Thursday, July 28, 2011

Farewell Marianne Burgundy...I mean Banister

Marianne Banister signed off this week after 15 years of co-anchoring WBAL’s 6 PM and 11 PM newscast.
I’m not really a devotee of Baltimore’s local newscasts unless events drive me to watch them. I still remember the halcyon days of local news giants like Jerry Turner, Al Sanders, Wiley Daniels, Bill LeFevre, and Oprah Winfrey. Comparatively speaking, the members of this newest crop of local TV news broadcasters seems almost interchangeable to me.
That said, I was very impressed by the graceful manner in which Ms. Banister departed the news desk. Her comments to David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun were a study in candor without bitterness, as these quotes demonstrate:
"I want to make this clear: This is not my choice," she said. "I'm not retiring. I'm not leaving to 'spend more time with my family.' My two girls -- one's 14 and the other's 19, and at this stage, they tend to want you around less," she said kiddingly.

"Banister says that while she obviously would not have chosen to be let go, she bears absolutely no 'animosity' to the station or Hearst."
Her professionalism came across in her final on-air moments as well. So did her sense of humor – even though I am not sure everyone got the joke.
The Sun reported Ms. Banister’s final words as being, "Have a good night, everybody. Stay classy, Baltimore."

In the neo-cult film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the title character played by Will Ferrell always closed his newscasts by saying, “You stay classy, San Diego.”
Coincidence? I think not.
Being a fan of apt usage of obscure movie quotes, I am especially sad to see Ms. Banister leave now.
Thanks for the parting chuckle, Ms. B. And, as far as classy is concerned, thanks for giving Baltimore such a shining example of it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chairman Wendy's Folly

I wanted to get something up about the recent setback Harford County Democrats faced in their court battle challenging the membership of the county’s redistricting commission, which the Harford County Council created by a 5-2 vote in February.
For those of you who don’t remember, the county’s charter requires that a political party garner at least 15 percent of the vote in the last county election for its partisans to be guaranteed a voice in the redistricting process.  The Democrats, who did not run candidates in three of the county’s six council districts or for the council presidency, failed to reach that threshold. The GOP-dominated council exercised its legal right to exclude Democrats from the commission’s membership.
As an aside, Prince George’s County has a similar charter requirement, and the county’s moribund GOP met the same fate. But you don’t hear them whining about it.
Anyway, a judge rejected the Democrats’ argument. Wendy Sawyer, chairman of the Harford Democratic Party, then offered this tasty comment to the Baltimore Sun: “‘The judge encouraged us to appeal,’ Sawyer said after the hearing. ‘He has offered to expedite it for us because he knows we are under the gun with the deadline. He made it plain that he understands our plight but he is constrained from making a new law.’"
Did the hapless Chairman Wendy say what I think she said? She’s admitting that the Democrats want to simply “make a new law” through judicial fiat because they themselves failed to follow the law approved by the citizens of Harford County? And, now that one judge has turned her down, is she now pinning her hopes on finding some appellate judge with no such qualms about abrogating the will of the people?

The reason the judge rejected your court challenge, Chairman Wendy, is that you guys don’t have a leg to stand on, judicially speaking. By not fielding candidates in every councilmanic race, you left yourselves vulnerable to this situation. And you have no one to blame but yourselves.
Former Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D. C. once had to run for reelection as a write-in candidate because his own campaign screwed up the process of getting his name on the ballot. To his credit, he owned the mistake, ran a write-in campaign, and won. This time, Harford Democrats will also have to cope with the consequences of their own mistakes.
Failure to follow the rules does not give you the right to improvise a more favorable one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Robocalls: Why I Don’t Think Ehrlich Knew

This week, the two principal figures in the robocall scandal, Paul Schurick and Julius Henson, had the first of many upcoming days in court. As this matter plays out in the months ahead, I suspect a third figure – former Governor Bob Ehrlich – may become a de facto presence overshadowing the proceedings.
As I have expressed before, I do not believe Ehrlich played any role whatsoever in conceiving and fielding the robocalls. In my exchanges with members of the press and my thoughtful liberal friends, I sense a certain degree of skepticism surrounding this conclusion. I understand this skepticism. After all, the robocall has become such a big deal on Maryland’s political landscape that, for some, it stands to reason that the guy whose name was on all the signs and bumperstickers would have to know about it, too.
If I thought Ehrlich was personally responsible, I would not hesitate to call him out on it here. But knowing the man, and having worked for him in three separate capacities, all my experience tells me that he was not.
For me, it boils down to three reasons.
1) Ehrlich is not stupid: Setting aside the legal and ethical problems posed by the robocalls, the biggest reason not to do it was the fact that it was a pointless exercise.  All indications are that, by late October 2010, Team Ehrlich knew the race was a lost cause. Even if all of the 112,000 call recipients had, impossibly, decided not to vote, Ehrlich still would have lost by more than twice his 2006 margin of defeat. It was a high risk maneuver yielding no discernible benefit.
Historically speaking, Ehrlich has always impressed me as an intelligent man with astute political instincts. By the time 2002 presented an opportunity for the GOP to win in Maryland, Ehrlich was not just the strongest candidate, but the only candidate positioned to make the run for governor. His political instincts are what guided him to that point.
So, I cannot imagine the guy I worked for ever thinking that this stinker of an idea was  desirable under any circumstances. In fact, people close to him have told me that, since this scandal broke, he has asked the remnants of his inner circle to explain to him exactly what the point of the robocalls was.
2) Ehrlich is not a micromanager: Ehrlich hires people with whom he is personally comfortable, and then trusts them to perform the operational details of their jobs. Coming from a man long accustomed to being nurtured, looked after, and mentored by people - loving parents, loyal coaches, generous academic and legal role models, senior legislative colleagues, and vigilant staff - this seems, on the surface, like a reasonable outlook on life for him to have.

For him, every new member of the team is as loyal, and as competent, as its oldest member because it has always been that way. This generous, deferential approach to senior staff guided Ehrlich’s management of his congressional office and campaigns, and it was evident in the State House as well.
So, when it came to the minutiae of 2010 campaign strategy, Ehrlich naturally deferred to veteran Paul Schurick and the campaign third-stringers under him.  In effect, Ehrlich was the owner watching his team from the skybox, and Schurick was the coach calling the plays on the field.
Two incidents illustrate this point for me.
The first involved a candidate for the Baltimore County Council who approached Ehrlich to tape a robocall last fall. Ehrlich enthusiastically agreed. But when the candidate contacted Bernie Marczyk, the campaign’s Political Director and a close Schurick confederate, he was rebuffed. The candidate in question wound up narrowly losing his race.
In the second incident, a state senate candidate requested that Ehrlich do a mailing for him.  Once again, Ehrlich agreed and Marczyk said no. This candidate fielded it anyway using material recycled from past mailings, and ultimately won his race
So, while Ehrlich’s opinion on day to day campaign strategy was relevant, his was not the final word. He practiced extreme deference as a manager, trusting others to carry things out. And, he rarely followed up with people to ensure his will was done.
3) Ehrlich is a lawyer: The law under which Schurick and Henson have been charged was passed by the legislature in 2006. To enact it, the legislature had to override a gubernatorial veto. The governor who issued that veto was…attorney Bob Ehrlich.

Because Ehrlich is an attorney as well as the man who vetoed the law in question, I have to believe he was knowledgeable of its existence and sensitive to the possible illegalities and consequences of fielding the robocall.

I'm aware that I'm probably no longer on Ehrlich's Christmas card list due to my outspokenness. But I will always regard him as a fundamentally decent, honest, law-abiding man. The Ehrlich I worked for would have flipped out over the fact that the call went out without an authority line, let alone its controversial message.
What I think happened is that Team Ehrlich knew the race was lost, and the campaign’s decision-making processes were compromised by a “The Death Star is about to explode” sense of panic and disengagement. In the waning moments of the campaign, the robocall idea was hurriedly hatched by Julius Henson and approved by Paul Schurick, for reasons I have yet to hear anyone coherently explain.

By then, many of Ehrlich’s greybeards and senior advisors from prior campaigns had been pushed out of Ehrlich's insular political circle by Schurick and others trying to protect their influence. Those who still lingered were not engaged or proximate enough to vet the idea and recognize it for the looming disaster that it was. 

And, neither was Ehrlich himself.
Now, while I am confident Ehrlich played no part in the decision-making chain, the question of whether or not he knew about it before news broke on Election Day is a more complicated question. My friend and fellow blogger Joe Steffen identifies a scenario in which this is plausible.
It is certainly possible that some misguided individuals inside the campaign bubble regarded this as a brilliant idea, and that Ehrlich’s guffawing sidekick Greg Massoni bragged about it to him in an attempt to provide amusement value to his boss.  But if he did it, I’m still not convinced that he shared enough details for Ehrlich to make a global judgment as to its wisdom or legality.
In my opinion, if Ehrlich knew anything, it’s probably only that “silly stuff” – the term he once used to describe Election Day hijinks to the Washington Post – was afoot.
All that said…should Ehrlich have known about the robocall? Well, that’s the most complicated question of all, and one I will leave to a future blog post.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fossils from the Campaign Trail

Is Governor Martin O’Malley taking political cues from…Eric Wargotz?

That’s the way it seems to me, based on his recent comments to a group of Utah Democrats.

The Washington Post reported that O’Malley, appearing in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, warned of the rise of the “dinosaur wing” of the GOP. “We cannot allow partisan-osaurus to take over the Republican Party or the future of this country,” he stated.

To illustrate his point, O’Malley had with him a prop depicting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s head on a body of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Given Cantor’s speed, resourcefulness, and cunning, I think a Velociraptor comparison might have worked better, but I digress.

In any event, it reminded me of this ad which 2010 GOP Maryland senatorial nominee Dr. Eric Wargotz  ran in his unsuccessful bid against Senator Barbara Mikulski.

The ad depicts Dr. Wargotz hunting for a “Political Insidersaurus” near the U. S. Capitol. Depicted in the ad are Senators Babsosaurus and Harry Reidosaurus, with a Pelosidactyl flying by in the background.

I thought the ad was silly when I first saw it. But it generated a bit of buzz among political observers and non-politicos at the time. Now I think it may be one of the reasons Dr. Wargotz, who unveiled the ad just before the primary election, captured the GOP nomination. In any event, it was the high point of the campaign for the phone-friendly pathologist, who lost to Mikulski by a margin of 61 – 36 percent.

Now, I am wondering if the person writing O’Malley’s stump speech saw an opportunity to dig up an old bone from a past campaign.

I must say, I find this idea of a political Jurassic Park springing up on the other side of the Baltimore Washington Parkway to be somewhat tiresome. Enough of these dinosaur analogies, guys.

They're beyond extinct.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Honest Abe Meets Crooked "Historian"

Leave it to the State of Maryland to once again attract national attention for unflattering news (although you can’t really blame any of the usual political suspects for this development).
As reported in the Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, and elsewhere, two guys were arrested for trying to walk off with documents worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Maryland Historical Society. The documents included significant pieces signed by President Lincoln as well as other valuable examples of Americana and presidential ephemera.
Further, the alleged quarterback behind this sordid scheme is a guy named Barry Landau. Landau calls himself “America’s presidential historian.” People who gives themselves such inflated titles are usually the most undeserving of them. That’s a title I’d give to David McCullough, Michael Beschloss, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Caro, and others who have earned it through their scholarship. Still, I expect that none of these eminent, deserving historians would try to bestow it onto themselves.

By comparison, this Landau guy is a memorabilia pilferer pretending to be an historian.
There’s nothing wrong with collecting historical memorabilia, of course. I have for most of my life. This guy gives us all a bad name. He’s to presidential memorabilia enthusiasts what Bellocq from Raiders of the Lost Ark was to archeologists.
Prior to this incident, despite being a collector and a reader of historical biographies, I never even heard of “America’s presidential historian.”
When I learned about the theft, this situation elicited a strong response from me on two levels.
First, as I said, I am a collector myself. I have a sense of reverence for historical artifacts dating back to the first time I saw the Declaration of Independence up close in 1976. What these guys did is worse than grand larceny. It is a crime against history itself.
Second, despite growing up in Maryland, and the fact that I once dated a woman who worked at the Maryland Historical Society, I never knew they had artifacts of this caliber in their collection.
Now that the crime has been foiled, I hope this will inspire state leaders to upgrade security systems and procedures at the Maryland Historical Society.  If the state cannot afford it, then MHS should begin an aggressive fundraising drive with that goal in mind.
Once this has been done, I hope that MHS will publicize the existence of these treasures, as well as put them safely on display. I would love to see documents of this quality and not have to drive to Washington or attend a private auction to do so.
With the special legislative session approaching in Annapolis, I hope Governor O’Malley and state legislators will take action to prevent this kind of brazen attempt to rob Marylanders of their historical legacy from ever happening again. If ever a cause was worthy of bipartisan cooperation, this is it.
And, if there is any justice in the world, I hope that Landau is forced to sell his present collection in order to afford his legal bills and any court-imposed fines. Just tell me when the auction is. I need a new Lincoln, anyway.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mooney's Missive

Following up on my blog posting yesterday, here is the letter Chairman Mooney sent the members of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee in support of, but not expressly in endorsement of, one of the candidates in the recent election for Baltimore County GOP Chairman.
In last night's vote, Steve Kolbe was elected chairman by a 18 -10 vote (later made unanimous).
From: Alex Mooney
Sent: Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:00 AM
To: Alex Campaign Mooney
Subject: personal letter from Alex Mooney
From the personal desk of
Dear Members of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee:
As MDGOP Chairman I am not going to officially endorse any candidate to become the new chairman of the Baltimore County Central Committee.  Instead, I wish to say a few words about my personal friend, Al Mendelsohn, who seconded my nomination to become MDGOP chairman.
I’ve known Al Mendelsohn since 1999 when I was teaching a class on running for office and Al was doing direct mail fundraising for the Leadership Institute.  I have always found him to be an insightful political strategist, a good business person, a hard worker and a loyal friend.  We are all volunteers and I know Al to be fully dedicated to the advancement of the Republican Party.
Thank you for your past support and I look forward to working with all members of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee to defeat Democrats in upcoming elections.

Alex Mooney

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mooney Wades Into the Baltimore County Chairman's Race

Tonight is the vote for the new chairman of the Baltimore County GOP. Right now, the candidates are businessman Steve Kolbe and veteran party activist Al Mendelsohn.
As the hours count down to the vote, it seems that there is a bit of last minute intrigue at work.
I have heard from more than one member of the Baltimore County Central Committee that Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney has interjected himself in the race. He is said to have been calling Central Committee members to express his support for one of the candidates. Additionally, he sent an email out to the Central Committee members in which he makes his candidate preference clear, albeit not issuing an outright endorsement per se.
Mooney’s interjection into the race seems fraught with hazard for several reasons.
First, if Mooney’s anointed candidate loses, what kind of a statement does this make about his clout within the party?
Second, if Mooney’s preference loses, how will his working relationship with the candidate who won despite his efforts suffer?
Third, what kind of precedent does it set for the state chairman to be tampering with local party matters?
It should also be noted that opponents of former Baltimore County Chairman Tony Campbell did not appeal to the party’s state leaders for support in their coup plotting efforts.  It therefore makes little sense for the state chairman to be trying to guide events now.
Anyway, I’m working on getting a copy of Mooney’s email, which I will post should my efforts prove  successful.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Casey Anthony and the Question of the Day

So as you likely heard by now, comely Casey Anthony was acquitted yesterday in the death of her daughter Caylee. I must admit that the verdicts surprised me. I figured that she’d be convicted on behavioral evidence (based on the wild photos of her getting her freak on at a Florida nightclub days after the death of her daughter) the same way that sociopath Scott Peterson was.
Anyway, trying to handicap this outcome reminded me of why I should stick to political prognosticating.
However, Casey was convicted of four counts of providing false information to law enforcement officials. Each charge could carry an additional year in jail. But many experts seem to think that Casey may be freed from jail as early as Thursday because she’s already served about three years behind bars.
This leads me to an intriguing question…
So, if convicted, could robocallers Paul Schurick and Julius Henson wind up serving more time behind bars than Casey Anthony did? 
If convicted, Schurick is facing a hypothetical 22 years in jail; Henson is facing 17 years.  No one – including me – believes that these guys will serve anything approaching that amount of time. Nor should they, IMHO.  Indeed, I think it is debatable whether justice is served by sending them to jail for a stunt which, reputation-wise, has already tarnished both of them.
But the outcome of the Anthony affair reminds you of how subjective the application of justice can be across different states and situations.  So juxtaposing the two possible outcomes becomes an enticing intellectual exercise.
It’s kind of funny, too. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Edward Cox: On Dole...Or Is It Clinton....On Nixon

I caught this interesting program on CSPAN 3 earlier today. Taped at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Michigan, attorney Edward Cox – son-in-law of President Nixon as well as chairman of the New York Republican Party – shared his memories and impressions of the 37th president.

My own Nixonphilia is well known and documented. I guess this is why I caught an error in Mr. Cox’s  presentation.

Towards the end of his remarks, Cox quotes at length from Bob Dole’s stirring eulogy of President Nixon, which he delivered at Nixon’s funeral ceremony on April 27, 1994. At times, Mr. Cox seems to mingle Dole’s words with those delivered by President Clinton at the same event.

I taped the ceremony as it happened, and recently watched parts of it again as I transferred all my VHS archives onto DVDs. So when Cox quotes Dole as saying that he wishes that Nixon be judged on the entirety of his record, and how much Dole relied on Nixon for his advice on Russia, and Dole remarking at how someone in his ninth decade of life could continue to contribute to the national debate in such a vital way, I immediately recognized the words as Clinton’s.

As far as I can tell, the other quotes he attributes to Dole are correct.

Regardless, if you’re a history geek as I am, it is still a program worth watching, as Mr. Cox does a generally excellent job.

The Case for D. C. Statehood

When it comes to the recycling of ideas, everything old is new again in Washington. I guess that also pertains to ideas concerning what to do with the District of Columbia itself.

In today’s Washington Post, Curtis Gans of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate argues the case in favor of making the District part of Maryland. He regards this as a viable alternative to making the District the 51st state.

By making the District a part of Maryland, he argues, it would receive full federal representation, have a voice in determining Maryland’s elected statewide leaders, and have the right to “determine its own budget, establish city governing policies and be part of the taxation and spending regime of the state.”

Gans regards the idea as a “no brainer.” Well, this is not the first time a similarly brainless idea has been floated.

When I worked on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, Ohio Congressman Ralph Regula floated a proposal to “retrocede” to Maryland territory the state gave to the federal government in 1791 to create the nation’s capital.   

This prompted the then-four GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation to pen a letter to Speaker Gingrich expressing their opposition.

“We believe that this proposal, if implemented, would have a dire impact on the governmental process in our state,” the four GOP representatives wrote at the time. The objections they raised to Regula’s proposal also apply to Gans somewhat different plan now.

The first pertains to process. Article 1, Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution gives the states the authority to cede voluntarily land to the federal government for the purpose of creating a national capital. However, it does not give the federal government authority to compel any state to take the land back.

The only historical precedent for retrocession dates to 1846, when the commonwealth of Virginia reclaimed the land it originally granted the federal government. But the citizens of Virginia (acting through a referendum) and the Virginia State Legislature approved the retrocession before Congress acted.

For Gans’ proposal to succeed, the citizens of Maryland would need to follow a similar approval process. For a host of different reasons, it is fanciful to assume this would ever happen.

Additionally, the 23rd Amendment to the U. S. Constitution gives the District three electoral votes in presidential elections. If it were to become a part of Maryland, the District would presumably become part of Maryland’s 11 electoral votes (factoring in Maryland’s new  congressional seat). Still, a constitutional amendment would be needed to repeal the 23rd Amendment, triggering a long, cumbersome ratification process.

The second objection pertains to the budgetary and fiscal impacts bestowing the District onto Maryland would have.

The District of Columbia’s entrenched social problems – high crime, failing schools, urban blight, and a shrinking tax base – have exacted a heavy burden on its residents.  It is unreasonable to assume that Maryland, presently wrestling with its own budgetary woes, can solve the District’s deep-rooted problems. The state of the nation’s capital is a national shame, but it is a national responsibility as well.

In the early 1960s, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, researching the constitutionality of D. C. home rule, determined that any attempt to retrocede the District violated the intentions of the founding fathers, who “attached fundamental importance to the establishment of a permanent seat for the National government which was not and could never be under the control of any state.”

I think Bobby Kennedy’s conclusions were right then, and that they are still right today. Therefore, I have come to believe that the only proper resolution to the issues of autonomy and representation for the District is to make it the 51st state. Indeed, the only way to make the District immune to the pressures of any state is to give it statehood itself.

That said, I think that any statehood proposal for the District must include two necessary elements.

First, the District needs the kind of tax base which will allow it to tackle the poverty and related social burdens which have come to define it. Therefore, I propose that the state of “New Columbia” include all or part of what is presently Montgomery County in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia. Many of the residents in these communities already earn their livelihood in the District, meaning they have a personal stake in the District’s health and well-being.

Second, a small federal enclave consisting of the U. S. Capitol complex, the White House, and the various office buildings and monuments should be designated. This would keep the federal district autonomous and apart from undue state influences.  Its relationship to the state of New Columbia around it would be akin to Vatican City’s status with Rome.

I realize that this proposal will be seen as controversial if not heretical coming from a Republican. Still, I think the people who will oppose it the most will be members of the Democratic establishment in Virginia and Maryland who would not want their influence diluted by the loss of two reliably Democratic areas.

The tax bases of both states would take a corresponding hit as well. I do not necessarily see this as a bad thing. This would force Democrats in Annapolis to do something they are always reluctant to do: live within the state’s means. It would also create a real sense of urgency around the need to wage successful economic development and job growth efforts.

But in politics, winning proposals achieve the right thing by doing the smart thing. Creating a new District-centric state, while giving it the tax dollars it needs to manage its own affairs, achieves both these objectives.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rascovar On The Robocalls

Barry Rascovar, the dean of Maryland political analysts, had this thoughtful piece about the robocall scandal and the First Amendment issues it raises in The Gazette.
I agree with Mr. Rascovar’s conclusions. Even if Schurick and Henson are convicted, this matter will meander through the appellate process for years. They have a pretty decent shot of winning on appeal, I think. But the road to such a victory will be long and expensive.
Of course, First Amendment concerns would presumably not apply to count 5 of the indictments against both Schurick and Henson. This count applies to the fact that the robocalls did not contain an authority line.  If convicted on this count, the law calls for a year in prison and/or a $1000 fine.  The absence of an authority line is also the focus of federal civil action against Henson. If found guilty, Henson faces civil penalties theoretically totaling up to $168 million according to some reports.

Further, count 6 against Schurick is an obstruction of justice charge. This too would presumably be separate from any First Amendment issues - although the lawyers I have spoken to cannot seem to agree as to its seriousness. Some have characterized this charge as the most serious charge Schurick is facing. Others regard it as leverage.
I think these guys will look to cut a deal long before this matter reaches a jury. But that depends upon whether state prosecutors decide to make this an option.  And, if the feds decide to pursue their own criminal investigation, that could complicate things even further.
Stay tuned, folks. As Bette Davis once said, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."