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October 31, 2011

Two top state house aides to depart

Maryland's presiding officers are each losing a top aide going into the 2012 legislative session: Patrick H. Murray, deputy chief of staff to Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller is off to lobby for Johns Hopkins; and John F. Favazza, chief of staff to Speaker Michael E. Bush will join Manis Canning & Associates.

The moves follow a long Annapolis tradition of top staff moving over to lobby. In particular, former Miller alums frequently round out the list of Annapolis' most highly paid lobbyists. They include Tim Perry, Hannah Powers, Gerard Evans.

Murray has worked for Miller for the past three years. Most recently he played a key role in the Congressional redistricting legislation that sailed through the special session two weeks ago. He was singled out for praise by Gov. Martin O'Malley during the bill signing.

Before working for Miller, Murray was a senior policy analyst in Busch's office for three years. He will become the Director of State Government Relations for Johns Hopkins.

Busch has traditionally had less turnover in his office. As chief of staff, Favazza focused on gambling, energy and environmental legislation in the Speaker's office.

Favazza has worked in the legislature since 1997, and for Busch since 1998, when the Anne Arundel Democrat chaired of Economic Matters Committee. Favazza moved with Busch to the Speaker's office in 2003. 

Busch, in a news release, said he is "sad" to lose his longtime staffer.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:53 PM | | Comments (0)

Civil rights group has new gripe with Congressional map

The Fannie Lou Hamer political action committee has a new complaint about Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional map: It says the map improperly counts prisoners at their last known address, instead of where they are incarcerated.

"Did the state of Maryland have the right to go in and adjust the numbers?" said Radamase Cabrera, a spokesman for the organization. "Last known address … was that legal?"

The new method of counting was pushed by Maryland's Black Caucus in 2010 to bolster population in African American neighborhoods, particularly in Baltimore City which has been steadily losing residents. It was the first legislation of its kind to pass in the country.

Maryland's attorney general reviewed the law and did not find problems with it. In a letter to the General Assembly, Douglas Gansler noted that the U.S. Supreme Court generally allows states to determine the best way to count residents. For example, university students can be counted at their parents' homes rather than at school. The same goes for military personnel assigned to bases.

Cabrera acknowledged it is odd for a civil rights group to be arguing against a law created to bolster minority representation. "We are using every possible legal argument to prevent the implementation of the governor's map," he said.

He also said that he believes the new method of counting *should* be used during Maryland's legislative redistricting, which will determine the boundaries for state-level representation. "The state has flexibility in what numbers they may use for the local races," Cabrera said.

As an aside, the new requirement does reveal some interesting data about the state's legislative districts. The five senate districts with the most locked up residents are all in Baltimore. First is Baltimore's 44th senate district, represented by Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, which has 1,809 prisoners.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)

Dutch, Cardin seeking break for military families

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin are scheduled to announce legislation Monday that would allow the families of wounded troops to receive free or reduced-rate hotel accomodations while visiting their recovering loved ones.

The legislation would expand the “Hero Miles” program created by Ruppersberger in 2003, through which military families may use miles donated by individual airline passengers for free airfare to visit troops recovering at military or Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Recovering troops who are able to travel also may use the miles.

The Fisher House Foundation, which administers Hero Miles, will announce Monday that it has issued the 25,000th ticket of the program, according to a spokeswoman for Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The new legislation to be introduced in the House and Senate would establish a program through which Americans could donate hotel reward points to military families visiting wounded troops recovering around the world.

Ruppersberger and Cardin both have international responsibilities among their committee assignments: Ruppersberger is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Cardin is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Senate version of the legislation already has bipartisan support, Ruppersberger spokeswoman Jamie Lennon said: The bill is to be introduced by Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and co-sponsored by Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.

Ruppersberger and Cardin are scheduled to announce the effort Monday at BWI-Marshall Airport.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Military, Washington

October 28, 2011

Civil rights group needs more time (and $$) to challenge Congressional map

Short of cash, the Fannie Lou Hamer political action committee missed a self-imposed deadline today to file a lawsuit opposing the new Congressional boundaries passed by the state's general assembly.

"Lawsuits are expensive," said Radamase Cabrera, a spokesman for the FLH-PAC. "We don't have the quarter of a million dollars necessary" to win in court. Cabrera set a new deadline of Nov. 1 to file the suit. "Right now the complications are in terms of cash and resources," he said. Cabrera noted he's seeking funding from Maryland's Republican Party.

Cabrera's group believes the Congressional map passed last week by the state's General Assembly improperly divides minority populations in order to draw a district where a seventh Democrat could be elected to Congress. His group believes that the increase of blacks and Hispanics in the state was large enough to require that mapmakers to draw at third majority-minority seat. There are two now.

Cabrera also said that "as a back up strategy" he's interested in petitioning the map to referendum. The Sun reported yesterday that Del. Neal Parrott, who had success earlier this year halting the in-state tuition law via petitions, is considering mounting a similar effort on the Congressional maps.

The map already faces one legal challenge brought Thursday by a Washington County resident who attended each of the 12 redistricting hearings held across the state. He alleges that the map illegally splits like communities.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:59 PM | | Comments (0)

Early voting in city general election begins Friday

Early voting began Friday at five Baltimore polling places and will be held on five more days before the city's Nov. 8 general election.

The city's registered voters can head to the polls from 10 a.m to 8 p.m. on Friday or Saturday, or Monday through Thursday of next week.

Voter turn-out hit a record low during the September primary, with fewer than 23 percent of voters casting ballots during early voting and the primary day. And turn-out for the general election is likely to be even lower, since city politics has long been dominated by Democrats.

Yet the Democrat candidates face a number of Republican, Independent and Green Party challengers. And some candidates are waging write-in campaigns, including Shannon Sneed, who is hoping to unseat Councilman Warren Branch in the 13th District.

The city's early voting polling places are: Edmondson Westside High School, 501 Athol Avenue; The League for People with Disabilities, 1111 E. Coldspring Lane; Moravia Park Drive Apartments, 5050 Moravia Park Drive; the Public Safety Training Center at 3500 W. Northern Parkway; and St. Brigid's Parish Center, 900 S. East Avenue.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

October 27, 2011

New map faces first court challenge

It may not wind up as the leading legal challenge to the state’s new congressional map, but a Western Maryland resident who followed the redistricting process closely appears to have the prize for filing the first complaint.

Howard Gorrell, a Washington County resident who attended every redistricting hearing this year and frequently testified against “gerrymandering,” sued Gov. Martin O’Malley in U.S. District Court on Thursday, alleging that the new congressional map approved by the General Assembly last week is unconstitutional.

In a 16-page complaint, Gorrell argues in part that the plan illegally splits like communities – particularly agricultural regions of the state.

O’Malley signed the new map into law last Thursday, creating an opportunity for Maryland Democrats to win a seventh seat in Congress from the 6th District. Gorrell lives in the newly drawn 6th District, which is now held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

Despite criticism from Republicans and some Democrats who said they were concerned the proposal dilutes minority voting power, the legislation passed in Annapolis with relative ease.

The Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, a Prince George’s County political group, has also threatened to sue.

Posted by John Fritze at 7:44 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Former GOP Hill staffer to run in 2nd District

While much of the political focus in Maryland has centered on House seats held by Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Donna F. Edwards, another district – held by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat – has also drawn a burgeoning list of potential challengers. The latest in the mix: Larry Smith, a former Republican Capitol Hill staffer who will announce his candidacy early next month.

Smith, a 46-year-old Timonium resident and former thoroughbred trainer who most recently worked as a legislative aide to GOP Rep. Andy Harris, said he believes his military background will appeal to voters in the 2nd District, which includes Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Smith, a reservist who served for seven months in Afghanistan in 2010, will formally jump into the race Nov. 7 at an event in Cockeysville.

“I couldn’t wait any longer,” said Smith, who said he decided to run for the seat in part because of the incumbent's votes in favor of raising the nation’s debt ceiling and the health care overhaul legislation pushed by President Barack Obama. “I would call myself a No Labels Republican who was inspired by the principles the Tea Party was formed by.”

 To be sure, any Republican in the 2nd District will face an uphill battle against Ruppersberger, a former county executive who has effectively parlayed his role as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee into national prominence. He has also courted military families, creating a national program that coordinates the donation of air miles to service members and their families, for instance. The congressman has benefited from decent fundraising and has just over $414,000 in the bank. 

Ruppersberger’s district, which includes Harford, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, along with a part of Baltimore city, actually became slightly more safe for Democrats after last week’s redistricting by the General Assembly. In the new district, 61.5 percent of voters chose Obama in 2008, compared with 60.7 percent in the old district.

Yet a growing number of Republicans are eyeing the seat. State Del. Patrick McDonough has said he is considering running against Ruppersberger or running for U.S. Senate next year. State Sen. Nancy Jacobs stepped down from her position as Senate Minority Leader last week to consider a possible run against Ruppersberger – or a campaign for governor or Harford County executive.

Posted by John Fritze at 7:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Garagiola set to officially kick off campaign

State Sen. Robert Garagiola, who is moving rapidly in his bid to capture Maryland’s newly redrawn 6th District, will transition into formal campaign mode on Tuesday with a four-stop “kick-off” across the district, according to an e-mail sent to campaign volunteers Thursday.

The Montgomery County Democrat will hold events in Frederick, Germantown, Cumberland and Hagerstown – marking the first formal campaign rallies in a House race that is shaping up to be among the most competitive in the country.

“You know the damage that has been done to the country by the radical right that has taken over the Republican Party and the U.S. House of Representatives,” reads the announcement, which was first reported by the Maryland Juice political blog. “The Tea Party has rebuilt the House in its own image, making it into a place where Maryland values like common sense and compassion have become vices to be scorned. The results have been disastrous -- let’s do something about it.”

The district, which was redrawn during last week’s session of the General Assembly to be more competitive in the 2012 election, is currently held by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a 10-term Republican. Bartlett has said he intends to seek reelection, but he raised a mere $1,000 over the past three months and speculation that he may retire has swirled from Washington to Maryland’s panhandle.

A spokesman for Bartlett’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment; however, in a statement released Thursday, Bartlett said he is “proud to have enjoyed the support and votes from Democrats and independents as well as Republicans.” Without mentioning his name, Bartlett appeared to take a swipe at Garagiola – who was rumored to be a potential candidate in the 6th District even before the new congressional map was finished. Bartlett said he’s “never enjoyed the benefit of having a district drawn to pick voters for me.”

A third candidate, former Montgomery County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg, has already announced that she is running. A handful of other possible candidates from both parties – including former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, a Democrat, and state Sen. Christopher Shank, a Republican – have been discussed. Most potential GOP contenders are expected to wait for Bartlett to move before making a decision one way or the other.

The seat is not a slam dunk for Democrats, particularly given President Barack Obama’s sliding poll numbers and the down economy. However, the district does offer Democrats one of their few opportunities to possibly pick off a Republican. Outside of Maryland, Republicans control redistricting in more states than Democrats and have also used the mapmaking process to their advantage. 

Posted by John Fritze at 5:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Parrott: Considering a challenge to Congressional map

The same group that successfully collected signatures to halt the in-state tuition law is considering a challenge to the Congressional map that was approved by the General Assembly last week.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Washington County Republican, said this afternoon that he is "talking to different people" about the feasibility of protesting the map and expects to make a decision "fairly quickly."

Parrott launched a group called in April which used an online tool to collect and verify signatures on petitions opposing a law that would have granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. The group collected nearly twice as many signatures as needed, though their efforts are being challenged in court now.

Parrott acknowledged that the Congressional map does not stir the same passion that the in-state bill produced. Still, he said, that when he talks to voters about the map they quickly become upset. Under the General Assembly passed map, Western Maryland's longtime conservative district becomes much more liberal.

Also, Parrott said, voters in Anne Arundel County are upset that they are split among four Congressional districts. And civil rights groups have raised concerns that minority votes were diluted in Montgomery County to allow the ruling Democrats to have a chance at picking up a seventh Maryland seat in Congress.
If Parrott's group decides to petition the map, the process would be a bit different than it was for the immigration legislation. The law was passed as an emergency bill -- which required three-fifths of the members in both houses to support it -- and it therefore would not be suspended unless voters overturn it at the ballot box.

For regular bills, like the in-state legislation, the law was suspended once enough valid signatures were gathered to put it on the 2012 ballot.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:05 PM | | Comments (1)

Balto. Co. enacts ban on smoking in vehicles

Baltimore County told its employees Thursday morning that they are no longer allowed to smoke in local government vehicles, colleague Alison Knezevich reports.

In an email to workers, County Administrative Officer Fred Homan said the ban would go into effect immediately. Employees had been allowed to smoke in cars when they were by themselves, but not when they were with other workers.

"The science on smoking ... clearly indicates that decision was not in the best interest of employee health," his letter reads.

Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, the county health officer, had confirmed Wednesday that the ban was in the works.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 10:23 AM | | Comments (3)

October 26, 2011

Rural officials meet, try to stop Plan Maryland

A group of state, county and local politicians from Maryland’s rural areas plan to meet Thursday in Annapolis to strategize about how to stop Gov. Martin O’Malley from implementing Plan Maryland, a statewide development policy that is expected to become policy later this fall.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who represents Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, is organizing the meeting.

“The governor calls Plan Maryland smart growth. But what it amounts to is no growth in the rural portions of the state,” he said in a statement.

Pipkin introduced legislation earlier this month during the special session on redistricting that would require General Assembly approval of Plan Maryland, but did not get a hearing scheduled. Pipkin plans to reintroduce the bill in January during the full legislative session.

Local officials from many of the state’s rural counties have derided the plan as a way for the state to take away their local zoning authority, which state officials say is false.

State planners have worked on Plan Maryland, which state officials say will save $1.5 billion per year in infrastructure costs, for the past three years and have rolled it out in a series of meetings with local officials across the state. Plan Maryland aims to identify growth areas where development can be fast-tracked. Local governments who fail to adhere to the guidelines would lose crucial funding for schools and roads.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

City boots and threatens to seize its own car


Baltimore boots and threatens to seize its own car



A Baltimore City fleet vehicle was booted and marked with a notice that it could face "seizure by the City of Baltimore."

Adrienne Barnes, a transportation department spokeswoman, said it was unclear how a city-owned vehicle could have been booted by the city.

"That's something that is going to have to be investigated," said Barnes. 

The car was parked in front of the Abel Wolman municipal building near City Hall on Holliday Street Wednesday morning.  Papers in the back seat indicated that it had been used by a housing inspector, and Barnes confirmed that the housing department had possession of the car.

Barnes said that parking agents ticket any vehicles that are illegally parked, regardless of to whom they belong. 

"If there's a sign that says no parking, that means no parking, no matter who you are," she said. "Our ticket issuance is based on safety."

But Barnes was not able to explain why the boot was placed on the car.  Vehicles are generally immobilized after at least three parking tickets go unpaid.

Under the city's system, parking tickets on fleet vehicles are normally promptly paid, Barnes said. 

"When a City of Baltimore vehicle is ticketed, parking fines automatically sends a notice to fleet," she said. "Fleet pays the find and then it's automatically sent to the agency for reimbursement."

The agency then passes the cost on to the employee who was at fault she said. 

Barnes said transportation and housing officials were trying to determine how the car could have built up enough unpaid tickets to require the boot. 


Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: City Hall

Mo'Nique is latest MD celeb to support same-sex marriage

'Precious' star Mo'Nique is lending her name to Maryland's same-sex marriage campaign, and released an online video today in support of the legislation.

It is the latest in a series of videos featuring prominent people with ties to the state that are being promoted by Marylanders For Marriage Equality, a new coalition formed this year to support legalizing gay marriage. Gov. Martin O'Malley and Ravens linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo taped messages in recent weeks.

The effort mirrors a similar campaign employed in New York leading up to passage of same-sex marriage legislation there earlier this year.

In the video, Mo'Nique says: "Gay and lesbian couples believe in commitment, family and love. If you don’t believe me, did you happen to notice that all that’s being asked for is the right to be married, which ironically promotes commitment, family and love?"

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:34 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

Ehrlich says Currie is a "gentleman"

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich took the stand in federal court this morning and said that state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie is a "gentleman" and "very friendly."

Ehrlich was the first Republican on a lengthy list of Annapolis politicians to testify in recent days as character witnesses for Currie. Currie is accused of accepting a bribe via a consulting contract with Shoppers Food Warehouse, with prosecutors alleging he traded legislative favors for $245,000 over a five-year period.

The former governor was slightly more circumspect on the stand than other top Democrats. "In dealing with me ... he was very honest," Ehrlich said. He stressed that his budget director, Chip DiPaula, had the day-to-day interactions with Currie.

Ehrlich also stressed Currie's high position in the State House. "He was a trusted member of Democratic leadership," Ehrlich said of Currie. Ehrlich and Currie were elected to the House of Delegates the same year -- 1986 -- a circumstance that Ehrlich said led to a early and lasting relationship. Ehrlich said that he "has always found [Currie] to be a gentleman" and "somebody willing to work with us on most occasions."

Ehrlich noted that the pair had little contact from 1995 to 2003 when Ehrlich was in Congress, but when he returned to the state house as governor, he observed that Currie "had aged."

He also noted that, as a new Republican governor, needed alliances with people like Currie. "I was looking for friends," Ehrlich said. "They were in short supply at the time."

Defense attorneys tried to steer the former governor from talking about political clashes with Currie, asking him to "put politics aside." Ehrlich laughed and then quipped: "You are talking about Annapolis, you want me to put politics aside?"

On cross examination, prosecutors asked one question: Did Ehrlich know that Currie was working for Shoppers Food Warehouse.

"I did not," Ehrlich said.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)

October 25, 2011

National Dem. leader to attend Md. rally

Updated: A spokesman for Rep. Donna F. Edwards said the congresswoman will attend the rally. The spokesman said in an e-mail that Edwards initially planned to attend but then had a scheduling conflict. Edwards was "able to move things around so as to make it," the spokesman said.      

Previous post: Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will headline a rally in Silver Spring on Wednesday to campaign for some of the state's Democratic officials who are up for election in 2012, state party officials announced Tuesday.

Wasserman Schultz, who took over the national party this year, will attend the rally alongside Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings. None are currently expected to have difficult races next year.

The rally, which will also include Gov. Martin O'Malley, comes as competitive races are developing elsewhere in the state, particularly in the 6th District, held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, and the 4th District, held by Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards.

A number of Democratic candidates are considering a challenge to Bartlett, who has said he will seek reelection. And on Tuesday, former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey said through a spokesman that he is considering a challenge to Ivey in the 4th District.

Edwards, whose old district covered portions of Silver Spring -- but not the specific site of the rally -- was not listed on the lineup of attendees. Edwards opposed O'Malley during last week's special session of the General Assembly, arguing that his proposed redistricting plan diluted the voting power of Montgomery County minorities.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

Ivey eyeing new 4th District

In a move that could open another front in Maryland's increasingly contentious 2012 election cycle, former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey said through a spokesman Tuesday that he may run for the U.S. House from Maryland's newly redrawn 4th Congressional District.

Ivey, a Democrat, would face incumbent Rep. Donna F. Edwards in the new district, which now includes not only Prince George's County but also far more conservative sections of Anne Arundel County. The district was redrawn during last week's special session of the General Assembly, despite objections from Edwards.

With the state's primary set for April 3, time is tight.

"Glenn Ivey is moving full speed ahead," said spokesman Ramon Korionoff, who also worked with Ivey in Prince George's County. "He's laying the foundation for a congressional run and he looks forward to serving the people of the newly formed 4th District."

Ivey served as State's Attorney from 2003 until this year and is currently an attorney at the well-known law firm Venable in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Princeton in 1983 and Harvard Law School in 1986.

Edwards attacked the new maps for leaving Montgomery County minorities without African-American representation in Congress, though her critics suggested she also was concerned about just such a primary challenge from a high-profile political figure.

Edwards -- first elected in a special election in 2008 to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Al Wynn -- is now in her third term. Her most recent campaign finance report showed that she had $67,031 in bank.

Much of the attention in Maryland for 2012 has so far focused on the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, which will pit incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett against a number of potential Democratic candidates in a far more competitive district. Ivey's entrance could create another potentially competitive race.

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Democrat, has also said he is considering a run in the 4th District.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Cummings: Currie was a "straight shooter"

Rep. Elijah Cummings took the stand in the federal bribery trial against state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie this morning and told jurors the senator is a “straight shooter” and “an honest guy.”

The congressman is the latest in a string of high-profile Maryland politicians to testify in Currie’s defense. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was on the stand yesterday and Rep. Steny Hoyer has also offered praise.

Cummings said Currie “is a person I expect to tell the truth" and added that the two "talk from time to time about our religious background.” The pair overlapped in the the Maryland House of Delegates before Cummings was elected to Congress.

Asked how he formed the favorable opinion, Cummings was vague. “Just watching him,” Cummings said. “Listening to him on the floor."

The congressman explained to the jury that his upbringing in a poor Baltimore neighborhood taught him to "make judgement calls quickly ... especially with men."

"I can't describe it," Cummings said. "I just know it when I see it."

The jury appeared charmed by Cummings, who from time to time would stray from his answers to offer ad hoc observations. One young African-American juror sat at the edge of her seat as the congressman spoke. A white juror smiled broadly when the defense attorneys announced that Cummings would testify.
Cummings’ testimony was punctuated by objections from the prosecution and he was interrupted three times for bench conferences.

At one point as Cummings, who is an attorney, labored to answer a question about a conversation he had with Currie without drawing objections. He paused to gather his thoughts, and then drew laughs from the jury when he explained his hesitation: "It is kind of hard when you are a lawyer, because you know, what is happening."

Unlike some of the other recent character witnesses in the case, much of Cummings testimony was dedicated to substantive issues that relate to the bribery case.

Prosecutors allege that Currie, then the chair of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, sold the power of his office to the grocery chain by agreeing to do favors for money. The defense says that Currie was employed as a consultant to Shoppers, a job that included outreach to African-American communities.

Cummings testimony appeared to show that Currie's work involved smoothing relations in black neighborhoods. Under oath, Cummings testified that Currie had called in September 2007 after learning the congressman had threatened to picket a Mondawmin Mall development after learning that minority contractors did not get much of the work. 

Cummings said his conversation with Currie lasted "at most five minutes or less." And the congressman later hosted a meeting with Shoppers executives and minority contractors. Ultimately supported the project and said he has shopped there.

Also testifying this morning was Victoria L. Gruber, chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Like some other witnesses, Gruber noted that Currie's personal office was "very disorganized." She said the senator "would often" lose notes and information packets she prepared for him.

Nevertheless, Gruber said she believed Currie did a good job chairing the committee because he was able to forge consensuses with members of the panel, even crossing party lines.

On cross-examination, prosecutors sought to used Gruber's testimony to dispel a defense theme that Currie has below average intelligence and was too confused to understand that his payments from the grocery chain would be problematic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise noted that Gruber's boss, Miller, handpicked Currie to chair the senate's most powerful committee. Wise asked what "qualities" Miller seeks in committee chairs.

"He selects people he believes would do a good job," Gruber said.

Referring to Currie, Wise asked: "He was able to carry out all of the duties" required by the chairman?

Gruber said: "Yes."

"Some of the most complex issues in the state?"

"Yes. They can be."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:20 PM | | Comments (1)

Arundel's Benoit forms committee to explore House bid

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit has formed an exploratory committee for a possible run for Congress in Maryland’s fourth congressional district, he announced Tuesday morning.

Benoit, a second-term councilman and small business owner, said in a statement that he was considering a run in 2012 for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat.

“I’ve never been more concerned about America’s future and the future of my children and yours,” said Benoit, a Democrat, in the statement. “At this very moment, our do-nothing Congress is depriving working-class Americans of jobs and opportunities. The hallmark of this House of Representatives is self-interest and brinksmanship. If I run, I’ll do my best to stop that."

Benoit, who told a local blog on Sunday that he was considering a run, is the first person to formally announce a challenge to Edwards, whose district was reconfigured under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recently approved redistricting plan. Large swaths of Anne Arundel County have been added to the district, which also includes parts of Prince George’s County.

Benoit, an attorney and former Army officer, was first elected to the county council in 2006. He is CEO of Federal Data Systems, an IT company.

He graduated from St. Mary’s College, rreceived a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law and an LL.M from Georgetown University.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 10:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

October 24, 2011

Garagiola names early supporters

By John Fritze and Annie Linskey

State Sen. Robert Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat expected to run for Congress in the newly drawn 6th District, named nearly 20 state lawmakers on Monday who he said will back his effort when he jumps in.

The list of endorsements includes Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County lawmaker and the state House Majority Leader, along with Sen. Ron Young, a longtime mayor of Frederick who unseated Alex Mooney last year.

Mooney, who chairs the state Republican Party, is also considered a possible candidate for the 6th District.

“I am appreciative of the early support of so many of my colleagues,” Garagiola said in a statement. “I have heard from many state and local elected leaders, as well as others, who have urged me to run for Congress.”

The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, but the district was redrawn during last week’s special session of the General Assembly – part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Bartlett has said he will seek reelection.

The 6th is likely to be a competitive race and it is one of the few opportunities Democrats have nationally to add to their numbers. In part because of the redistricting process, candidates have a shortened time frame to get campaigns up and running. The primary will take place April 3.

It turns out that not everyone on Garagiola’s list of supporters is actually supporting his campaign. Del. Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat, said in an e-mail that he is not endorsing any candidate in the race. The mix up appears to have been a case of miscommunication. Kelly said he responded affirmatively to an e-mail from Garagiola soliciting support, but said he did not realize the e-mail was a request for endorsements.

A full list of names – minus Kelly’s – follows after the jump. All are Democrats:

Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery County

Sen. Nancy J. King, Montgomery County

Sen. Karen S. Montgomery, Montgomery County

Sen. Ronald N. Young, Frederick County

Del. Charles E. Barkley, Montgomery County

Del. Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery County

Del. Galen R. Clagett, Frederick County

Del. John P. Donoghue, Washington County

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, Montgomery County

Del. Brian J. Feldman, Montgomery County

Del. Anne R. Kaiser, Montgomery County

Del. Eric G. Luedtke, Montgomery County

Del. Aruna Miller, Montgomery County

Del. Kirill Reznik, Montgomery County

Del. A. Shane Robinson, Montgomery County

Del. Craig J. Zucker, Montgomery County

Posted by John Fritze at 4:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Balto. Co. Councilman Oliver to resign from state job

Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth Oliver will resign from his position as a finance specialist with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, an agency spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

Oliver has worked as a contract employee since February – an apparent violation of the county charter, which prohibits council members from holding any other employment or office with the state or county.

DBED spokeswoman Karen Glenn Hood said Oliver told leaders there "that his official resignation would be forthcoming," though he has not yet turned in a letter.

Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, has not returned messages seeking comment today.

Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. said he spoke with other council members this weekend, and all agreed that Oliver needed to either resign from the council or resign from the state job.

Oliver informed Olszewski of his decision today, the chairman said.

"All the other council members think this is a serious matter," Olszewski said. "I believe my council members will be glad to hear that Councilman Oliver has taken this action, and hopefully, it doesn't happen again."

-Alison Knezevich

Posted by at 1:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

Lt. Gov. Brown calls Currie 'man of strong integrity'

Attorneys for state Sen. Ulysses Currie called Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to the witness stand Monday morning, where Maryland’s second-in-command testified that Currie had been a mentor to him both professionally and personally.

“Senator Currie has a reputation of being a good guy -- the nicest guy, that’s what people always say… the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” said Brown, who's frequently mentioned as a 2014 gubernatorial candidate. He described Currie as a “very caring,” yet disorganized legislator.

“He’s a man of strong integrity and conviction and beliefs,” Brown said.

The testimony, which lasted roughly 10 minutes, continues a theme in Currie’s defense, which has called current and former politicians as character witnesses for Currie. Many claim that the 74-year-old senator is endlessly friendly, but not particularly bright, not pulled together. Legal experts claim the strategy amounts to an “I’m an idiot defense” that asks the jury to believe that Currie wasn’t aware his actions were illegal.

Currie is accused of using a consulting contract with Shoppers Food Warehouse to mask an extortion scheme, in which he traded legislative favors for $245,000 over a five-year period. He neglected to list the work on legislature ethics forms, which his attorneys have blamed on a scatterbrained nature.

Currie has denied the allegations and said the contract was an innocent, professional endeavor. When questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Gavin, Brown said he didn’t know about the work, and called the ethics form disclosures an important requirement for legislators.

Brown, who became lieutenant governor in 2006, managed Currie’s 1994 election campaign and shared a ticket with him four years later during his own run for a position in the House of Delegates. They’ve remained friends ever since, Brown said, with Currie meeting his parents and attending the christening of Brown’s daughter.

--Tricia Bishop

Posted by Eileen Canzian at 11:01 AM | | Comments (11)

October 21, 2011

Marylanders in Congress welcome Iraq news

At least some of Maryland’s representatives in Washington welcomed the announcement by President Barack Obama on Friday that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year.

“President Obama kept the promises he made when he campaigned for the office,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement. “Osama bin Laden was hunted down in Pakistan, the drawdown in Afghanistan has begun and with the President’s latest announcement, our brave men and women in uniform will be coming home to spend the holidays with their families."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin voted against the resolution that authorized the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, when he was a member of the House.

“We can’t change the past, but after years of calling for a new and more thoughtful approach, President Obama delivered on his pledge to withdraw our military from Iraq in a safe and stable manner,” the Maryland Democrat said. “The Iraqis can now take responsibility for the security and sustainability of their own nation.”

Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said he still believes Iraq “was the wrong war at the wrong time.”

“However,” he continued, “our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and Coast Guardsmen have done our nation proud. The excellence shown by our military has proven, yet again, that they are second to none. … I welcome home our brave servicemen and women, and hope that they will never again be separated from their families by violence and war.”

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, noted that Obama's announcement was "consistent with his past statements and abides by the timeline established in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement written by the Bush Administration and Prime Minister Maliki's government."

"Our troops have carried out their mission with dedication and have made great sacrifices in order to help advance a stable Iraq," the Southern Maryland lawmaker said. "Today, as we begin the transition to a new relationship with Iraq, we honor the more than 4,000 servicemembers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, and we redouble our commitment to those who have returned home.

"I hope as we move forward that the Iraqi government will succeed in confronting the challenges of remaining democratic, representative, and free; succeed in providing for the security of the Iraqi people; and succeed as a model democracy in a region undergoing many critical transitions."

Cardin tallied the costs of the war.

“More than 4,700 Americans and allies — including 72 Marylanders — gave their lives,” he said. “Nearly 32,000 were wounded, more than $800 billion dollars were spent, and the sacrifice of the families waiting and worrying at home has been immeasurable.”

Now, Cardin said, "we will do everything possible to support the health and well-being of the brave men and women who are returning home from war.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:00 PM | | Comments (1)

State writes down forecast for slots revenues

Citing competition from other states and the slow recovery from the recession, Maryland's budget analysts wrote down slots revenues over the next five years by 12 percent or $474.3 million.

The new, lower figures are sure to be used in the upcoming session by groups interested in either adding table games to the menu of gaming options in Maryland and expanding gambling to new locations. Additions could include gaming at Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor in Prince George's County or Frederick County where Sen. David Brinkley recently held a public hearing airing the idea.

In the forecast (p. 18), state budget analysts from Maryland's Department of Legislative Services revise an earlier prediction that revenues at the slots parlors in Cecil County and at Ocean Downs would "ramp up" over time. Now the revenues are expected remain flat.

The new estimate takes a $56 million chunk out of the state's roughly $13 billion general fund budget for this year. Baltimore city's casino, when it gets up and running, is still expected to be the state's second most lucrative, generating $336 million a year in taxes.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots

Ravens linebacker pushes for same-sex marriage

Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo is putting his considerable heft behind passing a gay marriage bill in Maryland and will star in a new video that will be released today pushing for the measure.

In the video Ayanbadejo looks directly into the camera and says: "I believe we should be doing everything that we can to make Maryland families stronger which is why I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples who want to make a life time commitment to each other."

"People from all walks of life including gay and lesbian couples want their children to be in stable homes and protected by the law. Join me and the majority of Marylanders who support marriage equality."

A new coalition, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, plans a state-wide media campaign to build support for the measure in advance of the January legislative session. The first video of what they said will be a series was released earlier this month and featured Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Opponents of the measure also have support from a NFL player. Shortly after Ayanbadejo initially supported the Maryland bill last spring, wide-receiver Derrick Mason (who is no longer a Raven), said in a radio interview that he believes marriage is should be between a man and a woman.

A gay nuptials law nearly passed last spring in Maryland, and O'Malley over the summer pledged to make it one of his priorities in the upcoming legislative session. Should the bill pass next session it is likely to be petitioned to referendum and would appear on the 2012 ballot.

Ayanbadejo, a three time Pro-Bowl player, has been outspoken in support of gay marriage for the past few years. He cut a video supporting the legislation last session, though it was not heavily promoted in the state. In a 2009 Baltimore Sun article my colleague Kevin Van Valkenburg profiled Ayanbadejo and quoted from a column the player penned in the Huffington Post that year:

"If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can't a loving same-sex couple tie the knot?" Ayanbadejo wrote. "How could our society grant more rights to a heterosexual, one-night-stand wedding in Vegas than a gay couple that has been together for 3, 5, 10 years of true love?"

In his piece, Van Valkenburg wrote: "It's an experience to stand next to the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ayanbadejo and carry on a conversation. Physically, he's an intimidating presence, with muscles so sharply defined, you can imagine him doing push-ups and crunches in his sleep. There isn't another player on the Ravens, from Ray Lewis on down, who takes fitness and nutrition as seriously as Ayanbadejo."

"But he's also one of the worldliest Ravens, a definition that fits him both figuratively and literally. Although Ayanbadejo was born in Chicago in 1976, he and his family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, when he was 1 and lived there for three years before returning to the United States."

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:00 AM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

October 20, 2011

Garagiola to ‘seriously consider’ a run for Congress

State Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat, formally announced Thursday that he is considering a run for the U.S. House in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District.

Though not unexpected, Garagiola’s announcement capped a busy first day in what is shaping up to be among the nation’s most competitive House races in 2012. The district is currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who said this week that he will seek reelection.

“What I have done in Maryland is the same kind of can-do, bi-partisan leadership we need in Washington,” Garagiola, the Senate majority leader, said in a statement. “As someone who has served our country in uniform, I fundamentally believe that we must end the partisan gridlock in Washington and put our country first.”

The announcement came on thee same day that Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into a law a new congressional map for Maryland that will be in place for the next decade, including the April 3 primary election. The redistricting transforms Bartlett's once conservative stronghold by including Democratic portions of Montgomery and Frederick counties.

The new 6th District, which also includes Maryland's mountainous panhandle, could become among the most competitive and expensive House races in the country, particularly because portions of it now dip into the pricey Washington media market. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists the seat as one of 12 GOP-held toss up districts.

Former Montgomery County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg, a Democrat, announced Thursday that she is running for the seat.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

Van Hollen notes ‘dramatic’ change in district

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a former leader of the party’s national effort to elect Democrats to the House, wrote Thursday that he “cannot take anything for granted” in the 2012 election because of the changes approved this week to his congressional district.

The Montgomery County lawmaker, who has been mostly mum during the redistricting process, made the comments in an e-mail to supporters soliciting campaign cash.

“Earlier today, the Maryland General Assembly passed a redistricting plan that will dramatically change my current congressional district — reducing the Democratic performance by 12 percentage points,” Van Hollen wrote in the e-mail. “The new district will run all the way from the D.C — Maryland line to the border with Pennsylvania, taking in some very Republican areas.

“I cannot take anything for granted.”

Van Hollen’s 8th District, which had encompassed Montgomery County and a small portion of Prince George’s County, will now stretch farther north, taking in conservative portions of Frederick and Carroll counties. Van Hollen met with Gov. Martin O’Malley, a fellow Democrat, earlier this month to discuss the map, but it is not clear what changes, if any, were made to address his concerns.

Van Hollen, who served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2008 and 2010 elections, is widely popular in Montgomery County and has a national base of support on which to draw. For now, he is not considered vulnerable in 2012.

O’Malley signed the new congressional map into law Thursday. It will be in effect for 10 years, including for the April 3 primary.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Trachtenberg to run for Congress in 6th District

A former Democratic member of the Montgomery County Council who lost her reelection last year after battling with public employee unions said Thursday that she will run for Congress from the new Western Maryland district created this week as part of the state’s redistricting process.

Duchy Trachtenberg, an at-large member of the council from 2006 through 2010, is the first Democratic candidate to formally enter the race -- through several high-profile Democrats and Republicans are strongly considering a run.

The seat is currently held by 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who has said he will seek reelection.

“They’re really looking for independence,” Trachtenberg said of voters when asked why she would be the best Democratic candidate to take on Bartlett next November. “It’s going to really take some direct, honest dialogue and some bold ideas and also some willingness to make hard decisions.”

The 6th District, a longtime conservative stronghold, will now include portions of Democratic-rich Montgomery County and is expected to be among the most competitive races in the country next year. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the new map into law Thursday.

Several candidates have been eyeing the seat even before the process wrapped. Another Democrat who has expressed an interest in the district is state Sen. Rob Garagiola. It's yet clear whether Bartlett will face a primary challenge, but speculation has swirled about several possible GOP contenders, including state Sen. David Brinkley, state Sen. Chris Shank and state Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney.

Trachtenberg ran afoul of public employee unions after questioning a costly compensation package for county workers. The unions later claimed credit for her defeat -- a position that could potentially help Trachtenberg in the more conservative parts of the district.   

Trachtenberg will bring at least one high-profile political consultant into the race: Joe Trippi, who met Trachtenberg during the 2004 presidential campaign. Both worked for former Vermont governor Howard Dean.


Posted by John Fritze at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Marylanders in Congress urge democracy in Libya

Maryland’s representatives in Washington spoke Thursday of a new era in Libya, and urged the rebels who overthrew Moammar Gadhafi to continue working with their international supporters on the transition to democracy.

“The Libyan people now have the opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The Transitional National Council (TNC), with support from the international community, can now focus its efforts toward promoting democracy, freedom and human rights for all Libyans with a unity government, so the will of the Libyan people can be expressed.

“The international community looks forward to a peaceful transition and free and fair elections in Libya.”

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the No.2 Democrat in the House, expressed hope that the death of Gadhafi signals “a return to peace in Libya.”

“I join in encouraging the National Transitional Council to continue working with the international community to build free institutions and provide for the safety and well-being of its people,” Hoyer said.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the death of Gadhafi as “positive news for the people of Libya, for America, and for the international community.

“For decades, Qaddafi persecuted all opponents to his regime and controlled the Libyan people with brutality and violence,” Cardin said. “His open defiance of the will of his own people and their desire for freedom, and his rebuff of the international community, made it predictable that he would not survive this latest chapter.”

The Maryland Democrat, who also co-chairs the Helsinki Commission, said the United States “is prepared to be a part of the international support needed to help the new Libyan government rebuild their country and to be a good neighbor.

“A new Libya needs to join the international community in a way that brings stability to the region, including removing from the region some of their most dangerous weapons,” Cardin said.

Hoyer underscored the international cooperation that led to the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime.

“NATO’s coordinated response, in which the United States played a central role, was instrumental in preventing widespread violence against Libyan civilians and demonstrates the importance of working together with our overseas partners to address humanitarian and security threats.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Jacobs steps down as Senate GOP leader

After a mere 10 months on the job, Maryland's first female Republican Senate leader is giving up her post because she's considering running for higher office.

"If I’m looking at doing something else it just would not be fair to the Republican caucus for me to have my mind else where," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs. "Whatever I decide to do, I’m likely going to have to campaign. And campaign during session."

Jacobs, who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said she might try to unseat Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, a Democrat incumbent in the 2nd Congressional District, where she lives. She also said she's considering running for Harford County Executive. David Craig, who holds the position is term limited.

Jacobs took over the leadership post in January after Sen. Allan H. Kittleman stepped down because he wanted to introduce a civil unions bill that would be at odds with his caucus. Kittleman never introduced the bill, and instead became the sole GOP lawmaker supporting same-sex marriage.

Jacobs announced her intentions to the GOP caucus Thursday evening. The group will meet in December, she said, to elect a new leader.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:28 PM | | Comments (4)

O'Malley signs redistricting plan

Gov. Martin O'Malley on Wednesday put his signature on a new political map that redraws Maryland's eight congressional districts and could add a seventh Democrat to the state's delegation in the House of Representatives.

Unless altered in a court, the map will be govern Maryland's elections to Congress for the next 10 years, starting with the April 3 primary.

The governor gave brief remarks thanking key State House staff for their help with the map. He characterized the process of holding a dozen public hearings before developing the map as "fair" but acknowledged that his plan was controversial in some corners.

"There is no such thing as a perfect map or a map that pleases everyone," O'Malley said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller kept his remarks even shorter, simply saying: "It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

The governor gave the pen used to sign the bill into law to Jeanne Hitchcock, a longtime aide who chaired the Governors Redistricting Advisory Committee.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:51 AM | | Comments (1)

Goodbye special session

Twenty-four typos found Tuesday evening in Gov. Martin O'Malley's mammoth redistricting plan mean Maryland's senate needs to vote on the map one more time when they go back in session this morning and to agree to the clean version of the bill.  

The House of Delegates will also be in session -- briefly -- just so the body can officially adjourn. That irked some GOP leaders who said taxpayer money could have been saved had the senate opted to work Wednesday instead of taking the day off. Had the senate stayed in session, both chambers could be done with the legislation Wednesday night.

Rumors were flying that the House GOP caucus would try some maneuver to register their displeasure -- there's nothing they can do in the House at this point to prevent the bill from becoming law.

Both houses should be done by noon, though the usual end of session confetti drop is unlikely. And, if all goes smoothly, O'Malley will put his signature on his new bill today.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:07 AM | | Comments (0)

October 19, 2011

Perry, Romney set up campaigns in Md.

Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry on Wednesday named two state lawmakers and a political consultant to his lead his campaign effort in Maryland.

The state team will be co-chaired by state Sen. Christopher Shank, a Western Maryland Republican, and Del. Justin Ready, a Carroll County lawmaker and interim executive director of the state party. The Perry campaign also named political consultant Lawrence Scott and Richard “Dick” Hug as finance co-chairs.

“I am looking forward to expanding our campaign operation into Maryland and I am proud to have the support of these key individuals,” Perry said in a statement.

The Maryland primary will take place April 3 as the national political schedule continues to slide earlier into the year. The Iowa caucuses are set for Jan. 3. New Hampshire has not yet announced a primary date.

The candidates are part of a crowded field seeking the GOP nomination and the right to take on President Barack Obama next November.

Hug, who has previously raised money for former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., joins the Perry campaign even as Ehrlich has signed up with former Massachusetts governor and GOP front runner Mitt Romney. Romney announced last week that he had chosen Ehrlich to be chairman of his campaign here.

Romney endorsed Ehrlich’s 2010 unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.

“After studying all the candidates, it is clear that Republicans’ best chance for beating President Obama next November is Mitt Romney,” Ehrlich said in a statement posted last week on his Facebook page.

Posted by John Fritze at 7:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

Bartlett says he will run for re-election

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the incumbent member of Congress with the most to lose under the redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly Wednesday, announced that he plans to run for re-election, despite a more competitive district and recent lackluster fundraising.

Breaking his long-held silence on the redistricting plan, the Western Maryland Republican blasted the new map that will be in place for the April 3 primary and next year’s general election. The more competitive district has drawn interest from a handful of potentially strong candidates, including Democratic state Sen. Rob Garagiola.

“With 45% of Marylanders now minorities clustered in the city of Baltimore and in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., it was self-evident that there should be a new third majority minority district,” Bartlett said in a statement. “Unfortunately and obviously, these were the lowest priorities for the mapmakers in Annapolis.”

Bartlett, a 10-term lawmaker, has long faced speculation that the new district would prompt him to retire. He did not help dispel those rumors with his most recent fundraising report, which shows he collected only $1,000 in the past three months -- despite the fact that his race could easily become one of the most expensive in the country.

But in the statement, Bartlett tried to put aside any doubts about his reelection. And, it’s worth noting that potential challengers will start with no money in the bank.

“I filed for re-election in June and approval of this map hasn’t changed my plans to seek re-election to represent the residents of Maryland’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives,” he said.

Through a spokeswoman, Bartlett declined a request for an interview.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Edwards: Redistricting process has run its course

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat who became a leading critic of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed redistricting plan, acknowledged Wednesday that she had lost her effort to change the map and said she looked forward to representing her new district.

Edwards' office released a statement shortly after the Maryland House of Delegates voted 91-46 to support O'Malley's proposal. The bill will head back to the Senate for technical corrections on Thursday, but the broader political fight is over.

The congresswoman had argued that the proposal harmed minority voters in Montgomery County because it split growing black, Asian and Hispanic populations into congressional districts that are likely to be represented by whites. Edwards' 4th District currently covers many of those communities, but will be pulled out of Montgomery County under the new map.

"The redistricting plan passed in the Maryland House today is not the best approach for minority voters or for all Marylanders," Edwards said in a statement. "Nonetheless, the legislative process in the General Assembly has run its course...Our country and the state of Maryland face pressing challenges that must be matched by thoughtful and authentic leadership from and on behalf of all communities."

Posted by John Fritze at 4:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

House passes redistricting map

Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting plan sailed through the House of Delegates today on a 91 to 46 vote, with only five Democrats voting against the governor.

The plan redraws the 6th congressional district, a reliably Republican seat in Western Maryland, and makes it a tossup by adding tens of thousands of liberal voters from Montgomery County.

The change angered House Republicans who tried three times to block the the measure. All of their efforts failed. The map also irked some Democrats, who felt that minority populations were carved up. 

The measure requires another vote in the Senate because of technical changes before it goes to O'Malley for his signature as emergency legislation.  Both chambers are expected to adjourn tomorrow. 
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:07 PM | | Comments (4)

House gives initial nod to O'Ms map

By John Fritze and Annie Linskey

Over objections from Republicans, Maryland's House of Delegates gave an initial nod to Gov. Martin O'Malley's redistricting plan and moved the legislation to the final stage of debate.

The plan redraws the state's eight congressional districts, packing tens of thousands of registered Democrats into Western Maryland's traditionally conservative 6th congressional district. The change makes that seat a tossup, opening the possibility that a seventh Democrat will be sent to Washington.

The Democrat-controlled House of Delegates rejected three different GOP-backed proposals on largely party line votes. Each of the proposals would have created a third majority-minority district, but none attracted support from black lawmakers, all of whom are Democrats.

The body could grant final approval as soon as this afternoon.

House Republicans began their attack almost immediately, questioning the degree to which the O'Malley administration had reviewed the map to ensure it complies with the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Republicans offered a motion in an attempt to delay debate on the bill, which failed 41-92.

Several groups, including one backed by the state Republican party, have threatened to sue over the map, suggesting it does not reflect the growth of minorities in the Washington suburbs.  

O'Donnell  offered the first of three Republican plans expected Wednesday -- a proposal drafted this past summer by the state Republican Party and that would keep congressional districts more compact. Democrats have argued that the GOP plan would force many more voters into new districts.

Democrats defended O'Malley's map.

"There is no constitutional requirement that the map be pretty," said Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat.

An alternate plan crafted by the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, a Prince George's County political group, initially appeared like it might gain some traction in the House, but it ultimately failed on a 40-97 vote.

The proposal was introduced by Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Western Maryland Republican. The map would draw Rep. Donna F. Edwards' 4th District back into Montgomery County to ensure that minorities in that part of the state are represented by a black member of Congress.

Republican Del. Michael J. Hough, noting that the Fannie Lou Hamer group has threatened to sue the state unless the state's final map has three minority districts, suggested that the group's map would keep the state out of court.

"Do we pick up another seat -- do we go for the partisan seat -- or do we keep communities together?" the Frederick County lawmaker asked. "This map will not go through the costly court battle and we won't have the possibility of the court drawing the map."

Del. Doyle L. Niemann, a Prince George's County Democrat, argued that voters would benefit under O'Malley's map because many of the new districts would prove more competitive in future elections. Niemann's neighborhood would be drawn into the new 4th District."  

"It's going to be a more competitive district...and I'm going to get better service as a result of that," Niemann said. "Competition's a good thing. The governor's map is more competitive."

A third plan, initially crafted by Sen. Joe Getty to bolster rural voices, was offered by Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. After only brief discussion, that plan was also defeated 98-39.

The House also rejected one plan offered by Montgomery County Democrats: It would have given U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards a foothold in the county. The amendment failed 26-107.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:05 PM | | Comments (3)

House starts work on redistricting proposal

Despite weeks of consternation over the redrawing of the state’s eight congressional districts, the Maryland General Assembly is poised Wednesday to give final approval Gov. Martin O’Malley’s new map – a proposal that could give Democrats an advantage heading into the 2012 election.

Starting at 10 a.m., members of the House of Delegates will begin debate on the new map, which draws Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s district deep into Democrat-heavy Montgomery County in order to make his reelection more difficult. House Republicans have threatened to offer a much tougher debate than took place in the Senate earlier this week. Republicans will offer at least three amendments to the O’Malley plan.

Democratic opposition, while not a threat to the governor’s map, is also expected to be more aggressive than it was in the Senate. Some members are expected to support an amendment that hews closely to an alternate map drawn by Rep. Donna F. Edwards. The Prince George’s County Democrats, whose district would change significantly under O’Malley’s plan, has argued that she should keep her foothold in Montgomery County.

Top House aides are hopeful that the final vote on O’Malley’s map could come Wednesday evening – capping a lightning-fast special session.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)

October 18, 2011

Congressman Hoyer: Currie does 'not pay attention to details'

Defense attorneys for state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie continued a theme Tuesday, calling an influential member of Congress to portray their client as honest, but hopelessly disorganized.

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, testified that Currie, who's on trial in federal court in Baltimore on corruption charges, is "not particularly taken with details or organization."

"He did not pay attention to details, but he did pay attention to people," Hoyer said of Currie, who is accused, along with two former executives from Shoppers Food Warehouse, of using a public-relations consulting contract to cover up a $245,000 bribery scheme that bought legislative favors for the food chain.

"He's been a friend of mine for 30 years," Hoyer said of Currie, adding that he sold his house directly to Currie when he moved from Forestville in the late 1980s.

"He was a decent, honest person of integrity," Hoyer said. "I don't think organization is his strong point."

The defense team also called certified public accountant Thomas J. Murphy, who testified that he prepared Currie's tax returns between 2005 and 2008.

On Monday, defense attorneys called a witness who portrayed Currie, a Prince George's County legislator, as endlessly pleasant, but not very bright.

"On the smart [scale], he's right at the bottom," Timothy F. Maloney, a lawyer and former Maryland delegate, testified as the first witness for the defense. "On the nice [scale], he's right at the top."

Currie, a former teacher, has a master's degree in education, and he held one of the most powerful positions in the state legislature as chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Yet, according to Maloney, Currie is also "not very astute," his ability to remember and relay information is "just not good," and "no one would call him smart."

Peter J. Henning, a Detroit law professor who recently published a book about legal strategies used in public corruption cases, said of the trial strategy: "I've termed it the 'I'm an idiot defense."

Defense attorneys will continue calling witnesses this afternoon.

--Luke Broadwater

Posted by at 1:14 PM | | Comments (7)

Redistricting proposal passes Md. Senate

The Maryland Senate approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan Tuesday to redraw the state’s eight congressional districts, overcoming opposition from Republicans and some Democrats who raised concerns about how the proposal treats minority voters.

The proposal passed 33-13 on a party line vote with one exception: Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George’s County lawmaker, was the lone Democrat to vote against the measure.

The redistricting proposal, the focus of a special session of the General Assembly this week, now moves to the House of Delegates, which is expected to work on the measure through Wednesday.

“ The map…is a map that we’ll all benefit from,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat who supported the plan.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:11 PM | | Comments (3)

A three member congressional district?

Fed up with with "gerrymandering," Sen. Jamie Raskin plans to offer his own redistricting map on the Senate floor later today. The Montgomery County Democrat can't amend the governor's plan at this point, but he can still criticize it.

Raskin's plan would into two "at large" congressional districts. One would be a "three member" congressional district and include much of western Maryland. The other would be a "five member" district, and encompass the rest of the state. (See photo.)

The plan, according to Raskin, will allow more minority candidates to win races. "We expect viable candidates across the political and demographic spectrum in both super-districts," according to a statement accompanying the map. "With a lower threshold for racial minority candidates to win a seat, there will be increased representation of racial minority communities and fairer representation for all."

Raskin said the plan will avoid the "extreme gerrymandering" currently at play in Maryland. The Senator, a professor in Constitutional law, acknowledges that the plan would require a change to federal law, and he said he is hoping the state's congressional delegation will help push the necessary legislation.

Raskin says that each state in the country should be able to "experiment with other voting systems."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)

'Never has trash been so fun'

After years of heaving trash and recycling up into the air, city residents can handily throw the stuff down into the bins at the newly-renovated Remington dump.

Officials on Tuesday morning celebrated the $600,000 makeover of the Sisson Street facility, which is now called a "convenience center." It features a hazardous waste drop-off and the city's first Styrofoam recycling receptacle as well as the newly-convenient bins.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke described her former method for launching trash into the high bins as "The Up and Over."

"You were always closing your eyes and taking aim," she said.

"If you brought a large item or a heavy item here, there was no way to get it into the roll-off unless you were Hercules," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Now, residents drive up a ramp -- built as a joint project by the departments of public works, transportation and general services -- and drop trash or recycling into marked bins over the side.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young described the risky task of catapulting crab shells into the old bins.

"You had to stand back and throw it up and if there was any liquid it splashed back on you," he said.

Public works director Col. Alfred H. Foxx said that he planned to renovate the city's other dumps as well.

The Sisson Street facility, the city's busiest, is also the site of a new pilot program to recycle Styrofoam, which is not accepted by the city's single stream recycling program. Washed food containers and large pieces of foam used to pack electronics can be dropped off there. Packing peanuts cannot be recycled.

Residents can also now drop off hazardous waste at Sisson Street from April through October.

Rawlings-Blake and Clake shook a yellow recycling tub over the metal bin, as shredded paper and empty bottles showered down into the receptacle..

"Never has trash been so fun," said Rawlings-Blake.

Posted by Eileen Canzian at 11:08 AM | | Comments (0)

Senate poised to pass O'M redistricting map

A day after Maryland's Democratic led Senate offered initial approval of Gov. Martin O'Malley's redistricting plan, the body is set to reconvene at 10 a.m. and appears on the verge of passing the measure with little difficulty.

Preliminary votes show that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has more than enough support to pass the plan to redraw the state's eight congressional districts.

Despite some initial opposition from Prince Georges and Montgomery County Democrats, the plan steamed forward in the Senate Monday night with such ease that even some top Democratic aides were surprised.

If there is a fight at this point, it will likely happen in the House where Speaker Michael E. Busch can only lose 13 votes to secure passage.

The House of Delegates is also set to be in session Tuesday, though their redistricting committee must still vote on the plan before it goes to the floor. The House could take some preliminary votes as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Separately, some county leaders are expected to testify in Annapolis Tuesday afternoon on transportation and other infrastructure needs.

Their testimony could start to build a case for the larger capital budget that O'Malley said he wants to pass during the regular session -- and the tax increases that could be necessary to fund it.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)

October 17, 2011

Senate panel approves O'Ms congressional map

In a brief meeting the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee voted 11-4 to approve new congressional lines drawn by Gov. Martin O'Malley. The vote was split along strict party lines with all of the Republicans voting against the measure.

There little discussion before the vote, with both sides opting to stay quiet. Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs said: "It is a done deal. Why waste every ones time talking?"

After the vote Jacobs, a Republican from Harford Cecil counties, said sarcastically: "Are you shocked?"

The Senate is expected to go into session at 6 p.m. to begin floor debate on the legislation. The three GOP plans are expected to be offered as amendments.

Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller said that he wants to hold an initial vote this evening, and said he's willing to stay in session until midnight. At this stage, the bill can pass the body with only a simple majority.

Final passage in the Senate, which could come as early as tomorrow, will require a 3/5 majority or 29 votes.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:04 PM | | Comments (0)

Rep. Edwards proposes map, faces criticism

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, the Prince George’s County Democrat who has led opposition to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting proposal, said Monday she has proposed her own map to address minority voting concerns, but the proposal came under fire from some members of the General Assembly.

A difficult-to-view inset of the map posted on her campaign website appears to show that her proposal would bring Edwards’ district into eastern Montgomery County so that she would represent minority communities there.

Edwards’ staff did not respond to requests for a statewide version of the map.

“It is possible to meet both our concerns of minority representation interests in Montgomery County and also to satisfy whatever broader political” goals are involved, Edwards said, referring to Democratic efforts to make the Western Maryland district represented by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett more competitive.

“We will not have a perfect map by any stretch but we should come as close to perfect in representing the interests of all communities throughout our great state of Maryland as we can.”

Several members of a joint committee considering various redistricting proposals Monday said that they had not received a copy of Edwards' proposal. Some Democratic lawmakers questioned the proposal, noting that it would carve Howard County into four congressional districts while also reducing the share of minorities in other congressional districts.

“You’re giving us four congressmen, I don’t know what advantage we get – I don’t know what advantage minorities get,” argued Del. Sheila Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat.

“I appreciate your comments," Edwards responded. "I’ll let your fellow elected leaders who represent minority communities, particularly in your district, speak to those concerns."

The exchange was part of a broader public hearing on redistricting Monday. The hearing began with Jeanne D. Hitchcock, a longtime aide to O'Malley who chaired the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, expressing confidence that the proposal would stand up to threatened federal court challenges under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

"Does this protect minority voting rights?" Hitchcock asked rhetorically. "Yes."

Montgomery County Delegates Alfred Carr and Ana Sol Gutierrez will introduce Edwards’ map as an amendment in the House -- possibly as early as Tuesday.

Edwards called O'Malley's map "deeply flawed" in regards to minority voting rights, but her testimony came on the same day that the executives of Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- Rushern L. Baker, III and Isiah "Ike" Leggett, respectively -- expressed their support for the map.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a longtime O'Malley ally, also testified in favor of the governor's proposal.

Note: This item has been updated to correct the spelling of Del. Alfred Carr's first name.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:29 PM | | Comments (0)

O’Malley confident map will hold up

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday he is confident his congressional redistricting proposal would stand up to a court challenge and argued that opposition to the proposal is limited.

The governor, who unveiled the congressional map Saturday, spoke as the General Assembly began what is expected to be a short special session to consider his proposal. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said during the conference that his chamber may hold an initial vote Monday.

“Redistricting is always very disruptive for incumbent elected officials,” O’Malley said. “What we have put forward is a map that is as balanced and as fair as we could make it, allowing for the tremendous strength that we have as a state in our diversity.”

O’Malley repeatedly described the map as “balanced” and said it “abides by the Voting Rights Act.” Noting the consternation that has surrounded the effort over the past several months, O’Malley joked he was glad the process is required only once a decade: “Thank goodness it’s not every two years.”

O’Malley’s proposal, which hewed closely to a map unveiled this month by the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, has come under fire from some Prince George’s and Montgomery County officials for changes they say would split up – and therefore dilute – minority voting power.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat, is the most high-profile critic. Another group, the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, has threatened to sue the state, arguing that the map would violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The group is holding a press conference in Annapolis at noon.

Despite some controversy, the new map appears to be moving through the process quickly. The legislature will hold a joint hearing on the map Monday. Miller said the Senate would move first on the bill, potentially clearing an initial vote late Monday.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:23 AM | | Comments (2)

O'M considering higher gas tax to create jobs

Arguing that tax revenue has not kept up with the needs of Maryland’s infrastructure, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday he would consider seeking an increase in the state’s gas tax to jump start work on highway and school projects.

O’Malley made the comments as part of jobs package he began to unveil Monday. Standing with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Senate President Michael E. Busch, he said the state is seeing an "investment deficit" and in January he will push for "the strongest capital budget we can pass."

On Tuesday business leaders and some county executive are expected to testify at a briefing in Annapolis on public works backlogs in their areas. Maryland's capital budget for this year is $3.1 billion. A little more than half goes toward transportation projects.

The governor declined to say how much larger he thinks the capital budget should be.

A significant hike could also mean more borrowing, which could require an increase to the state's debt ceiling. Such increases are not unprecedented, though after the national debate on the federal debt limit, Annapolis insiders have conceded that any movement on the state's borrowing levels could stir controversy.

A blue ribbon commission examining ways of funding roads and transportation projects recently recommended a 15-cent hike to the state's gas tax over three years. The governor said he is "certainly considering" supporting such an increase. Maryland's gas tax is now 23.5 cents.

The governor also issued an executive order calling for all of his agencies to conduct "a comprehensive review of its regulations" to determine which could be steam-lined or eliminated with an eye toward promoting job creation.

A group of three House lawmakers -- including Dels John Bohanan, Mary Dulany James and Galen Claggett -- have long advocated for re-examining government regs. O'Malley has referred to the group as the "job creation caucus."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:49 AM | | Comments (24)

Lawmakers flock to Annapolis

Eyes will be focused on Maryland's black lawmakers and Republican caucus this morning as the state's General Assembly meets in Annapolis for a special session to approve new Congressional lines.

Over the weekend the Legislative Black Caucus met for hours, but failed to take a stand on a draft map offered by Gov. Martin O'Malley. Some in their ranks are upset that the proposed map slices up Montgomery County in a way that they say would use minority votes to dilute white conservatives  elsewhere. There was talk the group would try again to reach a consensus today.

The GOP is (more predictably) angry that the governor's map adds a chunk of liberal Montgomery County to a longtime conservative Western Maryland congressional district. The effect: The next election could replace one of Maryland's two GOP Congressmen with a Democrat. Three different Republican plans have been put forward to undo this change.

Hearings on all of the plans are set for today at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, O'Malley and Democratic leadership will try to turn focus to a new jobs initiative. O'Malley had discussed using the special session to push an economic stimulus bill, but instead he is expected to start building support for a plan he will formally introduce in January.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch previewed parts of this this morning on WYPR, saying there's a desire to increase the number of public works projects in order to create construction jobs.

How will this be funded? The answer could include raising Maryland's debt ceiling to allow more borrowing or raising taxes to create jobs.

Stay tuned.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:43 AM | | Comments (1)

October 16, 2011

Cummings, Issa square off on Fast and Furious

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said Sunday that he agreed that the Republican-led investigation into the ATF operation known as Fast and Furious has become a witch hunt and argued that the controversial nature of the program had not been communicated to top Obama administration officials.

"All we want is a responsible and balanced investigation," the Baltimore lawmaker and top ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday. "Just because if you don't like some facts you don't throw them out the door and say I'm not going to look at those."

The Fast and Furious program, which began in 2009, allowed illegal "straw purchases" of firearms under the expectation that they would be tracked to higher ups in Mexican gangs. But the ATF lost track of many of the weapons, including some left at crime scenes. Two of the weapons were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

The burgeoning scandal has been the highest profile investigation led so far by Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House oversight panel. Earlier this month the panel subpoenaed documents from Attorney General Eric Holder and Issa has requested that Holder return to Congress to explain what he knew about the operation and when he had been briefed on it.

Several Obama administration officials, including acting ATF director Kenneth Melson, have been reassigned since the investigation began.

Cummings and Issa, who have had a contentious relationship on the committee, appeared on CBS separately Sunday. In his segment, which came first, Issa argued that the Justice Department is withholding critical information.

"There's clearly details that have been redacted that we should have," said Issa, holding up a redacted document left entirely black by redaction, which he likened to a "black cow at midnight eating a licorice."

"We have tried to be narrow," Issa said. "We haven't had the cooperation you would expect from the Justice Department when they know they've made a horrible mistake."

Posted by John Fritze at 11:05 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

October 15, 2011

Bartlett, redistricting target, raises little

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the Western Maryland Republican who has become a target of the redistricting process in Annapolis, raised a mere $1,000 in third quarter of the year -- a number that is likely to fuel speculation about whether he will retire instead of fighting to retain his seat.

A Federal Election Commission report released Saturday showed Bartlett received only one contribution over the past three months. The donation, made Sept. 20, came from the Republican Main Street PAC, a Washington group that works to re-elect incumbents.

The congressman is a member of the group.

Bartlett has raised $73,725 since the 2010 election and has $260,727 in the bank.

The low number comes as Democrats in Annapolis are gearing up for a special session to redraw the state’s eight congressional districts. As part of that process, Democrats are drawing Bartlett’s district deep into Democrat-heavy Montgomery County, a move that will make his seat far more competitive.

The non-partisan Cook Political Report already considers the seat a “toss-up” and lists the 10-term incumbent as a “possible” retirement. A number of potential candidates have expressed an interest in the seat – particularly Democratic state Sen. Rob Garagiola.

Bartlett, 85, met with Gov. Martin O’Malley earlier this month to discuss the proposed new map and has described the changes to his seat as among the most significant in the country.

Bud Otis, Bartlett’s longtime top campaign aide, said fundraising has been slow largely because of the uncertainty surrounding the new districts and he warned against reading anything into the campaign finance report. He pointed out that Bartlett is one of the only incumbents who has officially filed to put his name on the 2012 ballot.

“Things have been in state of flux for a lot of people in the state,” he said.

Otis also said the campaign is confident Bartlett can win the new district.

“The Montgomery County area has been a strong supporter of ours already,” he said. “We gave the governor a very reasonable proposal. It’s all on the governor now. We’ll see how fair he wants to be.”

Posted by John Fritze at 5:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley to release final Congressional map today

Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to release his plan for or new congressional boundaries this afternoon. A top aide said it will differ only slightly from the map that a panel appointed by O'Malley issued last week.

A poster board showing the new map was momentarily left near our Sun office in the state house (see photo). It has since been put under lock and key in the Speaker's offices.

The most significant changes are in Montgomery County, where the 8th district, represented by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen gained a handful of additional precincts from neighborhoods that he's long represented but were going to be moved into other areas.

Another change is in Anne Arundel County where Cape Saint Claire had been split between the 3rd and the 4th districts, but is now completely in the 3rd district. The change gives the odd shaped 3rd district a land bridge connecting at least one part of the district to the rest of it. 

A more official version of the maps should be up up on line shortly, according to O'Malley's aides.

Separately, Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus met for hours in the state house this afternoon, but did not vote on the proposed maps as expected. They are set to meet on Monday for a vote.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Administration

October 14, 2011

Cardin posts large fundraising total

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin’s 2012 reelection campaign racked up another hefty fundraising quarter over the summer, hauling in more than $700,000 over the past three months, his campaign said Friday.

The numbers reflect the Maryland Democrat’s status as heavily favored to win reelection, even as other Democratic senators up for reelection next year across the country are facing difficult races. Cardin’s campaign will also report having $2.3 million in the bank, according to an announcement from his campaign.

“I take seriously the responsibility Marylanders have given me to tackle the tough issues facing our state and the trust they have in me to do what’s right for our state and our nation,” Cardin said in a statement. “Particularly during these tough economic times, I am humbled by the level of support I’ve received.”

Former Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino is the only Republican who appears to be actively fundraising for the job. His campaign will report bringing in $52,000 over the past three months with $31,000 on hand.

Asked about the disparity between his campaign and Cardin’s, Bongino said he was starting his campaign from scratch.

Cardin has “the advantages of power and incumbency,” Bongino said. “Those aren’t exactly winning messages right now… In three months, we’ve built a network of 400 donors nationwide…We’re in a great position.”

Posted by John Fritze at 12:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

October 13, 2011

O’Malley urges Congress to act on jobs

Following a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday, Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Democratic governors of Washington and Minnesota called on Congress to take quick action to address the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment by passing the administration’s jobs bill.

Echoing earlier statements in support of the American Jobs Act – Obama’s $447 billion proposal to kick start the economy – O’Malley argued lawmakers should pass the bill “as soon as possible” and that Democratic leaders would keep the pressure on “this do-nothing Congress to do something on jobs.”

The meeting, which included White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, came days after the Democratic-led Senate failed to muster the 60 votes needed to bring Obama’s jobs measure to the floor for debate. Republicans, concerned about the bill’s cost, voted against it en masse. Two centrist Democrats also opposed it.

Senate leaders are now looking to break the jobs bill into smaller parts. The legislation would extend and deepen a payroll tax holiday for individuals, create new tax breaks for businesses, pump $100 billion into infrastructure and extend unemployment insurance.

The governors also met Thursday with Democratic members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to argue that the panel should not target Medicaid as it looks to trim federal budget deficits by more than $1 trillion. In a letter signed by O’Malley, the governors argued Medicaid reductions would “require states to fill in funding shortfalls with state resources, leading to damaging cuts.”

Asked about the meeting, which was first reported by the Washington-based National Journal, O’Malley said the bulk of the discussion with the deficit-reduction committee members focused on job creation.

Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, argue that Congress has taken action on jobs, noting the passage Wednesday of free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea as well as what Boehner called “numerous bills to stop excessive regulations that are threatening the creation of jobs.”

“Republicans remain squarely focused on jobs, and once again this week we've passed several bills aimed at creating a better environment for job creation and putting Americans back to work,” Boehner said.

O’Malley, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, was joined by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.

“We can’t afford to have nothing done,” Gregoire said. “We together are all very disappointed that there has been no action.”

Posted by John Fritze at 6:16 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Panel recommends one year salary freeze for judges

Maryland's 289 judges will forgo a scheduled 6 percent pay bump next year, if the General Assembly accepts a recommendation made late Wednesday by the Judicial Compensation Commission.

"It would be silly and reckless for us to ask anyone to come up with the extra money," said Elizabeth Buck, who chairs the panel. The panel recommends keeping annual six percent increase starting FY2014.

Salaries vary from $127,252 for a district court judge to $162,352 for a judge on the Court of Appeals. The recommendation also affects pay for public defenders, state prosecutors and members of the Workers Compensation Commission because their salaries are tied to the judges' pay schedule. 

The commission also will recommend that new judges -- those starting on July 1, 2012 -- pay slightly more into their retirement accounts. Pension costs to current judges would not change.

The Maryland General Assembly would have to approve the recommendations. Judges' salaries are reviewed every three years, or, as in this case, at the request of the state legislature.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:44 PM | | Comments (0)

Balto. Co. panel suggests liquor license changes

A Baltimore County task force examining how liquor licenses are issued to restaurants is preparing to submit recommendations to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz next month.

At a meeting Thursday, the task force agreed to recommend some changes to the way restaurants get licenses, but not all the details of their plan are worked out.

The task force plans to recommend increasing the number of restaurant licenses a person or corporation can hold, from six licenses to 12. They will suggest eliminating a requirement that a license seeker gather signatures from 10 people within a mile of the business.

The task force has also decided to suggest that new licenses issued after a certain date should not be able to be transferred, except through the sale or relocation of a business.

The task force has not agreed on whether to recommend creating a new type of wine and beer license for restaurants. Another issue still up for discussion is whether all existing licenses should eventually lose their ability to be transferred.

Kamenetz announced the task force in August, saying changes to the license system could encourage economic development by expanding the restaurant sector. State legislators would have to approve any changes to the license laws.

Licenses are now issued based on the population of the county’s election districts. The task force on Thursday discussed how the county could distribute licenses throughout the county to make them available in revitalization areas.

Licenses can cost more than $100,000 when a restaurant owner buys one from a current license holder. People who have paid large amounts for the licenses fear that changes to the current system will devalue their investments.

The group -- made up of county officials, developers and representatives of the business community -- meets every Thursday at 10 a.m. and plans to submit its recommendations to Kamenetz by Nov. 15.

-Alison Knezevich

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 12, 2011

No jobs bill for the special session

Lawmakers won't see an Administration jobs bill next week, when they gather in Annapolis to approve a new political districts for Congress, said House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory confirmed that a jobs package wouldn't be introduced, but left open the possibility for some other jobs related announcement next week.

The Speaker said he expects the administration to "start to promote" a jobs bill during the special session "so we can take it up in the regular session" which kicks off in January. Busch spoke briefly after a 10 a.m. state house pow-wow with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and the governor.

Busch said he expects lawmakers will see "a presentation to build momentum" for jobs legislation -- but no bill will be unveiled. The Speaker has advocated internally for accelerating parts of the capital budget during the regular session as one way to stimulate jobs, an idea that O'Malley floated publicly last week.

Last month, O'Malley said he was considering jobs legislation during the October special session, but aides have since downplayed the likelihood of an administration package before January.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:44 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Administration

Goodbye special session

Two dozen typos found Tuesday night by legislative analysts in the governor's mammoth redistricting bill will force the state senate back in session Thursday morning, if only for a few moments to approve technical changes to the measure.

The House will also go in session Thursday -- only to officially adjourn. House GOP leaders expressed irritation that they'll have to come back for a procedural motion and rumors were flying in the state house Wednesday evening that they may try to register their protest in some way. At this point there is nothing they can do in the House to prevent the bill from moving forward.

Both Houses are expected to be done by noon, though the traditional confetti drop marking the end of regular session is unlikely. Gov. Martin O'Malley could very well sign the bill today.

The map is likely to face a court challenge -- and if that fails congressional redistricting won't be revisited until 2021.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:25 AM | | Comments (0)

October 11, 2011

Layoffs still on table in Balto. Co. amid buyout talk

Even as the Baltimore County Council weighs an employee buyout plan that could chop millions from next year's budget, local officials said they are not ruling out layoffs or furloughs.

Council members discussed the early retirement proposal at a Tuesday meeting, where administration officials told them it would save about $14 million a year. County Executive Kamenetz proposed the buyouts --- which about 1,100 general government employees qualify for -- last month.

The plan is intended to cut about 200 jobs. Depending on how many people take the offer, “we are not in a position of taking layoffs and furloughs off the table,” Kamenetz's chief of staff Don Mohler told The Sun after the meeting.

Mohler said the administration can’t predict future funding cuts from the state and federal levels, but added that if the county can attract 200 employees for the incentive program, it would be in a better position to avoid furloughs and layoffs.

Eligible employees will be able to sign up for the buyouts between Oct. 31 and Dec. 31.
Council members are set to vote on the retirement legislation Oct. 17.

Not everyone who wants to sign up for early retirement will be able to do so.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 5:50 PM | | Comments (1)

O'Malley, governors, urge passage of jobs bill

Gov. Martin O'Malley and 15 other Democratic governors sent a letter to Congress Tuesday afternoon urging passage of President Barack Obama's jobs legislation. Senate leaders want to bring the bill the floor today.

The letter, penned by O'Malley in his capacity as the leader of the Democratic Governors Association, asks for the "swift" consideration of the Obama's bill and argues that it "draws on ideas" governors from both parties are already using in their states.

The governors argue that "a modern economy requires modern investments" and say that to create jobs, the country must "be willing to educate, innovate and rebuild."

The letter hit notes familiar to those who watched his 2010 re-election campaign, with one line in particular echoing his stump speech. "There is nothing more important for a family than a job and nothing more important for our country in these challenging times," according to the letter.

O'Malley has said that he will push his own jobs bill in Maryland, possibly as soon as next week's special session. He has also floated the possibility of accelerating all or parts of the state's capital budget during the regular session so state funded construction projects could move forward faster.

Six Democratic governors did not sign the letter, including two with elections this year: Earl R. Tomblin who just eked out a victory in West Virginia and Steven Beshear who faces Kentucky voters in November. In addition to O'Malley, governors signing the letter included:

Governor Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii
Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., California
Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York
Governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota
Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr., US Virgin Islands
Governor Chris Gregoire, Washington
Governor John Hickenlooper, Colorado
Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon
Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut
Governor Jack Markell, Delaware
Governor John Lynch, New Hampshire
Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts
Governor Bev Perdue, North Carolina
Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois
Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont

Not signing were:

Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono, American Somoa
Governor Mike Beebe, Arkansas
Governor Steven L. Beshear, Kentucky
Governor Jay Nixon, Missouri
Governor Brian Schweitzer, Montana
Governor Earl R. Tomblin, West Virgina
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: DGA

Rep. Edwards, Montgomery Co. officials oppose congressional maps

Breaking her silence on Maryland's proposed redistricting plan, Rep. Donna Edwards said Tuesday that she will not support the current proposal because it dilutes minority voting power in Montgomery County.

In a lengthy statement, the Prince George's County Democrat argues that her district was created in 1992 to provide minority communities in suburban Washington a chance to chose a minority representative. The new maps, she said, would reduce the district's share of black voters at a time when the African American population has grown -- and would likely lead to no minority representation in Montgomery County.

"I understand and share the political interests that are at stake, both nationally and in our state," Edwards said in the statement. "Nonetheless, I cannot support this plan in its current form given that minority representation interests appear to have been sacrificed for these political interests."

Edwards suggested that Gov. Martin O'Malley must make substantial changes to the map before he presents it to the General Assembly next week for review. O'Malley has previously said he does not anticipate making major adjustments to the maps.

Edwards' comments came on the same day that several Montgomery County officials also staked out their opposition to the plan. Montgomery County Council members, state lawmakers and union officials argued during a press conference in Rockville Tuesday that political gain for Democrats should be secondary to protecting minority voting rights.

"We believe this is a fight worth having," said Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin.

"We're concerned about diluting our strength as a community," said Del. Susan Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat, who argued that Asian voters are split into multiple districts under the proposed map.

Elbridge James, political director for the NAACP in Maryland, said he and members of state's Legislative Black Caucus intend to meet with O'Malley on Wednesday to discuss their concerns. If major changes are not made, James said, the group would consider supporting a lawsuit under the federal Voting Rights Act.

-John Fritze

Posted by Andy Rosen at 1:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Elections

Rawlings-Blake challenges city agencies to save more

With a projected budget deficit looming, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Tuesday launched a new campaign aimed at reducing energy use at city agencies.

Rawlings-Blake is challenging three agencies -- the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Health Department and the Mayor's Office of Employment Development -- to lower energy spending over the next six months.

“Wasted energy is a cost that can and should be avoided. We need to spend more time making conservation a habit,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.

If it can lower energy use by 5 percent, Recreation and Parks could save $571 at its Madison Avenue building and $3,383 at its East Drive building in the next six months, officials said.

The city will supply each of the agencies with more energy-efficient power strips and sensors that will turn off lights when people leave a room or desk area.

Since 2006, the city government has decreased its energy use by more than 5 percent -- saving more than $6 million a year on energy, officials said. The city is on pace for a 20 percent reduction in energy use by 2015, according to the mayor's office.

--Luke Broadwater

Posted by at 10:51 AM | | Comments (1)

Balto. Co. Council to take up binding arbitration, early retirement

The Baltimore County Council is set to discuss two big issues for public employees at a 2 p.m. work session today: An early-retirement buyout plan and legislation to change how the county resolves labor disputes.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed the buyout plan, with a goal of eliminating 200 positions. His administration says it would save between $10 million and $15 million a year.

About 1,100 employees would be eligible for the buyouts.

The labor-dispute legislation comes out of a 2010 referendum in which county voters approved giving general county workers the right to binding arbitration – in which a third-party arbiter makes decisions during an impasse. The county’s police and firefighters in have had this right for about a decade.

Under the Kamenetz bill to be discussed today, general workers wouldn’t be able to use binding arbitration until 2014.

Unions have argued that the measure should take effect sooner. They also want the workers to be able to use binding arbitration for terms and conditions of employment, as police and firefighters can. Kamenetz’s proposal would limit the arbitration to salary and pension issues.

The council is scheduled to vote on both bills next Monday, Oct. 17.

-Alison Knezevich

Posted by Andy Rosen at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 10, 2011

Utah senator endorses Bongino

Dan Bongino, a Republican candidate for Senate in Maryland, picked up the endorsement Monday of Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

Lee, a Tea Party favorite, knocked off incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett in the 2010 election, an upset that was among the first examples of long-time lawmakers losing to new, conservative challengers.

"As a party and as a movement, we must believe in the right candidate, someone with an unquestionable passion and a deep conviction that will transcend any political persuasion," Lee said in a statement.

Bongino, of Severna Park, is a former U.S. Secret Service agent who announced his candidacy in May. If he wins the GOP nomination, he would face incumbent Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin in the general election.

Posted by John Fritze at 10:31 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

October 7, 2011

Leopold weighing run for statewide office

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said Friday what has long been rumored in local political circles: He’s considering a run for governor or comptroller in 2014.

“I’m going to keep all those options open,” said Leopold, a Republican who is term-limited. “The record that I’ve established of strong fiscal discipline, I think would resonate not only in Anne Arundel County, but elsewhere.”

And he added that he'd relish a slot on the state panel that oversees major spending decisions.

“Having a vote on the Board of Public Works would be a positive thing and it certainly has some impact.”

Leopold, 68, served 20 years in the House of Delegates before he was elected county executive in 2006. Supporters say he has paid close attention to constituent services and have praised his environmental record.

But he also has some personal issues that could potentially affect a run.

The state prosecutor’s office is investigating Leopold’s use of his county-funded security detail. And Leopold is named in a former county employee’s $10 million federal lawsuit alleging gender discrimination. Leopold has denied any wrongdoing.

Coupled with Maryland’s overwhelmingly Democratic voter rolls, Leopold would have “a tough road ahead,” said Matthew A. Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University.

The last Republican comptroller ended his term in 1900. And former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., who was the first member of the GOP elected to the state’s top job in a generation in 2002, was handily defeated when he ran for re-election last year.

“Somehow he’s got to prove to people that the allegations are trivial or false,” said Crenson. “Any of his opponents would be sure to bring it up.”

Alex X. Mooney, chairman of the state GOP, said Leopold would make a formidable candidate for either seat.

“He knows how to win tough elections,” said Mooney. “Leopold is known for being a tenacious campaigner. He sign waves and knocks on every door. … I certainly think he’s a credible candidate.”

Yvette Lewis, chair of the state Democratic party, did not respond to a call requesting comment.
Other GOP candidates frequently mentioned as possibilities for 2014 include Harford County Executive David Craig, State Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Larry Hogan, a former Ehrlich deputy. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is term-limited.

Possible Democratic contenders for governor include Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, is said to be mulling whether to run for re-election or take a stab at the governorship.

Yvette Lewis, chair of the state Democratic party, did not respond to a call requesting comment.

Leopold, who would be 71 at the end of his last term as county executive, also had two back operations last year. He says he’s fully recovered.

“It’s a daunting task to run statewide, although I think the times have changed,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger and frustration throughout the country, so I don’t think these are usual times. I think people would be open to someone who has a strong record of fiscal discipline.”

Leopold, who in January reported $423,000 in on-hand cash in his campaign account, said he’ll make a final decision on his future by 2013.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:18 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

Group questions proposed congressional maps

A public watchdog group is raising questions about Maryland’s proposed new congressional districts, suggesting Friday that the Democratic plan released this week would dilute the power of Hispanic voters and slice through neighborhoods.

In a statement, Common Cause describes the proposed new political maps as an example of “partisan gerrymandering” and argues that the new districts serve elected officials more than voters. Common Cause has long advocated for nonpartisan commissions, rather than politically appointed panels, to redraw political boundaries.

The group notes that the proposed maps would shift about 30 percent of the state’s population into districts. It argues that Hispanic voters are too thinly spread out to influence elections and that some congressional districts, such as the one represented by Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards, are too heterogeneous.

Edwards’ district would mix a heavily African-American population in Prince George’s County with more affluent, conservative, white voters in Anne Arundel County, the group said.

“Often when such a district is devised like this, one group of constituents and their preferred concerns is simply favored over those most in need of responsive representation to pressing problems,” the group said.

The Common Cause memo comes as several outside groups – and at least one member of the state’s congressional delegation – have raised similar concerns. Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, whose conservative Western Maryland district would become far more Democratic under the plan, warned Thursday night that the proposal may not go far enough to protect minority voting power.

The proposed new map was crafted by a commission appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley. The Maryland General Assembly will consider the proposal during a special session that will begin later this month.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:26 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley still considering jobs bill in special session

Gov. Martin O'Malley reiterated Thursday evening that his administration still may push a jobs bill during the special session and Marylanders should "stay tuned" for more details.

The governor floated the possibility of a state economic stimulus measure last month, but there's been little talk around the state house of any proposal coming together. Instead, much of Maryland's political leadership has been focused on congressional redistricting.

Nevertheless, O'Malley said he would "perhaps" introduce a measure in the special session. One senior administration official told The Sun last month that the package could include expanding some popular tax credits for businesses.

Separately, the governor said Thursday that his staff is examining actions taken by other states, including some that pushed capital budgets through the legislature early in order to jump start state spending on public works projects.

"We're looking at way we might be able to do that," O'Malley said. Such a change would have to happen in the regular session, which opens in January.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:21 AM | | Comments (5)

Two congressmen want changes to redistricting map

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday night that two Maryland congressmen — one Democrat, one Republican — have asked him to make "substantial" changes in the state's proposed new political map.

O'Malley spoke after back-to-back meetings in the State House with Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican.

"Both of them had alternative suggestions," O'Malley said. "Both of them want to retain as many of their traditional citizens and neighborhoods as possible. That was a common theme."

O'Malley said he would consider their suggestions before submitting a final proposal to the General Assembly this month.

(For an analysis by party and race in the proposed map, click here.) A panel appointed by O'Malley released a proposed map Monday for Maryland's eight congressional districts, a process required once a decade to reflect population data collected in the census.

Under the proposal, Bartlett's generally conservative district would take on a huge swath of the Washington suburbs and shift from a safe Republican seat to a toss-up. But Van Hollen, a rising Democratic star, also would see a reduction in Democratic voters in his suburban Washington district.

Van Hollen had little to say to reporters as he left the meeting. "We discussed some issues," he said. "I like my current district. I'm looking forward to meeting new people."

Bartlett said his meeting had been cordial. But he said he told O'Malley that the state could face a lawsuit over minority representation unless changes were made to the map. "They want three minority districts. Hispanics don't want their votes split. That is the problem," Bartlett said, declining to specify whom he had spoken with.

He would not say whether he would join such a suit, but did say he still plans to run for re-election.

In a written statement released by his office moments after he left the meeting, Bartlett appeared to question whether the proposed districts adequately represent minorities. Insufficient minority representation is an argument frequently cited in redistricting lawsuits nationally.

An analysis released by the Maryland Democratic Party shows that in making Bartlett's district more Democratic, the map makes Van Hollen's district significantly less so. Almost 74 percent of 8th District voters cast a ballot for the Democrat in the 2010 congressional election; the percentage drops to 60 percent for voters living with the proposed new boundaries.

Van Hollen has since 2003 been representing a district that — until the last redistricting process — had long been represented by Montgomery County Republican Constance A. Morella. Democrats in Annapolis made clear 10 years ago that they redrew the district to pack it with Democratic voters in a successful attempt to oust Morella.

This time, the map drawers felt some Republicans could be added to the district in a "rebalancing" effort, according to a Democratic source familiar with the map-drawing. Van Hollen, who has a national profile, would have an easier time introducing himself to new voters than a less prominent member of the delegation would, the source said.

The proposed changes in the 8th District were enough to cause one Republican state lawmaker to take a look: State Sen. David Brinkley said he's "considering" mounting a challenge to Van Hollen but "needs lots of information" before he decides. The three-term Frederick County senator lives on a farm near Mount Airy, in what would be the new 8th District.

Several independent political observers said they doubted the new district would present a major challenge for Van Hollen.

"I don't think he's in any jeopardy," said Donald Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "If it is around 60 percent, that is a slam-dunk, isn't it?"

Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, noted Van Hollen's recent two-term stint as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a position that won him potential allies across the country.

"This is a classic challenge with redistricting: Even though Democrats control the process, there are still tough decisions to be made," Gonzales said. "If Democrats want to maximize their numbers in the delegation, then the Democratic members have to be willing to represent fewer Democratic voters."

Gonzales said he doubts the new district would slow Van Hollen's rapid rise in Democratic leadership circles.

In fact, the changes could benefit Van Hollen should he decide in the future to run for the U.S. Senate, said David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report. It could be "helpful" for Van Hollen to show he can appeal to rural voters, he said.

The publication now rates Bartlett's district to a toss-up. But, Wasserman said, the authors plan to leave Van Hollen's as "solid Democrat."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:33 AM | | Comments (2)

October 6, 2011

Top House Democrat testifies in Currie trial

My Sun colleague Tricia Bishop reporting from the federal courthouse in Baltimore:

Prince George's County Del. Dereck E. Davis, who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, was called to the witness stand this morning in extortion trial of state Sen. Ulysses Currie.

His testimony, which lasted about a half hour, focused on a late amendment added to a bill during the 2005 legislative session that transferred a liquor license from one Shoppers Food Warehouse store to another at Currie's request.

Currie is accused of taking bribes from Shoppers' executives in exchange for legislative favors.

Davis said on the stand that, during the final "hectic" days of a legislative session, late amendments can get passed without thorough scrutiny by lawmakers.

"It's not uncommon for a member to have missed what was going on," Davis said.

Former Sen. John A. Giannetti is on the stand now.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:51 AM | | Comments (3)

October 5, 2011

Western Md. seat rated “toss up” by political observer

Political prognosticators in Washington have been quick to note the fast evolving dynamics in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, with one stalwart analyst moving the race to the “toss up” category because of a proposed new congressional map.

Though it’s not yet clear whether Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett will run for an 11th term in the new district -- or whether other candidates might emerge -- the editor of House races at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicted the proposed new map would make it “very difficult” for Bartlett to hold on.

Cook now includes the Western Maryland District among 11 Republican-held toss up seats across the country. The 1st Congressional District, which initially had been considered a possible target of the redistricting effort, was moved to the safer “likely Republican” category. The 1st District is represented by Republican Rep. Andy Harris.

Bartlett “has to introduce himself to areas that are culturally opposite,” said Cook’s David Wasserman. “If Western Maryland is fairly Cracker Barrel than Montgomery County is pretty Whole Foods.

“Democrats would have to end up with a fairly flawed candidate to lose to Bartlett,” Wasserman predicted.

An analysis of the new district shows that 51 percent of its voters chose Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in the 2010 election, compared with 35 percent in the current configuration for the 6th District.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:30 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Coalition to push for $1 a pack increase

The same people who pushed the "dime-a-drink" hike to the alcohol tax and the "dollar-a-pack" increase to the state tobacco tax are launching a new campaign: Another $1 increase to the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

The group is headed by Vincent DeMarco, includes AARP Maryland, MedChi and the NAACP among others. They plan lobby lawmakers next session to increase Maryland's rate to $3 a pack.

New York now has the highest tax rate on cigarettes in the country, at $4.35 a pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, an anti-smoking group. Five other states and Guam tax packs of cigarettes at $3 or higher.

DeMarco and his group would want the revenues to fund "critical health care and public health needs." The General Assembly last increased the tax on cigarettes during a special session in November 2007. At that time it went from $1 a pack to $2 a pack and made Maryland's rate the 11th highest in the country.

Bruce Bereano, who represents some tobacco wholesalers said it is "pretty pathetic" that DeMarco is pursuing this increase. "It's just to keep him in business. It is just to keep him relevant."

Bereano added: "it is time for government to leave adult smokers alone. ... they are not ATM machines for government."

Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:15 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Tax & Spend

BPW approves projects funded by new alcohol tax

Maryland's Board of Public Works this morning approved school construction projects in three counties funded by the new 50 percent hike to the sales tax on alcohol.

Projects include improvements to athletic facilities at Howard County schools, renovations to three elementary schools and one middle school in Montgomery County, and a new preforming arts center at a high school in Anne Arundel County.

During the meeting Gov. Martin O'Malley sought to stress the jobs that would be created by each project, asking officials from each school system to estimate how many workers would be needed for each item.

"There is such a disconnect between the choices we make together and the economy we share together," O'Malley said, striving to show that the increased taxes would be plowed back into the state by bolstering its workforce.

The projects are worth $18 million; and represent the first chunk of schools projects funded by the higher alcohol tax. The board is expected to approve projects in Baltimore County and other systems when it meets again in two weeks.

In April lawmakers raised the sales tax on alcohol from 6 percent to 9 percent, which is estimated to generate $85 million a year. The legislature required the money to be spent on school projects and health care in the first year, but goes to the general fund in following years.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:41 AM | | Comments (3)

Dems eke out a victory in W. Va

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin squeezed out a victory over his Republican opponent in neighboring West Virginia, one of the four gubernatorial races scheduled this year.

The contest is widely viewed as an early test of voter attitudes toward Democrats, but it was also the first measure of Gov. Martin O'Malley's effectiveness as the leader of the Democratic Governors Association, which focused heavily on the race.

In a statement released Tuesday evening O'Malley said: "Democratic governors have shown an ability to thrive in the toughest of times because we are singularly focused on the things that we know will make our children winners and not losers in this modern economy: creating jobs and opportunity now."

The Republican Governors Association, which also paid for four ads in  the race, did not release a statement.
Tomblin edged out businessman Bill Maloney in the special election by about three points, a far closer contest than expected in heavily Democratic West Virginia.

In addition to the West Virginia race, there are three other states with governors up for re-election this year: Kentucky, where the DGA is defending incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear; and Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana, both led by popular Republican governors.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:17 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: DGA

Liberty Road group wants redistricting vote

The community association that represents neighborhoods along Liberty Road says it will start gathering signatures in a referendum drive to challenge the new Baltimore County Council districts finalized this week.

The Liberty Road Community Council is unhappy with changes in the minority-majority District 4, represented by Democrat Kenneth N. Oliver. Throughout the redistricting process this summer, Oliver and others complained about a plan to shift a Woodlawn area -- including the Social Security Administration -- to Democrat Tom Quirk's District 1.

Before Monday's unanimous vote, Oliver withdrew an amendment he proposed last week to keep the Woodlawn precinct of 6,000 in his district.

Christine Cypress, the community group's president, said members are upset that the plan moves the tax-friendly enterprise zone surrounding the SSA into another district, where it will join the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She said the move would dilute voting power and disrupt school districts.

"We were ready for this when the vote was [taken] on Monday," Cypress said

The plan as passed would take effect for the 2014 elections.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 3, 2011

O'Malley stars in same-sex marriage ad campaign

Starting today Gov. Martin O'Malley is appearing in a series videos aimed at selling his same-sex marriage legislation, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign said today.

The first video, which is online only, features the governor pitching his legislation and promising that it will “protect religious freedom." O'Malley said over the summer that he will make same-sex marriage one of a "handful" of priorities in next year's session.

"I ask you to join us as we work to pass marriage equality in the state of Maryland," O'Malley says. The video was produced by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, an alliance of progressive advocates pushing same-sex marriage in the state.

Notably, O'Malley does not once use the phrase "same-sex marriage" or "civil marriage" in the 47 second ad, terms were frequently used used during the debate last session. Instead he refers to his efforts as a push for "marriage equality."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:12 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

Gonzales: Deeps splits on in-state tuition; same-sex marriage

A new poll out (as of 12:01) Tuesday morning shows that Marylanders are nearly evenly divided on two high-profile issues could be on the 2012 ballot: In-state tuition for illegal immigrants and same-sex marriage.

The poll, released this morning by Gonzales Research & Marketing, shows that only 47 percent of respondents believe that illegal immigrants should be permitted to pay discounted in-state rates at Maryland's colleges and universities. Fifty-one percent disagree with the idea. It's the first public poll of the controversial issue.

The result is within the 3.5 percent margin for error.

Maryland's general assembly this year passed legislation granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but opponents gathered enough signatures to petition the bill to referendum. If the petition withstands a legal challenge, it will be on the 2012 ballot.

The poll also found that Marylanders are split 49 percent to 48 percent on gay marriage, with the slight advantage going to opponents. The result is within the margin for error.

The survey of 805 Marylanders who "vote regularly" was conducted from September 19 through September 27.

Other issues of note include:

- Gambling: Fifty-five percent of Marylanders say they oppose adding more slots machines to the state's gaming program, but 51 percent say they would approve of adding table games like poker or roulette.

- Top concern: Nearly two-thirds of Marylanders said "the economy and jobs" are the most important issues facing the state. That could be a strong argument for the jobs bill that Gov. Martin O'Malley has floated for the upcoming special session. Gonzales found that "concern about the economy spans party lines" noting that 61 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans cited it as their top concern. Education came in a distant second, with about 10 percent of respondents naming it as the top issue.

- Bad news for President Barack Obama: The polls shows that 49 percent of Marylanders approve of the job that the president is doing. That's his lowest score since taking office in a Gonzales poll. His top numbers came in January 2009, just after he was elected, when 80 percent said they approved of him.

- O'Malley's approval score comes a bit higher than Obama's with 52 percent saying they think he is doing a good job. The score is his second best rate in a Gonzales poll since he took office in 2007.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Horserace

October 2, 2011

O'Malley blasts Christie on Face the Nation

Gov. Martin O'Malley told a national television audience this morning that Republican Gov. Chris Christie would provide "tremendous entertainment value" if he runs for president, but will offer little in the way of "effective government."

O'Malley, a Democrat, appeared for on CBS's Face the Nation opposite GOP Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi in a segment that focused on widespread speculation that Christie will jump into the Republican primary battle.

Maryland's governor has been picking on Christie for about a year, starting last January when he blasted the New Jersey governor's attitude toward state workers.

O'Malley has sought to raise his national profile this year, taking on a leadership role in the Democratic Governors Association, making frequent trips to Washington, D.C. and appearing on Sunday talk shows. O'Malley is set to be in North Carolina early next week raising money for the DGA.

On Face the Nation this morning, host Bob Schieffer pressed both his guests on whether Christie's weight should disqualify him from occupying the Oval Office.

Barbour spoke of his own struggles shedding extra pounds, and paid O'Malley a compliment: "You see somebody like me opposed to somebody like Martin [O'Malley], he gets the first swing" because he looks better on television. 

Schieffer next turned to O'Malley, introducing him as the "slim, trim governor of Maryland." O'Malley dodged the Christie weight question, and when chided for doing so by Shieffer, O'Malley said "it was not an evasion, it was a redirection."

O'Malley took some time to criticize the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls by saying they are "pandering" to the tea party. He noted that Obama "will not be running against the almighty, he'll be running against the alternative" and said the GOP bench might be "deep in personality" but "the pool of ideas is shallow."

Barbour took some shots at Obama, saying the president is going to "have to learn how to lead, or he's going back to Chicago."

Earlier in the segment, U.S. Sen. John McCain, said that Christie would be a "viable candidate" if he runs. But, the 2008 GOP nominee for president did have a warning for New Jersey's governor, saying: "The swimming pool looks a lot better until you jump in."

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:29 PM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Administration

October 1, 2011

Mikulski inducted into women's Hall of Fame

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, along with Billie Holiday and former Health and Human Services Department Secretary Donna Shalala, were inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Mikulski was among 11 inductees, including five who were honored posthumously. The hall is located in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which hosted the 1848 women's rights convention that helped to spark the women's suffrage movement in the U.S.

“As we celebrate the story of Seneca Falls, we also celebrate the history of America. We celebrate the history of our social movements that have grown to guarantee the rights of women, African Americans, and of working people," Mikulski said during her address. "As we study our history, we realize how much these movements have in common."

Mikulski, 75, became the longest-serving female senator in the Senate's history this year, surpassing the record set by Margaret Chase Smith. A Republican from Maine, Smith served in the Senate from 1949 to 1973. The self-styled "dean of the Senate women," Mikulski is using her tenure to help get other female lawmakers reelected to Congress next year.

As part of her work on women's issues, the Baltimore native added language to the 2010 health care overhaul that required insurance companies to cover the cost of some preventative health services for women for free. This year she rallied Democratic lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol in opposition to proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood. She was an architect of legislation signed by President Barack Obama in 2009 that makes it easier for women to sue their employers for equal pay.

The law was named for Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who tried to sue Goodyear for unequal pay but whose case was dismissed on a technicality. Ledbetter was also inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Posted by John Fritze at 9:07 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Washington
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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