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June 30, 2010

Ehrlich running mate: It's Mary Kane

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has selected his onetime cabinet member Mary Kane as a running mate in his bid to reclaim the governor's office from the Democrat who toppled him four years ago, Baltimore Sun reporters Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey write.

The Republican Ehrlich announced the news of his lieutenant governor pick late Wednesday to his more than 27,000 Facebook fans.

Kane, 48, a Montgomery County resident who served as Maryland secretary of state for 18 months under Ehrlich, had been widely viewed as the top contender. Her longtime residence could help Ehrlich in an area of the state where he is looking to make gains, and her husband, John Kane, a former state GOP chairman and successful businessman, could give the campaign access to top Republican donors.

The connection to John Kane could come in handy as Ehrlich pushes a theme he has sounded throughout his nearly three-month campaign: that Maryland must become friendlier to businesses. But it also could carry significant baggage: He is being sued federally for fraudulent billing on government contracts.

Ehrlich said he was "delighted that Mary has agreed to join with me on my mission to bring more jobs, lower taxes, and a brighter future to all Marylanders."

"She has a great mix of experience in government and the private sector, and knows the joys and challenges of raising a family in Maryland," the former governor said in a statement. "She will be true partner in government who shares my belief that fixing Maryland's problems requires candor and real solutions, not cynicism and fear."

Ehrlich's campaign described Kane as the daughter of Irish immigrants and the mother of three college-aged children who now assists military veterans, National Guardsmen and Reservists searching for employment upon returning from overseas as director of Special Projects for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Kane said she was "honored to join Bob Ehrlich's campaign to bring new ideas and proven leadership to state government."

"As the daughter of immigrants, I gained a profound appreciation for what is possible in Maryland: unlimited economic opportunity, safe neighborhoods, and unparalleled quality of life,: she said in a statement. "But achieving these goals requires leadership. If I have the honor of serving as Lt. Governor, I will work tirelessly to ensure those blessings are available to every Maryland family."

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:02 PM | | Comments (2)
        

NEA: O'Malley 'Greatest Education Governor'

The National Education Association, the union representing 3.2 million teachers across the nation, will give Martin O'Malley its "America's Greatest Education Governor" award at its conference in New Orleans on July 5, Baltimore Sun education Liz Bowie reports.

The NEA praises O'Malley, a Democrat, for leaving education out of the budget cuts and for helping to close the achievement gap. A press release on the NEA website says that the annual award is given to governors who have made major, statewide efforts to improve public education.

Interestingly, local union leaders in many Maryland counties have been less than enthusiastic about the education reform bills that O'Malley introduced and helped get passed during last winter's Maryland General Assembly. The Maryland State Education Association has endorsed the governor.

A campaign spokesman for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., O'Malley's likely opponent in the fall, said "Martin O'Malley can have the union. Bob Ehrlich cares about the students, parents and teachers."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:05 PM | | Comments (8)
        

Does domain name game reveal a new candidate?

One way to get an idea of the candidates Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has been considering for his running mate: Look up which potential campaign website domain names have been reserved, and which remain available.

For example, Ehrlich's former Secretary of State Mary Kane, perhaps the potential lieutenant governor pick most talked about, seems a safe bet. Someone purchased the domain names www.ehrlichkane.com  and www.ehrlichkane.org by proxy on June 19.

But domain names for other supposed contenders are still available, making it seem less likely they'll be picked. For example: www.EhrlichDenis.com is not taken, a bad sign for supporters of Howard Denis. Also available is www.ehrlichcarson.com, signaling that celebrity surgeon Ben Carson probably won't be leaving his medical practice. Nobody's bought www.ehrlichjacobs.com, so Sen. Nancy Jacobs is probably out.

The method does reveal an interesting new name. Somebody snapped up www.ehrlichallen.com, also by proxy, on June 24.

Jeanne Allen appeared at Ehrlich's charter school roundtable in Gaithersburg last week, where he heaped praise upon her for her education advocacy and encouraged reporters to talk with her. The campaign schedule for Ehrlich and his unnamed running mate on Thursday includes a visit to the Bluefort Drew Jemison STEM Academy, a charter school in Baltimore.

We’ll know the answer for sure in a few hours, when Ehrlich announced his running mate on Facebook, but Allen has some strong positives for the campaign. As a woman she can help Ehrlich in a demographic in which he trails Gov. Martin O’Malley. She lives in Montgomery County – home to the second highest number of registered Republicans after Baltimore County. And she’s spent her career thinking about education and charter schools as the founder of the Center for Education Reform.

Officially, Allen is still running for delegate in Montgomery County. Reached by phone earlier today she said that’s still her plan. But plans change – and they might at 10 p.m.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:30 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, People
        

Cardin deal gets Bay cleanup bill out of committee

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin's proposal to strengthen cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay cleared the Senate Environment committee today with bipartisan support, but not before the Maryland Democrat made concessions to Republican opponents.

The revised measure, which still faces a very steep climb in this election year, no longer codifies a Bay-wide pollution limit, or "Total Maximum Daily Load" (TMDL) for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing.

Environmentalists had considered that provision a key element of the Cardin plan, which is designed to strengthen the federal Clean Water Act by giving EPA the authority it needs to enforce a cleanup of the Bay's waters by 2025.

A lobbyist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a leading backer of the measure, said the legislation is still very strong, despite dropping the TMDL language.

The changes give it a chance of gaining approval by the full Senate before the current session of Congress ends.

The House has still not acted on a companion measure, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, and the odds of the legislation making it to President Barack Obama's desk this year are not good. Also still to be considered: funding for the measure, which has a price tag in excess of $2 billion over five years, much of it to help state and local governments and farmers deal with pollution runoff.

Agriculture interests are strongly opposed. They contend Cardin's plan would impose a crushing new financial burden on farmers in the six-state area that makes up the Bay watershed. The committee voted down several amendments by Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, including one that would have given state and federal agriculture officials a bigger say in regulating pollution from farms.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who agreed to drop a series of amendments that could have weakened the measure, said he was still concerned that the Bay bill could become a "template" for regulating bodies of water beyond the Chesapeake Bay. But the conservative senator praised Cardin, a liberal, for being willing to consider his objections, "even though we come from really different philosophies."

Cardin said his proposal was designed to treat everyone fairly, including farmers, developers and managers of wastewater treatment plants, by letting states decide how to meet pollution limits and "not dictate that from Washington." He said the changes he agreed to would not weaken EPA's ability to set Bay-wide pollution limits.

The Cardin measure would give EPA new authority to withhold federal funds under the Clean Water Act as way to prod states into implementing their pollution-reduction plans. The measure would also impose new conservation restrictions on commercial and residential development in the Bay watershed to limit stormwater runoff.

Posted by Paul West at 1:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Report: Owens bypasses AA County executive race

Janet Owens, the Democrat and former two-term Anne Arundel County executive who was weighing a run to take back her seat from Republican incumbent John Leopold, is apparently staying out of the race.

Owens told MarylandReporter.com this morning that she was feeling “ambivalent” about what she felt would be a negative race against Leopold, who filed for re-election last week.

After spending about $20,000 on polling to test the waters, Owens told the news website that she found the Anne Arundel landscape looks inhospitable to Democrats.

“The county is absolutely swinging Republican based on what we saw,” Owens is quoted as saying.

Owens ran for comptroller in 2007 and finished second in the primary election to Peter Franchot. By bowing out, she leaves Joanna Conti as the only Democrat seeking her party’s nomination.

-- Andy Rosen

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:31 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Late night with Bob Ehrlich

The Ehrlich campaign will post the name of their running mate on Facebook … at 10 p.m. The timing works well for night owls and the all important 11 p.m. news. Robert L. Ehrlich and his freshly announced running mate spend Thursday crisscrossing the state.

They start with a rally in front of Austin Grill in Silver Spring at 10:30 a.m. and then head up I-95 to visit a Baltimore charter school started by a one time foe of Gov. Martin O’Malley at 2 p.m. The pair finish the day in southern Maryland at a Republican Central Committee dinner. On Friday Ehrlich plus running mate file for candidacy in Annapolis.

Ehrlich's decision to start Thursday in vote-rich Montgomery County will fuel speculation that he's going to pick a native of that DC suburb like Mary Kane or Howard Denis. Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz and I laid out some of the names we've been hearing in a story here.

The roll out is designed to maximize free press coverage heading into the long Fourth of July weekend, and is similar to the way Ehrlich announced that he was running – a widely expected development that the campaign stretched into several days of coverage.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:11 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 29, 2010

Ehrlich set to make stop in Baltimore Thursday ...

The campaign schedule for gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is particularly short on details this week – perhaps because Ehrlich doesn’t want to tip his hand on his lieutenant governor choice.

But Thursday is shaping up to be a big day. The former governor has afternoon plans in Charm City: a visit to the Bluford Drew Jemison STEM academy at 2 p.m. The charter school was founded Carl Stokes, a Baltimore politician who ran against Gov. Martin O’Malley in the 2000 Baltimore mayoral race.

Stokes, who’s now a Baltimore City Councilman, says he expects the lieutenant governor pick to come along for a tour of the school, but says the event is not endorsement. “The former governor is just stopping by,” Stokes said. “We didn’t think of it as a campaign event.”

Stokes says he’s known Ehrlich in and out of politics for years, he recently called in to Ehrlich’s WBAL radio show where to two bantered about charter school policy. Stokes thinks the state has one of the weakest charter laws in the country and applauds the former governor’s push discuss the issue in the campaign.

O’Malley’s camp frequently points out that the number of charter schools have doubled during his tenure.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:30 PM | | Comments (2)
        

O'Malley announces his own mystery of the week

Being cryptic seems to be in vogue this campaign season.

On Monday, Republican gubernatorial contender Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. asked his Facebook fans to guess who he will choose as his running mate. He'll reveal his selection on the social media site later this week. Unwilling to let Ehrlich to be the only man of mystery, Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign just put out a tantalizing release of its own as a lead-in to an upcoming O'Malley announcement:

"Still, the news expected this week may be the biggest of all for protecting our priorities and building a strong and growing workforce in Maryland for years to come. The news could be a game changer, and it will set off a series of announcements by the O'Malley-Brown campaign to move Maryland forward."

A "game changer?" Where have we heard that before?

Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's campaign spokesman, described the Democratic candidate's announcement as "significant," but declined to provide any details whatsoever. A location for the announcement has not been announced. Maybe Facebook?

Social media and the proliferation of blogs, including the one you're reading, enable candidates to make "news" just by announcing that they'll be making news later. It's part of the 2010 political game, and campaigns seem to think it's a good way to pass the summer. It's free, after all. We're "guessing" that as Nov. 2 closes in, candidates will ditch the riddles.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

A balanced budget, but trouble ahead?

After months of rancorous debate, the search for a solution to Baltimore's $121 million deficit draws to a close this week without the sweeping layoffs or deep service cuts that officials had threatened.

But as Baltimore Sun City Hall reporter Julie Scharper relates, analysts are warning of the potential impact of a little-remarked hike in the income tax, and of more tough fiscal times ahead, as federal stimulus funding dries up and the state tightens its belt.

A budget represents a "snapshot of the next year," not a "strategic plan," said Donald Fry, head of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He said officials should seize the lull after the budget's passage to draft a long-term roadmap for economic development.

Economist Anirban Basu, CEO of the Sage Policy Group, sounded a note of alarm over an increase in the income tax, which nearly doubles the disparity between rate in the city and that of Baltimore County.

"I've never seen such a stealth income tax increase in my life," said Basu, who warned that the hike could dissuade those considering a move to the city or prompt residents to leave.

"The city took two steps back when it only needed to take one step back," he said.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:05 PM | | Comments (1)
        

One down ...

One potential Republican gubernatorial running mate is out: Alison Asti sent out a news release announcing that she wants to be an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge.

Asti, the former Executive Director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, was discussed in some Republican circles as a potential lieutenant governor pick for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, who is campaigning to reclaim his old job. Other names circulating include Ehrlich's former Secretary of State Mary D. Kane and Larry Hogan, who bowed out of the race earlier this year to make room for Ehrlich.

Ehrlich has said he'll announce his ticket mate this week on his Facebook page.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:58 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 28, 2010

Feds pull plug on Eastern Shore training center

The federal government has abandoned plans to build an anti-terrorism training center on the Eastern Shore that attracted determined opposition from local residents and conservationists, Baltimore Sun Washington correspondent Paul West reports.

West, who broke the news on this blog earlier Monday, continues:

Already running behind schedule, the security project faced the prospect of additional delays and an approval process that could take years to complete.

"After further analysis," 2,000 acres of farmland in Queen Anne's County "will no longer be considered" for the State Department's diplomatic security facility, wrote the head of the government's real-estate arm in a letter to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, an early supporter.

General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson said preliminary environmental studies "showed that, among other potential concerns, there would be a significant change in land use and considerable noise and traffic impacts."

Those objections, and others, were lodged at the outset by critics of the project, which was to have been built at the quiet rural crossroads of Ruthsburg, about 30 miles from Annapolis and less than half an hour from the eastern end of the Bay Bridge.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:27 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Ehrlich to announce running mate on Facebook

Having accomplished his quest to reach 25,000 Facebook fans, Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. now says he will use the social media site for a major announcement this week: His selection of a running mate.

Ehrlich this morning confirmed via a video posted on his Facebook page what Kendel Ehrlich mentioned on their final radio show Saturday. His status update: "Can you guess who it will be? Stay tuned this week right here on facebook to find out who will run with Bob."

As of 1:30 p.m., many of the 58 commenters mention Dr. Ben Carson (who has said he is not interested). One commenter proclaims, "I am available," while others name-drop Republican favorites like party chairwoman Audrey Scott.

The former governor has been an avid Facebook user throughout his campaign, recently using it for a live chat and revealing tidbits now and again to supporters.

Gov. Martin O'Malley also has an active Facebook page with more than 10,000 fans. His latest posting, on Friday, was a link to his most recent attack ad.

Ehrlich says on the video that his lieutenant governor choice will be revealed in a few days. O'Malley is running with his current lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:16 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Mikulski mourns her mentor, Bob Byrd

Barbara A. Mikulski, who honed her style as a bring-home-the-bacon senator with wise advice from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, mourned her long-time mentor's death early today at age 92.

“Today is a sad day for America, for West Virginia and for the U.S. Senate. Senator Byrd was an icon who had five loves – for his country, for the Constitution, for the Senate, for the people of West Virginia and for his beloved wife Erma," said the Maryland Democrat. Byrd's wife of nearly 69 years died in 2006 at age 88.

“Senator Byrd was a mentor and a teacher. I was the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. He took me under his wing and taught me the rules of the Senate. He knew the rules and he know how to rule," Mikulski continued in a prepared statement.

“He said to stay loyal to the country and to the Constitution. From the first day he wanted me to succeed. He had the style and the manner of another era. That could teach us a few lessons today. He stood for citizenship and for his country, not partisanship and petty politics. If you love the Senate, you love Bob Byrd.”

His death moves Mikulski up to 4th in seniority on the influential Appropriations committee, which oversees spending, and advances her to 16th in overall Senate length of service. She is running again this year and is a heavy favorite to win re-election.

It was not immediately clear whether there might be a major shuffling of Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships as a result of Byrd's demise. He headed the Homeland Security panel, on which Mikulski serves. She is third in seniority on that committee, behind Daniel Inouye, who chairs the full committee, and Patrick Leahy, who chairs the State, Foreign Operations subcommittee.

More likely any wholesale changes would await the outcome of the 2010 elections. Of course, speculation about musical subcommittee chairs among Appropriations Democrats would become pointless if Republicans regain control of the Senate in the 2010 midterms, which would put them in charge next January.

Posted by Paul West at 11:13 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Opposition kills Ruthsburg security site

The federal government is expected to announce today that it is abandoning plans to place a new $100 million-plus State Department security training center on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The proposal met with opposition from local environmentalists and others opposed to turning 2,000 acres of rural farmland into a campus-like facility that would include test tracks to train diplomats in evasive driving maneuvers, a mock urban area for anti-terrorist training, shooting ranges and a bomb explosion pit.

Federal, state and Queen Anne's County elected officials initially welcomed the proposal to build the facility at the tiny crossroads community of Ruthsburg. The politicians soon backed off in the face of determined local opposition.

Still unclear is where the project might be built. Opponents had argued that existing federally owned land in the region provided the needed space for the training center, formally known as the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center.

Posted by Paul West at 10:02 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Washington
        

June 26, 2010

Ehrlich signs off air, prepares to file candidacy

This morning, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wrapped his three-year stint as a WBAL radio talk show host. His wife, Kendel, will host solo from now on.

Ehrlich, a Republican, had promised to give up the show when he files paperwork to run for governor this fall; the deadline for that is July 6. Ehrlich wouldn't have hosted next Saturday anyway, he said, because of a Fourth of July commitment.

Kendel Ehrlich said she'll provide listeners with campaign trail updates from her husband -- something sure to irk Democrats, who have long complained that the show is tantamount to an illegal campaign contribution. (The Maryland Attorney General's Office disagreed.) Ehrlich is challenging Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who unseated him four years ago. Both first must prevail in the September primary election.

The former first lady also told listeners to pay close attention to Ehrlich's Facebook page for a "major announcement'" next week. In the next sentence, she mentioned that Ehrlich's choice of a running mate would soon be clear.

Particularly in contrast to last week's show -- which included analysis of an O'Malley attack ad and what appeared to be a Democrat-orchestrated call-in -- Ehrlich's final show was largely uneventful.

He hopped to several topics, including health care reform, a settlement in a lawsuit alleging illegal arrest practices in Baltimore and Marc train woes. He took very few callers, instead giving most of the two hours of air time to phone-in guests Robert Flanagan (his former transportation secretary), Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy and former White House press secretary Dana Perino.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:57 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 24, 2010

Congressman's son 'forgot' about some payments to girlfriend

Western Maryland Del. Joseph Bartlett told the Frederick News-Post he had "forgotten" that he charged taxpayers for a 21-day stay in 2007 in the Annapolis home of his now girlfriend.

Bartlett, the son of U.S. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, has draw criticism for using public money to pay his girlfriend rent during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. But public documents released Wednesday show the living arrangement began earlier.

"Delegate Joseph R. Bartlett was an occupant at my residence on the nights of October 29 to November 3rd during the Special Session," wrote Katharine Hopkins in a 2007 letter to the legislative accounting office. "I respectfully request payments for 6 nights at $123 per night."

The state wrote Hopkins a  check for $738. In total, the state has paid Bartlett's girlfriend $31,923 for rent. Senators and delegates are allowed to charge the state for rent or hotels when the General Assembly is in session. Many stay in local hotels.

Bartlett, a Republican, has said he started dating Hopkins in Spring 2008 and has said he sought permission from a state ethics attorney to continue his rental arrangement with Hopkins after the romance began. Bartlett has not returned numerous calls for comment. Hopkins also has not returned calls.

Documents released Wednesday show the state also paid Hopkins $11,193 for 91 days rent in 2008; $9,072 for 72 days rent in 2009 (Bartlett stayed in a hotel other nights) and $10,920 for 91 days in 2010.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:30 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

June 23, 2010

State House, Senate to broadcast committee action

Leaders of the House and Senate committed Wednesday to broadcasting all committee proceedings beginning next session, a move they say will make the state's government more transparent and accessible, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports.

Video and audio of House committees will be available online, but the Senate will provide only audio. Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller said his chamber’s committee rooms did not have adequate technology to provide images online. Hearings and voting sessions will be broadcast.

When in session, the General Assembly broadcasts audio of full House and Senate floor debates, but those who want to hear action in committee must go to Annapolis.
The leaders also said they will waive the $800 fee for up-to-the minute information on bills and resolutions.

“We consider this a big victory,” said Del. Heather R. Mizeur, who with fellow Montgomery County Democratic Sen. Nancy King, pushed for those changes during the session.

As a test Wednesday, the state Board of Public Works was broadcast online; 17 viewers tuned in. Those proceedings will continue to be shown on the state’s website, a change that Gov. Martin O’Malley said will “strengthen the bond” between Marylanders and government.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Updated: Hoyer asks Obama for East Coast oil spill summit

UPDATED: House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland wants President Barack Obama to convene a White House summit soon as part of government planning for the possible spread of the Gulf oil spill to Atlantic coast states. However, there was no immediate indication from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that his request would be granted.

Hoyer noted that, with hurricane season under way and large volumes of oil continuing to pour into the Gulf, the administration should directly inform officials in East Coast states about how it intends to cope with any oil that might find it way into the Atlantic.

Depending on weather conditions, it is possible for oil from the BP spill to catch a ride on the gulf stream, which hugs the southeastern Atlantic coast before heading out to sea.

"Elected officials representing the East Coast, from the Chesapeake Bay, to the beaches of the Carolinas, to Florida’s Atlantic coastline, remain deeply concerned about the impact of oil both within the Gulf ecosystem and within the fragile, ecologically rich and economically important resources they represent," Hoyer wrote.

"Information regarding whether the expanding oil slick and plumes have entered the loop current need to be shared with Atlantic Coast states and local governments, and the federal government should fully understand the resource needs of jurisdictions not yet responding to the spill should oil spread to those locations," he added.

On Thursday, a panel of administration officials will brief Hoyer and other members of the Maryland congressional delegation on the potential impact of the spill on the Bay and the state's ocean beaches, as well as the safety of seafood sold to Marylanders.

The White House did not react directly to Hoyer's request but an official pointed out that there have been three calls with Atlantic coast governors and state officials, to update them on the spill's trajectory.

There is also no evidence, at this point, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's twice-daily tracking operation, that the spill has entered the loop current in the Gulf, a pre-requisite to bringing the oil up the East Coast. However, those projections only go out three days into the future.

"We are committed to working in close partnerships with state and local authorities and ensuring that they have the resources they need to meet the threat from this oil spill. Every day, the White House works with state officials in the impacted gulf states on the ongoing response efforts to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill," Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman, said in an emailed response.

"In addition to these daily efforts, we have held three calls with the Atlantic Coast Governors and state officials to provide updates on the spill response and trajectory and address state concerns. The bottom line is that we are all working in concert not only to stop the spread of the oil but also to restore any impacted community," she added. "We will continue to engage Governors and state officials moving forward to ensure states are armed with all the information they need."

Complete text of the Hoyer letter follows the jump.

The Honorable Barack Obama
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,
I write regarding the on-going Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Since the initial explosion, your personal focus has correctly been to contain the environmental damage, and respond to the devastating personal and economic consequences of this tragedy within the Gulf Region. I share your desire to ensure that the responsible parties put a stop to this spill, and efforts can be shifted toward much needed recovery.

On May 12, 2010, you wrote Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that, from day one of the spill, you have directed your Administration to prepare for a worst-case scenario. In my view, such preparation should include a White House led summit with East Coast governors and local officials in the very near term. With onset of hurricane season, and reported estimates of the size of the spill more than doubling recently, it is my hope that you will hear directly from officials in my home state of Maryland and all along the Atlantic Coast about their levels of preparedness and information needs should oil move out of the Gulf region. Elected officials representing the East Coast, from the Chesapeake Bay, to the beaches of the Carolinas, to Florida’s Atlantic coastline, remain deeply concerned about the impact of oil both within the Gulf ecosystem and within the fragile, ecologically rich and economically important resources they represent. Information regarding whether the expanding oil slick and plumes have entered the loop current need to be shared with Atlantic Coast states and local governments, and the federal government should fully understand the resource needs of jurisdictions not yet responding to the spill should oil spread to those locations.

I know you share my desire to end and contain this spill as soon as possible, and that it is difficult to think that all the pain endured in the Gulf Coast thus far is not the worst outcome we as a nation could imagine. I believe though that the American people want us to plan ahead and think through difficult scenarios as we seek to avert them.


Yours Sincerely,

Steny H. Hoyer

Posted by Paul West at 5:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Ehrlich would boost credit for film, TV productions

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said Wednesday that he would lure television and film productions to Maryland by expanding a state tax credit that has been cut since he left office.

After meeting with film and television industry reprsentatives in Hunt Valley, the onetime actor -- he made a cameo appearance as a State House security guard in "The Wire" -- said he would budget $7 million for the film production tax credit that was created during his administration.

The state budgeted $6 million for the tax credit under Ehrlich; the current figure is about $1 million. As a result, the Ehrlich campaign said Wednesday, no major production has come to Maryland in three years.

“Unemployment has doubled in Maryland since 2006 and little has been done by the O’Malley Administration to turn the economic tide,” Ehrlich said in a statement. “Cutting this tax credit is no different than cutting jobs. We all benefit from the jobs production companies bring to Maryland, and the money they spend on salaries, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, transportation, security, even dry cleaning and entertainment. It’s an expenditure that produces a huge return on a small investment, and we ought to return Maryland to the forefront of TV and film production. When I’m governor, we will.”

His campaign quoted a Sage Policy Group report indicating that the industry generated $158 million in direct and indirect economic impact to the state in 2006.

A campaign spokesman for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley referred questions to the state Department of Business and Economic Development. Hannah Byron, the assistant secretary of business and economic development for tourism, film and the arts, said it was the legislature that cut the tax credit.

Byron said the $6.8 million that O’Malley requested for fiscal year 2008 was cut by the legislature to $4 million, and the $2 million he requested for fiscal 2010 was cut to $1 million.

“There have been some pretty difficult budget decisions that needed to be made,” Byron said. “The administration has been willing to commit additional funds in order to secure productions that would have a significant employment or economic impact. Unfortunately, none of those productions have come to fruitition, for a number of reasons.”

She said the state is now in discussions with the producer of “a major project that will have a major impact.” She said could not divulge details.

In a release Wednesday, The Ehrlich campaign said “TV series like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Homicide,’ as well as blockbuster films like ‘Ladder 49’ were shot here during the Ehrlich Admininstration, thanks largely to the tax credit” that was created in 2005.

In fact, Homicide was filmed in the 1990s, The Wire was first broadcast in 2002, and Ladder 49 was released in 2004 – all before the credit was created.

Asked about the claim, Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth called it "an inadvertent and unintentional error," and said the campaign would correct it in all future communication on the subject.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:51 PM | | Comments (13)
        

Updated: Kratovil sets announcement tour Saturday

Freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil will formally launch his re-election campaign with a three-stop tour of the sprawling First District on Saturday.

The cross-Bay swing will take him from Aberdeen, in Harford County, in the morning to Chester in Queen Anne's County, not far from his hometown of Stevensville, to Salisbury, in Wicomico, in the afternoon.

On Monday, he'll formally file his candidacy in Annapolis, a step that his likely opponent, Republican state Sen. Andy Harris, took Tuesday.

The first event on Saturday, at a meeting of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, will take place at a Clarion Hotel in Aberdeen. As a poster to this blog has pointed out, that site is not in Kratovil's district, which does include portions of Harford County. It is in an area represented by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Campaign manager Jessica Klonsky said the Aberdeen stop was chosen to highlight Kratovil’s commitment to public safety and law enforcement. He’ll be speaking to a state meeting of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.

Posted by Paul West at 11:35 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Maryland delegation to get oil spill briefing

Members of Maryland's congressional delegation will get an update Thursday on the possibility that oil from the BP spill in the Gulf could wind up on the state's beaches or in the Chesapeake Bay. Also on the agenda: the safety of seafood from the Gulf.

Here's a wild guess on what they'll say:

The seafood is safe to eat. Most of what the Gulf produces is from areas west of the spill, and the government is carefully monitoring the impact on waters closer to the danger zone.

The odds of oil washing into Maryland waters or into its shores and marshes is low. But it could happen, depending on how events (weather, in particular) develop.

Also worth noting is that those doing the briefing are all representatives of departments whose budget are controlled by the Senate panel chaired by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski who extended the invitation for them to speak.

They are Dr. Steve Murawski, Director of Scientific Programs for Oil Spill, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and the former Baltimore City health commissioner from December 2005 through March 2009.

Posted by Paul West at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

June 22, 2010

3 Marylanders Win American Idol, White House edition

The White House announced this year's class of White House fellows, a group of 13 men and women that includes three Marylanders.

The Maryland winners are Rachel Thornton of Pikesville, Kubby Rashid of Jessup, and Harley Feldbaum of Glen Echo. In addition, two of the other 10 winners had Maryland connections. They are Naval Academy grads Sunny Ramchandani of Rowland Heights, Calif., and Bill Gallagher of Springfield, Va.

White House fellows spend a year working in senior government jobs (GS-14, step 3) with top White House staff members, the vice president and Cabinet members, among others. Alumni include Colin Powell and CNN doc Sanjay Gupta.

More information about the White House fellows programs is here. The very impressive resumes of the Maryland winners are after the jump.

Rachel Thornton, Pikesville. Rachel Thornton is a pediatrician and public health researcher. She most recently served as an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her research addresses racial/ethnic disparities in health and health care with an emphasis on childhood obesity. She is passionate about using public health research to inform policy-making and was the director of a health impact assessment of Baltimore City’s comprehensive zoning code rewrite, a project among the first of its kind in the U.S. After receiving a medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Rachel completed residency training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Children’s Center. She has published scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals and presented her research at national meetings. As National President of the Student National Medical Association, she lectured nationally and internationally on racial/ethnic disparities in health and diversity in medical education. She also participated in service and educational missions to Ghana and Cuba. Rachel is committed to mentoring and serving as a positive force in children’s’ lives. Rachel graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from New York University, earning her B.A. with honors in psychology.

Kubby Rashid, Jessup. Kubby Rashid has been a member of the Gallaudet faculty since 1994, including a stint as Chair of the Department of Business. In addition to teaching, Dr. Rashid was active in faculty leadership and administration, and was co chair of a major initiative to reconfigure all academic programs at the University. Dr. Rashid served on the board of the World Deaf Leadership Program, guiding development projects for the deaf communities in South Africa and Thailand. She has also worked with individuals from many developing countries, helping deaf people learned to develop leadership skills and advocate for themselves. Dr. Rashid has previously been involved with the National Deaf Business Institute and taught several years for NDBI and Merrill Lynch's summer program for Deaf Business owners and would-be entrepreneurs. She was the first coordinator of the Bernstein Leadership Institute's Deaf Women's Leadership Program, and implemented the program and curriculum that form the core of the DWLP today. In 2008 she was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to a six-year term on the Board of the Maryland School for the Deaf and also serves as a Board member of Discovering Deaf Worlds, an NGO dedicated to helping deaf people in developing countries.

Harley Feldbaum, Glen Echo. Harley Feldbaum is Director of the Global Health and Foreign Policy Initiative and a Professorial Lecturer at the Johns Hopkins Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He directs all daily operations of a $1.6 million Gates Foundation grant to improve global health policymaking and train future leaders at the nexus between international relations and global health. Harley also serves as an author and senior consultant to the CSIS Global Health Policy Center and is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project. Prior to Johns Hopkins, Harley consulted for the Nuffield Trust on health and security issues, was a program associate with the California Endowment, and worked as an interviewer and analyst on the Baltimore City needle exchange vans. Harley was a Luce Scholar in Chiang Mai Thailand, worked in the Nagatyad refugee camp with refugees from the Bosnian War, and volunteered for 3 years with the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team on Mount Snowdon in North Wales. Harley received a Ph.D. in public health policy from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a Masters in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and graduated with Honors from Wesleyan University.

Posted by Paul West at 9:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Jack Abramoff peddling pizza in Baltimore

Well, this didn't take long: Convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now released to home confinement after a brief stay in a Baltimore halfway house, has found a new job.

The Baltimore Jewish Times broke the news Tuesday that Abramoff has found work at a landmark Baltimore pizzeria.

"I think people get a second chance," Tov Pizza owner Ron Rosenbluth told The Baltimore Sun's Jean Marbella. "If they do their time, they deserve a chance."

Rosenbluth said Abramoff started Monday and will be helping with marketing "to get us more business." He did not disclosue Abramoff's salary.

Abramoff, a one-time $750-an-hour lobbyist, had been serving what was initially a six-year sentence at a federal prison camp in Cumberland for defrauding clients and conspiring to bribe public officials. As Marbella notes, he also owned a restaurant in Washington that frequently offered free meals to influential lawmakers.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:24 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Ehrlich wants more charter schools

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried to move the campaign conversation away from the recent attacks on his connections to oil companies with a three-point plan to strengthen Maryland's charter school rules.

"Today is a policy day," Ehrlich told reporters gathered at the Flaming Pit restaurant in Gaithersburg. The campaign, he said, is "trotting out a few amendments" to the 2003 law allowing charter schools in Maryland. He wants to "double" the number of charter schools in the state, according to a press release.

Current Gov. Martin O'Malley frequently reminds voters that his administration doubled the number of charter schools from 20 in 2007 to 42. (And another four open in September.) Ehrlich raised the issue in Montgomery County, which has not developed any charter schools.

Ehrlich signed the 2003 law that allows charter schools to operate in the state. He defended his efforts, saying he got the best deal he could out of a reluctant General Assembly, but now that schools have a proven track record he believes the legislature would be more open to a stronger law.

The plan includes:

- A new authorizing body to approve new charter schools. Ehrlich says the current system, where local school boards can accept or veto applications, is inherently flawed since local school boards sometimes view charter schools as competition.

- Access to state capital funds for charter school construction and repair.

- Allowing charters to operate outside of teacher's unions. Currently teachers at charter schools must belong to a union and adhere to union contract rules.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:05 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Harris files his paperwork for Congress

State Sen. Andy Harris officially filed his candidacy for Congress, his campaign announced Tuesday, setting up a rematch with Rep. Frank Kratovil in the First District.

"I am running to be the next member of Congress for Maryland's First District to protect citizens from an out-of-control Congress," Harris, an obstetric anesthesiologist and three-term state senator, said in a statement. "After 18 months of bailouts, government takeovers, the largest national debt in history and trillion dollar spending schemes, it is clear we need new leadership in Washington."

Running from the right two years ago, the conservative Harris unseated the nine-term moderate Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in the GOP primary for the district that takes in the Eastern Shore and parts of Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Gilchrest then crossed party lines to endorse and campaign for Kratovil, who narrowly won the district in an election that took several days to be resolved.

Kratovil is scheduled to announce his candidacy on Saturday at events in Salisbury and Kent Island.

Harris touted his "solid record on protecting taxpayers from the abuse we're seeing in Congress."

"Marylanders are witnessing firsthand the systematic dismantling of the American dream by this Administration and the majority in Congress and they want it to stop," he said. "I am running to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington while ending the vast government overreaching endorsed by Congressional leaders and their rank-and-file enablers."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:08 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Break-in at Bush house commands attention

How do Baltimore police respond when the home of the daughter of a former president is burglarized? Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Hermann has the answer:

A police officer responded, but so did a detective, a sergeant, a lieutenant, a major and a lieutenant colonel. The police commissioner — who had earlier criticized his own cops for not informing command when a television sports personality was attacked — was quickly called.

But a carful of police brass wasn't the only thing that Jenna Bush Hager and her husband got when at least one burglar broke into their garage in back of their South Charles Street rowhouse on Friday.

A crime scene technician dusted for fingerprints. The description of the two mountain bikes — a black and red Trek with dual suspension and a navy blue Trek — was given to officers monitoring hundreds of surveillance cameras. And the Regional Auto Theft Task Force was notified.

The attention for an otherwise routine burglary — one of 2,963 reported this year in the city through June 5, Hermann writes — did not sit well with many of the readers who commented on the Sun's website.

But police say they have to take seriously a break-in at the residence of the daughter of former President George W. Bush: Any breach of security around a close relative of a former president could be more than a random break-in, Hermann writes. It could be a targeted threat, which authorities don't have to consider in most burglaries.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:45 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Audit finds problems with elections board

The state Office of Legislative Audits has again found "deficiencies" in the state elections board's oversight of local boards and in its financial management, the agency said in a report released Tuesday morning.

The auditing arm of the General Assembly reports that the State Board of Elections:

* Has failed to develop an adequate system to ensure the accuracy of voter registration information generated by local board for the statewide voter registration database;

* Has not obtained an audit of system controls over the statewide voter registration database, even though such an audit is required by the board's contract with the system consultant;

* Has not conducted formal, comprehensive reviews periodically of each local board's compliance with election laws and regulations;

* Failed to report an unfunded liability of $2 million, related to unpaid vendor invoices, to the state comptroller at the end of Fiscal Year 2009; and

* Did not ensure adequate controls for processing cash receipts, accounts receivables, purchasing and disbursement transactions, contract monitoring, information systems security and control, and equipment.

The report includes a point-by-point response to the audit submitted by state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone.

"During this audit period, the agency experienced significant turnover in the two financial positions and other senior management positions, and some of the resulting audit findings are the likely consequence of this turnover," Lamone writes.

She takes issue with some of the findings, and describes plans to address others.

"SBE will be creating an internal audit review committee," Lamone writes. "This committee will meet periodically throughout the year to ensure that changes required by the audit are made and consistently followed. This will help address the issues raised by turnover and ensure that the continued implementation of audit recommendations remain a central focus."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:22 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Elections, General Assembly 2010
        

Parlor games: Who will be Ehrlich's Lt. Gov.?

Gubernatorial hopeful Robert L. Ehlrich Jr. isn’t saying much about his potential picks for the job of lieutenant governor – but everyone else is.

Julie Bykowicz and I wrote a story in today’s Sun naming some of possibilities we’ve heard on the campaign trail including Mary Kane, Alison Asti and Ben Carson. (For more chatter on the topic, Republican Del. Pat McDonough is guest hosting WCBM (680 am) this morning and plans to hash through some of the names.)

One name that we didn’t mention in the story was Baltimore County Senate hopeful Ben Lawless, a young Republican who announced on his blog that he tried out for Ehrlich's second slot but didn’t make the cut.

A conservative blogger called Lawless a not-so-pleasant name for even thinking he could aspire to the job. The blogger, Brian Griffiths, pointed out that Lawless is 25 and therefore doesn’t meet the age requirement. Lieutenant governors need to be 30.

The Ehrlich campaign wouldn’t confirm or deny whether they’d thought about Lawless. Campaign spokesman Andy Barth, perhaps tired of getting questions on the topic, shot off this email in response to our inquiry:

“As to your other question about Ben Lawless, we simply will not, and cannot, go into any comment on individuals. The selection process is ongoing, we'll have an announcement in the next couple of weeks.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:03 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Campaign trail Tuesday

The state’s top gubernatorial rivals will hold events in two of the top Democratic counties. Gov. Martin O’Malley spends the morning in Baltimore with former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt to talk about creating medical industry jobs.

His likely Republican challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., goes to a restaurant in Montgomery County to unroll his proposal on charter schools. No word yet on what that will be, but we assume Ehrlich wants more of them.

O’Malley’s camp often points out that the state has more than doubled the number of charter schools since 2007. The state has 42, and six more will open in the fall.

But none have opened in the vote-rich Washington suburb where Ehrlich will discuss his plan. Montgomery County’s school board this month denied two charter applications – including rejecting one in part because the proposed school focused too much on learning as “joyful” and “fun.”

From the memo by Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast explaining why one of the two schools should not open:

“The concept of school as 'fun' pervades the application. However, learning theorists and practitioners repeatedly discount the concept of learning as fun, stating that learning happens when individuals are mildly frustrated by an intriguing problem they are solving or by a complex set of skills they are trying to master. Pleasure, to be sure, may be found in hard work; sometimes this is joyful or fun, sometimes the pleasure derives from having mastered something difficult, from accomplishment.”

Ehrlich’s primary challenger, Brian Murphy, also gets some airtime today. He’ll be on WBAL at 11 a.m.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 21, 2010

State looking to buy more slot machines

It’s not on this week’s Board of Public Works agenda – but a spokeswoman from the Maryland Lottery Agency says state gambling officials plan to ask for a second batch of slot machines for Penn National’s Hollywood Casino Perryville when the board meets on Wednesday.

Documents obtained by The Sun show that the agency wants to buy 438 machines from a single vendor: Spielo Manufacturing. The price is set at $15.8 million. If passed, the cost of outfitting the Cecil County parlor with 1,500 slots will be $65.2 million.

The Lottery Agency is sensitive to criticism that it is paying too much for the VLT machines and made a point of showing that roughly one third of the cost of the contract is for maintenance fees over five year years. They calculate the average price of each machine is $23,652. Once the maintenance costs are added, the bill to the state will be $36,227 per machine.

The Board earlier this month approved a $49.4 million contract for 1,062 machines to fill the Cecil County parlor. The award included five different venders -- including 290 machines manufactured by Spielo.

The documents also show that the Lottery Agency will meet the 25 percent minority business requirement for the second Cecil contract. The previous contract included 20 percent minority participation, falling short of the 25 percent goal.

The Hollywood Casino is located off I-95 in Cecil County and is set to open in late September.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:31 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Slots
        

Council expected to back 2-cent bottle tax

From City Hall, the Baltimore Sun's Julie Scharper reports that the City Council will vote Monday night on a 2-cent tax on bottled beverages, to expire after three years.

City Hall sources say Councilwoman Helen Holton, who last week helped to defeat the 4-cent bottle tax backed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has agreed to support the more modest measure following a meeting Monday afternoon with the mayor.

Having voted against the 4-cent tax last week, Holton may file a motion to reconsider it on Monday night. The council is expected to amend the measure, cutting the tax in half and adding the sunset date, and approve it Monday night in a preliminary vote. A final vote would be held later this week.

Rawlings-Blake and the council have been negotiating the mix of new taxes and service cuts needed to close a $121 million budget gap by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

The 4-cent bottle tax, which officials say would have generated $11.4 million, failed last week when the council deadlocked 7-7. It is the only revenue-raising measure proposed by Rawlings-Blake that the council has not approved.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:32 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Updated: Gay Md. legislator is White House fatherhood mentor

Maryland State Sen. Richard S. Madeleno Jr. is reported to be among those invited by President Barack Obama to a Father's Day mentoring barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House today.

Obama, raised by a single mother after his father deserted the family, has made fatherhood a theme of his presidency. He held a similar event, on the Friday before Father's Day 2009. On hand for that cookout -- overseen by celebrity chef Bobby Flay -- were several hundred young men, community mentors, figures from the sports world, Obama administration officials and other fathers.

This year's commemoration, the morning after Father's Day, will feature a speech by Obama at an event in southeast Washington. Then, he'll return to the White House for the cookout, where those in attendance will be looking for shade from the summer heat (no way to avoid breathing the unhealthy air, though, the city under a Code Orange air quality alert).

Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, is the first openly gay member of the Maryland state Senate. He and his partner are raising two adopted young children.

Others expected to attend the White House event, according to Mike Allen's Playbook: Dr. Robert Franklin, President of Morehouse College; Chuck Close, noted painter; Swin Cash, Seattle Storm, WNBA; Robert Wolf, CEO, UBS Group America and member, PERAB; and Jim Gates, renowned theoretical physicist.

Judging by at least one of those on that guest list (Swin Cash), this year's event may be expanded to include young women as well as men.

At today's White House briefing, deputy press secretary Bill Burton was asked about a line in Obama's Father's Day proclamation that referred to a situation similar to Madaleno's, in which two men are raising children.

Here's the exchange:

Q On another subject, the Father’s Day proclamation, the President here talks about the different kinds of families that are out there and he talks about fathers -- children who were raised by fathers and mothers, a single father, a stepfather or grandfather, and two fathers. Why was it so important for the President to include that in the proclamation, the two fathers?


MR. BURTON: He was just trying to be inclusive of all sorts of families, just like he was on the Mother’s Day proclamation.

Here's the text of the proclamation, released late Friday afternoon in advance of Father's Day weekend:


FATHER'S DAY, 2010
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A PROCLAMATION
From the first moments of life, the bond forged between a
father and a child is sacred. Whether patching scraped knees
or helping with homework, dads bring joy, instill values, and
introduce wonders into the lives of their children. Father's
Day is a special time to honor the men who raised us, and to
thank them for their selfless dedication and love.
Fathers are our first teachers and coaches, mentors and
role models. They push us to succeed, encourage us when we
are struggling, and offer unconditional care and support.
Children and adults alike look up to them and learn from their
example and perspective. The journey of fatherhood is both
exhilarating and humbling -- it is an opportunity to model
who we want our sons and daughters to become, and to build
the foundation upon which they can achieve their dreams.
Fatherhood also carries enormous responsibilities.
An active, committed father makes a lasting difference in the
life of a child. When fathers are not present, their children
and families cope with an absence government cannot fill.
Across America, foster and adoptive fathers respond to this
need, providing safe and loving homes for children facing
hardships. Men are also making compassionate commitments
outside the home by serving as mentors, tutors, or big brothers
to young people in their community. Together, we can support
the guiding presence of male role models in the lives of
countless young people who stand to gain from it.
Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may
be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers,
a step-father, a grandfather, or caring guardian. We owe a
special debt of gratitude for those parents serving in the
United States Armed Forces and their families, whose sacrifices
protect the lives and liberties of all American children. For
the character they build, the doors they open, and the love
they provide over our lifetimes, all our fathers deserve our
unending appreciation and admiration.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the
United States of America, in accordance with a joint resolution
of the Congress approved April 24, 1972, as amended (36 U.S.C.
109), do hereby proclaim June 20, 2010, as Father's Day.
I direct the appropriate officials of the Government to
more
(OVER)
2
display the flag of the United States on all Government
buildings on this day, and I call upon all citizens to observe
this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
Let us honor our fathers, living and deceased, with all the
love and gratitude they deserve.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord
two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States
of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
BARACK OBAMA
# #

Posted by Paul West at 5:25 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Washington
        

In Baltimore, more pension tension

Baltimore Sun city hall reporter Julie Scharper writes:

Nearly forgotten in the hoopla over the failure of the bottle tax at last week's city council meeting was an issue with potentially larger reverberations: the fire and police pension system. A bill that would radically alter the pension plan and save the city $65 million escaped a final vote last week but is scheduled to be considered tonight.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke plans to offer a series of amendments to the pension bill on behalf of the police and fire unions at tonight’ meeting. The amendments would grant all fire and police retirees an annual cost-of-living increase of 2 percent. Unamended, the current legislation gives retirees over 55 would a 1 percent increase and those over 65 2 percent.

It should be noted here that Councilman Bill Cole recently introduced a bill to reform the elected officials’ pension system that would boost their cost-of-liivng increase from 2.5 percent to 2.8 percent, so a 2% increase for police and fire retirees does not seem out of the question.

It is unclear how many council members will support the amendments, but Clarke hopes that they could help stave off a lawsuit. The Fraternal Order of Police and the firefighters' union filed a lawsuit in federal court a couple weeks ago charging the city with “knowingly underfunding” the pension plan over the past decade.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:44 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Mayor, supporters still lobbying for city bottle tax

Baltimore Sun city hall reporter Julie Scharper writes:

Today marks not only the longest day of the year, but also the longest council meeting of the year. After months of wrangling, the Baltimore City Council finally will pass a final version of the city’s budget tonight through a complicated series of meetings and hearings likely to last several hours.

What is still not known is the fate of the bottle tax. As of this afternoon, city officials were still attempting to persuade council members to resurrect the four-cent tax, which was efectively killed by a tie vote last Thursday. The council could revisit the issue if a member who voted against it asks for it to be reconsidered. The administration, which estimates that the tax could generate $11 million in revenue and reverse cuts to many programs, especially public works, continues to lobby for the tax.

Councilman Warren Branch voted against the tax last week, surprising many in City Hall who thought he would support it because he was a long-time public works employee and a former leader in the AFSCME union, which has supported the tax. On Friday, Branch told city officials that he would not budge on the tax, snuffing the hope that he would be the one to bring it back.

But fans of the tax hold out hope that one of the other council members who voted against it — Helen Holton, James B. Kraft, Belinda Conaway, Agnes Welch, Nick D’Adamo or Bill Henry — would ask for it to be reconsidered at tonight’s meeting. Kraft sent an e-mail to constituents detailing why he was not backing the tax and said today he remains firm.

However, several water advocacy groups have criticized Kraft, one of the most environmentally conscious council members, for not supporting it because Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says some of the proceeds will be used to maintain trash-skimming operations in the Harbor. In his letter, Kraft opines that it would be unlikely for the mayor to discontinue such an important and high-profile service during an election year.

If you plan to watch tonight’s meeting, prepare for an evening of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo worthy of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The council will open the meeting, vote on the preliminary budget and recess. Then City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young will put on his other hat as head of the Board of Estimates and that panel will approve the budget.

Next the council will reconvene and approve 29 supplemental bills that would restore funding to many cuts outlined in a preliminary budget. Then they will recess again and the budget committee will hold a hearing on the supplementals. If all goes according to plan, the council will one convene last time and give final approval to the budget.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:30 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Steele's RNC edged out by DNC in latest money chase

The latest fundraising numbers by the national party committees showed the Republican National Committee falling just short of the Democratic National Committee in total receipts for May.

The DNC collected $6,602,893, or about $146,000 more than the RNC's $6,456,892.

Republican finances became a focus of attention during the spring, when the RNC was embarrassed by the use of party funds at a West Hollywood topless joint. Chairman Michael Steele rolled several heads at national headquarters in Washington in response.

The latest figures confirm that both parties are laying out nearly as much as they are taking in. The Republicans had net operating expenses of $5,648,666.38, according to their Federal Election Commission filing. The Democrats spent even more in May: $6,175,229.27.

Democrats also were carrying more than $3 million in debt at the end of May, an increase from the prior month. The RNC reported that it owed about $760,000, mainly bills to pollsters, media firms and other vendors who were paid in June.

Democrats hold an edge in reported cash-on-hand, $14,491,048 to the GOP's $12,581,336.91. However, if debts are taken into account, the Republicans have the advantage, with a net of $11.82 million to the Dems' $11.46 million.

Both parties saw fundraising slump from April, when the Dems pulled in $10.4 million and the Republicans collected $6.86 million.

Posted by Paul West at 12:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Early voting: Which side benefits?

Two years after Marylanders approved early voting, voters this fall may cast ballots at any time during the week leading up to Election Day.

As Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey writes, the state's major parties are divided over which side stands to gain from the change.

Democrats, who enjoy a 2-1 edge over Republicans in voter registration in Maryland, see the expanded window giving them more opportunity to get the party faithful to the polls.

But Republicans say relying on registration will backfire this year. They say the rules will make it easier for angry Marylanders to cast their votes to send the majority party packing.

One thing, Linskey writes, seems certain: The campaigns will have far more information about who has been to their polling place and who has not during the course of the voting period, opening the door to a prolonged and closely targeted get-out-the-vote effort that could mean days of phone calls to Maryland households.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:12 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Z on TV: O'Malley ad hijacks Ehrlich show

Democrats have been loudly complaining for months about former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr's WBAL radio talk show. With just a few Saturdays left until the the Republican files his paperwork to challenge Gov. Martin O'Malley, The Sun's television writer David Zurawik wonders whether Democratic operatives have organized call-ins.

One after another caller to the two-hour Saturday show, which Ehrlich co-hosts with his wife, Kendel, seemed to be dropping Democratic talking points. Frustrated, Ehrlich asked his producers to cut off calls. It was one of two ways that "The Kendel and Bob Ehrlich Show" became more of "The Martin and Bob Show" this week.

Zurawik notes that an O'Malley campaign attack ad calling Ehrlich "Big Oil Bob" dominated the discussion. Shortly after the spot rolled out last week, Republicans blasted it as inaccurate.

The ad, which played during commercial breaks, was discussed on-air by Ehrlich and Towson University professor Richard Vatz. Zurawik opines:

As sound and astute as the advice offered by Vatz might be, the ad was still setting the agenda on "The Kendel and Bob Ehrlich Show" Saturday. The simple fact that it was being discussed meant less time for the usual propaganda of ringer Republican guests brought on to sound the same narrative of how fabulous things were in Annapolis when Ehrlich was governor, and how wretched things are now with O'Malley.

(Ehrlich has pointed out the irony of Democrats complaining that he has a microphone but then essentially underwriting his show by buying ads.)

Zurawik's blog Z on TV has a robust discussion about this. Head over to that neighborhood to check it out.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Political ads
        

June 18, 2010

Jessamy: O'Malley recruiting challenger against me

Over at The Baltimore Sun's Crime Beat blog, colleague Justin Fenton reports that Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy may have a challenger in the fall election.

Word is that former assistant U.S. attorney Gregg Bernstein is testing the waters, and Adam Meister at Examiner.com blogged that a reader had received a phone call from a pollster asking questions about a possible Bernstein candidacy. Bernstein may be best known for successfully defending state Sen. Larry Young against bribery and extortion charges.

Fenton continues:

But he is also the husband of Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, which is essentially the mayor's crime czar. In that role, Goldstein works closely with the police department and other law enforcement agencies, and is an integral part of programs such as GunStat and issues dealing with juvenile justice. Obviously, she has a lot of insight into the innerworkings of the criminal justice system, and that would include the state's attorney's office.

Goldstein was brought in during the Dixon administration and is a close ally of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, and may have to step down or take a leave of absence if her husband's candidacy comes together.

Goldstein declined comment, and Bernstein could not immediately be reached. Jessamy, for her part, said she believes Gov. Martin O'Malley "recruited" Bernstein and said she confronted O'Malley with the claim at an event over the weekend.

"I've heard from a lot of different sources that he's been recruiting. I told him, 'I'm ready for it,'" she said. "I think I have an outstanding record; I'm going to run on my record. I don't know what [Bernstein] is running on, but my record, it's a good one."

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O’Malley’s campaign, confirmed that Jessamy approached O’Malley at an event for the Associated Black Charities, but said it’s “simply not true” that O’Malley is behind a potential Bernstein candidacy.

Read the rest of the post at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:51 PM | | Comments (6)
        

'Enjoy your corporate-funded field trip'

They're angry. And they've named themselves after a hot beverage.

A small group of Coffee Party protesters -- a liberal challenge to the conservative Tea Party protesters -- gathered near the Westin Hotel in Annapolis today to draw attention to the corporate funding of an annual legislative retreat being held there. The National Speakers Conference, hosted by Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch, is funded by 67 corporations, The Washington Post reported this week.

Five adults, accompanied by a baby and a toddler, hoisted signs that read "Enjoy your coporate-funded field trip," and that urged passers-by to ask them why they're angry. They chose 10 a.m. Friday because at that time the legislators were attending a seminar about why voters are angry.

"Corporations have showered them with gifts and get exclusive opportunities to speak with them," said Baltimore Coffee Party organizer Susan Larson. "And they wonder why voters are angry?" 

The protesters hastened to say they weren't upset with Busch, a Democrat, but rather the way the system works.

Later, Busch said the four-day conference is going well (Only two major events remain: a chat with histroiran David McCullough and a golf outing). It's the conference's first time in Maryland since the group's inception in 1992.

"There are no taxpayer dollars involved," Busch said. "It's basically run and financed the same as the National Governors Association and the Senate Presidents Association. For the most part, it has a consistent list of clients that support it every year."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:56 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Money and Business, People
        

O'Malley administration trying to save Rosecroft

The O'Malley administration is not ready to give up on Rosecroft Raceway, Baltimore Sun colleague Hanah Cho reports.

Maryland Secretary of State John P. McDonough plans to bring together Rosecroft officials and representatives from the state's thoroughbred industry — an undertaking that will largely square on the parties' feud over an agreement to simulcast thoroughbred horse races — in an effort to keep the banktupt harness track open and preserve 200 jobs.

"I have spoken to the stakeholders, and they have an open mind to work with the governor's office to come up with a solution," McDonough told Cho. "They have strong opinions on a solution, and it's a matter of reconciling those interests."

Kelley Rogers, president of Rosecroft parent Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., said he was optimistic about potential talks.

"It's exciting that the governor has put the full weight of the office to getting this worked out so the harness industry survives," Rogers told Cho. An attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, could not be reached for comment.

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. blamed Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley this week for the track's straits.

"Rosecroft would be on much stronger financial footing today had the legislature adopted [Ehrlich's slots] plan and had the O’Malley Administration not bungled implementation of its own flawed plan," Ehrlich said in a statement after the closing was announced on Tuesday. "Maryland’s historic horse racing industry remains at a major disadvantage with neighboring states and Maryland’s unemployment line is getting longer as a result."

O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese responded: "Is Bob Ehrlich's entire campaign going to be about look backwards and reminding Maryland of what he failed to accomplish when he was governor?"

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:19 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Facing facebook

Gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he’s “adamantly opposed to furloughs” during a roughly 30 minute exchange with supporters on Facebook this morning.

Most of the roughly 200 questions and comments went unanswered – though the campaign posted a message encouraging supporters to re-ask unanswered queries via email. At least one participant objected, asking for responses posted in place where “we can see them all together.”

Questions tended to fall in four broad categories: Serious policy inquiries, messages of support, questions about Ehrlich’s personal life and requests for yard signs.

Several wanted to know Ehrlich’s position on the new Arizona law that enables local police to ask for identification from potential illegal immigrants and whether he would support a similar law here. In responding Ehrlich described the Arizona measure, but didn’t say if Maryland should enact the measure.

He hinted at a new policy proposal on incentives to bring more movie industry related work to the state, railed against the sales tax and talked about his plans to support small businesses. Left unanswered was a question about whether he still plays basketball. But Ehrlich gave out a campaign email address for those who want those yard signs.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:30 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 17, 2010

Updated: Republicans target Shore facility, federal workers

Senate Republicans proposed to kill a planned State Department security training facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore as part of a sweeping spending and tax alternative Thursday.

The Republican substitute failed to gain approval in the Democrat-dominated chamber, but the measure represented the second swing at the controversial Ruthsburg, Md., center by Republicans in recent weeks, suggesting that it has attracted the attention of conservatives in Washington. The initial attempt to zero out funding for construction also failed.

It was blocked Thursday on a largely party line vote, 57-41, with only one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, siding with 40 Republicans in support of the measure.

As part of their substitute proposal, Republicans wanted to eliminate a proposed 2011 pay raise for federal workers, freeze federal hiring and rescind about $38 billion in unspent stimulus dollars, including money for the proposed facility in Queen Anne's County.

The Republican amendment was designed to finance many of the spending goals that Democrats are pushing, by making cuts elsewhere. It would not provide $24 billion in federal aid that Democrats want to give hard-pressed state governments for health care programs that assist poor and working-class residents.

Liberals claim the Republican measure would have forced an effective shutdown of the federal government by jamming a five percent annual spending cut into the final four months of the fiscal year.

South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, pushed the tax-and-spending alternative as the Senate continued to struggle with a major piece of legislation that would extend unemployment insurance and roll back a proposed reduction in fees paid to doctors under the Medicare program.

In targeting the Ruthsburg facility, Republicans want to return the $75 million in stimulus money to the federal treasury that was set aside for land acquisition and other initial costs of the State Department center, which is designed to provide anti-terrorism training to U.S. diplomats and others.

The State Department plan has attracted vocal opposition from environmentalists and others in Queen Anne's County who don't want the center built on about 2,000 acres of privately owned land in a rural area about a half-hour's drive from the Bay Bridge. Proponents of the project cite the findings of a public opinion poll they bankrolled that showed most county voters in favor of the project.

Here is the relevant provision of the Thune amendment (complete with a misspelling of the tiny crossroads village where the federal government wants to build the security center):

SEC. 411. RESCINDING A STATE DEPARTMENT TRAINING FACILITY UNWANTED BY RESIDENTS OF THE COMMUNITY IN WHICH IT IS PLANNED TO BE CONSTRUCTED.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be spent to construct a State Department training facility in Ruthsberg, Maryland, and any funding obligated for the facility by Public Law 111-5 are rescinded, Provided That, this section does not prohibit funds otherwise appropriated to be spent by the State Department for training facilities in other jurisdictions in accordance with law.

Posted by Paul West at 6:50 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington
        

GOP launches all-out response to O'Malley oil ad

Officials at all levels in the state’s GOP mobilized to mop up perceived damage from Gov. Martin O'Malley's newest attack. The 60-second spot connects the likely Republican nominee, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., with Big Oil and the gushing spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The first response came from Ehrlich campaign spokesman Andy Barth, who called on O'Malley to issue an apology for an ad that "intentionally misrepresents the truth."

Next the state GOP sent out a missive asking O’Malley to return donations they say he received from oil companies. We wonder if the GOP would also want Ehrlich to do the same. A quick check with the Center for Responsive Politics shows he's taken oil money including $500 from BP when he was a congressman in 2000. (Ehrlich was not alone; BP coats members of congress with funds and handed out $42,500 that year alone.)

Minutes after the party e-mail came a statement from Ehrlich himself, writing that O'Malley's attack “debases the office we both seek.”

He then asks “Has the O’Malley campaign no decency?”

It is possible that a simple miscommunication is causing the heightened rhetoric. Ehrlich goes on to defend himself against a claim that O'Malley's ad never made.

Ehrlich says: “To suggest that I somehow favored or caused the Gulf oil disaster and now call for more coastal drilling is untrue, and Martin O’Malley knows it.”

We listened to the ad a few times and didn’t hear O’Malley’s camp blaming his predecessor for the spill or saying that Ehrlich somehow supports pouring oil in to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ehrlich has said that he wants to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, but has not responded directly to questions about other coastal drilling. Barth, a spokesman, has said Ehrlich would not favor additional drilling off Virginia's coast for the time being.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:25 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Political ads
        

Bottle tax comes up short; city to cut services

The City Council failed Thursday to approve a controversial new tax on bottled beverages, leaving the city to cut services to close a budget gap, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

The 15-member council split 7-7 on the measure backed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake but opposed by a coalition of beverage of distributors and store owners. Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, whose cousin is a lobbyist for a beverage distributor, recused himself.

Supporters of the new tariff had lobbied furiously this week to win the support of two remaining swing voters to achieve an 8-6 majority. Council member Warren Branch, who had said Wednesday that he was undecided, voted against it Thursday.

“My constituents told me overwhelmingly to vote no,” he said.

Councilman Carl Stokes, the other undecided member, voted for it Thursday.

Rawlings-Blake and the council have been negotiating the mix of budget cuts and new taxes to close a $121 million shortfall in the city’s budget, the largest deficit in memory.

Officials had estimated that the bottle tax would generate $11 million in revenue. But some council members disagreed with Rawlings-Blake’s plans for the revenue. Distributors and retailers, meanwhile, aired radio advertisements opposing the tax.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:03 PM | | Comments (14)
        

City joins brief against Arizona immigration law

The city of Baltimore has joined a friend-of-the-court brief urging a federal court in Arizona to block enforcement of that state’s controversial new immigration law, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

“The law passed in Arizona offends us and goes against everything that our great nation stands for,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Our country has accepted and welcomed immigrants of all colors, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds because that is what makes us great. Cities like Baltimore were built by generations of immigrants who thirsted for the freedom to build a prosperous life for themselves and their families. We cannot let fear tear down this country’s tradition of inclusion, liberty and justice.”

The city has joined San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle in the brief, which argues that Arizona Senate Bill 1070 is “unconstitutional, impractical, costly, and deeply damaging to the relationships of trust law enforcement agencies have built with immigrant communities,” according to a news release from Rawlings-Blake’s office.

“SB 1070 suggests, wrongly, that the enforcement of federal civil immigration law is the proper responsibility of local government officials, and that basic constitutional principles do not apply when those officials are investigating or enforcing immigration law,” the local governments argue. “That message will be heard not just in Arizona, but in every state in the country, making immigrants—whether they are naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, or undocumented individuals—distrustful of local government and law enforcement officials.”

The brief was filed Wednesday in a lawsuit by activists who are asking the court to halt enforcement of the law before it goes into effect at the end of July.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton introduced a City Council resolution last month criticizing the Arizona law.

Del. Pat McDonough of Harford County, who says he will introduce a bill modeled on the Arizona law in Annapolis next year, called Middleton’s resolution “useless and clueless.”

The city's participation in the amicus brief drew praise from the Baltimore Hispanic Commission.

“Baltimore has a rich immigrant history and a long tradition of upholding basic civil rights for all its people," commission Chairman Nicolas Ramos Sr. said. "By signing on to the brief, Mayor Rawlings Blake is not only standing up for immigrants in Arizona, Baltimore, and across the country, she is defending the basic civil rights of all Americans."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:11 PM | | Comments (29)
        

O'Malley drills into Ehrlich's record on oil

Gov. Martin O'Malley unleashed a fresh attack ad this afternoon trying to associate his likely Republican opponent with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In the 60-second ad, a woman talked about the gulf spill and then accuses Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of being a Big Oil Lobbyist who repeatedly voted with Big Oil in Congress. Listeners will also hear Ehrlich repeating the "Drill, Baby, Drill" refrain coined by his former lieutenant governor.

The O'Malley campaign says the 60-second ad will be up for at least a week and can be heard on 10 stations spread over Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.

Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth called the ad "dishonest, deceitful and knowingly misleading." Barth called on O'Malley to apologize because he said the ad is "beneath the dignity of the office."
  
The ad is slick, but a quick scrub shows that Ehrlich is not a registered federal or state lobbyist. He's worked for three years at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, and he told the Sun's Julie Bykowicz that his job description does not include meeting with elected officials to push legislation.

As to the claim that Ehrlich represented ExxonMobile and CitGo, Womble's Baltimore Managing Partner, David Hamilton, says the former governor had no hand in either account. In fact, neither client is served out of the firm's Baltimore office, Hamilton said. 

Court records show the firm did represent Center Point Terminal Baltimore LLC and the Petroleum Fuel & Terminal Company which O'Malley's campaign alledges was responsible for a 80,000 gallon heating oil spill in South Baltimore in 2007. Hamilton said Ehrlich was not involved with the case.

The congressional votes O'Malley uses to stain Ehrlich as an industry flunky were actually supported by members on both sides of the aisle and were not flagged as problematic by pro-environmental groups.

Ehrlich did vote to allow additional exploration in the Gulf, his vote allowed far less exploration than the Bush administration and the oil companies wanted. He also voted to reduce small businesses' liability for cleaning up spill - a measure that attracted broad support in Congress.

Ehrlich uttered "Drill, Baby, Drill" on his WBAL radio show, a review of the transcript shows that he was quoting GOP Chairman Michael Steele during a discussion about the media splash the phrase made at the Republican National Convention.

(As an aside we attended a recent GOP fundraiser hoping to ask Chairman Michael Steele if he would amend his Drill, Baby, Drill refrain given the gusher in the gulf. His handlers told us Steele wasn't taking questions and hung around to be sure we followed the rules.)
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:00 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Political ads
        

Laborers endorse Kamenetz for BaltCo. exec

The union representing some 2,000 construction and maintenance workers who live in Baltimore County on Thursday endorsed County Council member Kevin Kamenetz in his bid for the Democratic nomination for county executive, Baltimore Sun colleague Arthur Hirsch reports.

"He's very thoughtful, he asked a lot of questions" during several interviews, said Jayson Williams, political director for the Laborers International Union of North America, which claims a half-million members in all 50 states and Canada. "He's an energetic policy wonk."

Between 100 and 200 members of Locals 710 and 572 turned out at the hiring hall in Overlea Thursday afternoon for the announcement of the endorsement of Kamenetz, who is running against County Council member Joseph Bartenfelder for the party nomination in the primary on Sept. 14. A lone Republican, former House of Delegates member Kenneth C. Holt, is also running.

Williams said in an interview later that Kamenetz has "laid out a vision of how to put people back to work," including support for contract policies that would look beyond the lowest bid to the "best value" for the county. That system would allow points to be awarded for bidders who finish work on time, on budget, who hire local workers, provide health care and other benefits to their members, Williams said.

Kamenetz said in an interview later that the "best value" system would mean "the low bid alone would not be the sole factor" weighed, allowing officials to consider other factors. "Is the employer from Baltimore County? Would the project create economic spinoff to Baltimore County residents?"

Members of Local 710 perform highway and bridge construction and maintenance work such as the construction now going on at the Interstate-95 interchange in the east of the county; those in Local 572 are public employees who work in maintenance departments and as truck drivers.

Kamenetz, a 16-year council member who also has been endorsed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, also proposed that the county school system take part in LIUNA's construction trades apprenticeship program for local high schools. That would give students the "opportunity to work on a construction site, to gain apprenticeship status with the union," Kamenetz said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, In The Counties, People
        

City bottle tax in doubt

The controversial bottle tax backed by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to help close $121 million budget gap is in doubt after a key city councilman said he was leaning against voting for it on Thursday, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

Councilman Carl Stokes, seen as a swing vote on the proposal, said late Wednesday that he does not agree with Rawlings-Blake's plans for the proceeds of the tax on bottled beverages.

Stokes said the revenue should save more jobs than the 70 that Rawlings-Blake says it will preserve; the mayor wants to use the money to restore street-cleaning and sanitation programs, among other initiatives.

"I don't have a reason to vote for the bottle tax," Stokes told Scharper. "If I had a reason, like more jobs and fewer furlough days, I'd vote for it."

A Stokes vote against the tax would likely lead to a 7-7 tie, resulting in its defeat.

The proposed tariff is one of several taxes and fees on which council members are scheduled to vote Thursday at an emergency meeting to help close the city's $121 million budget shortfall before the current fiscal year ends in less than two weeks.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:01 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Bartlett living with girlfriend at taxpayer expense

Republican Del. Joseph Bartlett has used taxpayers' money to pay rent to his girlfriend in Annapolis during the past three legislative sessions, according to accounts in the Gazette and the Frederick-News Post.

Payments totaled roughly $30,000, according to the news accounts. Members of the General Assembly can qualify for $120 a day per diems during the 90-day legislative sessions.

Bartlett, the son of Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, has said he was not dating Katharine Hopkins when he began renting from her in 2008, according to the accounts. When a romantic relationship began, he says, he cleared the housing arrangement with a legislative ethics attorney. Rules bar lawmakers from having contracts with family members or business partners -- but do not cover romantic relationships.

Bartlett told the Gazette's Katherine Heerbrandt that "it is possible I did not think all the way through this." And he told Meg Tully of the Frederick-News Post that if he is re-elected he does not plan to continue having the state pay his girlfriend.


Bartlett is a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He has represented Frederick County since 1999.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:15 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: People
        

Ehrlich purple in the face?

At a business round table last month in Montgomery County, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he wasn't so much a fan of the planned Purple Line there or Baltimore's Red Line -- saying those light rail projects cost more than the state can afford right now.

Ehrlich, a Republican vying for the seat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley took from him four years ago, said rapid buses might be a better solution in Montgomery County. He said he'd be open to ideas about transportation in Baltimore.

The Sun's Michael Dresser examines this morning how Ehrlich's comments may have inflamed some of the very same people he is hoping will propel him to victory this fall -- Montgomery County business leaders.

After Ehrlich's remarks, the head of the Greater Washington Board of Trade said he was "scratching my head" over whether the former governor had come to Montgomery to win votes or lose them.

Jim Dinegar, president of the business group, said his organization stands "foursquare" behind O'Malley's choice of light rail as the "locally preferred option" on the Purple Line. He said Ehrlich's rejection of light rail in favor of a bus project is "going to raise a lot of eyebrows in Montgomery County."

"The passion around the Purple Line is very strong and absolutely will have implications for voters," Dinegar said.

O'Malley's campaign this morning seized on Ehrlich's comments. "In case you missed it, Bob Ehrlich showed just how out of touch he is by announcing that he would kill the Red and Purple Line projects," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said in a statement. "These projects moving forward under Governor O'Malley would create thousands of construction jobs in Maryland, relieve gridlock on our roads, and attract new businesses to the region."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:25 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Rosecroft: Horse track used in horse race

For years, gambling has been central to Maryland politics, so it's no surprise that the closure of Rosecroft Raceway, announced yesterday, immediately became fodder for the two main candidates for governor. Check out Hanah Cho's thorough story for details on the July 1 shutdown, which will leave 200 people jobless the state with just one harness race track.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, fielded a reporter's questions about the closure after he filed for reelection at the State Board of Elections, vowing to assist Rosecroft's employees. And by early afternoon yesterday, Republican contender and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., had released a statement saying that he was "saddened" by the news.

Both candidates used the closure to grumble about the state's slot-machine gambling program, with O'Malley saying he would have preferred that all five locations be at race tracks such as Rosecroft and Ehrlich saying Rosecroft could have been saved had the legislature implemented the slots plan he came up with while governor.

O'Malley, who visited Rosecroft as a child with his father and brother, said his administration would "do everything we possibly can to help people displaced. The assistance effort, he said, will be led by Secretary of State John McDonough, who will "pull people together."

Ehrlich, in his release basically blamed O'Malley for the closure of the track. "Rosecroft would be on much stronger financial footing today had the legislature adopted that plan and had the O’Malley Administration not bungled implementation of its own flawed plan. Maryland’s historic horse racing industry remains at a major disadvantage with neighboring states and Maryland’s unemployment line is getting longer as a result."

O'Malley's aides quickly fired back: "Is Bob Ehrlich's entire campaign going to be about look backwards and reminding Maryland of what he failed to accomplish when he was governor?" asked O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:24 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 16, 2010

Democrats find a Womble client tied to fraud case

The Maryland Democratic Party has taken note of a previously undisclosed Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice client: convicted fraudster Alan Fabian.

In a press release this week, the Democrats said recently uncovered court documents show that the Baltimore law office headed by Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was paid more than $55,000 in August 2007 by a Fabian company.

Ehrlich is seeking to defeat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who ousted him four years ago.

The Democrats said the company paid Womble to "represent it during Fabian’s criminal trial," an assertion that Ehrlich aide Henry Fawell -- who until last month also worked for Womble -- called "100 percent false."

Womble's representation of the Centre for Management and Technology was "not at all related to Fabian," Fawell said, adding that the firm provided only "the sort of routine legal work that is required by nonprofits."

State Democratic Party spokesman Isaac Salazar said Ehrlich "puts on a face for the public but then associates with folks like Alan Fabian."

Fabian, a onetime Cockeysville resident and Republican fund-raiser, pleaded guilty in 2008 to a Ponzi-style fraud that netted at least $40 million, according to prosecutors. He was sentenced to nine years in federal prison.

He served as finance committee chairman for Michael S. Steele's 2006 U.S. Senate bid (Steele was Ehrlich's lieutenant governor) and as one of dozens of finance chairmen for Mitt Romney's presidential bid.

A federal prosecutor called Fabian's Centre for Management and Technology (CMAT) "nothing but the next vehicle for Mr. Fabian to get millions and millions of more dollars."

The nonprofit, ostensibly created to offer technology consulting to charities, opened lines of credit with banks only to default, causing losses of more than $7 million, according to the court case.

CMAT had been represented by David Hamilton when he was at Ober Kaler, the firm where Ehrlich began his legal career. When Hamilton, a longtime Ehrlich associate, joined Womble in early 2007, he brought that client with him. Fabian was indicted in August 2007. Womble represented CMAT (now defunct) for about a year.

During his heyday, Fabian donated thousands of dollars to the Republican party and its candidates. The Democrats allege that Fabian and his associates donated more than $60,000 to Ehrlich's campaign and more than $80,000 to the state Republican Party before being indicted. Democrats are calling for that money to be returned.

Fawell noted that O'Malley's campaign accepted contributions from CMAT. State records show CMAT contributed $1,000 to O'Malley's campaign in October 2004. Fabian did business both with Baltimore when O'Malley was mayor and with Maryland when Ehrlich was governor.

Asked why the Democrats were publicizing the years-old information this week, Salazar said, "We put something out every week. This is just another thing about Bob Ehrlich that's out there in the public record."

Fawell said he sees another motivation: "They'll sink to whatever level they need to in order to district people from their candidate's failure to show leadership on the economy."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:30 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Moving O'Malley forward ... quickly

Gov. Martin O'Malley signed paperwork just after 5 p.m. today making his bid for reelection official. (The State Board of Elections stayed open a bit late when the Democratic governor whirled in at the end of the day.)

About 10 minutes earlier, O'Malley arrived at Maryland Democratic Party headquarters, gave a brief pep talk and hustled down West Street with his lime-green-shirted supporters.

O'Malley noted that his chief opponent, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., "hasn't found time to file." One more dig: "Suffice it to say, he's running to take Maryland back." O'Malley has adopted the phrase "Moving Maryland Forward" as a campaign slogan.

Also in attendance at the hurried rally were Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. First lady Katie O'Malley and the couple's two boys were by the governor's side.

In front of the elections board office, a small handful of O'Malley detractors loudly referred to him as "the Tax Man."

 

(Pictured: O'Malley signs in at the State Board of Elections as son Jack looks on.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:13 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Cardin, Bartlett are richest Md. lawmakers in D.C.

Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett remain the wealthiest members of the Maryland congressional delegation, according to new financial disclosure reports made public Wednesday.

Bartlett, who valued his assets at more than $1.8 million, supplemented his $174,000 congressional salary last year with between $71,000 and $167,500 in rental income from tenants of properties he owns in Maryland and Tennessee.

Included was between $50,000 and $100,000 from occupants of 14 apartments in a converted barn and silo that burned last month on his 104-acre Frederick farm. The American Red Cross had to assist almost two dozen residents left homeless by the blaze. The May 6 fire caused an estimated $250,000 damage to the structure, which did not have a sprinkler system.

Cardin reported assets of between $1.38 million and $3.4 million, but as with all members of Congress, those figures provide only a partial picture of his holdings. Senators and congressmen are not required to disclose the value of their homes, for example. And the disclosure forms they created permit them to value most assets, debts and income within broad dollar ranges, rather than in precise amounts.

Bartlett and Cardin were among four Maryland lawmakers who drew public pensions from previous government jobs in addition to their current salary. Cardin, a former state House speaker, received $5,368; Bartlett got $15,000 from the state retirement system; Rep. Steny Hoyer padded his $193,400 salary as House Majority leader with $20,481 in pension payments from his dozen years in the Maryland Senate. Democratic Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger boosted his congressional pay with $88,607 in pension checks from government service in Baltimore County.

Ruppersberger, another Marylander with assets of more than a million dollars, again led the state’s congressional delegation in reported earnings. His income, including salary, pension and investments, exceeded $330,000 and may have topped $400,000; he again reported receiving between $50,000 and $100,000 from Rupp and Associates, his Timonium debt collection agency.

At the other end of the wealth scale, Rep. Donna Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat, reported assets of between $19,000 and $112,000 down from $53,000 to $147,000 in 2008.

Edwards was one of four Marylanders who reported foreign travel sponsored by an outside group, a week-long trip to Israel, paid for by the New America Foundation, which included stops in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Mideast was also the destination for Hoyer and fellow Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, who took an eight-day trip to Israel paid for by an arm of a pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Cardin and his wife, Myrna, took an eight-day trip to Croatia for a program sponsored by the Aspen Institute, which paid for their airfare, ground transportation, meals and lodging.

The latest disclosure reports, which cover calendar 2009, are the last before this fall's mid-term elections.

They show no major changes from the 2008 reports, which reflected the impact of the stock market crash.

Maryland lawmakers who invest in equities have fairly diversified portfolios that are heavy on mutual funds and contain relatively few individual stocks. No one, for example, reported holding BP shares.

Posted by Paul West at 3:40 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: People, Washington
        

Politicians convene, corporations pay

This evening, more than two dozen legislative leaders from across the country will check into their Annapolis hotel rooms for a conference hosted by Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch. They'll spend the next four days attending dinners and lectures, touring the historic capital and hobnobbing with baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. and historian and author David McCullough.

But most every state legislature is contending with a financial downturn, and some are in full crisis mode. So who is picking up the tab, estimated at $500,000, for this year's National Speakers Conference? The Washington Post's John Wagner reported today that 68 corporations, most of which do businesses with state governments, are paying. Four companies involved in Maryland’s nascent slots program are among those contributing, Wagner reports.

"In exchange for their donations of up to $25,000, representatives of national and regional health-care, insurance and energy companies -- among other "corporate participants" -- will also get to attend many of the sessions and mingle with powerful lawmakers in more relaxed settings.

Busch said that for him, the conference provides a chance to network with fellow speakers and "a great opportunity to showcase Maryland."

But critics say the gathering is just one of a growing number of ways that moneyed interests are seeking to gain access and influence with policymakers, much like they do at national political party conventions every four years."


Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)
        

June 15, 2010

O'Malley's March

It feels as if the state has been in the throes of the governor's race for months, but neither major candidate has made it official with the State Board of Elections. That changes tomorrow when Gov. Martin O'Malley files his paperwork.

O'Malley and Democratic supporters, including Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, are gathering at state party headquarters on West Street in Annapolis and "marching" to the nearby elections board office, according to a release O'Malley's campaign just put out.

Double bonus pun: Headquarters for the Maryland Democratic Party is directly above Rams Head Tavern, where O'Malley's March -- the governor's band -- occasionally plays.

No word yet on when the main Republican contender, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., will file, but it's likely to be close to the July 6 deadline. Ehrlich has promised to give up his WBAL radio show once he becomes official, meaning he has three on-air appearances left if he waits until the last minute.

Republican Brian Murphy and Democrat Ralph Jaffe are among those officially in the governor's race, according to this handy list of candidates updated weekly by the State Board of Elections.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:04 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 14, 2010

Former state GOP executive director dies

Republican political consultant Lance D. Copsey died Sunday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after suffering from a stroke. He was 40.

Copsey cut his teeth in Maryland politics, leading the state's Republican party at its executive director in the mid-90s. He moved to national politics at age 25 when presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander hired him to be the campaign's northeast political director.

Most recently he was the international director at the D.C.-based firm Marsh Copsey + Associates.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele sent out a statement this afternoon calling Copsey "a dear friend" and "an integral part of my team."

"I valued his advice and counsel," said Steele in the statement. "Lance could always cut through the noise and provide well thought out insight."

Copsey graduated from Frostburg State University and married his high school sweetheart Jenny. The couple had two girls, Molly, 10 and Besse, 5. They live in Annapolis.

When not working, Copsey enjoyed time on Chesapeake in his powerboat and rarely talked shop at home, said his mother-in-law Cheryl Jetmore. "I would have to pry things out of him that I needed to know," Jetmore said.

Copsey's death was unexpected, Jetmore said. He'd recently been diagnosed with lateral medullary syndrome and was seeking treatment for it when he died, she said.

Viewings are scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Lee Funeral Home in Owings. A funeral will be held 11 a.m. Thursday at Calvary Bible Church in Lusby.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:46 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: People
        

June 12, 2010

Ehrlich airs campaign messages

With less than a month to go before gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gives up the microphone, his radio show is sounding more like his campaign than ever.

This morning, the Ehrlichs discussed slot-machine gambling and charter schools -- two issues of frequent discussion on the campaign trail. In fact, Ehrlich visited a Baltimore charter school this week and announced he'd soon be releasing his education plan.

Ehrlich and call-in radio show guests Carl Stokes, a Baltimore city councilman, and Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, talked at length about education. Allen is a Republican running for delegate in Montgomery County. She and Ehrlich lamented the "weak" charter school law in Maryland. Expansion has been held back, they said, by teachers unions. On the campaign trail, he has promised to double the number of charter schools.

On slots, the Republican former governor reminded listeners that he'd wanted a "relatively simple" slots plan that would have put the machines at race tracks. And he said he would have leased the machines instead of purchasing as Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has done. Some, including Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, worry the state is spending too much money per machine.

The Maryland Democratic Party has complained loudly that the two-hour WBAL radio show, which Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, have hosted for more than three years, is a messaging vehicle for his campaign. Ehrlich is seeking to unseat O'Malley, who swiped his second term four years ago.

The Maryland Attorney General's office recently determined that the show should not be considered a campaign contribution. Radio station officials said lawyers told them Ehrlich could keeping the show until filing his candidacy with the State Board of Elections, which he must do by July 6. (O'Malley also has not filed his candidacy.) Kendel Ehrlich will then pilot solo.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:22 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 11, 2010

District 7: County Exec Jim Smith decides against Senate run

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said this morning that he will not run for state Senate.

His decision, which he called "difficult" and said he reached this week, came as a surprise to many -- including, apparently, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller -- in part because Smith had been vocal for close to a year about wanting the seat. Last fall, Smith even put his longtime family home on the market and moved to Cockeysville, which is in District 7.

The Democrat said he will devote the time he would have spent campaigning for Senate to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who likely will face off with Republican rival former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. this fall. Smith must he leave his post in December because of term limits.

"I had been seriously considering a run for elected office, but this will allow me greater opportunity to support Governor O'Malley in his reelection bid," Smith said in a telephone interview. "His reelection is important for Baltimore County and for the state, and this gives me the chance to speak throughout the county on his behalf."

Smith said he informed the governor yesterday and Miller a day earlier about his change of plans. He also called House Speaker Michael E. Busch today, he said.

"The governor certainly understood, and so did the speaker," Smith said. "The president wanted me in the Senate. He was a harder sell on my decision. I'm not sure he fully appreciates it yet, but he will."

Smith, who has been county executive for eight years and was a Circuit Court judge, said he'd become interested in the Senate job because, "I thought I could work with others down there on fiscal management and the economy because of my experience in Baltimore County."

He acknowledged he would have been "a back-bencher" -- but one with considerably more pull than the average freshman legislator.

In addition to campaigning for O'Malley and running the county, Smith said he might pitch in on the county council races. Turnover means that the council will include at least four new members, he said. Smith said he has no plans to become involved in the county executive race, which includes two Democratic council members.

District 7 is the most conservative area of Baltimore County; the senator and all three delegates are Republicans. Smith was widely seen, particularly by Miller, as having the best shot at flipping the Senate seat.

The district's senator, Dr. Andrew P. Harris, is running for Congress, leaving that seat open. Del. J.B. Jennings and former state insurance commissioner Al Redmer will square off in the Republican primary. Other than Smith, no big-name Democrat had emerged as a contender.

Smith said his polling showed he could win, but he said the area's makeup could have put him in a predicament:

"Me talking about O'Malley in glowing terms gives me platform to help him, but it gives me greater challenges, too, in winning that seat," Smith said.

A Rasmussen poll out yesterday showed O'Malley in a dead heat with Ehrlich.

Smith repeatedly touted O'Malley's accomplishments as governor, saying he "has set priorities that I agree with" and reduced spending to help the state through the recession.

What else is next for Smith? He said he would be happy to serve on a state commission examining government employee benefits and pensions. And he'll keep his apartment in Cockeysville. (He said he now has a contract on the six-bedroom house he'd put on the market last fall.)

"I will have plenty to do," he said.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:14 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Ehrlich teases Steele, no word on successor

There was much buzz at last night's Maryland Republican Party dinner about who former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. might choose as a running mate in his bid to reclaim the office.

But on this night, he buddied up to his former lieutenant governor, chatting with Michael S. Steele, who has had a rocky tenure as head of the Republican National Committee, paying him respect in front of a crowd of about 700 and teasing him about his sports inabilities. ("I'm finesse. He's just football," Steele said of the jock-gap between him and Ehrlich.)

Check out our print story on the dinner.

Before the dinner at BWI Marriott, Ehrlich spoke briefly with reporters and declined to answer questions about his choice for lieutenant governor, though he said the vetting process has begun. He said there are "more than a few" candidates on the list.

Later, as he introduced featured speaker Mitt Romney, Ehrlich joked about the running mate selection process, saying "applications are available in the lobby on the way out."

Political insiders love to make a game of figuring out who might be on Ehrlich's short list. Frequently mentioned names include Mary Kane, Ehrlich's former secretary of state and a highly visible presence at many recent Ehrlich events, and Alison Asti, former head of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Prominent Baltimore neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson's name has been bandied about recently. Carson was on the lips of several donors at the Republican dinner. The choice would add considerable wattage to an Ehrlich ticket (Cuba Gooding Jr. played Carson in a television movie!), but it appears to be a no-go.

Through a spokeswoman at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Carson said he is remaining a surgeon and has "no plans" to enter politics. It wasn't clear whether he'd been approached by Ehrlich.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:09 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Michael Steele
        

Mikulski, Cardin touring Gulf today

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin are touring the oil-fouled Gulf coast Friday, getting a first-hand look at damage wreaked by the BP/Deepwater Horzon rig blowout nearly two months ago.

The Maryland Democrats will take a chopper tour over the site where oil continues to pour from the sea bottom. They'll also ride a boat through coastal wetlands where petroleum has washed ashore.

Their plans include meetings with local and federal officials and a press conference in Grand Isle with Louisiana's Republican Sen. David Vitter and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, who are also taking the tour.

Cardin chairs an Environment subcommittee on water and wildlife; Mikulski helms an Appropriations panel that funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, currently providing twice-daily weather updates which help officials track the movement of the largest spill in U.S. history.

They aren't the first lawmakers from Maryland to make the rounds of the battered Gulf zone; Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, who heads a Coast Guard committee, has been there twice.

Posted by Paul West at 9:44 AM | | Comments (9)
        

New poll has Ehrlich, O'Malley in dead heat

A new Rasmussen poll says the state's gubernatorial race is tied with 45 percent supporting Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and 45 percent favoring his likely Republican challenger in November, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Five percent of those questioned were undecided and five percent say they support a different candidate, according to the poll. The poll surveyed 500 likely voters, which has a 4.5 percent margin for error. It is generally viewed as a conservative poll.

A February Rasmussen poll showed likely voters favoring O'Malley, 49 to 43. The gap tightened to 47-43 in an April. The significance of these polls is always difficult to gauge - though it will undoubtedly help with fundraising. Already Ehrlich sent out a blast email seeking $45 donations.

O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said their camp has always been expecting a close race, but cast some doubt on the veracity of the numbers. "The methodology raises some questions," he said. The phone surveys are automated, unlike polls politicians typically bankroll for their own campaigns.

Rasmussen threw in a question about gambling in Maryland - and found that 51 percent support adding table games like blackjack and poker to the state's casinos. Forty percent oppose. O'Malley has said he does not want them but Ehrlich has said in interviews he is "open" to the idea.

Arizona's controversial law empowering local police to check immigration status on people they stop was supported by 66 percent of Marylanders questioned, according to the poll. Twenty-seven percent opposed the measure.

Immigration has yet to emerge in the gubernatorial race, though it is on the table in legislative races. Eastern Baltimore County Del. Patrick McDonough, a Republican, said he will introduce a bill mirroring Arizona's law next session and drawing criticism from a Democratic challenger.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:36 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Horserace, People
        

June 10, 2010

GOP: The Rs raise money tonight near BWI

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele posed for photographs with Maryland’s Republicans at the BWI Airport Marriott just before the party’s annual Red White and Blue dinner. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also mixed with local GOP supporters who paid at least $200 per ticket.

The mood was elevated by a Rasmussen poll that came out a few hours ago putting the governor's race at a dead heat.

Party chair Audrey Scott said in the coming months the party will “challenge one party rule in Maryland.” She brought the crowd to their feet when she announced that the once bankrupt party is now solvent.

State party officials said they sold 700 tickets and raised $200,000 for the state GOP. A Democratic fundraiser last month drew 900 people and raised $450,000. We'll update after Steele speaks ... he just started.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Baking in the sun ...

 

Baking magnate John Paterakis Sr. made a rare public appearence this morning, sitting in the sun and observed the ribbon cutting for the new Morgan Stanley building in Fells Point that his H&S Development Corp helped finance. Wearing a black t-shirt and aviators, Paterakis stayed toward the back of the crowd and didn't speak at the ceremony. Gov. Martin O'Malley gave him a shout-out and Sen. George Della stopped by his table to say hello.

Paterakis made headlines September when he pleaded guilty to two campaign finance-related charges. Both were related to helping fund a political poll for Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton, who chaired the committee that approved tax incentives for his nearby projects in Harbor East. The judge in his criminal case ruled that he can not donate money to candidates until January 2012.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: People
        

Next year's budget woes

There’s an increasing amount of chatter in Annapolis about the possibility Congress might put the brakes on an expected $24 billion stimulus extension that Gov. Martin O’Malley and other governors are counting on to balance state budgets. 

O’Malley et al do have a back-up: Should the $389 million Maryland expected from the federal help fail to materialize, the state would likely draw down the fund balance and dip again into the once-obscure income tax reserve fund. 

“We’d rather not have to do that,” O’Malley said this morning after appearing at a ribbon cutting for a new waterfront Morgan Stanley building in Fells Point. “That is our contingency plan. It is not one that we want to have to resort to.” 

The governor borrowed $366 million from the income tax reserve fund to balance this year’s budget and another $350 million for the budget year that starts July 1. A Senate added provision to the budget calls on the state to take an additional $200 million from the fund if the federal help does not arrive. The plan reduces the likelihood that O’Malley will need to go to the Board of Public Works seeking more cuts during an election year. 

O’Malley warned that next year’s fiscal picture outlook is still tough. “We’re already putting together a preliminary budget for the next fiscal year. It is challenging.” 

The governor mentioned the layoffs. “Your next question is how many would you lay off?” O’Malley said. “We hope not to layoff. We hate furloughs but we hate layoffs worse.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

Hollander, Bredar advance to Senate floor

The Senate Judiciary Committee has just approved a pair of federal court picks from Maryland, Judges Ellen Lipton Hollander and James K. Bredar, sending their nominations to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

Neither is considered controversial but they could face a considerable wait before gaining needed confirmation. There are at least 23 judicial nominees in line ahead of them.

In April, President Barack Obama nominated Hollander, a veteran Maryland state court judge, and Bredar, a federal magistrate judge, for U.S. District Court judgeships. The Judiciary committee approved their nominations Thursday morning on a voice vote.

Hollander, 61, has been a member of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals since 1994. She would fill the seat that opened up last year when Judge Andre Davis moved to the federal appeals court. Bredar, 53, of Reisterstown, would replace Judge J. Frederick Motz, a Republican nominee and the longest-serving judge on the federal district bench in Maryland, who has taken senior status.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who tracks judicial nominations, said it remains unclear exactly when the Senate would debate and vote on the Maryland nominees.

"It may well go into the fall," he predicted, noting that a number of judicial nominees have already waited several months. The Senate's consideration of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will likely delay the process even more.

Posted by Paul West at 11:52 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Union lawyer wants balance in conservative district

Democrat James "Ward" Morrow, a union attorney, says he wants to displace the "right-wing fringe" now populating the state legislative seats in District 7, which includes eastern Baltimore County and a portion of Harford. That's where Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough -- who recently announced he'd try to replicate Arizona's controversial illegal immigrant crackdown in Maryland -- was the top vote-getter four years ago.

Morrow, who filed this week for the House of Delegates race, is an attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees and was counsel to the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. He also spent a decade as a Baltimore city prosecutor. He announced his bid in a press release yesterday, which noted that he'd (unsurprisingly) been endorsed by a teachers union.

The all-Republican district, where Andrew P. Harris is state senator, also includes Del. Richard K. Impallaria and Del. J.B. Jennings. The political musical chairs in that part of the state are likely to be some of the most exciting political contests this fall.

Harris is leaving his Senate seat to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat who narrowly defeated him in the last election.

Jennings and former state insurance commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. will square off in the Republican primary for Harris' seat. Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., a Democrat who is leaving because of term limits, also has signaled he may run for the Senate seat -- by moving to an apartment in the district last year.

And, with Morrow's filing, the delegate battles are now taking shape. Others who have filed include Democrats David "Ski" Mioduszewski and Rebecca Weir Nelson and Republicans John Cromwell, Roger Zadjdel and Jim Berndt. Impallaria also has filed, and McDonough is expected to do so before the July 6 deadline. The primary election will narrow the field to three candidates from each party. The top three vote earners in the general election will get the seats.

Republicans dominated District 7 in the last election. Harris defeated the Democratic challenger by more than 13 percentage points. In the delegate race, McDonough received the most votes, and Jennings, who came in third, topped the Democratic candidate by a 4,000-vote margin.

Impallaria and McDonough have both loudly called for the state to get tough on illegal immigrants. Impallaria, who owns a body shop, has been a delegate for seven years. McDonough, one of the most outspoken conservative thinkers in the Maryland General Assembly, has represented District 7 since 2003. Fun fact: McDonough also served in the House from 1979 to 1983 -- as a Democrat representing Baltimore City.

"McDonough and Impallaria have created an environment that makes it difficult for the voices of reason and common sense to be heard over their grandstanding," Morrow said in his press release, citing this as a chief reason he is running.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:43 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 9, 2010

Ehrlich speaks the international language of politics

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. visited a Baltimore charter school today and -- in addition to dispensing advice to the student council -- said he would be announcing his education platforms in the coming weeks.

"I love charter schools," Ehrlich told a group of students and teachers at Baltimore International Academy, adding that he'd come there "to highlight what you're doing at this school."

Maryland began approving charter schools during Ehrlich's first term in office. The Republican is seeking to reclaim the seat from Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who defeated him in 2006.

At his visit to the academy, Ehrlich said his education plan would include ways to "strengthen and expand" charter schools. Two months ago, the day he announced his candidacy, Ehrlich vowed to double the number of charter schools. There are now 42, the vast majority of them in Baltimore, according to the Maryland Charter School Network. Charter schools are independently operated but publicly funded and monitored by school boards.

Baltimore International Academy, in its third year of operation, enrolls 348 kids from kindergarten through seventh grade. Children receive their lessons, from reading to math, in a language such as Chinese or French.

Ehrlich ducked into a classroom conducted in Chinese and chatted with kindergartners learning Spanish. He spoke with the student council, a handful of seventh graders who were eager for his advice.

One child asked, "How many years of school does it take to become governor?" Ehrlich told them he'd had 19 years of education, including law school. The former governor joked with the two students who were elected to serve on the student-parent council. What campaign promises did you make? (Pizza usually works, he said.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:01 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Franchot: Slot machine buy a 'windfall' for industry

Maryland’s Board of Public Works this morning approved a nearly $50 million contract to purchase slot machines for the Cecil County casino over the objection of Comptroller Peter Franchot who called the purchase an “incredible windfall” for the gaming industry.

The contract did not appear on the Board’s public agenda and the State Lottery provided paperwork to members yesterday, which also frustrated Franchot who said he did not have enough time to properly analyze it.

“How can we be sure we got the best deal for the taxpayer?” Franchot asked.

The contract allows the state to purchase 1,062 machines for the casino for the casino – though the operator plans to have 1,500 at the site. A second contract for roughly 400 machines for the casino was not ready and will appear before the Board in two weeks, officials said.

The Hollywood Casino Perryville is expected to open in the end of October, though one official testifying before the Board said it could open as early as late September. The casino is set to be the first to open in the state.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:43 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Slots
        

Andy Harris gets a primary foe in First District

Looks like state Sen. Andy Harris, the choice of the Republican establishment for the First District congressional seat in Maryland, will face a primary contest after all.

Rob Fisher, an Eastern Shore businessman and political newcomer, just launched an expensive TV ad buy for his outsider campaign. "Not a career politician" is a theme of the opening spot, which introduces the Eastern Shore native as a conservative Republican who will challenge business as usual in Washington.

Outsider campaigns have been successful in other states this year, and while Fisher won't have an easy time taking on Harris, his candidacy adds an element of uncertainty to the state's most closely watched congressional election.

Harris narrowly lost to Democrat Frank Kratovil in 2008 and is the early-line favorite to regain the conservative Eastern Maryland district for Republicans in this year's mid-terms. The national Republican Party has worked hard to encourage his candidacy and avoid a potentially damaging and divisive fight in the September primary.

For a long time, there were questions about whether Harris' state Senate colleague, E. J. Pipkin, might make another try. A three-way primary battle two years ago ousted longtime moderate Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, but the resulting divisions helped Democrats take the seat for the first time in nearly two decades.

Pipkin hasn't announced any plans for 2010 but Fisher appears serious about competing for the Republican nomination.

Word is he's put $77,000 behind his opening buy. You can watch the ad here

Fisher is pushing his Eastern Shore roots, a potential advantage against Harris, who lives a world away in the suburbs north of Baltimore. Harris, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland legislature, also could be vulnerable to anti-politician sentiment.

Fisher's deep pockets may well force Harris to draw down much of the campaign account that he had hoped to employ in his challenge to Kratovil, one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents in the country. That could end up hurting the Republican effort to retake the House, since national money spent on the Maryland race in the fall will drain resources away from contests in other states.

Posted by Paul West at 10:47 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

At research park, O'Malley touts positive jobs trend

The National Cancer Institute's 330,000 square foot construction project is on Progress Drive in Frederick -- seemingly the perfect place to deliver a campaign message.

That's where Gov. Martin O'Malley appeared yesterday afternoon as part of his "Jobs Across Maryland Tour." Although he is conducting the months-long tour as governor, not as a candidate for reelection this fall, it is a vehicle for his campaign message of "moving Maryland forward."

But the Frederick development, called Riverside Research Park, is relatively detached from the O'Malley administration and its policies.

It has been in the works for more than five years, officials say, and relies upon no federal stimulus money and no state economic development breaks. Contractors say they won't be tapping into the state's new tax break for companies that hire unemployed Marylanders, since it doesn't include temporary labor.

Dr. John E. Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, said the economic downturn slowed the project, "but we kept working, and things began to turn around last summer," adding that no government program pushed construction forward.

Bradley C. Guyton, president of builder Morgan-Keller said he couldn't use the state's incentive program, a $5,000 credit for each unemployed Marylander hired, because "the economy's too difficult to maintain a stable of people." The tax break has been used 70 times since it was signed into law this spring, the governor said.

In his speech at the site, O'Malley took no credit for the development but hailed it as representative of the kind of jobs growth he has fostered.

The research park, which will open next year and eventually be home to about 500 scientists and other employees, is just the kind of "innovation economy" that makes Maryland unique, he said. The construction alone has generated about 350 jobs. The park is designed to encourage public-private partnerships -- with the federal research facility ringed by outposts for pharmaceutical companies, Niederhuber said.

O'Malley, a Democrat, is part of a chorus of candidates repeating a refrain about the economy and jobs. His likely opponent, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has criticized the current administration as hostile to small business. Ehrlich outlined some ideas for improving the state's business climate in campaign events earlier this week.

O'Malley, at the Frederick stop, called small business part of "a larger story," saying the state should key in on its innovation potential. He has long trumpeted Maryland's burgeoning bioscience and technology industries.

The governor's jobs tour continues this week with a Thursday stop in Baltimore. He will participate in a “move-in” ceremony for Morgan Stanley’s new location, part of a planned expansion creating up to 1,000 new jobs, his aides say.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

June 8, 2010

Another Republican business plan

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wasn't the only Republican gubernatorial candidate to announce business proposals yesterday. Lesser-known contender Brian Murphy also released a policy idea -- albeit one that would take a lot of heavy-lifting to accomplish.

Like Ehrlich, Murphy, a Smith Island businessman, thinks Maryland's 8.25 percent corporate income tax -- money the state skims from company profits -- is too high. Ehrlich hasn't said what his ideal rate is, though he frequently points out that nearby states have much lower corporate tax. Ehrlich said he'd form a bipartisan task force to work on lowering the tax -- not specific, but practical, since any decrease would need the approval of the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Murphy said his aim is to erase corporate tax altogether -- an idea that has also been floated in neighboring Virginia, where the rate is already more than 2 percentage points lower than in Maryland.

"My goal is the phased elimination of our corporate income tax in three years. In the first year, we will balance and streamline our budget without raising taxes," Murphy said in a statement. "This will put our economy in a position to recover and grow. In the second year, we will reduce the corporate income tax rate by 50 percent, funded by organic growth to preserve revenue neutrality. This will give new and existing businesses an incentive to grow their Maryland operations. In the third year, we will eliminate the corporate income tax all together.

“Finally, after we make Maryland competitive for small businesses and families, we will revisit our personal income tax rates. Personal income taxes make up a greater portion of our state’s tax receipts, so eliminating them completely is not immediately possible."

Here's a link to the corporate income tax rates of all 50 states.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Obama trips on dumb Ravens-Redskins question

President Barack Obama has made more visits to Maryland than any other state since taking office. But he still has a lot to learn about Maryland.

Take professional sports culture.

At Obama's town hall-style meeting with seniors Tuesday in Montgomery County, a 69-year-old audience questioner advised the president that the U.S. medical system needs more "archers" and fewer "expensive football teams" (it was a complicated comparison).

Obama began his response by saying he'd steer clear of football. Then, he entered that territory anyway.

He asked audience members if they were mainly Ravens or Redskins fans. He should have known better. Sort of like asking a crowd on Chicago's south side if they were mainly White Sox or Cubs fans (Sox, of course).

Mr. President, the Ravens and 'Skins both play their home games in the state. But in Maryland, as elsewhere, sports loyalty is largely a matter of geography. In places like Howard County, there's an invisible dividing line between Baltimore and Washington fans (in western areas of the state, closer to Pittsburgh than Baltimore or DC, the Steelers dominate). Any closer to DC, you're in rabid Redskins territory.

White House planners, as they often do, had provided Obama with a "real world" backdrop. The idea was to get him out of Washington, but no more than absolutely necessary, to limit the drain on his time.

As a result, the address may have said Wheaton, Maryland, but the venue was culturally Washington.

Needless to say, the audience favored the 'Skins (though one member voiced support for Navy).

Perhaps Obama should put the Ravens-Redskins pre-season game on his August schedule, so he can explore this topic in greater detail. As with presidential visits to an Army-Navy game, he could spent each half on an opposite side of FedEx Field, and possibly get to know Maryland a little better.

Posted by Paul West at 12:49 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Washington, Washington
        

In Md., Obama warns against Medicare fraud

At a tele-town hall meeting this morning in Wheaton, President Barack Obama announced a new federal effort to crack down on Medicare fraud.

"Seniors are frequently targeted by scam artists," Obama told an invited audience at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center. "To all who would swindle and steal from seniors," he warned, "we are going to find you. We will prosecute you and we will ultimately prevent those crimes from ever happening again."

Obama, whose visit was designed to promote a new $250 subsidy to Medicare recipients who fall into the prescription drug "donut hole," said that the federal government has been receiving "outrageous reports from around the country" about "people trying to scam people."

Among the fraudulent techniques: telling seniors that it's necessary to re-enroll in Medicare or sign up for new Medicare cards, neither of which is true.

"Some (scam artists) even go door-to-door," the president said. "It's appalling and it's infuriating and we're going to put a stop to it."

The Justice department and the Department of Health and Human Services have set up a joint health care fraud and prevention team, known by the acronym HEAT. Obama said the task force is already focusing on cities with high rates of of suspected fraud.

An array of elected Democrats from Maryland was on hand, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (the event was in his district) and Donna Edwards.

A White House release on Medicare and the new health care law is after the jump.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
_______________________________________________________________________________________
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 8, 2010


The Affordable Care Act: Strengthening Medicare, Combating Misinformation and Protecting America’s Seniors

The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama this year will provide seniors and their families with greater savings and increased quality health care. It will also ensure accountability throughout the health care system so patients and their doctor—not insurance companies—have greater control over their own care.

On Tuesday, June 8, President Barack Obama – in a national tele-town hall meeting answering questions directly from seniors across the country – launched an unprecedented national campaign to combat fraud and misinformation and deliver the facts to America’s seniors about Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. The campaign includes a series of steps to protect seniors by ensuring they have clear and accurate information about the new law and implementing stronger tools to fight waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicare program. Administration officials attended neighborhood meetings where seniors gathered to participate in the tele-town hall to answer additional questions from seniors. More than 100 events were held across the country.

The Affordable Care Act: Important Benefits for Seniors

Medicare is a sacred trust between America and its seniors – the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama this year, guarantees that trust is never broken. The Affordable Care Act will provide greater savings and increased quality care to America’s seniors, and by ensuring increased accountability throughout the health care system it puts seniors and their doctors, not insurance companies, in control of their health care. These are needed improvements that will keep Medicare strong and solvent. America’s seniors will see new benefits, new cost savings, and an increased focus on quality – all to guarantee they get the care they need. You can learn more about the new law here. Some of the new benefits in the Affordable Care Act include:

• A one-time, tax free $250 rebate check for seniors who hit the prescription drug “donut hole” who are not already receiving Medicare Extra Help. These checks will begin mailing on June 10 and will continue monthly throughout the year as beneficiaries enter the coverage gap.

• Free preventive care services like colorectal cancer screening and mammograms and a free annual wellness visit.

• Community health teams will provide patient-centered care so seniors won’t have to see multiple doctors who don’t work together. The new law also helps seniors who are hospitalized return home successfully—and avoid going back—by helping to coordinate care and ensure they have access to support in their community.

• Medicare pays Medicare Advantage insurance companies over $1,000 more per person on average than traditional Medicare. These additional payments are paid for in part by increased premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries—including the 77% of seniors not enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. The new law levels the playing field by gradually eliminating Medicare Advantage overpayments to insurance companies while protecting guaranteed Medicare benefits. Instead of overpayments similar to the last several years to insurance companies, the new law will base payments on the local cost of providing guaranteed Medicare services. Medicare Advantage plans will also receive new bonus payments based on performance (e.g., for providing care based on preventing diseases before they start, and care that stops diseases from getting worse). Participating health plans will also be prohibited from charging higher out-of-pocket costs to seniors than traditional Medicare for similar services.

• Over the next 20 years, Medicare spending will grow at a slower rate, as a result of eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. This will extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 12 years and provide cost savings to Medicare beneficiaries. In 2018, seniors can expect to save, on average, almost $200 per year in premiums and over $200 per year in co-insurance compared to what they would have paid without the Affordable Care Act. Upper-income beneficiaries ($85,000 of annual income for individuals or $170,000 for married couples filing jointly) will pay higher premiums. This will impact about 2% of Medicare beneficiaries.

Fighting Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Stopping misinformation means keeping seniors safe from fraud and scam artists who seek to take advantage of the new law and steal from seniors and taxpayers. The Administration has taken a series of steps to fight fraud:

• The President has directed HHS to cut the improper payment rate, which tracks fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare Fee for Services program, in half by 2012.

• The Administration has helped support a renewed partnership between the federal government and state Attorneys General. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder today sent a letter to state Attorneys General urging them to vigorously prosecute criminals who seek to steal from seniors and taxpayers and pledged the support of federal officials for state efforts.

• A nationwide series of anti-fraud summits hosted by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services will bring federal, state and local officials together with representatives from the private sector to discuss tactics to fight fraud. The first summit will be held in Miami with additional summits in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Detroit, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

• A redoubling of efforts by U.S. Attorneys nationwide to coordinate with state and local law enforcement to prevent and prosecute fraud. Today, Attorney General Holder called on U.S. Attorneys to hold quarterly forums with local officials to discuss how to better crack down on criminals who commit fraud.


Reaching Out to Medicare Beneficiaries

In recent weeks, Medicare beneficiaries have received important new information in the mail regarding the Affordable Care Act that answers many questions Administration officials have received from the American people. When seniors hit the prescription drug gap known as the donut hole, they will receive additional details along with a $250 rebate check to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs. The mailers follow Medicare’s long-standing practice of communicating with beneficiaries and provide important information about how seniors can take advantage of their new Medicare benefits.

Communicating Over the Airwaves

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in conjunction with the Administration on Aging, will be launching an educational media campaign this summer to educate Medicare beneficiaries about the importance of staying vigilant with their personal Medicare information and getting the facts about the new law to seniors so that scam artists are not able to prey on them.

The first phase of the outreach campaign will be a series of radio ads that will run in key areas of the country where there are a large number of seniors who fall in the coverage gap and who could be eligible for the $250 one-time tax free rebate check.

Posted by Paul West at 12:02 PM | | Comments (13)
        

Obama touting donut-hole checks in Md. today

President Barack Obama is going outside the DC beltway Tuesday morning to promote one of the first tangible benefits of the new health care law: a $250 subsidy payment to seniors who have fallen into the prescription-drug "donut hole."

He will speak to an invited audience at a senior center in Montgomery County. The meeting will be beamed live to public gatherings at more than 100 sites in at least 26 states, including at least six in Maryland (locations listed after the jump). Obama will take a few questions from people at other sites, in what the White House is terming a "tele-town hall."

The first wave of 80,000 rebate checks is going out this month. As many as 4 million elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries could receive the tax-free, one-time-only benefit by the end of the year. The money will be sent automatically to those who qualify, according to the government.

Under the current system, patients fall into the coverage gap when they and their drug plan spend more than $2,830. At that point, they must pay the full cost of their drugs. After they spend another $3,610, they emerge from the hole and pay only 5% of their medication costs.

Next year, most Medicare recipients who fall into the donut hole will get a 50% discount on brand-name prescription drugs at the time they buy them.

In advance of Obama's remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky launched the Republican pushback.

"What the administration won’t mention at today’s event," McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor, "is that for every senior who gets a check, more than three other seniors will see an increase in their prescription drug insurance premiums."

Live video of Obama's remarks will be available on the White House website and on C-SPAN, both on cable and online. It is scheduled to begin at 11:40 a.m.

Here are some of the Maryland meetings for seniors. The sessions are to be linked electronically to the one in Wheaton where Obama will speak.

Carroll Lutheran Village
9078 Chevrolet Drive
Ellicott City, Md.

Grantsville Senior Center
125 Durst Court
Grantsville, Md.

Mary Browning Senior Center
104 East Center Street
Grantsville, Md.

MetLife Bank
9571 Whiskey Bottom Rd.
Laurel, Md.

Council House
3940 Bexley Place
Suitland, Md.

Southwinds Adult Community
4210 Southwinds Adult Community
White Plains, Md.

Posted by Paul West at 10:15 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Where is that Medicaid $$$, NYT asks

The New York Times is reporting that Congress is losing its appetite for deficit spending and might not provide a $24 billion Medicaid aid package which many states, including Maryland, need in order to keep their budgets balanced.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's spending plan assumes the state gets $389 million in federal relief from that package. But, as The Times points out, the House of Representatives killed the measure in late May. The Senate can put the money back -- but the clock is ticking. Maryland's budget year begins in less than 30 days. 

O'Malley is not worried, says Shaun Adamec, a spokesman. The governor is monitoring the legislation and is "confident" that the Medicare aid will be included in when the final version of an unrelated bill. 

What happens if Congress doesn't provide the help? State senators who scrutinized $13 billion operating budget during the most recent General Assembly session fretted over that same question and came up with an answer: If federal aid does not materialize, the state will borrow an extra $200 million from the until-recent-times-obscure income tax reserve fund. The rest comes from the fund balance.

This seemingly bottomless fund is an account that O'Malley has raided in the past to stave off deep cuts. He proposed taking $366 million from it in FY09. He borrowed $350 million for FY10. If the Senate provision is triggered by Congress failing to act, the state could wind up borrowing $750 million from the account this year alone. 

The Times reports that at least 30 states took the same budgeting tack O'Malley chose and are relying on the Medicaid aid -- which could mean the federal aid package is Too Big To Fail. For example, the paper quotes PA Gov. Ed Rendell threatening to layoff 20,000 state workers if federal help is not forthcoming. Other governors, it appears, just wouldn't even speculate.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

June 7, 2010

703

Gubernatorial hopeful Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. is spending this evening place where he has no chance of picking up a single vote: McLean, Virginia.

Ehrlich, a Republican, will benefit from a fundraiser there starring that state's conservative governor Bob McDonnell. It will be hosted in a private home, said campaign spokesman Andy Barth. Ehrlich and McDonnell have “cordial” relationship, Barth said. However he deferred questions about areas of policy where the two agree or disagree.

McDonnell has made news in recent months by standing up to the Obama Administration, including pulling Virginia out of the running for the federal Race to the Top education grant and signing a bill prohibiting the federal government from requiring Virginians to carry health insurance. A similar health insurance bill went nowhere this year in Maryland’s General Assembly. 

McDonnell is also a longtime proponent of drilling for oil off his state’s coast and was critical of the Administration’s decision to cancel the planned lease just south of Ocean City. Ehrlich does not support nearby drilling until the causes of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico are better understood, according to a spokesman.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Conaway wants her big signs back

A dispatch from City Hall reporter Julie Scharper:

Belinda Conaway has a reputation for being a bit of a maverick on the Baltimore City Council.

In recent months, she has introduced both a resolution to investigate how police handle routine stops and a bill to create a “drag net” around problem areas. And as chair of the budget committee, she drew flak from police last month when she used a hearing on the department’s budget allocation to submit a laundry list of questions on the racial makeup of command staff.

Today, Conaway is unveiling a piece of legislation that hits close to home. Very close to home.

The councilwoman, whose father, mother and brother are all elected officials and city residents, wants to abolish size restrictions on political campaign signs in residential areas.

“This is what I call the Conaway law,” the councilwoman said at a luncheon work session. “It’s a nitpicky thing against the Conaways.”

The councilwoman, who lives in West Baltimore at an address shared by her parents and brother, said her family “traditionally has had large signs, particularly in the last race.”

Given the tight financial times, it seems foolhardy to waste resources on enforcing campaign sign laws, she said.

But Councilman Robert Curran, who sponsored the bill that limited the size of the signs, said it was not inspired by the Conaway family’s signs, but rather large signs that appeared in his Northeast Baltimore district during the last state delegate race.

The signs dwarf postage-stamp rowhouse lawns, said Curran, adding that signs can be much larger in commercial areas. And some sort of cap is needed to prevent enormous political billboards in residential areas, he said.

Conaway said she believes doing away with the size limit would make it easier for new candidates, who might be able to afford a few large signs but not many small ones.

“It’s not just for incumbents but for everyone,” she said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, City Hall, Law and Courts
        

O'Malley response to Ehrlich small business plans

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has focused Monday on his first major policy rollout: plans to help small businesses (see blog post below), which he's describing at stops in Gaithersburg and Reisterstown.

The campaign of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has now responded. Here's an abridged version of the statement by campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese:

"This is not a plan. Bob Ehrlich's so-called plan is all talk and no action -- he is proposing a commission, a summit, a task force, three reviews and two explorations, but nothing to actually create jobs or help small businesses struggling because of the global recession.

"In stark contrast, Governor O'Malley has delivered results, including the Job Creation and Recovery Tax Credit to put unemployed Marylanders back to work and a rapid response small business loan guaranty program to get credit flowing again to our small businesses."
Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:03 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

WH press legend Thomas out after remarks on Jews

White House press corps legend Helen Thomas is out as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers in the aftermath of controversial remarks about Jews.

Thomas, who will turn 90 in August, was videotaped recently saying Jews should leave Palestine and go "home" to "Poland, Germany . . . and America, and everywhere else." She apologized last Friday, saying her remarks "do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

But the apology failed to douse the firestorm. Over the weekend, she was forced to cancel a planned commencement address at a Montgomery County public school, Walt Whitman High.

Monday morning, the White House Correspondents Association began taking steps to remove her from a front-row seat at the daily White House briefing.

Thomas, who began covering the White House when John F. Kennedy was president and was a pioneering woman correspondent in Washington, had used that perch to torment presidential press secretaries for decades. She gained celebrity in the process and was able to move to Hearst Newspapers after effectively outliving her longtime employer, United Press International.

Hearst, in a statement released late Monday morning, said Thomas "announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately."

She retains her personal website, where she has yet to issue a further statement of her own, and it is by no means clear that readers have seen or heard the last from Thomas.

The statement by the White House Correspondents Association board of directors is after the jump.

Statement Issued By the Board of the White House Correspondents Association
June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas' comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them. Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat.

While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.

We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.

But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.

Posted by Paul West at 12:50 PM | | Comments (25)
        

Ehrlich details small-business strategy, UPDATED

In the first major policy unveiling of his campaign, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. this morning announced a "small-business initiative to help revitalize Maryland's economy."

The Republican said he would move immediately to change the "attitude about entrepreneurship," which he said has suffered under the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who unseated him four years ago.

Nearly all of Ehrlich's proposals involved the formation of commissions. Ehrlich made his first announcement of the day at a pizza restaurant in Gaithersburg. He'll hold a similar talk this afternoon at a crab house in Reisterstown.

Details from this morning:

* One commission would study the state's unemployment benefits system, with an eye toward reducing rates. Ehrlich said he'd also consider returning to a benefits system that did not include part-time workers, a shift the occurred under O'Malley.

* Another would study corporate income tax, again focused on reducing rates. Ehrlich said this is necessary to stay competitive with neighboring Virginia, which already has a lower rate and is considering further reductions.

* A third group, called the "red tape task force," would study the state's business regulations. Some might be outdated or duplicative, Ehrlich said.

* Ehrlich said he'd also hold quarterly round table discussions with agency heads, legislators and business people, with the goal of fostering better understanding among those groups.

* The former governor again hammered on his desire to repeal a penny-per-dollar sales tax increase under O'Malley, which would require the cooperation of the Democratic-controlled legislature to accomplish.

* He also said the state should examine the health care mandates placed upon businesses, though he said "many make a great deal of sense."

* Adding an exclamation point to his desire to bring corporate headquarters to Maryland, Ehrlich said he would install a commission-based system in the state Department of Business and Economic Development. That is, senior DBED officials who secure deals to bring companies to Maryland would be rewarded with extra pay.

Aides to Ehrlich say he has spoken with more than 100 entrepreneurs at events across the state, as he builds a campaign theme that Maryland has been unhealthy for business under O'Malley. He frequently cites the closure of 3,000 small businesses and the loss of several corporate headquarters as evidence of a problem that he says he will fix.

Ehrlich said at a campaign stop last week at a restaurant in Hampstead that he's heard many employers complain that unemployment benefits are going to some undeserving people -- ones who have been fired for theft, for example. Worse, Ehrlich said, employers get tangled in bureaucracy and never win when the try to contest benefit awards.

O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese predicted "nothing new."

"Bob Ehrlich just wants us to go back to the days when the special interests ran our state, which would be bad for both small businesses and working families throughout Maryland," he said.

O'Malley has been on a "jobs" tour over the past few months to highlight job creation that he says positions the state to come out of the national recession swiftly.

This morning, Ehrlich released a 44-second YouTube video (above) promoting the plan, which he says will restore Maryland's "varsity status" in the business world.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Money and Business, Tax & Spend
        

June 4, 2010

Challenging voters: Diligence, or suppression?

The Maryland Democratic Party accused gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Friday of “encouraging voter suppression” by instructing the listeners of his radio show to monitor early voting polling places with an eye out for “questionable” voters.

“You have people there challenging a particular questionable person voting … it’s diligence and vigilance. It’s having people there — if there’s a questionable person voting, it’s challenged on the spot,” the Republican former governor said, according to the Democrats' transcript of that portion of the WBAL show.

The Democratic spin: It's 2006 all over again. The statement reminds them of a not-so-pretty episode from the last race, when the Ehrlich campaign bused indigent Philadelphians in to heavily African-American precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County on Election Day to distribute fake "Democratic Sample Ballots" that suggested that Kweisi Mfume and other black leaders were endorsing Republicans.

"The only questionable person that voters should be concerned about is Bob Ehrlich and he knows it," Democratic spokesman Isaac Salazar wrote in an e-mail to reporters. "And he's going to do everything he can to mislead votes again."

Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said the Democrats were not listening to the WBAL show very carefully and got the context wrong. The former governor was not asking random listeners to play a role in determining the suitability of voters. “He is encouraging the election judges to be sure that anyone who appears to vote is entitled to vote,” Barth explained. “Determining the appropriateness of voters is the function of election judges.” (Those with a desire to sign up as election judges can find out more about the position here.)

We think today’s misunderstanding/outrage serves as good reminder that state’s new early voting rules will this year transform Maryland’s “Election Day” into “Election Week.” Polls will be open and ready for voters a full six days before the primary (Sept. 14) and again six days before the general election (Nov. 2) per a successful 2008 ballot initiative.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Hancock: Pension fix wouldn't violate contract

While officials in Baltimore scramble for a fix to the city's underfunded police and fire pensions before the end of the month, union leaders have warned that solutions proposed so far by City Council members would violate their contract.

Baltimore Sun financial columnist Jay Hancock is taking issue with the claim.

"Of course they don't," he writes on Jay Hancock's Blog. "A casual glance at the private-sector landscape shows hundreds of corporations scrapping or adjusting future pension-benefit credits, including for unionized workers.

"Pension sponsors have an obligation to pay employees and retirees for benefits earned under the formula up to the present. But they have no obligation to continue that formula, no matter how unaffordable, for ever and ever."

He cites the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, in Parker v. Wakelin, a Maine case, and summarizes: "Proposed changes in Baltimore's police and fire pensions wouldn't change benefits for current retirees, and they wouldn't change the pension vesting that has already occurred for people still working. But the unions don't like to make that distinction."

Read more at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:16 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Kagan papers are window into modern presidency

Public events featuring the president--like Barack Obama's visit to a Maryland trucking company on Friday to highlight job growth--are like icebergs. What you get to see is only a tiny sliver of the entire thing.

Exhibit A: Just-released files from Bill Clinton's presidential library--part of some 160,000 pages being turned over to the Senate for its consideration of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, who was on the White House staff during the 1990s.

Two of the files, out of more than 1,000 files of varying lengths, contain briefing papers for a 1997 Clinton visit to Annapolis for a speech to the Maryland General Assembly promoting his domestic agenda--specifically his initiatives on education and welfare. (Click on those links to view the Kagan files about the trip, which run to more than 50 pages in all.)

Nothing particularly earthshattering, or embarrassing, there--which is partly the point.

More than a dozen administration aides and advisers, from Vice President Al Gore on down, plus others in the office of the governor (Parris Glendening), were involved in the preparation of the speech.

These Kagan files offer a detailed, and revealing, glimpse into some of the enormous effort that goes into modern presidential events, which are deceptively complicated and filled with potential pitfalls.

Posted by Paul West at 2:17 PM | | Comments (0)
        

June 3, 2010

Facebook, Google laud Md. campaign rules

Representatives of Facebook, Google and AOL praised the new rules for the social networking websites of political candidates and campaigns that were approved Thursday by the State Board of Elections, Annie Linskey reports.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes called the rules a “victory,” and said that the state is now “leading the way for the rest of the country.”

The board voted 4-0 to adopt the new rules, which would require campaigns to add a disclosure sentence identical to one required on printed materials to their Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites. The sentence identifies the campaign committee paying for the material and names its treasurer.

Violators would be subject to a $1,000 fine or up to a year in prison. The rules would not apply to unofficial sites established by private citizens not affiliated with a candidate or campaign, or to government sites.

The measure now awaits approval by a panel of legislators. DeMarinis says the board is fast-tracking the rules in hope of getting them in place for the current election cycle; the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee is expected to consider them by the end of next month.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:24 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Police, fire unions sue Baltimore over pensions

Baltimore’s police and fire unions filed a federal lawsuit against the city Thursday afternoon, alleging officials “knowingly underfunded” their pension plan over the past decade, ignoring the advice of financial experts hired by the city, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

The lawsuit marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy and expensive legal battle in the emotionally charged debate on altering retirement benefits paid to public safety officers. If drastic changes are not made to the pension system by July 1, the city will be on the hook for $66 million that it cannot pay.

Union heads, stressing the dangerous and physically-grueling nature of their work, say that pension changes proposed by the city constitute a violation of their contract.

“Some in city government are portraying this as a crisis,” said Bob Sledgeski, firefighters’ union president. “This has been long, ongoing neglect on the part of the city to follow their own experts’ advice. That’s not an accident and ten years does not a crisis make.”

The lawsuit charges that from 2003 to 2008, city financial officials disregarded actuaries’ recommendations to lower an assumed rate of return because it would have forced the city to contribute millions more to the plan.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Law and Courts
        

Obama to Tele-talk from Maryland senior center

President Barack Obama will make another quick trip to the Maryland suburbs next week. This time he'll be promoting a new prescription drug subsidy for seniors.

The event, before an invitation-only audience at a Wheaton senior center, is to feature a telephone town hall session with older Americans around the country, who will be able to question Obama by phone.

Seniors will begin receiving $250 rebate checks, one of the first tangible benefits of the new health care law, next week.

Tuesday morning's session is being held in the district of Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC is hoping that as seniors and others become more familiar with elements of the health care overhaul, they'll show their gratitude by supporting Democratic candidates this fall.

That, in turn, could help limit Democratic losses in November and preserve the party's majority in the House. At the moment, campaign handicappers give Republicans a decent shot of retaking control of at least one chamber of Congress.

Check out the White House announcement after the jump:

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 3, 2010


President Obama to Join Seniors for Tele-Town Hall Meeting on Affordable Care Act

WASHINGTON—On Tuesday morning, June 8, President Barack Obama will participate in a national tele-town hall meeting at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in Wheaton, Maryland with senior citizens to discuss the Affordable Care Act and efforts to combat senior scams and fraud in advance of the first mailing of the $250 “donut hole” rebate checks. In addition to attendees at the Senior Center, seniors across the country will be able to participate in the town hall meeting by phone. The President will be joined at the town hall meeting by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and representatives of the following organizations:

AARP

AFL-CIO

AFSCME Retirees

Alliance for Retired Americans

American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging

American Federation of Teachers Program on Retirement and Retirees

American Postal Workers Union Retirees Department

B’nai B’rith International

Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.

Communications Workers of American Retiree Division

Easter Seals

Families USA

International Union of Painters & Allied Trades – IUPAT

Medicare Rights Center

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

National Association of State Units on Aging

National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs

National Association of State Long Term Care Ombudsman Programs

The National Caucus and Center on Black Aged

National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

National Council on Aging

NCCNHR – The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

OWL- The Voice of Midlife and Older Women

SEIU

Service and Advocacy for GLBT Elders

Workers United

These organizations – which together represent over 40 million seniors across the country -- will be organizing satellite town hall meetings across the country to dial in and participate in the President’s event, which will be broadcast live on C-SPAN. A detailed list of meeting locations will be released in the coming days.

The town hall meeting will be pooled press.

Posted by Paul West at 5:11 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Washington
        

More delays for troubled Shore security project

A controversial plan to build a State Department security facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore is facing additional delays of weeks or months, federal government officials disclosed Thursday.

The proposed training center for diplomats on 2,000 acres of privately owned land in Ruthsburg has been under attack from local residents and environmentalists, who have questioned whether that is the best site for the $100 million-plus project.

In April, federal officials said they expected to release a draft Environmental Assessment of the project in "late spring."

However, in response to a request from The Baltimore Sun, the State Department and the General Services Administration announced Thursday that the environmental assessment won't be ready until late July, at the earliest.

Here's the statement:

The extensive work required to complete a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) on the Hunt Ray/Crismer Farms was estimated to be completed by the end of Spring 2010. Additional studies and analysis have extended the Environmental Assessment process for this proposed project. Completion of the draft EA now is planned for Summer 2010, no earlier than July 30th.

In March, the Environmental Projection Agency urged the State Department to abandon its environmental assessment and move immediately to preparing a more thorough environmental impact statement for the planned Foreign Affairs Security Training Center.

That process, more time-consuming and less stringent than the one the government is now conducting, would likely delay approval of the project by months, if not years. Officials of the State Department and GSA, the government's real-estate arm, in an effort to fast-track the project, have hoped to avoid formally involving the Environmental Protection Agency in the review.

When plans were announced late last year for the anti-terror training facility, complete with explosives pit, firing range, evasive driving tracks and a mock urban neighborhood, federal officials had expected to begin land acquisition by this spring.

The government has said that Queen Anne's County is the best location within a 150-mile radius of Washington for the campus-like center. But opponents have accused federal officials of failing to consider existing federal property for construction of the facility.

Posted by Paul West at 3:48 PM | | Comments (0)
        

State Republicans raising money, profile

In a video promoting her candidacy last year for chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, Audrey Scott pledged to unify the party after the tumultuous tenure of James Pelura, "and then to concentrate on raising money so our party will be positioned to win elections in 2010."

As Julie Bykowicz writes, the early returns have been striking:

Under Scott, who has been active in Maryland Republican politics for 40 years, the organization has been raising tens of thousands of dollars a month — enough to steadily repay former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele a loan that the State Board of Elections said was inappropriate and, party officials say, still bank money for state and local races. The party appears to have raised $60,000 in April alone.

That's after starting the year with $142 in the bank. Last week, party officials say, the GOP returned to solvency after three years in the red.

The GOP remains the clear minority party in this blue state. The Maryland Democratic Party reported close to $220,000 cash on hand in January, when the last reports were made public, and leaders say they have seen strong fundraising this spring.

"We're doing great," Democratic Party spokesman Isaac Salazar told Bykowicz. He said the party sold 900 tickets to its annual dinner last month to raise a record $450,000.

But Republicans are coalescing behind Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in his bid to take back the office he lost four years ago to Gov. Martin O'Malley, and are eyeing legislative pickups in a year that seems to favor Republicans nationally. And Scott says they're raising enough money to compete aggressively in November.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley announces small business initiative

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced a new commission Thursday morning to study small business, and Andy Barth finds the timing suspicious.

Barth's boss, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has been pounding small business relief in his bid to win the governorship back from the Democratic O'Malley. Not 18 hours before O'Malley's announcement Thursday, Ehrlich was telling small business owners in Carroll County that he would soon unveil "major initiatives" aimed at helping them.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” spokesman Andy Barth told The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz. “But Governor O'Malley, in this case, is too little, too late.”

In fact, O'Malley was announcing an executive order that he signed on Tuesday, based on a recommendation made by a task force in December.

“You can’t start the conversation from today," Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's campaign spokesman, told Bykowicz. “The governor understands that leadership is more than just lip service."

Abbruzzese said O’Malley “has been talking about small businesses right along.” He cited the governor’s longtime promotion of cyber security and biotechnology, and his use of federal stimulus dollars to “get boots on the ground and put people to work."

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:12 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Gansler stays out in front on gay marriage

It turns out that Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's controversial opinion that Maryland should recognize same-sex unions performed in other states was only the beginning.

As Julie Bykowicz writes in her profile of the first-term Democrat, Gansler has taken several opportunities since publishing the opinion in February to proclaim that prohibition of gay marriage is "a clear violation of equal protection."

Gansler, who is unopposed, so far, in his bid for reelection, but is believed to be interested in higher office, also likes to point out that no other statewide elected official in Maryland is as vocal in backing same-sex marriage. Fellow Democrats have questioned the wisdom of getting out in front of so liberal a cause in a state that, while blue, is seen as socially moderate.

"If I were his political adviser and I were neutral, I would certainly say, 'Don't make any enemies, enforce the law, try a couple of cases and get your name out,'" said former Sen. Joseph Tydings, whom Gansler considers a mentor. "An attorney general can run for governor without any real record."

Gansler tells Bykowicz it's a matter of principle.

"To me it just seems so wrong that we deny human beings the pursuit of happiness," he said.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Board of elections considers website rules

The State Board of Elections is set to vote Thursday on first-ever regulations governing the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites by political candidates, campaigns and parties.

A yes vote, followed by approval in the General Assembly, would make Maryland one of the first states with such rules. Similar efforts elsewhere, as Annie Linskey writes, have met with opposition.

"I've seen references to the Internet being viewed as the Wild West of campaigns," Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, tells Linskey. "We think that is healthy."

Parnell calls rules that would force a campaign to register a website with a state election authority "very dangerous territory." He says viewers ought to be able to determine on their own whether a site is official or not.

But Sean Kibby, a recent University of Maryland graduate who helped Republican state senators set up Facebook and Twitter accounts this year, says it is "probably a good idea" for some regulation.

Kibby says citizens "need an avenue" to help them determine whether an account is official.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

June 2, 2010

Ehrlich to discuss business agenda

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will soon unveil a plan that he says will help Maryland's small-business sector. At a campaign stop Wednesday, the Republican candidate told a group of Carroll County business owners that he will announce "major initiatives" in the next seven to 10 days.

Ehrlich is trying to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who ousted him four years ago, in part by convincing voters that Maryland's business climate has suffered under the current administration. O'Malley argues that he has fought to retain and create jobs in a terrible national economic downturn. Maryland's unemployment rate, while higher than in previous years, has stayed below the national average.

Ehrlich told the supportive Carroll County group, gathered at Dean's, a family-owned restaurant in Hampstead, that he would work to make state regulators more understanding and reachable. He said many employers have complained of regulators who seem "out to get them," a comment that prompted the half-dozen in the room to nod vigorously.

Ehrlich also repeated his pledge to repeal the penny-per-dollar sales tax increase that O'Malley signed into law, and he again criticized the state's corporate tax rate, which he says is too high.

His small-business plan, Ehrlich told reporters after the event, includes a mix of policies that worked during his 2003-2007 term as governor, the successful practices of other states and ideas culled from campaign stops like the one in Hampstead. He declined to provide specifics, saying he was saving them for the official announcement, which he said would likely be at a small business.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:01 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Tax & Spend
        

Md. Mideast peace activist recounts flotilla ordeal

A retired diplomat from Maryland who was aboard the so-called Freedom Flotilla attacked by Israeli commandos expressed guarded optimism Wednesday that the deadly episode would force Israel to relax its years-old blockade of Gaza.

The Israeli government "may have made a gross mistake," Edward L. Peck said in a telephone interview. "And so, this could lead to an improved situation for the people" of Gaza.

"It's a horrible thing that happened to those Turks who died" in the Israeli attack. "We had people on our ship who were beaten and maltreated," he said. "No one in his or her right mind should want anything bad to happen to a single Israeli, but bad things are happening and will happen because of what is going on in Palestine and Gaza and what isn't going on in Palestine and Gaza."

As a result of its commando assault, believed to have cost the lives of at least nine pro-Palestinian activists, Israel is facing intensified international demands to ease its blockade of Gaza, which had been designed to pressure the Hamas government.

Peck, a former career U.S. foreign service officer who served as ambassador to Mauritania and chief of mission in Iraq, spent four days aboard a Greek ship, one of six vessels that traveled by way of Cyprus before Israeli forces boarded the flotilla in international waters. He returned to his home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington after being deported by Israel.

In the aftermath of the deadly assault, the two sides have been jockeying for advantage in the court of international public opinion by airing dueling videos of the event.

Peck was not on the ship where fatalities occurred. He portrayed the actions of Israeli soldiers who boarded his ship as an overreaction that produced minor injuries for nine of 53 fellow passengers.

"The people didn't want to be boarded," he said. "We tried to resist passively, which the Israeli people were not prepared to accept." A fellow American on the ship, Joe Meadors, a Texas activist, was hit with a paintball fired by the commandos, whose heads were covered with balaclavas, said Peck.

"If somebody were to appear at my door (in Chevy Chase), fully armed, wearing balaclava masks, I'd defend my home," he said. "It's the Israeli commandos that were attacking" a ship in international waters "that didn't want to go to Israel," and the passengers defended themselves with deck chairs and iron pipes, but no guns.

The former diplomat, now in his early 80s, was taken into Israeli custody and eventually placed aboard a flight to New York.

He said his efforts on behalf of the Palestinians were not designed to support Hamas, which opposes peace talks with Israel and is regarded by Israel as a terrorist organization. However, Peck said he was a 2006 election observer in Gaza "when Hamas won a free and fair election."

Peck was among 12 Americans from the U.S.-based Free Palestine Movement aboard the flotilla, according to Jonathan Slevin, a former publisher of the Washington Times who is a spokesman for the El Cerrito, CA organization.

Nearly 700 activists were detained by Israel following the attack and more than 100 have been deported.

Peck said that after he was placed aboard a Continental Airlines jet for the trip back to the U.S., he met with rejection after requesting a drink with his airplane meal.

"I have a sense of humor," he said. "When I had my dinner and I asked for a bottle of red wine, I was told, 'No. You are not allowed alcoholic beverages. You are a threat to national security.'"

Peck is a private foreign-policy consultant. During more than 30 years as a U.S. diplomat, he was posted to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritania. He was chief of the U.S. mission in Baghdad during the Carter administration. He also served as coordinator of covert intelligence programs at the State Department and was deputy director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism at the White House under President Ronald Reagan.

Peck is a former paratrooper with degrees from the University of California at Los Angeles and George Washington University.

He was an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and endorsed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.

The Marylander became an unlikely participant in the 2008 presidential contest after Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, adapted comments made by Peck in a Fox News interview for a post-9/11 sermon attacking U.S. foreign policy. Video of Wright "damning" America, which was followed by other controversial remarks, forced Obama to break with the minister and quit his church.

Posted by Paul West at 12:19 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: People
        

Hoyer leadership PAC spending highlighted

A new study of spending by congressional leadership PACS finds that House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland used $52,700 from his fund to pay for travel with donors to resorts over the past two years.

The Washington Post reported the spending, which was compiled from Federal Election Commission data for the paper by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Leadership PACS are vehicles that politicians use to vacuum up money from lobbyists, special interests, fat-cat donors and others, which they then funnel to other candidates. The idea is that their fellow pols, once elected or re-elected to Congress, will repay the generosity by supporting the leadership ambitions of the sponsor, in this case Hoyer.

Campaign finance critics point out that many ordinary representatives and senators have also established leadership PACs, as have presidential candidates in recent years. The critics also note that less than half of the money collected by these leadership PACs winds up going to other candidates.

Of course, it costs money to raise money, which is why much of the contributed money goes to fundraising staff, consultants and the high-rolling resorts that apparently grease the flow of dough. The Post article points out that House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio used more than $70,000 for travel with donors to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla.

Hoyer spokeswoman Stephanie Lundberg is quoted as saying that Hoyer meets with contributors at resorts to ensure that donations "are as high as possible" and that he channeled an above-average amount of the money he's collected to other candidates.

The article also reported that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported no trips and just one catered event, for $1,125, through her leadership committee.

Posted by Paul West at 7:39 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Washington
        

June 1, 2010

Sticky oil debate

Gulf oil continued oozing into Maryland politics today with the Democratic Party blasting former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s for failing to “come clean” about his “dirty record” on offshore drilling.

The issue hasn’t been discussed much here, but the Gulf of Mexico oil spill combined with President Barack Obama’s proposal to lease land off the coast of Virginia for drilling sparked some curiosity. A story in Monday’s Sun discussed the candidates’ views on nearby drilling.

In a nutshell: Gov. Martin O’Malley has consistently opposed nearby drilling and recently asked the Obama Administration for a flat out prohibition. The president has backed away from the proposal.

Ehrlich’s record, however, was difficult to find. He referred detailed questions to his spokesman. The closest we came while researching was a 2005 Baltimore Sun story on how a congressional debate about lifting the mid-Atlantic drilling ban could affect Virginia politics. Ehrlich’s office could not be reached for the story, we reported at the time. 

The Democrats, however, unearthed a 2008 tape from the Ehrlich’s weekly WBAL radio show, where he repeated the “Drill, Baby, Drill” slogan that was coined by his former lieutenant governor - Michael Steele. According to the Democratic Party, Ehrlich said: “Don’t forget Michael Steele, lieutenant governor: Drill, Baby, Drill…Drill, Baby, Drill!”

Tantalizing as the quote is in the search for an answer – it isn’t necessarily a clear representation of Ehrlich's view. Ehrlich’s deputy press secretary, Allison Jessie, provided a full version of the tape from the Sept. 6 show, which featured conservative blogger Richard Vatz as a guest.

In the segment Vatz rehashed highlights from the Republican National Convention, touching on speeches by Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin. Time was running short and Ehrlich cut in:

Ehrlich: And don’t forget Michael Steele. Lieutenant Governor. Drill baby drill.

Vatz: I don’t know why CNN didn’t cover him. I thought Michael Steele should have been covered to show …(inaudible)

Ehrlich: It is a shame they didn’t go to him. In any event, good job Lieutenant Governor. And professor, great job, thank you.

Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth explained that the former governor was “apparently quoting Michael Steele, but not agreeing with him.” He said the Democratic party was “misrepresenting” Ehrlich’s view. “Yes he voiced the words. He is quoting somebody else.”

The Democrats also point to 2001 vote Ehrlich cast on the Interior Department appropriations bill - saying Ehrlich supported a measure to “open parts of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling exploration.”

The bill allowed drilling in 1.47 million new acres of the eastern Gulf, according to Democratic Party spokesman Isaac Salazar. However, it was less than the 6 million acres the Bush administration had initially wanted to open, Salazar said. And virtually all Democrats in the House supported it according to the roll call vote.

Another vote Democrats highlighted reduced hazardous waste cleanup liability for small businesses. The bill also attracted bipartisan support, passed in the House of Representatives 419 to 0.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:29 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Cummings Upbeat About Response to BP Spill

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings expressed optimism, near the close of a day-long visit to the Gulf coast Tuesday, that attempts to contain and eventually stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history are making progress.

The Baltimore Democrat said after talks with BP and government officials that efforts to drill a relief well, expected to take at least two more months, "right now are ahead of schedule, which is good." He also reiterated the view of BP officials that a separate attempt this week to contain the spill "will be successful" and will have a "tremendous" impact on slowing the leakage.

Cummings, a strong supporter of President Barack Obama, rejected efforts by Republicans and other critics to compare the U.S. response to the Gulf of Mexico spill to the Bush administration's mishandling of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"I don't see it as his Katrina," said Cummings, who co-chaired Obama's 2008 campaign in Maryland. "I do see it as something that he has to deal with very carefully and must stay on top of it every second."

The president resumed a stepped-up effort to limit political damage from the environmental disaster Tuesday. He met with leaders of his oil-spill investigative panel and promised afterward that they would "follow the facts wherever they may lead, without fear or favor."

Obama also dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to New Orleans. There, Holder announced that the Justice Department has launched a civil and criminal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 and is now wreaking ecological and economic damage along the southern U.S. coast.

Cummings said Obama had reacted to the spill with "pretty good speed. I just think there was so much to deal with at one time."

He added that Obama has "got to make sure that he hold BP responsible, and that the public feels confident that this is not going to happen again."

His visit to the scene and talks with officials there left him with "a greater sense of confidence that this matter is being handled in a way where we've got the best minds in the world, both in industry and in government, trying to work this situation out," Cumming said in a phone interview.

But he said he conveyed to officials there that the public is losing patience with repeated failures to stem the flow of oil, six weeks after the spill began.

The Maryland lawmaker, who chairs a House Coast Guard subcommittee, said new legislation may be needed to give the Coast Guard a greater role in planning the government's emergency response to any future off-shore drilling mishaps. He said the Coast Guard has now tripled the size of its contingent in the Gulf, where its duties include oversight of the contractors and subcontractors hired by BP to clean up and contain the spill.

Cummings said he is not prepared to support a ban on all Outer Continental Shelf drilling off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as proposed by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida, one of two other lawmakers invited on the congressional tour.

"I want to see what the research shows. I want to be fair," he said.

Posted by Paul West at 6:26 PM | | Comments (9)
        

Kurt Schmoke, Washington power broker

Paul West’s profile of former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his latter-day career as adviser to the powerful in Tuesday's Baltimore Sun includes a little-reported nugget about Schmoke’s involvement as attorney for then-Senate appointee Roland Burris.

Burris, of course, was the Illinois politician who didn’t decline then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s offer of the seat vacated by President Barack Obama – a seat Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell (from the federal complaint: “I’ve got this thing and it’s [EXPLETIVE] golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for [EXPLETIVE] nothing”).

When the Senate Democratic leadership resisted the appointment, West reports, it was Schmoke, dean of the Howard University law school, who advised Burris to press his case.

Schmoke had met Burris early in his tenure as dean, when the Illinois politician held a fundraiser for the school at his Chicago home. Now, at a key moment in the Obama transition, Democratic leaders — including the president-elect — were condemning the governor's action, and Burris was phoning for advice.

Come to Washington, recommended Schmoke, and ask for your rightful place in the Senate.

Burris took the advice and eventually was seated — but not before Senate officials initially turned him away. He wound up facing news cameras in a nearby park, making a public demand for his job while Schmoke held an umbrella to shield him from a cold January rain.

Soon after, West reports, Schmoke got a call from a top official of the Baltimore Teachers Union and its national parent in Washington, asking if he would mediate the D.C. schools' long-stalled labor talks, adding to his post-mayoral resume as a troubleshooter and power broker.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: People
        

More details on city budget threat

And the potential losers are: Midtown-Edmonson, Parkview/Woodbrook and Broadway East.

Those are the Baltimore neighborhoods that would lose fire companies if officials are unable to come up with tens of millions of dollars in new revenues by the end of the month (fire stations house more than one company, so the announcement does not mean that stations themselves are shutting down).

Fire officials released the list on Tuesday. Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper has the report:

City officials say they are confident that the three companies can stay open, as council members continue work on a series of new taxes. The additional proceeds would first go to public safety. The city needs about $23 million, budget officials say, to prevent police department layoffs and major reductions in fire-fighting services.

The announcement comes as city union officials received formal notice on Tuesday of hundreds of potential layoffs, many of which could also be avoided if the new taxes are adopted. The rush of bleak budget news underscores the pressure facing Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and the City Council as they scramble to pass a balanced budget before the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

Fire department officials are making plans for company closings as part of a doomsday budget scenario that involves no new money and requires $120 million in cuts from the city's $2.2 billion budget. In addition to the permanent closings, a system of four daily rotating company closures would continue.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:08 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Cummings Gets Oil Spill Flyover

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and two other members of Congress are scheduled for a helicopter flyover today of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, now the largest in U.S. history.

Cummings will be accompanied by fellow Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown of Florida and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, according to an aide on the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee, which he chairs.

After the aerial tour of the Deepwater Horizon blowout site and related environmental damage from the continuing spill, the lawmakers are to receive briefings from senior coast guard officials at the unified command center in Robert, Louisiana, according to Cummings' office.

The full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee conducted a hearing on the oil spill on May 19 and further hearings are planned, though no dates have been announced.

Posted by Paul West at 10:12 AM | | Comments (0)
        
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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