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March 31, 2010

Gubernatorial Facebook faceoff begins now

A few hours after confirming to reporters that he wants his old job back, former Gov. Robert. L. Ehrlich relayed the news to his 14,000-plus Facebook fans. The race will pit the only Republican in a generation elected to lead Maryland against Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who defeated him by more than six percentage points in 2006. Ehrlich's status update at 5:41 p.m. yesterday: "Are you ready to take back Maryland? I will formally kick off my campaign for Governor next week. It's time for new ideas and proven leadership in Annapolis. Our economy and our families can afford no less. Click 'News' on my Facebook page for details about next week's kick off." The response: More than 2,000 people have given the status a thumb's up, and more than 500 have commented. Hoping to translate virtual fans into real ones, Ehrlich has also posted information about his two campaign kick-off events April 7. At 10 a.m. that day, he'll be at the Rockville Town Center, and at 6 p.m., he'll hit the American Legion in Halethorpe. O'Malley also unveiled his challenger to his nearly 4,400 Facebook fans. About an hour ago, his status was updated to read: "Well, its official: Bob Ehrlich just announced he'll be my opponent in the race for governor this year. Tell us your thoughts and invite your friends. Visit: http://www.martinomalley.com for ways you can help Anthony and me keep our state moving forward." So far, six people "like" the status (though it's a bit awkward for O'Malley fans to give it a thumb's-up), and about two dozen people have commented. State law prohibits O'Malley from campaigning* raising or soliciting money until the legislative session ends April 12, but look for him to use Facebook to promote his trail stops*. * An astute reader pointed out that O'Malley can still spend money on his campaign during session -- just not raise any.
Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:35 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

No scholarships, no bond bills.

Fiery Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier sent a stern message of fiscal responsibility to the other chamber Tuesday: No bond bills for you!

"We're at a point where we are rubbing pennies together," said Klausmeier told us. "I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do." Klausmeier amended the Capital Budget (SB 142) to say that Gov. Martin O'Malley should "not include funds for legislative initiatives" in FY2012 and FY2013.

That money, instead, should go to public school construction funds. This year O'Malley set aside $15 million for lawmakers' pet projects.

Klausmeier said the amendment was not at all connected to a decision by the House Appropriations Committee to strip legislative scholarships from the FY2011 budget, a popular program among Senators. (The program costs $11.5 million. It works like this: the 141 delegates split $5 million for scholarships. The Senate's 47 members split $6.5 million.)

But several other lawmakers smelled retribution. "This may have been an effort to get the House's attention," said Del. Frank Turner. "She probably put in a friendly amendment -- to remind us of the importance of the scholarships to the Senate."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

March 30, 2010

Senate joins House in approving governor's sex offender reforms

The Maryland General Assembly has given its blessing to all of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed sex offender reforms.

The Senate yesterday joined the House of Delegates in passage of a plan that adds more information to the state's publicly available sex offender registry and of a measure to reconstitute a long-dormant Sex Offender Advisory Board. O'Malley, a Democrat, was criticized earlier this year by some lawmakers for not activating the board sooner.

The Senate has also signed off on "lifetime supervision" of certain violent and repeat sex offenders who leave prison.

Sex offender reforms have been a hot topic this session, with lawmakers vowing to take up the cause after an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl was killed in December. A convicted sex offender has been charged with capital murder in Sarah Foxwell's death.

Although O'Malley's package is nearly ready for his signature, two major sex offender proposals by other lawmakers remain in a key Senate committee as the legislative session winds down. It is unclear whether the Senate will OK a House plan to eliminate good-time prison credits for the worst sex offenders and extend prison sentences for child molesters.

Chairman Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, said his Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee may vote on those bills later today.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

March 29, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Md Dems raise more $$ than GOP

A just-released report from the Center for American Politics and Citizenship University of Maryland breathlessly confirms a piece of MD conventional political wisdom: Democrats here are more powerful than Republicans.

The report examines state lawmakers' fundraising figures from 2006 to January 2010.

Here are the "major findings" (we are quoting below from their report, which you can read here): 
- On average, legislative leaders in both parties raised and spent more money than their fellow incumbents. 
- The chief party leaders of the Democratic Party, Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, raised and spent sums that were vastly greater than any of their fellow legislators. 
- Legislative leaders of both parties transfer large sums of money to their fellow partisan candidates and other political organizations. 
- Democratic leaders are able to raise and spend more than their Republican counterparts.

We liked the fundraising amounts among a group the researchers labeled the “Big Four” leaders. - Senate President Thomas V “Mike” Miller raised $1,039,729;
- House Speaker Michael E. Busch raised $593,000;
- Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman raised $117,565;
- House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell raised $41,306.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:43 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

What about Bob?

As Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. readies himself for a widely anticipated rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley this fall, The Baltimore Sun on Sunday reviewed what he has been up to the past three and a half years.

The only Republican in a generation elected to lead Maryland, Ehrlich was defeated after one term by the Democratic mayor of Baltimore. Since then, he has launched the Baltimore office of North Carolina law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and hosted a Saturday radio talk show with his wife, Kendel Ehrlich.

But he seems tired of being on the sidelines. He told The Sun:

"I have missed being part of the debate. I have been frustrated by the policy decisions in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill. The radio show, the speeches and all that - I can get my message out there. But in this business, you're either in or you're out."

He told us his law office has been successful and described his daily duties as "speeches, coffees, dinners, lunches, meetings." He said he is a "rainmaker," and he does not personally represent any of Womble's clients.

Henry Fawell, a Womble employee and a spokesman for Ehrlich, provided a list of "sample clients from the Maryland office." Although we named a few in the Sunday piece, here is the extended list:

· A&G Pharmaceutical
· BAA Maryland
· CSA Medical
· NewAgriculture, LLC
· Precision Antibodies
· Reset Medical
· Therataxis, LLC
· XLHealth Corporation
· AmeriDream
· Archbold Medical Center
· Canam Steel Corporation
· Dustin Construction, Inc.
· Clifton Gunderson LLP
· SunTrust Bank
· Brown Advisory
· Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
· Cordish Cos. (Fawell noted this is not an active client.)
· RJ Reynolds (Womble's Winston-Salem office has long represented the cigraette company. David B. Hamilton, a Baltimore office employee and Ehrlich's personal attorney when he was in the governor's office, represented RJR in a lawsuit Maryland brought against it for advertising. The suit has been settled.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:12 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

RNC Denies Steele Expensed Trip to X-Rated Club

The Democratic National Committee is having a field day Monday at the expense of its cross-town rivals at the RNC--or the "Risque National Committee," as the Dems put it in one of the blizzard of e-mailed releases they are sending out.

It started overnight when a politically themed blog, The Daily Caller, released the latest report about RNC Chairman Michael Steele's spending habits and his affinity for flying private jets at party expense.

The story also said that Steele dropped more than $15,000 of committee money on a recent trip to the Los Angeles area.

Included in the RNC's report for February spending was $1,946.25 for "meals" at Voyeur West Hollywood, which the online article said was a "bondage themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex."

The Daily Caller says the FEC filings "suggest" that "Steele travels in style." From there it wasn't much of a leap for the DNC to send out emails stating that "Yes, it appears that Michael Steele spent RNC money" at the nightclub.

No way to know, from the monthly RNC filing (all 2,500 pages), just who was there.

The line immediately above the expense in question in the FEC report provides a clue.

It contains a payment to Erik Brown, at an address in Orange, California, who was reimbursed for the $1,946.25.

Brown is a Republican direct mail consultant (his business address is the one on the FEC report). He did not immediately respond to a telephone call from The Baltimore Sun.

In a follow-up item, the Daily Caller reported that Brown appears to be close to Steele: In October, Brown wrote on Twitter, “Enjoying the football game with RNC Chairman Michael Steele. (Eagles vs Redskins at FedEx Field)”.

Read more


Doug Heye, the RNC's chief spokesman, has issued the following statement:

“We are investigating the expenditure in question. The story willfully and erroneously suggests that the expenditure in question was one belonging to the Chairman. This was a reimbursement made to a non-committee staffer. The Chairman was never at the location in question, he had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location at all acceptable. Good reporting would make that distinction crystal clear. The committee has requested that the monies be returned to the committee and that the story be corrected so that it is accurate.”

The RNC said the Daily Caller story was "riddled with misleading information and inaccuracies."

According to the RNC, referring to specific passages in the story:

1. Steele’s spokesman, Doug Heye, did not deny that such discussions took place, responding that the RNC never had a “plan” to buy a plane. “I don’t know what somebody might have discussed or might not have discussed.” – This was during our off the record conversation Friday, yet the reporter included it on the record.
2. Steele’s office repeatedly refused to explain in specific terms the circumstances of the February charter flights. – This is factually inaccurate. I personally told the reporter on Friday about the specific flights.
3. Steele himself declined numerous interview requests. This is factually inaccurate, Steele himself never declined anything; I did.
4. The piece repeated talks about “Steele’s expenses,” when quite often they are finance/fundraising expenses and not just for the expenditure in question. Though I made a clear distinction with Jonathan, his story fails to do so.

The Daily Caller was founded in January by Tucker Carlson, a Fox News veteran, as a counter
to liberal online sites like the Huffington Post.

Posted by Paul West at 2:00 PM | | Comments (22)
        

March 25, 2010

Boy Scouts, the governor and ... Hitler?

It's almost never a good idea to compare a politician to Hitler or the devil -- let alone to do so in writing.

But that’s just what Douglas B. Riley did as he tried to inspire his friends to come to a breakfast benefit for the Boy Scouts of America. Riley, a Republican attorney who was once a member of the Baltimore County Council and ran unsuccessfully for county executive and state Senate, figured his colleagues needed a little push since the guest speaker is Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Riley, who is a chairman of the annual fund-raising event for the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, sent a March 12 letter to about three dozen of his friends and supporters. He wrote: “I’m inclined, though, to quote Winston Churchill in praise of Governor O’Malley and his support for our cause:

"I'm inclined, though, to quote Winston Churchill in praise of Governor O'Malley and his support for our cause:

'If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.'"

While the letter is on what appears to be campaign stationery, Riley is not a candidate for any office this year.

O'Malley's aides obtained a copy earlier today and called the Boy Scouts. Riley learned of the inquiry and called the governor's chief of staff, Matthew Gallagher, to apologize. Riley also emailed an apology.

Riley explained in an interview, that he "wasn't trying to compare O'Malley to the Nazis or anything like that."

"I was teasing myself," he said. "I was, not immodestly, comparing myself to Winston Churchill."

The context -- not included in the letter -- is that Churchill delivered the infamous line when members of Parliament questioned why he had sent supplies to the Soviet Union after Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. Churchill was outspokenly anti-Communist.

In this scenario, Riley said, he had "been in the trenches for years" working for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and yet now here he was asking people to come listen to O'Malley speak. His letter noted that a similar breakfast fund-raiser a few years ago with Ehrlich generated a huge turnout.

"I am really, honestly, sorry about it," Riley said of the letter. "I feel like it's been misinterpreted."

Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman, said Riley had apologized.

"There’s no place for references like this in our public discourse," Abbruzzese said. "Regardless of his political views, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Riley would use this kind of language to solicit support for the Boy Scouts of America."

O'Malley plans to attend the Friday breakfast.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:40 PM | | Comments (9)
        

March 24, 2010

April 7: Ehrlich Day?

A Washington television news show host says he has learned that Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will announce his bid to reclaim the Maryland governor's office at 10 a.m. April 7 in Rockville.

The Republican former governor has for months been exploring a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who defeated him in 2006 after one term.

Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, would not confirm the announcement details, which come from Bruce DePuyt, host of "NewsTalk" on ABC 7 and NewsChannel 8. DePuyt reports that "an informed source" gave him the specifics, which include a second Ehrlich event at his childhood home in Arbutus the evening of April 7.

Ehrlich has said only that an announcement is coming "soon."

Since leaving the governor's office in January 2007, Ehrlich and some of his top aides have worked at the Baltimore branch of law giant Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.

Although the April 7 events -- and Ehrlich's candidacy -- remain unofficial, reporters asked O'Malley about a potential rematch today at a health care reform event.

"He’s welcome. I’m looking forward," O'Malley said. "Enjoyed it last time, and I’m looking forward to it this time."

(credit to Sun health reporter Kelly Brewington for that last bit.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:49 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Cardin Calls for Probe of Military Suicides and Antidepressant Use

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland called Wednesday for a government-funded investigation into possible links between the growing use of anti-depressants by members of the military and high rates of suicide among men and women in uniform.

The Democratic senator, in remarks to a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, said that only "a proper scientific study" can determine whether "DOD is prescribing anti-depressants to its service members appropriately."

Cardin quoted from the most recent Defense department statistics, covering 2005 to 2008, which showed a 400 percent increase in prescriptions for antidepressants and other drugs used to combat anxiety. The senator called those numbers "disturbing."

At the same time, other government figures have reflected a significant increase in suicides among those in uniform. For example, in 2009, there were 160 suicides among active-duty members of the U.S. Army, a 15 percent increase over 2008.

Cardin called the number of suicides "unprecedented" and asked whether there was a relationship between the use of antidepressants and "the alarming rate of suicides" in the military.

He said the Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns about many of the same drugs prescribed routinely for troops battling anxiety and depression. The FDA's interest has led drug manufacturers to revise warning labels on their products to indicate that young adults, ages 18 to 24, may be at "elevated risk of suicidal thought and behavior while using these medications," said Cardin.

Roughly two in five U.S. servicemen and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq fall into the 18-24 age bracket, the senator said. About two in five Army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 were believed to have taken anti-depressants, Cardin added.

Cardin succeeded in getting the Senate to insert an amendment on the issue into a Defense measure last year, but it was removed before Congress approved the legislation. There will be another attempt made this year, according to his office, to have Congress authorize a scientific study of possible links between military suicides and a range of antidepressants, sleeping pills and other narcotics prescribed to combat troops.

At the hearing, Cardin renewed his call for the Senate to consider requiring the Defense department to deliver an annual disclosure of "the extent to which it is employing antidepressant medications to treat the wartime stress and overall mental health of our service men and women.”

Posted by Paul West at 2:44 PM | | Comments (3)
        

March 23, 2010

Senate says: No holding cell phones while driving

Late, late, late Monday night the Senate gave preliminary approval to a measure that bans talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. Marylanders could still chat on the phone via a headset. They lowered the fine for violations to $40 from $100.

The legislation (SB 321) prompted a lengthy debate in the Senate, with members rejecting eleven amendments offered by Sen. E.J. Pipkin who wanted to weaken the bill. As the evening wore on his, his colleagues – notably Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden --became increasingly impatient. (The Sun's Michael Dresser has written extensively about the bill here.)

The most substantial debate came early with Sen. Rona E. Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, implored her colleagues to place a complete ban on cell phone usage while driving. “The danger comes from engaging your mind in the conversation,” she said. “If we want to be safe what we need to do is ban cell phone use.”

The measure as written, she argued, merely encourages Marylanders to buy headsets for their phones. “I would proffer that we are asking our constituents to flush money down the toilet,” she said.

Sen. Michael G. Lenett acknowledged that bill might not prevent the “cognitive” distraction that arises from yammering while driving, but he said it does end a type of a “physical distraction” presented when a driver holds a phone instead of the steering wheel.

Then Sen. E.J. Pipkin began producing his amendments. He wanted to tweak the language and allow drivers to “adjust the volume” of the phone while driving. (“We don’t ban turning the radio up or down,” he said on the floor.)

Sen. Brian Frosh, who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, objected. “You are going to make the bill unenforceable,” he said. He offered an example: “Let me just adjust the brightness of the screen,” he said. “It just gets silly.” The change failed 15-31.

Next Pipkin wanted to let drivers to use the speaker phone function on their phone. It failed 17-29. Then Pipkin suggested a carve out for using a GPS on a phone wile driving. That went down 15-30.

Perhaps to give him a break, Sen. David Brinkley rose to amend the bill so drivers could look up a contact before making a call. That seemed to be gaining traction as some Senators realized it might be preferable to look up a name than dial a 10 digit phone number.

But Frosh noted the change would open a loophole in the legislation. “You can’t go mining the contact info for data” while driving, Frosh told Senators. The amendment failed 17 to 28.

Pipkin, refreshed, rose again with a fourth amendment. It let drivers fiddle with the music functions on their phone while on the road. The idea failed 14-31. Next he wanted to allow drivers to call for towing services while driving. Pipkin also wanted an exemption for highway employees, and then he wanted the bill to only create a violation if a driver got into an accident.

 “Can we put these on a consent calendar?” McFadden asked, hoping to group them all together and then reject them all in one swoop.

As time went on Pipkin tried to exempt all calls from parents to children, a change that would have essentially gutted the bill in the opinion of some senators. It failed and he rose to offer another amendment. 

Exasperated, McFadden exclaimed “Here we go again!”

All of Pipkin’s idea failed. The bill still awaits final Senate approval and must be taken up in the House of Delegates.



Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:40 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

March 21, 2010

Kratovil: "No" on Health Care

Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the House, confirms that he will be a "No" vote in the Sunday night showdown over health care.

“While the legislation now under consideration before the House has made some improvements over [the original House health care] bill, a number of the concerns I have raised throughout this debate have still not been addressed, which is why I will be voting “No,” he said.

The freshman from the Eastern Shore represents a conservative district that strongly favored Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Democratic strategists and fellow lawmakers have included him in the small group of House Democrats whose districts are so opposed to the legislation that they would be wise to vote against it if they want to get re-elected this fall.

Kratovil is campaigning for re-election by pointing to his voting record in his first term, which shows him closer to the political center and less tied to his party's leadership than other Maryland congressmen.

In November, Kratovil voted against a more liberal version of the health care overhaul when it cleared the House by a five-vote margin. He initially became the target of speculation that his vote might be available to Democratic leaders on the final vote, if they needed it to pass the measure into law.

But after briefly indicating that he wanted to see what the final version looked like before stating his position, he quickly closed the door in the face of new Republican attacks orchestrated by the GOP"s House campaign committee, which has targeted him for defeat in 2010.

A statement, released by Kratovil's office late Saturday night, recapped his earlier statements on the legislation and confirmed his opposition to the measure.

He said the Democratic plan did too little to control costs and threatened to increase the budget deficit. He also questioned whether the federal mandate that will require everyone to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, would pose an excessive burden on middle-class families (this criticism has also been expressed by supporters of a provision that the plan does not include: a public option).

Kratovil's complete statement is below:

“Since the debate over health care reform began last year, I have tried to work constructively with colleagues in Washington to craft a bill that could expand coverage and reduce health care costs while preserving consumer choice and putting our nation on a more stable long-term fiscal footing. In November, I voted against a bill that I believed fell short of these goals, citing the overall cost, the deficit impact, and the negative impact that the bill’s employer mandates could have on job creation.

“While the legislation now under consideration before the House has made some improvements over that bill, a number of the concerns I have raised throughout this debate have still not been addressed, which is why I will be voting “No”. The bill’s overall price tag of $1.07 trillion is above the target set by Democratic leadership earlier in the debate, even after cutting the $208 billion “doctor fix” out from previous versions of reform legislation. When this additional cost is added to this bill, the Congressional Budget Office has stated that the package would increase deficit by $59 billion in the next 10 years. I am also concerned about the impact this bill will have on the cost of coverage for middle class families in the non-group market, as well as the impact that the employer mandate would have on employment at a time when job creation must be our top priority. And while some of the most egregious backroom deals in the Senate bill would be ended by the reconciliation package, other provisions benefitting individual states at the expense of Maryland taxpayers would continue.

“I recognize that health care reform is an urgent priority, and would strongly support efforts to reform our health care system by ending the practice of rescission, extending coverage for children on a parents’ plan up to 26 years old, creating a federal exchange to facilitate more transparent competition, closing the Part D “Donut Hole”, and encouraging competition across state lines. However, I believe that the package currently before the House does not represent a fiscally sustainable approach to reform. This is too important of an issue not to get right".

-Rep. Frank Kratovil

Posted by Paul West at 8:18 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

March 20, 2010

Hoyer Regrets "Un-American" Phrase

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said he regrets using the phrase "un-American" in an op-ed article about health-care protesters at congressional town hall meetings last summer.

"I don't regret the editorial, or the op-ed, but the rhetoric was not good," Hoyer said in an interview Saturday with The Baltimore Sun.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Hoyer wrote in a USA Today opinion piece last August that "an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue."

They went on to say: "These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."

Republicans immediately seized on the phrase to attack the Democratic leaders as intolerant. House Republican Leader John Boehner said that "to label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats’ plan “un-American” is outrageous and reprehensible."

In the interview, Hoyer explained that he was on the road when his staff either faxed the final version of the article to him or sent it to his BlackBerry and that he read right over the "un-American" phrase.

"I read it quickly, and I didn’t catch it, and I’m ticked at myself for not catching that, because opposition is not un-American," he said.

Hoyer said he "was not a happy camper" after the article was published and that he expects to see the incident recycled in the aftermath of Sunday's showdown vote in the House.

After the interview, a Hoyer spokeswoman explained that the Maryland congressman's "regret is more about using what is a hot-button phrase that can easily be taken out of context rather than the underlying point, which was not that the opposition is un-American, but that 'drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.'"

Read more about Hoyer and health care later on BaltimoreSun.com and in Sunday's print edition of The Baltimore Sun.

Posted by Paul West at 1:01 PM | | Comments (15)
        

March 19, 2010

NJ mocks MD budget

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a swipe at Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget in a recent address, saying that Maryland's $13 billion spending plan relies on “borrowing to cover current obligations” and “in doing so they are piling one problem on top of another, reducing the creditworthiness of their state, and creating a crisis that will be larger in the future.”

True Maryland is undergoing tough times. The state faces a $2 billion budget hole that O’Malley plugs using a combination of cuts and one-time accounting maneuvers. O’Malley borrows about $350 million from account that collects state income taxes to cover operating costs, a move that raised some eyebrows but did not impact the state's top credit rating.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown stressed that point when we asked his opinion. “Maryland has a triple- A bond rating,” he said. “We don’t take that for granted.” He also defended the state’s used of bonds, saying that debt is plowed back into the local economy. State-financed construction projects, he said, represent 16 percent of Maryland’s construction industry.

Some on the Senate Budget and Tax Committee are not so sure and are considering major cuts to O'Malley's budget. (Update: B&T cut about $120 million from O'Malley's plan, despite their tough talk.) Regardless of the in-state budget discussion, is Maryland even in the same league as New Jersey?

A call to Fitch revealed that NJ's GO bonds just got a AA- rating in December. Also that state now faces $10.7 billion hole in its $29 billion budget, according to Christie. “It is a massive deficit,” the NJ governor told his legislature. “The largest deficit of any state in America.”

They are closing Motor Vehicle offices one day a week, chopping nearly a $800 million from local school aid, increasing prescription drug co-pays for seniors and reducing tax rebates, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger's statehouse reporters who've compiled their budget related coverage here.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:28 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

March 18, 2010

Card games, table games and VLTs

A local bill backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to provide a financial stimulus to Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County opened the door this morning to a long and loud debate about the state’s fledging gaming program.

The bill permits card games at Rosecroft – this means poker, blackjack – but not slots or table games like roulette. The struggling racetrack is on the verge of collapse, according to owners who testified at a Senate hearing last week.

One owner teared up describing the potential loss of 600 jobs. But permitting such gaming at Rosecroft would require a constitutional amendment and a statewide referendum. While the voters at it, why not expand gaming across the state? That was the question Minority Leader Allan Kittleman asked on the floor, offering an amendment that would allow the state slots commission to award six “table game” licenses anywhere in Maryland.

The licenses would be distributed by the slots commission either in the locations already approved for slots … or anywhere else the commission determines they should go. BWI Airport, for example, one place some have discussed.

Some Senators objected saying Kittleman’s idea has not had a hearing and is too vague. But they also sounded frustrated that surrounding states are enhancing their own gaming programs while Maryland is being left behind.

“All of the state around us are better situated,” said Sen. Delores G. Kelly, a Baltimore County Democrat. She also cited cost: “Why do all of us have to pay for a referendum that only deals with one jurisdiction?”

Den. George Della, from Baltimore also wants to expand gaming options. “This would be a great way to help ourselves,” he said, supporting Kittleman’s idea. Della was once opposed to gaming, but now that it has passed he wants the types of gambling expanded. “This would take us to the next level,” he said.

Senators didn’t vote on the amendments this morning. They plan to continue the debate Friday. No matter what they do, the idea of expanding gaming will likely come before the body again this session. Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat, said she’s confident the Senate Budget and Tax Committee will approve her bill that allows table games.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Dems: Ehrlich wrongly using law firm employees for campaign

The Maryland Democratic Party has fired another shot at Team Ehrlich, this time taking aim at the Republican former governor's use of his current employer's resources.

In a letter today to the state election board, party Chairwoman Susan Turnbull writes that "the Baltimore law offices of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice ... (are) serving as the de facto campaign headquarters" for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Yet, Turnbull notes, "Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee has not reported receipt of any in-kind contribution from the law firm."

I have emailed the letter to Ehrlich's aides and am waiting to hear back from them.

Ehrlich says he will soon announce whether he plans to rematch Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, in the November election. But the Maryland Democratic Party isn't waiting for Ehrlich to become offical. Today's letter is just the latest in several recent attacks, which range from a creating a parody Ehrlich Web site to asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether Ehrlich violated "payola pundit" rules in a Fox broadcast where he discussed slots.

The campaign complaint centers on Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.

Ehrlich, a founding partner of Womble's Baltimore office, brought Fawell and other top aides to work with him at the firm. Turnbull's letter complains that Fawell, a press secretary while Ehrlich was governor from 2003 to 2007, has continued to serve as Ehrlich's spokesman even when on the clock at Womble.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:44 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

House joins Senate in approving civil filing fee bump

The House of Delegates this morning approved raising the cost of filing a lawsuit -- money that would be used to support civil legal services for the poor. Lawmakers this year have looked to fees as a way to fund social programs hard hit by the economy.

The House plan is more moderate than what the Senate approved earlier this month. Delegates want to charge $130 for Circuit Court filings, instead of the $105 they now cost. (The Senate approved raising the cost to $150.) Under the House plan, District Court filing fees would go up by $7 or $15, compared to the $10 or $20 increase approved by the Senate.

Delegates also demanded more financial reporting from Maryland Legal Services Corp., the recipient of the additional fees, and want the increases to end after three years. The two proposals must be reconciled before the 90-day legislative session ends April 12. Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, warned his colleagues that he will not support the Senate plan. Other delegates, including House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell of Calvert County, opposed even the moderate fee increase.

O'Donnell said it's unfair to "nickel and dime citizens" in the midst of a bad economy, regardless of the cause that money supports.

The court fees would be used to prop up legal assistance in foreclosure filings, child custody battles and landlord-tenant disputes -- civil cases where poor people are not entitled to a lawyer, unlike in criminal cases.

Legal aid revenue has been walloped even as those services are more in demand than ever, advocates say. A traditional source of funding -- interest accrued on lawyers' trust accounts -- is quickly drying up because interest rates are so low. Maryland Legal Services Corp., which distributes money to about three dozen free legal clinics across the state, estimates interest this year will generate about $2 million for them, down from $6.7 million in 2008.

The House plan would provide about $4 million in new money for legal services, delegates said.

Other court fees, including extra charges for divorce petitions in Prince George's County and marriage licenses in Baltimore City, are under consideration this year. Revenue from those increases would be used to support domestic violence programs.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:40 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: General Assembly 2010, Tax & Spend
        

March 17, 2010

EPA Objections May Put Ruthsburg Facility On Slow Track

A State Department plan to build a major new diplomatic security facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore may have hit a serious snag after the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency raised questions about possible environmental damage.

The federal government's real estate arm chose a 2,000-acre farm site in Ruthsburg, in rural Queen Anne's County, last year as the preferred site for the training center. The campus-like facility, to be built with millions in stimulus dollars, attracted intense local opposition that forced state and federal elected officials to back off from their previous support for the project.

Now a caution flag raised by the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could signal major new delays.

In a letter late last week, EPA advised the General Services Administration (GSA), overseer for federal construction projects, to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.

"EPA believes that the project may adversely affect the aquatic and terrestrial environment, including wetlands and, potentially, endangered species," wrote Jeffrey D. Lapp, associate director of EPA's regional Office of Environmental Programs in Philadelphia.

Lapp added that EPA had already discussed the issue with GSA and advised that "it might be prudent" to consider an environmental impact statement "at this stage of the investigation. It has been the experience of EPA Region III that projects of a similar nature, requiring large land transfer and development, in a sensitive area, have been studied and publically (sic) vetted through the EIS process."

GSA had hoped to acquire the land by the middle of this year and had embarked on a less time-consuming environmental assessment process, in hopes of fast-tracking construction of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC).

An environmental impact statement must consider a full-range of "ecological, aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic, social, or health impacts," according to the federal government. It is required for projects that would have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment.

Drafting and approving an environmental impact statement can add months, and possibly years, to the start of a project.

The EPA advised the federal government's real-estate arm to start the EIS process immediately, as an apparent alternative to completing the current review process, which has already included several public hearings in Queen Anne's County over the past three months.

Posted by Paul West at 11:15 PM | | Comments (25)
        

Sex offender bills on the move (in the House, at least)

The Maryland House of Delegates today gave early approval to two major sex offender reforms, eliminating good-time prison credits for the most violent and repeat predators and establishing lifetime supervision for them.

Republican lawmakers pushed to expand several of the provisions, including ones that would force judges to bar all high-level sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and day care centers and require global-position devices. Those efforts were defeated after Democratic leaders argued that they would be too costly and could concentrate offenders in rural areas.

On Thursday, the House is scheduled to take up legislation that would bring the state into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act by adding more information to the state sex offender registry.

The House must give final approval to all of the measures, and a key Senate panel has just begun debating them. The Senate Judiciary Committee has in previous years been loath to restrict good-time prison credits. That same committee has also previously rejected efforts to change the requirements for registration for homeless sex offenders — one of the provisions the House is to consider Thursday.

Sex offender reforms have been a hot topic this session, with lawmakers vowing to take up the cause after an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl was killed in December. A convicted sex offender has been charged with capital murder in Sarah Foxwell's death.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

Wine almost at your doorstep

The contentious idea of lifting the ban on the direct shipment of wine to Maryland house nearly received a vote on the Senate floor this morning – by accident.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, was considering attaching one of two different amendments to an unrelated wine bill during this morning's session.

  • Amendment A: Lifted state ban on direct wine shipping to residences.
  • Amendment B: Directed Comptroller Peter Franchot to study how other state have implemented direct shipping.

Raskin consulted with his colleague Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the committee overseeing the wine debate, and pledged to offer the weaker Amendment B. Critical in his thinking were the pleas from the state’s wineries who worried his idea would kill the underlying bill which they’ve long wanted. (The underlying bill allows vineyards to sell their wine a farmers' markets, that bill was delayed for one day).

However, Raskin accidently handed out the stronger Amendment A, a mistake that caused Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to nickname the two-time Harvard graduate “Absent Minded Professor.”

Raskin swapped the amendments and later told us that he’s “been frustrated” with the lack of action on the direct shipping issue. He says the years of delay on the issue show an example of “the public interest being ignored because of the pleasure of a special interest.” (The Washington Post recently wrote about the power of Maryland liquor lobby; The Sun tackled the issue a few years ago - read it after the jump.)

Raskin predicts that next year will be the year for direct shipping – otherwise he says he’ll “bring a sleeping bag” and filibuster in the Senate.

Across the hall in the House Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the Economic Matters Committee, said he plans to talk with his committee members today about Raskin’s amendment. He said he would not be surprised if it is offered in the House Thursday when that body is set to debate a similar underlying bill allowing wine sales at farmer’s markets.

Liquor lobby holds strong
Bloc with money, muscle scores many legislative feats

Bradley Olson and Gadi Dechter

Maryland's powerful liquor lobby is on track to achieve virtually all of its legislative priorities during this General Assembly session - despite opposition from the attorney general, the comptroller, public health advocates and hundreds of consumers.

    Legislators shot down Internet wine sales, which are legal in most of the country. They are poised to expand the definition of beer to include such items as Jack Daniel's Country Cocktail, allowing wider distribution and lower taxes for such drinks. When they crafted a bill to outlaw slot machine-like devices, they left out the kind that proliferates in Baltimore bars. And despite the state's budget problems, they are likely to leave the liquor tax rate right where it has been since 1955.Such decisions have a big impact on Marylanders, who can't join a wine-of-the-month club or, in most cases, pick up a six-pack at the grocery store because of industry lobbying to maintain a strict set of regulations. The result: limited competition and limited choice, consumer advocates say.

    "It's enormously frustrating," Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat who supports raising alcohol taxes, said of the industry's power. "We're talking pure greed versus the public interest."

    Legislators who have supported positions backed by the liquor lobby say they decide each issue on its merits. But critics say it is no coincidence that the industry is among the most openhanded political donors, contributing nearly $3 million in the past decade.

    "When you're dealing with this issue, particularly in Annapolis - which has created state-protected, regulated monopolies - you have a very long list of state legislators who will go to any length to protect that system," said Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a libertarian-oriented think tank. "Ultimately the end loser is the consumer because they're not given the benefits of a fair and free marketplace."

    Liquor industry officials disagree. They say Maryland's regulations are needed to ensure proper tax collection, to protect jobs and to prevent sales to minors. Allowing wine sales over the Internet, for example, might provide easier access for teens. And state regulation of flavored drinks such as the Jack Daniel's cocktail should follow established federal rules, they say.

    Still, it's clear that those positions are backed by plenty of money. Since 2002, alcohol interests have paid lobbyists about $2 million.

    And more than 80 percent of state legislators have received campaign contributions from the liquor lobby, records show. In the past decade, liquor license holders, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers and their political action committees have contributed an average of nearly $350,000 annually to hundreds of candidates. Donations range from as little as $100 to the state maximum: $4,000 per candidate per election cycle, according to a Sun analysis of data on alcohol-related interest groups and more than 7,000 liquor license holders.

    To put that in context, watchdog groups decrying the energy industry's influence over Maryland's 1999 utility deregulation plan said this year that industry donations to state candidates and committees totaled $1 million since 1998.

    In the same period, alcohol interests gave about $2.8 million to preserve the current system of regulation.

    Many legislators say the money does not give the liquor lobby undue influence. Even Bronrott says donations might ease access to legislators but do not guarantee favorable votes.

    Del. Mary Ann Love, who chairs the House subcommittee that deals with alcohol regulation, said her positions are not influenced by the $15,000 in donations she has received from the industry over the past decade. "I take money from a lot of people," said Love, an Anne Arundel Democrat. "My positions aren't going to change."

   
Industry's might

    The industry's strength has been displayed on several seemingly disparate issues during the General Assembly session.

    Early this month, panel after panel of wine lovers pleaded with state senators to allow consumers to buy their favorite merlot and pinot noir online, as is allowed in 34 other states, including Pennsylvania, and in Washington, D.C.

    Although Gov. Martin O'Malley has collected more from the liquor lobby than any Maryland politician in office - more than $230,000, mainly from seven years as Baltimore mayor - he was inclined to support the wine bill, said spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

    But just as the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County, was exhorting a Senate committee to "free the grapes," a House panel voted down the measure, 17-3, effectively killing it.

    Ultimately, both chambers were persuaded by arguments made by Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland - among the most generous donors to state politicians. He said the bill would reduce distribution-related jobs and hurt state wineries, even though the association that represents them endorsed the bill.

    A similar scene played out several times in recent weeks. For example, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler asked lawmakers to reject a bill classifying Mike's Hard Lemonade and other sugary alcohol products as "beer."

    A number of lawmakers and county public health directors also opposed the measure, saying the products are marketed to teens and should not be afforded the wide distribution or lower taxes of beer. Supporters noted that most other states allowed this classification and that the products had roughly the same percentage of alcohol as beer.

    The bill passed in the Senate, 36-10, and is scheduled to be heard Tuesday by a House committee.

    Bronrott said he also expects that his proposal to raise alcohol taxes will fail.

    More than a dozen people - including students, recovering alcoholics and addiction experts - testified before a House committee considering the tax increases, which would have amounted to pennies per drink.

    Lawmakers seemed moved by the emotional testimony, but there appears to be little chance that the increases will pass. State taxes on alcohol haven't gone up since 1955 for liquor and 1972 for beer and wine. The rates are among the lowest in the nation.

    Bar owners also scored a big victory when a bill banning slot-like video gambling machines was amended to exempt thousands of machines reportedly used for illegal payouts in Baltimore City and Baltimore County taverns. Lawmakers who crafted the amendment say there was no need for the provision, because the alleged payouts are already illegal.

    "It's a pretty amazing accomplishment for special interests," Comptroller Peter Franchot said. "These video poker machines are magnets for corruption, for tax evasion and for vice, and you have an opportunity to get rid of them and the liquor industry and the gambling industry are blocking it."

   
Bigger recipients

    Lawmakers who lead the House and Senate, or sit on committees that handle liquor laws, tend to receive the most campaign money from the industry.

    For Love, contributions from alcohol interests made up 12 percent of the total she raised in the last election cycle.

    Two delegates who sit on her subcommittee - Anne Arundel County Republican James King and Baltimore County Democrat Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick - own bars, although both men said that doesn't pose a conflict of interest.

    "We have a citizens' legislature," said King, who owns the Rockfish restaurant and bar in Eastport. "Doctors deal with health care issues, lawyers deal with the law and some people like myself who own small businesses handle those issues."

    Many who have supported bills favored by the liquor industry say they sought to protect Maryland's "three-tier" alcohol distribution system. Here, as in some other states, alcohol is regulated in much the same way it was when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

    In general, alcohol manufacturers must sell their product to distributors, who then sell it to retailers such as bars, restaurants and liquor stores.

    House Speaker Michael E. Busch defends the three-tier system, saying it has stopped giant corporations from taking over local bars and breweries, and has helped generate competition.

    Busch - an Anne Arundel Democrat who has received about $23,000 in contributions from the industry since 1998, 1.4 percent of the total he has received during that period - says the liquor lobby does not hold undue influence in the legislature.

    Still, many lawmakers who have frequently sided with the alcohol lobby say the Byzantine regulations governing the industry should be re-examined.

    "I think anybody will tell you Article 2B is a mess," Del. Dereck E. Davis, who chairs a House committee that oversees alcohol regulations, said, referring to the more than 300 pages in Maryland law books that deal with alcohol.

    The Prince George's Democrat has said he would introduce a bill creating a task force to study the issue. This week, he backed off that proposal, saying an informal study might be sufficient.

 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:32 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Luck of the Irish: O'Malley On Elite DC Guest List

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Irish American) is one of the featured guests at today's St. Patrick's Day luncheon at the Capitol.

Top attendees at the annual event this year include President Barack Obama and Brian Cowen, the Irish Taoiseach (head of government). Others include members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.

O'Malley, who was seated beside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's brother, former Baltimore Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro III, in the Speaker's box at Obama's State of the Union speech this year, gets special attention in the press release from Pelosi's office:

Pelosi to Host President Obama and Irish Prime Minister Cowen at St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon Today

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi will host President Barack Obama and Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Brian Cowen of Ireland at the Speaker’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon.

The following is a schedule of events:

ST. PATRICK’S DAY LUNCHEON

WHO: Speaker Pelosi
President Barack Obama
Vice President Joe Biden
Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen
Members of Congress
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley

WHAT: Remarks by the Speaker, President Obama and the Taoiseach

WHEN: Wednesday, March 17, at 1:05 p.m.
NOTE: Escorted from Statuary Hall; staging at 12:45 p.m.

WHERE: Rayburn Room
The Capitol
Washington, D.C.


No mention of a vocal performance by O'Malley at what amounts to official Washington's most elite Irish festival of the year. With luck, you can catch the proceedings live on C-SPAN.

Posted by Paul West at 9:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

March 16, 2010

Vallario shows his hand on electing judges

A package of sex offender legislation was delayed on day in House floor at the request of Republican Leader Tony O’Donnell – but that didn’t prevent delegates from starting to debate the issue which, curiously, led to a revelation about the probable fate of Attorney General Doug Gansler’s bid to curtail competitive elections for circuit court judges.

In the floor exchange this morning, one delegate worried that the language in a proposed sex offender bill allowed judges too much discretion over sentencing and supervision.

House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario shot back.

“Judges will be responsible for their decisions,” Vallario hollered on the floor. “That is why we elect them. We have elected them for the last 200 years and hopefully we will continue.”

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has not yet voted on the measure, SB 833. The House version, HB 1385, also not had a committee vote.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Hoyer: Dems "playing it straight" on health care bill

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer strongly defended a Democratic plan to have the House approve Senate health care legislation without actually voting on it.

Hoyer, at a news conference in his Capitol office on Tuesday, stopped short of saying that a final decision had been made to use a controversial procedure when the House takes up health care later this week.

He corrected himself at one point after he indicated that Democratic leaders have decided to use the arcane maneuver, which would spare the House a direct vote on the Senate measure. Instead, the Senate legislation--which many Democrats would rather not have to vote on--will be "deemed" to have been approved, and the House would vote instead on a more politically attractive measure that combined health care with popular education legislation.

"We are playing it straight," Hoyer insisted. He said American voters would not care what process Congress uses to enact a sweeping health care overhaul and would focus instead on the merits of the new law.

At the same time, he defended the use of the procedural sidestep, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that she was considering employing. He cited statistics that, he said, showed that Republicans had used "deeming" process about twice as often as Democrats over the years.

Hoyer did not specify what period of time or what types of legislation were approved using the procedure.

Republicans have attacked the plan in both political and substantive terms, with some House Republicans raising questions about the legality of approving a major law in that way.

Hoyer, in turn, said Republicans were to blame for Democratic consideration of the procedural maneuver. He indicated that, if it was used, it would be because of the Republican strategy of trying to obstruct consideration of the health care legislation that President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have attempted to advance over the past year.

The southern Maryland congressman did not say when the legislation would reach a final vote in the House, now expected sometime later this week or over the weekend. He did say that the health care and education measures--which includes an expansion of the student loan program--were likely to be combined into a single package.

Hoyer acknowledged the strong support for the education measure but he stopped short of saying that combining the two pieces of legislation was mainly a political decision designed to make it easier to get the health care overhaul approved, as California Democratic Rep. George Miller, the Education committee chairman, has said. Hoyer traced the plans to merge the two measures back to last March.

The second-ranking Democrat in the House said he expects that "when we bring this bill to the House floor, we will have the votes for it."

Posted by Paul West at 12:29 PM | | Comments (24)
        

March 15, 2010

“Don’t cut that!” says McFadden

This afternoon Senators on the Budget and Taxation Committee voted rapidly on hundreds of line items in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s spending plan, making about $150 million worth of cuts.

Following along involved flipping between three different documents, straining to hear of legislative services analysts and trying to parse whether the body had said ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Keeping up required concentration. But it looked easy for Senator Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat.

When the Child First Authority came up for a vote, he objected to a $119,187 reduction. “Chairman, I’d like to keep this money,” McFadden said. “The program provides valuable services in the city.” Done. Money kept.

Later the Fine Arts grants were on the chopping block, McFadden raised his voice again. “They are essential,” McFadden said. Instead of a $1.1 million cut, the committee acquiesced and only took $600,000.

He also led opposition to a $250,000 cut to Executive Branch agencies (cut rejected).

And he did not like a $1.1 million cut to the Graduate and Professional Scholarship program. “We have to leave some money in there,” McFadden said. (Full disclosure: That one went by so quickly, we aren't completely sure what the committee did.)
Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

March 13, 2010

Beware: Mikulski Funder in Baltimore

Sen. Barbara A. Milkulski is holding a big hometown fundraiser for her 2010 re-election on the Ides of March.

The other 12 Democratic women senators are invited guests. Mikulski, first elected to the Senate in 1986, is proud to be known as their dean.

Tickets to the March 15 event at the downtown Hilton overlooking Camden Yards go for $500. The VIP reception, a chance to mingle in a more exclusive way ahead of time, costs $1,000 to $2,400 a head.

Several hundred people will attend, according to campaign manager Simone Ward.

Ward wouldn't say what they expect to clear from the event, but you can do the rough math. Of course, everyone there may not be a paying guest. Then again, some who give are typically no-shows.

Posted by Paul West at 11:18 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

March 12, 2010

Reports: Marylander In Line For Fed Seat

Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation Sarah Bloom Raskin is in line for a seat on the prestigious Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank, according to reports out of the White House.

The Wall Street Journal reports Friday that Raskin is one of two individuals that the Obama administration is considering for vacancies on the seven member Fed board.

The 48-year-old graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law is expected to be nominated, assuming that she passes a background check, the paper reported.

The New York Times also got the story, which gave it the appearance of a targeted leak.

Raskin, a lawyer and Takoma Park resident, is married to Democratic State Sen. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed her to the state job in August 28, 2007. Prior to that, she worked at a financial services consulting group, as a U.S. Senate Banking aide, when Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes chaired the committee, and as a staffer at the Federal Reserve's regional bank in New York.

"She combines a sensitivity for community and consumer issues, with an appreciation for the private sector, experience in supervision and a hard-headed academic, practical and thoughtful demeanor," her former boss, Eugene A. Ludwig, chief executive of Promontory Financial Group, was quoted as saying. "She's the ideal pick for this role."

Raskin is expected to be nominated with Janet Yellen, president of the Fed Bank of San Francisco, who is Obama's pick for vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

Read her official bio here.

Posted by Paul West at 2:41 PM | | Comments (0)
        

March 10, 2010

Earmark Change Could Hit Pet Projects in Maryland

Maryland employers, particularly those in the defense and aerospace industries, could take a hit from a decision Wednesday by House Democrats to ban corporate earmarks in 2010.

In an election-year effort to contest Republicans for the "reform" mantle, Democratic leaders in the House said they won't approve earmarks for corporate entities this year. Earmarks that go to for-profit enterprises are among the most controversial uses of the practice, because of the potential for scandal.

Potentially, tens of millions of dollars in federal spending in the state could be affected.

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee--two of the most prolific earmarkers in Congress--harshly criticized the move, raising questions about the ultimate impact of the House effort.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the change was designed to limit the influence of lobbyists and is part of a broader Democratic effort to end "a culture of corruption" in Washington and increase the transparency of government.

The decision could have the effect of also preventing senators from delivering earmarks to corporations, since both houses of Congress must ultimately approve the measures that include money for lawmakers' pet projects.

Earmarks are funds set aside for specific projects that circumvent the normal spending process. They have declined in number in recent years and make up only a tiny portion of overall federal spending, but still amount to $15.9 billion in the current fiscal year, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-profit watchdog group.

Most of Maryland's lawmakers in Washington, Democrat and Republican, solicited earmarks over the past year for corporations. The exceptions were Democratic Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, who solicited funds for non-profit or governmental projects only.

However, even in many of those cases, private companies were the ultimate beneficiaries.

Hoyer, the House Democratic leader, obtained $31.2 million in earmarked defense spending at Maryland installations, for procurement and construction projects. The companies who actually were paid to do the work were not disclosed in the earmark requests posted on Hoyer's official Web site.

As part of the House Democratic earmark reform, federal inspectors general will be required to audit five per cent of all earmarks that go to non-profits, to make sure they aren't really destined for corporations.

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, an influential member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added nearly $10 million to the 2010 defense spending measure for three of her top campaign donors--executives and political action committees of Northrop Grumman, Thales Communications and L-3 Communications.

Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, had $15 million in earmark requests granted, including for Northrop Grumman, one of his largest contributors over the years.

Here is Pelosi's statement, issued Wednesday:

“When Democrats assumed the majority of Congress in 2007, we pledged to place people ahead of lobbyists and the public interest before special interests. Over the last three years, we fought to replace a culture of corruption with a new direction of transparency and accountability, including earmark reforms in the last Congress.

“Today’s proposal totally bans corporate earmarks – critical reform that addresses concerns that many Americans have. It ensures that for-profit companies no longer reap the rewards of congressional earmarks and limits the influence of lobbyists on Members of Congress. This ban will ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars by the federal government across all agencies.

“To prevent any conflicts of interest, this initiative will empower the Defense Department – not Members of Congress – to choose which businesses and projects will receive funding. It will open the doors of the Pentagon to small start-ups with no inside connections. It will also require federal agencies to audit 5 percent of all earmarks directed to non-profit entities, to help ensure that non-profit earmarks go for their intended purpose.

“This measure builds on a record that began on the first day of the 110th Congress, when we passed the toughest ethics reform in a generation. The House created an independent ethics panel to fundamentally change how we investigate ourselves. We required that every earmark be listed online, next to the name of the Member who requested it. And the landmark Honest Leadership and Open Government Act demanded an unprecedented level of disclosure, closed the revolving between the Capitol and K Street, banned gifts from lobbyists and limited privately-funded travel. Previous Republican Congresses had years to act on these reforms. This New Direction Congress is actually implementing them.”

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Obey and Chairman Dicks, this Congress is continuing to uphold our pledge to bring honesty back to government.”

Here is the response by Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee:

“I don’t believe this policy or ceding authority to the Executive Branch on any spending decision is in the best interests of the Congress or the American people. In my view, it does not make sense to discriminate against for-profit organizations. I am not sure why we should treat for-profit earmarks any differently than non-profit earmarks.

“All of our for-profit earmarks are already subject to competition. What is the rationale to eliminate them? All earmarks are also subject to the strict transparency rules that were implemented at the beginning of last year, including a single location on the Committee website that links to a list of every Senator’s earmark requests. I would also note that all Senators file statements declaring that they and their immediate families have no financial stake in any earmark request.

“By increasing the transparency and reporting requirements we have erased the impropriety that could have existed when these matters were done in private. If mistakes were made by House members in the past, the new transparency rules eliminate that potential.

“Moreover, I am troubled by what this policy insinuates. It seems to suggest that for-profit entities are corrupt and non-profit entities are above reproach.

“The truth of the matter is that many, if not most, for-profit and non-profit entities lobby for themselves or employ lobbyists. That is how most of them make the Congress aware of their products and services. It is no secret that these meetings take place. In addition, it is no secret that many of these individuals make political contributions. All lobbyists file disclosure reports. These contributions are all fully disclosed and available for all to see on the Internet.

“I find the House Appropriations Committee’s recommendation quizzical. For example, I would note in the House’s Fact Sheet on earmarks it criticizes the explosion of earmarks in the Labor-HHS, Commerce, and Transportation bills, among others, but fails to point out that virtually all of this earmark growth came in the non-profit sector. Eliminating for-profit earmarks won’t address the growth areas that the House has criticized.

“I would conclude by pointing out that for-profit earmarks have met with some outstanding results. Here is one example. We are all proud of the success of the Predator drone. This program was a direct result of a Congressional earmark directed to a for-profit company. The initiative was put into a defense appropriations bill as a Congressional initiative. It was not an initiative from the Executive Branch. If the House’s proposed policy had been in effect at that time, we would not have the Predator today.”

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations panel added:

“Congress cannot ignore its constitutional responsibilities to approve the allocation of federal funds. I will continue to work with Chairman Inouye to ensure that the bills reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee are prepared in a transparent manner, conform to federal laws and only approve spending that is in the national interest.”

Posted by Paul West at 4:48 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Return of the death penalty debate

Five months after enacting tight restrictions on Maryland's seldom-used capital punishment statute, state lawmakers are considering another revision. Senators dismissed a total repeal of the death penalty last year in favor of a hastily crafted compromise plan. The new law means that prosecutors can only seek the death penalty in murder cases where there is DNA evidence, a video-recording of the crime or a video-taped confession from the killer.

It appears that just one prosecutor has filed capital charges since the statute took effect Oct. 1: Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis R. Ruark is seeking it in the case of James Leggs Jr. A registered sex offender, Leggs is accused of kidnapping and killing 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell days before Christmas.

Now, Sen. Norman Stone, a Baltimore County Democrat, wants to add fingerprints and still photographs to the list of evidence that can be used to initiate a capital case.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger testified in favor of the bill today before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, saying "it makes absolutely no sense" to dismiss fingerprints and photographs but allow DNA and video recordings.

On the other side of the debate, Katy C. O'Donnell, chief of the state public defenders' aggravated homicide division, which handles capital cases, said lawmakers sent a clear message last year. "We don't want just 'reliable' evidence," she said, "We want evidence with heightened reliability. She and other opponents raised questions about fingerprints, saying that more judges -- even in Baltimore County, where the death penalty has traditionally been used the most -- were dubious of the certainty that fingerprint identification provides.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, backs Stone's plan, but it is likely to be a tough sell in the House of Delegates. The House committee that would consider the measure favors repealing the death penalty altogether.

Five men are on Maryland's death row. The last execution was performed in December 2005. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, opposes the death penalty. His administration and a committee of many anti-death penalty lawmakers have been reviewing and revising execution protocols for the past few years, effectively instituting a moratorium.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

March 9, 2010

MD Senate acts on unemployment benefits

The Maryland Senate this morning unanimously approved a plan to change unemployment benefits as a way to tap into nearly $127 million in federal stimulus money.

Lawmakers worked feverishly with business groups that first opposed the plan because of concerns that it would impose long-term costs on employers. The compromise, which passed the full Senate today with no debate, increases the number of out-of-work Marylanders eligible for benefits by shifting the time period reviewed when calculating claims. But it offsets the estimated $20 million in new costs by reducing other benefits, such as sick claims.

A House of Delegates committee is reviewing the compromise plan and could vote on it as soon as this week.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

March 8, 2010

Andy Harris Gets Bartlett Help Despite Term Limit "Insult"

If Andy Harris had his way, Roscoe Bartlett, the only Republican congressman from Maryland, would have been sent packing years ago. He'd be out of the House and, presumably, back at his Frederick farm, raising sheep and dreaming up new scientific inventions.

That's because Harris, the Baltimore County state senator aiming to unseat Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, is promising, if elected, to introduce a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress.

On the day he formally announced his 2010 candidacy, Harris stood under a framed photograph of Bartlett at state Republican headquarters in Annapolis and called for a 12-year limit on senators and congressmen.

Asked whether he believed the state would be better off if Bartlett had been forced to surrender his House seat, Harris shrugged and said he was confident that western Maryland voters could have found a good replacement.

A less forgiving person might have considered that an insult. But if Bartlett is aware of what Harris had to say, he doesn't seem to be taking it personally.

Instead, Bartlett is joining two other well-known Maryland Republicans, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and former gubernatorial nominee Ellen Sauerbrey, in playing host to a $250-a-head fund-raising reception for Harris on Tuesday evening in Baltimore County.

Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, the number two man in the Republican House leadership, is the guest of honor, though it may be tough for him to make the event. Roll-call votes are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in Washington. Bartlett's attendance, according to his office, is unlikely.

Calling for congressional term limits may have helped Republicans gain control of the House in 1994, even though they never became law.

The issue might be becoming a potent one again this year, a time of public anger over politics as usual. Term limits are already a hot topic among the Tea Partiers that Republicans hope to win over by November.

It's not clear how eager Harris is to advertise his support for the idea. It doesn't appear on his campaign's issue page online.

Academic studies of legislative term limits at the state level have found mixed results. "Few of the most fervent hopes of [supporters] -- or the worst fears of its opponents -- materialized" in California, concluded a 2004 study by respected political scientists. A summary can be found here.

In modern times, the main promoters of term limits have been Republicans, since it meshes neatly with the party's anti-government message. It's an easy way to appeal to voters who can't stand what's happening in Washington and are desperate to throw out the bums.

Those disgruntled folks are likely to be among the independents that Harris would love to turn out this fall. He's hoping for a rematch against Kratovil in the conservative First District, which spans the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

Perhaps the best thing about term limits is that it's almost a no-lose issue for a Republican challenger.

It could help Harris capture a seat that he could well hold onto for many years to come. Having just turned 53, he may be on the verge of becoming a long career in Washington.

However, Harris is also pledging to impose a 12-year limit on himself as a member of the House.

History shows that politicians are often prone to break that promise and rarely get punished by voters when they do.

If Harris doesn't know that already, he should talk to veterans in Congress. Bartlett might be one person to ask.

When he came to Congress, Bartlett supported term limits. He voted, in 1995, in favor of a constitutional amendment that would have limited House members to 12 years, no strings attached: Once you served six terms, you'd be ineligible for re-election. Period.

The measure failed to get enough votes. But there was nothing to prevent those who supported it from living up to the ideal of the citizen legislator who goes to Washington for a time and then goes home, rather than becoming a permanent part of a corrupt political system.

Few chose to follow that path.

Bartlett has continued to run for re-election, easily moving beyond the 12-year limit that would have termed him out in 2004.

Bartlett "has said that unilateral self-imposed term limits put individual members' constituents at a disadvantage under the current seniority-driven rules of the Congress," Lisa Wright, his spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.

"Of course, every two years, voters have an opportunity to vote on term limits for their representative and every six years for their senator(s)," she added.

Of course, voters seldom do anything with that opportunity.

During Bartlett's years in Washington, the re-election rate for House incumbents has risen to over 95 percent. Several factors--strong name identification of those already in office, fundraising clout linked to committee assignments, and computerized gerrymandering that protects incumbents of both major parties--combine to give all but the most corrupt politician a virtual lock on a House seat.

Bartlett, who turns 84 this spring, is widely regarded as a cinch to win a tenth term in 2010. A victory this fall would earn him an even 20 years as a member of the House.

Posted by Paul West at 6:30 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Early responders: Firefighters union endorses O'Malley

Early endorsements -- so early that no Republican challenger has yet to announce -- seem to be a trend this year in Maryland's gubernatorial race.

Today, the Professional Firefighters of Maryland, which includes more than 7,000 emergency responders, announced its backing of Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. The election is almost eight months out, but the firefighters aren't the first on the scene.

In October, the Maryland State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, announced its support, and endorsements from the Building Trades group and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters followed in January.

Unions traditionally support Democratic candidates, with endorsements and campaign contributions. An array of Democratic elected officials -- everyone from U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski to Frederick City Alderman David Kip Koontz -- have also made clear they'll be stumping for O'Malley this fall.

Political observers, including those on O'Malley's campaign, are anticipating a November rematch with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the only Republican governor of the Free State since Spiro Agnew in the 1960s. After one term, Ehlich lost to O'Malley in 2006. But a recent analysis says O'Malley is not necessarily "safe" in an Ehrlich rematch. Ehrlich has indicated he'll announce this month whether he'll get in the race.

From today's firefighters union endorsement:

"Governor O'Malley and Lieutenant Governor Brown have shown that public safety is and will continue to be a top priority for their administration," said Firefighters State President Mike Rund, according to a release from the O'Malley campaign. "This is clearly illustrated by their actions over the last four years, and we're proud to support them for re-election."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:17 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Edwards Gets Campaign Post for House Dems

Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland has been named one of four co-chairs of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's program to win Republican House seats this fall.

Talk about a tough assignment. Most GOP seats that were ripe for Democratic picking got plucked in the last two elections. Now the momentum is flowing the other way.

Independent analysts expect Republicans to take 20 to 30 Democratic seats this fall, possibly more. Out of 76 congressional seats in play in 2010, only 14 are currently held by Republicans, according to the latest analysis by Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Of course, a Republican seat that goes Democratic (a number that could well be in the low single digits when all the votes are county) would offset a Democratic loss and, conceivably, could make the difference in determining which party controls the House in 2011.

Edwards joins Reps. Allyson Schwartz and Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania and Bruce Braley of Iowa as co-chairmen of the DCCC's Red to Blue program for the 2010 cycle.

DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (Montgomery County) praised the "talented leadership" of his "battle-tested" Prince George's neighbor in a prepared statement. He said Edwards would "bring that experience and determination to the Red to Blue program."

The DCCC also said, in announcing her willingness to join the program that provides financial, strategic and PR assistance to Democratic campaigns, that "Edwards knows what it takes to win tough races and will bring that experience and determination to the Red to Blue program."

Edwards does know what it takes to unseat a member of Congress--at least within the Democratic family (she bounced incumbent Democratic Rep. Al Wynn in 2008).

She also seems to know how to protect herself. Late last year, Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey announced that he was planning to challenge Edwards in the Democratic primary this September; then, a few weeks later, he quietly dropped that idea.

Edwards may still face a primary challenge, but she is currently considered a strong favorite for re-election.

Posted by Paul West at 12:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

March 7, 2010

New analysis of O’Malley campaign says gov not “safe.”

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg downgraded Gov. Martin O’Malley’s chances for success this fall if pitted against former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.

Relying on a non-partisan Rasmussen poll that was in the field at end of February, Rothenberg moved O’Malley’s outlook from “Safe” to “Narrow Advantage.”

The Rasmussen poll shows O’Malley, a Democrat, with a six point advantage over Ehrlich, a Republican. Ehrlich won't say if he is running but many expect him to jump into the race later this month.

“O'Malley can no longer be considered safe,” Rothenberg wrote on his blog. “But the burden of proof is still on the Republicans to prove Ehrlich can win in a very Democratic state.”

O’Malley’s campaign Friday sent out a one-page memo describing a slightly sunnier internal poll. That survey gives O'Malley a ten point advantage. It shows that 51 percent of likely voters would pick O’Malley over Ehrlich, who has 41 percent support, according to O’Malley’s figures. Eight percent are undecided. The margin for error is 4.1 percent.

The O’Malley poll is about a week older then the Rasmussen survey – the governor’s pollsters called 604 likely voters from Feb. 10 to Feb. 13.

O’Malley’s campaign also released some demographic figures. They say he’s gained ground in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties since his 2006 match up with Ehrlich. Also he says he running strong with women: 53 percent to 38 percent. Men don’t like him as much, but his number show he has a 47 percent to 45 percent advantage over Ehrlich.

O’Malley campaign manager Tom Russell did say the thinks the survey shows the governor is “in a strong position.” Russell added: “I don’t know that anyone would read it differently.”

The O’Malley campaign wouldn't give any additional information about it, which makes us uncomfortable. We’d like to know how many questions were asked and more about the demographic breakdowns.

And, most importantly, we want to know: How hard are those “support” numbers? Pollsters generally ask give callers the option to say they either “strongly support” or “are leaning toward” a candidate. Then they lump the two categories together.

Unsurprisingly, Ehrlich’s camp (which, again, won’t confirm candidacy) disagrees. “Our polling shows a vastly different landscape in Maryland,” wrote Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. The Ehrlich spokesman also wouldn’t give any more detail about their polling.

As a final note, being viewed as having a in a tight race can have fundraising advantages for both sides, though the current governor can’t fundraise at during the 90-day legislative session.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:53 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

March 4, 2010

GOP Robo Calls Target Kratovil on Health Care

Rep. Frank Kratovil, of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, earned the dubious distinction Thursday of becoming the only Maryland congressman to be targeted Republican robo-calls over the health care issue.

As President Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress launch a final push for a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. medical system, Kratovil again finds himself uncomfortably in the spotlight on a major national issue.

Republicans have seized on media reports that list Kratovil as a potential flip-flopper on the issue to batter the 41-year-old centrist Democrat with a fresh wave of attacks.

In fact, though Kratovil has been widely reported to be among a small group of House Democrats who might change his position, he reiterated this week that he intends to vote against the Democratic legislation that is expected to come before the House later this month.

The freshman congressman, a popular target for Republicans since the day he took office last year, is among the most vulnerable House Democrats in the country in 2010 because he won by a razor-thin margin in a largely Republican district in 2008.

Kratovil voted against the House version of the health care bill last year and has said he will vote against the Senate version of the bill when it comes back to the House sometime in the next few weeks.

That vote is designed to be the first phase of an effort by Obama and the Democrats to push health care legislation through Congress, using a process known as reconciliation that both parties have employed over the years to gain approval of controversial measures with 50 Senate votes, as opposed to a 60-vote supermajority.

Kratovil has said he remains open to voting for the reconciliation package, but only if it addresses his concerns--which include the overall cost of the package and the impact on small businesses and rural areas--that led him to oppose the Democratic proposal last year, his spokesman, Kevin Lawlor, said.

However, the Marylander is regarded as unlikely to support the follow-up initiative unless it receives broad bipartisan support in Congress.

“He’s reserving judgment,” said Lawlor, referring to the reconciliation package that has yet to be written and would first have to clear the Senate. “But he’s not going to vote for anything that looks like the House bill that he voted against.”

Lawlor said that the call volume to Kratovil’s Washington office had gone up Thursday after the automated Republican calls went out across the district.

“We’ve gotten an awful lot of phone calls, and it’s hard to tell what comes from a paid robo call and what doesn’t,” the Kratovil aide said. “We’ve consistently engaged with our constituents on this issue, and the calls are a good opportunity for us to tell people that he voted “No” on the bill the first time it came through the House. In most cases, callers agree with the actions he’s taken on the issue.”

Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, said that “thousands of targeted phone calls” were going out to Kratovil’s district, which takes in the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

He said the national Republican Party's House committee, which is unofficially backing Baltimore County state Sen. Andy Harris’s campaign for the Republican nomination this fall, had not yet begun to air a new round of radio attack ads against Kratovil, as it did last year.

The shape of the national Republican campaign against Kratovil “will continue to evolve as things change,” Sere said in an e-mail.

Here is a transcript of the NRCC calls targeting Kratovil:

Hello I’m calling from the NRCC with a Code Red alert about an impending health care vote in Congress. Even though a majority of the country wants them to scrap it, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama are planning to ram their dangerous, out-of-control health care spending bill through Congress anyway. What’s worse, Congressman Frank Kratovil might vote for it. Frank Kratovil votes with Nancy Pelosi 84% of the time and may follow her orders on this bill, too. Frank Kratovil might vote for a bill that will kill jobs, raise the costs of health care, and increase taxes. Frank Kratovil should be focusing on creating jobs, yet he might be the deciding vote that causes this massive new spending bill to pass. Please call Frank Kratovil now at 202-225-5311 before it is too late and tell him to vote "No" on Nancy Pelosi's dangerous health care scheme. Visit www.NRCC.org/CodeRed to learn more. This call was paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202-479-7000.

To listen to an audio version of the call, click here.

Posted by Paul West at 4:30 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Cardin Backs "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland has signed on to new legislation designed to repeal the ban on gays in the military.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent Democrat, introduced a repeal measure on Wednesday, co-sponsored by a dozen Democrats. Cardin's office notified reporters that he, too, was adding his name to the measure.

Prospects for the legislation remain unclear. It would need 60 Senate votes for approval. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and one of the co-sponsors, has said that it might be more likely that Congress would approve a moratorium on discharges under the 17-year-old law, rather than outright repeal.

A total of 8,300 gay service members were discharged between 1999 and 2008 because of the law, according to a report provided to Congress this week by the Department of Defense. Since the law began, some 14,000 servicemen and women have been discharged because of their sexual orientation.

In line with President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign promise to change the law, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen have called for repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." But there remains opposition to a shift within the military.

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, has said the current policy works and should not be changed. Other service chiefs have said they support a Pentagon plan for a study of a possible change. That report is expected to be completed by Dec. 1.

Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, have vowed to fight repeal.

Posted by Paul West at 3:08 PM | | Comments (15)
        

GOP leadership wants DJS secretary to resign

* Updated with responses from the governor and DJS *

Republican lawmakers are calling for the resignation of state Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore, citing his "lack of leadership" of the embattled agency. A teacher was killed at one of the state facilities last month, and a juvenile who'd been housed there is a suspect in the attack.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, minority leader of the House of Delegates, said he had a telephone conversation today with Gov. Martin O'Malley to express his concerns. He also delivered a letter to the Democratic governor. "The governor indicated he was kind of surprised" by the call but appreciated it, O'Donnell said.

Through a spokesman, O'Malley said he has "full confidence" in DeVore.

"Our department is in deep, deep trouble," O'Donnell said at a brief press conference this afternoon at the State House.

O'Donnell singled out as particularly disturbing the death of teacher Hannah Wheeling, 65, at Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County, and a recent U.S. Department of Justice report about staff-on-juvenile sexual assaults at Backbone Youth Facility in Western Maryland. "This cries out for a leadership change," he said.

DeVore told lawmakers in January that the sexual assault reports were "exaggerated." He has met privately with lawmakers about the killing but has said little publicly, citing the ongoing Maryland State Police investigation.

O'Donnell said DeVore, who has led DJS for three years, typically delivers "a response of denial to just about every criticism leveled" at the agency, though he said DJS under DeVore has made progress in some areas.

This is not the first time O'Donnell has asked DeVore to step down. In July, reacting to reports about escapes and assaults at Victor Cullen Center, another state facility, he wrote an opinion piece, published in The Baltimore Sun, calling for new leadership of DJS:

The Department of Juvenile Services is in chaos and requires a complete overhaul, starting at the top. The administration's actions in this regard should be shared with the public so we can gain some confidence that this problem is being acknowledged and acted upon. It is time for executive leadership and tough decisions at DJS. Our state deserves no less.

We are seeking responses from DJS and the governor's office and will update this post when they get back to us. Update: The governor's office has issued this statement:

STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR MARTIN O’MALLEY
 
Over the past three years, we’ve driven down violent crime in Maryland to its lowest levels since 1987, including a 46% reduction in juvenile homicides.  Real progress is not achieved without the right leadership in place at vital public safety agencies including the Department of Juvenile Services.  I have full confidence in Secretary DeVore’s leadership of DJS.
Update 2: DJS has this to say (click to read entire statement):
Secretary DeVore's initiative to create unprecedented levels of collaboration with law enforcement, including the Baltimore City Police Department, and other local authorities across the State has made a powerful difference not just in the lives of youth but in communities across Maryland. Secretary DeVore launched a bold vision of reform to make the juvenile justice system work for the youth and citizens of Maryland. This dramatic progress has been no accident.

 

O'Malley aides have alerted DJS partners to the Republicans' criticism, and agencies appear to be quickly rallying to DeVore's defense:

STATEMENT OF BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER FREDERICK H. BEALEFELD ON COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE BPD AND MARYLAND DEPT OF JUVENILE SERVICES

"Through our collaborative efforts with the Department of Juvenile Services and our criminal justice partners, Baltimore significantly reduced juvenile violence including a 45% reduction in juvenile homicides."

"This success would not have been possible without the unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation with the Department of Juvenile Services under Secretary DeVore's leadership. Secretary DeVore is a vital partner in our efforts to keep children in Baltimore safer."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:22 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

March 2, 2010

Gansler’s office: Gansler can’t be impeached

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler’s office came to the conclusion this week that the state’s General Assembly does not have the power to remove Gansler from office.

“The Maryland Constitution explicitly states that a ‘court of law’ is the forum for proceedings to remove an Attorney General,” wrote Gansler’s counsel Dan Friedman in a letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch. He points to Article V, section 1 of the Constitution.

Friedman then quoted his 2006 book “The Maryland State Constitution: A Reference Guide” ($136.95 on Amazon). “The Attorney General may only be removed by a court proceeding for the specified grounds, not by impeachment by the legislature,” wrote Friedman. As an aside, Friedman wrote the book before he was hired into the AG's office.

Why are we talking about impeaching Gansler? Last week Republican Del. Don Dwyer became angry that the AG issued an opinion saying out-of-state same-sex marriages should be honored here and threatened to begin impeachment proceedings against Gansler. The exchange prompted a candidate for Dwyer's seat to challenge him to a debate.

And Dwyer was outraged today by the letter from Gansler's office.

“I was not surprised to see that Attorney General Gansler opposes his own impeachment,” Dwyer said in a statement. “What is surprising is that Dan Friedman (Council [sic] to the General Assembly) who wrote the letter, refers to the book, Dan Friedman, The Maryland State Constitution: A Reference Guide as the basis for his opinion that the Attorney General may not be impeached or removed by the legislature.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:57 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Marylanders WANT to pay $2.10 for a Miller Lite

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is touting a new poll that says Marylanders “strongly” support paying more per drink at the pub if the extra tax money goes to help the disabled or addicted.

The group is backing what they call a $0.10 increase per drink to the state’s alcohol tax (the tax would actually be levied at the wholesaler level). The group says the revenues would fund programs for people with disabilities.

They commissioned a poll that says that 80 percent would accept an alcohol tax increase if the new funds pay for programs for the developmentally disabled, 79 percent would support it in exchange for higher funding for mental health, 66 percent want health care expanded to more uninsured Marylanders and 65 percent want more resources for alcohol and drug addiction.

As a gentle warning to our cherished readers who are nodding their heads empathetically while thinking about the priorities enumerated above, please do remember these two words: FUND TRANSFER.

The FUND TRANSFER is a mechanism the General Assembly likes to use when they realize they don’t have enough money for something they really want. Faced with that problem they simply move money from Pot A (programs for the disabled, for example) to Pot B (pick your cause). This year’s $13 billion general fund budget includes $900 million worth of FUND TRANSFERS.

In short, even if a law is passed that said all revenues from an extra dime per drink should fund some cocktail of programs for the disabled, mentally ill, uninsured and developmentally disabled, a simple change could be made to redirect that money to fund an upgrade to the elevators in the Lowe House Office building.

Here is what wouldn’t change: Your ten cent tax on a beer.

Cheers.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:01 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Cardin?

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland is listed as one of five hosts at Tuesday evening's fund-raising dinner at the Washington estate of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV.

The event benefits the Democratic Senatorial Committee's "Majority Trust." It's one of several elite donor groups that allows givers, including lobbyists, to schmooze with senators. Both parties do this sort of thing all the time, by the way.

In this case, elbows will get rubbed and ears bent over cocktails and dinner at one of the capital's most remarkable locales: a mansion hidden away on a 22-acre patch of prime real estate adjoining Rock Creek Park.

All it takes to get in is $30,400 (actually, that's only a suggested contribution; perhaps non-lobbyists can get a discount). The invitation is at the Web site of the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation
, which promotes transparency in government and politics.


Posted by Paul West at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 1, 2010

Maryland GOP Whacks Cardin for Top Liberal Rating

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Audrey Scott is taking a shot at Ben Cardin after a Washington magazine rated the Baltimore Democrat as one of the most liberal members of the Senate.

National Journal, a respected publication whose vote ratings have stirred controversy in the past, put Cardin in a five-way tie for first place as the most liberal senator. The rankings are made on the basis of selected roll-call votes on what the magazine regards as key economic, social and foreign policy issues.

"It's clear that one-party rule doesn't work and this fall Republicans intend to hold Democrats accountable both in Washington and Annapolis," Scott said in a prepared statement Monday evening. "Every day, more and more Marylanders are saying 'enough is enough.'"

Unfortunately for Maryland voters eager to bounce Cardin from his liberal perch this fall, he is the only member of the state's delegation in Washington who isn't up for re-election. His term expires in 2012 and there's no way to predict what his rating will be by then.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who is running for re-election this year, ranked as the eighth most liberal senator in 2009, according to National Journal.

In the past, questions have been raised about the validity of the magazine's ratings, which don't always match those of other analysts and outside interest groups. Barack Obama earned the "most liberal" rank from the magazine in 2007, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain used that rating in 2008 campaign attacks. But independent assessments found that, for the most part, Obama didn't actually deserve that label.

Over in the House, the seven Democrats from Maryland spanned a fairly wide ideological range, according to the magazine.

Rep. John Sarbanes, who may not be the most liberal member of the delegation, was rated farthest to the left. National Journal called him the 18th most liberal member of the House.

Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, the Eastern Shore centrist, rated 237th, near the bottom for members of his party and farther to the right than anyone except Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

Bartlett, the lone Maryland Republican in Congress, was the 108th most conservative member of the House, according to National Journal. Or, if you prefer, 322nd most liberal out of 435.

Other Marylaners and their ratings (all on the "most liberal" scale): Rep. Donna Edwards, who some would say is actually the most liberal Marylander in Congress, ranked 25th, and Rep. Elijah Cummings was 47th.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, whom many regard as a bridge between the party's liberal and moderate wings, was 65th most liberal (there are currently 254 Democrats in the House).

Rep. Chris Van Hollen was 75th, and Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger was 153rd, putting him closest to the middle of the Democratic caucus.

Posted by Paul West at 5:20 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Maryland Chamber now supports unemployment benefits changes

Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed changes to unemployment benefits have at last won the support of key business groups.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce just released a statement saying its legislative policy committee had voted this afternoon to back a heavily amended version of the Democratic governor's plan. The amendments resulted from lengthy negotiations among lawmakers, the administration, business groups and labor and were largely designed to appease groups, such as the Maryland Chamber, that had been concerned about long-term costs to employers.

Until today, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other business groups had opposed the legislation. Now, the Maryland Retailers, Associated Builders and Contractors and Maryland restaurateurs back the bill, though the National Federation of Independent Businesses continues to oppose it because it doesn't provide any tax relief.

Chamber President Kathy Snyder said in a statement:

"Our goals have been to give employers payment plan options, offset the cost of any unemployment insurance system changes and ensure the long-term health and stability of the unemployment insurance trust fund. This bill accomplishes those goals."

With additional support now secured, the Senate Finance Committee will likely vote on the proposal tomorrow. The House of Delegates will then take up the amended bill.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Democrat and chairman of the committee, said he was "very pleased" with the outcome. "After all of the compromise that took place, I felt very optimistic," Middleton said. He led the weeks-long negotiations.

Middleton said he and the O'Malley administration are now working on a plan to help small businesses by developing loan guarantees for employers who will be hard hit by this year's dramatic increase in unemployment-insurance taxes.

If lawmakers pass the amended plan, which broadens the number of people eligible for unemployment benefits by shifting the time period that can be considered when calculating them, the state will be eligible for about $127 million in federal money.

That cash will be deposited into the state's unemployment insurance trust fund, which has been depleted by the high number of people collecting and businesses that have gone under. The governor originally wanted to use that money to provide tax relief to employers, but the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other groups wanted to keep the money in the trust to build it back up.

To offset the long-term costs -- about $20 million per year -- associated with accessing the federal money, other benefits will be nipped. Among them: eliminating sick claims, increasing the minimum weekly claim to $50 (which knocks off a few of the lowest end claimants), increasing the penalties for misconduct and decreasing the amount of money an unemployed person can make while collecting benefits.

The Sun editorial board weighs in here.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Assembly 2010, Tax & Spend
        
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About the bloggers
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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