Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Mobbies Madness Time, Again...

Well, thanks to whoever nominated me for the 2011 “Maryland’s Outstanding Blogs” Awards (better known as the Mobbies) organized by the Baltimore Sun.
Last year I came in 6th out of 25th nominated blogs in my category – not a bad showing given that I’d only been blogging for about two months. This year I’m nominated in the “Best News Blog” category, whereas last year it was in the now defunct “Best Political Blog” category. I think of this blog more as a source of political analysis than breaking news, but I will take the props wherever I can find them.
Anyway, here is a link to the balloting, which starts today and continues through November 10th.  So if you want to show me some love by throwing me a vote, or votes, please do so.
And, always, thanks for reading this blog. I’m pretty sure more people read this blog than will a certain book scheduled to hit the stands in December, but that’s a topic for another day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Heather Mizeur, Baltimore's Schools, and the Future

Having lived most my life in the Baltimore Metropolitan region, and worked for politicos who represented much of the area in Congress, I’m more plugged into local politics in the areas I know personally than I am other parts of the state. But as I try to carve out a post-partisan niche for myself in the blogosphere, I have been working to expand my horizons.
In that vein, I have watched from a distance the career of Delegate Heather Mizeur, who represents District 20 in the Maryland General Assembly.
Mizeur is perhaps the quintessential Takoma Park liberal. She’s a former staffer to Senator John Kerry, chair of the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign in Maryland, and member of the DNC Executive Committee. Ideologically she and I probably bear little in common, except on social issues. But a former State House colleague of mine turned Annapolis lobbyist always had glowing things to say about her.

Recently, I happened upon this item on fellow blogger David Moon’s Maryland Juice blog. I didn’t pay it a whole lot of mind at the time. More Montgomery County intramural drama, I figured. Just another example of a politically savvy legislator enhancing her profile in advance of the shifting lines which accompany the legislative redistricting process.
Then, I picked up today’s Baltimore Sun, and saw that Mizeur co-bylined an op-ed about school construction funding in Baltimore City.
Yes, that’s what I said…school construction funding in Baltimore City.

Granted, some elected officials in Baltimore occasionally act like their counterparts in Montgomery County, but I’m pretty sure that Baltimore hasn’t yet switched jurisdictions. Unless, of course, there was some secret codicil to the redistricting plan I hadn’t heard about.

All kidding aside, what really is going on here? Why has Mizeur taken such an interest in the city’s schools?

In all fairness, Mizeur’s committee assignment in Annapolis – she serves on the House Appropriations Committee, where she is vice chair for education and economic development – might have something to do with it.

Or, perhaps she’s trying to broaden her name recognition in the service of future ambitions.

I’m not exactly sure what she’d run for in the near future. Next year’s congressional dance card looks to be pretty full. Also, as one of the most visible supporters of the marriage equality movement in Maryland, Mizeur will be pretty busy with that if – as many expect – it passes the legislature and winds up on the 2012 ballot.

As for 2014, other candidates – including her fellow Montgomery County Delegate Kumar Barve – are already jockeying to run for Comptroller if the incumbent, Peter Franchot, jumps into the governor’s race.

I suppose she could also run for the 20th District Senate seat should incumbent Jamie Raskin relinquish it in favor of a run for Attorney General of Maryland.

With the new legislative redistricting map yet to be drawn, speculating about Mizeur’s ambitions – or the ambitions of any other legislator, for that matter – is difficult.

Still, given her experience as a Hill staffer and DNC ties, I’d guess that Mizeur’s ultimate goal is the U. S. Congress, perhaps the 8th District House seat currently represented by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, often mentioned as a likely candidate for the U. S. Senate one day.

I’m interested to see how this all plays out. But, it may be a while before I blog about Montgomery County politics again. Keeping track of all these different players with their interlocking ambitions is starting to give me a headache.

In the meantime, one last point to make about Mizeur. She has demonstrated fundraising prowess, as reflected by the event she held last summer featuring singer Melissa Etheridge. Now, I don't make a habit of attending Democratic fundraising events - or, for that matter, anyone’s fundraisers at this point. But, if she manages to score Lady Gaga at some future event, I'm so there. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ron Smith

For virtually all the time I spent in politics, my main function was to craft words for someone else.  
And, for a long time, I was pretty good at it. In fact, I got so good at it that, when I finally decided I wanted to start opining under my own name again, it took some adjustment.
The biggest change was learning how to resist the urge to self-edit, to choose my words against an internal calculus weighted in favor of what I should say at the expense of what I wanted to say.
But once I learned how to do it, I felt liberated.
Helping me transition from the purely partisan to the analytical was the examples set by those who have done it successfully over the years. 
Specifically, I have always been intrigued by people whose ability to provide fair analysis is uncompromised by ideology or political leanings.
I’m thinking of people like one-time libertarian Boston radio talk show host David Brudnoy. Or pundits like David Gergen, Barry Rascovar, and Tim Russert.
Or Ron Smith.
I first tuned into Ron’s radio show on WBAL in 1991, during the time of the first Gulf War. His conservative views, which I shared, impressed me. But his thoughtfulness and willingness to engage people who disagreed with him impressed me more. 
Too many talk show hosts relish denigrating or shouting over the voices of people with whom they disagree. Ron never has. The only thing he ever asks of his callers is that they be able to defend their views, not that they agree with his.
Ron does not mind flaming liberals. He just doesn’t care for flaming idiots.
I was also immediately impressed by the complete absence of hesitancy with which Ron is willing to criticize the status quo – including the GOP status quo – when justified.
During the 1992 election cycle, Ron openly criticized President George H. W. Bush, stating on the air that he did not deserve reelection. I must admit…this upset me at the time.
It wasn’t that I disagreed with Ron’s specific criticisms. I just felt the alternative was worse than the status quo.  Why lend aid and comfort to the other side? I wondered.
Two decades later, I fully understand Ron's actions.
As I since learned through my own political journey, reform is only possible when problems are addressed. And, tight-lipped loyalty at the expense of the truth is ultimately destructive.
When I worked on Capitol Hill, I got to know Ron and his staff in the context of being press secretary to an ambitious, publicity-friendly boss. They were always gracious, no matter how spontaneous or last-minute my requests for rush hour call-in time were.
Later, I met Ron’s wife June during our mutual service to the Ehrlich Administration. Things kind of came full-circle for me when I appeared on Ron’s show a couple of times. I really enjoyed the experiences, but I especially liked our comparing of notes about local politics and players during commercial breaks.
As a conservative, Ron is a thoughtful, nuanced, sometimes critical voice. As a talk show host, his independent-mindedness is what defines him.
Today Ron announced to his listeners that he is facing a serious health challenge.
When I think of the struggle that lies ahead for him, I am reminded of something once said about another icon of outspokenness, Harry S Truman.
“The thing you need to know about Harry Truman,” David McCullough once quoted a Truman associate as saying, ”is that he is one tough SOB.”
Well, Ron Smith is one tough SOB, too.  
Feel better, Ron. We’re all thinking about you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Robocallers for Romney

AMC launches the second season of its zombie show "The Walking Dead" tomorrow. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend that you check it out - provided you are not squeamish, of course.

Speaking of the walking dead, Mitt Romney just named former Governor Bob Ehrlich chairman of his presidential campaign in Maryland.

If you hadn't heard about it, I'm not surprised. The remnants of Team Ehrlich posted the Romney campaign's announcement on Ehrlich's Facebook page late Friday. 

Politicos and PR types usually only make announcements at the threshold of a weekend when they want to minimize the attention it receives. Maybe Team Romney – wary of any potential negative PR fallout from a rehashing of the robocall scandal – did this deliberately. As of this writing, it had not yet appeared on the Romney campaign website.

Or maybe Andy “I’m new at this and I don’t know what I’m doing” Barth is working for Ehrlich again.

In any event, unlike the TV show, which is a favorite among critics, the Maryland edition of "The Walking Dead" seems to be an unqualified flop based on the early reviews.

If you go to the announcement on Ehrlich’s Facebook page, here are some of the unvarnished comments you will see:

“Ehrlich lost so substantially to O'Malley, I'm not sure how he benefits anyone's campaign - but knock yourselves out.”

“Bob I am so sorry that you lost your values.”

“Perfect match. The originator of Obamacare and the originator of state support of CASA de MD together to ruin the country once and for all.”

“Sorry Governor, I supported you and like you.......but you are wrong on this one :( and I'm REALLY tired of the Media and the GOP telling me who I should support and vote for!”

“Bob u are a sellout! Very disappointed”

“Political zombies like these never die, but they do keep coming back for your brains...and if you support them, you obviously don't have any!”

The tone of some of these comments surprised me, especially coming from people who I know were on the Ehrlich bandwagon previously. But I’m certainly not surprised that these two moderate, one-term governors have found one another.

To date, Romney’s campaign has been about leveraging his ties to the GOP establishment. As a former governor, an establishmentarian’s imprimateur is what Ehrlich offers – at least from an outsider’s perspective. I'm not sure to what extent Ehrlich's endorsement matters when it comes to influencing the opinions of Maryland's GOP voters.

Indeed, when it comes to relevance, Dick Hug – Ehrlich’s finance chairman and perhaps the most successful political fundraiser in Maryland history –  is probably a more valuable asset at this point. He’s now backing Texas Governor Rick Perry.

And, Ehrlich sees in Romney the potential for a restoration to political relevance, perhaps in some future position in a Romney Administration.

For Ehrlich, this is clearly a calculated endorsement, as his own words demonstrate: “After studying all the candidates, it is clear that Republicans’ best chance for beating President Obama next November is Mitt Romney.”

Anyway, I don’t see this news meaning very much in the long term. The GOP presidential nomination will be settled long before Maryland’s primary election. And President Obama is a deadlock cinch to win here next November.

Still, I wonder how Ehrlich’s new Romney duties will impact his ability to promote his new book, scheduled for release in December. I hear the former governor plans to participate in hybrid book signing/fundraising events across the state. Will Ehrlich’s schedule reflect a mingling of these two roles?

And, I wonder what, if anything, this new Romney role will mean for Ehrlich confederates like Paul Schurick.

This Rambo of robocallers was making nearly $17,000 a month at the height of the 2010 campaign. Would Romney be willing to pay him even more?  I hope so. This time, the boy’s got legal bills to pay. I'm sure his attorneys would appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Maryland's Congressional Redistricting: Are You Really Surprised?

Many of my fellow bloggers – including Red Maryland, Monoblogue, and Maryland Reporter – have already commented on the recently released congressional redistricting proposal. I’m a bit of a latecomer to the party (although I blogged about redistricting scenarios last January).
Very little surprises me about this map.  I thought they would go for a 7-1 Democrat to Republican scenario, as opposed to the 8-0 nuclear option which would have destabilized Democratic incumbents.
In the end they made Rep. Roscoe Bartlett the target for extinction, not Rep. Andy Harris. Early on I figured Senate President Mike Miller’s well-publicized enmity for Harris made him the logical target. But Bartlett’s age, political passivity, lackluster fundraising, and the geographic ease of extending the Sixth Congressional District into Montgomery County proved decisive.
Further, if I am a Democratic operative and I have to be stuck with one GOP congressman, I’d pick Harris. His uncompromising social and fiscal conservatism makes him an enticing foil. Look to Democrats to caricaturize Harris into the resident, right wing bogeyman. They will make Harris – more ideological than former Rep. Helen Bentley and former Governor Bob Ehrlich and with less crossover appeal – the face of the GOP in Maryland.
I was surprised by the degree to which two of the Democrats' incumbent congressmen – Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings – took one for the team.
To make the “Screw Roscoe” scenario work, Van Hollen absorbs huge chunks of Frederick and Carroll counties. And north central Baltimore County – where I grew up – will be part of Cummings’ Seventh Congressional District. That is a relatively conservative area of Baltimore County, so it will be interesting to see how Cummings’ unvarnished progressivism plays there.
The redistricting plan is an example of power politics in action, pure and simple.
Do I like the plan? Of course not. Am I angry about it? Well, it’s hard to be angry about something that was a foregone conclusion from the very start. It's like going to an Orioles game and being angry when they lose.

Such is the reality of one-party dominance in Maryland.
The proposal is obnoxious, and I hope the state GOP initiates a court challenge against it. Who knows…maybe a judge will recognize it as the blatant gerrymandering it is and strike it down.  I am always hopeful, but rarely optimistic in such instances.

As for the Sixth District seat, I don't think it is a lost cause, at least in 2012. An energetic GOP candidate with fundraising prowess has a fighting chance. Unfortunately, I don't think Rep. Bartlett is that candidate.