Thursday, January 26, 2012

Audrey Scott and the Gas Tax Increase

Two of my fellow bloggers, Red Maryland and Monoblogue, have already reported on the controversy regarding former MD GOP Chairman Audrey Scott’s participation in a gas tax rally last week in Annapolis

The latest development is that Mrs. Scott, a candidate for Republican National Committeewoman, has sent an email message to the entire GOP State Central Committee claiming that there is an “effort underway to discredit and misrepresent” her participation in the event.

I’m reluctant to blog about anything having to do with the National Committeewoman’s race because Mrs. Scott’s opponent, Nicolee Ambrose, is a friend of mine. Consequently, anything I write may feed the false perception that I’m doing it at Nicolee’s request.

In fact, Nicolee has asked me to avoid blogging about the race for that very reason, and will probably not be happy that I’m doing it anyway.

Mrs. Scott accuses people with questions about her participation in the rally – including bloggers – of unduly attacking her. She made comments to that effect during an appearance before the Montgomery County GOP Central Committee last Tuesday, and her email message to the entire State Central Committee reinforces similar themes.

In an attempt to rebut these phantom attackers, Mrs. Scott misrepresents the purpose of the rally in her email message (reprinted in its entirely by Red Maryland), where she states that the purpose of the rally was “to protest the perpetual raiding of the Transportation Trust Fund.”

According to an Associated Press article appearing in the Washington Post, the rally was organized by “members of a coalition backing new revenues for transportation” in order to “launch a tough battle for tax increases.” It also noted that some rally participants took to
“(s)haking gas cans with only a dime inside” to spell out the event’s purpose to anyone who still harbored doubts.   

A variation of the same AP story appeared on the WBAL Radio website. The story notes that the rally’s organizers – the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce – “have been advocating a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax for the last three years.”

Further, a news item on the GBC website bears the headline, Advocates show spirited support in Annapolis for more transportation funding.” The accompanying article states:

“The rally was conducted by the Statewide Alliance for Restoring the Trust (START). The coalition is comprised of the GBC, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, more than a dozen county and local chambers of commerce, and more than 50 organizations and businesses. It seeks to convince members of the General Assembly to adopt recommendations made by the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding to increase annual revenue to the transportation fund by $800 million.”
Simply put, the purpose of the rally was to generate support for a proposal to boost the gas tax by 64 percent.

This takes us back to the original question: Why would any self-respecting GOP activist, let alone one who wants to represent Maryland on the Republican National Committee, be anywhere near that rally?

In her email message, Mrs. Scott characterizes her participation as solely “to support the Republican Trust Fund legislation,” while disavowing any support for the gas tax increase which was the marquee theme of the event. 

It may also be worth noting that, according to the AP/WBAL story, many of those attending the rally “were executives and workers at several contractors who work on road and bridge projects.”

Among those executives with ties to the transportation industry present: Audrey Scott herself.

After serving as Secretary of Planning in the Ehrlich Administration, Mrs. Scott became General Manager of Land Planning at Chaney Enterprises, a cement manufacturer, after leaving state government. According to her public LinkedIn profile, she still holds this position.

A hike in the gas tax translates into a lot of potential cement sales for Mrs. Scott's employer. Perhaps this is why she did not disclose her business relationship with Chaney in her email message to the State Central Committee.  

Regardless of her motivations, by participating in the rally Mrs. Scott became a cog in the Democratic message machine. When she showed up in Lawyers’ Mall, she handed its supporters the opportunity to claim “bipartisan” support for one of the most controversial proposals of the 2012 legislative session.  

Indeed, the AP story states that the rally “drew Democrats and Republicans,” then goes on to quote one of each: former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, who supports the gas tax increase, and Mrs. Scott – identified as a former state GOP chair – who speaks to the importance of protecting the Transportation Trust Fund but did not specifically critique the gas tax proposal itself in her published comments.

Joseph P. Kennedy once famously stated, “It’s not who you are, but who people think you are, that counts.” As Mrs. Scott rebuts the perception, if not the outright reality, that she is a former GOP chair who rallied with Democrats in support of a gas tax increase, I hope she takes this lesson to heart.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bob Ehrlich's New Sun Column: Mrs. Reason's Take

The Baltimore Sun created a bit of a sensation yesterday when it announced that it was giving the late Ron Smith’s column to its longtime nemesis, former Governor Bob Ehrlich.

A lot of people were surprised by this news, including me.

But it seems the person who was surprised most of all was Ron Smith’s widow, June.

(Before I proceed, let me make clear the fact that June gave me her specific permission to blog this information.)

I spoke to June this weekend, and she stated that Ehrlich never once mentioned this prospect to her. In effect, she learned about it when she read the item in the Baltimore Sun.

Quoting Mrs. Reason herself: “(H)e never mentioned it to Ron or me during his visit or phone calls before Ron died or to me in phone calls after that.”

June told me that she spoke to Ehrlich most recently for nearly an hour on the phone on January 13th, presumably at a point when Ehrlich knew a Sun announcement was imminent.

I think it’s fair to say that June is shocked and pretty upset by Ehrlich’s seeming insensitivity, especially given the close friendship that once existed between their two families.

A lot of Ehrlich’s behavior surrounding the passing of Ron Smith – including some of his on-air comments when he dialed into the tribute show, the "French whore" comment he made to June in Ron's presence, and the fact that he left the Goucher ceremony before it ended – defies reasonable explanation.

Yet, this episode strikes me as perhaps the most difficult of all to fathom.

As for Ehrlich’s column, I’m curious to know who will be ghostwriting this one for him, as I did the columns he did for the weekly newspapers that dotted his congressional district, as well as occasional op-eds for the Baltimore Sun and Washington Times when I worked for him on Capitol Hill.

It’s not really a big deal, though. Lots of great politicos have ghostwriters.

JFK had Ted Sorensen. Richard Nixon had Bill Safire. Ronald Reagan had Peggy Noonan.

And Bob Ehrlich has… Greg Massoni??

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ehrlich's Attack Eulogies: A Few More Possibilities

In a previous blog posting, I pointed out Bob Ehrlich’s penchant for criticizing the recently deceased while in the midst of eulogizing them.

Anyway, one of my friends got such a kick out of this that we speculated as to what Bob Ehrlich might say about various figures from history should he apply this same attack eulogy approach when discussing them.


Ronald Reagan:     “He was a lousy actor, but he was a president’s president.”

John F. Kennedy:  “He may not have taken his marital vows seriously, but he took his inaugural oath very seriously.”

Abraham Lincoln:  “He was a homely man with a crazy wife, but he freed the slaves.”

John Wayne:          “His real name was Marion. Did you know that?”

Winston Churchill: “He was a drunk with a speech impediment, but he was my hero.”

Sonny Bono:          “He wasn’t an intellectual, but he was street smart.” (Actually, he really did say that one). 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ken Masters: RIP

I was saddened to learn of the passing of my former State House colleague, war hero and longtime Baltimore County legislator Ken Masters, who passed away this week at the age of 68.

My defining image of Ken was seeing him standing on the steps of the State House smoking a pipe, often wearing his trademark suspenders and (in chillier weather) trench coat and Irish cap. I remember how The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery once commented wryly that he was probably better known for his frequent pipe breaks than his actual lobbying activities (he was Governor Ehrlich’s legislative director).

Anyway, he was a genial, old school politico with old school sensibilities which, sometimes, got him into trouble. But he was always nice enough to me. My condolences go out to his family.

Speaking of condolences, I was interested to read former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s comments in Bryan Sears’ story in about Masters’ passing:

"He wasn't very good at politics because he didn't suffer fools," said Ehrlich. "If you had a dumb bill, he'd tell you it was a dumb bill. He'd tell the press it was a dumb bill and he'd tell constituents it was a dumb bill. He was a legislator's legislator and that's a great compliment."
Let me get this straight…Ken Masters – former Majority Leader of the House of Delegates and Ehrlich’s first and only pick to be his chief lobbyist in Annapolis – “wasn’t very good at politics.”

That strikes me as a curious way in which to eulogize someone.

Then again, maybe it isn’t if you put Ehrlich’s statement in recent context.

A few weeks ago, Ehrlich went on WBAL radio and caused a bit of controversy in some circles when he called Ron Smith “insecure” and “too cynical” a day after his passing.

And now, we find out posthumously that Ken Masters, a 16 year veteran of the legislature, probably didn’t really even belong in the political game at all.

In both cases, the pattern seems to be for Ehrlich first to say something unexpectedly critical about the decedent, then to follow it up with a complimentary observation - as the former was necessary to cue up the latter.

Now, we know Ehrlich is a master rhetorician who, by his own account, wrote all his own speeches during his political career.

But, now I’m thinking he might have broken down and hired someone to help him with the recent spate of attack eulogies he has been delivering. And I’m pretty sure I know who it is.

Hey, I'm not here to judge. I’m just happy to see Don Rickles is still getting work.

Anyway, RIP Mr. Masters.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Last Remembrance of Reason

One thing you need to know about me: I rarely go to funerals, viewings, memorial services, or other rituals of death.

No one likes those kinds of events, of course. But since burying my last remaining parent, I have tried to exempt myself from attending such morbid affairs. I make exceptions, of course - especially when it is important to someone that I be there. But generally speaking they’re just too saddening, and I find myself asking myself, “What’s the point?”

But today I made an exception for the memorial service for Ron Smith, the late Voice of Reason. And I’m glad I did.

June Smith graciously invited me to attend and to sit in the family section. Mrs. Reason is someone you can’t easily turn down under any circumstances, much less circumstances like these.

Because the service was scheduled for the middle of the workweek, I asked my boss for permission to attend. “Please go,” he responded. “It really is my honor to do this for a vet and a man of honor.”

So, I went. When I entered the Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher, I approached the stage and inquired as to where the pre-meeting area June had told me about was. Ed Kiernan, WBAL’s General Manager, personally escorted me backstage, where about a dozen people had assembled.

It was a good mix of friends and members of the Smith family, so I didn’t feel awkward or out of place - or, at least, no more so than I normally do.

June warmly greeted me and then excused herself, saying she had to “talk to the Senator.” Turns out, two senators were awaiting her attention: Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, both in the staging area.

The former was a frequent guest on Ron’s show. Together they generated the kind of great radio you’d expect when a smart, well-informed conservative and a smart, well-informed liberal engage. Despite being Ron’s philosophical opposite, the latter reached out to Ron during his brief illness. Both were warmly greeted, mingling easily with members of the Smith family and intimate friends.

Soon, we took our seats. I’m not going to review the entire proceedings for you. Rather, I encourage you to visit WBAL’s website and experience it for yourself. Mike Wellbrock, a member of the WBAL family, apparently did much of the heavy lifting, including pulling together a production piece featuring some wild footage of Ron’s days as a WBAL TV news reporter and anchor in the 1970s.

All the eulogies were excellent. Resonating with me particularly were the remarks of WBAL TV’s Stan Stovall. At first, Stovall’s voice broke as he took the podium, leaving some of us to wonder if he would be able to carry on. But he did, and his remarks became a funny, moving, from-the-heart gush session about his friend of 34 years. (Who knew Ron had been a bodybuilder who once harbored ambitions of attacking Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno during a past visit to Baltimore?)

Looking around the auditorium, I did notice a few other familiar faces from the political world, including Ellen Sauerbrey, State Senator Nancy Jacobs, and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger.

And, yes, a certain former congressman and governor I once worked for was there as well. 

Ehrlich sat about six or seven rows immediately behind me.  Anyway, he looked appropriately aggrieved. Seeing him reminded me of happier times during our past associations. This only compounded the inherent sense of sadness I already felt in light of the circumstances which brought me to Goucher.

Anyway, the event ended about 12:15, and I promptly hustled out of there.

I have written quite a bit about Ron Smith and the influence he has had on me both on this blog and in the pages of the Baltimore Sun, so I don’t have too much to add now – except for this final thought.

Ron Smith had loving friends, a wonderful marriage, caring children, and community that really cared about him.  In the final analysis, the best way to remember Ron is that he simply got life right. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Three Questions for Audrey Scott

Well, it’s official. Former YRNF Chair Nicolee Ambrose is facing off against former MD GOP Chair Audrey Scott to be party’s next National Committeewoman.
In reading the even-handed piece by Red Maryland’s Mark Newgent, I noticed the extent to which this race is going to be about the future versus the past. Candidate Ambrose articulated three specific, forward-looking goals she would like to accomplish, whereas candidate Scott touted her “experience” and her “forty years” of activism.
As I blogged previously, there is an opportunity to imbue the National Committeewoman’s slot with new relevance. The best way to accomplish that is to bestow it upon someone who actually wants to do something with it, as opposed to sticking with the "Gold Watch" model that has defined it in the past.
Accordingly, Nicolee Ambrose is not just the best candidate for the job, but the only candidate who can take the position to the next level. She has the experience, connections, the fundraising prowess, and the stamina the party needs.
Audrey Scott is a kindly person who should be commended for her decades of service to the party. But her running for National Committeewoman reminds me of Madonna performing at the Super Bowl halftime show.  You wonder why she feels the need to do it, other than not wanting to relinquish the stage to someone else.
For me, Scott’s candidacy raises several questions.
First, she previously served as a member of the Republican National Committee as chair of the state GOP. What does she think she’ll be able to accomplish now that she wasn’t able to get done before?
Second, if Scott really wants to serve the party, then why did she walk away from the party chairmanship after only a year?
Looking back at Scott’s brief chairmanship, one is hard-pressed to find any lasting footprint. For example, when Scott took the reins of the party in November 2009, Democrats had a two-to-one registration advantage over Republicans. When she stepped down a year later, those numbers were basically unchanged.
Further, you hear lots of talk about the structural deficit in Maryland. Well, the state GOP has one, too. Scott was hired to address the party’s dismal finances, yet failed to make lasting progress. Today the party’s financial situation is just as dismal as it was before Scott became chairman.
True, in 2010 the party made some headway in local elections. But the credit for that rests with the candidates and their own organizations. Scott’s priorities were electing Bob Ehrlich (he lost) and Andy Harris (he finally won in a district he never should have lost the first time).
Third, in 2010 Chairman Scott was criticized for supporting a waiver of Rule 11, which prevents the state party from intervening in competitive primaries, in order to funnel support to establishmentarians Ehrlich and Harris. Now, just two years later, Audrey Scott is serving as Finance Chair for the Brinkley for Congress campaign.
How can a candidate for party office – not to mention the high priestess of the Rule 11 controversy – justify the fact that she is now actively and simultaneously working to defeat one of the party’s incumbents, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett?
My fellow blogger Brian Griffiths recently reported how the Maryland Democratic Party has violated its own rules by offering a de facto endorsement to Senator Ben Cardin at the expense of his announced primary challenger, state Senator Anthony Muse.  Under these circumstances, it would be hypocritical for the MD GOP to elect as its new National Committeewoman someone who was against Rule 11 before she was for it
If she is elected, I have no doubt that Audrey Scott would ably perform the traditional, largely pro forma duties of National Committeewoman.  But electing her would translate into a missed opportunity to transform the position into something else.
Doing something one way in the past does not justify always doing it the same way in the future.
After losing the governorship and experiencing three different chairmen in five years, it is time for the state GOP to turn the page. The party needs new energy, and the only way to attract it is to groom new leaders.
Recycling the past won't build a bridge to the future.

Nor will relying on telegraph solutions in an iPhone world.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Is "The Dialin' Doc" Back on the Campaign Trail?

Two tidbits just came across my desk, both involving former bosses of mine.

The first involves Dr. Eric Wargotz, the GOP’s 2010 nominee against Senator Barbara Mikulski. Last year the man I have affectionately come to call “The Dialin’ Doc” said that he was passing on a possible race against Senator Ben Cardin. Well, today he told the Baltimore Sun that he is taking a “second look” at the race because Senator Cardin has since picked up a primary challenge from State Senator Anthony Muse.

The Doc must think that Muse’s challenge may bring to the surface intramural tensions within the Democratic party - tensions which could tamp down enthusiasm for the eventual Democratic nominee. These would be geographic tensions (Muse is from Prince George’s County, Cardin is from Baltimore) as well as demographic tensions (Muse is African American, Cardin is Jewish).

I still think a Cardin primary victory is likely and a Democratic victory in the general election is all but certain. Still, I give The Dialin’ Doc credit for his moxie.

The second item is a blog entry from The Weekly Standard which lampooned former Governor Bob Ehrlich for awkwardly conceding in an interview that Mitt Romney, whose campaign Ehrlich chairs in Maryland, probably won’t carry the state against Barack Obama next November.

On the one hand, I think the Standard is being a little unfair for calling out Ehrlich for simply stating the truth. Of course Obama will carry Maryland in 2012. The Democratic advantage in Maryland makes any statewide victory by a Republican virtually impossible. No one understands that better than Ehrlich.

Still, I think Ehrlich could have handled his answer a little better.

He could also have noted that Maryland may play an important role in the primary process this year than is usually the case given the way the race seems to be unfolding. Or, that delivering electoral votes is only one way a state can contribute to a winning presidential campaign. Fundraising counts, too. Wealthy Maryland donors can deliver for Romney the way they did for George W. Bush.

As gaffes go, it was a clumsy moment for the former governor, an alleged master communicator who insists he has always written all his own speeches.

While I take issue with that statement, I'm happy to say I had nothing to do with these particular remarks.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Bob Ehrlich for VP"

As I was traveling over New Year's weekend and hit the ground running upon my return to work, I’m still catching up on some of the local news clips that appeared during the past week or so.
So only today did I happen upon this editorial from this December 29th edition of the Star Democrat entitled, “Bob Ehrlich for VP.”
Sounds like a great idea to me. Which local company wants to hire him?
Seriously, the editorial pitches a fantastical scenario for Ehrlich’s phoenix-like return to politics – this time, on the national level.
“It would be pretty late in the game for Ehrlich to jump in as a presidential candidate. But vice president is not a completely far-fetched notion for the former governor,” the unnamed editorialist reasons. “(H)e is good on camera and in person. He knows how to work a crowd and appears very genuine as he shakes small-town hands on the campaign trail.”
The article also points to an apparent secret weapon at Ehrlich’s disposal: A certain MSNBC political analyst.
“Ehrlich's former lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, served two years as the chairman of the Republican National Committee,” the writer argues. “So Ehrlich's got that going for him, too, maybe.”
Uh huh.
The editorialist blithely continues, “Ehrlich seems relatively free of skeletons in the closet, but he would have a lot to answer for regarding his former campaign manager's recent conviction for fraudulent election night robocalls in 2010.”
Well, yeah…there is that. I’m guessing the results of the 2006 and 2010 elections might require some explanation, too.
Further, Ehrlich's comments to the newspaper indicated no burning desire to serve.

When asked about his plans, he responded solipsistically, “I would like my opinions heard and articulated and consumed nationally."  
As rhetoric goes, Reagan's "shining city on the hill," it ain't.

Denials notwithstanding, it seems to me Ehrlich was far more quotable, and far more effective, when he had a competent communications staff - including a speechwriter - supporting him.  

But I digress.

All kidding aside, Ehrlich has closed the door on his electoral career, and I take him at his word.  For the Star Democrat to suggest otherwise reeks of silliness.
Either they recycled a piece from 2003, or are now in direct competition with The Onion.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

National Committeewoman Joyce Tehres: OUT

I have been alerted to the fact that members of the State GOP Central Committee are in the process of receiving letters from Republican National Committeewoman Joyce Lyons Tehres informing them of her decision to step down from her current position when her term ends in August.

The departure of Tehres, a former state party chair who has been a fixture in state politics for decades, raises the question of who will take her place.

In the past the position has typically been occupied by grand dames such as Helen Chamberlain, Helen Bentley, and Ellen Sauerbrey. Its responsibilities have included traveling around the state attending local party events and representing the MD GOP at RNC events and conferences.

Given the challenges the state GOP is facing, I hope that whoever the party selects next will take the national committeewoman position beyond its present emeritus role and into more dynamic territory.

The national committeewoman slot can be so much more than a thank you prize bestowed upon party elders. The right person in the job could help the party meet its responsibilities in the areas of fundraising, messaging, and candidate recruitment.

Members of the State GOP Central Committee will now have at least one, and likely two, of the party's senior offices to fill in the coming months. For the party's sake, I hope they make the right choices.

I'm sure a lot of people will want the job. The challenge is finding someone who wants to do something with it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BWI "Express Parking": #Fail

I spent much of December writing about a man coping with his own mortality. Now, I turn to a far more mundane, but equally universal, topic: man’s quest for parking.
I’m specifically referring to the parking situation at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

For those of you unfamiliar with parking at BWI, there are several different state-run parking options at the airport: the “Hourly Garage” ($22 a day); the “Daily Garage” ($12 a day); “Express Parking” ($10 a day); and “Long Term Parking” ($8 a day). There are also privately-run parking options around the airport, as well as a state-run shuttle which takes people to the Amtrak/MARC station.
I usually always park at the Express Parking lot, which is - theoretically, at least - a fair balance between cost and convenience.

Basically you pull into the lot and an attendant directs you to the next available spot. Then the shuttle bus meets you at your car, picks you up, and drops you at the airport. The driver also helps you with your baggage and gives you a slip of paper with the number of your parking spot written on it.
For departing travelers, the Express Parking system is a model of transparency and convenience. But for returning travelers, recent experience has alerted me to some problems in the system.
Last night I was waiting at the designated parking shuttle stop at the airport.
And I waited…and waited…and waited…
Express Parking shuttles were largely absent last night. It took twenty five minutes for the shuttle to arrive – that is, if you don’t count the crowded one that drove by without even acknowledging the passengers flailing to get its attention.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking.  January 2nd was the tail end of a busy holiday travel period. Increased numbers of travelers must therefore translate into longer wait times.
That sounds like a plausible explanation. But facts aren’t there to support it.
First, shuttles ferrying people to the airport’s other parking options were as ubiquitous last night as Express Parking shuttles were scarce. Indeed, for every Express Parking shuttle, I saw about three of the other kind. At one point, two shuttles for the Daily Garage arrived almost simultaneously.
And, I know it isn’t a matter of resources. Every time I pull into the Express Parking lot, I always see a phalanx of shuttles parked in a row, seemingly awaiting direction.
Second, I also traveled in May, September, and October 2011. On each occasion, wait times for Express Parking shuttles were significantly longer than for the other kind.
When the bus finally arrived last night, one of my fellow passengers lit the driver up like a Marlboro Red. I must admit, I felt a dark sense of satisfaction hearing the man give a loud voice to the frustrations I shared, even though the driver was personally not the cause of the problems.
Anyway, I’m giving serious thought to parking at the Daily Garage instead. Maybe it is worth the extra $2 a day to know that a shuttle will be there to meet you in a timely manner.  
Better yet, I hope the Express Parking shuttle service gets its mojo back and is once again able to live up to its name. As things stand now, any time savings Express parkers reap from an early-arriving flight is quickly lost to the shuttle shuffle.
If any of you have had BWI parking shuttle experiences similar to mine, please comment accordingly. The more noise we make about delays in the Express Parking system, the better chance we’ll have of getting these (oxy)morons to fix it.