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December 15, 2011

Maryland Politics is moving

Starting today, the Maryland Politics blog has a new home on The Sun’s website. Please direct your web browsers to for the latest political news from Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington.

The redesigned blog has several new features. Your reaction to items on the site should now post more quickly. Also, items written on the new blog will now be searchable on <em>The Sun’s</em> website.

Please note, we will no longer approve readers’ comments on the old blog site.

We appreciate your readership and your contributions to Maryland Politics and hope that you enjoy the new format. As before, our e-mail addresses are included in our bios. Feel free to drop us a line. Thanks,

- Annie, John, Julie and Mike

Posted by John Fritze at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)

December 14, 2011

Assembly moves toward more 'transparency'

An effort to open Maryland state government to greater scrutiny, while making the General Assembly more "transparent," got off the ground Wednesday as a panel set up for that purpose convened for the first time.

The Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government, created by the legislature during its session last year, got off to a late start because of delays in naming its members. But during yesterday's organizational meeting, the committee discussed some wide-ranging initiatives to make it easier for citizens to keep up with what state government is doing.

Del. Kumar Barve, the House co-chair, said the panel is unlikely to propose legislation for the 2012 session but could come in with a package of bills in 2013. He said that for now the committee would focus on improvements that can be achieved through administrative changes.

Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who is his party's floor leader, asked members to bring their ideas for five or six priorities to the next meeting -- expected early in the session that starts Jan. 11.

The legislation that created the panel was sponsored by Del. Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Sen. William Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat. Ferguson is the Senate co-chair of the joint committee while Mizeur is a member.

Mizeur briefed members on a menu of possible initiatives including elimination of charges for access to public records, improvements to the General Assembly web site, better use of technology and increased use of social media to communicate with citizens.

Known as the House's "Ms. Transparency" since she had adopted the cause as one of her key issues, Mizeur told members the Assembly web site is less user-friendly than those of many other states -- "an eight track tape player in an IPhone universe," she called it. She urged the panel to set a goal of upgrading it before the 2013 session.

Among the ideas discussed at the meeting: allowing witnesses to sign up to testify at legislative hearings online and providing email updates on the progress of individual bills.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:34 PM | | Comments (1)

Cardin cites '06 race in support of voter fraud bill

Sen. Ben Cardin argued Wednesday that the nation’s election laws should be more uniform so prosecutors across the country could pursue political operatives who take part in election shenanigans such as Maryland’s recent robo-call case.

“What we’re trying to do is make this a national policy,” said Cardin, who unveiled a new iteration of his voter fraud bill Wednesday. “We want to see this uniform around the nation.”

The bill would subject those found guilty of using deceptive practices to suppress voter turnout to a fine or a possible five-year prison sentence.

The effort comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call. The proposal was not drafted in response to that case.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Cardin noted his own run-in with a last-minute electoral sneak attack: A 2006 flier distributed in black neighborhoods incorrectly suggesting that several prominent African-American leaders had endorsed his Republican opponent. 

“That type of fraudulent information should have no place in American politics,” Cardin said. Shortly after his election to the Senate, Cardin introduced a similar bill with Barack Obama, then a senator.

Cardin's legislation, which so far has no Republican co-sponsors, would apply to communications that occur in the last 90 of an election with federal candidates on the ballot. Literature listing the wrong date or time for an election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates would be covered under the bill.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

O'Donnell to take on Hoyer

** Updated with MD Democratic Party response

Maryland's House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell made it official: He's definitely taking on U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer in the 2012 election.

"Frankly, I'm sickened by and exhausted from the attitude of so many politicians that our families can and should be the ones to sacrifice," says O'Donnell on an online video declaring his candidacy. "They don't seem to understand how hard it is to make ends meet these days. It is time for the government to make some sacrifices and pay attention to the people."

In the video, he rails against the stimulus plan and associates Hoyer with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, saying that their voting records are nearly identical. (The two Democratic politicians are in fact longtime rivals within the party.) 

Maryland's Democratic party shot back this afternoon with a statement describing O'Donnell as an "obstructionist tea party candidate" and noted that some within his own party have openly discussed challenging his leadership post. "Even his own party wants him out," said Matthew Verghese, a party spokesman in an email.

O'Donnell floated the idea of running for Congress last month, delighting a room full of state Republicans at the Maryland GOP convention with the news. He said that he would continue in his leadership post in the Maryland House of Delegates if he decided to challenge Hoyer.

O'Donnell represents Calvert and St. Mary's counties and was first elected to Maryland's General Assembly in 1994.

In the 2010 election O'Donnell's GOP caucus grew by six members, one of the few bright spots in an election year where Maryland Republicans were trounced at the top of the ticket. The body still remains overwhelmingly Democratic.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2012

Charles County moves closer to D.C. orbit

Charles County, long thought of as a rural, tobacco-growing jurisdiction in Southern Maryland, is taking one more step toward becoming a full-fledged part of the Washington region.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a regional planning body, announced Wednesday that Charles will become its 22nd member government. The group, which includes the District of Columbia as well as counties and municipalities in Maryland and Virginia, includes groups that deal with transportation and air quality issues that transcend jurisdictional lines.

Charles' move closer into the Washington region tracks its political transformation over the last two decades. With an increasing African-American population that includes many who have migrated from Prince George's County, Charles has moved from being a reliably Republican outpost to a Democratic stronghold. Over the years, as tobacco farming has dwindled, the county has become much more of a bedroom community for commuters to Washington.

Candice Quinn Kelly, president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement that didn't seem at all nostalgic for the county's past.

“Charles County is pleased to become a full member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Our decision to move forward with COG membership is based on the understanding that commuting, employment, and the economic direction of Charles County are fully part of the larger Washington-area region. We're not solely a rural, agricultural-based county anymore,” she said. “This is an important day for our community. It's time to move into this new realm, and we are joining a strong, regional network that will help us to move our county forward.”

Can St. Mary's and Calvert be far behind?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:11 AM | | Comments (0)

December 13, 2011

Bereano settles ethics charges for $2,750

Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano will go into the 2012 legislative session next month with ethics charges safely behind him.

Bereano settled a case with the State Ethics Commission earlier this year by agreeing to pay a $2,750 penalty for failing to make required disclosures of meals and other gifts to state officials.

Bereano, a convicted felon who settled a more serious ethics cases in 2009 with a $29,070 payment, came to a new agreement with the ethics panel in May under which he agreed to a fine and submitted amended disclosure forms that added detail about which state officials were the beneficiaries of his generosity.

Over the years, Bereano appears to be the lobbyist most frequently cited by the panel for violations large and small. He now has seven ethics cases on file with the commission.

The most recent settlement was found in an examination of the commission’s records. The panel does not normally send out public notices of violations – helping to account for why the infraction was not reported for months.

The agreement stipulated that Bereano did not properly disclose his spending on meals and beverages he bought for Richard B. Rosenblatt, then an assistant secretary in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, each year between 2005-2008. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt was making the required disclosures each year – though he took a short cut by overestimating Bereano’s spending on him as coming to $500 a year for those four years.

Rosenblatt was violating no law, according to the ethics commission, because state law allows executive branch officials to be wined and dined in the presence of the person footing the bill as long as the identity and amount are disclosed. But when ethics officials cross-checked Bereano’s disclosures against Rosenblatt's, they found that the lobbyist hadn’t been quite as diligent.

Records show Bereano filed amended disclosures for 2006-2008 showing spending between $148 and $300 on wining and dining Rosenblatt for those three years while representing Correctional Medical Services.

In the same settlement, Bereano also admitted to a failure to disclose a series of gifts to a Senate staff member between 2001 and 2005. The lobbyist explained that the gifts, including sports tickets, were personal in nature and weren’t paid for by one of his employers. The ethics panel found that such gifts to employees of the legislature are not permitted.

The recipient was a former member of the staff of state Sen. John Hafer, a Western Maryland Republican. Bereano’s amended disclosure shows that the gifts followed a running theme involving the Dallas Cowboys, including tickets to the teams games against the Washington Redskins. The agreement noted that the staff member eventually reimbursed Bereano for the gifts.

Rosenblatt, who now works in the prison health industry, said he regrets having been imprecise in his disclosures, but not having dined with Bereano. He said his outside-the-office communications with the lobbyist helped improve communications between his department and a company that already held a contract.

“He helped improve the service received from the client,” Rosenblatt said. Bereano did not return a call seeking his comment.

The infractions were far less serious than the previous case in which Bereano was cited. That involved signing an illegal contingency contract that would have rewarded him for a successful outcome. But the $2,750 settlement is considerably more than the typical fine paid in a case against a lobbyist – which typically involve $250 fines for late filing of a disclosure.

Bereano is currently seeking to have his 1994 federal mail fraud conviction invalidated because of subsequent appellate rulings that call into question the prosecution's legal groundwork for the case.

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

Brinkley brings Shank aboard for 6th District

David Brinkley, a Republican state lawmaker considering a run for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said Tuesday that a key Senate colleague, Chris Shank, would serve as a county campaign chair if he decides to formally enter the race.

Shank had been considered a potential candidate for the district himself. In siding with Brinkley, Shank could give a boost to a campaign that is competing in a crowded GOP field to replace incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. Shank would serve as Brinkley’s Washington County chairman.

“A victory in this election will be determined by who wins Washington County,” Brinkley said in a statement. “Senator Shank’s effort on our behalf will play a major role in this campaign.”

The state’s primary is April 3. In addition to Brinkley and Bartlett, who says he will seek reelection, Maryland’s GOP chairman, Alex Mooney, has said he is exploring a run. Other candidates include businessman Brandon Rippeon, Robert Coblentz and Montgomery County attorney Robin Ficker.

Posted by John Fritze at 3:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Cardin to introduce voter fraud bill

Sen. Ben Cardin said he will unveil legislation Wednesday to impose criminal and civil penalties for those who distribute false voting information before an election.

The effort, which Cardin is making along with New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call.

The call, directed at black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, told voters to “relax,” and stated before polls had closed that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s reelection was assured. Schurick’s attorney, arguing that the call was protected under the First Amendment, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

The Sun's coverage of the robo-call case is available here. 

Cardin's legislation would apply to communications that occur in the last 90 of an election with federal candidates on the ballot. Literature listing the wrong date or time for an election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates would be covered under the bill, for instance.

Though the legislation would have applied to the Schurick case, it was not drafted in response to it, a Cardin aide said. The senator has been working on the issue for several years and has introduced different iterations of the bill in the past.

Maryland has a long history of last-minute election sneak attacks, including erroneous sample ballots, literature insinuating endorsements that were never made and misleading robo-calls.

Updated:Those who use deceptive practices would be subject to a fine or a five-year prison sentence under the proposal. The bill would also authorize the U.S. Attorney General to communicate directly with voters to correct false information if state and local officials did not do so.

Posted by John Fritze at 12:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

In Penn State's wake, Mikulski explores child abuse law

As the Penn State child sex abuse scandal began to wind its way through court on Monday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski held a hearing on an underlying issue raised in the case: Whether federal child abuse laws are adequately protecting children from abuse.

“There have been too many examples in our recent history where children have been subjected to double abuse,” the Maryland Democrat said at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, which she chairs.

“They are victimized by the initial abuse and then are victimized a second time when the abuse is overlooked, ignored or covered up in order to protect institutions that many consider beyond reproach or ‘too big to fail.’”

The hearing came on the same day that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was expected to face several of his accusers in court. At the last minute, however, he waived his right to the preliminary hearing. Sandusky, who has denied wrongdoing, faces multiple charges of child sex abuse in a scandal that has forced the university’s president and longtime coach, Joe Paterno, to resign.

Mikulski said that the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the 1974 federal law that sets reporting procedures for states, may need to be updated. The law provides funding to states that enact procedures for responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect and that define who must report abuse, she said.

“It is my belief that every adult should be required to report known or suspected child abuse regardless of whether the abuser is a parent, caregiver, coach or teacher. If you see something, you should say something,” she said.

Mikulski, who spent two years as a child neglect social worker in Baltimore, said Maryland has mandatory reporting requirements for all adults -- not just parents and caregivers – but said there are no criminal and civil penalties in place for non-reporting, which she argues renders the requirements “essentially unenforceable.”

Posted by John Fritze at 12:14 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Washington

December 12, 2011

O'Malleys invite Lady Gaga to dinner

Maryland's first couple extended an informal dinner invitation to Lady Gaga via twitter this afternoon.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lady Gaga share an interest in music, but the topic of conversation would be anti-bullying efforts. The governor and his wife, Katie O'Malley, launched an anti-bullying campaign a few months ago, and O'Malley recently asked other governors to join him in that effort.

The governor (or his tweeting staff) wrote: "@LadyGaga thanks for your advocacy against bullying. Katie & I would like to invite you to dinner to discuss eliminating bullying in MD."

Gaga recently visited the White House to discuss the same issue, which prompted the invite, according to O'Malley spokeswoman Takirra Winfield. "We thought that we would reach out to her," Winfield said.

The governor has no plans make a more traditional overture to the superstar singer.

Gaga isn't the only famous name O'M has dropped recently on his twitter feed. While in California for an annual Democratic Governors Association meeting and fundraiser, the governor made a trip to Palo Alto where he had his photo snapped with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. (Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is also in the picture.)

Plus -- and this did not come up at this morning's briefing on India -- O'Malley ran into Tom Cruise at the Taj Mahal. Here's a photo from the governor's Facebook page.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:10 PM | | Comments (1)

O’Malley planning more foreign travel

Gov. Martin O’Malley hope to fill up his passport over the next few years with stamps from Brazil and some African nations. The governor mentioned his future plans Monday morning at a media briefing on the India trip he wrapped up last week.

The governor noted that Brazil, with its booming economy would help round out his tour through emerging nations frequently referred to as the “BRIC” countries. (Should his Brazil trip go forward, O’Malley would only be missing Russia.) O’Malley said he’d like to go to Brazil next year.

The governor also said he’d like to visit Africa, noting the number of international relief agencies based in Maryland that do work there. “Not to mention the contributions from that continent,” O’Malley said.

The cost to taxpayers for the six day India trip was roughly $140,000, said Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson. O’Malley led a delegation of 100 on the trip, which he said helped seal business deals worth $60 million. In June, O'Malley took nearly 70 business leaders, educators and officials on a trade mission to China, South Korea and Vietnam. The 10-day trip cost taxpayers $164,000. The governor said it netted $85 million in deals.

The governor said that he appreciated traveling in India with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L Baker III and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, and said he’d previously hesitated to invite county leaders on foreign travel.

“We are all familiar with the political liabilities that come from whenever our elected officials are traveling,” said O’Malley. “You assume that, without question, you are going to get the articles that are critical of you traveling when you should be doing other things at home.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)

Cummings launches probe into for-profit schools

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Monday he will launch an investigation into executive compensation at for-profit colleges.

Cummings sent letters to 13 colleges Monday, including DeVry Inc. and Kaplan Inc., requesting they turnover compensation agreements for senior executives “as part of an effort to determine whether [their] salary, bonuses, and other compensation are appropriately tied to the performance of the students [they] educate, the vast majority of which pay for their education with federal tax dollars.”

Many students at the schools pay tuition with taxpayer-funded student loan programs, Cummings said. None of the schools are based in Maryland.

The Baltimore lawmaker has made executive compensation a top issue, including efforts to limit salaries and bonuses for executives at companies that benefited from federal bailouts.

Updated: Brian Moran, interim chief executive officer and president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, called Cummings' request "just more politics" and said it "fails to acknowledge the important role private sector colleges and universities have in educating non-traditional students."

Posted by John Fritze at 10:08 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

December 9, 2011

Revenues panel writes down MD budget estimates

After a series of cheerful announcements of better-than-expected state tax revenues, Maryland's Board of Revenue Estimates Friday reversed that trend and announced a $120 million write down mostly on weaker than expected sales taxes.

"It means [the General Assembly] needs to be very careful about their spending and borrowing," said Comptroller Peter Franchot, who chairs the revenue panel. "I've been very consistent to say we are in a very fragile, feeble recovery. We owe it to be very honest about jobs and the housing market and not be constantly cheer leading."

The panel now estimates that the tax revenues for the current fiscal year will be $50 million lower than expected. For next year (FY2013) revenues are now expected to be $71 million lower than predicted in September. The FY2013 budget will still grow by 3.3 percent over the current year's.

The biggest reduction in revenues comes from sales tax revenues, which are now expected to be  $216 million less than forecasters guessed in September.
Forecasters attributed the lower estimates on consumer spending to "Lingering unemployment, higher food and gas prices, and falling home values."

"Not to state the obvious, but a person who has lost their job, who has taken a hit in their paycheck and can’t make ends meet, or who can’t find work after hitting the pavement for months on end is just not going to go out and buy that new washing machine or a new car," Franchot said in a statement.

The panel blamed the new higher sales tax on alcohol for a dip in revenues from beer consumption. However, collections from spirits and wines increased by a few percentage points even though those products are also subject to the new higher tax rate. The General Assembly this year increased the sales tax on alcohol from 6 percent to 9 percent.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:28 PM | | Comments (0)

Pipkin calls for transportation chief to step down

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin called Friday for Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley to step down in light of this month's highly critical audit of the State Highway Administration.

Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, charged that the audit of SHA -- an arm of the Transportation Department -- showed that Swaim-Staley has done "an unacceptable job" and bears responsibility for the contracting abuses identified by legislative auditors.

"Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley has presided over a mess," Pipkin's statement said. "She has stated that she has been working hard to change the SHA culture to one that closely manages all aspects of the contract process. Frankly that response is not good enough. Let’s face it, Secretary Swaim-Staley did not know much of what was going on in the agency she heads."

The most recent audit released showed that SHA had in many cases extended contracts -- or moved money from contract to contract -- without the required approval of the state Board of Public Works. A previous audit, released July 1, found ethical violations in the agency's construction and procurement areas and focused on a "revolving door" culture involving the SHA and its contractors.

Pipkin said the recent audit showed "an agency run wild without adequate oversight, coordination and review."

In June, with the release of the first audit imminent, state Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen abruptly stepped down. Last month Swaim-Staley announced that Melinda Peters, who headed construction of the Intercounty Connector, would become the new administrator in a promotion that bypassed Pedersen's former deputies.

Raquel Guillory, press secretary for Gov. Martin O'Malley, rejected the call for Swaim-Staley's replacement.

"We continue to have confidence in the secretary," Guillory said. "She acted aggressively to make changes at SHA, including a new head of that agency. We're confident that all of the steps that have been taken address many of the issues in the audit."

There is a little history between Pipkin and Swaim-Staley. Pipkin was the legislature's most vocal critic of the Maryland Transportation Authority's recent toll increase, while Swaim-Staley, as chairwoman of the authority board, led the process that led to setting the new toll rates.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)

Benoit challenges legal opinion on Jones' seat

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit is challenging a legal opinion issued by the county attorney on the political future of fellow Councilman Daryl D. Jones, who is headed to federal prison next month.

In a five-page memo to the county’s Office of Law, Benoit, a Democrat, questioned County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson’s Dec. 1 legal opinion. Hodgson stated that the council can replace Jones when he begins serving a five-month federal prison sentence on Jan. 23, on a single count of failing to file a tax return, because he will be living outside of his councilmanic district during his prison stint.

The county charter does not require a council member convicted of a crime or sentenced to prison. But Hodgson said once Jones, a second-term Democrat from Severn, is incarcerated, the council can declare his seat vacated by passing a resolution, then begin the process of choosing a successor. The council has 30 days from the date of the vacancy to choose a replacement, who must live in the district and be of the same party.

“By my read, if Mr. Jones does not resign and intends to live in the councilmanic district upon his return in a few months, his seat has not been vacated when he reports to prison,” Benoit wrote. The Crownsville Democrat and attorney asked the county law office to provide a more substantive legal opinion. Benoit has said he has no opinion on whether Jones should resign.

“It is weak and frankly, lacks the substantive legal analysis each of us deserve before making such an important decision,” Benoit wrote in a five-page letter he emailed to the law office Thursday night. “At a time when we deserved the very best advice the Office of Law can offer, we didn’t get it.”

Benoit added, “I do not believe the opinion has given even an elementary legal analysis and cannot be considered sound legal advice. Rather it appears the opinion is infected with political whim which is not what I expect nor what we deserve from our lawyers.”

Reached for comment on Benoit’s letter, Hodgson, who acts as the attorney for both the council and County Executive John R. Leopold, released a strongly-worded statement saying he sought to make all legal options known to his clients and questioned Benoit’s motives.

“Sometimes politicians are unhappy to be told they have difficult decisions to make and I believe that’s the root of Mr. Benoit’s displeasure and attempted legal rebuttal,’ said Hodgson. “It appears to me that he’s less dismayed by my reasoning than by my conclusion, and making such aggressive objections creates an impression that he even may be acting as Mr. Jones's surrogate.”

“Maybe it’s true that Mr. Benoit has no opinion on whether his colleague should resign from the council,” he added, “But depending on what the council decides to do with my advice, he may need to start thinking about it.”

Jones, who is also an attorney, did not respond to a request for comment. He has said previously he is undecided about whether he will resign or hold onto his seat while he serves his sentence.

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

December 8, 2011

Federal worker pay targeted again on Capitol Hill

Maryland Democrats and federal employee unions attacked a new proposal floated on Capitol Hill Thursday that would pay for continuing a payroll tax cut by extending a freeze on federal workers.

Sen. Ben Cardin sent a letter to Democratic Senate leaders this week asking them to reject any proposal that would shrink federal worker compensation. In the letter – also signed by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and six other Democrats – the lawmakers note that employees are already operating under a two-year pay freeze that began this year.

“Federal employees are facing the same challenges as other middle-class families during this difficult economic time,” the letter reads. “Yet, this sub-group of middle class workers is in danger of being singled out to offset a tax cut for all middle class Americans.”

Cardin’s push comes as House Republicans prepared to formally unveil a bill that would extend the expiring payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits in part by continuing the pay freeze on federal workers. A similar proposal failed in the Senate Thursday, with 76 senators – including 25 Republicans – opposed.

Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, according to the census, and 131,350 federal employees work in the state.

The American Federation of Government Employees, a union with members in Maryland, fired off a letter Thursday to every member of the House. The union estimates the two-year pay freeze already put in place by the Obama administration will trim the budget deficit by $60 billion.

The AFGE letter took aim at federal contractors, reiterating the union’s support for a $200,000 salary cap on contractor employees.

“Contractors, naturally, complain about having to make the same sacrifices that are being made by working class and middle class federal employees,” the letter read. “But if $200,000 is enough for cabinet secretaries, Nobel prize winning scientists at NIH and NASA, and other federal employee professionals…it’s enough for the government’s contractors, as well.”

Posted by John Fritze at 4:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

CASA drops portion of suit against MD Dream Act

Attorneys backed by CASA de Maryland who are trying to block a 2012 referendum on the Maryland Dream Act have modified their lawsuit against the state, and now concede that opponents of the controversial law did gather enough valid signatures.

The CASA attorneys still contend that the referendum should not go forward because they say the law, which grants in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, is technically an appropriations measure and therefore not allowed to be petitioned. Oral arguments in the case are set for late January.

"We feel very strongly ... that this is the kind of law that the the Maryland Constitution prevents from going to referendum," said Joseph Sandler, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

The development means that a Maryland court will not have a chance to rule on a new internet tool that was used this year to gather signatures for the repeal effort. Maryland Republicans hope to use the tool more frequently, and have toyed with employing it to protest Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting map.

The initial lawsuit had claimed that the signatures generated from online petitions did not pass legal muster.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:52 PM | | Comments (0)

Obama, Biden to attend Army-Navy game

They’ll be led by their coaches, but when Army and Navy meet at FedEx Field on Saturday they’ll also have to contend with a commander in chief in the stands.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will attend the game, the White House announced Thursday. Later in the week, Obama will travel to North Carolina to speak with troops at Ft. Bragg.

Presidents frequently attend Army-Navy games, though not always. Obama did not attend in 2009 and faced criticism for it. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter didn’t attend any of the games during their presidencies.

Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:36 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Washington

December 7, 2011

Doctor latest Democrat to enter 6th District race

Milad Pooran, a 34-year-old doctor and Air National Guard reservist, on Wednesday became the latest candidate to enter the burgeoning race for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

Pooran, a Democrat, is a critical care physician and served as a combat medic in Iraq, according to an announcement from his campaign. He previously ran for school board in Beltsville, Md., but was deployed during the campaign, an aide said. He is a lieutenant colonel.

“The 6th District has been under-represented for two decades,” Pooran said, referencing the incumbent, Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

The other Democratic candidates in the race so far include state Sen. Robert Garagiola and former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg. The primary takes place April 3.

Pooran immigrated to the U.S. with his parents at the age of six from Iran. He grew up in Beltsville, attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and the UM School of Medicine in Baltimore. As an undergraduate, he was a sports broadcaster for a student radio station and provided color commentary for Terrapin home games. 

According to his campaign website, Pooran completed a clinical fellowship at the National Institutes of Health and later worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

State property records show that Pooran does not list his Jefferson, Md., condo as his principal residence; however, a campaign aide said that is a technical error and said Pooran and his wife do indeed live in Frederick County.

Pooran expects to file paperwork with the state Board of Elections on Thursday to put his name on the ballot.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Gansler, other AGs push for Cordray confirmation

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler joined colleagues from three states at a White House news conference Wednesday to urge Senate confirmation of the Obama administration’s pick for a new consumer watchdog.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, included in last year’s sweeping and controversial Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul, has been operating for months without a director. The administration’s nominee, Rich Cordray, could face a Senate vote on Thursday.

Cordray, a Democrat, served as Ohio’s attorney general until early this year.

Senate Republicans say they are less concerned with Cordray as they are with new agency itself. Critics say the bureau should not be run by an individual but rather a board, like the Securities and Exchange Commission. GOP lawmakers also want greater oversight, including in how the new agency is funded.

In a news conference, Gansler speculated that blocking the agency’s work by holding up its director is the kind of political gamesmanship that has led to low congressional approval ratings.

“This is the type of thing that breeds cynicism in the general public,” he said.

Attorneys general sharing the dais with Gansler: Mississippi’s Jim Hood, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Utah’s Mark Shurtleff. Gansler, Hood and Cooper are Democrats. Shurtleff is a Republican.

The conference is part of a broader push by the White House to pressure the Senate to confirm Cordray. Senate leaders are anticipating a vote Thursday to end debate on his confirmation, requiring 60 votes to advance. Republicans appear to have the votes to block it.        

Asked if he had lobbied Republican members of the Senate – particularly Sen. Orrin Hatch, a fellow Utahn – Shurtleff said that he had but acknowledged he had yet to change anyone’s mind in his own party.

“I don’t want to wag my finger” at Congress, Shurtleff said. “The law is in place. We need to go forward."

The consumer agency would have oversight of banks, mortgage lenders and other financial firms and is intended to avoid a repeat of the mortgage meltdown that led to the current economic downturn. 

Posted by John Fritze at 3:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Not everyone in old Ehrlich gang is distraught over Schurick verdict

For some who used to work for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the conviction of onetime campaign manager and gubernatorial aide Paul Schurick on election fraud charges Tuesday is a travesty of justice.

But the feeling isn't unanimous.

Joe Steffen, Ehrlich's longtime political enforcer who became known as the "Prince of Darkness," published a response on his blog entitled "Justice Comes A' (Robo) Calling" that takes a harsh view of Schurick's use of election night calls to influence African-Americans on whether to vote.

Steffen, who was run out of the Ehrlich administration after he was linked with an attempt to spread rumors about then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, has since become openly disenchanted with Ehrlich and many of the former governor's closest aides. The former "Prince" has become a prolific blogger on political topics, and his former boss is a favorite target.

In his post, Steffen describes the tactic the jury decided was a fraudulent attempt to suppress the black vote as the "infamous, racist Schurick Doctrine," which he contended will be a millstone around the necks of Maryland Republicans for many years in their attempts to appeal to African-Americans. But he isn't much kinder to the ex-governor.

"I really hope that Schurick’s employer at the time, Bobby Ehrlich, is not allowed to forever float above this entire mess," Steffen writes. "Take it from someone who knows, someone who’s also been under the spotlight (though never convicted) for political dirty tricks done while in Mr. Ehrlich’s employ, Bobby Ehrlich – the failed author whose ego knows no bounds – will attempt to do just that."

Richard J. Cross III, a former Ehrlich speechwriter, wasn't terribly sympathetic to Schurick either on his Cross Purposes blog. He expressed the view that the parade of politically powerful character witnesses on Schurick's behalf may have backfired.

"When Schurick’s friends spoke to the jury, they portrayed him as a model of truth, forbearance, and integrity – Maryland’s own Honest Abe. When I first read that, I nearly lost a mouthful of Diet Pepsi," Cross writes. "Anyone who knows Schurick can tell you he has always been a bit of a rascal – a quality I came to both admire and dislike about him at different times."

Cross suggests that Schurick owes apologies to a raft of people for his actions, including the Republican Party, the former Ehrlich campaign aides who were dragged into the investigation and the former governor himself for tainting Ehrlich's legacy.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:35 PM | | Comments (1)

SRB cuts latest video for same-sex marriage campaign

A day after celebrating the inauguration for her first full term as mayor, Baltimore's Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is being featured in a new video supporting same-sex marriage. We got a sneak peak at it.

In the 51 second video, Baltimore's mayor says "Just as a straight couples' commitment to family is legally recognized, so too should a gay couples' commitment be recognized by our state government."

Baltimore's mayor appeared at a City Hall news conference over the summer where a group of progressive activists announced their new coalition to lobby for a change in the state's law. The advocates are trying to target black lawmakers in Baltimore and Prince George's County, some of whom have said they are uneasy with the idea of gay nuptials.

The measure passed in the state senate last spring, but fell short in the house of delegates.

The video will appear on the Marylanders' for Marriage Equality website.

Rawlings-Blake is the seventh Marylander to appear in the group's campaign. Others include Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, Oscar winner Mo’Nique, civil rights leader Julian Bond and Prince George’s County police officer Irene Huskens.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

December 6, 2011

Johnson losing freedom but still has friends

Former Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson will lose his freedom next Feb. 3 when the date for him to report to federal prison to serve a 7-year, 3-month sentence comes up. but he hasn't lost his friends despite the wide-ranging corruption charges to which he pleaded guilty.

When Johnson was sentenced Tuesday morning at the U.S. District Courthouse in Greenbelt, the courtroom didn't have a seat to spare. Most of those who attended appeared to be supporters such as Pastor Douglas E. Edwards of the Mission of Love Outreach Ministries in Capitol Heights.

Edwards was hoping against hope that the judge would let Johnson atone for his crimes, including bribery and extortion, by performing community service.

"Any time I've called him he's been there. So I'd like to see him serving the poor people," Edwards said.

The pastor wasn't excusing Johnson, saying he was "deeply hurt" to learn about his conduct. But he said that Johnson is "so remorseful" and that his family has suffered enough.

"It would serve no purpose to further humiliate him," Edwards said.

Raymond Watts of Forestville sat in the front row hoping the judge would go "a little light" on Johnson, 62. He said the former county executive still has a lot of supporters in the county.

"He was one of the people that every Sunday he would visit a different church," Watts said. He called Johnson "a very religious person who just made a mistake."

The Rev. Anthony Evans, associate pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, said Johnson is "beloved in the black community."

Evans said he came to court to stand by his friend. That's what the church does, he said.

"We stand with you when you bless your babies and we stand with when you do wrong," Evans said.

After Judge Peter Messitte passed sentence and ended the hearing, Johnson received hugs and best wishes from supporters before his defense lawyers whisked him away in a black Chevrolet Suburban SUV.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:39 PM | | Comments (0)

December 5, 2011

Benoit not running in Maryland's District 4

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who has said he was considering running to represent Maryland's newly drawn 4th Congressional district, said Monday night he will forego a campaign and serve out his term on the council.

“Given the uncertainty and turmoil that currently exists in the county, I know I can best serve Anne Arundel County by remaining on the council," Benoit, a Democrat and Army veteran, said in a statement. "Now more than ever, our community needs stability and experienced leadership. So I am staying put."

Benoit said in late October that he was exploring running for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's Democrat, after the district was redistricted to include portions of Anne Arundel County.

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 8:54 PM | | Comments (0)

Arundel Council blocks public comments on Jones

Daryl D. Jones, the Anne Arundel County Councilman who begins serving a five-month stint in federal prison next month, made no announcement on his political future at Monday night’s council meeting.

But some county residents wanted to talk about it.

Karen Delimater, a Pasadena resident and frequent attendee of council meetings, attempted to speak about the Severn Democrat’s impending incarceration during a portion of the meeting that was open to wide-ranging public comment, but was prevented from speaking on the matter.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Delimater. “Or perhaps, we should call it the Democrat in the room.”

And with that, newly appointed Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, banged his gavel.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry,” said Fink. “This is not the right place for this.”

Delimater attempted to continue her remarks, but Fink again pounded his gavel.

“Well, there’s your government,” said Delimater, as she walked back to her seat.

Jones was sentenced in November to five months in prison on a single charge of failing to file a tax return. Jones, a two-term councilman, was first elected to the council in 2006.

Because the county charter is silent on the issue, the council has no power to remove Jones and the decision on whether to resign or stay on the council is entirely up to Jones. Monday’s council meeting was the first since Jones was sentenced.

Later in the meeting, when another resident addressed the council and criticized Fink, Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, rebuffed the speaker.

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, who is one of two Republican councilmen that has called for Jones to resign, defended the residents.

“It’s called freedom of speech,” said Grasso. “You’re welcome to say anything you want to say. My feeling is, if you’re not man enough to take it, it’s time to resign."

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 8:45 PM | | Comments (2)

NAACP, ACLU back prisoner-count law

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have weighed in on the side of the state of Maryland in opposing a challenge to Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting plan based on how prisoners are counted in apportioning population to electoral districts.

The groups, along with Howard University's School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, filed a "friend of the court" brief in the redistricting lawsuit now before the U.S. District Court arguing that the General Assembly got it just right when it passed a law in 2010 providing that incarcerated people should be counted as living in their home jurisdictions rather than in the communities where the prisons are located.

A challenge to that law, the No Representation Without Population Act, is part of the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee's attack on the redistricting plan recently adopted by the legislature for use in the 2012 election. The map was crafted to give the state's dominant Democrats a good shot at picking up a seventh seat in the eight-member House delegation.

The ACLU -- along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the state NAACP council -- contends the legislature corrected a past practice that artificially inflated the population of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland counties where Maryland has its largest prison complexes at the expense of heavily African-American juisdictions such as Baltimore.

As an example of how prison populations can skew elections, the brief points to a council district in Somerset County where the inclusion of prisoners at the Eastern Correctional Institution gives the residents of that district 2.7 times the voting strength as residents of other districts. The Somerset County NAACP is one of the groups behind the brief.

The authors of the brief say they aren't taking a position on the lawsuit's allegations of partisan gerrymandering. But they urged the court to deny the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction based on the challenge to the population law.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:35 PM | | Comments (1)

Balto. Co. Council to vote on Towson sign bill

Baltimore County Council members are set to vote tonight on a measure to limit the height of electronic billboards on the Towson City Center.

Back in October, the council approved a bill by Fifth District Councilman David Marks to allow signs of up to 300 square feet on the building. The new legislation limits the height of the signs to 55 feet from the ground.

Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, offered the height limit after working with the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. The community group had complained that the October bill would allow flashing signs that could be seen far as far away as Cockeysville and the Loch Raven Reservoir – and that county council members hadn’t listened to the community’s concerns.

Posted by Alison Knezevich at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Nancy Jacobs considers 2nd District run

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs said Monday she has launched an exploratory committee to consider a run for Congress from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, the seat currently held by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Jacobs, who stepped down as Republican Senate leader in October, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission late last week that will allow her to raise money for the race. The filing was not available on the agency’s website Monday. 

"Congress exists to serve the people and they are failing miserably,” Jacobs said in a statement. “It's time to shake things up in D.C.”

Jacobs, 60, became the Senate’s first female GOP leader this year but stepped down 10 months later to consider running for another office. In the Senate, she has focused on criminal justice legislation – including measures to address gang violence and higher minimum penalties for sexual offenses against children.

But Jacobs will face an uphill climb against Ruppersberger, whose district became more Democratic in the congressional redistricting this year. Ruppersberger won with 64 percent of the vote in 2010. 

Posted by John Fritze at 2:01 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington

December 2, 2011

O'Malley, mayor to host Brown fund-raiser

It looks as if Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's expected campaign for governor in 2014 is getting off the ground in a big way.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake are acting as co-hosts of a Brown fund-raiser Dec. 14 in Baltimore. There's nothing surprising about the governor's support for his loyal political sidekick for the past six years, but Rawlings-Blake's participation could indicate she has no intention of following in the gubernatorial footsteps of previous Mayors O'Malley and William Donald Schaefer -- in 2014 at least.

The event includes a VIP reception preceding the main event with a cost of $4,000 a ticket -- the legal maximum for a single campaign gift in Maryland. When you see $4,000 in a political fund-raiser invitation, that tells you the organizers are looking to raise big bucks.

The invitation to the event boasts an impressive list of heavy hitters on the host committee -- representing the worlds of politics, political finance, business (minority and otherwise), law and the old Schaefer mafia.

By the way, the David Simon listed on the host committee is not the David Simon of "Homicide" and "The Wire."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:09 PM | | Comments (2)

MD GOP hires new executive director

The Maryland Republicans may be in search of an office and (potentially) a chairman, but, they have found a permanent executive director.

Twenty-six year old David Ferguson, a GOP campaign consultant a with Virgina-based firm, will take over the position that's been held for the past six months on an interim basis by Del. Justin Ready.

In a brief interview, Ferguson said he's hoping to bring some "significant changes" to the Maryland GOP. "You have to sit back and see because it will be really exciting," Ferguson said. "We'll be conservative alternate view in Annapolis."

"In the long term there's going to be a change in attitude and a change in perspective," Ferguson said. "That is what I'm excited to bring."

Ferguson was the campaign manager for Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, helping him win the GOP nomination. He then worked on a series of targeted House and Senate races in the state.

Before getting into politics, Ferguson attracted some attention in his home state: He was recognized by Alabama Public Television as a "Young Hero" in 2003 after rescuing a man who was drowning. He's also an Eagle Scout.

It's a tumultuous time to be a GOP party official in Maryland. After digging out of debt last year, the party has again found itself confronting red ink. Plus the party will be moving their headquarters from their choice address on West Street to another, less expensive and yet-to-be named location.

And MD GOP chairman Alex X. Mooney announced yesterday that is eying a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. If Mooney runs, he will have to step down.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)

State overhauls campaign finance website

Anyone who has tried to search Maryland campaign finance donations on the tortoise slow University of Maryland sponsored website can rejoice: The state is scrapping that system and has a new one.

The State Board of Elections is still in the process of populating its new $900,000 database with back records, but the site is up for public use. It can be accessed here. Bookmark it. Take it for a spin. Email us if you see anything fun we should write about.

The UM version will live on through at least early next year. For January's filing, campaigns will get to pick which system they want to use to upload their annual reports. But, after that, the antiquated version goes away. Historical data will be available on the new database.

The State Board also made news in the Sun today with rules they've put together allowing donors to give political contributions via text message. Those donations will be limited to $10 (sorry Exelon.) The rules still need final approval, but if all goes as planned they'll be in place by March 2012.

A warning: Kinks in the state's new campaign finance website are being worked out, but here are some highlights for those who like to poke around:

1. Contribution information and search will be easily downloadable to excel! (This function was not totally working when we had our tutorial, but the SBE pledges that it will be.)

2. The searches are a lot faster (it just bears repeating.)

3. There is a nifty panel that tracks campaign finance violations.

4. Information about out-of-state independent expenditures will be online for the first time. It's a timely change, as the 2012 election is expected to attract national money in the 6th Congressional District; a ballot initiative on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and, potentially, same-sex marriage.

It is also noteworthy that the new system will make it easier and cheaper for the state board of elections to comply with changes the General Assembly may want to disclosure rules. For example, there have been past efforts to increase the number of reporting periods in the off years, but making that shift was costly with the old system.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)

December 1, 2011

$500,000-plus DROP payments for some Balto. Co. police retirees

Several top police officers in Baltimore County retired this year with lump-sum payments of more than $500,000 under a program started seven years ago for public safety veterans.

The Deferred Retirement Option Program lets employees who delay retirement receive the one-time payments when they leave, in exchange for smaller annual pensions. Three police majors who retired this year received more than $500,000.

The Sun requested figures on retirement payments for county employees who have retired since June 1 of this year. Click here to see a list of retirement information from the county.

One police major, who retired June 1, left with a DROP payment of nearly $520,000, plus more than $101,000 for unused vacation and comp time. The major’s yearly pension will be more than $158,000.

Another seven police retirees got DROP payments of more than $400,000.

Union officials emphasize that while the numbers are high, the beneficiaries are getting reduced annual pension benefits.

The County Council approved DROP in 2004 in a move meant to keep experienced employees on the job longer. The optional program was part of an agreement reached in 2001 by then-County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger’s administration and public safety unions.

Public safety employees hired after 2007 aren’t eligible for DROP.

Posted by Alison Knezevich at 5:56 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County

Bartlett aide, potential challenger resigns

A longtime top aide to Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett who has considered running for his boss’s seat in 2012 has resigned, a Bartlett spokeswoman confirmed Thursday, adding a new layer of intrigue to the state’s most compelling political contest.

Bud Otis, who has long served as Bartlett’s chief of staff and top campaign aide, submitted his resignation Wednesday night, Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright said in a statement. The decision followed rumors that Otis was considering a run for the seat.

“Last night, Congressman Bartlett accepted Bud's resignation,” Wright said in an e-mailed statement. “He agreed with Bud that the multiple recent news reports about Bud's activities made it impossible for Bud to continue to serve him and the residents of the Sixth District of Maryland effectively.”

Rumors had floated for weeks that Otis would consider running for the seat, particularly if Bartlett decided to retire. Bartlett has said he is running for another term, but he has not raised much money. The 85-year-old would likely face the toughest race of his political career because of a new district that includes more Democratic voters.

Otis was not immediately available for comment.

Rumors of Otis’s candidacy were first reported in the Red Maryland blog, and they were cited by the state’s GOP chairman Thursday. Alex Mooney noted the reports that Otis was considering a run as he announced that he, too, will consider seeking the seat.

If everyone considering a run stays in the race, it would set up a GOP primary between a sitting congressman, his former longtime aide and his state party chair.

Posted by John Fritze at 3:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Lt. Gov. Brown endorses Garagiola

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown endorsed Democrat Rob Garagiola in the race for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District Thursday, an indication that the lawmaker will have the support of the state’s Democratic leaders against any potential primary challengers.

It is the first high-profile endorsement in the race and it comes before the Democratic field is set. Montgomery County businessman John Delaney, for instance, is still weighing whether to enter the contest for the Democratic nomination.

In a statement released by the Garagiola campaign, Brown said that his former colleague in the state Senate “brings an incredibly high level of energy, preparation and common sense to help Maryland families meet the most difficult challenges.”

The endorsement is significant for Garagiola, who has moved rapidly to secure support from local elected leaders and donors – both of which will be crucial in what is likely to be an expensive campaign.

Both parties are expecting primaries in the district, currently represented by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a 10-term Republican who says he is running for reelection next year. Also Thursday, state GOP party chairman Alex Mooney said he will likely enter the race on the Republican side, setting up a potential primary between the party’s leader and a sitting GOP congressman.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Schedule for remap hearing puts election in doubt

The U.S. District Court for Maryland has released a schedule for its handling of a challenge to Gov. Martin O'Malley's redistricting plan that could challenge state election officials' ability to conduct the April 3 primary as scheduled.

The court set the date for a three-judge panel to hear the case for Dec. 20 in Greenbelt, with a decision expected by the end of January.

If the judges decide to throw out the map adopted by the General Assembly during its recent special session and to draw their own, the State Board of Elections would almost certainly have to seek a delay in the primary election.

The redistricting plan is being spearheaded by the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, which contends the new map unconstitutionally avoids creating a third district in which an African-American would be likely to win. The current map devised by O'Malley and General Assembly leaders gives Democrats a good chance of expanding their margin in the state's House delegation from 6-2 to 7-1 by targeting the 6th District seat held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

The lawsuit is being financed by the conservative Legacy Foundation and has the support of the Maryland Republican Party.

The judges' schedule represents a partial victory for the challengers, who had sought a late January hearing.

Radamase Cabrera, a spokesman for the Hamer committee, said he sees the schedule as a "advantageous" for his group. He said he never really expected the court to grant a January hearing and feared it would order that it be held early next week. The Dec. 20 date will give the plaintiffs time to put together a witness list and produce affidavits for the hearing, he said.

"The judges are clearly doing the right thing," he said.

Linda Lamone, director of the state elections board, said the schedule could test the agency's ability to hold the primary on April 3.

"The later the decision, the more difficult it will be for us to meet all the deadlines," she said.

Lamone explained that the most important deadline is the federal requirement that the state mail out military absentee ballots at least 45 days before the primary. In the case of an April 3 primary, that means they must go out by Feb. 17, she said.

The elections chief said the board is proceeding with preparations for the election under the assumption that the current redistricting plan will stand.

"We have instructed the local elections board to implement that plan," she said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:25 PM | | Comments (1)

Mooney considers run for 6th District

Republican state party chairman Alex Mooney said Thursday he expects to run for Congress from Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, setting up a potentially messy GOP primary in the increasingly competitive district.

Mooney, a former state senator who represented Frederick and Washington counties from 1999 through the end of last year, said he filed paperwork Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission that will allow him to raise political cash. The filing had not yet posted on the agency’s website Thursday.

“We cannot let Congressman Bartlett's seat be taken by a tax-and-spend liberal like Rob Garagiola,” Mooney said, referring to the Democratic state senator who is formally seeking the seat. “Our economy is suffering and we need more jobs – not more government, more debt and more taxes.”

But before Mooney makes it to November’s general election, he’ll have to clear the April primary. The incumbent, Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, has said he will seek reelection but has so far not aggressively campaigned for the seat.

Bartlett’s longtime chief of staff, Bud Otis, is said to be considering a run if Bartlett decides to retire, according to item that appeared last month in the Red Maryland blog. Though Otis has not commented on the rumors, Mooney addressed it directly in his announcement.

“With the recent news about Congressman Roscoe Bartlett’s long time chief-of-staff preparing to run for Congress and the Democratic Party's cynical and corrupt redistricting plan to oust Congressman Bartlett, I felt it was time for me also to start an exploratory committee for Congress,” said Mooney, who is 40.

The 6th District has received national attention after Democrats in Annapolis redrew its boundaries this year to include more Democratic voters. The seat, which includes Western Maryland along with portions of Frederick and Montgomery counties, is one of the few pickup opportunities for House Democrats in the country.

In addition to Garagiola, a former Democrat on the Montgomery County Council, Duchy Trachtenberg, has announced her candidacy. A Montgomery County businessman, John Delaney, announced last month that he is also considering a run for the seat.

Republicans have been slower to enter the race as they waited for Bartlett’s next move. Five Republicans, including Bartlett, filed with the State Board of Elections to have their names placed on the 2012 ballot. One, Brandon Rippeon of Frederick, became the first candidate in either party to run a television advertisement on cable last month.

Mooney’s announcement appears to be more of a commitment to run than many other candidates forming exploratory committees. The statement says definitively that he “plans to officially file as a candidate for Congress in January” and notes that he plans to step down from his position as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party at that time.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

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

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