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May 27, 2010

Lawn sign-gate

Ehrlich, Kolbe plus signGubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich stood in front of a oversized sign bearing his name and basked in the glow of a made-for-TV campaign flap that cropped up, apparently organically, over the past week.

The controversy: A Baltimore County man who supports the former governor displayed a 32-square foot “Ehrlich for Governor” sign on the lawn of his Dulaney Valley Road home. The supporter, it seems, violated a long held county zoning ordinance that prohibits large signs and was slapped with a $200 citation. (The brouhaha was first reported by The Towson Times.)

The owner of the sign, Steven Kolbe, said the fine is an assault on his right to free speech and said he has filed a federal lawsuit against the county. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was violating any law,” Kolbe said. “Or that the penalty for erecting a political sign expressing my beliefs as an American would cost me $200 a day.”

Ehrlich, a Republican, gamely visited the homeowner Thursday saying he was there to support first amendment rights. “It is about the Constitution and free speech and folks behind me and many, many other Marylanders are concerned about their rights these days,” Ehrlich said.

Politically, the squabble could not be in a more appealing location. Vote-rich Baltimore County is expected to be a massive battleground come November.

Baltimore County defended their rules Thursday, putting out a statment from County Attorney John Beverungen explaining that the county's zoning rules don't allow signs larger than eight square feet and vowing to fight the lawsuit.

The O’Malley camp didn’t have a lot to add. Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the Democratic governor said that “Baltimore county was just trying to enforce the law,” and added “we also respect the right of individuals to put signs on their property.”

With cooked up press events dominating all levels of politics, Ehrlich was quick to point out that his campaign did not “manufacture” this one. “This event just occurred,” he said. This is unscheduled politics.”

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:37 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 26, 2010

Maryland gang law, explained by a delegate/attorney

It was a humbling experience, said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, to face a judge regarding a law he helped put on the books.

Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, spent recent days in a Baltimore courtroom, defending a client charged with, among other crimes, violating the state's anti-gang law.

It was a notable juxtaposition: Simmons had voted for the 2007 gang law that was being used to prosecute his client, Jose Miguel Hernandez, who took a plea deal this week. Simmons also voted this year to enhance the gang law.

But Simmons told The Sun's Peter Hermann that the Hernandez case was an eye-opener, beginning with jury selection. Hermann writes:

Before testimony began in Jose Miguel Hernandez's attempted-murder trial, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge asked potential jurors a simple yet crucial question: "Do you believe that being a member of a gang is a crime?"

More than half of the panel answered yes.

Simmons said the jury pool's response got at the heart of one of his biggest concerns -- that people would be unfairly singled out because of their friends.

"We need a major overhaul to make the gang statute more effective and less cumbersome," the lawyer-lawmaker said after the trial for his client ended. "But at the same time, I don't want to see a young man be tarred and feathered and hung out because he's associated with a gang, and that's the only reason jurors find him guilty."

Click here to read the whole story.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

Oil boom update

The governor received a mini-oceanography and spelling lesson this morning before a Homeland Security exercise where he was briefed on the state’s capacity to respond to an oil spill and the likelihood of any oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill touching Maryland’s coast.

The state keeps 13,000 feet of boom ready to be deployed in hurry should a ship run aground or a pipe burst. Most of it is designed for containing spills in the relatively calm Chesapeake Bay waters – not the ocean, said Shari T. Wilson, Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment. There’s no oil drilling in Maryland, so a Gulf-style hemorrhaging from a ruptured well isn’t a problem here.

It’s unlikely that the oil off the coast of Louisiana will reach Maryland, said Robert Summers, the deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. (Baltimore Sun reporter Frank Roylance wrote about that here.)

Gov. Martin O’Malley mused about whether it would be possible to use the boom to barricade the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay should a spill occur nearby. “Is it fanciful to think we could close off the mouth of the Bay?” O’Malley asked.

The answer: It is not a possibility. The state does not have enough boom to close the mouth of the Bay and commercial shipping would be interrupted.

O’Malley also wanted to be clear on the technology, and asked a roomful of assembled officials to spell “boom.”

Wilson provided the answer. “B. O. O. M.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:23 PM | | Comments (1)
        

District 38: Former Ocean City mayor files for Senate

Democrats are trying to make a move on a long-held Republican seat on the Eastern Shore. This week, Jim Mathias, a District 38 delegate and former mayor of Ocean City, filed his Senate candidacy paperwork with the State Board of Elections.

The Senate seat is up for grabs because J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican, is retiring after 18 years. District 38 includes Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Also representing the district are Del. Norman H. Conway, a Democrat who leads the House Appropriations Committee, and Republican Del. D. Page Elmore. Mathias was appointed to the House of Delegates in 2006 to fill the seat of the late Bennett Bozman.

Mathias is a Democrat, but in a brief interview today he said he is "fiscally conservative" and is well-versed in the agriculture, poultry and tourism needs of the Eastern Shore. He said his "access to the leadership, from the governor to the speaker of the House to the Senate president" -- all Democrats -- would benefit his constituents.

Another Democrat, Charles Lehrer of Crisfield, also has filed for the Senate seat. Michael James, though he has not officially filed, is the likely Republican contender. James, a businessman in the hospitality industry, is the general manager and managing partner of the Carousel Oceanfront Hotel and Condominiums in Ocean City.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 24, 2010

WBAL-A-OK: Ehrlich show not a campaign contribution, AG says

The Kendel and Bob Ehrlich show, which airs for two hours each Saturday morning on WBAL radio, should not be considered a campaign contribution, the Maryland Attorney General's Office said in a letter released this morning.

The letter came as advice to the State Board of Elections, after the Maryland Democratic Party complained to the board that the show is essentially an in-kind campaign contribution from the station to Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is trying to reclaim the governor's office from Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

In an 11-page letter to Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey L. Darsie advises the elections board not to "analyze the broadcast of a candidate's political remarks as a possible in-kind contribution."  

"In general, state efforts to regulate media appearances by a candidate, potential candidate or others through a state's campaign finance laws raises significant First Amendment concerns," the assistant attorney general wrote. "This is true even where the person appearing has some practical control over the content of the broadcast, including as host."      

Ehrlich has said he plans to stay on the air until he officially files his candidacy with the elections board in July, at which time his wife, Kendel, might take over full hosting duties. The radio station said it vetted the legality of the Ehrlich show with lawyers before determining he could continue. The station, which has carried the Ehrlich show since 2007, also said it has offered equal time to O'Malley for years now.  

Democrats responded quickly to the attorney general's letter. Party Chairwoman Susan Turnbull said Ehrlich is "exploiting a technicality in the law."

"Today's opinion is not surprising given that Bob Ehrlich is using a loophole in the law to keep his talk show on WBAL-radio," Turnbull said in a statement.

The Democratic Party also has complained that Ehrlich's employer, the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, is giving Ehrlich in-kind campaign contributions in the form of firm employees and a de facto headquarters in Baltimore.

An attorney for Ehrlich said the firm's actions should not be analyzed because Ehrlich is not an official gubernatorial candidate in the eyes of the law. He becomes one only after filing his candidacy paperwork with the elections board, the attorney said. The Board of Elections has sought the attorney general's advice on that issue, too, and is awaiting a response.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:15 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 21, 2010

Appealing appeals post for Doory

Gov. Martin O’Malley has handed a plum appointment to a veteran House Democrat, opening up a delegate spot in Baltimore’s 43rd District.

O’Malley named Del. Ann Marie Doory to the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals, a body that hears challenges to state procurement decisions. Doory, a 24-year House veteran and a respected member of Speaker Michael E. Busch’s leadership team, most recently served as vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and was previously second banana on the Judiciary and the Economic Matters committees. She is also a lawyer, a qualification for the quasi-judicial post that some previous members have lacked.

Doory, 56, is one of a relative handful of white delegates to represent a district with an African-American majority. She has held her seat through several election cycles with a mix of attentive constituent service and savvy coalition-building but ran third of three delegates selected in the 2006 Democratic primary in a district in which the general election is an afterthought.

The contract appeals board is a traditional reward to current and former members of the General Assembly for faithful service or political support. It’s a five-year appointment that allows a longtime legislator who for years has drawn a part-time paycheck from the state to receive a full-time $100,000-plus salary and a fatter pension upon retirement.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening awarded a spot on the board to retiring Baltimore County Sen. Michael Collins, a Democrat, as both were leaving elective office in 2002. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named former Del. Michael Burns, an Anne Arundel County Republican, to hear contract appeals after he took office in 2003 and later made him chairman of the three-person panel.

Doory replaces Burns, who once described members of the panel as “pseudo-judges.” Also serving on the board is former Montgomery County Del. Dana Dembrow, a Democrat who lost his seat in the 2002 primary and threw his support behind Ehrlich in that year’s election. Dembrow was named to succeed Del. John S. Arnick, whom Ehrlich appointed to the board in early 2006 just months before the Baltimore County Democrat died.

-- Michael Dresser

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:58 PM | | Comments (5)
        

May 20, 2010

Of making laws and defending those charged with breaking them

There's an interesting juxtaposition taking place in a Baltimore courtroom today: Prosecutors are trying to convict Jose Hernandez of violating Maryland's anti-gang statute. Hernandez's attorney is Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a state lawmaker who sits on the legislative committee that weighs crime laws.

Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat and longtime defense attorney, has strongly questioned gang laws over the years, saying they potentially infringe upon a person's freedom of expression and are redundant of other laws.

"I would hope you don't embark on a crusade to put people in jail because of the color that they wear," Simmons told prosecutors at a 2007 House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Maryland's first anti-gang statute passed in 2007, but it has barely been used because prosecutors say it's just too difficult to prove all of the factors. Hernandez appears to be only the second person in the state ever charged under the statute.

This year, the General Assembly strengthened the anti-gang law, outlining clearer ways for prosecutors to use it, though it won't take effect until Oct. 1. Simmons voted for the legislation. The new law passed despite late-session pleas from legislators in urban, black areas who worried it unfairly targets minorities.

Please hop over to Baltimore Crime Beat to read more about the Hernandez case.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime & Justice, General Assembly 2010
        

May 19, 2010

You've got mail II

The very same day the Maryland Republican Party criticized Gov. Martin O'Malley for e-mailing several state workers to solicit campaign donations, a Republican used his own federal e-mail account to solicit volunteers for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Both are no-nos, and both candidates' campaigns say they're working to make sure such inappropriate e-mailings don't happen again. Here's more on the O'Malley e-mails to state employees.

News of the federal e-mailing emerged yesterday on former Ehrlich employee Joe Steffen's "Darkness Rising" blog. Steffen included the e-mail itself, from David Nawrocki, a volunteer with Ehrlich's campaign. The e-mail came from an official federal e-mail account that is not supposed to be used for political purposes. It includes instructions to reply to Nawrocki's private account. An excerpt:

From: "David Nawrocki mailto: David.Nawrocki@ssa.gov To: Undisclosed recipients:; Sent: Monday, May 17, 2010 4:16:21 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern To All: Governor Ehrlich informed me that you would like to volunteer on his campaign. Please click on the Forward button first - (do not reply because we will lose your information) Copy and paste my email below into the “To” area of this email.
If you haven't guessed, the "e-mail below" is a private account.

When asked about the e-mail incident, Andy Barth, Ehrlich's campaign spokesman, said, "We never have and never will condone the use of government resources for political purposes. We are reaching out to him and reminding him of what is and isn't appropriate and that this was inappropriate. We are directing him not to repeat it."

Ryan Mahoney, the Maryland Republican Party political director who alerted reporters to the O'Malley e-mails, has not responded to an e-mail I sent him yesterday seeking comment on Nawrocki, said it was more appropriate for the Ehrlich campaign to comment on Nawrocki. 

"I do realize we just sent out a complaint about O'Malley doing it, but I think it's apples and oranges," he said. O'Malley is their boss, and it was sent to his employees.

Editor's note: This blog posting has been revised and corrected from an earlier version to clarify that the email sent by Nawrocki was soliciting volunteers, not donations, and to omit a reference to Nawrocki's intentions and knowledge when sending the email. 

 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Ehrlich on transit, film and fighting

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s visit yesterday to Gov. Martin O'Malley's home county of Montgomery was notable for reasons other than the two candidates' temporary territory swap.

At a small-business round table in Rockville, Ehrlich, a Republican who preceded the Democratic governor, offered previews of how he would approach several issues if elected this fall:

* Light rail transit. Not a fan.
Ehrlich promoted his administration's plans for rapid transit buses in place of the "Purple Line" light rail O'Malley wants through Montgomery County.
"We have to be honest with people," Ehrlich told reporters after the round table. "The dollars aren't there. Money needs to be spent to fix what's broken now." He was referring to MARC and DC Metro. "MARC needs dollars. There just are not a lot of people riding light rail." He said he would be "open-minded" on an alternative to the Red Line in Baltimore.
Mike Dresser has other thoughts in his blog posting.

* ICC. ???
Ehrlich listened to small-business owners complain about the proposed cost of tolls for the Intercounty Connector, which they said would cost $10 round trip. The former governor, who authorized the ICC to be built as a toll road, though rates are set under O'Malley, didn't have much to say.

* Flims. More tax credits.
Ehrlich vowed to restore -- and maybe then some -- the $6 million annual tax credit his administration provided for the Maryland film industry. The credit has slipped to $1 million under O'Malley. Ehrlich, who referenced a 2004 trip to Hollywood to learn about the film industry, said the "multiplier effect" of the credit is a "no-brainer." "Everybody makes out big. It's a little program, but it's really important."

* Acrimony. Yeah, absolutely.
As the round table drew to a close, Ehrlich said he wanted to address a claim that he's heard some Democrats make -- that if he returns to Annapolis, "acrimony" between the governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature also will make a comeback. Will it?
"Yeah, yeah, absolutely," Ehrlich said. He said he wouldn't be afraid of "major conflict" with the General Assembly. "The politics of 'yes' are easy," he said. "But it'll be positive conflict, the kind of conflict the people demand."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:02 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Voters vent anti-establishment anger, Maryland forecast unchanged

The turbulent midterm election year continues, with primary voters dumping Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, threatening to unseat another (Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln is in a runoff) and giving tea partiers their biggest victory yet.

Those were the latest warning shots at the establishment in the nation's capital, which figures to look different after a frustrated and angry 2010 electorate is done venting its feelings in November.

But the anti-Washington message, while clear and consistent, doesn't really change the political forecast for Maryland.

Only one member of the state's congressional delegation is imperiled, freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil. A Democratic victory in the special election for the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha's southwestern Pennsylvania seat cheered Democratic strategists, but that situation bears little similarity to Maryland's First District.

“For all of their bluster about building a national wave this year, including RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s guarantee of victory for Tim Burns, Republican policies were once again rejected when it came time to face the voters," Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

The vote was seen as a vindication of Murtha's pork-barrel style of politics and a nod to the memory of a man who represented the area for 36 years.

It also was a reminder (Rand Paul's victory in Kentucky was another) that voter hostility is bipartisan this year.

The economy stinks. Americans are outraged and they're worried, about their jobs and the future. Recent national surveys peg the favorability of both major parties at record or near-record lows, with no advantage to either side at the moment (a relative gain for Republicans, but nothing that would guarantee success on Election Day).

Those are potential danger signs for any challenger -- Bob Ehrlich is the most prominent in Maryland -- who hopes to win by merely riding an anti-incumbent wave.

Nothing in Tuesday's results changes Ehrlich's status as the underdog in his bid to replace Gov. Martin O'Malley, particularly since he can't claim to be an outsider like Kentucky's Paul. At the same time, he's still got more than five months to shake things up and make a strong case for a change in Annapolis.

As for the recent post about over-interpretation of Tuesday's results (go back to the main Maryland Politics blog page, and scroll down), check out Politico.

Among the overheated analysis you'll find there: "GAME CHANGE: THE ACTIVIST WINGS IN BOTH PARTIES HAVE OFFICIALLY WON -- THEY DON’T NEED WASHINGTON ANYMORE...This is a stark and potentially durable change in politics. The old structures that protected incumbent power are weakening."

Also: "[T]he outcome [in the Pennsylvania special for Murtha's seat] casts serious doubt on the idea that the Democratic House majority is in jeopardy."

Well, maybe. And maybe not.

Republicans still have a decent chance of picking up the House, in the view of independent analysts.

As for incumbent protection, both parties are already firing up their gerrymandering computers and plotting state-level deals to protect House members of both parties when new lines get drawn after this year's census.

The multitude of built-in incumbent campaign advantages--fat campaign checks from lobbyists and special interest groups are only the most obvious--are continuing to flow.

Even in the fabled 1994 turnover election, 90 percent of House incumbents won. Only once in the last 34 years has that figure fallen below 90 (all the way down to 88 percent).

We'll post the 2010 score here after all the votes are counted this fall. We'll know then whether this midterm is a truly historic game-changer (the phrase that became popular in the overhyped '08 election year) or merely a give-back of Democratic gains from the last two national elections.

Posted by Paul West at 10:30 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 18, 2010

Today's primary prediction: Expect overinterpretation

Voting had barely begun in a today's primaries when another incumbent went down and a favored contender had taken a potentially career-ending dive.

In the first case, Republican Rep. Mark Souder, a member of the fabled Class of 1994 that took back the House from the Democrats, fell victim to scandal.

Souder, who recently won renomination in a contested primary, announced that he was resigning his seat because he'd had an affair with a staff member. His heavily Republican northeast Indiana district figures to remain in Republican hands after this November's general election.

In the second instance, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut and a supposedly strong candidate to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, got body-slammed by a published report accusing him of inflating a Vietnam-era stint in the Marine Reserves to make it seem that he had actually served in Vietnam (he did not).

The hit job, which one of the Republican candidates--World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon--claimed to have instigated, makes it much less likely that Democrats will hold the seat. However, it's entirely possible that an electable Democrat will emerge to challenge Blumenthal (assuming he remains a candidate) in the August primary.

Those are two significant political events on a day that already figured to be the most important election Tuesday so far this year.

Party-switching Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter looks particularly vulnerable in Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak appears well-positioned to knock the 80-year-old incumbent from office.

Also in the Keystone State, a special election for the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha, a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, may well tip a long-held Democratic district to the Republicans.

In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln has her hands full with a primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who attacked her from the left. If she survives, she could be damaged beyond repair going into the fall election.

Kentucky will almost certainly be the scene of the biggest victory yet for tea-party adherents. Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman (and failed presidential candidate) Ron Paul, is riding a wave a voter anger that should propel him into the 2010 general election, and possibly the Senate.

What to make of these developments? It depends on who turns out to vote, of course. But here is what you can almost certainly count on:

Over-interpretation.

There's a good chance the results will be depicted as another sign that the 2010 mid-term elections are going to be (pick your cliche) an earthquake, a tsunami or a revolution.

If that's what people say, the importance of today's contests will almost certainly have been exaggerated. By both sides.

In other words, what happens is unlikely to be as earth-shattering as the winners claim, the losers fear or the talking heads on TV and print pundits confidently predict.

Take Pennsylvania, for example.

A Specter loss defeat would clearly be a final repudiation of an opportunistic politician with a mean streak (nickname: Snarlin' Arlen) in an angry, anti-incumbent year.

But it may not follow that Democrats will lose the Pennsylvania Senate seat. The Republican nominee, Pat Toomey, still must prove to independent swing voters that he's not the conservative ogre that Democrats will inevitably make him out to be.

In Kentucky's Republican primary, there's at least a smidgen of truth in the statement by Trey Grayson, the favored candidate of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and now the underdog in the primary vote, that if "Rand were Randy Smith, he wouldn't have the money or media connections of his dad" -- and wouldn't be expected to win. True, but he is who he is and, as the saying goes, politics (like life) is unfair.

Are incumbents in trouble this year? Absolutely. Will Republicans make gains in the House and the Senate. Count on it. Will the Republicans take over one or both chambers in Congress? At the moment, there is a good chance that will happen.

Will today's results also be interpreted as a stinging defeat for President Barack Obama, who campaigned for Specter and made a radio ad urging Arkansans for vote for Lincoln? Yes, they will, and you will also hear somebody predict that this is an early sign that Obama is on the way to losing his job in 2012.

Don't buy it (at least not yet). Presidents are frequently disappointed when they try to transfer their popularity to candidates in a mid-term year. More often than not, at least in recent history, those setbacks have little or nothing to do with the president's own re-election prospects.

Ronald Reagan couldn't stop Democrats from picking up more than two dozen House seats in the 1984 midterm and regaining control of the Senate in the midterm election of his second term. But Reagan won re-election by a landslide.

Bill Clinton had a similar experience. The 1994 Republican "revolution" shifted both the House and Senate from Democratic to Republican control, yet Clinton was re-elected two years later.

Even if--as seems obvious--2010 will produce turnover in Congress, American voters are still going to give the overwhelming majority of incumbents (perhaps around 90 percent) another term in the November election.

For Maryland, the 2010 upheaval is likely to produce exactly one change in Washington. Baltimore County state Sen. Andy Harris is favored to regain the First District for the Republicans, who held it for nearly 20 years until Democrat Frank Kratovil narrowly won in 2008.

The other eight federal incumbents on the Maryland ballot--six Democrats and one Republican in the House and Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski--aren't dealing with competitive challenges.

Nationally, this looks very much like a major mid-term election--the variety that only comes around once every decade or so.

But with the November vote less than six months off, it's unlikely to be the earthshaking upheaval some will claim to discern in today's events. Instead, the country is swinging back from the Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008, which, in hindsight, were given exaggerated importance at the time.

Posted by Paul West at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Governor candidates visit each other's home counties

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who grew up in Montgomery County, will spend his day in the home county of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- who is storming Montgomery today.

The same-day territory swap is likely a coincidence, but it also may lend insight into the gubernatorial candidates' perception of where they need to focus their resources. O'Malley, a Democrat, and Ehrlich, a Republican, each have primary challengers but have commanding name-recognition across the state and appear headed toward a November rematch.

Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two-to-one in Maryland, and there are few Republican treasure troves. Together, Montgomery and Baltimore County, although both majority-Democrat, account for nearly one-third of the state's 902,436 registered Republicans. Political strategists say Ehrlich must win Baltimore County and minimize damage in Montgomery County if he has any chance of recapturing the governor's office.

Conversely, O'Malley will likely try to make inroads in Ehrlich's native Baltimore County, which the Republican also represented in Congress for eight years. A recent Washington Post poll showed O'Malley leading Ehrlich by 8 percentage points, but they are tied when it comes to people who say they are certain to vote. What that may show is that Maryland Republicans are more energized than Democrats -- a scenario that seems to be playing out across the country.

The Democratic governor declared East Baltimore County "capital for a day," an ongoing administration program, meaning he is not officially campaigning there today. But O'Malley's time in Baltimore County includes a morning "Jobs Across Maryland Tour" at Middle River Aircraft Systems. While he has conducted that tour as governor, it carries his campaign theme of "moving forward" and jobs creation.

Next, O'Malley will head to Gunpowder Park in Middle River for an announcement about the Chesapeake Day, and then he'll hold a cabinet meeting in the Oak Crest community of Parkville.

Meanwhile, Ehrlich is making several stops in Montgomery County, where O'Malley grew up and still has relatives. The Republican former governor will attend a woman-owned small business roundtable in Bethesda before heading to Rockville. There, he'll take a lunchtime stroll around the town center and sit it on another small business roundtable, this one at Gordon Biersch restaurant.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:41 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 17, 2010

Updated: You've got mail

*** See below for Tuesday update. ***

A campaign solicitation from the Democratic governor has landed in the e-mail accounts of at least a couple of state employees, prompting Republicans to wonder whether it's part of a larger pattern.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign says it is scrubbing its mass e-mail list to remove any state addresses. The Maryland Republican Party on Monday accused O'Malley of "harassing" state workers for campaign contributions. Reporters were provided a single e-mail -- an O'Malley blast sent April 30 to "Martin." The e-mail address is blacked out except for the ".state.md.us" ending.

Ryan Mahoney, the state GOP political director, said in an e-mail that there have been "a few complaints about this," all from people who claim not to have signed up for O’Malley e-mails.

In early April, a Republican lawmaker showed this reporter copies of two e-mails. In each case, the O'Malley campaign had asked a state employee for a donation.

For context, there are 60,000 state employees, not counting court or legislative employees. Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's campaign spokesman, explained in an e-mail how people end up on O'Malley's campaign e-mail blast list. "In most cases, individuals are added after signing up to receive updates or more information about certain issues," Abbruzzese said. "We are in the process looking through list to ensure that this does not happen again." Each e-mail from the O'Malley campaign includes a link to unsubscribe.

Still, Maryland Republicans are questioning whether O'Malley is padding his mass e-mail list. In the Monday press release, Republican Chairwoman Audrey Scott calls any O'Malley e-mails to state employees "inappropriate" and said it "border(s) on workforce intimidation."

One theory of what happened: State workers angry about something -- perhaps furlough days -- e-mailed complaints to the governor's campaign, thereby ending up on his blast list.

*** Tuesday update ***

Abbruzzese reports: "After a thorough review of the campaign's database, we located some addresses with a md.us extension. Those email addresses have been removed from the campaign's email list." He described the number of md.us emails as "just a handful, compared to tens of thousands of emails in the database." He said it appears people from those accounts had signed up to receive updates in the past.

Mahoney has not responded to my request for an exact number of complaints the party has received.

From Mahoney: "We received complaints or forwarded emails from a half dozen State employees with the courage to come forward.  In all cases we are told they are unsolicited and that they had not signed up for O’Malley emails.  In any case the list should have been screened for State workers, who serve at the pleasure of the governor, before any solicitation for funds was sent." Mahoney adds that the complaints were brought to his attention last week.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:49 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Mikulski wants FBI to get a move on (to Maryland)

Combining her position as the FBI's budget overseer with a seemingly relentless drive to steer jobs to Maryland, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is trying to help the nation's G-men and women build a brand new main office, possibly in Prince George's County.

Word of a possible relocation has started dribbling out. However, an actual move could be years, if not decades, away.

The backstory: Last year, the Maryland Democrat slipped a provision into a spending measure, directing the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to study the question of moving the Federal Bureau of Investigation from its main office on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington.

In a statement by her spokeswoman, Mikulski described the headquarters building as "literally crumbling" and, in effect, a target for criminals or terrorists.

"Senator Mikulski is aware that the FBI's current headquarters does not meet employee safety and security needs," spokeswoman Rachel MacKnight said in an e-mail.

The GAO study could provide justification for Congress to approve construction of a new, consolidated main office for the FBI.

Built in the late '60s and early '70s and named in honor of the bureau's longest serving and most controversial director, the current HQ, a concrete monstrosity, is regarded as the ugliest structure on "America's Main Street."

"The J. Edgar Hoover Building is inadequate for the current FBI Headquarters workforce," Congress declared in the spending measure signed into law by President Obama in March, 2009. It said the lack of space has forced the bureau to house employees at more than 16 other sites.

The GAO was told to analyze the bureau's ability to do its job under current conditions and study the benefits of a consolidated headquarters facility. A report has yet to be made public.

Mikulski and other members of the state's congressional delegation are familiar with finding new homes for fast-growing federal agencies. For example, the Food and Drug Administration is currently moving to a large (and expensive) new consolidated campus at White Oak in Montgomery County.

News of a possible FBI relocation to Greenbelt first surfaced in the April 29 edition of the Greenbelt News Review, a community weekly whose reporter discovered the information in a lawsuit related to development around the Greenbelt Metro station.

The FBI has eyeballed other Maryland sites, including National Harbor in Prince George's County, for a consolidated home, a spokesman told the Washington Post late last week. The spokesman, Bill Carter, indicated that the discussions predated the current economic slump, which may have delayed further talks.

A GAO report would be the first step in setting a relocation in motion. Prince George's would be a favorite to get the new site, because it is under-served by the federal bureaucracy, compared with other DC suburbs, and because of Mikulski's clout on the Commerce, Justice, Science committee.

But there's no guarantee that Virginia, or DC, won't wind up as the FBI's new home. Or that nothing will happen for years, if not longer.

The last time the FBI asked for a new headquarters building was in 1939. It took 35 years for the first employees to move in.

Even under the best of circumstances, these things take time. The FDA move to White Oak will have consumed roughly a quarter of a century, from beginning to end, when it is finished sometime later this decade.

Posted by Paul West at 3:02 PM | | Comments (1)
        

May 14, 2010

O'Malley campaign gets a voice

Senior spokesman Rick Abbruzzese has left Gov. Martin O'Malley's press team to join candidate O'Malley's press team. The move became effective this morning.

Abbruzzese, who has worked with O'Malley since his days in Baltimore City Hall, told his colleagues of the change in a posting on the Democratic governor's blog.

"Over the next six months you will no doubt hear things (good and bad) about “the Governor’s record” in the media. But I would submit to you that it is not his record alone, but your record….," Abbruzzese wrote to his former colleagues.

He'll work with O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell as they battle the leading Republican contender, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Ehrlich tapped veteran television newsman Andy Barth as his spokesman.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 13, 2010

Republican Senate hopeful makes spot targetting illegals, overseas wars, civilian trials for terrorists

Maryland Senate candidate Eric Wargotz is highlighting illegal immigration, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and America's dependence on foreign energy sources in a radio ad aimed at Republican primary voters.

The Queen Anne's County commissioner never mentions Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Instead, he pushes several conservative hot-buttons with sometimes vague statements aimed at Marylanders angry with the status quo.

He attacks "Washington" and says its "biggest failure" surrounds the federal government's duty to provide for the common defense.

He's not talking about terrorist attacks on Americans or nuclear threats from Iran or North Korea. His concerns are illegal immigration, "a war with no apparent end," the need to make more use of domestic energy resources and unspecified threats to the liberty of U.S. citizens.

In perhaps his clearest statement, Wargotz says he "will not coddle terrorists with civilian trials," a criticism of Republican President George W. Bush as well as Democratic President Barack Obama (who, unlike Bush, has yet to put a terrorist on trial in a civilian court, though his administration is moving in that direction).

Wargotz consultant Don Murphy says the ads are running on local talk radio stations around the state. An audio link is here, on Wargotz's campaign website.

Posted by Paul West at 10:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 12, 2010

Cardin, Kagan together again for the first time

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, making the Capitol Hill rounds as part of the ritual dance for Supreme Court nominees, will stop by Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin's office on Thursday for a photo and a chat.

A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Democratic senator voted for her confirmation in her current position. He'll be voting to confirm her as a justice, too.

The White House on Wednesday night released Kagan's schedule for Thursday. It includes separate meetings and separate photos with Senator John Kerry, Senator Arlen Specter, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrats all, Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, Senator Cardin, Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat.

All are Judiciary members except Kerry, Collins and Brown. Kerry and Brown are her "home state" senators. The Harvard law dean was nominated as a Massachusetts resident, rather than as a New Yorker, which anyone who ever heard her speak knows is her real home state.

Brown and Collins are potential, make that likely, Republican votes for confirmation when Kagan's nomination finally hits the Senate floor this summer, after the Judiciary hearings are done.

Posted by Paul West at 8:45 PM | | Comments (0)
        

MD politicians look to combat cells in cells

Maryland officials who have been fighting to deploy cell phone jamming technology in prisons say test results show nearby residents wouldn't be affected.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski worked with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to conduct a test of the technology in February at a prison in Western Maryland.

The Democratic duo announced Wednesday that the test "showed no interference" between the jammer and cell phone reception in the community outside the prison.

Despite its apparent effectiveness, the technology is banned by a 1934 communications law enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.

"Senator Mikulski and Governor O’Malley urged Congressional action immediately, in light of these results, on legislation allowing the installation of this technology at U.S. prisons," the officials said in a release. The Senate has already passed the measure, but the House of Representatives has not taken action on it.

Here is the complete testing report, courtesy of the governor's office.

Jamming may be the only way to wipe out cell phone use in prisons -- something that has been a struggle in Maryland. Today, City Paper's Van Smith has a provocative piece about how some correctional officers have smuggled cell phones into prisons to assist gang members and foster the drug trade. Prison spokesman Rick Binetti says it is not a pervasive problem -- but also describes the many ways the state is working to curtail it.

Binetti points out that of the nearly 7,000 COs statewide, 70 were fired last year. Twenty of those firings were for fraternizing with inmates and another four were for possessing contraband. Currently, Binetti says, the department is investigating three COs for having contraband cell phones. Binetti adds that, under current law, firing COs can prove difficult due to a 30-day timeframe for completing an investigation into wrongdoing. "You can't build a solid case in that amount of time," he says.

Meanwhile, Binetti adds, "our efforts in identifying these gangmembers [who are COs] is so much better than it was three years ago. We're figuring out who those people are, and they are getting the chop." New state regulations put in place late last year by the Maryland Police and Correctional Officer Training Commission require that CO applicants answer specific questions about gang ties and that DPSCS background investigators scour law-enforcement gang databases to see if applicants are listed. "If there is any sort of gang affiliation in your background, you could be out," Binetti says.

"The department is trying" to confront the integrity challenges among its staff, Binetti concludes, "and we're doing a hell of a lot more than we were three or four years ago."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

Carmen Amedori on Ehrlich and Murphy

Republican gubernatorial contender Brian Murphy recently gained and lost a running mate so quickly that some wondered whether his primary opponent forced a split in the ticket. Murphy accused former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his supporters of pressuring Carmen Amedori to "succumb" to his campaign.

Amedori, a former delegate and Ehrlich appointee to the parole commission, had been a high-profile get for Murphy, a little-known businessman who lives Montgomery County. (Murphy is being heavily promoted on this web site and others by former Maryland Republican Party Chairman Jim Pelura, who is no fan of Ehrlich. See second-to-last comment here.)

Both Amedori and Ehrlich say that Ehrlich had nothing to do with her decision to abandon Murphy's campaign.

An Ehrlich profile by Patuxent reporter Bryan Sears gives further insight into what she was thinking:

"I just see it as a school yard fight," said Amedori (about Ehrlich vs. O'Malley), who at the time was running for lieutenant governor with Murphy.

"He's a nice guy, but he's already lost," Amedori said. "If you hire a repairman to fix something and it doesn't get fixed, you don't go out and rehire the same repairman."

Ironically, a week after that comment, Amedori withdrew from the Murphy ticket and is again backing Ehrlich. Amedori said that she came to believe in a short period that Murphy could not win and was not willing to listen to her advice about stumping in Baltimore County, which she believes will be a key battleground.

"I still feel that Bob is not as fiscally conservative as me and Brian," Amedori wrote in an e-mail May 2. "Here is the bottom line: Even if Brian and I came out of the primary, he does not have the needed name recognition to reach across the party lines to win the General."

Both Ehrlich and Murphy must choose a running mate by the July filing deadline.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 11, 2010

Steele Tackles Elephant, Slays It

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, in a private session Tuesday morning with state party leaders from around the country, addressed questions about his stewardship of the party's finances.

Judging by the reaction of those in the room, and their comments afterward, he put the issue behind him, at least as far as these party leaders were concerned.

"He addressed what he called the big elephant in the room," said Saul Anuzis, a national committeeman from Michigan who lost to Steele in the 2009 chairman's race and now is one of his allies inside the party.

Steele went into detail on the charter planes rented by the national party, the hotel rooms he stays in, and the kinds of cars he travels in.

"Nobody wanted to ask the question and he came out and addressed it," said Anuzis.

In a sense, Steele was reassuring the converted. His audience--Republican state party chairmen, who represent one-third of the Republican National Committee--have gone on record in support of the party chairman.

Last month, 38 of them signed a statement that they "stand behind Chairman Steele." The vote of confidence was a response to the latest controversy at the RNC under the former Maryland lieutenant governor.

After the party reported spending nearly $2,000 at a topless joint in West Hollywood, Steele replaced his chief of staff and top finance officers.

Dick Wadhams, the Colorado Republican chairman, said he was glad that Steele had made those changes.

They "needed to happen," said Wadhams, who added that the "alleged abuses" involving party spending had been exaggerated.

In his private meeting with party leaders, midway through a three-day RNC session at the National Harbor convention center in Prince George's County, Steele "did an excellent job of knocking down every one" of the charges that had been raised, he said.

"He certainly acknowledged that there were mistakes, and that's why there were changes in the finance area," said Wadhams, who said that Steele did not explicitly apologize for missteps.

Moments after the breakfast, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been a strong Steele defender, tossed a bouquet at the start of his speech to the party leaders.

"Chairman Steele stands on the edge of being the most successful RNC chairman since Haley Barbour in 1994," Gingrich said, to applause, while Steele, from his seat on a flag-bedecked stage, beamed.

Posted by Paul West at 10:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 10, 2010

Steele Attacks Kagan Over Thurgood Marshall Comment

Updated

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele is calling Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to account for her comments in support of Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the nation's highest court.

Steele's statement is attracting plenty of attention from liberal bloggers, who never miss a chance to whack the Republican Party's first black chairman.

But a prominent Republican blogger, conservative scholar Abigail Thernstrom, is critical, too, advising Steele and the RNC staff to "try thinking before you speak." Steele's words are also provoking private concern from Republican strategists, who question the wisdom of attacking Kagan for words she wrote praising Marshall after his death in 1993.

Steele's statement, issued minutes after Obama announced his intention to nominate Kagan, said that Senate Republicans need to would raise "serious and tough questions" about her legal philosophy. Included in that, Steele said, is "her support for statements suggesting that the Constitution 'as originally drafted and conceived, was "defective."'"

Kagan, a Supreme Court law clerk for Marshall, was extremely familiar with the Baltimore-born jurist's views on the Constitution, which he regarded as a "living document." His liberalism clashed with the ideology of conservative "originalists," such as Justice Antonin Scalia, who say that in rendering decisions on the law of the land they consider the Constitution's meaning and language at the time it was written.

Marshall, addressing the issue at length in a 1987 speech commemorating the bicentennial of the Constitution, used the word "defective" to refer to the government devised by America's 18th century founders. In particular, Marshall discussed the Constitution's deliberate omission of equal rights for women and black slaves. That is the sentiment Steele singled out for criticism in his statement about Kagan.

Here's the portion of what Marshall had to say about defects of the U.S. government at its founding (a link to his entire remarks can be found on Page 2 of this posting):

"I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever "fixed" at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite "The Constitution," they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago."

RNC Communications Director Doug Heye takes issue with the headline on this post. He says it's inaccurate to say that Steele was attacking Kagan.

Heye's response is on the next page, below Steele's complete statement, which was included in the original post.

A copy of Marshall's speech can be found here.

Steele's complete statement:

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele released the following statement today:

“Over the past year, the American people have been witness to President Obama’s massive expansion of the federal government into our daily lives. To assure the American people, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, will need to demonstrate that she is committed to upholding the vision of our Founding Fathers, who wrote a Constitution meant to limit the power of government, not expand it. The President has stated repeatedly that he wants a justice who will understand the effects of decisions on the lives of everyday Americans. But what Americans want is a justice who will stay true to the Constitution and defend the rights of all Americans, adhering to the rule of law instead of legislating from the bench. Given Kagan’s opposition to allowing military recruiters access to her law school’s campus, her endorsement of the liberal agenda and her support for statements suggesting that the Constitution “as originally drafted and conceived, was ‘defective,’” you can expect Senate Republicans to respectfully raise serious and tough questions to ensure the American people can thoroughly and thoughtfully examine Kagan’s qualifications and legal philosophy before she is confirmed to a lifetime appointment.” (Source: Republican National Committee)

Statement by Doug Heye:

"At no point does Steele attack Kagan, as your headline states.

Also, you write "Steele said Republicans need to raise 'serious and tough questions'..." In fact, the statement did not say Republicans need to anything. It said, "you can expect Republicans to raise serious and tough questions."

This isn't a question of something being taken out of context as it is being put in a different, and mistaken, context."

Heye is right that Steele didn't say that Republican senators need to ask tough questions. Steele said that Kagan needs to demonstrate her commitment to upholding the vision of the Founding Fathers, and that Republican senators can be expected to raise serious and tough questions about her judicial philosophy.

As to his larger point, you can decide whether Steele's decision to draw attention to Thurgood Marshall's comment about defects in the original Constitution was an attack on Kagan.

Posted by Paul West at 6:30 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

New poll: O'Malley ahead, but many undecided

With Election Day half a year away, perhaps it is no surprise that many Marylanders are undecided as to whom they'll choose in the governor's race.

A Washington Post poll, which the newspaper reported today, shows Gov. Martin O'Malley with an 8-point advantage over the most visible Republican challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

But the Post story notes that with 50 percent of voters undecided, both candidates must work to develop their message to voters -- even though both are well-known. O'Malley, a Democrat, has been governor for more than three years, and Ehrlich, whom O'Malley defeated in November 2006, governed from 2003 to 2007.

The Post polls joins several other early looks that have the governor's contest in single digits. A Gonzales Research poll out in January, before Ehrlich officially entered the 2010 contest, showed O'Malley leading by 9 percentage points. A Rasmussen Reports poll in April showed O'Malley with a 3-point advantage over Ehrlich.

Here are other numbers from the Post poll:

* O'Malley leads Ehrlich 49 percent to 41 percent.
* Of those certain to vote, the candidates are in a dead heat at 47 percent each.
* Ehrlich leads O'Malley by 15 percentage points among independent voters.
* Ehrlich is winning over 14 percent of registered Democrats (compared to 22 percent when he was elected in 2002, the Post notes.)
* 43 percent trust Ehrlich on state economic matters, whereas 39 percent trust O'Malley.
* 62 percent said their family's taxes have gone up in recent years.
* More than half of those polled say the state is on the wrong track; nearly half say O'Malley hasn't done much as governor.
* Yet O'Malley is logging a 58 percent job approval rating, which the Post says is the highest he has received in any of their polls during the governor's tenure.

And here's how the Post describes its poll:

"The poll, conducted May 3 to 6, did not include trial heats in either primary but provided one glimmer of hope for Owings and Murphy: Nearly half, 45 percent, say they are not satisfied with their choices of O'Malley and Ehrlich and wish they had more candidates to choose among.

In all, 1,030 randomly selected Maryland adults were interviewed by telephone, including 851 registered voters. The margin of sampling error for the registered voters is plus or minus four percentage points."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:27 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 7, 2010

Out today: O'Malley campaign's first advertisement

The first advertisement paid for by either of the leading candidates in the fall 2010 Maryland governor's race is out today, and it's a negative one.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's re-election campaign is airing a one-minute radio spot called "Bob Ehrlich's Fantasy Land."

A woman with a condescending yet motherly voice tells listeners that Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "keeps spinning his own fairy tale of leaving office with a budget surplus." In reality, she says, Ehrlich's administration knew that almost all of the surplus would be used to plug holes in the next year's budget.

The spot contends that Ehrlich had "record spending increases," bigger than either former Gov. William Donald Schaefer or former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. And, the narrator continues, Ehrlich raised more than "$3 billion in taxes and fees, including millions in property tax hikes on every business and family."

The advertisement began airing today on Baltimore radio stations, including WBAL, where Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, host a Saturday morning talk show. It's not the first ad of the season: On the day Ehrlich launched his gubernatorial bid in Rockville and Baltimore County, Citizens for Strength and Security, a left-leaning group based in Washington, aired a spot calling Ehrlich a lobbyist who caters to large corporations. Its theatrical tone was similar to the O'Malley ad airing today. Ehrlich's campaign hasn't aired any ads yet.

Let's take a look at some of the "fantasy land" ad claims.

A Baltimore Sun story by Andrew A. Green, published just after O'Malley defeated Ehrlich in November 2006, provides some context:

"The good news for O'Malley is that Ehrlich is leaving behind more than $800 million in surplus rainy day funds that can be spent in the fiscal 2008 general fund budget -- expected to total nearly $15 billion - without jeopardizing Maryland's AAA bond rating.

"The bad news is that the budget, which will be prepared jointly by the outgoing Ehrlich administration and incoming O'Malley administration, will still have a $400 million hole to be filled by cuts or revenue increases."

Ehrlich had hoped to raise money by pushing through a slots program, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, and other legislative leaders blocked the plan (state voters later approved slot machines, but the program has yet to launch).

Without that slots revenue to balance the books, Green wrote in October 2006, he turned to other forms of revenue generation.

"Ehrlich stuck to his pledge not to raise sales or income taxes and instead relied on a patchwork of measures to close the projected gap.

"Ehrlich raised the property tax and a variety of fees, including a doubling of car registration fees and the so-called "flush tax" to fund Chesapeake Bay cleanup, that have cost Marylanders $2.5 billion."

Six months from now, it appears voters will again get to choose between Ehrlich and O'Malley, though both face primary election opponents. And in the meantime, it appears, we'll be re-reading lots of fall 2006 Baltimore Sun stories.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:23 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 6, 2010

MD Dems give Abramoff film two thumbs up

A new documentary about Jack Abramoff, out tomorrow, already has a cult following: Maryland Democrats. The party of Gov. Martin O'Malley is thrilled to see rival candidate Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pop up in the movie and its trailer. Ehrlich is in a smiling snapshot with the disgraced lobbyist, who is now serving four years in federal prison (min 2:13 on the link).

The Democrats say Ehrlich's connection to Abramoff "runs deep," pointing to a Hanukkah party Abramoff attended at the Governor's mansion and a $16,000 donation that Ehrlich accepted from Abramoff. Ehrlich returned the money after the Abramoff scandal broke. The two also have a mutual friend, Edward B. Miller.

Miller was Ehrlich's deputy chief of staff during the 2003-2007 administration. When Ehrlich was defeated in 2006 and launched the Baltimore law office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, Miller came along, though he has since left. Before joining the Ehrlich administration, Miller started and then sold the firm Grassroots Interactive, which critics have said was used to launder money for Abramoff. The firm came up in the Abramoff investigation, but Miller was not criminally charged.

“Casino Jack and Lobbyist Bob, the cell-blockbuster of the year,” Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Travis Tazelaar gloated in a press release today.

Asked about the Abramoff movie after a campaign event this morning in Baltimore, Ehrlich burst into laughter. "It's too goofy," Ehrlich said of the Democrats promotion of the film. "When you are unable to sell or market your candidate, you start this stuff early."

But what about his ties to Abramoff? There are none, Ehrlich said, still laughing, "or they would have found it last time."

The documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, is directed by Alex Gibney, who won acclaim for his film about the escapades and collapse of Enron.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Somebody call a comedian

As Laura Vozzella correctly pointed out in today's column, the 90th birthday "roast" of former Gov. Marvin Mandel was ... not funny -- even though Mandel was a prime candidate for roasting:

His tenure in Annapolis was part soap opera, part crime drama. An affair. A first lady holed up in Government House. A stint in federal prison.

There was good governing, too. And that's what almost every speaker stuck to the other night at an event to mark Mandel's 90th birthday. It was billed as a roast, but about the only person who took that approach was state Comptroller Peter Franchot. Even he treaded lightly — but not lightly enough for the crowd.

Franchot said that as governor, Mandel took an interest in improving the judiciary — and "even tried it out as a customer."

Awkward silence.

"Folks, this is a roast," Franchot reminded the gathering.

Cheers to Franchot for trying. What the Mandel affair lacked in humor (see? it's easy!), it made up for in heartfelt tributes. But here are a few other funnies I jotted down before falling asleep.

"I'm here representing all living Maryland Republican governors." -- Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"I've always thought, if he keeps smoking that pipe, it's going to shorten his life ... He's not going to live past 115." -- U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, on Mandel's best-known habit, which he gave up years ago.

"Ive' been to so many of these things that I think my lips are permanently printed on his rear end." -- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the emcee.

"If you tell any lies about me, I’m going to tell the truth about you." -- Mandel, thanking his roasters for being kind.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:15 AM | | Comments (1)
        

May 5, 2010

More Departures from Steele's Communications Shop

It could be getting lonelier soon at the Republican National Committee's communications shop. Three more staff members have apparently left or are in the process of doing so.

LeRoy Coleman, RNC director of media affairs, RNC press spokeswoman Sara Sendek and director of surrogate operations Amber Lyons are moving on, according to a well-placed Republican source.

Repeated efforts to reach RNC press officers for confirmation and comment over the past two days have been unsuccessful.

Coleman, at least, isn't out the door yet; he picked up his line Wednesday afternoon, then immediately begged off with a promise to call back in 30 seconds. We're still waiting for that call.

Lyons and Sendek couldn't be reached.

Communications has been a particularly difficult place to work during Republican National Chairman Michael Steele's roller-coaster tenure at party headquarters in Washington.

His initial hire as communications director, Trevor Francis, left in November. He was supposed to be replaced, at least in part, by GOP media consultant Alex Castellanos.

But Castellanos' stint as an unpaid Steele communications adviser didn't work out. Castellanos became disillusioned and parted company with the chairman. By last month, he was publicly calling for Steele to be replaced.

RNC National Press Secretary Gail Gitcho left in January to become communications director for newly elected Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

She was replaced by Doug Heye, a Republican campaign veteran, who took over as RNC communications director in February.

Heye, a spokesman in Steele's 2006 Senate campaign in Maryland, did not respond to a request for comment about confirmed the latest departures.

Posted by Paul West at 4:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

O'Malley named 'BIO Governor of the Year'

Gov. Martin O'Malley is in Chicago today to receive an award from a Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) for his work in promoting the emerging industry in Maryland. The group noted the governor's biotech tax credits in choosing him.

Maryland is home to 500 bioscience companies and 50 research-intense federal institutes and centers, according to O'Malley aides, and the governor has made biotechnology growth one of his priorities.

The state has dedicated about $100 million in the past two years to BioMaryland initiatives. Another $70 million has been earmarked for science and technology related infrastructure at state universities and community colleges, O'Malley's aides say.

O'Malley has done "an exemplary job enhancing and expanding Maryland’s stature as one of the nation’s most vibrant biotech clusters,” BIO President Jim Greenwood said in a statement released by O'Malley.

While at the national biotechnology conference in Chicago, O'Malley, who is among 400 Marylanders in attendance, will promote the state's biotechnology assets.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:09 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

May 4, 2010

District 44: Keiffer Mitchell to run for House

Hardly breaking news -- as evidenced by this photo, he's been making plans for a while -- but Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. confirmed this morning that he is running for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Mitchell, who was a Baltimore City Council member for 12 years before his unsuccessful bid to become mayor in 2007, describes public service as in his blood. Mitchell's grandfather was the late Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., a prominent figure in the civil rights movement, and his great-uncle was the late Parren J. Mitchell, the Maryland's first African-American U.S. congressman.

Since the mayoral loss, Mitchell has been working as a small-business lender at Wachovia and recently started a consulting firm. The Bolton Hill resident has been pondering a return to politics for the better part of a year.

"I'd bring energy and ideas" to the General Assembly, Mitchell said. "I know this city. I criss-crossed it running for mayor."

He'll likely be in a Democratic primary race flush with candidates. All three of the District 44 delegates -- Keith E. Haynes, Ruth M. Kirk and Melvin L. Stukes -- are running again, and NAACP's Baltimore chapter president, Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, has milled a bid. Wesley Wood, a former aide to Mitchell and to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, also is in the mix.

**Update** As several commenters have noted, Matt Charvat also is running. In an e-mail he just sent me, he described himself as a Baltimore native who works in the city's Human Resources Department.

"I'm not targeting anyone," Mitchell said when asked if he was after a particular delegate's seat. "It's not my job to critique others."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:26 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

May 3, 2010

Ehrlich no 'candidate' yet, lawyer says

The Ehrlich campaign has responded to the State Board of Elections' questions about potentially improper in-kind contributions by accusing the board of using the wrong definition of "candidate."

A lawyer for Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in an April 28 letter to the board that "the entire premise" of its inquiry is "fundamentally flawed" because Ehrlich is not yet an official candidate under state law.

Ehrlich announced last month that he'll try to win back his old job from Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who ousted him in November 2006.

Jared DeMarinis, state director of candidacy and campaign finance, had asked Ehrlich to provide information about whether his law firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, was in effect donating to his campaign without reporting it.

The DeMarinis request followed a hefty push by the Maryland Democratic Party. Democrats called Womble's Baltimore office "the de facto campaign headquarters" for Ehrlich and accused Henry Fawell, who works for Womble's strategic communications group, of improperly serving as Ehrlich's campaign spokesman while on the clock at the law firm.

The party also helpfully reminded everyone today that Ehrlich's 30 days to respond to the Board of Elections had expired.

In his letter to Ehrlich last month, DeMarinis asserted that the former governor is a candidate because he has a political fund-raising committee. (By that definition, Ehrlich has been a "candidate" during his entire three years out of office.)

But Ehrlich attorney John H. West III says that in the eyes of state law, no one becomes a candidate until filing with the Board of Elections. That won't happen until July. Therefore, West wrote, DeMarinis' questions about how Ehrlich may or may not have been using Womble's resources are moot.

West's seven-page letter goes on to provide basic information about Womble anyway. Not much new there, though we learn that Greg Massoni, Ehrlich's former press secretary, resigned from Womble on March 31. (Like Fawell, he had been in the firm's strategic communications group.) Several other Ehrlich aides-turned-Womble employees, including Fawell and Paul Schurick, have reduced their firm schedules to part-time now that the gubernatorial campaign is heating up.

The question of who is a candidate -- and when -- is not new.

Democrats also want Ehrlich to pull the plug on his WBAL radio show, saying it's not fair that he has all of that air time while O'Malley doesn't (though WBAL has offered time to the governor). WBAL's attorneys have said Ehrlich is not in violation of FCC rules because, under the definition the FCC uses, he's not an official candidate.

And an aide to state Sen. Andrew P. Harris got mired in a "define 'candidate'" debate earlier this year. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller asked Kathy Szeliga to resign because she is planning a run for state delegate and Miller thought it was wrong for her to remain a General Assembly employee. She and Miller reached a compromise that allowed her to keep her job.

Perhaps all of this debate points to a need to rethink "candidate" in more modern, media-saturated terms. With free social media like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, campaigns can get going months -- even years -- earlier than ever, making that July filing deadline somewhat meaningless.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:27 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        
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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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