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April 30, 2010

Arizona-style immigration bill could be debated in Maryland

Maryland too? Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, which has prompted calls to boycott the state, should be duplicated here, says state Del. Pat McDonough.

The radio talker and Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties said Friday he will introduce a bill in the General Assembly next year that duplicates the Arizona measure, which calls for police to stop, question and detain suspected illegal immigrants.

McDonough also said he will survey all candidates for governor and legislature for their position on the issue and says he will post the results on his website prior to the election.

While some are calling for a boycott of Arizona over the measure — mayors from San Francisco to St. Paul have ordered city employees not to use any public funds to travel to the state — others say they want to jump on the bandwagon. Some Oklahoma lawmakers, for example, say they will introduce their own bill and maybe add even harsher penalties.

-- Jean Marbella

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:37 PM | | Comments (34)

Did Ehrlich force split of Murphy and Amedori?

A GOP ticket for governor has split: Former Del. Carmen Amedori, who several weeks ago agreed to run in the number two slot to long-shot gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy, has withdrawn and will work instead for his primary opponent, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.

“It has become quite apparent that Bob Ehrlich is and will be the only one to beat Martin O’Malley in November,” she said in a prepared statement. “I am happy to be returning to the Ehrlich camp and I plan to put forth all efforts to help him become Maryland’s next Governor, once again.”

The spurned Murphy isn’t taking the defection quietly. In his own press release, the businessman lashed out at Ehrlich, accusing him of pressuring Amedori to abandon him and saying the incident highlights the failings of the GOP in Maryland. Amedori had been running for U.S. Senate before agreeing to join the gubernatorial ticket; she has previously served as an Ehrlich appointee to the state parole commission.

"The Republican Party has remained small and ineffective in Maryland because its leaders lack the determination to stand on principle, the will to inspire, and the passion to win," Murphy said. "Former Delegate Amedori is a case-in-point. After agreeing to be on our ticket weeks ago, and being an outspoken opponent of Governor Ehrlich's failed policies, she has abruptly succumbed to pressure from supporters of my opponent, Bob Ehrlich, and has done an about-face. When she joined the ticket, she did so with the firm belief that Maryland was headed in the wrong direction. She acknowledged that I was the person to lead Maryland forward."

Both statements, incidentally, are datelined Ocean City, where the state Republicans are holding their convention this week. Some caterer is probably quickly rearranging the dinner seating arrangements even as you read this.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:43 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 29, 2010

Joseph M. Getty announces run for state Senate

Joseph M. GettyFormer Del. Joseph M. Getty (right), a Manchester Republican, announced this week that he will vie for the state Senate seat being vacated by Larry E. Haines. It appears Haines, who represents District 5, will back Getty, too: The Carroll County Times reported Tuesday that the incumbent would endorse Getty if he chose to run, leaving other Carroll County Republicans interested in the job to plow ahead without the support of the 20-year legislative veteran.

So far, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections' candidate list, only Dale Lusher, another Manchester Republican, has filed to run for the seat.

Getty, an attorney, did not run for a third term in the House of Delegates in 2002, citing a 1994 campaign promise to stand by a self-imposed term limit. At the time, he called his withdrawal from politics temporary and did not rule out future races. He added that he would have liked to run for Senate, but that he would not challenge Haines, whose re-election he supported.

In the Assembly, the low-key, thoughtful Getty was respected by Republicans and Democrats, and generally did not stray from his conservative principles. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named Getty to head the administration's policy shop. More recently, he has been advising the Senate Republican caucus in Annapolis.

In addition to representing District 5A in the House, Getty also served as the political director for Ehrlich Jr.'s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Haines told the Carroll County paper that he will also campaign and raise money for Ehrlich’s third run for governor.

Senate District 5 is based in Carroll, but includes a portion of Baltimore County. The three Republican delegates in the district are Tanya T. Shewell and Nancy R. Stocksdale (from Carroll) and Wade Kach (of Baltimore County).

2006 Baltimore Sun photo of Joseph M. Getty testing an electronic voting machine by Algerina Perna

Posted by Carla Correa at 3:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 23, 2010

Gov race getting tighter, says Rasmussen

A new Rasmussen poll puts the state’s gubernatorial race at a statistical dead heat – with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich three points behind incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley. The last poll they did in February had O'Malley up by six percentage points.

The poll of 500 registered voters has 4.5 percent margin of error and shows Ehrlich with slightly higher favorability numbers – 56 percent found the former governor “favorable or somewhat favorable” while 54 percent feel that way about O’Malley.

Also O'Malley has higher negatives, with 43 percent saying they find him “unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable.” With Ehrlich, that figure was 39 percent.

O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell is on an important conference call, but emailed back to say their camp is expecting "a hard fought race." Andy Barth said the Ehrlich camp just doesn't want to comment on polls. We've emailed the campaigns for comment, and will include when they call back.

President Barack Obama is running stronger than O’Malley, with 59 percent “strongly approving” of the job the president is doing while 50 percent feel that way about O’Malley.

The state also appears to lean in favor of the president’s health care overhaul, with 50 percent saying it good. Read the poll questions and Rasmussen's take on it at their website.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:41 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Hardly a surprise: Mikulski's in

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski made it official on Friday: she's running for re-election.

Mikulski, a Democrat, kicked off her campaign with a morning event at Jimmy's restaurant in Fells Point, a political hang-out for years.

"It would be my honor to keep trying to level the playing field for middle-class families," Mikulski said in a statement released by her campaign. "To keep standing up to the big insurance companies, to the big drug companies and anyone else standing in the way of the little guy or gal getting their piece of the American dream."

Mikulski, 73, is seeking her 5th term as a senator at a time when anti-incumbent sentiment is running high nationally. Still, she consistently ranks as one of the most popular politicians in Maryland, and is an energetic campaigner and effective stump-speaker. Having her at the top of the ticket could help other more-vulnerable Democrats seeking office this year, such as Gov. Martin O'Malley and Rep. Frank Kratovil, of the 1st District.

Mikulski had $2.7 million in available campaign cash as of the most recent reporting period, according to the Baltimore Sun's Paul West.

Among the Republicans seeking the nomination: Eric Wargotz, a physician and Queen Anne's County commissioner, had $112,000 available, after loaning himself $75,000; and James B. Rutledge III, a Harford County lawyer, who had $4,000 available (after giving his campaign a $25,000 personal loan.)

Mikulski planned to follow the Friday announcement with a statewide tour running through Sunday.

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:51 PM | | Comments (32)

April 22, 2010

Mitchell exploring a run for the General Assembly



While at the Board of Elections office this week in Annapolis pulling a file on Sen. Ulysses Currie, we ran into former Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell.

He said he was there because he is “exploring” running for a state office – maybe a delegate in the 44th District, maybe take on Sen. Verna L. Jones, who was elected in Nov. 2002.

“I am walking in just to see what the process is,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t made a firm decision about what I’m going to do.”

Mitchell mounted a primary challenge against Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon in 2007, but lost overwhelmingly. His campaign message of cleaning up City Hall corruption did not appeal to voters at the time. But perhaps he’s betting that after Dixon’s indictment and resignation, voters in the 44th will take a fresh look.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:39 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 21, 2010

Republican Senate Hopefuls Gearing for Uphill Battle

What can you say about the brave Maryland Republicans who attempted to challenge Mt. Mikulski, the highest peak on the state's electoral landscape for nearly a quarter-century?

That they were ambitious? Idealistic? Or just plain crazy. More, below, about those who tried to scale the heights and wound up falling short. But first, a few words about the latest would-be climbers.

Two men -- Eric Wargotz and James B. Rutledge III -- are actively pursuing the Republican Senate nomination. It won't be decided until the Sept. 14 primary, and there is time for other contenders to surface, with more than two months to go until the filing deadline.

But for now, at least, Wargotz and Rutledge are the only ones filing reports with the Federal Election Commission. Their latest disclosures, covering the period ending March 30, show them fairly closely matched on paper.

Wargotz has raised more (in round numbers, $120,000 to Rutledge's $50,000), but neither is attracting anything remotely close to serious dough.

Rutledge, a Harford County lawyer, has loaned his campaign almost $25,000. Wargotz, a physician, is on the hook for $75,000 of his own money.

Wargotz, a member of the Queen Anne's County Commission, is the more established, while Rutledge, a political novice, is positioning himself as the more conservative choice. Both are traveling the state, raising money and meeting party activists.

If Republicans are going to have a chance against Mikulski, says Wargotz, it will be because the political environment is hostile to the Democratic incumbent, and not because of the money her potential opponents are (not) raising.

That's a good line to take, given that Mikulski has $2.7 million in the bank already and the ability to collect plenty more. By comparison, Wargotz's cash-on-hand is $118,000, and Rutledge has less than $4,000 (and that's before taking their campaign debts into account).

Exactly what do these two hard-working Republicans stand to gain from earning a spot opposite Mikulski on the November ballot?

If history is any guide, not a whole lot.

Sometimes, politicians take on a powerful incumbent with the idea of building name identification. Defeat in a statewide contest becomes a springboard to another office.

If it happens this time, it would be a first.

The '86 Republican nominee, former Reagan administration appointee Linda Chavez, has gone on to a successful career as a conservative commentator. She drew 39 percent of the vote against Mikulski, the best showing by any of the senator's general-election challengers, but that was to be expected, since it was the Baltimore Democrat's first statewide race.

Alan Keyes, her next victim, was on his way to becoming a perennial loser when he drew 29 percent of the Senate vote in 1992, still the worst performance by a Republican against Mikulski. Keyes attracted attention running for the GOP presidential nomination, but he earned his footnote in history as Barack Obama's hapless foe in the 2004 Illinois Senate election.

Ross Z. Pierpont, whose won-loss record proves that name identification in politics isn't everything, eked out 30 percent against Mikulski in 1998. At his death in 2005, the Baltimore physician had set a record for futility--he ran and lost 16 times--exceeded locally only by the '88 Orioles, who dropped their first 21 games, still the worst big-league start ever.

State Sen. E. J. Pipkin got outspent two-to-one by Mikulski in 2004, a decent year for Republicans nationally. Despite investing $1 million of his own money (Pipkin's campaign still carries a $480,000 debt), he picked up just 34 percent of the vote.

If Republican optimists are right, and 2010 turns out to be the party's best mid-term year since 1994, it could be tougher for Mikulski to hit her career average in statewide elections: 67 percent of the total vote.

But a competitive Senate contest in Maryland? As Mikulski prepares to formally launch her campaign, that looks like a mighty tall order.

Posted by Paul West at 2:00 PM | | Comments (4)

Maryland Gets $20 Million Green Grant for Earth Day

The Obama administration is steering $20 million to Maryland as part of a $452 million stimulus grant program to be announced Wednesday.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development will use the money to help finance energy-efficiency retrofits and bulk purchases of supplies and equipment to assist businesses, homeowners and multi-family housing units in reducing energy costs.

Vice President Joe Biden will announce the retrofit grants at a White House ceremony kicking off the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which is Thursday. The Energy department awards are going to 25 communities, government and non-profit organizations around the country, according to the administration.

The federal stimulus grants are designed to spur $2.8 billion in private sector spending through low- and no-interest loans that recipients can repay through property tax and utility bills.

President Barack Obama will play host to environmentalists at a reception on Thursday, and administration officials will visit more than a dozen localities to promote energy efficiency. The White House also hopes to use the Earth Day commemoration to push for action in Congress on its clean-energy plan, which remains stalled in the Senate.

According to the White House, the $20 Million retrofit grant will go to the State of Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

The White House release will also say:

DHCD's “Investment in Main Street: Energy Efficiency for Economic Growth” strategy proposes a holistic, community-based approach to target individual households, multifamily rental properties, and commercial properties for energy-efficiency retrofits.

The project includes a state-wide bulk purchasing program for supplies and equipment that will lower overall costs. Maryland will also focus on multi-family and small business retrofits that will result in significant, measurable reductions in energy consumption.

Posted by Paul West at 6:30 AM | | Comments (1)

April 18, 2010

It's going to be official: O'Malley wants to keep job

Gov. Martin O’Malley will launch his reelection bid a week from Tuesday with three events – one in each of the state’s major democratic strongholds.

The governor starts in Baltimore at noon on April 27. Next he’ll be in Lt. Governor Anthony Brown’s home territory with a speech at Prince George’s County Community College. The final stop will be a “less formal” event in Rockville’s Woodlea Park, said campaign manager Tom Russell.

“It was the time for us to do an official kick-off,” explained Russell. “We just finished what I think was a very successful legislative session. We’re excited to get into the campaign season.”

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich announced last month that he wants his old job back, and kicked off his campaign with events in Rockville and Baltimore County. The Sun's Julie Bykowicz wrote about it here.

Russell said that the O’Malley will “be talking about the tough decisions he’s had to make over the last three years” and “how those decisions have helped move the state forward.” We wrote about some of those issues in today’s Baltimore Sun.

Four years ago O’Malley trounced Ehrlich the three counties where he is scheduled to hold events. Results were: Baltimore (115,136 to 34,554); Prince George’s County (162,899 to 42,514) and Montgomery (190,873 to 112,071).

After making those three stops, O’Malley will travel to some redder parts of the state, with events Wednesday April 28 and Thursday April 29 in Hagerstown, Frederick, Columbia, Catonsville, Annapolis, Cambridge, Aberdeen and Waldorf. Over three days, the governor expects to be in 11 counties, Russell said.

As a fun campaign fact: Ehrlich beat O’Malley in 19 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions. Relive the last campaign at this fun part of Maryland’s Board of Elections website.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 16, 2010

Updated: Ruppersberger, Cummings and the Boss

Baltimore Democratic Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah Cummings got spanked Friday by ProPublica, an independent non-profit news organization, for their use of arena skyboxes in DC to raise campaign money.

The report focuses on the use of luxury boxes for congressional fund-raisers when Bruce Springsteen played the Verizon Center last year. It delves into ties between companies that control the skyboxes and their dealings with the committees of politicians who used them.

Ruppersberger, a member of the House subcommittee that funds NASA, rented the box of Alliant Techsystems (ATK), a major NASA contractor, for $7,000 so that he could play host to contributors. ATK's political action committee gave Dutch's campaign $6,000 shortly before the concert, making the use of the skybox almost cost-free.

Cummings, who rented his box directly from the Verizon Center, played host to representatives of firms with business before the Coast Guard subcomittee that he chairs.

Luxury boxes are frequently used by candidates to lure donors--often lobbyists and other well-connected contributors willing to pony up four figures for the privilege.

For many years, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a popular skybox fund-raising venue. It has been supplanted, to some extent, by Nationals Park in Washington, located within walking distance of congressional offices.

But Camden Yards still gets political traffic, in spite of the dismal won-loss record of the Pathet-Os.

On June 8, for example, lobbyists and others with $750 to burn for a ticket ($1,500 if you're a PAC), can go to a fund-raising event at the ballpark, when the Yankees are in town.

The beneficiary? Dutch Ruppersberger's re-election campaign.

If you're a DC lobbyist and Baltimore is a trip too far, Dutch is also renting another skybox at the Verizon Center: June 23rd, for a Carole King and James Taylor concert.


Dutch Ruppersberger's congressional press secretary, Heather Molino, issued the following statement in response to the ProPublica report:

"Congressman Ruppersberger believes we should have public financing for political campaigns. It would do away with the need to fundraise - a part of the job the Congressman hates. Until public financing happens, he has to operate within the current system. Our office followed all of the rules and paid fair market value to rent the box for the Bruce Springsteen Concert. It is the same process as if we rented a room at Martin's West and sold tickets so people could come and have dinner. It is just a different venue."

Posted by Paul West at 12:34 PM | | Comments (3)

April 15, 2010

Obama Taking Mikulski to Europe This Weekend

It would be preposterous to suggest that President Barack Obama or any of his minions monitor the Maryland Politics blog.

So we'll simply chalk it up to coincidence that Obama, in line with a suggestion made here, has given Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland a coveted seat on Air Force One for the flight to the Polish president's funeral this weekend.

An official announcement is expected soon from the crew at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which has never charged extra for checked luggage or carry-on bags.

Posted by Paul West at 5:24 PM | | Comments (0)

Mikulski Pads Money Edge

Sen. Barbara Mikulski raised $979,000 for her 2010 re-election campaign during the first three months of the year, according to the Baltimore Democrat's latest disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission.

That brings her campaign's total take to more than $3.8 million. She had $2.7 million left in the bank as of March 30.

Mikulski raised about three-quarters of the latest batch of money, or $644,000, from individuals. The rest, a total of $201,250, came from PACs and other political committees.

To date, the senator has received $1.354 million in donations from special interest group, corporate and labor union PACS, according to FEC records.

Her war chest, though modest by national standards, far exceeds that of any potential rival.

Additional information on 2010 fundraising in Maryland House and Senate contests will appear here at Maryland Politics as it becomes available. Today is the filing deadline for first quarter reports, but the information is not always posted immediately on the FEC web site.

Posted by Paul West at 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 14, 2010

Mikulski's Support for Obama NASA Revamp Still in Doubt

Earth to Obama: If you want Barbara Mikulski's support for your latest NASA plan, take her to Europe this weekend.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to services in Krakow for the state funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and First Lady Maria Kaczynska. The Polish leader was killed in last weekend's plane crash that took the lives of all 96 on board.

Mikulski, granddaughter of Polish immigrants, is one of America's leading elected officials of Polish descent. That makes her an obvious pick to join the U.S. delegation at the funeral.

As it happens, the quickest and most prestigious way to get to Poland is aboard Air Force One, which will be leaving Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland on Saturday evening.

No public word yet on whether the Democratic senator is invited, but giving her a coveted seat should be a no-brainer.

The perk would put her in Obama's debt. And the flight over and back might give the president a chance to do some gentle persuasion on a nettlesome problem--overcoming congressional opposition to his effort to reshape the U.S. manned space program.

On Thursday, Obama will unveil version 2.0 of his spaceflight plan. The venue: the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where thousands of jobs will disappear when the Space Shuttle program ends later this year.

Obama's 2011 budget called for canceling the current moon program, known as Constellation, to send U.S. astronauts back to the lunar surface. The proposal drew bipartisan opposition from members of Congress, many from states that feared job losses as a result.

One powerful lawmaker has remained effectively noncommittal for months: Maryland's Mikulski, who chairs the Senate committee that funds NASA and has taken a wait-and-see attitude as she studies the matter.

White House officials briefed reporters and members of Congress this week on a revised Obama plan: a timetable to decide by 2015 on the design of a new, heavy lift rocket for future deep space exploration and, possibly, a return to the Moon.

In addition, Obama appears to have bent slightly on his decision to kill Constellation by proposing a more streamlined version of the Orion space capsule that was part of the Constellation program.

Obama Manned Space 2.0 will create 10,000 jobs, an official told reporters late Tuesday, including 2,500 in Florida, an important swing state in presidential elections that Obama took back for the Democrats in 2008.

NASA's No. 2 official, Lori Garver, is said to have privately expressed confidence that the House Appropriations Committee will go along with Obama's latest plan. But the NASA brass still doesn't know whether Mikulski will support it.

By itself, putting her on the president jet might not get her on board the NASA initiative. But it couldn't hurt.

Posted by Paul West at 12:49 PM | | Comments (3)

Harris Breaks $1 Million Mark in First District Race

Republican state Sen. Andy Harris has raised more than $1 million for a potential rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil this fall, the Harris campaign announced Wednesday.

Harris is reporting that he raised $324,382 for the first three months of the year, on top of $720,000 collected last year. After expenses, the Baltimore County lawmaker had $703,939 in the bank at the end of March.

Unlike other members of the General Assembly, who were prohibited from raising money for their re-election during the recently ended session, Harris was free to solicit funds for his congressional campaign.

Harris is favored to unseat freshman Kratovil in the First District, which spans the Bay to take in the entire Eastern Shore and largely Republican sections of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties.

Quarterly reports for federal candidates are due Thursday at the Federal Election Commission in Washington. Watch this space for updates on 2010 Maryland contests.

Posted by Paul West at 12:13 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 13, 2010

GOP Leader Renews Call for Special Pelosi, Hoyer Probe

House Republican Leader John Boehner reissued his call for a special House Ethics subcommittee investigation into the response by House Democratic leaders to sexual harassment allegations against former Democratic Rep. Eric Massa.

The Ethics Committee is already conducting an investigation, but Boehner wants a special panel with subpoena power to take over the probe.

Boehner renewed his demand Tuesday after the Washington Post published new details about Massa's sexual overtures toward male staffers.

As previously reported, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer were informed about the congressman's behavior by Massa aides. Massa resigned last month after it was reported that he was the object of a harassment investigation.

Hoyer's office was notified in February about accusations that Massa, a New York freshman, had propositioned young male staffers. Hoyer himself told Massa's office to report the allegations to the Ethics committee within two days or Hoyer would do it for them.

After the story broke, Boehner demanded the appointment of a special investigative panel with subpoena power. He repeated his call on Tuesday, demanding an investigation "to determine what Democratic leaders knew about former Rep. Massa's behavior and what they did to protect the staff who were being subjected to this predator."

Hoyer's staff was first interviewed by Ethics investigators in March, and the committee is continuing to look into what the Democratic leaders knew and how they acted, according to the latest report.

In 2006, Republicans lost a House seat in Florida and suffered wider political damage when one of their House members, Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, resigned shortly before the election after being accused of sending inappropriate text messages to under-age male congressional pages.

The Massa scandal has already faded from most voters' minds, but a more in-depth investigation could help revive the issue, particularly if the results were released close to Election Day.

Posted by Paul West at 5:35 PM | | Comments (2)

Ban on reading text messages while driving fails

In the arcane world of the Maryland General Assembly, there's a key distinction between a bill being "done" and a bill being "done-done."

The bill that would have extended last year's ban on texting while driving to reading incoming text messages got done. It was passed by both houses of the legislature. But it never got done-done -- passed in the same form by the House and the Senate. Thus, it failed.

The hang-up came when the Senate added amendments on the final evening of the session and the House would not agree. The differences weren't that great, but the conference committee either couldn't get around to meeting or failed to agree before midnight brough adjournment sine die.

It's a bit ironic that this bill would fail and the much more sweeping ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving would pass. Going into the session, the relatively modest extension of last yearr's texting ban would have seemed to be much more likely to pass. But strange things happen in Annapolis on sine die. All it takes to sink a bill that had seemed to be a lock is the adoption of one amendment on the last day.

Unfortunately, we had a mistake in this morning Sun where we mistook done for done-done. We regret the error.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:06 PM | | Comments (3)

April 12, 2010

We stand adjourned -- sine die

It appears the last legislative business of the 2010 session has transpired in the House. It's 11:59 and in a minute Del. Kumar Barve, the majority leader, will make the motion all have been waiting for.

Thje speaker has recognized Barve, there's a final quorum call: "I move that the House stand adjourned sine die!"

And the confetti falls from the gallery onto the head of Speaker Michael E. Busch. The balloons are flying, including one that exploded with a loud pop.

This blog also stands adjourned. Sine die.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 PM | | Comments (3)

Down to the wire in the House

The staff has been thanked and the final concurrences are crossing the desk. I was wrong: Senate Bil 275, the longitudinal nsurvey bill, did make it through conference and the report was adopted in the House with 4 votes to spare.If the Senate did the same, it goes to the governor.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:54 PM | | Comments (0)

It's not all excitement

Sometimes, at sine die, the desk clears as the final scraps of paper make their way to the speaker's desk. That's when the time is filled by all manner of guest announcements. In a sign of the times, one of the women delegates -- I didn't catch who it was -- introduced her "legally recognized wife." That must have grated on the nerves of Del. Don Dwyer -- a fierce opponent of all things same-sex.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:44 PM | | Comments (1)

It's a new (legislative) day

The legislative day April 8 is over. The House adjourned at 11:37 p.m. and reconvened at 11:38 p.m., with a new Pledge of Allegiance and very brief prayer. The arcane business of legislative days is complicate beyond belief, and I won't bore you with it (because I don't fully understand it.) But it's one of those quirks of sine die.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 PM | | Comments (0)

You kill my dog, I kill your cat

It's an old sine die game: You kill you dog, I'll kill your cat.

It's the practice of getting even with a fellow legislator -- usually a member of the other chamber -- who has done something dastardly such as defeating one's own bill.

Here's how it works: Senator A arranges for Delegate B's bill to die in committee, Delegate B nurse a grudge until the night of sine die, then sees one of Senator A's little, narrow-interest bills coming up for final passage as time runs out. The delegate then moves to special-order the bill to some time that leaves its passage in doubt.

We had a good example of what may be a dog-cat killing a few minutes ago when a legislator from Prince George's County special-ordered a bill by Sen. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat, until the end of the calendar. At this point in the session that could doom a bill. It's nasty. But entirely in the Annapolis tradition.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:24 PM | | Comments (0)

Assembly says no TV in the front seat

The House just approved a conference committee report on a bill prohibiting video distractions such as TV screens in places where they can distract the driver. The sponsor is Del. James Malone, a veteran Arbutus Democrat, who is having a very good session shepherding highway safety legislation through the House.

We're down to the last 53 minutes, and some committees are meeting in the lounge to consider whether to concur with Senate amendments on oustanding bills.Members whose committees aren't meeting are milling around. It's just one of those lulls that happens from time to time when the speaker's desk is temporarily clear.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:03 PM | | Comments (0)

It's death by disagreement time

Senate Bill 275 is almost certainly dead. What it has to do with, the blogger doesn't know. It has something to do with a longitudinal data system. The House just refused to concur in the Senate amendments and named three conferees, but we're at the point in the night when it's getting to be too late for the conference committee to meet and for any conference report to be printed. Maybe if the House had given the Senate more latitude on longitude......

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:55 PM | | Comments (0)

Galleries fill as the hour nears

As we creep closer to the midnight hour, the seats in the gallery are quickly filling. From the House floor, you can see the TV guy applying his makeup in preparation for the 11 p.m. news. It's getting close to confetti time -- one hour and nine minutes away.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:48 PM | | Comments (0)

House having a gang fight

Over on the House side we have a bit of a gang rumble over the Maryland Gang Prosecution Act of 2010. It looks like an attempt by some of the more liberal members of the chamber to go after the bill with amendments, throwing it out of synch with the Senate and effectively killing it.

Previous amendments were decisively defeated, The current one by Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez is probably headed the same way. The delegate is giving a prolonged explanation of her amendment, which she calls "friendly" but which is anything but.

It goes down 106-25.

There's a motion to suspend the rules and let it go to final passage.

The bill goes to the governor: 117-24.

This was one of the most wrangled-over bills of the session, but the state's prosecutors supported it strongly.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:23 PM | | Comments (1)

Senate debating clotheslines

Clotheslines are the subject tonight on the Senate floor as the clock winds down. Sen. Nancy King's bill would give homeowners greater freedom to hang clotheslines even over the objections of homeowners' associations.

It was billed as an environment-friendly bill. The Senate passed a strong bill, but the House hung some amendments on it creating exceptions. With time running out, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh moved to concur in the House amendments.

Sen. Alex Mooney did his best to fight the amendments, apparently wanting to go mano a mano with House conferees. Mooney, a Frederick County Republican, is a fierce critic of homeowners' associations and their prediliction for telling members what they can do with their property. But his fellow senators decided to go along to get a billed passed.

But in the end, he and all other senators joined in passing the somewhat diluted bill.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:47 PM | | Comments (0)

Senate goes to wire on child sex offenders

We're back in the Senate for the race till midnight. The motion before the chamber is to concur in the House amendments to one of the package of sex offenders bills making its way through the General Assembly. The Senate has just voted unanimously to approve Sen. Nancy Jacobs' Senate Bill 622, toughening penalties for adults over 18 who molest children 13 and younger. That sends it to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Senate Bill 854, one of the other sex offender bills, is on its way upstairs too after the conference committee agreement was approved unanimously.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:35 PM | | Comments (1)

With hours to go, wrangling on guns

Going down to the end, the House Judiciary Committee wrangled past 9 p.m. over one final bill, approving a bill increasing penalties for felons possessing firearms by a 12-8 vote, with Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. casting the 12th vote necessary to report a bill to the floor.

It was a classic Judiciary Committee arguments, with Allegany County Democrat Kevin Kelly leading the shouting on behalf of good old boys with an assault conviction and a shotgun in the closet, but the bill is going to the floor. Whether Senate Bill 44 will make it into law, it's still touch and go.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:12 PM | | Comments (1)

Ignition interlock bill pronounced dead

House Judiciary Committee Joseph F. Vallario Jr. has just pronounced a bill that would have required an ignition interlock device on the vehicles of those convicted of drunk driving dead for the 2010 session.

Vallario convened a voting session of the committee at 8:30 p.m. and distributed a memorandum saying he had been unable to reach an agreement with the sponsor and advocates of the legislation, the No. 1 priority of MADD this year.

"We did everything we could to try to resolve it," he told the committee. "Unfortunately, it did not work out." He did not put the question to a committee vote.

The legislation that passed the Senate unanimously would have affected all persons convicted of driving under the influence, which is defined as having blood alcohol of .08 percent or more. Vallario said 27 states have automatic ignition interlock requirements for drivers with BAC measurements of .15 or more.

He said he and his allies had offered to lower that level to .12 and to also include subsequent offenders and those under 21. MADD and other advocates

Vallario, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he was disappointed a deal could not be reached.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:09 PM | | Comments (2)

Harris Favored In New First District Outlook

Seven months before the 2010 election, a new national analysis of House races favors Republican state Sen. Andy Harris to unseat Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil of Maryland.

Republicans will gain at least two dozen seats across the country this fall, according to the latest Rothenberg Political Report forecast. Maryland's easternmost district, the First, is among the GOP's best opportunities, since its conservative electorate historically favors Republican candidates.

Rothenberg's independent newsletter is now counting the First, represented by Kratovil since last year, in the "lean Republican" category.

That's a shift in Harris' favor from Rothenberg's previous assessment, which counted the race in the Toss-Up/Tilt Republican category.

It also makes Kratovil one of the five most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the country, according to Rothenberg.

Monday's close of the 2010 session of the General Assembly ends Harris' career in Annapolis and opens a new phase in the First District campaign.

"I believe we need a true commitment to fiscal responsibility in Annapolis and in Washington if we are serious about creating and keeping jobs here in Maryland and ensuring that we use taxpayers’ money wisely and efficiently," Harris said in a sine die statement. "I have fought for these principles throughout my 12 years in the State Senate and I plan to do the same if I have the privilege of serving Maryland’s First District in Congress."

The Baltimore County Republican hasn't been a very visible campaigner this year. He can now focus full-time on his race against Kratovil, unless he's forced to fend off a serious primary opponent.

State legislators running for re-election couldn't raise money while the Assembly was in session, but that restriction didn't apply to Harris. He could solicit donations for his congressional race during the session, and did.

How well he performed will be known when first quarter campaign disclosure reports are filed this week.

Kratovil will start out with a financial edge, but he'll need more than money to keep his job.

As Rothenberg put it, in his thumbnail assessment of the First District race in Maryland:

Harris "won a nasty primary last cycle, and Republicans never united behind his candidacy. Kratovil won that contest, but the freshman Democrat will have a hard time retaining his district given the GOP tilt. Harris is running again. A major Democratic problem."

Rothenberg does caution, in his national overview, that Democrats will have a spending advantage and will try to localize House contests. Kratovil is already pushing hard to remind voters of the federal money he's helped direct to his district in his first year and three months in office.

There is also "at least some possibility" that the political landscape can shift or that Democratic attacks on Republican candidates could change the overall equation, Rothenberg cautions.

"Substantial Republican gains are inevitable," he concludes, and gains of more than 40 seats "certainly seem possible."

At the moment, Republicans would need a net pickup of 41 seats to take control of the House from the Democrats in the midterm election.

Posted by Paul West at 6:43 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Deal reached on sex offender legislation

The Senate and House of Delegates appear to be well on their way to resolving one of the last outstanding major issues of the session: sex offender reforms.

After a series of deals and legislative horse-trading, the chambers' negotiations team has agreed to combine both contentious bills into one big bill -- which happens to be backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Lawmakers added an expansion of Jessica's Law, lengthening the minimum prison sentence for certain sex offenders from five to 15 years, to O'Malleys sex offender registry bill.

For those keeping track, the House wins big on this one. The Senate backed down on both its request to lengthen sentences to 20 years and its quest to add other provisions (such as marking sex offenders' driver's licenses and admitting evidence of prior bad acts) to the registry bill.

By fusing the bills, the powers that be created a bill too sweeping for even the senators who had hoped for more to oppose.

It's widely expected to sail through when the chambers reconvene after their dinner break.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010

Both Houses take a break before final push

The Senate is about to recess until 9 p.m. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller just announced the House is out to, and will return at 9:30 p.m.
We're into the final laps, but a lot can still happen.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:30 PM | | Comments (0)

Harris plays at edge of irony

Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County,just stood up to question a bill that would provide penalties for use of an object put on another's property to threaten or intimidate. It originated as a ban on nooses or swastiksa, but was broadened to be ideology-neutral for constitutional reasons.

Harris was wondering whether the bill could be used to protect the tender feelings of public officials.

"If some citizen in a tea party, hangs a public citizen in effigy, does this apply?" Harris asked floor leader Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery.

Raskin, a constitutional lawyer, assured Harris the bill had been tailored to meet a Supreme Court test of the legality of anti-intimidation laws and told him he would be the first to volunteer to represent a citizen charged under the statute for hanging an official in effigy.

Harris seemed satisfied. Of course, the last Maryland official to receive wide publicity for being hanged in effigy is U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil, the Democrat who beat Harrisin 2008 for the House seat from the First District, who was accorded that honor during the debate over health care. Harris is taking a second shot at Kratovil this November.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:16 PM | | Comments (0)

Duplication abounds at sine die

Everybody in the General Assembly likes to get their names on bills, so the legislature will often pass two identical versions -- a House bill and a Senate bill.

We're seeing a lot of that happening here on the Senate now -- bills going through that have already passed earlier today.

There is a practical reason for this duplication. If the governor has it in for the sponsor of a bill, he can veto the legislation with the target legislator's name on it and sign the other chamber's version. It still becomes law, but the governor gets his little dig in. Gov. Parris N. Glendening was known to use the veto power to spank lawmakers who got on his bad side. He was good at it too. When he vetoed something, it stayed vetoed.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:51 PM | | Comments (0)

Back on the House side, bills cruise along

The House is back in session, and the pace is far different from across the hall in the Senate. This is the chamber that moves with dispatch, and where one member has far less leeway to gum up the works.

House Judiciary Committee Joe Vallario is presenting his commitee's bills -- no, nothing to do with drunk driving -- and he's his typical irascible self when questioned by other members.

House Economic Matters Committee is moving to recede to the Senate's demands on an obscure bill having to do with underground facilities. Receding is part of the fine art of compromise here, where one chamber essentially decides the other chamber has written a better bill or simply wants to have its way more adamantly.

I'm heading for the Senate. The potential for sine die mischief is much greater there.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:38 PM | | Comments (0)

Judiciary meeting skipped as plot thickens

That 4:15 p.m. Judiciary Committee voting session nver did come off as the members were called into the House session before it could happen. Chairman Joe Vallario never did show his face. But paper work is being delivered to the members of the committee, so something might be shaking.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:27 PM | | Comments (0)

Bicyclists pedaling to a great session

Last year, the state's bicycle lobby came out of Annapolis twith the political equivalent of two punctured tires. The bills of most interest to them were quashed in committee amid a tide of anti-bike sentiment.

This year has been a complete reversal. On Saturday, the House passed the Senate bill requiring a 3-foot buffer area between motor vehicles and bicycles. It's on its way to the governor.

Tonight another bicycle-friendly bill is coming to the House floor for final passage -- this one freeing bicyclists to use their discretion on when to stay in the shoulder and when to use the roadway. Adccording to Del. Al Carr, that conforms Maryland law to that in 44 other states.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)

Perfect weather is a sine die tease

It is simply a glorious day in Annapolis -- blue skies, breeze and balmy temperatures. It's the kind of day you want to find a way to banish senators who offer frivolous amendments, committee chairs who can't convene on time and anyone else who stands between you and the outdoors.Why couldn't it be a rainy and miserable sine die?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (0)

On sine die, even delays have meaning

It's 5 p.m. and the House Judiciary Committee has yet to begin its voting session scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Delays of this nature generally mean that something is happening in the back room, involving more connected personaqges than mere committee members.

With seven hours to go in the session, the committee has yet to vote on one of the most contentious issues it faces: a bill to require ignition interlock devices for all those convicted of drunk driving. The same bill passed the Senate unanimously, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario is no friend of the bill -- unless, of course, he's told to be.

The House itself is scheduled to meet at 5, but with many of its committees still tied up, there's no way that's going to happen.

Interesting, The Judiciary Committee is filled with junior members who sit on the wings. But the senior members who sit at the head table are all out of the room. It's so Annapolis.

The Senate was scheduled to be in at 4:30 p.m. Somehow, I doubt that came off on time either.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:59 PM | | Comments (0)

Miller: 'Workman-like' Senate moving along

As a five-hour Senate session concluded this afternoon, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller characterized his chamber as "workman-like." In a quick interview, he also named a few pieces of legislation he'd like to see cross his desk by the midnight deadline.

"Almost all of the big bills are out of the way," the Democratic senator from Calvert and Prince George's counties said, noting the operating and capital budgets are ready for the governor's signature.

What's on Miler's to-do list?

Rocky Gap and BOAST. He said it's important for the General Assembly to pass legislation that could help entice bidders for a slots parlor at Rocky Gap in Western Maryland. And he also indicated he wants to see the chambers pass a controversial measure that would give tax credits for private schools.

Miller said he believes the Senate will pass a House plan for a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of the second-degree rape or second-degree sex offense of a child under 13 -- less than the 20 years the Senate was seeking.

He called the Assembly's passage of a bill to ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones "a safety issue" and predicted "even tougher bills in future years."

The "workman-like" Senate convenes again in moments.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010

The call of lunch is getting stronger

The Senate is cruising toward a lunch break, working its way through a long list of bills that were special-ordered to the end of the session - mostly by Sen. E. J. Pipkin. He's protesting the rush, but his requests for delay are being voted down with dispatch.

At about this time, even members of the opposition are feeling the pangs of hunger. But Sen. Andrew Harris is on his feet, offering an amendment to the bill that would prohibit reading a text message while driving. The bill closes a loophole left in the bill last year that prohibited texting while driving.

He's seeking an exception for medical personnel (such as himself, a physician). The amendment just got shot down 29-17.

You'd think this bill would be easy compared with the cell phone bill that passed last week, but it's still struggling through the amendment process.

Now Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, is offering an amendment allowing a driver to read text at a red light. That amendment just passed 27-20, adding something to be worked out with the House in the waning hours of the session.

Harris is back now with another amendment -- this one exempting pagers. It fails 27-18.

(And who's on the floor now but U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a former Maryland House speaker. Sine die does tend to bring out the alumni.)

So now the texting bill has passed the amendment process and will be back later for a final vote. Can it beat the deadline? We'll see.

The Senate's about to break. Various committees will be huddling but the others are heading for a long-overdue lunch -- but not before Garrett County Sen. George Edwards announced a new Maryland snowfall record this winter at Keysers Ridge -- 264 inches.

On that note, this blogger is going to join the senators in assuaging hunger pangs.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)

Environmental bill passes

Sen. E. J. Pipkin gave it his best shot, but the bill that sets a series of environmental criteria for evaluating transportation projects is on its way to the governor.

The House version of the bill passed the Senate 31-14 along party lines. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, offered two amendments that were soundly voted down. When he asked to special order the bill so that he could offer more amendments, the Senate's patience had worn thin. His request for a delay was turned down, 30-13, and the bill quickly passed.

The bill was a top priority of environmental groups.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)

Bill on transportation criteria gets preliminary OK

Senate Bill 760, which sets a new series of environmental criteria to be considered when evaluating transportation projects, has just cleared its second reading after Sen. E. J. Pipkin led an effort to talk it to death.

It's a long way from passage, however. It has to come back to the Senate for a final vote, which will give opponents another shot at it.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:24 PM | | Comments (0)

Special order politics play out on sine die

On the last day of the legislative session, every attempt to delay a bill has to be evaluated with an eye to whether it is aimed at improving a bill or killing it.

The usual way in which a member seeks a delay is to move for a "special order" pushing the matter farther down the calendar. Usually, a special order is granted as a courtesy to any member -- no matter which party. And often they are used to draft an amendment that corrects a mistake in the bill.

But the later a special order comes in the legislative, the more it's viewed with suspicion by Senate leaders. A special order is likely to be denied if it comes from a lawmakers who is viewed as an opponent on the bill -- especially on sine die.

We're getting an education in sine die politics today in the Senate. Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, has asked for a series of special orders on transportation-related bills pushing bills into the late afternoon session while amendments are drafted. If pushed to a vote, the special orders would likely have been turned down but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller defused that by offering a special order to the end of the current calendar.

Finally, Pipkin pushed the envelope a little too far and had one of his special order requests voted down -- this time to draft amendments to a bill that would add a series of environmental criteria to the process of evaluating transportation projects. It's a bill that has been avidly sought by environmentalists. It came to the Senate this late because of a protracted negotiating process with county governments.

But Pipkin has now pushed back by launching what could be an extended debate on the bill, which he opposes as a mechanism for blocking road projects. And now her's getting support from Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, who is questioning the concept of "environmental justice." He's warned it could be a prolonged talk.

It's the first major speed bump of sine die on the Senate side -- but it might not be the last.

But the power lies with the majority -- and the Democrats in the chamber just exercised that power with a 31-14 cloture vote to limit debate,

Now Pipkin's offering an amendment delaying the effects of the bill. The floor leader, Sen. Richard Maddaleno, D-Montgomery, is asking the Senate to vote the amendment down. And it does go down, 30-15.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (0)

Traffic court bill passes

The Senate just gave final approval to a House bill that would shift the burden to the driver who receives a ticket to request a trial in traffic court.

The bill, which passed unanimously, was a top priority for thye state's police chiefs because they believe it will save them millions of dollars in overtime paid to officers who go to traffic court for the trials of defendants who don't show up.

Once implemented, the bill will change the all-too-familiar routine for those who receive traffic tickets so that they don't receive and automatic court date. Rather, they will have to check off a box on the ticket and send it to the court requesting a date.

The measure brings Maryland into conformity with the overwhelming majority of states in their traffic court procedures.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:32 PM | | Comments (1)

Some senators have a lot more to say

In any group of 47, you're going to find a few who have a whole lot more to say than the others. You can view them as brave individuals who don't shrink from speaking truth to power. Or you can look at them as individuals who love to hear the sound of their own voices. Maybe it's a bit of both.

In the Senate of Maryland, few senators are on their feet more than E. J. Pipkin of the Eastern Shore, Alex Mooney of Frederick County and Andrew Harris of Baltimore County. And today's no different. All have been up multiple times to quiz a bill's floor leader, debate bills or explain votes.

Part of the reason they speak up more is that they are of the opposition party, the Republicans. But even among their fellow GOP senators, these three stand out for the amount of time they spend on their feet. Some of their equally conservative colleagues, for instance Carroll County's Larry Haines or Washington County's Donald Munson, seldom participate in the floor debate and prefer to do their work in committee.

For Harris, today is a Maryland Senate swan song -- at least in this go-round. Next year this time will presumably find him either in Congress -- he's leaving Annapolis to seek the 1st District House seat held by Rep. Frank Kratovil -- or in private life. Democratic senators will not miss his sometimes acerbic cross-examination.

On the Democratic side, Baltimore County's Delores Kelley stands out as a senator with a lot to say on the floor. She does have a way of popping up just as it appears the Senate is about to vote.

In general, the more powerful and influential senators participate minimally in floor debate except when they're presenting bills or answering questions about them.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:19 PM | | Comments (3)

Solar energy bill passes

A solar energy bill backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, Senate Bill 277, has just passed the Senate with an agreement on the House's amendments. It now goes to the governor.

It passed on a 31-15 votes that roughly followed party lines.

The bill provide incentives for energy companies to increase the amount of solar energy in their portfolios. Republicans objected that it would increase utility bills. The amounts were minuscule, but every penny counts in the game of political symbolism.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM | | Comments (2)

Legislative 'chicken' under way

One of the great traditions of sine die is the legislative equivalent of the game of chicken. It occurs when a House bill comes to the Senate (or vice versa) with amendments the chambers don't see eye to eye on.

What happens is that the House sends a message to the Senate saying it does not concur in the Senate amendments and requests a conference committee, appointing three of its members to negotiate. The motion is made in the Senate not to concur and to appoint its own three conferees.

Then the challenge is for those members to get together to work out the differences. Often this means one senator and one House member do the actual negotiating and the other conferees just sign off.

The conferees have about 10 hours at this point to work out agreements. Any later than that and it might be too late to get a printed copy to the floor. If agreement can't be reached the bill dies -- and along with it all the work that went into it. In many cases, you have lobbyists whispering in the legislators' ears between floor sessions -- urging them to be flexible or hang tough, depending on their clients' interests.

What's pretty amazing about the process is how many bills actually get worked out under these conditions. That's democracy in action.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:32 PM | | Comments (0)

Senate races through bills

About a week before the end of the session, you can usually count on the TV news programs to carry a breathless report on how few bills have passes the General Assembly at that point in the session. The implication is usually that lawmakers have been slacking off or that the state is in crisis as a result.

The reason such reports are off the mark is the rapidity with which the legislature can move once it gets down to crunch time. In the time since the Senate convened an hours ago, dozens of House -passed bills have become law -- most by near-unanimous votes.

We did have a briefly interesting exchange here over House Bill 56, which came in as a Worcester County nonprofit groups' slot machines bill and somewhere along the line acquired an amendment allowing card games at Rosecroft race track in Prince George's County.

The bill passed 34-12, but not before Sen. Alex Mooney of Frederick County noted that this type of gambling expansion is why he opposed slot machines in the first place.

"It's going to keep growing and we're going to have slot machines everywhere in Maryland," the Republican said.

The way things are going, he may be right.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:10 PM | | Comments (1)

House goes out; key committee meeting set

The House of Delegates has finished its first session of the day and committees are meeting.

The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a voting session for 12:45 a.m. that may or may not take up the much-watched ignition interlock bill.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)

General Assembly: It's almost a wrap

The clock is ticking. The 2010 General Assembly legislative session ends at midnight, at which time your 188 state lawmakers and Gov. Martin O'Malley will switch to campaign mode. But before they do, take a look at this year's accomplishments -- and what's still left undone. Check the main page of the for dispatches throughout the day.

Last day preview:
With the budget now out of the way, what do lawmakers have left on the final day.

Top 10:
Here are some of the trickiest issues remaining.

We are Getting There:
Mike Dresser, a State House veteran himself, is here in Annapolis today keeping track of last-minute traffic laws and other issues.

As of 1 a.m., the Assembly had passed 552 bills. Take a spin through them.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:47 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010

Bicyclists weigh in for 3-foot bill

Sine die is not usually a day for rallies for or against legislation. Those events generally take place in February or March. But the state's bicyclists still have a bill they've been pushing for years in the balance today -- one that would require motorists to keep a 3-foot buffer between their vehicles and bicyclists.

It's a simple bill that many other states have adopted, but nothing concerning the relations between bicyclists and motor vehicles is simple. The bill crept out of a House committee just Friday, and it has to race through both houses to become law by midnight.

The bicyclists' feeling about this bill we intensified by a recent fatal crash involving a bicyclist in Baltimore County, Lawrence Bensky, 43, of Owings Mills. They're expected to arrive -- by bicycle -- just about now for a noon rally. His widow, Tamara, is expected to attend.

The Baltimore Bicycle Club and the University of Maryland School of Law Cycling Club are among the rally organizers.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:46 AM | | Comments (0)

Capital budget glides through

The state's capital budget just eased through the Senate on a 43-4 vote after Sen. Ed DeGrange brought the House-Senate conference agreement to floor.

The capital budget is usually far less contentious than the general fund budget. Most Republicans voted for it, though four cast what were essentially protest votes.

The was an attempt by the Senate to persuade the House to swear off bond bills -- targeted local projects -- for the next two years. The House didn't buy it and the Senate caved.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:26 AM | | Comments (0)

It's the 'sine die' show in Annapolis

"Sine die" -- Annapolis veterans will tell you they are the two sweetest words in Latin.

That is the term used to describe the last day of the 90-day legislative session. It means, roughly, "without fixed day." That is what happens at midnight. The majority leader of either House stands up and moves to "adjourn sine die." Everybody -- lawmakers, lobbyists, reporters, staff -- let out a sigh of relief.

What began in the cold of January now comes to an end on a beautiful April day -- but what happens under the State House dome on this day isn't always pretty.

My colleagues and I will be reporting today from the State House, bringing some of the flavor of this political rite of spring. It's the day when last-minute deals are cut, and the smell of treachery hovers in the air. Bills get hung up over policy differences or personal spite, and many die before accord can be reached.

I'm reporting now from the Senate chamber, where President Thomas V. Mike Miller -- who has been presiding over this body longer than anyone in the history of Maryland -- is trying to assemble his straggling members for what was supposed to be an 11 a.m. session

A clergyman has just led a prayer for unity and faith. Faith has a reasonable chance. Unity is a longshot.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:01 AM | | Comments (0)

April 9, 2010

Spring Break Update for Marylanders in Congress

During Congress's current two-week spring break, a bipartisan trio of Maryland lawmakers took a trip to the tropics--a visit to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sen. Ben Cardin and Reps. Steny Hoyer and Roscoe Bartlett made the two-day jaunt, with an overnight in the Tampa, Florida area, for meetings with top U.S. commanders at CENTCOM headquarters and a first-hand look at the place where some 150 suspected terrorists have been detained in the post 9/11 era.

Their official trip on March 26 and 27 stands out as the only example of out-of-state travel at taxpayer expense during the current congressional break, according to Maryland congressional offices.

That isn't particularly surprising, since lawmakers are careful to keep junketing to a minimum in an election year (not that the trip, led by Hoyer, had the earmarks of a typical junket, unless touring a prison and chewing the fat with Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal is your idea of a good time).

Rep. Donna Edwards made her first trip to Turkey, which has the advantage of being a strategically important country and one of the hottest travel destinations in the world at the same time.

The Prince Georges County Democrat was one of three House members on a week-long trip paid for by the Turkish Coalition of America. Like Edwards, the others, Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat, and Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican, have no 2010 re-election worries.

According to the group that picked up the tab, the congresspeople met with Turkish and U.S. government officials and business and civil leaders and attended the opening gala for the Jazz Department at Hacettepe University, which has become the first institution in Turkey dedicated to the study of jazz.

The coalition quoted Edwards as saying: “This is my first visit to Turkey and I definitely plan to come back. I appreciate the hospitality received, as well as all we have learned about the unique perspective of strategic relations between the US and Turkey.”

Other members of the Maryland congressional delegation are mixing personal and official business--and campaign activity--during the Easter/Passover recess period.

In line with a nationwide Democratic sales campaign, the state's Democratic congressmen and senators have been staging photo ops and other events to spotlight previously announced stimulus spending across the state.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, up for re-election this year, made a number of stops around the state and held at least two Washington fund-raisers. She has another funder planned for this weekend in New Jersey.

The veteran Democrat from Baltimore faces token opposition as she tries for another six-year term. Fellow Democratic candidates are hoping that she'll be energized enough to help mobilize their party's demoralized base in the fall.

Public opinion surveys continue to show that Republicans are more energized to vote in this year's mid-term elections than Democrats.

A new Gallup poll, just released, shows the Democratic Party's standing with voters dropping to an 18-year low (though voters take a similarly dim view of Republicans). Another way to look at those numbers: Democrats failed to get a lift from passing a massive health care program just before Congress went on break.

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich is counting on superior intensity among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to help him unseat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in the marquee statewide contest this fall.

The next big race--an expected First District congressional rematch between Eastern Shore freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil and Baltimore County Republican state Sen. Andy Harris--will also turn on turnout (actually, all elections are determined by turnout, if you think about it).

Kratovil, the most endangered Maryland incumbent in what looks to be an anti-incumbent year, has spent the recess highlighting his efforts to bring federal dollars to the district. Harris, styling himself as a congressional reformer, has promised not to request earmarks, if elected, setting the stage for a debate over spending.

Marylanders with party leadership responsibilities also used the break to do some politicking for colleagues in other states.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was helping Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell, an incumbent in a competitive re-election race, and plans other stops this weekend.

Hoyer, the Democratic leader of the House, expected to hit nine congressional districts in Pennsylvania and Florida between last Tuesday and this Monday. He was in Allentown, Pa., on Tuesday, for a fundraiser on behalf of Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who is in an uphill challenge against Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.

Posted by Paul West at 2:22 PM | | Comments (0)

The House is on fire

The much anticipated “Rock The House” Graduation Celebration in Annapolis ended with alarm bells sounding Thursday evening.

The room began to smell of smoke. People grabbed their belongings and left via a narrow stairway. We spotted flakes of ash dropping from a ceiling vent onto Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery County). Read our breaking-news coverage here

Minority Leader Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard County) this morning joked that the Baltimore Sun’s reporting on the evening tarnished his squeaky clean image. It was the only time he went out to a bar all session, he said.

Sadly, news of the evacuation overshadowed a star performance by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) who roasted the junior lawmakers in his chamber for about 20 minutes, coming up with zingers for each of them.

One of the more memorable quips was for a Montgomery County Democrat he dubbed “Heather ‘Transparency’ Mizeur” because of a package of legislation she’s pushing to post online more information about how laws are made.

The delegate was at the bar when her name called, leaving Busch alone in the front of the room with her certificate. Busch waited a few beats and quipped: “She’s so transparent nobody can see her.”

When the music started Busch assured us he was not dancing. He modestly said that he is like “an elevator” with “no steps.” It just wasn’t true.

This morning, Busch said he was in the running for the John Travolta Award but was edged out by Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery County).

(Also, in our hurry to leave sans singe, we took the wrong overcoat, shown at left. If you are missing a beige Nienhaus coat, please e-mail If you picked up a light pink, three-quarter sleeve coat we’re looking for it, and we borrowed it from someone else so we are in big trouble if we don’t get it back. )

Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010

April 8, 2010

NC GOP Chairman Calls on Steele to Resign

The chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party has become the first member of the Republican National Committee to call on Michael Steele to step down as party chairman in the wake of a spending scandal.

Tom Fetzer, in a two-page letter to Steele dated Thursday, said that "the best service" Steele could render the party would be to "graciously step aside and allow the party to move on from this current quagmire."

His demand draws fresh attention to an episode, now nearing the end of its second week, that Steele had hoped was behind him.

An RNC spokeswoman, Katie Wright, responded that “Steele has maintained broad support from RNC committee members, who have been pleased with the proactive measures put in place for greater accountability. Most importantly the RNC remains focused on raising money and winning elections in North Carolina and across the country this fall."

Fetzer becomes the first RNC official to call for Steele's resignation this month, but it is not the first time that a national committee member has called for Steele's head. In March, 2009, an RNC member--also from North Carolina--said that Steele should step aside because of "eroding confidence" in his leadership.

That demand in 2009--from Ada Fisher, one of the three black members of the RNC--came after a series of early verbal stumbles by Steele. The effort to oust him went nowhere.

Most Republicans have said that it is unlikely that Steele will be forced out before his current term ends early next year.

But over the past two weeks, the former Maryland lieutenant governor's hold on his job has clearly slipped.

The triggering incident was an enormous wave of negative publicity over nearly $2,000 in party money that was spent by the RNC to entertain prospective young donors at a lesbian-themed topless club in West Hollywood. Steele was not present at the event, fired the staffer involved and has since forced out his top staff aide in a shakeup designed to move beyond the episode.

However, the spending flap has prompted wider criticism of Steele's management of the national party, which has been forced to trim some of its 2010 campaign plans in response to what some are calling a financial deficit. It also allowed long simmering opposition to Steele to surface again.

He now finds himself largely surrounded by a group of former campaign aides and longtime associates from his home state, a Maryland mafia that some critics dismiss as a collection of yes men and women and that others describe as enablers.

Several political consultants who had been working with Steele have parted company with him recently, amid reports that he refused to heed their advice. One of them, Alex Castellanos, called for Steele to resign, while an RNC member from New Hampshire said recently he was quitting the party committee in protest.

Even many Steele detractors, though, have said the party would be hurt more by a public effort to dethrone the RNC's first African-American chairman.

Perhaps the key to his survival in his post, according to some party insiders, will be the amount of money that donors contribute to the RNC over the next six weeks to two months.

Republican anger over the Democratic health care law helped push contributions to the RNC to a record level in March (though its Democratic counterpart raised even more). However, donor reaction--if any--to the negative publicity over the RNC's spending habits is only now being measured.

Since his surprise election in January, 2009, the story of Steele's performance as chairman has been a complex one, with a rise-and-fall-and rise-again trajectory driven largely by his own performance.

As recently as last fall, he was riding high after off-year elections that featured major Republican victories around the county. But he has slid over the past four months, the result of a series of events related to his efforts to make money on the side and, critics say, to promote himself at the party's expense.

But it wasn't until the latest events that the overall perception of Steele flipped, for the first time, from a glass-half-full image to a half-empty one. As a result, his job is on the line now in a way that it hasn't been before.

Posted by Paul West at 6:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele

Bronrott Leaving Assembly, Joining Obama Administration

Democratic Delegate Bill Bronrott of Montgomery County announced Thursday that he is resigning from the General Assembly to take a job in Washington with the Transportation department.

Bronrott, who once worked as a congressional aide in D.C., said he will become deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, effective April 27.

His boss will be Anne Ferro, a former head of the state Motor Vehicle Administration who later became a Maryland trucking industry lobbyist. She now heads the FMCSA, which helps regulate large trucks and buses.

Bronrott, 54, a Washington DC native, grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park. He was an aide to Democratic Congressman Mike Barnes of Montgomery County from 1979 to 1987.

Elected to the House of Delegates in 1998, he has been active in efforts to fight drunk driving and on other transportation issues.

In a prepared statement, Bronrott said he was "thrilled and honored" by a chance to join the Obama administration and thanked his constituents in the DC suburbs for allowing him to pursue "our shared vision of communities that are sustainable, healthy and safe. We've made enormous progress, and the work carries on."

Posted by Paul West at 11:29 AM | | Comments (0)

April 6, 2010

O'Malley ready to debate Ehrlich -- now (UPDATED)

The day before Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. formally announces he wants his old job back, Gov. Martin O'Malley has challenged him to a debate.

The Republican former governor has accepted -- with conditions. He wants to continue in his role of host and not have any moderators. This is something the O'Malley camp won't accept, though their offer of a "true debate" stands. (More below.)

Ehrlich lost to O'Malley, a Democrat, by 6.5 percentage points in 2006 and confirmed last week that he is running for governor this November.

Here's how the debate debate unfolded today:

This afternoon, O'Malley released word through his campaign's e-mail and Facebook page that he wanted to debate Ehrlich this Saturday, on the former governor's own turf .

"I welcome Mr. Ehrlich back into the race for Governor. The 2006 race was hard fought, and I enjoyed it. I look forward to an issue-based discussion about ideas and issues that can keep our state moving forward. If Ehrlich accepts our challenge we are looking forward to an hour-long Saturday morning debate on Maryland's future on WBAL radio." (via O'Malley's Facebook page)

A release from the O'Malley campaign added that the governor wants to debate now because "there are so many important issues facing our state ... I think the Maryland public deserves to hear about our plans and ideas as soon as possible."

His campaign proposed using a WBAL news employee and a television partner as moderators.

It's a convenient venue. Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel Ehrlich, host a two-hour radio show Saturday mornings on WBAL.

Ehrlich's new spokesman, Andy Barth, learned of the offer moments after O'Malley made it.

This evening, Ehrlich posted an item on his campaign web page, titled, "Bob Ehrlich welcomes Governor O'Malley to the Bob and Kendel Show."

“We welcome Governor O’Malley to the Kendel and Bob Show this Saturday on WBAL Radio 1090 AM in Baltimore. I look forward to playing host this Saturday as I have every Saturday for the past few years. Rather than bringing in a moderator to fill air time, I will personally host Governor O’Malley for a one-on-one conversation about the record tax increases, jobs losses, and budget deficits that have hurt Maryland families and small businesses in recent years.”

Ehrlich's modifications were swiftly rejected by the governor. O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell said in an e-mailed statement:

"We proposed a very simple and standard debate at a time we knew would work for Mr. Ehrlich. We regret that he did not take our offer in the spirit it was intended. Our offer stands to have a true debate this weekend at a time that is convenient for Mr. Ehrlich if he is at all interested. I think we’ve reached the point where Mr. Ehrlich needs to decide if he’s simply a talk show host or a serious candidate for Governor."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:23 PM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Board of Elections has qs for Ehrlich campaign

The State Board of Elections wants Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s campaign committee to turn over information about potential unreported in-kind donations by employees of the Baltimore law firm where he works.

In a letter to the campaign dated April 1, the board asked a series of questions centered on duties performed by longtime Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, who works alongside Ehrlich at the Baltimore law firm Womble Carlyle on its crisis communications team.

The letter is a response to a recent complaint by the Maryland Democratic Party.

Over the last couple of months Fawell has regularly fielded questions from reporters asking about Ehrlich’s intentions in November, which were not made official until last week. He plans to kick-off his campaign against Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley at a series of events Wednesday, and the campaign this week hired former TV reporter Andy Barth to be a spokesman.

Barth confirmed that the letter was received. “We will respond to it in the 30 days it provides,” he said. Fawell did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Questions from the board include whether Fawell was paid by Womble for time spent promoting Ehrlich’s candidacy, the hours per month Fawell spends working for the campaign and any pro bono work Fawell does for other organizations on behalf of Womble.

The Board also wants the campaign to explain “the nature and role” Womble Carlyle has played with the campaign and whether any other Womble employees work on behalf of Ehrlich’s candidacy. Two others who were part of the former governor’s inner circle moved with Ehrlich to the law firm after he lost: Gregg Massoni and Paul E. Schurick.

The Democratic Party alleged that Ehrlich is using Womble as its “defacto campaign headquarters,” and the costs associated with the office should be viewed as campaign donations. The Board gave the campaign 30 days to respond.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:13 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

House goes after gangs

The House of Delegates this morning approved a get-tough on gangs measure -- over the opposition of black and Hispanic delegates from the state's urban areas who worried it would be overreaching.

Delegates and prosecutors had been working on the bill for months, saying they had addressed some concerns of public defenders civil liberties groups. The compromise that emerged defines what a gang is and gives judges the ability -- but not the mandate -- to extend by up to a decade prison terms for members convicted of certain crimes.

Del. Ana-Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat, warned that the anti-gang measure is "bad public policy" because it is "criminalizing kids." Del. Aisha N. Braveboy, a Prince George's County Democrat, said the bill "brings in people who may or may not be associated with a crime."

But the sponsor of the bill, Del. Gerron S. Levi, a Prince George's Democrat, called those concerns baseless.

"It does not punish 'association,'" Levi said. She argued that the new statute is detailed in who can be subjected to the extended sentences, saying a person must be convicted of a crime, a proven gang member and either have killed someone or committed two gang-related offenses.

The debate now moves to the Senate, where Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has urged Democratic city Sen. Lisa Gladden, "to help guide the bill to a quick vote in the Senate." Gladden is vice-chairwoman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the gang bill has lingered. But she's also a public defender likely to oppose the new measure.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:12 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010

Updated: Steele Off Message, Anderson Gone

Perhaps no one, other than Bob Ehrlich, did more to advance Michael Steele's national career than Maryland strategist Curt Anderson. That makes the Crofton consultant's decision this week to cut his ties with Steele particularly stunning.

Curt and his brother Wes Anderson run a highly regarded Republican media consulting shop, On Message Inc. They crafted the memorable 2006 campaign commercials that featured Senate candidate Steele and a cute Boston Terrier, The ads were bright spots in a losing effort and drew national attention for their creativity. (Click on the above example)

Curt Anderson went on to play a central role in Steele's upset campaign for Republican National Chairman last year. His firm was rewarded with more than $480,000 in RNC work under Steele.

But Monday's departure of Steele's chief of staff, Ken McKay, was apparently the final straw for Anderson, who took the highly unusual step of renouncing further business with Steele's RNC. He did not immediately respond to messages left at his office and on his cellphone.

Anderson was instrumental in bringing McKay on board at party headquarters last year. At the time, the hiring of McKay was seen as a reassuring sign, especially by those who doubted that Steele was up to the job and were wondering if he would even be able to attract first-rate help.

In a statement, Anderson called McKay's departure "a huge loss for the Republican Party.” Anderson said McKay had "steered the party through very successful elections last fall that have given us tremendous momentum. He’s a great talent."

Anderson went on to say: "Given our firm’s commitments to campaigns all over the country we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC. We have high personal regard for the Chairman and always have; we wish him well.”

The severing of relations with Steele's RNC by Anderson was surprising--not only the decision to forgo a lucrative client but what seemed to be a clear vote of no confidence by one of those who helped make Mike Steele.

A Republican insider said that Anderson "checked out" because he "decided there is nothing he could do about the guy." He said that "Curt was getting in Steele's face" and Steele was increasingly resistant to his advice.

The insider noted that Alex Castellanos, another leading strategist who was brought in as a special adviser, similarly walked away from Steele.

They have been replaced by what this Republican termed "a team of enablers," including veterans of Steele's 2006 Maryland campaign.

At the same time, this Republican--a former party official who spoke on condition of anonymity--said that Steele was justified in replacing McKay because the problems at RNC headquarters--including the party's budget deficit and spending embarrassments--are the staff chief's direct responsibility.

Steele had indicated that he was taking steps to shake up the administration at party headquarters following the recent disclosure of nearly $2,000 in party funds spent at a West Hollywood topless club.

McKay's departure was cast in that light. His replacement as Steele's top aide, Mike Leavitt, ran Steele's 2006 Senate campaign in Maryland. The latest top spokesman for the RNC (a challenging post under Steele) is Doug Heye, also a longtime Maryland associate. Steele and the RNC have yet to respond to Anderson. After McKay's departure became known, Steele told party leaders that he had dumped his top aide.

"Leadership requires that I can safely assure you, our donors, and the American people that our mission is what drives every dollar we spend, every phone call we make, every email we send and every event we organize,” Steele said in the email, first obtained by Politico. “Recent events have called that assurance into question and the buck stops with me. That is why I have made this change in my management team and why I am confident about going forward to November with renewed focus and energy.”

The firing made the news just one day before Ehrlich was scheduled to announce his third run for governor of Maryland. It was Ehrlich's decision to tap Steele, a party activist who never held elective office before, as his running mate that propelled the Prince George's County Republican into the job of lieutenant governor.

Now, Ehrlich risks having Steele's widely publicized troubles overshadow his kickoff events. Certainly, Maryland Democrats are doing all they can to help that happen.

In an email Tuesday morning, Isaac Salazar, the state Democratic Party's communications director, suggested six questions for reporters to ask Ehrlich.

Number one: "What do you think of the job Michael Steele is doing at the RNC? Have you asked your Lt. Gov. to campaign for you?"

Posted by Paul West at 10:35 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Michael Steele

April 5, 2010

Warren on the state budget

Key lawmakers from the House and Senate are hashing out their differences over the state’s $13.2 billion budget with the help of fiscal analyst Warren Deschenaux.

Deschenaux is known for his overwhelming knowledge of the budget and his dry wit … we’ve taken a couple favorite snippets from Monday's two hour meeting and copied them below.

- On the House proposal to borrowing an additional $100 million from an obscure account where local income taxes are collected:

“It is like Easter. Easter morning finding a basket. Except you might get a bill. It is a nice thing if you can pay for it.”

“I can’t guarantee you that that the accountant mavens will not come back and say something horrible” about the idea.

“This is an account that had a huge balance. We went to a large balance. We are now going to a small balance.”

- On the Marylanders who voluntarily check off a box on their state income tax forms to donate money to publically fund elections:

“For some crazy reason people keep checking off the box even though it [the fund] has not been used in recent memory.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010

TV reporter-turned-candidate joins Team Ehrlich

Andy Barth, a Baltimore area television reporter for more than 30 years who unsuccessfully ran for Congress, has signed on to be press secretary for Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"I have tremendous respect for Bob Ehrlich," Barth said in a statement released by Ehrlich's aides.

In the same statement, Ehrlich said he is "delighted to add someone of Andy Barth’s accomplishment and experience to our team."

Barth has been a reporter for WMAR, Baltimore's ABC affiliate, and for WTTG, Fox in Washington. In 2006, he ran for the House of Representatives seat vacated by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

A registered Democrat, Barth lives in Columbia.

Barth said in a brief telephone interview that he joined the Ehrlich campaign because "the chance to be involved in government is exciting." He said he has never worked on a campaign, aside from his own.

Ehrlich is set to announce Wednesday, at events in Rockville and Halethorpe, that he will challenge Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley this fall. O'Malley defeated Ehrlich after one term in 2006.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:53 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Steele: Not budging

Breaking a week-long silence, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said Monday morning that he's staying put in his job, despite a fresh round of criticism over the way money is handled at party headquarters.

George Stephanopoulos put the question to Steele on "Good Morning America," after quoting a recent poll of party insiders, who overwhelmingly concluded that the former Maryland lieutenant governor is a liability to his party and needs to go.

"Are you going to go?," asked the ABC breakfast show host.

"No," replied Steele. "And I understand that, but, of course, they've been saying that since the day I got the job."

Steele said he has been putting "great controls in place" on finance at RNC headquarters and on the party's money-raising operation.

"Those numbers that they talk about, you know, I'm not staying in fancy hotels and the Four Seasons and flying around in corporate jets," he said.

It was the first time that Steele or one of his spokesmen has offered that rebuttal since publication of an online article, last Monday, about lavish spending by the RNC.

Without the White House or control of Congress to help leverage contributions from big donors, Steele said he has ordered the party to scale back the sorts of events that "major donors are used to."

High-dollar donors have been among Steele's harshest critics. Since he took over as chairman last year, the RNC has relied much more heavily on smaller donors, raising money online, through the mails and by phone, as well as at receptions and other in-person events.

"I think a lot of this has really kind of taken it a lot further down the road and blowing it up larger than it needs to be," said Steele. "At the end of the day, I've raised more money than the Democrats in 7 out of 12 months. I carry over the same amount of money as the DNC into 2010. We had a very good March. We'll have a very good April.

"But," he went on, "the bottom line is, I hear my donors. I hear our base out there. I hear the leadership. And we're taking steps to make sure that we're even more--how shall we say?--fiscally conservative in our spending. And certainly making sure that the dollars are there when it's time to run our campaigns."

Steele also riffed on some themes from previous interviews. He said he is being subjected to a double standard, because he's black, and again compared himself to President Barack Obama.

Stephanopoulos (reading from an emailed question by a viewer): "Do you feel that as an African-American you have a slimmer margin for error than another chairman would?"

Steele: The honest answer is 'Yes.'

Stephanopoulos: Why is that?

Steele: It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. We all--a lot of folks do. I mean, it's just a different role for, you know, for me and for others to play. And that's just the reality of it."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, asked about Steele's remark, said the Republican chairman's problem "is not the race card, it's the credit card.'' Check this report, which includes a video clip of Steele on ABC, at "The Swamp."

Steele also said that, despite having spent virtually his entire life in the Washington, DC area, he's not a DC insider.

"My view on politics is much more grassroots oriented. It's not old-boy-network oriented," said Steele, whose career in politics took off when his old friend Bob Ehrlich tapped him as his running mate in 2002. "And so I tend to, you know, come at it a little bit stronger, a little bit more streetwise, if you will. That's ruffled some feathers the wrong way."

He concluded: "At the end of the day, I'm judged by whether I win elections and I raise the money. That's a standard I'm very comfortable with and look forward to meeting in November."

The nationally televised remarks were the first by Steele since a mini-scandal erupted over nearly $2,000 in "meals" that the RNC spent at a topless night club in West Hollywood. He wasn't asked this morning why he didn't speak in public for a full week about the incident at the bondage-themed club, but one online commenter has speculated it was because Steele was tied up.

Posted by Paul West at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele

April 3, 2010

Campaign season in the air, on the air

Freshly confirmed Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gave his radio talk show listeners a taste this morning of how his campaign may intersect with his hosting duties.

"We don't want this to devolve into a 'We love Bob, we love Martin' segment," Ehrlich said as his WBAL show began at 9 a.m., referring to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley. He promised robust debate about state policies. However, later in the show, he took a brief call from "Martin from Annapolis," a man who, in a Bill Clintonesque voice, mocked the current governor's solid union support.

Ehrlich hosts the Saturday program with his wife, Kendel Ehrlich. He said he will stay behind the microphone until July, when he officially files his candidacy with the State Board of Elections. He said the station would offer equal time to O'Malley.

Asked whether the governor was interested, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese replied in an email, "It's clear that former Governor Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, now plan to run their campaign out of the law offices of Womble Caryle and WBAL radio studios. For now, Governor O'Malley is focused on the last few weeks of the legislative session and creating the conditions for economic growth and job creation in our state."

Ehrlich also manages the Baltimore office of North Carolina law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. He will formally announce his gubernatorial campaign April 7 in Rockville and Halethorpe and said he will give details about his professional plans at that time.

The Republican former governor devoted much of his two-hour show to discussing the Democratic administration's spending plan, which he criticized as a prelude to tax increases next year, and recent state legislation -- a departure from the more national tone his show had taken lately.

He took calls from a few Democrats -- another change -- who challenged him on his distaste for national health care reform. Two Republican lawmakers briefly phoned in with Annapolis updates.

Ehrlich directly addressed several callers' questions about his candidacy. One asked if he considered challenging popular Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, to which Ehrlich replied, "Yes, briefly." He said he views the governorship as "where the action is" and believes he could make a greater, quicker impact in Annapolis than on Capitol Hill.

Kendel Ehrlich will appear on Richard Sher's Square Off on WMAR-TV tomorrow night.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:49 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

April 2, 2010

It's all in the family: O'Malley to rejoin O'Malley team

This gubernatorial election is looking more like 2006 with each passing day.

The candidates -- Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- are the same. And they appear to be surrounding themselves with the same teams.

Word just came out that Peter O'Malley will soon leave his position as an adviser to Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith to become his brother's senior campaign adviser. Check out Bryan Sears' story for more details. Peter O'Malley joins Tom Russell, who has been the governor's campaign manager for the past several months.

On Ehrlich's side, he's tapped Richard E. Hug to oversee fund-raising efforts, just as he did in 2006 and previous campaigns. Here's a Baltimore Business Journal piece on that. And Ehrlich's longtime communications team, including Henry Fawell, Greg Massoni and Paul Schurick, is still together.

Will the candidates' messages also feel circa-2006? Stay tuned.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Steele's Worst Week Ever

Michael Steele has been chairman of the Republican National Committee for the past 60 weeks. One of them had to be his worst. This is it.

Capping five consecutive days of whack-a-Mike was a highly critical column on Friday morning's Wall Street Journal "Opinion" page. One of the most prominent, reliably conservative, pro-Republican venues in America thus became the latest to pile on Steele, with a Journal staff commentator administering a firm thumping of the former Maryland lieutenant governor.

Kimberly Strassel, author of the Potomac Watch column, describes this week's RNC spending scandal as "the latest evidence that Mr. Steele has yet to figure out his role."

She adds: "That confusion could mean the difference between a decent GOP midterm victory and a big one."

The Journal columnist went back over some of the stumbles of Steele's first year in office, including his perception of himself as a "shadow president," his "swollen entourages" and "luxury spending."

That's "a problem," she explains, "not just because it is burning up vital money, but because it threatens the RNC's ability to capitalize on donors in the crucial months ahead."

"How the RNC performs could be the difference between a 20-seat House pickup and a switch to a Republican majority," concludes Strassel.

More than a few Republican insiders would argue with her conclusion. Anyway, party donors are free to give to the national Republican House, Senate and Governors' campaign committees. There are multiple ways to deliver money to Republican candidates and campaigns if contributors choose to shun the RNC.

Strassel also points out that dumping Steele as chairman "brings its own problems."

She might have added that firing him is also virtually impossible, and hard to imagine, unless and until another scandal erupts.

Under party rules, Steele enjoys nearly air-tight protection in his job, which pays $223,500 a year (plus those perks like private jets and limos).

To oust a chairman would take the votes of two-thirds of the RNC's 165 members. And that brings us back to Steele's week.

He began it in Tampa, Florida, where he was accompanying 12 RNC members on one of the cushiest jobs in American politics: picking the site of the party's next presidential nominating convention.

Steele personally chose the site-selection committee members for this princely plum. The lucky RNC members get to travel to all of the cities that are competing to become the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

At each stop, they spend several days being wined and dined. Then they move on to the next suitor. Typically, they, or other RNC members chosen for follow-up committee duty, can expected to pay return trips to the winning convention site, where, again, they'll be treated like visiting royalty.

In recent days, Steele and Company have been to Phoenix and Tampa. Steele was unexpectedly absent from a press conference with the RNC members that took place on Monday, the same day the scandal broke about RNC spending at a lesbian-themed topless joint in Hollywood. Next up for the hard-working RNC selection committee: a visit to Salt Lake City next week.

National party conventions are among of the biggest reasons that activists compete to serve on the RNC (or its Democratic counterpart).

Committee members get prime seats inside the convention hall, hard-to-get hotel rooms (or suites) in the convention city and lots of opportunities to rub shoulders with their party's most important politicians. In many cases, they are official delegates, with a formal vote to cast on the choice of their party's nominee for president, which prompts another round of intense wooing and partying.

Care and feeding of national committee members is one of a chairman's most important jobs. In Steele's case, it's a matter of survival and a top priority.

It helps explain one of his recent controversial moves: convening the RNC's winter meeting at a Waikiki Beach resort in January. The unusual decision, at a time of national recession, was actually payback for members of the RNC's "Island caucus," whose votes put him over the top in the 2009 chairman's race.

Each of the following U.S. territories and affiliates get three RNC members--American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico--the exact same allotment as Maryland and 49 other states and the District of Columbia.

National committee politics, it's been said, turns out to be more like high school politics than real politics. In Steele's case, satisfying the needs of 55 fellow RNCers is virtually all he needs to do to keep his job, through the good weeks and the bad.

Posted by Paul West at 11:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Michael Steele

April 1, 2010

Steele, Kaine: Both Parties Living High on the Hog?

For the fourth day in a row, Democrats are gleefully hammering away at the Republican National Committee's payment of $1,946 for "meals" at a West Hollywood strip club, which led to the firing of a committee staffer and continues to focus unwanted attention on National Chairman Michael Steele's management of the RNC.

The latest jab, in the form of an MSNBC YouTube clip being circulated by the Democratic National Committee, highlights criticism of Steele by Tony Perkins, a leading social conservative. Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is advising members to stop donating to the RNC until the national party gets its financial act together.

"We're simply telling folks, 'Look, don't give your money there,'" said Perkins, whose appearance on the liberal network was interspersed with file footage of Steele and a private jet coming in for a landing.

Perkins pointed to "what appears to be excessive spending (by the RNC) at a time of economic hardship for most of the country." It is a criticism that has trailed Steele for months, as The Baltimore Sun reported back in January.

Back then, the issue was Steele's decision to convene the RNC's winter meeting at a Hawaiian beach resort. Now it's his spending for private jets and limos, and the infamous night for young donors at a lesbian-themed club (which Steele did not attend).

After suffering perhaps the worst publicity of Steele's 14-month tenure as chairman, RNC officials responded, belatedly, this week by pointing out that Democrats haven't been exactly pinching pennies under their national chairman, Tim Kaine.

“The DNC spent at least $2,204,000 for luxury hotels and caterers,” Doug Heye, the RNC's top spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.

Thursday afternoon, a new posting by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, a DC watchdog on money in politics, attempts to sort out the facts. It concludes that the national committees of both major parties "sometimes spend lavishly on travel, catering, resorts and hotel accommodations."

On its informative Open Secrets website, it invites any interested parties to dig into the fine print and do their own investigating. The same information can also be accessed (in the form of searchable PDF files) from the original source, the Federal Election Commission.

As presented by the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats indulged their taste for the good life at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and the Beverly Hills Hilton, three of the tonier hostelries in America.

Steele got whacked this week for spending RNC money at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A room there will set you back a minimum of $390 (taxes not included) for the night of April 15 (chosen at random but coincidentally the day your taxes are due). The same night at the Beverly Hills Hilton, the DNC's hotel choice, goes for $345, though you can get a non-refundable rate of $231.

The No. 2 vendor in the country on the RNC's spending list was the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland. The RNC dropped $172,494 at the hotel, located on Steele's Prince George's home turf and personally chosen by the chairman for a special RNC meeting last year. No doubt the county's Democratic establishment would have nothing but praise for Steele's decision to stimulate the local economy and bring many national media and political figures to the Potomac River resort for the first time.

Also on the RNC spending list: the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, WY (in the heart of Cheney country and a favorite of deep-pocketed financiers), right behind National Harbor at $148,128. No. 6 on the RNC spending list was $206,541 for Moby Dick Airways, which arranges private charter flights.

The top recipient of spending by either national committee was $298,989 by the DNC to Avalon Caterers, which buys a lot of boiled shrimp. The caterer's satisfied clients, according to Avalon's website, include such blue-collar favorites as ExxonMobil Corp., Air Bus Industrie of North America and mega defense contractor SAIC, as well as The Washington Post and CBS.

Posted by Paul West at 5:50 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Michael Steele
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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