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August 31, 2009

Mikulski update

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, continuing her recovery from ankle surgery in July, has moved out of an in-patient rehab center and is now at a structured residential facility in Baltimore, according to her Senate office.

The 74-year-old senator, who fell leaving church on July 19, is continuing to undergo physical therapy and remains wheelchair-bound.

Over the weekend, Mikulski was among the invited guests at the burial service for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, said her spokeswoman, Rachel MacKnight.

The Baltimore Democrat has had no public events during the four-week Senate recess but plans to return to Washington with the rest of her colleagues on Tuesday, Sept. 8. One week later, if her recovery continues on schedule, she will be able to put weight on her ankle for the first time, the aide said.

Posted by Paul West at 5:34 PM |

Cardin arranged proposal with 'very, very low contact' in police department

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III confirmed Monday that it was Del. Jon S. Cardin himself who arranged a mock police raid as part of an elaborate marriage proposal this month.

Speaking on the "C4" show hosted by former state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV, Bealefeld said, the delegate made a "very, very low contact in arranging this whole incident, and went right to individual officers." Bealefeld was making the point that his command staff was not involved in the stunt.

Some, including the police union president, have accused Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat whose uncle is a U.S. senator, of flexing his political muscle and putting police in an awkward position.

Cardin, 39, has released several statements of contrition since the Aug. 7 proposal aboard his friend’s boat on the Inner Harbor, which involved a police department helicopter and marine unit. But he has keep secret the details of what happened, saying only that the boat owner is "a private citizen" whom he does not want to out.

Until Bealefeld’s comments, no one had said whether it was Cardin or the boat owner who reached out to the police department with the proposal idea, though Cardin has taken the blame. Cardin last week reimbursed the department $300 for the event, which police officials said covered fuel and salary costs.

Bealefeld, who noted that an internal investigation into the matter is continuing, acknowledged "a very serious question about good judgment on a lot of people’s part, especially my folks’ part."

But the commissioner saw a positive: At least this shows that police officers are friendly.

"In a very perverted sense," he said, "it says a lot about the notion that police officers can be approached."

-- Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this item.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:51 PM | | Comments (1)

O'Malley to name Swaim-Staley as transportation secretary, Chow to veterans affairs

Gov. O’Malley intends to name Beverley K. Swaim-Staley to his Cabinet as Transportation Secretary, the first woman to serve in that position in Maryland. O’Malley, a Democrat, plans to announce her appointment during a press conference Tuesday morning at the State House in Annapolis.

Swaim-Staley, 52, has been serving as acting secretary since her former boss John D. Porcari made the move to Washington to serve in President Barack Obama’s administration as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Porcari was confirmed to his new post in May, and O’Malley’s administration launched a nationwide search for a permanent successor.

O’Malley’s search team didn’t have to look far. Swaim-Staley is a veteran Maryland transportation official who became Porcari’s deputy in 2007. She served a previous term as No. 2 in the Maryland department when Porcari was secretary in the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Also Tuesday, O’Malley plans to announce Edward Chow Jr., 70, as secretary of veterans affairs. Chow has served as director of programs at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, and as president of the Maryland State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America. He also worked in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

Chow will take over for Army Brig. Gen. James Adkins, who has been serving double duty in that role and as the state adjutant general since last June. Before then, George W. Owings had served as head of the veterans agency as a holdover from former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s administration.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 4:37 PM | | Comments (0)

Medicare and Kratovil

For decades, Democrats have played on the insecurity of seniors by warning that Republicans would cut Social Security or other programs such as Medicare, the health insurance program for older Americans.

There is one simple reason why this scare tactic became a staple of Democratic campaigns: it works.

Now, as the battle over health care prepares to enter what could be a decisive phase this fall, Republicans are the ones who are warning senior voters about a dire threat to Medicare.

This role reversal, which began in earnest earlier this month with an op-ed by Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, makes ample political sense. National opinion polls show that seniors are among the biggest skeptics of the Democratic health care overhaul plan; they fear that they could lose benefits as a result.

A new attack ad against vulnerable Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland is part of the latest salvo in this crusade by Medicare's Republican protectors (historically, Republicans were less likely than Democrats to support Medicare; however, it was under Republican President George W. Bush that the program was most recently--and expensively--expanded by adding a drug benefit that substantially increased Medicare's long-term cost, which threatens to bankrupt the country if it isn't fixed).

Below is a link to the new attack ad, which targets the freshman congressman from Maryland during the final days of Congress' summer recess.

The ad buy is quite limited: it is running only on cable channels and only on the Eastern Shore, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is sponsoring it. (On the other hand, Kratovil is one of only 5 Democrats currently being targeted for a TV ad, as opposed to radio attack ads and robo-phone calls, even cheaper means of political attack, which are being used against 35 other Dems. Thus, the backhanded compliment of having getting whacked on video is a reflection of the Marylander's extreme vulnerability, in the eyes of Republican strategists).

Click here to watch the Republican attack ad against Kratovil, then come back to check out the facts.

Unsurprisingly, given the way both sides have played fast and loose with the facts of the admittedly complex health care debate, the ad's claim that Democrats would cut $500 billion from Medicare stretches the truth.

Neutral analysts consider that estimate an exaggeration, one that only looks at reductions and does not balance it with new spending on the program. On the other hand, there would be changes to Medicare benefits and costs, despite President Barack Obama's claims to the contrary.

Here's a good primer from Politifact, the award-winning fact-checking team.

For those who want to dig deeper, below are links to reports by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

The first is the cost estimate on the House Democratic plan that has attracted the most fire from Republicans and other critics.

But that plan will be amended before it reaches the House floor, to fill many of the holes punched through it during the August recess.

One possible addition would be the inclusion of an independent advisory council that could recommend changes in Medicare that would produce savings and help make the program more financially sound over the long run.

Here is CBO's analysis of that proposal, plus other ideas that the agency would like Congress to consider.

Kratovil says he is opposed to the House bill (HR 3200) as currently written. He has not yet had an opportunity to vote on the measure.

Posted by Paul West at 10:35 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele

August 26, 2009

Kennedy, Mikulski and Senate musical chairs

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's death late last night removes the leading Democratic lawmaker from the Senate--though, in reality, he had largely been absent for more than a year.

At the same time, it triggers a significant shift in the leadership of a powerful committee that Kennedy chaired--the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)--which is helping craft the overhaul of the nation's health care system.

Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski serves on the committee, has been active in the health care fight and, at least in theory, could fill Kennedy's seat as chairman.

For that to happen, however, the Senate's senior woman would have to leap over two colleagues with greater seniority on the panel--which would be unlikely, even if she weren't currently confined to a wheelchair with a surgically repaired ankle.

The Senate pecking order relies heavily on seniority, which provides preference in deciding matters like committee chairmanships.

Mikulski, now in her 23rd year in the chamber, wields considerable power as an Appropriations subcommittee chair. But she has never headed a major committee.

With Kennedy's death, she moves up to become the third most senior Democrat on the committee (and, for the record, 17th overall in the 100-member Senate).

Both of the Democratic senators ahead of her on HELP already chair major committees: Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, perhaps Kennedy's closest personal friend in politics, and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, another leading liberal.

Under the rules, senators cannot run more than one major committee at a time. If either Dodd or Harkin replaces Kennedy as HELP chairman, they'd have to give up their chairmanship of another panel.

Dodd, who has been spearheading the committee's work on health care, is considered the most likely successor to Kennedy on HELP. Dodd told reporters that he wasn't thinking about the chairmanship today.

If Dodd takes the helm of HELP, he would have to give up his post as chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee. Next in line on Banking is Sen. Tim Johnson. But the South Dakota Democrat is still recovering from a serious brain injury. He may well defer to the next senator on that panel's Democratic seniority list, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

But if Dodd decides to stay in charge on Banking, then Harkin could choose to helm HELP. In that case, Harkin would have to surrender the top spot on Agriculture, a pivotal post for a farm-state senator. But Harkin, whose signature achievement was his Senate sponsorship of the Americans With Disabilities Act, has always had a strong interest in social legislation.

Only if Dodd and Harkin both take a pass would Mikulski get to grab the gavel of the Health committee. Well-placed Senate sources have said that such a chain of events is unlikely to occur.

The ultimate arbiter of Senate power moves is the Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat isn't expected to say anything on the subject, out of respect for his late colleague, right now.

Posted by Paul West at 3:59 PM | | Comments (1)

August 21, 2009

Cardin may be mum on details of engagement, but Twitter tells all

Since drawing public ire over his elaborate engagement using police resources, Maryland Del. Jon Cardin has been virtually mum on the circumstances of his proposal — even though it was, apparently, a tale he shared freely with fellow politicos at an Ocean City conference earlier this month.

In an interview with fellow Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz, Cardin declined to answer detailed questions about the mock raid staged by on-duty marine and helicopter officers as part of his Aug. 7 proposal of marriage to Megan Homer in the Inner Harbor. And while the Baltimore County Democrat acknowledged the incident was “a stupid thing,” he wouldn’t say who owned the boat or provide more information.

That doesn’t mean the details won’t eventually emerge. The Baltimore City Police Department is investigating, and Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has said he would release the names of the officers involved.

Until then, there’s Twitter.

The Web site allows the free world to publicly post every waking thought in 140 characters or less. And wouldn’t you know it, Cardin’s brother-in-law Scott Lowe appears to have been posting Tweets with his BlackBerry that fateful evening. His account doesn’t provide all the details, but it gives you a flavor. According to Twitter archives, this is what Lowe posted at 7:01 p.m.:

“Ok. Weather in baltimore isn't supposed to be perfect this time of year. On a boat in the harbor looking at ft mchenry. Wow.”

And then at 8:08 p.m.:

“My bro in law #maryland del. jon cardin proposed 2 his fiance megan on a boat in the harbor w/ a group of friends and fam tonight #baltimore.”

As the whole world likely knows by now, Cardin’s fiance did agree to be his bride. (But still no word on what she thought of the way Cardin asked.)

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 4:43 PM | | Comments (7)

August 20, 2009

Cardin tried in court of public opinion; his peers wait and see

Del. Jon S. Cardin may be in the hot water of public opinion, but so far his colleagues in the General Assembly have no plans to open an inquiry into his national news-making engagement that diverted city police resources.

A joint committee on legislative ethics is waiting for the results of a police investigation before considering the matter, said Del. Brian K. McHale, the House chair of the ethics panel and a Baltimore Democrat. McHale emphasized that he thought Cardin exhibited poor judgment, but that he wanted all the facts before taking any action.

Police are investigating the use of on-duty marine and helicopter officers to stage a mock raid as part of Cardin’s Aug. 7 proposal of marriage to Megan Homer aboard a boat in the Inner Harbor. (Homer said “Yes.”)

“It would be helpful before anyone does anything to try to determine just how it was initiated and who made the decisions,” McHale said. “It doesn’t make it right, but it could have been something as innocent as one of his buddies saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we did this, and I can have these guys I know come over.’"

"Even though it was in bad judgment to do that, it could have been well-intentioned,” McHale added.

Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, has promised to reimburse the city for any money spent on his behalf, and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the delegate apologized “for putting the Baltimore Police Department in this kind of predicament and spotlight.”

The incident has been the talk of TV and print media and has sparked anti-Cardin chatter around the blogosphere. One blogger has called on readers to e-mail McHale and urge him to investigate, and to send complaints to William G. Somerville, the General Assembly’s ethics counsel. The committee renders advisory opinions and promulgates rules of legislative ethics.

McHale has not received any complaints, he said. Nor has Somerville. Yet.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 3:51 PM | | Comments (5)

August 19, 2009

Budget protests begin in earnest; disabled community rallies in Annapolis

In the middle of August in Annapolis, Lawyer’s Mall typically serves as a quiet, if steamy, corner of the capital where tour groups gather. But politics returned today, as another round of budget cuts drew hundreds of protesters who rallied just steps from the State House. They were representatives of the developmentally disabled community, including some in wheelchairs, who braved the sticky weather to get a message to Gov. Martin O’Malley: “No more cuts.”

The strong showing reflects the level of fear among caregivers, said Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services. She said state funding of services for developmentally disabled residents has not kept pace with inflation for years, and they worry the impending budget cuts could make the situation worse.

O’Malley plans to propose about $470 million in budget cuts next week. More than $250 million of the total will be carved from aid to local governments, and the remainder could come from state services like health care. Because funding for public education from kindergarten through high school won’t be affected, the cuts are likely to hit a handful of other services hard.

If budget cuts affect the developmentally disabled community, some caregivers said they might be forced to reduce staffing or discontinue services. Already, about one in three providers serving the developmental disabled has a negative operating margin, Howell said. “They are very scared about what this will mean,” she said. “I hope the governor hears us.”

Among those who are worried: Joseph Hallowell, who works at Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children in Montgomery County as a residential counselor, helping those in his care dress, prepare food and take medication. “Even in difficult times, we must keep our promise to our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “I ask the governor to prevent cuts to a system that just can’t sustain them.”

Details about the budget cuts are sure to emerge in the next few days. And with another $1.5 billion shortfall projected for next year, Lawyer’s Mall could see a lot more budget protest in the coming months.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 3:46 PM | | Comments (13)

Mikulski mending slowly, out of sight

One month after shattering her ankle, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski remains a patient at a Baltimore rehab center, where she is undergoing four or five hours of physical therapy a day.

A spokeswoman for the 73-year-old senator said Mikulski is expected to remain wheelchair bound until mid-September. She plans to return to Washington on Sept. 8, when the Senate reconvenes.

Mikulski fell as she was leaving her Baltimore church on July 19, fracturing her ankle in three places. She later underwent surgery at Mercy Medical Center and was moved to the rehab center on July 31.

The accident sidelined the nation's senior female senator during the final weeks leading up to the August recess. She made only one appearance at the Capitol, casting a vote in favor of the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Since then, Mikulski has remained out of public view. Unlike some of her colleagues in Maryland and elsewhere, the Democrat has not held town hall meetings on overhauling the nation's health care system during Congress' month-long summer break.

Mikulski, who has been active on the issue as a member of the Senate Health committee, is considering several avenues of communication with state constituents over the next few weeks. Among the possibilities: a telephone town-hall meeting or a "virtual" town hall, in which she would field questions online, said spokeswoman Rachel MacKnight.

The senator may also call in to radio programs, said MacKnight, adding that nothing has been scheduled yet. Mikulski sees a staff member most days and has kept in touch with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Gov. Martin O'Malley, according to the aide.

Mikulski's prolonged healing process could have posed a political problem, by generating renewed interest in the veteran senator's health. In 2005, she was briefly hospitalized at Mercy for what was described as an irregular heartbeat and was put on medication to control it.

But for Mikulski to have a political problem, she'd have to face a credible challenger to her re-election next year.

Already running for another six-year term in the seat she's held since 1986, the senator has yet to attract serious opposition. A recent, national assessment of 2010 by the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report observed that the Senate election in Maryland isn't even on the Republican Party's radar screen.

Posted by Paul West at 12:46 PM | | Comments (6)

August 18, 2009

Pipkin not rushing into First District race

Republican State Sen. E. J. Pipkin, who played a pivotal role in Maryland's first congressional district last year, says he'll announce his 2010 election plans "relatively soon." But you might not want to hold your breath.

Usually, "the earlier, the better" is the rule in politics, particularly when it comes to challenging an incumbent. But the wealthy lawmaker seems to be in no hurry to announce a decision right away.

And the way things are developing, there seems to be no urgent reason for him to make a move.

Pipkin has a choice. The safe and easy path would be to try for another term in the state legislature.

The riskier path would be to take on Andy Harris, his Maryland Senate colleague, for the Republican nomination for Congress in the First District. The winner gets to face freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil, one of the most endangered Democrats in Congress.

The loser would be out of elective office. Harris and Pipkin can't run for Congress and for re-election to the legislature at the same time; so taking on Kratovil means giving up a seat in the General Assembly.

In 2008, analysts concluded, Pipkin acted as a catalyst. He helped generate upheaval in the district, which spans the Chesapeake Bay, in the Republican primary. As the third man in the race, Pipkin pulled moderate votes from incumbent Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and helped Harris unseat the veteran congressman.

Pipkin, in an interview, said that he's continuing his "listening tour" of the district and "really" hasn't made a decision yet.

He said that he'd make up his mind "relatively soon," then made it clear that this could be a highly flexible frame of reference .

"That's the beautiful thing about 'relatively soon,'" he joked, acknowledging that "soon" might not be until some time next year.

Time, at the moment, appears to be Pipkin's friend.

He can sit back and watch the situation ripen in the Republican primary and the district in general. The filing deadline for the September primary is still more than 10 months away.

Harris, eager for a rematch of a race he nearly won against Kratovil last year, hasn't blown the doors off the bank yet. The Baltimore County lawmaker's congressional campaign account contained about $210,000 at the end of June, the latest available information at the Federal Election Commission.

Pipkin, a late entry in the 2008 Republican primary, spent $1 million of his own money on that race (and $2 million against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 2004).

Posted by Paul West at 12:02 PM | | Comments (5)

August 13, 2009

O'Malley's experiment with budget cutting by democracy

Gov. Martin O’Malley has spent some time lately with a stack of dog-earned, e-mail printouts from regular citizens suggesting ways he should cut the state budget. He’s going to need help, after all, finding ways to finish closing a shortfall of more than $700 million.

Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz caught up with the governor in Ocean City, where he’s attending a summer conference thrown by the Maryland Association of Counties, and talked to him about the citizen suggestions.

Some themes that he has gleaned: People like the idea of closing state government around the holidays, and they think the practice at some agencies of allowing state employees to take home government-owned vehicles needs to be re-examined. He said those suggestions were repeatedly offered by citizens, who were invited to e-mail him their ideas starting last month.

“I find it interesting and helpful. I’m impressed at the tone most people took,” O’Malley said, adding that he found most to be “sincere.”

“It was quite the exercise in democracy.”

O’Malley also said the exercise has shown him that he needs to better explain to the public how tax dollars are spent. While many of the suggestions might be good ways to make government more effective, many of them would yield only a small savings. The governor plans to propose another $470 million in budget cuts later this month, on top of $280 million already pared from the current fiscal year.

The administration had planned to release the full list of more than 2,500 suggestions today, but postponed the big reveal until tomorrow because of technical difficulties.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 3:11 PM | | Comments (3)

August 12, 2009

McDonough says he would "test waters" of gubernatorial run

The field of potential Republican gubernatorial candidates just got wider. Del. Patrick L. McDonough announced on conservative talk radio this morning that he plans to begin “testing the waters” to determine if he should launch a campaign to challenge Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, in November 2010. McDonough announced his interest on WCBM-AM.

McDonough said he would travel the state, speaking to groups and gauging how many supporters would sign up and how many donors would actually open their checkbooks. His effort does not include forming an exploratory committee at this point, and if former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich decides to jump in the race, McDonough said he would drop out post haste.

“Gov. O’Malley is weaker than most people suspect, and I belive he could be defeated,” said McDonough, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties in the General Assembly. “There are just major issues in this state that I’m concerned about, and I don’t see them being addressed.” McDonough said he would not only talk about state budget deficits but also “crime, drugs and gangs” and illegal immigration.

GOP circles have been watching for Ehrlich or some frontrunner to emerge. The only Republican candidate to say he’s definitely running is Mike Pappas, a construction attorney from Perry Hall.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 11:27 AM | | Comments (0)

August 7, 2009

Miller joins O'Malley in urging county council action on slots zoning

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a huge proponent of legalizing slot machines in Maryland, joined Gov. Martin O’Malley in chiding Anne Arundel County officials for their inaction on rezoning land where a slots parlor is proposed. Miller characterized the debate on the Anne Arundel County Council as a “petty zoning war.”

“This business that’s happening in Anne Arundel County is criminal,” said Miller, known for his blunt language. “We need to remove any obstacles and roadblocks in terms of implementing slots and get that program off the ground immediately.”

The comments from O’Malley and Miller are an indication that political pressure is being brought to bear on the county council, which has tabled further discussion of the issue until the fall. O’Malley told members of the horse-racing and breeding industry Thursday that he found the situation “frustrating” and urged the council to make a decision.

But technically, ground can’t be broken on any slots facility until the state’s slots commission awards licenses, and that’s not expected to happen until this fall. The commission is reviewing bids, including one from the Cordish Cos, a Baltimore-based developer that wants to build a massive casino next to Arundel Mills mall.

Miller, in an interview, also brought up another question surrounding the slots program: What about Rocky Gap State Park?

The location was among the five authorized by a voter-approved constitutional amendment allowing slots, but a proposal to open a casino there was tossed out for failure to submit licensing fees. A competing bid in Anne Arundel County from the Laurel Park horse track also was disqualified for lack of fees.

Officials could open another round of bidding to put slots at Rocky Gap in Allegany County, and Miller suggested O’Malley might call on the slots commission to make recommendations on that site. Shaun Adamec, an O’Malley spokesman, said the governor would like to move forward with putting slots there and that the next step is still being decided.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 2:46 PM | | Comments (7)

No go for Davis, Perez

Two high-level Obama appointees from Maryland, federal Judge Andre M. Davis of Baltimore and state Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, will get to mark Labor Day in their current jobs. Celebrate might be too strong a word, however.

Their nominations have been held up for months, after clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee in early June. Davis is the choice to fill a nearly decade-old vacancy on the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., and Perez is to head the civil rights division at the Justice department.

This afternoon, the U.S. Senate adjourned until after Labor Day without acting on their nominations.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada did reach agreement with Republicans on a number of delayed nominations, and the majority leader took the necessary parliamentary steps to confirm those appointees without opposition (in a nearly empty Senate chamber, with virtually no other senators present, as is often the case).

Senate sources say that Davis and Perez have fallen victim to two unrelated issues.

First, Republicans had held up action on all judicial nominations until after Supreme Court pick Sonia Sotomayor was dealt with. Now that she has been, to the great delight of President Barack Obama and the Democrats, the Republicans don't appear to be of a mind to do the administration any more favors right away.

Second, reported plans by the administration to consider Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as a possible destination for Guantanamo Bay detainees has raised hackles in that state. As a result, the two Republican senators from Kansas have apparently decided to block Obama's Judicial and State department nominations until they get assurances from the White House that detainees won't be headed to the Sunflower State.

For Davis, at least, prolonged delays are nothing new. It's been almost nine full years since he was first selected for the Maryland seat on the 4th Circuit, which has been vacant since the death in August, 2000 of Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr.

Posted by Paul West at 12:19 PM | | Comments (1)

August 6, 2009

Everyone wants to be a deficit buster

As Marylanders across the state submit hundreds of suggestions for cutting the state budget, someone with particular expertise plans to join the chorus of deficit busters. That’s Del. Norman H. Conway, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who has spent many years plumping the depths of budget minutia.

Conway heard about Gov. Martin O’Malley seeking suggestions from the public at large on how to address a $420 million shortfall in the current fiscal year — and he decided he should heed the call, too. He and members of his committee have met in recent days and hope to compile a list of suggestions — even though they don’t have to help.

Maryland’s system allows the Board of Public Works and the governor to make mid-year cuts without legislative input. And some observers may ask why lawmakers would take the political heat for advocating funding cuts for popular programs or other special interests. Besides, they’ll have to help soon enough when drafting next year’s budget, for which there’s another projected shortfall of more than $1 billion.

But Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat known as a deliberative wonk, said: “I think we have an obligation.”

Meanwhile, the suggestions from regular citizens continue to flow into O’Malley’s inbox.

The governor, who already has pushed through $280 million in budget cuts toward the total shortfall of $700 million, said this week that he has received 459 pages of suggestions so far.

Among them, according to his press office:

“Why not encourage more telecommuting and working from home for state employees? With Blackberries and laptops issued to many workers, why not encourage certain days of the week to be `work-from-home’ days? The state would save on facility and energy costs and workers would enjoy the flexibility, and maybe even could let go of some of their personal/sick time in exchange.” (Baltimore City)

“Go paperless where possible. Save on paper and postage.” (Baltimore)

“Stop spending so much money on beautifying the median strips along the state highways and let the grass grow longer. Also, eliminate the use of credit cards by state employees. Go back to the old way of having expense accounts that have to be approved.” (Anne Arundel)

If you want to join in, don’t delay — the governor says the deadline for public comment is Aug. 10. Click here to share your suggestions.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 12:54 PM | | Comments (1)

August 5, 2009

Steele, RNC: Obama presidency a "failed experiment"

This just in...Barely six months into his four-year term, Barack Obama's presidency is a flop.

Don't take our word for it. The Republican National Committee has just released a web ad that writes off Obama's presidency as "a failed experiment in just 200 days."

RNC Chairman Michael Steele invited reporters to check out the new ad during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. The ad, and the call, were designed to draw attention to Obama's declining poll ratings and the nation's rising joblessness at the 200-day mark of the president's administration (which occurs later this week).

They came on a day of escalating back-and-forth between the two major party committees, as the political fight over health care continues to percolate.

Steele angrily rebutted accusations by the White House and the Democratic National Committee, who have charged Republican and conservative critics with manufacturing opposition to the administration's health care overhaul plan.

"This administration has the arrogance to look their nose down at my mother, my sister, my family members, my co-workers who are legitimately concerned," Steele said, heatedly. "To sit back and say this is some Republican cabal is a bunch of baloney. And you can substitute that 'b' for something else, if you want."

Steele said it was "a lie" for the Democrats to label Obama's critics as "angry extremists," when just a year ago, Democrats were praising opponents of U.S. economic and war policies for standing up to President George W. Bush.

The "angry extremist" tag comes from a new Democratic web ad . It features photos of Steele, Republican congressional leaders and Rush Limbaugh (who is heard saying, of Obama, "I hope he fails.") and blames "desperate Republicans" for disrupting public meetings held by House Democrats.

The ad also includes a photograph, widely circulated on the internet since last month, of an effigy of Maryland Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil that was hanged outside his district office in Salisbury.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs referred to the incident in accusing Republicans of ginning up sometimes angry protests at town hall meetings by Democratic congressmen, who are spending much of their August recess defending the administration plan and accusing the insurance industry of blocking efforts to fix the health care system.

The Democratic ad ends by inviting viewers to express their opinions about the Republican "mob" attacks by phoning RNC headquarters in Washington. If they did, callers were directed by a recorded Republican voice to "give us your input" at a number that turns out to be the main switchboard at DNC headquarters.

Steele defended the political trick.

"I get the joke," he said, referring to the Democrats' "Call the RNC" tagline, a standard feature of ads by both sides, and added: "Talk to your own party, because they're the ones that ginned this up."

As for White House charges that Republicans are ginning up the sometimes boisterous anger, the former Maryland lieutenant governor said that "we are not inciting anyone to go out and disrupt anything."

Posted by Paul West at 4:38 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Michael Steele

August 4, 2009

Embattled GOP Chair Pelura says no, he won't go

More than two weeks after Maryland Republicans met behind closed doors and voted to express “no confidence” in their leader James Pelura, the state GOP chairman insists he’s not going anywhere. And, he said, he has the votes to ensure that he isn’t forced out.

“I am not resigning,” Pelura declared in an interview.

While the executive committee, made up of 30 statewide and county officers, voted against Pelura during a July meeting, the only way to remove the party chairman is by a two-thirds vote of the much larger state convention. Pelura said his supporters have indicated to him that they have lined up 100 convention members who committed to remain on his side — enough to stop his opponents. A convention is scheduled for November, though the executive committee could call a special convention before then.

Pelura, a veterinarian, has held onto the volunteer post despite calls for his resignation.

Legislative leaders have complained that Pelura has been openly critical of elected Republicans. They also have accused him of meddling in policy matters while falling short on traditional chairman activities, such as voter registration and fundraising.

The embattled chairman has defended his record, and he has served during a difficult period for Republicans as the party suffered electoral defeats and financial problems.

The party has $10,000 in debt remaining on a line of credit and has been ordered by the Maryland State Board of Elections to repay $77,500 in contributions from Michael S. Steele, former lieutenant governor and now chairman of Republican National Committee. Elections officials said the contributions from Steele's campaign account exceeded the legal limit or were improperly recorded.

Pelura said he has asked the RNC for financial help but added that he wouldn’t necessarily characterize the request as a bailout. “I always ask the RNC for money; every state chairman does,” he explained. Besides, he said, he has pretty good connections at the national party.

“I know Michael very well,” Pelura said, referring to Steele. “I can say, ‘Hey Michael, I need help.’”

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 1:10 PM | | Comments (9)

Ms. Mikulski regrets

Maryland's senior senator is among a trio of ailing lawmakers who won't be attending today's White House luncheon for members of the Senate Democratic caucus, a White House official announced today.

President Barack Obama has invited the senators, who normally meet for lunch every Tuesday when the Senate is in session, to move their feast down the avenue.

The meal--menu to be announced later--will be held in the State Dining Room. A total of 57 senators are expected to chow down, including independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who vote with the Democrats on organizational matters.

Three senators sent their regrets: Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, being treated for brain cancer; 91-year-old Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, hospitalized for infections over the past two months; and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, who underwent surgery last week for a broken ankle suffered July 19, according to her office.

Mikulski's spokeswoman said the senator plans to return to work later this week for the confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (who also stumbled and broke her ankle this summer).

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama plans to use the noon gathering to talk with senators about the administration's priorities, including measures to aid the economy and his ambitious plan to overhaul the nation's health care system. Vice President Joe Biden will also attend.

Gibbs described it as "a working lunch."

Also, "it's the President's birthday, and Chuck E. Cheese was booked," the spokesman told reporters.

Obama, who is 48 today, celebrated the occasion over the weekend at the Camp David retreat in the Maryland mountains. Family members and close friends from Hawaii and Chicago gathered for bowling (Obama rolled a 144 game, according to Gibbs), pickup basketball and a long dinner.

Of course, there's nothing like officially marking your big day with dozens of former Senate colleagues--many, if not most, of whom have spent their adult lives fantasizing about becoming president, only to watch a rookie from Illinois go zooming past and win the job.

Posted by Paul West at 10:50 AM | | Comments (5)
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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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