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September 29, 2009

Steele: Obama Olympics trip "not necessary" -- but not necessarily a mistake

Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele said today that President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to Copenhagen is "nice" and "a noble idea," but not essential business for the president.

Steele began a brief telephone news conference by criticizing Obama's lack of focus on the biggest problem facing the country: weakness in the economy, which Steele said is still in recession.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor said he had watched Obama push an economic stimulus plan, then "lurch into cap-and-trade, and then into health care," and now he's "pitching the Olympics in Copenhagen."

In answer to a reporter's question, Steele said it was "a noble idea for the president to pitch his home city, Chi-town" and that America "would be more than honored to host the Olympics." But Steele went on to say that "at a time of war" and recession, "this trip, while nice, is not necessary for the president."

Obama plans to leave Washington on Thursday in order to personally lobby members of the International Olympic Committee the next morning at their decision-making meeting in Denmark.

The overnight trip is seen as a risky political gamble for a president currently enmeshed in a number of difficult issues, from pushing an embattled Democratic health care plan through Congress to combatting Iran's nuclear ambitions and choosing a future course for the war in Afghanistan.

Steele said the president should be focusing on creating jobs now, not "job opportunities seven years from now" in Chicago. He said that First Lady Michelle Obama should have been the leading salesperson for the U.S. Olympic bid.

But when pressed on whether he regarded the president's trip as a mistake, Steele demurred.

"Mistake is in the eye of the holder," he said, adding that he didn't know the judgment behind Obama's decision to go.

Asked again, if in his eyes at least Obama was making a mistake, Steele responded, "I gave you my answer."

Posted by Paul West at 11:32 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele

September 24, 2009

Fundraising success yields positive headlines for Steele


A surge of campaign cash in August, the month that conservatives stormed Democratic town hall meetings, is generating upbeat media coverage for the Republican Party and national Chairman Michael S. Steele.

The latest good news follows recent predictions that Republicans will make significant gains in the 2010 elections, still more than a year away. As for 2009, polls show the potential for Republican pickups in both of this year's governor's races, in Virginia and New Jersey.

Since Steele took charge at Republican Party headquarters in late January, the RNC has reported $6 million more in total receipts than the Democratic National Committee. A report on Steele's "fundraising savvy" in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, noted that the national party is using the cash advantage to outspend its Democratic counterpart in the Virginia governor's contest.

In recent years, the RNC has been the lone bright spot for the national party, consistently outraising the DNC. When Steele became chairman, one of the big questions was whether that advantage would continue.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor was known more for his communiciations talents than for his ability to shake the money tree. So far, the results have been positive and he has proved the doubters wrong.

Or has he? The Hill's story, it turns out, had a significant flaw. Steele's committee hasn't actually outraised the competition, though it has in three of the past five months.

Since Steele's tenure began, the DNC has collected about $48.3 million in contributions. The comparable figure for the RNC is about $45 million.

The reason for the disparity: both national party committees have received funds from other committees, transfers that don't qualify as contributions on Federal Election Commission disclosure reports.

In May, for instance, the RNC got an influx of about $12 million in funds left over from a John McCain 2008 campaign account.

What is true is that the Republicans have done better than many expected--and Democrats worse than anticipated--since the Dems are now in power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and, particularly, in light of President Barack Obama's record-breaking prowess as a campaign money lure. (Of course, the 2009-2010 cycle isn't over yet.)

The lead story this morning in USA Today spotlights a Republican comeback in campaign cash, focusing more on Republican House and Senate campaign committees than the RNC. The paper does note, however, that the RNC outraised the DNC by $1 million in August, attracting an average of 2,000 new donors a day, according to party spokeswoman Gail Gitcho.

The latest campaign funding reports show that Republicans have about $28 million in cash on hand, to about $20 million for the Democrats. Also, the Senate Republican campaign committee has brought in more money than the Democrats for two months in a row. This is raising the possibility that the GOP congressional committees will reverse a long-term decline.

The story in The Hill pointed out, more or less accurately, that several longtime Steele consultants have received a total of $360,000 from the RNC so far this year. That includes $219,000 for voter registration and polling by On Message Inc, owned by Steele advisors Curt and Wes Anderson.

Another Steele advisor, Blaise Hazelwood, got $70,000 for her microtargeting company, and Jim Dyke, a South Carolina-based spokesman for Steele during his run for the chairmanship, received more than $59,000 for web video production and other expenses. Finally, Tony Marsh and Lance Copsey, who also helped Steele win the party job, got $14,000 for their communications firm.

On the DNC side, AKPD Message and Media, the company formerly owned by longtime Obama advisor David Axelrod, has been paid $296,000 over the past seven months. David Plouffe, who was Obama's campaign manager, is a senior advisor to the firm.

Posted by Paul West at 12:34 PM |
Categories: Michael Steele

September 23, 2009

Mikulski for VP? Gore should have considered her, Bill Clinton said

In a forthcoming book about the 42nd president, Baltimore author and longtime Bill Clinton intimate Taylor Branch writes that Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski was a longshot Clinton pick to be Al Gore's running mate in 2000.

"It was not Gore's style to take big risks, said the president, which ruled out Clinton's favorite wild-card candidate, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland," writes Branch in "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President," due out next week.

Of course, Gore ultimately made what was seen at the time as a risky or, at least, bold choice: tapping Joe Lieberman to be the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket.

"I've always loved Barbara Mikulski," Clinton is quoted as saying, in praising her political skills. "You want to be in a foxhole with her."

But after writing that Clinton thought Gore should consider Mikulski as his running mate, Branch concludes that "Clinton was not sure she would be the right choice."

Branch was a frequent guest and adviser to Clinton during his White House years, and the book, based on privately recorded interviews, is full of gossipy tidbits.

If the snippets about Mikulski are any guide, Branch's oral history will likely cast Clinton in a far more sympathetic light than other studies of his presidency.

Branch writes that, contrary to news reports at the time, Clinton did not ask Gore to consider Florida Sen. Bob Graham as a running mate. But he did mention Bill Bradley, who lost the nomination to Gore that year, "as a worthy long shot." There is no indication, however, that Clinton actually suggested Mikulski to Gore.

Clinton conceded that Mikulski, as a VP choice, "might produce shockwaves of disbelief at first."

But, according to Branch's book, Clinton thought that the Maryland senator "could rise to folk-hero status above the prepackaged image of a potential president. She was feisty, with an amazing life story in community service. She had done more with her talents than many other women, and the president thought she was wiser than the female running mate on Gore's list, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California."

Clinton goes on to praise Mikulski's gifts as a public speaker. "He said Mikulski dramatized political choices and their consequences for everyday life, inviting citizens to take charge by thoughtful responsibility in the public square. As such, Clinton thought she was an ideal running mate to help Gore cut through the artificial gamesmanship of Bush's" campaign.

With a touch of literary license, Branch writes that "(n)o one supported or even mentioned her for vice president." That isn't absolutely accurate, though it's true that she was more likely to be mentioned on lists of Democratic women who would not get picked.

Michael Dukakis's former campaign manager, Susan Estrich, wrote in 2000 that Mikulski was "too liberal and outspoken" to be chosen. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake thought another female politician from Maryland--Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend--should get the nod. (As a reminder of how infectious vice-presidential fever can be, consider that there were press reports that Townsend's boss, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, had hopes that he'd be chosen.)

At another point, Branch refers to "distinctive advice" that Mikulski gave Clinton about choosing Madeleine Albright as the first female Secretary of State. The senator "believed Albright would break barriers in communications as well as gender. Her manner and words resonated with Mikuslki's constituents on the docks of Baltimore. She could make ordinary people feel a stake in world affairs. This potential was attractive to Clinton, who often chafted that his foreign policy leaders were too unpracticed and inarticulate for outreach in plain language..."

Posted by Paul West at 12:28 PM | | Comments (5)

Marylanders support Obama, health care overhaul, but sharp partisan divide

Maryland Democrats and independents strongly support President Barack Obama and his health care overhaul plan, but Republicans give him low marks, a new poll shows.

Among Democrats, 75 percent approve of the way Obama is handling the job, with 12 percent disapproving. Independents say they approve of Obama by a 57 percent-38 percent margin, while 29 percent of Republicans say he is doing a good job, and 61 percent disapprove.

African-Americans are particularly strong backers of the president: 83 percent say Obama is doing a good job, compared to 50 percent of white voters, according to a survey by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.

On the health care debate, 46 percent of Marylanders overall approve the president's handling of the issue, while 42 percent disapprove. But among Democrats, 62 percent voice their approval. Fewer than one in five Republicans say the president is handling health care properly.

Opinion was closely divided on the merit of a public health insurance option. Overall, 43 percent of Marylanders surveyed said it was a good idea, with 40 percent opposed. Seventeen percent had no opinion.

But once again, partisan differences were evident. Nearly six in 10 Democrats support a public option, while on 17 percent of Republicans do.

Among independent voters, 41 percent back a public option, and 51 percent oppose it.

Forty-eight percent of Marylanders said the country needed a "great deal" of reform in health care, while 41 percent said a "moderate amount" was needed. Only 7 percent said not much or none at all.

Gonzales also surveyed how Marylanders think of the swine flu threat. Thirteen percent said they were very concerned that they or someone in their family would catch it this year; 33 percent said they were somewhat concerned; and 53 percent are either "not that concerned" or "not at all concerned."

The survey was conducted by telephone between Sept. 8 and Sept. 17. With 833 respondents, it has a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.

Maryland Media Poll Part Two September 2009 name="devicefont" value="false">

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:00 AM | | Comments (0)

September 22, 2009

Dundalk flood prompts Cardin "watershed moment"

As Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, once famously said: "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before."

Perhaps with Rahm's rule in mind, Sen. Ben Cardin took the Senate floor this morning to urge action on a measure he introduced last spring that would make it possible for the federal government to channel more money to state and local governments for wastewater treatment and clean drinking water.

The trigger for Cardin's speech: last week's Dundalk flood, which the Democratic senator called "one more dramatic reminder that the water infrastructure of this country is in dire straits."

Gesturing at blownup news photos of Baltimore County's recently flooded streets and an earlier gusher from a broken Montgomery County water main, the senator predicted "more incidents like these in the future." The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that $6 billion a year will be needed to maintain the nation's aging wastewater infrastructure and $5 billion a year for drinking water, he said.

Then the pivot. After praising Congress and President Barack Obama for pouring $6 billion into water infrastructure as part of the $787 billion stimulus law, Cardin delivered a pitch for his plan.

"New investment alone is not enough," he said, somewhat immodestly describing his proposal as "a watershed moment in the legislative history of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act."

The Cardin measure, introduced in May and approved by the Senate Public Works committee, on which he serves, would make it possible for EPA to spend significantly more--a total of $20 billion for clean water and $15 billion for drinking water--over the next five years.

It would also address the problem of sewer overflows, which Cardin said dumps some 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater into waterways--including the Chesapeake Bay--each year.

Cardin urged Democratic leaders, who have yet to schedule a floor vote on his measure, to let the Senate act, so that the country "can keep water running through our pipes, rather than down our streets that we saw in Dundalk, Maryland, this past weekend."

Posted by Paul West at 11:30 AM |

Poll: Mikulski, O'Malley have solid job approval ratings; O'Malley would top Ehrlich or Steele in 2010

The latest Maryland statewide poll results are out today, showing solid numbers for Democratic incumbents Barbara Mikulski and Martin O'Malley as voter concern over the economy subsides slightly.

O'Malley's job approval rating is 48 percent, with 37 percent saying they disapprove of the job he is doing as governor, according to the survey from Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.

That's all but unchanged from January, when 49 percent of Marylanders surveyed said they approved of the governor's performance, and 37 percent expressed disapproval. The governor's approval rating hit a low in the March 2008 Gonzales survey, when 37 percent expressed satisfaction.

Mikulski's job approval rating is 67 percent, according to the poll -- just about where it was when she cruised to a re-election win in 2004. "She appears headed toward another easy re-election," pollster Patrick Gonzales said of the results in a report.

O'Malley, too, is up for re-election next year. Gonzales tested match-ups between O'Malley and former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and with former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. O'Malley was ahead in both.

Gonzales found that O'Malley was ahead of Ehrlich, 49 percent to 38 percent, with 13 percent undecided. "Ehrlich appears to be about where he was three years ago when he left office," Gonzales wrote. "Well-enough liked, but unable to get much beyond his base."

O'Malley led Steele, 52 percent to 37 percent.

O'Malley has not formally announced a re-election campaign, but is expected to run. Ehrlich is examining options; Steele appears more than content to continue his term as Republican national chairman. Democrats hold a voter registration edge of more than 2 to 1 in Maryland.

Forty-two percent of Marylanders said they had a favorable opinion of Ehrlich, and 26 percent said their opinion was unfavorable. For Steele, the favorable number was 40 percent, and the unfavorable figure was 34 percent. O'Malley's favorability ranking was 47 percent, and 28 percent gave him an unfavorable grade. For Mikulski, the numbers were 64 percent favorable, and 23 percent unfavorable.

The survey was conducted Sept. 8 to Sept. 17, reaching 833 registered voters by telephone. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

The Gonzales survey found that 43 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the state, far above health care (13 percent) and taxes (12 percent). In January, 61 percent of voters said it was the most important issue.

Gonzales said that the face that 55 percent of voters cite the economy or taxes as a prime concern "is a warning sign for incumbent office holders."

But voters are offering politicians no clear direction about where to go. Gonzales found little support for any budget-balancing move he tested. A clear majority of voters oppose increases in the states income or sales taxes, as well as reductions in services for the poor, public education, higher education spending, transportation or environmental programs.

Maryland Media Poll Part 1 September 2009

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:00 AM | | Comments (40)

September 18, 2009

Cardin keeps promise to Sotomayor, Orioles still lose




Back in July, at a Senate confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotomayor, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland invited the judge to be his guest at an Orioles game. Sotomayor, a Bronx native and big Yankees fan, responded by revealing that she had already been to the Yards--presumably to root for her pinstriped heroes from New York.

As a federal appeals judge, Sotomayor was briefly famous for ending a baseball strike in 1995 (ruling in favor of the players and against the owners). That was the year Cal Ripken became immortal as the Iron Man, and Cardin thanked Sotomayor, on behalf of Orioles fans, for making it possible for him to set his record.

Last night, Cardin made good on the offer to Sotomayor, who became the first Latina Supreme Court justice to sit in a skybox at Camden Yards (the Maryland Stadium Authority's box, for those keeping score at home). As the Democratic senator had promised, it wasn't a night when the Yankees were in town, so Sotomayor was free to root for the home team.

Not that it made much difference. The O's,eight games under .500 on the mid-July day that Cardin extended the invite, went down to defeat again. They're now 26 games below .500, the second worst record in the American League, and are enduring their twelfth straight losing season under the ownership, it must be noted, of a personal injury lawyer.

Justice Sotomayor, meantime, boasts a still spotless record on the bench where she now sits. She's 0-0 in court decisions, having heard arguments in only one case, which has yet to be decided.

Posted by Paul West at 5:31 PM | | Comments (3)

Franchot files for re-election, not taking anything for granted

Comptroller Peter Franchot may sometimes play the lone wolf in the Democratic Party, but so far he hasn’t drawn any challengers from his party or the Republican camp for next year’s election. And when he filed his paperwork Friday morning with the State Board of Elections to run for a second term, he didn’t feel the need to hold a press conference or rally to announce his campaign.

But Franchot isn’t counting on sailing to re-election. After all, he filed the requisite paperwork 10 months before the deadline, and he’s already set an uber-early fundraising goal to garner $15,000 in online contributions by the end of this month — a show of political strength. He also felt compelled to call Gov. Martin O’Malley, with whom he has sometimes clashed, on Thursday night to tell him that he would be running again. Campaign spokesman Andrew Friedson said the comptroller “is really excited to have the governor’s support and looks forward to having a unified statewide Democratic team.”

Friedson added: “We’re not focused on who else is running or who else might be running.”

“At this point, none of us really knows what the political landscape is going to look like next year, but the comptroller has been around long enough to know you shouldn’t take anything for granted,” Friedson said. “In the end, we’re expecting a tough, competitive race, and we’re planning on having the resources to launch an effective, statewide campaign to convey his vision and his accomplishments to voters.”

Franchot did make a low-key show of his re-election filing with a YouTube video message to supporters. As the state’s chief tax collector, he paints himself as a fiscal watchdog who has cracked down on delinquent taxpayers and reunited Marylanders with unclaimed property.

“I love being comptroller. It’s been an honor to represent you,” Franchot says to what appears to be a hand-held video camera, standing outside the Treasury Building in Annapolis. “I just filed for re-election today. I’d like to get your support. When I ran I promised I’d to take this agency to the next level. I think I’ve done that.”

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 11:51 AM | | Comments (1)

September 14, 2009

Larry Hogan testing the gubernatorial waters

Add Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. to the list of those who feel they can't wait for Bob Ehrlich to decide if he's running for governor again.

Hogan, a Republican whose most recent public position was as appointments secretary in the Ehrlich administration, is launching a "Hogan for Maryland" exploratory committee, and is seeking advice and feedback emailed to him at

The 2010 election, with Gov. Martin O'Malley presumably seeking a second term, "is much too important for us to just sit back" and let the incumbent go unchallenged, Hogan said in a letter to hundreds of supporters set for distribution on Tuesday -- exactly one year to day of party primaries. "Somebody simply must step up to this challenge."

Hogan was once considered a rising star in Republican circles, with the benefit of a notable family name. His father Lawrence J. Hogan, is a former Maryland congressman who went on to become Prince George's County Executive.

In 1992, the junior Hogan ran an underfunded and uphill battle against incumbent Democrat Steny Hoyer in the 5th District, which Hogan's father once represented. Hoyer won, but with just 53 percent of the vote -- one of his toughest races.

In his letter, Hogan makes it clear that he will only stay in the race if Ehrlich remains on the sidelines.

He said he has been urging Ehrlich to seek a rematch against O'Malley "to return sanity and common sense to Annapolis."

"But the question on many people's minds lately has been: what if he doesn't run? What is the back-up plan?"

Hogan had a more visible role than he might have preferred in the Ehrlich administration. As appointments secretary, he was responsible for filling the hundreds of boards, commissions and executive level positions with people who would be loyal to the first Republican governor in a generation. But the administration's effort to bring in its own people was decried by top Democrats as a partisan witch-hunt that reached too far into professional, protected levels of agencies. A lengthy legislative inquiry on the matter -- perhaps best known for the secretive team of Ehrlich aides in trenchcoats who would tap workers on the shoulder and tell them to pack their belongings -- has yet to be completed.

Other Republicans either in or considering the race include Michael Pappas, a Towson lawyer, and Del. Patrick L. McDonough, of Baltimore County.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:11 PM | | Comments (0)

Marylander Perez may soon take Civil Rights helm at Justice

Thomas E. Perez, the Martin O'Malley cabinet member whose nomination for a top Obama administration post has been blocked by Republicans, may soon be able to make his move to Washington.

Senate sources report that Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, has agreed to schedule a cloture vote on Perez's confirmation as head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

No date has been set, and at least two other blocked nominees are ahead of Perez, the state's Labor secretary. But the decision means that the Marylander should finally see his nomination brought to a vote soon by the full Senate, perhaps before the month is out.

Republicans have employed parliamentary devices to delay action on Perez, even though his nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary in early June on a bipartisan vote of 17-2.

Since then, however, he's gone nowhere. Senate holds on nominations are shrouded in secrecy, but a Republican source pointed to Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma as the responsible party.

Coburn's office did not respond to requests for comment. However, confirmation fights are common when it comes to the top civil rights job at Justice, one of the most difficult positions for presidents of either party to fill because of the issues involved.

One issue that came up after Perez gained Judiciary committee approval involves an administration decision to drop a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party, who were accused of intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place last November. At least one House Republican, Rep. Lamar S. Smith of Texas, urged his Senate colleagues to place a hold on Perez' nomination until the Justice department provided Congress with more information about the Philadelphia case.

President Barack Obama nominated Perez for the Justice post six months ago. The Maryland lawyer's involvement with CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, has provoked some opposition from Republicans.

However, with Democrats firmly in control in the Senate, his confirmation is a virtual certainty, once cloture is invoked, which would end the Republican delay.

Posted by Paul West at 10:25 AM | | Comments (1)

September 11, 2009

After losing in Baltimore politics, Keiffer Mitchell turns to Annapolis

As the political chatter begins over next year’s election, one name that repeatedly gets tossed into the rumor mill is Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., the former Baltimore City councilman who gave up his council seat when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor two years ago.

A phone call to Mitchell helped to explain why: He readily admitted that he has not ruled out running for a seat in the Maryland General Assembly. That’s politician-speak that means he’s testing the waters before officially declaring a candidacy. “I am going to look long and hard at that option,” he said, adding that he plans to discuss the matter with family and friends. “Quite frankly, I do miss public service.”

Mitchell lives in the 44th district that’s currently represented by Sen. Verna L. Jones and Dels. Keith E. Haynes, Ruth M. Kirk and Melvin L. Stukes. All are Democrats. Mitchell did not say whose seat he’s eyeing.

While Mayor Sheila Dixon decisively beat Mitchell and other contenders in the 2007 Democratic primary, Mitchell did garner 24 percent of the vote. And Mitchell’s political roots run deep — his great-uncle was the late Parren J. Mitchell, the first African-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland.

But Mitchell suffered several setbacks during his last campaign.

He was forced to take leave from his job at Harbor Bank after his boss said the mayoral run had become a distraction. And his father, Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell, resigned as campaign treasurer after questions were raised about expenditures he authorized and then tried to evict the campaign operations from his medical office, citing unpaid rent.

Nonetheless, talk of his return to politics continues. Mitchell said he heard last week a rumor that he planned to run for City Council president, and last month he heard gossip that he was contemplating a campaign for Baltimore sheriff. The sheriff rumor he found particularly funny – “I don’t think I would look good in a sheriff’s uniform.”

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 9:00 AM | | Comments (1)

September 10, 2009

Logjam around Baltimore judge starting to break

New talks are under way that should finally clear the way for the confirmation of federal Judge Andre M. Davis of Baltimore to the long-vacant "Maryland seat" on a federal appeals court, Senate sources said today.

Democratic and Republican Senate leaders have been negotiating the exact timing of confirmation votes on several of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, including Davis. A deal could be reached by early next week, clearing the way for quick confirmation by the full Senate, a Senate staffer said.

Davis' confirmation is a foregone conclusion, once his nomination actually makes it to the Senate floor. The 60-year-old Baltimore native was approved by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee in early June.

For months, Republicans stalled action on Obama's judicial picks, saying they needed to devote their attention to the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Obama nominated Davis, 60, more than five months ago to a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. President Bill Clinton picked Davis for the same seat in late 2000, but the nomination died as Clinton's term ended.

The vacancy that Davis was twice picked to fill is now in its tenth year. Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr., for whom Davis once clerked, died in August, 2000 and politics has prevented his "Maryland seat" from being occupied ever since.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said this week that the Senate needed to do a better job of moving Obama's judicial nominees to courts around the country, including Davis'.

Obama has made 17 lifetime nominations to the federal bench and the Senate has not confirmed a single one, other than Sotomayor, Leahy pointed out.

"Judge Andre Davis' nomination to the Fourth Circuit was reported by the (Judiciary) Committee on June 4 by a vote of 16-3," said Leahy. "We should not further delay Senate consideration of (this) well-respected, mainstream Federal" judge.

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

O'Malley talks up Obama health care plan, pledges support

Gov. Martin O’Malley pledged to help President Barack Obama as he tries to secure passage of a national health care overhaul. The Maryland governor called the federal push for reform a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

O’Malley was one of three governors who joined a White House-organized conference call to discuss Obama’s health care address to Congress and the nation. Also on the call were Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, whose state has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country at 8.9 percent, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, whose state achieved the lowest 5.4 percent uninsured rate after establishing universal health coverage several years ago. (Maryland’s rate is nearly 13 percent, according to just-released statistics from the Census Bureau.)

The trio of Democrats cheered Obama’s speech as Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that the president has been meeting with “centrist” governors and reaching across the aisle in Congress. “The real lesson learned from month of August is that American people don’t want to accept the status quo,” Barnes said.

She and the governors repeated what they characterized as the president’s clearly stated goals: to ensure Americans can keep their current health insurance, to provide affordable choices to those who aren’t covered, and to rein in costs. O’Malley said he and other governors struggling with budget deficits would welcome efforts to keep costs under control.

He noted that Maryland’s $9.2 billion budget on health care would quickly balloon if costs continue to rise at rates seen in recent years. “That’s unsustainable for the business of the state of Maryland and threatens to undermine all of those who do have coverage,” he said.

O’Malley also praised the idea of an insurance exchange where proponents say small businesses and others could find affordable plans and where insurance companies would compete for millions of new customers. The governor said that would be preferable to subsidies his administration has offered as incentive to insure employees, noting that Census figures show many of those joining the ranks of the uninsured work for small businesses.

What wasn’t discussed on the feel-good conference call was how much the health care proposal might cost the states. Obama said in his address that he would not sign a bill that adds to the national deficit, raising the specter that states may have to pony up.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 3:39 PM | | Comments (3)

September 9, 2009

Mikulski disappointed again


The game of musical committee chairs in the Senate today will leave Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski right where she is--as the most senior senator who does not chair a major committee.

In addition, Mikulski will not be able to assume a more prestigious subcommittee chairmanship on the powerful Appropriations committee, as some in her orbit had hoped.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa will become chairman of the Health committee, replacing the late Ted Kennedy. And he will also be able to keep his chairmanship of the Labor, HHS subcommittee on Appropriations, enhancing his influence as a consequence.

Mikulski, 74, was first elected to the Senate in 1986 and is running for another six-year term in next year's election.

She ranks fifth, behind Harkin, in Democratic seniority on Appropriations and third on Health, behind Sen. Chris Dodd, who is remaining as Banking chairman, and Harkin.

Posted by Paul West at 9:46 AM | | Comments (6)

September 8, 2009

Near-miss for Mikulski--but perhaps a consolation prize?

Multiple news sources are reporting a major development--and something of a surprise--this evening for Washington insiders.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd has decided to stay put as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, rather than assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Health committee left vacant by the death last month of his close friend, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. He's scheduled an announcement for Wednesday morning.

Dodd's decision clears the way for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin to take over as chairman of the Health committee, which is formally known as Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

Harkin ranks next in Democratic seniority on the committee behind Dodd. Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is third in line after Harkin. A senator can chair only one major committee, and Dodd and Harkin would have to give up their current chairmanships to chair HELP.

Earlier, Senate sources had said that Harkin would remain as chairman of the Agriculture Committee, opening the way for Mikulski to assume Kennedy's place. But the populist liberal from Iowa, who has a longtime interest in social policy, will grab the HELP chairmanship after all.

That leaves Mikulski as the most senior Democrat in the Senate without a full committee chairmanship. A Mikulski spokeswoman said tonight that she could not comment on the reports.

Mikulski, who broke her ankle in July, returned to the Senate today after spending weeks at a Baltimore rehabilitation hospital. She is scheduled to appear on Wednesday at an event at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters.

A move by Harkin to the chairmanship of HELP is likely to spark other committee changes, including at the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where the Iowan currently heads the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies.

That might open the chairmanship of that panel to Mikulski, who currently heads the Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies. She is next in line in seniority on Appropriations after Harkin.

The Labor HHS subcommittee would likely be far more appealing to Mikulski, both in terms of her personal interests (including her background as a social worker) and those of her home state of Maryland.

Not a bad consolation prize.

The agencies in the jurisdiction of the Appropriations subcommittee currently headed by Harkin include the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Here's the full list, according to the panel's Web site:

* Administration on Aging (HHS)
* Administration for Children and Families (HHS)
* Administration on Native Americans (HHS)
* Adolescent Pregnancy (HHS)
* Adult Education (Education)
* Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HHS)
* Aging Programs (HHS)
* American Printing House for the Blind (Education)
* AmeriCorps
* Assistance Payments/TANF (HHS)
* Bilingual and Immigrant Education (Education)
* Black Lung Benefits (Labor)
* Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (Labor)
* Bureau of International Labor Affairs (Labor)
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (Labor)
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS)
* Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (HHS)
* Child Care Assistance (HHS)
* Child Support Enforcement (HHS)
* Child Welfare Services (HHS)
* Children and Family Services Programs (HHS)
* College Housing and Academic Facilities Loans (Education)
* Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
* Community Health Centers (HHS)
* Community Service Employment for Older Americans (Labor)
* Community Services Block Grant (HHS)
* Consumer Price Index (Labor)
* Corporation for National and Community Service:
o AmeriCorps
o Domestic Volunteer Service Programs
* Corporation for Public Broadcasting
* Developmental Disabilities (HHS)
* Dislocated Worker Assistance (Labor)
* Education, Department of
* Education for the Disadvantaged?Title I (Education)
* Employee Benefits Security Administration (Labor)
* Employment and Training Administration (Labor)
* Employment Service Operations (Labor)
* Employment Standards Administration (Labor)
* English Language Acquisition (Education)
* Family Planning (HHS)
* Federal Family Education Loan Program (Education)
* Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
* Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
* Federal Old Age and Survivors Insurance (SSA)
* Federal Unemployment Benefits and Allowances (Labor)
* Foster Care/Adoption Assistance (HHS)
* Gallaudet University (Education)
* Grants to States for Social and Child Welfare Services - Title XX (HHS)
* Head Start Program (HHS)
* Health and Human Services, Department of (HHS)
o Except:
Food and Drug Administration
Indian Health and Construction Activities
Office of Consumer Affairs
* Health Professions Education (HHS)
* Health Resources and Services Administration (HHS)
* Health Services Research (HHS)
* Higher Education (Education)
* Howard University (Education)
* Immunization Program (HHS)
* Impact Aid (Education)
* Indian Education (Education)
* Institute of Education Sciences (Education)
* Institute of Museum and Library Services:
o Office of Library Services
o Office of Museum Services
* International Education (Education)
* Job Corps (Labor)
* John E. Fogarty International Center for Advanced Study in the Health Sciences (NIH)
* Labor, Department of
* Labor-Management Standards (Labor)
* Libraries
* Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (HHS)
* Maternal and Child Health (HHS)
* Medicaid/Medicare Contractors (HHS)
* Medicare Payment Advisory Commission
* Migrant Education (Education)
* Migrant Health (HHS)
* Mine Health and Safety Academy (Labor)
* Mine Safety and Health Administration (Labor)
* National Cancer Institute (NIH)
* National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NIH)
* National Center for Health Statistics (HHS)
* National Center for Research Resources (NIH)
* National Commission on Libraries and Information Science
* National Council on Disability
* National Eye Institute (NIH)
* National Health Service Corps (HHS)
* National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH)
* National Human Genome Research Institute (NIH)
* National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH)
* National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIH)
* National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIH)
* National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH)
* National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIH)
* National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH)
* National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH) (See also Inter-ior, Environment, and Related Agencies)
* National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH)
* National Institute of Mental Health (NIH)
* National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH)
* National Institute of Nursing Research (NIH)
* National Institute on Aging (NIH)
* National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIH)
* National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH)
* National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH)
* National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (HHS)
* National Institutes of Health (HHS)
* National Labor Relations Board
* National Library of Medicine (NIH)
* National Mediation Board
* National Technical Institute for the Deaf (Education)
* National Youth Sports Program (HHS)
* Native American Programs (HHS)
* Nursing Workforce Development (HHS)
* Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Labor)
* Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
* Office for Civil Rights (HHS) (Education)
* Office of Disability Policy (Labor)
* Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (Education)
* Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (Labor)
* Office of Library Services (Institute of Museum and Library Services)
* Office of Museum Services (Institute of Museum and Library Services)
* Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS)
* Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (Education)
* Office of Work-Based Learning (Labor)
* Pell Grants (Education)
* Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (Labor)
* President's Council on Physical Fitness (HHS)
* Public Health Service (HHS)
* Railroad Retirement Board
* Reading First Program
* Refugee Assistance (Domestic) (HHS)
* Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research (Education)
* Runaway and Homeless Youth (HHS)
* Safe and Drug-Free Schools
* School Improvement Programs (Education)
* Sexually Transmitted Disease Program (HHS)
* Social Security Administration
* Social Services Block Grant (HHS)
* Special Benefits for Disabled Coal Miners (Labor)
* Special Education (Education)
* Special Institutions for Persons With Disabilities (Education)
* Student Financial Assistance (Education)
* Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (HHS)
* Supplemental Security Income (SSA)
* Trade Adjustment Assistance/Workers (Labor)
* Unemployment Trust Fund (Labor)
* Veterans Employment and Training (Labor)
* Vocational and Adult Education (Education)
* Wage and Hour Division (Labor)
* Woman's Bureau (Labor)


Harkin will get to keep the Labor, HHS subcommittee chairmanship, a committee spokesman said Wednesday morning. So the net for Mikulski is no change.

Posted by Paul West at 9:16 PM | | Comments (1)

Hoyer and Tort Reform: Read the bill!

"Read the bill!" Those three words, hurled as an epithet by disbelieving opponents of the Democratic health care plan, became the signature line of the 2009 congressional town hall meetings.

Rep. Steny Hoyer heard it many times.

"It's a great chant," he said, with a wry smile, at his weekly Capitol news conference today.

Hoyer is quick to point out that he's "read the bill" (earlier this summer, he was forced to concede that he had not).

However, the No. 2 Democrat in the House apparently hasn't gotten to all the fine print yet.

During his town hall meeting in southern Maryland last week, Hoyer said "tort reform"---that is, limits on medical practice suits--is "not in any of the bills at this time."

Actually, it is.

First some background: Pressure to curb malpractice lawsuits is a perennial goal, mainly of Republicans and conservative independents, who claim that capping damages for pain and suffering would lower health costs by reducing the amount of "defensive medicine" that doctors practice to avoid getting sued.

But Democratic leaders in Congress have avoided doing anything in crafting health care legislation, even as deals were cut with other players, such as drug manufacturers. Trial lawyers and their allies claim that curbing malpractice suits and capping damages wouldn't save that much money in the long run.

Former Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, a physician, said recently that the Democrats have skirted the issue because they did not want to take on the trial lawyers, one of their party's most powerful interest groups and, more to the point, a lucrative source of Democratic campaign cash.

Hoyer, over his career, has received more than $1 million from lawyers and law firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan watchdog group; interestingly, the only industry that has given him more: health professionals.

Shortly before the House left on its just-ended six week summer break, a provision aimed at reducing the number of frivilous malpractice lawsuits was added to the main health care bill by the House Commerce committee. The panel is chaired by liberal Rep. Henry Waxman of California, a leading author of the Democratic overhaul plan, who had to cut deals with centrist Blue Dog Democrats to get his committee to approve the legislation.

The "medical liability reform" plan, which has attracted virtually no national attention, is designed to "reduce costs of defensive medicine and allow victims of malpractice to be fairly compensated." (The provision, approved on a voice vote as part of a package of amendments, also explicitly says that this must be done without limiting attorneys fees or placing caps on damage awards).

The sponsor of the provision, Rep. Bart Gordon, a Blue Dog from Tennessee, boasted to his constituents that he "was also able to get alternative medical malpractice reforms in the bill, which should help reduce the number of lawsuits that add unnecessary costs to our health care system. "

If Gordon's plan became law, the federal government could provide incentive payments to states that experiment with new ways to guarantee "prompt and fair resolution of disputes" involving medical care. It could, that is, if the provision stays in the legislation as it moves to the next stage.

While the Senate tries to find a compromise that will attract Republican votes, the House will attempt to meld the various changes made to the bill (H.R. 3200) by three different committees in July.

Each committee altered the original measure. As a result, "there is no 'The Bill,'" Hoyer explained to reporters today, only minutes after declaring that he had read "The Bill."

Got that?

Posted by Paul West at 1:25 PM | | Comments (2)

September 3, 2009

O'Malley's political map takes shape; a question mark in Prince George's County

It may be early in the 2010 gubernatorial race (if one can call it a race at this point), but Gov. Martin O’Malley is getting his proverbial ducks in a row with a lengthy list of endorsements from elected officials. His campaign just posted the list of about 325 names to his campaign’s Web site. You can see it here.

Not surprisingly, O’Malley has collared the bulk of the Democratic establishment in a heavily Democratic state. He scored a clean sweep of the congressional delegation, sans the lone Republican — Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. The governor even won over Comptroller Peter Franchot despite the fact that the two have sometimes been at odds in recent years.

And if anyone thought local officials might bolt from O’Malley’s camp after he drastically reduced state aid to Baltimore City and the 23 counties, the list demonstrates that fallout doesn't appear to be happening. Local officials from around the state are on the list, as are Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.

But one area seems under-represented — Prince George’s County.

Missing are Sen. Ulysses Currie, four other state senators whose districts include the county and County Executive Jack Johnson. Currie, in an interview, said there’s no particular reason they aren’t on the list yet and that “everybody’s going to be on board with the governor for the next election.” He said he and his colleagues have been working hard in the community recently, and that he’s been touting O’Malley’s pledge to shield funding for kindergarten through12th grade from recent budget cuts.

Could it also be that some Democrats are waiting to see if former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry enters the race? His name has been floated as a possible challenger to O’Malley, perhaps on a ticket with former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, who dropped out of the Democratic primary against O’Malley in 2006.

One problem with that scenario: There’s no dearth of politicians for O’Malley from Montgomery County — Duncan’s base.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 2:25 PM | | Comments (2)

September 2, 2009

O'Malley's inner circle gets a reshuffling

A reshuffling in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s inner circle will elevate Matthew D. Gallagher to the chief of staff office that’s being vacated by Michael R. Enright, who will become a senior adviser to the governor.

Gallagher, who was deputy chief of staff, has worked with O’Malley since he was mayor of Baltimore. As a staffer in the city, Gallagher ran CitiStat, a performance-based management tool that became the model for a similar program implemented on the state level.

Enright, who served as first deputy mayor in Baltimore and has been friends with O’Malley since they met at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, will focus on tracking federal stimulus dollars and on energy issues. Enright has been spearheading negotiations with Constellation Energy Group, trying to wring concessions from the Baltimore company as it seeks regulatory approval for a deal to sell half of its nuclear power business to Electricite de France, a French utility, for $4.5 billion.

Some Annapolis watchers also are speculating that the reshuffling means Enright might have more free time to work on the governor’s re-election campaign.

While the election is more than a year away, O’Malley already has begun raising money and this summer hired Thomas Russell, a veteran of state and federal elections nationwide, to manage his campaign.

In an e-mail to supporters last month asking for donations, O’Malley warned: “This won’t be an easy election. We’re in for a fight.” Although it isn’t clear at this point how tough the fight will be. While some Democrats have hinted at challenging O’Malley, none have formally announced their candidacy, and a clear Republican front-runner has yet to emerge from the GOP pack.

One issue that many expect to take center stage in the election — no matter who runs against O’Malley — is energy. Rising utility bills have been a thorn for O’Malley since he campaigned on promises to fight electricity price hikes that he was then unable to roll back.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 3:52 PM | | Comments (3)

Obama favoring purple Virginia over blue Maryland by 8-1 margin

With family in tow, Barack Obama high-tailed it to Camp David today for what aides are calling the final phase of his summer vacation.

If the president manages to stay put until Sunday, as scheduled, it would be his longest break yet at the Maryland mountaintop retreat. More typically, he has spent just one night at a time at the presidential compound north of Frederick (he blames his daughters' schedules for not letting him chill there more).

Those private visits notwithstanding, Obama has shown Virginia far more love than Maryland since taking office.

Presidents of both parties frequently use the neighboring states as sites for their public events. Since many Americans revile the capital city, it is often necessary to escape to a more suitable "real world" locale. Next-door Maryland and Virginia are obvious choices, since they are only quick trip away (time is a president's scarcest resource).

Recent presidents have divided their time more or less evenly between Maryland and Virginia. But Obama, by a lopsided margin, is favoring the commonwealth on the other side of the Potomac.

Today, for example, the White House announced that Obama plans to deliver a national back-to-school address next Tuesday from a high school in northern Virginia. That event will be at least his eighth in Virginia as president.

By comparison, he's participated in a single Maryland event, when he addressed the Naval Academy commencement in Annapolis last spring. (His trips to Andrews Air Force base, to catch flights on Air Force One or play golf, like similar jaunts to military golf courses in northern Virginia or to eat a meal at a local restaurant or visit a private home, aren't included in the tally.)

The rest of the First Family also seems to have taken a liking to Virginia. In July, first lady Michelle Obama took her daughters and her mother on a day trip to central Virginia, with stops at Luray Caverns and Thomas Jefferson's historic home outside Charlottesville.

There isn't much mystery in Obama's apparent preference for Virginia over Maryland. But it illuminates the highly political nature of his White House.

More, perhaps, than any recent president, Obama has concentrated his domestic travels on key electoral states--favoring those that will matter in 2012, while largely ignoring states that are either out of reach (such as those in the Deep South) or are safely Democratic (California and New York, crucial to campaign fundraising for Democrats, are exceptions).

Prominent swing states that he carried in last year's election-- and would like to carry again in a re-election run have already been favored with multiple presidential visits. In addition to Virginia, they include Indiana, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. Lightly populated but nonetheless important states--such as Nevada, Montana and New Mexico--have also gotten Obama visits, as have the heartland battlegrounds of Missouri, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Bill Clinton, another politically savvy president, understood the importance of staying in touch with key states. He set, and largely stuck to, a goal of hitting California, the richest electoral vote lode, at least once a month during his first term.

Brendan J. Doherty, a political scientist at the Naval Academy who has studied Obama's presidential travels, noted that "a large number of public presidential events occur in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area only a few miles from the White House as part of the president's regular activities and are not comparable to other types of presidential travel."

He added that a "presidential event held at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland or at the Pentagon in Virginia is not a representative example of a president traveling to the states."

But, Doherty also concludes: "When, where, and for what a president chooses to travel can reveal a great deal about a president's priorities and goals."

That is certainly true of Virginia in 2009. Obama was the first Democratic presidential nominee since 1964 to carry the state. Key to that victory was an enormous Democratic vote in the Virginnia suburbs of D.C., which overwhelmed the Republican tally in the rest of the state.

Virginia is also one of only two states with elections for governor this year (New Jersey is the other), and Obama has already made one campaign visit on behalf of his party's nominee, Creigh (pronounced "Cree") Deeds.

Deeds trails in early polling, but more than bragging rights are at stake. It is advantageous to a president to have a governor of his own party in office at re-election time.

Unlike purple Virginia (a mix of Democratic blue and Republican red), solidly blue Maryland was Obama's fifth best state in 2008. If he can't win here in 2012, he won't have a second term.

So, don't be looking for Obama in a Maryland neighborhood any time soon (unless a nearby golf course lures the president out of Camp David, as it has for his predecessors.).

It just makes more practical sense to look south to Virginia. After all, if you're an event planner at the White House, where re-election politics is a top-of-mind concern, which neighboring state would you choose as a backdrop?

Posted by Paul West at 3:34 PM |

September 1, 2009

Firing of Ehrlich administration employee (the ice dancer) upheld by court

The legal saga surrounding former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s personnel practices continued this week when Maryland’s second highest court found that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration was within its rights to fire a holdover patronage employee from Ehrlich’s term.

The case centers on the employment of Gregory Maddalone, who was fired in 2007 shortly after O’Malley came into office. Maddalone, a former ice dancer, was a central figure in an investigation by Democratic lawmakers who accused the Republican Ehrlich administration of firing long-time state employees for political reasons and hiring “loyalists” to replace them. When Maddalone was fired, Republicans accused the Democrats of hypocrisy.

An administrative judge ruled that then-Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari illegally fired Maddalone, finding that Porcari didn’t know Maddalone’s qualifications and targeted him for political reasons. At the time, Maddalone was an emergency response manager earning an annual salary of more than $79,000. The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court later upheld that ruling.

But the Court of Special Appeals held this week that even if Porcari had dug further into Maddalone’s resume, he wouldn’t have found much reason to retain him. Porcari said he decided to fire Maddalone as part of a planned reorganization.

“There was nothing in the evidence to show that any additional effort or time that Secretary Porcari (or anyone else) could have taken to obtain Maddalone’s personnel file would have uncovered positive information about his job qualifications,” the ruling states. “Indeed, the evidence was clear that there was no such positive information to be learned.”

Earlier in the opinion, the court made a point of saying Maddalone did not hold a college degree and that his prior work experience — except for working as an aide to Ehrlich in Congress — was as an ice dancer.

The decision can be found here.

Separately, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last year that Maddalone and another former state employee Craig Chesek must answer questions posed by a special legislative panel that investigated firings under Ehrlich. Maddalone’s testimony was taken in July, and an assistant attorney general is seeking to subpoena Chesek, who apparently lives in Pennsylvania.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 1:06 PM | | Comments (7)
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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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