Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ehrlich: Read the Book, Watch the Trial

This is a big week for the remaining inhabitants of Ehrlich world.
The former governor’s new book, Turn This Car Around, will be unveiled at a fundraising event at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie tomorrow night. Sources tell me that ticket sales are moving at a glacial pace, with only about 150 sold as of this writing. (Update: I have since been informed that, in response to lagging ticket sales, the price per ticket for the main event has been lowered to $100 from $125).

Meanwhile, MD GOP Chairman Alex Mooney has been telling people he expects to sell 25,000 copies of the book.

Thousands of books...150 tickets sold. You do the math.
And, no, I’m not planning to attend. I already have an advance copy of the book thanks to the redoubtable Greg Massoni, who emailed it out to members of the press last week. Thanks, Greg. I knew I could count on you.
I have scanned the book but not yet read enough of it to offer a review. Unlike other local prognosticators, I believe you need to actually read a book before offering an opinion as to its substance. That said, my initial pass reminded me of the importance of proofreading.
In addition to the bookapalooza, the first of two trials stemming from the infamous robocalling incident from last year’s election started this week.
Paul Schurick and Julius Henson – the Leopold and Loeb of Maryland politics – are accused of violating state voter suppression laws. Henson’s trial was pushed back to February; Schurick’s courtroom odyssey is now underway.
I’m far more comfortable being a political handicapper than a jury watcher – Casey Anthony taught me that – so I’m not prepared to predict what Schurick’s fate will be. However, I found two items from this morning’s press coverage of the trial quite interesting.
From the Baltimore Sun: "’What does Julius need to make city turnout stay low?’ campaign political director Bernie Marczyk wrote in a 2:53 p.m. email to Schurick, proposing additional bonuses for Henson if he could keep residents from the polls.”
Ouch, Bernie. Really? “Make city turn out stay low?” "Additional bonuses” for suppressing the vote? Some might call it bad judgment. I regard it as further evidence of  Flintstonian folly by an in-over-his-head Schurick sycophant.
From the Washington Post: Schurick, whose trial began Monday, told an FBI agent that he approved the calls.”
In any event, the trial should take about two weeks before it goes to a jury comprised of seven blacks and five whites.
Some questions continue to nag at me.
Why would Ehrlich’s bookapalooza happen the same week that Schurick’s robocall trial was scheduled to begin? Is this purely coincidental, or is this a low voltage attempt to change the media’s focus from Schurick’s fall to Ehrlich’s rebirth as an author?  
If so, based on the initial coverage I have seen, it ain’t working. In addition to The Sun, The Post, and the other usual suspects, Reuters and NPR are among the national and international outlets who have reported from the trial.
Anyway, maybe these two events will converge, with Ehrlich signing books at the courthouse when he testifies in Schurick's trial. Who knows...maybe someone will show up wearing a rainbow wig and a "John 3:16" tee shirt in keeping with the absurdity of all this.

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Howard County Executive Ulman: Yes, He Ken?

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is one of those guys in politics who seems to have accomplished a lot in a very short time.

A former Glendening Administration aide, Ulman, now 37, was elected to the Howard County Council in 2002, springboarding to the County Executive’s office just four years later. Convincingly reelected in 2010, Ulman has, by all accounts, been the popular and successful leader of a diverse and affluent jurisdiction. So, it’s no surprise that people would start speculating as to his future plans.
And, recently, the transparency of some of Ulman’s own actions have inflamed such speculation.
The newly installed head of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), Ulman has been traveling around the state meeting local officials. One day he’s in Montgomery County discussing education, the next he is in southern Maryland discussing BRAC, budget and land use issues.
No doubt Ulman’s MACo responsibilities require such interactions with local officials. But slapping the word “tour” on it and scheduling sit down interviews with local press gives the entire effort a “nudge wink, wink nudge” feel.
And, when the inevitable question about Ulman’s future plans comes up, he handles it with the kind of coy, modest, "It's very flattering to be asked that question” answer you would expect from an upwardly mobile, ambitious politico.
Now that Ulman has signaled if not outright declared his intentions, one has to wonder which tract of the political landscape Ulman’s campaign will occupy.
Comptroller Peter Franchot is cleverly positioning himself as the alternative to the Martin O’Malley establishment. Attorney General Doug Gansler embraces issues which have historically resonated with liberal primary voters such as the environment.  Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown is relying on his connection to the O’Malley political establishment, his Prince George’s County base, and his ties to black voters.
So where would that leave Ulman? I see two potential options.
First, Ulman could run as a good government manager far removed from business as usual in Annapolis. Because he will not be a direct player in some of the painful taxing and spending decisions the governor and legislature will have to make, he can focus on quietly building his own record and raising the funds needed to market it around the state.
Second, Ulman could openly position himself as the second coming of Martin O’Malley. Two things lead me to believe that he may embrace this option.
When Martin O’Malley became mayor of Baltimore, he quickly worked to define himself as a young innovator willing to embrace new strategies of governance such as CitiStat.
Look at Ulman’s recent press clips and news releases and you will observe a similar emphasis on innovations outside the daily purview of local government, including support for electric vehicle charging stations, solar power, and new email- and text-reliant communications tools.
None of these initiatives is significant by itself. But taken together they point to a politico trying to build a brand.
The timing is revelatory, too.
During a time of budgetary restraint, why would an elected official emphasize such worthwhile but ultimately deferrable initiatives unless he was trying to make a larger point?
Second, I have been hearing that some of O’Malley’s stalwarts in the lobbying community have, in terms of their early fundraising, started to coalesce around Ulman.
Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to prove the existence of this trend until the next fundraising reports come out. The most recent reports (as cited in this article) are a year old. They speak to what each potential candidate had in the bank as of the end of the last election cycle, and not where their money is coming from now.
If Ulman plans to run as O’Malley redux, the strategy carries with it some risk.
The last three two-term governors suffered from voter fatigue by the time they left office. Governor Hughes lost the Democratic primary for U. S. Senate in 1986. Governor Schaefer’s approval ratings suffered during his often tumultuous tenure. And Governor Glendening’s unpopularity contributed to the election of Maryland’s first GOP governor in 36 years.
If history is any guide, Governor O’Malley (whose approval ratings remain 52 percent according to the latest Gonzales poll) may not be immune to similar forces. Consequently, gubernatorial aspirant Ulman’s image may suffer should he claim the O’Malley’s heir mantle.
Aligning with O’Malley certainly helps Ulman in terms of fundraising and organizational support. But it negates his ability to run credibly as an outsider during what is shaping up to be a change election cycle.
In any event, Ulman is certainly an appealing candidate, so it will be interesting for political handicappers like me to watch how he positions himself. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Knives Come Out at the State GOP Convention - Literally

Well, it looks like there was a bit of drama at the Maryland GOP convention in Annapolis.

Traditionally the convention’s opening night features partisans schmoozing and touring the hospitality suite circuit. But last night’s normally sociable affair was witness to some decidedly anti-social behavior.

And, no, I’m not talking about more bizarre antics on the part of Carmen Amedori.

According to a presser put out by the Bongino for U. S. Senate campaign, two campaign workers filed a report with the Anne Arundel County police after their tires were slashed. The release states that the tires had to be replaced, “costing the campaign seven hundred dollars.”

Now, I always hate to hear stories of strife within Maryland’s always-beleaguered state GOP. This fall, a corn roast fundraiser in Baltimore County turned into a tug-of-war affair between the county’s GOP central committee and remnants of the Ehrlich organization. The latter refused to surrender control of the event, causing the members of the former to boycott en masse.

But intramural strife is one thing. Destruction of private property is a different animal entirely.

What’s more, if early polling data and fundraising numbers are any indication, Senator Ben Cardin begins his reelection campaign in a pretty strong position. So, the notion of people engaging in destructive behavior over a prize – the 2012 GOP nomination for Senate – that ultimately won’t mean very much just seems silly.

There is a long history of luminaries from the D. C. political world who happen to live in Maryland deciding to jump into the state’s Senate races. Typically they possess few ties to state politics. Typically, they get slaughtered come Election Day.

Linda Chavez, Alan Keyes, and former Tennessee Senator, RNC Chairman, and Reagan Administration Labor Secretary Bill Brock all took their chances, and promptly vanished from the state’s political landscape when they failed.

Of the current crop of senatorial aspirants, former Secret Service agent and businessman Daniel Bongino seems to be the candidate who has created the early buzz.  Maryland’s GOP-unfriendly climate notwithstanding, he seems like a great candidate. If he wins the nomination yet is not successful in defeating Cardin, I hope he will choose to remain on the landscape and leverage his newfound name recognition to run for something else.

Of course, there is one potential candidate people are still waiting to hear from: Delegate Pat McDonough, who has been very coy about his plans.

McDonough first ran against the man he once dubbed “Tax and Spend Ben” in 1996. Cardin was an incumbent member of Congress, and McDonough had not yet been elected to the legislature. Cardin beat him by a 2-1 margin, so I’m not sure if McDonough’s prior experience running against Cardin is a strategic selling point which will resonate with primary voters.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if McDonough, with the support of his wife, gambles on a rematch.

But even if McDonough does run and fails to beat Cardin, another opportunity awaits him.

Since the passing of Montgomery County GOP activist Daniel Vovak in May, Maryland politics has been without its “Wig Man.”  This is a title which McDonough is exceptionally qualified to hold.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

The "Dialin’ Doc" Departs

Dr. Eric Wargotz, the pathologist who was the GOP’s 2010 nominee for U. S. Senate in Maryland, has decided not to run again in 2012.
On occasion I have enjoyed poking fun at the man I’ve dubbed “The Dialin’ Doc” due to his telephone-friendly management style. But I’m not going to mock his decision to pass on a follow-up challenge to Senator Ben Cardin.
Dr. Wargotz spent nearly $1 million, including $700,000 of his own money, during his challenge to Senator Barbara Mikulski, only to lose by 26 points.
And, I just don’t see the opportunity here that some Republicans claim to see.
Recent polls have indicated that Senator Cardin is a strong if not certain favorite for reelection. Indeed, as a recent Gonzales Research poll found, “Over a third of GOP voters say they would consider voting for Cardin…not the result a Republican hopeful for the office wants to see.”
I wish Dr. Wargotz the best as he contemplates the future. Still, I’m disappointed by today’s news. Who knows if I will ever again have the chance to use the phrase “The Dialin’ Doc” on my blog again?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bobby E's Bookapalooza

OK, so…recently I stated that I wouldn’t blog about this particular subject. But I have always believed that, if fate stations you in front of a piñata and puts a stick in your hand, you’re obligated to take a swing.

For me, my piñata moment came when I went to my mailbox and found a copy of an invitation to the “special release party” for former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s long-awaited book, Turn This Car Around, courtesy of the Maryland Republican Party.

Recently the details of the book release party attracted a lot of speculation among politicos I interact with. Some told me the price to attend the event, scheduled for December 1st in Glen Burnie, was as high as $5,000. Others said the price of admission was a more modest $50.

Well, it turns out everyone was right.

The invitation includes a fundraising letter bearing an ersatz signature of newly minted author Ehrlich. Send the Maryland GOP a check for $50, the letter reads, and you will get an “advance, signed” copy of the new book.

Getting an author to sign a copy of his book usually boosts its value - intrinsic or otherwise. So inviting people already inclined to buy the book to shell out $50 to help the state’s ailing GOP and upgrade to a signed copy seems like a reasonable ask to me.

Also included in the packet was a printed invitation to the event itself. Tickets to the general reception are $125 per individual and $200 per couple. Each scenario comes with one signed/inscribed book.

Again, as fundraisers go, those ticket prices aren’t unreasonable. And, at least you get a souvenir to take home with you. Though, I wonder if couples attending the event will fight over who gets to keep the book.

But if you want to go to the “VIP reception,” the state GOP expects you to dig a whole lot deeper.

If you want a signed book AND your picture taken with the author, you have three scenarios to choose from:

  • A $5,000 “U-Turn” Sponsorship, which includes 10 event tickets and books;
  • A $2,500  “3-Point Turn” Sponsorship, which includes six tickets and books; and
  • A $1,000 “Swerve” Sponsorship, which consists of four tickets and books.

I can remember when Ehrlich personally signed copies of his administration’s glossy “legacy” book for free back during the 2007 Maryland State Fair.  What’s changed since then – except for another election loss and a few indictments?  

Depending on the scenario you choose, participation in one of the sponsorship deals pushes the price of each signed book into the $250 - $500 range. In order to gauge the fairness of this pricing, I decided to check out what gift shops at some of the presidential libraries are charging for signed books.

At the Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock, signed copies of his autobiography sell for $500, and his book Giving can be had for $350.

At the George H. W. Bush Library in Houston, copies of Bush 41’s book All The Best, George Bush sell for $650.

As for George W. Bush, his library is still under construction in Dallas. But, signed, slip-cased, hand-numbered copies of his autobiography retail for $499 at his father’s library.

For each of these pricey books, proceeds are going to support a cause. In the presidents’ case, the money is going to their presidential foundations.  

In Ehrlich’s case, the monies raised from the December event appear to be going into the coffers of Maryland's cash-strapped GOP.

Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for those of us who believe in a competitive, two-party Maryland. But for me, this bookapalooza event raises two basic questions.

First, are people really going to want to shell out up to $500 per signed copy of Ehrlich’s book?

After all, he’s not running for office again, and the big money people expected to attend one of the sponsorship events probably already got their pictures taken with him multiple times in the past.

Second, does it send the right message for the state GOP to be charging up to $5,000 to attend a book signing during such dire economic times?

Lefties routinely accuse the GOP of being a party of elitists, and such an event seemingly gives them additional fodder to do so. So unless the event results in some giant cash windfall for Alex Mooney and company, I think that – symbolically speaking – it does more harm than good.

So, if I were the state GOP, I would have stuck with the general reception scenario. To do otherwise demonstrates a preccupation with the one percent who might pay instead of the 99 percent who will vote.

Or, perhaps I would have added a $16.30 “Tow This Car Away” option. That’s how much it costs to pre-order the book on Amazon without having to leave your home.