one is headed to Hollywood, but maybe someone will get paid

No one’s acting career will be launched by Comptroller Peter Franchot’s latest YouTube ad, but it might reconnect some Marylanders with their long-lost property. The ad is a parody of the GEICO insurance adds featuring a wad of cash and Groucho Marx glasses. Franchot’s version is intended to promote the agency’s unclaimed property program.

Franchot’s latest video ad on the much-trafficked Web site debuted Thursday before a group of residents at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. Just some captive elderly viewers and no red carpet or paparazzi — in keeping with the low-budget, viral nature of the ads. According to the comptroller’s office, Maryland Public Television produced the 3-minute, 42-second spot at no charge.

The actors include state Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat; the official Annapolis Town Crier, Squire Frederick; and Franchot aide Joseph Shapiro. And, of course, Franchot himself makes an appearance.

Franchot comes on screen at the end (like a candidate in a political ad) to lay out the stakes: “Every year my office gets unclaimed property from bank accounts and from safety deposit boxes. When property isn’t claimed for three years, it’s turned over to the state of Maryland. And we try to reunite it with its rightful owners.”

A government official trying to reunite residents with their money? Novel concept. The agency has records on about 787,000 accounts worth more than $795 million. To see if any of it is yours, go to or

Oh, and to see the ad, click here.

NOTE: Michael D. Golden of Maryland Public Television called to say that his outfit produced the spot for Franchot's office in exchange for graphic design services.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 1:03 PM | | Comments (2)

July 8, 2009

Martin O'Malley's big D.C. adventure

It would probably be easy to make fun of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's field trip to Washington today.

So, let's give it a try.

This was supposed to be one of those times when the guv could make a splash in D.C. He was all lined up to testify before Congress this morning, along with two other bigtime Democratic governors, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

Their assigned topic: a state's eye view of the implementation of President Barack Obama's stimulus package.

Not a very heavy lift, especially since all three are huge Obama supporters. But sometimes things don't come as easily as they might on Capitol Hill--the kind of place where, if you're not a senator or a congressman, you might as well be just another tourist from Pocomoke City, even if your title is governor.

(Of course, the exact reverse might well be true at the Statehouse in Annapolis, but that's another story.)

The first clue that things might not be going O'Malley's way on this fine July day came during a chance encounter with Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

The New York congresswoman happened upon O'Malley in a hallway outside the House hearing room, where the governor was obliging a local TV reporter with an interview.

"Mr. Governor! Mr. Mayor! What do we call you now?" Maloney said, by way of greeting.


"Call me anything you want," the governor replied, graciously.

Maloney is a senior member of the very committee that O'Malley was about to address, but that was as close to the hearing as she got. In fact most of the panel's members, Republicans and Democrats, steered clear of the meeting.

In her defense, Maloney probably can't be bothered with details like job titles or committee hearings these days. She's quite busily engaged in a far more exciting venture: sticking it to the leaders of her party by threatening to challenge appointed New York Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand in next year's Democratic primary (Maryland-based consultant Joe Trippi is among Maloney's advisers and can probably straighten her out on O'Malley's job).

One of the reasons O'Malley was out in the hallway at that moment, instead of at the witness table, was that his scheduled appearance had repeatedly gotten postponed. Members of the committee who did bother to show up managed to take longer than expected to question a pair of officials from the Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability Office.

Finally, just when it seemed as if the governors would get their turn, the congressmen had votes to cast over at the Capitol, so the governors' appearance was pushed back another hour.

O'Malley, politely declining an offer to cool his heels outside the House floor while the votes were being cast, said he might grab a sandwich with his mother, who works in Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office, instead.

By the time O'Malley finally got sworn in as a witness, it was the dreaded lunch hour for members of Congress. No offense, governors, but a lunch appointment is a lunch appointment and a hearing, well, is just another hearing.

Gov. Patrick gave the event about what it was worth at that point: 10 minutes of his time. Then he begged off with a "prior commitment" of his own.

That left Rendell and O'Malley to deal with the handful (literally) of congressmen who bothered to stick around. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County showed up just long enough to introduce O'Malley and catch the governor's seven-minute opening presentation.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the other Marylander on the panel, slipped into his seat only a few minutes before the hearing ended (he'd been there in the morning, then had some prior commitments). As a result, the Baltimore congressman missed O'Malley's high-tech presentation of his StateStat web site that allows Marylanders to enter their address and zoom in on stimulus project spending in their neighborhood (or any place else around the state).

Sadly, for O'Malley, most of the five committee members present for that portion of the hearing weren't interested enough to even glance at the TV screens as he narrated the demonstration.

But Pennsylvania's governor was watching intently. And in a playful jab at O'Malley, Rendell claimed a few minutes later that, because his Commonwealth is "much more fiscally conservative than the State of Maryland, I don't have a fancy Power Point presentation about what we're doing."

That produced a rare chuckle during the hourlong Rendell-O'Malley Show, which played to a grand total of two congressmen (Cummings and Chairman Edolphus Towns of New York) and 37 empty seats for the other members of the committee when the curtain mercifully came down at about 2 in the afternoon.

Afterward, O'Malley patiently stuck around to answer reporters' questions. Then he headed back to a place where he gets the respect he deserves, or more, at any rate, than in D.C.

At least he managed to eat lunch with his Mom.

Posted by Paul West at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)

Don't call it a comeback; Miller's been here for years

It’s Miller time again. In Annapolis, of course, that’s a reference to Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. But it also could refer to Ron Miller, an information technology consultant and conservative Republican who tried unsuccessfully to unseat the other Miller in 2006 when then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich recruited him. Now Ron is back, announcing this week that he plans to run again next year.

Winning against Mike would be no easy feat. He sailed to re-election with 70 percent of the vote three years ago. And he ranks as the longest-serving president of that chamber in history, after first being elected to the House of Delegates in 1970 and moving to the Senate in 1975.

So why does Ron think he has a shot in 2010? In a press release, he highlighted what’s sure to be a recurring theme in GOP campaign camps — that Democrats raised taxes during the 2007 special session and have mismanaged the state’s budget. But Ron also has another arrow to aim at the Senate president — that the powerful politician is talking about raising the gas tax. (Mike Miller has long said a gas tax increase may be needed to meet transportation priorities, though in a recent interview he said he would only support such a proposal when the economy improves.)

Of course, there’s also the issue of the Miller surname.

Some politicos theorize that voters may be confused by two Millers, especially if Ron Miller appears first on the ballot, allowing the Republican to siphon some votes intended for Mike. It should be noted that in 2002, Mike faced a primary challenge from Juanita Miller. But if such a voter phenomenon didn’t steer a victory Ron’s way last time, there’s no reason to think it would this time.

Nonetheless, the Ron v. Mike race for the district that includes Prince George’s and Calvert counties could become a proxy for how well the Republican message resonates among recession-weary voters in the heavily Democratic state.

P.S. Still no word on whether Ehrlich also will stage a comeback.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 1:55 PM | | Comments (0)

Slated for cash

This morning, we reported that out-going Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith has a nice chunk of political change to donate to other candidates, about $1.2 million, sources close to him report. And we explain a way he could circumvent the $6,000 candidate-to-candidate limit. He could transfer an unlimited amount to his Baltimore County Victory Slate, established for the 2006 gubernatorial election. The slate could then transfer virtually any amount to any other candidate on the slate. Right now, Smith is one of 21 members, though other candidates, even if they have nothing to do with Baltimore County, can be added at any time. Common Cause, a Maryland group that favors campaign finance reform, says such intra-slate transfers are tantamount to a “slush fund.”

Here are the current Baltimore County Victory Slate members, all Democrats:

Andrew Belt, sought Baltimore County delegate seat
Jon Cardin, Baltimore County delegate
Patricia Foerster, former president of Maryland State Teachers Union
Linda Hart, Baltimore County Democratic State Central Committee elected member
Delores Kelley, Baltimore County senator
Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County senator
Stephen Lafferty, Baltimore County delegate seat
Tracy Miller, sought Baltimore County delegate seat
Joseph Minnick, Baltimore County delegate
Dan Morhaim, Baltimore County delegate
Martin O’Malley, governor
Kenneth Oliver, Baltimore County councilman
John Olszewski, Baltimore County delegate (Johnny O’s son)
John “Johnny O” Olszewski, Baltimore County councilman
Todd Schuler, Baltimore County delegate
* Scott Shellenberger, Baltimore County state’s attorney
James T. Smith, Baltimore County executive
Norman Stone, Baltimore County senator
Jack Sturgill, sought Baltimore County delegate seat
Michael Weir, Baltimore County delegate
Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County senator

Note that neither Kevin Kamenetz nor Joe Bartenfelder, considered the leading candidates to replace Smith as county executive, is on the list.

* Shellenberger, as we reported this morning, has already greatly benefited from this slate. In 2006, Smith transferred $585,000 to the slate, and Shellenberger, a first-time candidate in a tight race, received $435,000 from it.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Waiting for E.J.

The First District congressional seat in Maryland is on everyone's radar screen for 2010.

A pair of powerful Marylanders, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, will be going all out to protect one of their most vulnerable colleagues. And Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, just might want to help his party capture one of the juiciest pickup targets in the country.

The district covers mainly Republican portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, then jumps the Bay and takes in the entire Eastern Shore, one of the most conservative parts of the state. The current congressman, Democratic freshman Frank Kratovil, holds one of several dozen House seats nationwide from districts that voted for the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008.

Republican state Sen. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, who lost to Kratovil by fewer than 3,000 votes in a district that McCain carried by 20 percentage points, is already on the rematch trail. He's raising campaign funds and hoping for a clear shot at the incumbent in a year when Barack Obama's name won't be on the ballot to pump up the district's anemic Democratic vote.

Of course, Harris's primary triumph over Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest--unseating a veteran congressman in a classic conservative-moderate intraparty fight--was among the factors that helped Kratovil win. Gilchrest crossed party lines to endorse the Democrat, and in a race that close, it's easy to imagine that a divided Republican Party contributed to Kratovil's victory.

Next time around, for many reasons, Harris wants a straight path to the general election, allowing him to focus all of his time, money and effort on Kratovil.

Whether he gets it will depend, most likely, on what state Sen. E.J. Pipkin decides to do.

Pipkin was the odd man out in the 2008 Republican primary, finishing a fairly distant third behind Harris and Gilchrest. But with Gilchrest no longer a candidate, the odds will improve for Pipkin. How far they'll tilt in his direction is part of what makes Pipkin's decision a tricky one.

The former Wall Street bond trader has deeper pockets than Harris, an obstetric anesthesiologist, and he's not afraid to spend it, even on lost causes like a 2004 challenge to Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (there went $2 million of the Pipkin fortune).

But to run in 2010, he'd have to give up his state Senate seat (so will Harris).

A new analysis of the First District race by Nathan L. Gonzales of the respected, non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report repeats what state Republicans have been saying for some time: Pipkin "may seek to avenge his loss to Harris."

Rothenberg also reports that former Del. Al Redmer of Baltimore County could decide to run. Eastern Shore Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, "viewed as a rising star," is less likely to jump into a contested primary.

But it is Pipkin who is grabbing most of the attention, as Republicans--and Democrats--wait to see if he'll get in.

The Eastern Shore state senator, whose deep pockets mean that he can afford to take his time, has not been returning phone calls from the Maryland Politics blog seeking first-hand information about his thinking.

According to the Rothenberg Report, Pipkin "is not happy about the way the primary played out last cycle." In particular, he didn't like the fact that Harris tried to tag him with the same liberal label he hung on Gilchrest, or that the Harris forces tried to tie Pipkin, a populist conservative, to Gov. Martin O'Malley, a liberal Democrat.

"If Harris and Pipkin face off, it's unclear who would have the upper hand," concludes the Rothenberg Report. It points out that the Club for Growth, which helped fund Harris' challenge against Gilchrest, has less interest in the First District race now that Gilchrest has been removed.

Democrat Kratovil "has the opportunity to solidify his position by using incumbency to demonstrate 'independence,' providing good constituent service, and raising a lot of money," the Rothenberg Report concludes. But he "doesn't have much room for error and will need to maintain an independent image to get re-elected."

Of course, Kratovil probably won't mind if the Republicans beat each other bloody in a September primary for the privilege of opposing him in November.

Rothenberg doesn't express an opinion about which Republican would stand a better chance of unseating Kratovil, but it does say that if Harris is the nominee "he'll have to do a much better job connecting with voters on the Eastern Shore."

Posted by Paul West at 9:18 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Michael Steele

July 6, 2009

Ex-O'Malley campaign manager failed to register as lobbyist

Rite of Passage, a for-profit juvenile services provider, fought hard to defeat a Maryland bill to limit the capacity of private facilities such as the one it is opening this month in rural Carroll County.

But one of the Nevada-based company's most important advocates -- a former government aide and campaign manager for Gov. Martin O''Malley -- failed to register with the State Ethics Commission.

Josh White, who works for Annapolis powerhouse Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan and Silver, said the missing lobbying registration for the legislative session was an unintentional paperwork oversight that he is working to correct.

"The firm had every intent to disclose my clear and highly visible advocacy for this important juvenile services facility," White said in an e-mailed statement. "All fees and expenses were reported and disclosed. The firm submitted paperwork to fix the administrative error."

White left the O'Malley administration to become a lobbyist in late 2007.

White personally lobbied lawmakers and spoke to reporters on Rite of Passage's behalf throughout the January to April legislative session, though the company is officially the client of Michael Johansen, another Rifkin employee.

Everything Rite of Passage has paid to the firm for the session -- $27,100 -- is documented on Johansen's filings, White said. The company has paid Rifkin lobbyists about $50,000 in the past year, according to disclosure forms.

The State Ethics Commission can levy fines and other penalties on unregistered lobbyists.

According to its Web site: "If the Ethics Commission determines that the respondent has violated the law, it may issue an order of compliance or issue a reprimand. The Commission may require a respondent to file any additional reports or information and has the power to impose a fine not to exceed $5,000 for each violation."

The site also notes that unintentionally late registrations, which White said is the case here, can result in up to $250 in fees.

"From the commission's perspective, when people voluntarily come forward to acknowledge a problem, it doesn't make sense to severely sanction them" said Robert Hahn, executive director of the ethics commission. "We know that mistakes can happen and do happen."

Rite of Passage succeeded in batting down Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin's bill to limit all private juvenile facilities to 48 beds -- a law already on the books for state juvenile facilities.

The company's lobbyists were the only ones to testify against Zirkin's bill. White said he "look(s) forward to working with them for years to come."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:17 PM | | Comments (3)

Wynn lobbying for company accused of ties to Sudan genocide

Sarah Palin’s surprise decision to walk away from her job as governor of Alaska held special resonance for at least one group of Marylanders.

Not long ago, their congressman did pretty much the same thing.

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, one of the state’s senior lawmakers in Washington, abruptly quit his post last year. Shortly after earning lame-duck status, he announced that he was abandoning the job, even though he still had more than one-fourth of his term left to serve, to join a big-time lobbying firm.

Unlike Palin, who made a personal decision not to seek re-election, Wynn became a lame duck involuntarily. He was resoundingly unseated by the voters of his own party, who picked Donna Edwards over Wynn in the 2008 primary.

After announcing his decision to quit and join one of Washington's biggest lobby firms, Wynn said his decision to quit early would enable his successor to get a head start on seniority in the House.

Critics blasted the decision, in part because it forced taxpayers to shell out money to pay for a special election to choose his replacement. Published estimates pegged the cost between $500,000 and $2 million.

For the departing congressman, however, the decision was a win-win.

First, it allowed him to escape a job he’d been forced to give up eventually. Second, and more important, it gave Wynn a head start on lining his pockets in his next, more lucrative, career: peddling influence to his former colleagues in Congress.

Under House ethics rules, an ex-representative must wait a full year before stepping through Washington’s revolving door and registering as a lobbyist. Of course, though there was nothing in those rules to prevent Wynn from helping clients in his new job as a “special advisor” at Dickstein Shapiro.

Wynn grabbed that job almost immediately after he failed to persuade voters in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to return him to Congress for a ninth term. Had he served out his term, as defeated representatives usually do, he could not become a lobbyist until 2010.

Instead, he’s perfectly positioned to grab a share of this year’s biggest lobbying bonanzas. One potential money pot: the high-stakes fight over rewriting the rules of the road for energy companies. As Democrats try to pass sweeping climate change legislation, companies who stand to win or lose big from the proposed legislation are shelling out hefty bucks for Washington lobbyists to help them carve out special provisions.

Wynn has registered as a lobbyist for Wartsila North America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wartsila OYJ, a Finnish company that manufactures power generating systems and ship engines. Wartsila is also a U.S. defense contractor that does business with the Navy.

Wynn is not specifically listed as a lobbyist on the energy bill. But he registered in the "energy/nuclear" area.

According to the lobbying registration form, filed by Dickstein Shapiro and dated June 30, 2009, Wynn became a lobbyist for Wartsila on May 18. That is exactly one year to the date of the election held to replace him. However, it is slightly earlier than the official May 31 resignation date announced by Wynn last year, when the one-year "cooling off" period for lawmakers headed for the lobbying world was expected to begin.

Joining Wynn as a lobbyist for Wartsila is Curt S. Clifton, who was Wynn’s top aide in the House. Clifton became a lobbyist for Dickstein Shapiro in 2008.

Neither Wynn nor Clifton responded immediately to emailed requests for comment.

Wartsila, the company Wynn now represents, has been criticized for its business dealings in Sudan, where violence in the country’s Darfur region has been condemned as genocide.

The Genocide Intervention Network, a human rights group, has said that business transactions by Wartsila OYG and other international companies have helped the Sudanese government. Wartsila OYJ has sold power plants for oil projects in Sudan.

Last week, after a two-year review of its investments with companies that failed to provide adequate responses about their dealings with Sudan and Iran, the New York State pension fund announced plans to divest more than $86 million in holdings from nine companies, including Wartsila OYJ.

“We don’t expect our investments to benefit regimes that support genocide and terrorism,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

In a strange coincidence that brings this story full circle, last fall Palin announced that she was divesting herself of an investment in a mutual fund from Legg Mason, Inc. of Baltimore that owned shares in Wartsila OYJ.

Palin held shares in the Legg Mason International Equity fund, with a value of up to $15,000, when it was brought to her attention that the fund’s holdings included companies that human rights activists said were assisting the government of Sudan. The Republican vice-presidential nominee immediately said she would dump the investment.

Palin “is committed to doing everything she can to stop the genocide and atrocities in Darfur,” a campaign spokesman told ABC News at the time.

Posted by Paul West at 12:53 PM | | Comments (0)
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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