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January 19, 2010

Blogger betrays naivete on Maryland politics

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch does some of the best and worst political reporting of any blog in the state of Maryland -- sometimes in the same article.

Case in point: Pagnucco just posted a lengthy article entitled "The Great Choir of Happy Talk"   about transportation funding in Maryland in which he points out -- quite accurately -- that big projects cost actual money. No surprise there, but it's refreshing to see this dose of reality. The writer goes into quite a  bit of detail on what it would take to build each of three transit projects in the state -- the Red Line, the Purple Line and  the Corridor Cities Transitway.

But Pagnucco gets the politics  all wrong, as  he so often does.


First, Pagnucco equates sponsorship of bills with being serious about transportation funding. That might be Montgomery County logic but it's not Annapolis logic. The most important players in transportation funding decisions are the House speaker, the Senate president and the relevant committee chairs. Each of  them is very serious about transportation funding, but each is very strategic about when and where they put their own names on a bill. Often that doesn't happen until a consensus is in place.

Pagnucco also reads far too much into a feel-good, no-chance  bill put in by a group of mostly Republican lawmakers that could have led to a cut in transportation funding. He seems to find something hypocritical in the participation of two  Baltimore County lawmakers -- Republicans William Frank and Joe Boteler -- in pushing this idea even though the Red Line would run part of its length in their county.

Excuse me, Adam. Have you ever checked out a district map of Baltimore  County? Frank represents Towson;  Boteler represents Perry Hall. Neither comes close to the Red Line corridor. Their constituencies don't benefit from the line. They might be wrong-headed on the metropolitan level but there's nothing hypocritical if they are indifferent toward the Red Line. They're just representing their districts and their party.

Folks from Baltimore who write on staewide politics had better learn the differences between Germantown and Takoma Park, becaue Montgomery County isn't a monolith. Montgomery commentators who  wish to dabble in Baltimore politics would be well advised to learn Baltimore County's political  geography.

Finally, Pagnucco seems to find something surprising in the fact that politicians  aren't rushing forward to identify revenue  sources for the state's contribution to transit projects that haven't been OK'd yet  by the Federal Transit Administration. If his naivete is feigned, he's faking it very well, but he's also setting up false expectations for his readers.

Let's say you are a principled but prudent politician who supports transit projects. Because  you're principled, you are ready to step forward to back a funding stream for transit once the projects are approved. But if you're prudent, you wait until the federal government has acted before taking a politically risky stand. Why cross a bridge before you come to it -- particularly when there's a chance you won't come to the  bridge? That not cravenness, that's Politics  101.

There is, by the way, a place in Maryland that offers excellent courses in Politics 101, plus 201, 301 and several graduate level seminars. It's called the  Maryland General  Assembly. Pagnucco would benefit greatly by enrolling.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: For policy wonks only


Ouch...but also spot-on.

On the General Assembly side, you are right about the leaders and committee chairs. My nominee for most powerful in the state on transportation funding is the governor. He has the executive department (MDOT) plus the budgetary power to add projects, which the General Assembly does not. I know all too well, if you aren't one of the glory projects, good luck getting anything done. If you are, people will be falling all over you to get it done.

Proofreading - a lost art at the Sun.

Proofreading: true, but not relevant here. This is a blog, not the actual newspaper, and it's unfair to expect bloggers to be orthographically perfect as they type on the fly. You would think, though, that major typos could be avoided in the front-page above-the-fold headline in the print edition. But you would be wrong. My morning paper today had not one but two typos in the headline.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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