Monday, December 9, 2013

The Curious Case of Wade Kach

Recently I had an op-ed published in the Frederick News Post which describes the so-called “walking dead” of Maryland politics – characters who continue shuffling around the state’s political landscape even though they have or retain little practical relevance.

I wanted to follow up on one of the walkers (as they call them on The Walking Dead TV show): outgoing Delegate Wade Kach (R-5B).

I have a particular interest in Delegate Kach because, being a native northern Baltimore County boy, he was one of my delegates for much of the time I lived in the area. Indeed, he was first elected to the Maryland legislature in 1974, when I was eight years old.

At one time his fellow delegates from the old Timonium-centric 10th Legislative District were Ellen Sauerbrey and Bob Ehrlich. Sauerbrey served as minority leader and was nearly elected governor; Ehrlich was elected to Congress and eventually became governor himself. Next year, Kach leaves the Maryland House of Delegates after 40 years in state government.

Genteel and affable, Kach built a reputation among those of us in Baltimore County GOP circles as something of a lone wolf who, despite his longevity, didn’t really have much to show for all his years in Annapolis. A few of us called him the “papier mache delegate” in that, while everyone agreed he was a nice guy, none of us had a clear picture of what exactly he stood for.

So why is Kach leaving the legislature after 40 years? 

Some of it might have to do with the realities of legislative redistricting in Baltimore County. But I think the main reason lies with the political realities of reversing his position on perhaps the most controversial issue to come before the Maryland General Assembly in a generation: gay marriage.

After consistently been on record as opposing gay marriage for his entire career, Delegate Kach flip-flopped just prior to the General Assembly’s vote on gay marriage legislation in 2013.

At the time, Kach issued the following statement:
Over the span of my career in the Maryland General Assembly, I have worked hard to take thoughtful, considered positions on laws that affect the rights and liberties of our friends and neighbors.
“My constituents sent me to Annapolis to represent them and use my best judgment. They did not send me to sit in judgment of the lives of others.
"As a proud member of the party of Lincoln, I believe that we as legislators should be more concerned with relieving the tax burden of families than telling them how to behave in their own homes.
"Like so many others, my thoughts on the issue of civil marriage have evolved over the course of recent months as a result of much reflection and listening to good people on both sides of this issue. Instrumental to my decision are the enhanced protections for churches, clergy, and faith leaders in my community and in communities around the state.
"While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families -- who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.
"Tomorrow I will cast my green vote with great confidence that this bill protects religious freedom and that the issue will ultimately be decided by the voters of our state."

By the way, I just checked the still-active Wade Kach for Delegate website. The statement above is conspicuously missing from the press releases section of the site.

Anyway, at the time Kach revised his position, his former seatmate Ellen Sauerbrey told The Patch, "If his was the one vote the governor needed then he will be held accountable by a lot of people."

Now, my quarrel is not with Kach’s ultimate stand on the issue. I too ultimately came to support it (after some aggressively lobbying by a few Generation Y friends who changed my thinking), and I blogged and voted accordingly.

Rather I fault Kach for the ostrich-like manner in which he handled this issue with respect to his constituents. He materially changed his position, issued a statement which did little to explain an abrupt change in principles, and now seems content to never speak of it again.

In my view, a responsible legislator would have organized a town hall-style meeting in order to have responded proactively to the concerns of his largely conservative constituency. A teacher by profession, it surprises me that Kach neglected this obvious opportunity to educate his constituents. The fact that he failed to do so has fed various conspiracy theories as to why exactly Kach flip-flopped his position.

According to my fellow bloggers at Red Maryland, Kach changed positions after the O’Malley Administration dangled a juicy six figure state government job in front of him. To date that has not materialized, but that doesn’t mean it won’t at some point, perhaps when O’Malley’s anointed successor, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, succeeds him.

Another theory is that Kach received promises of support from Senate President Mike Miller and others should he decide to take on renegade Democratic Senate Senator Jim Brochin, a thorn in the side of the Annapolis establishment.

This scenario has not materialized either for several likely reasons. 

First, Brochin is a ferocious campaigner with a history of success attracting crossover Republican votes. Second, marriage equality failed to pass in Baltimore County, and it performed especially poorly in the areas of northern Baltimore County encompassed by Brochin’s redrawn senatorial district. Chris Cavey, a former Baltimore County GOP chairman with solid conservative credentials who has announced his candidacy, can be expected to club Kach over the head with his flip flop should he enter that primary race.

When lawyers are looking to file a lawsuit, they engage in the process of forum shopping. In other words, they look for the most favorable court in which to bring their case. That seems to be much the process in which Wade Kach and his supporters find themselves now.

Realizing that his career in state elective politics is over, Kach now seems to believe that he can reset his career by parachuting into Baltimore County politics instead.

This summer, Kach announced he was challenging first term incumbent County Councilman Todd Huff (R-3rd). While Huff has had his challenges, he has amassed a record of accomplishment, demonstrated strong fundraising prowess, and drawn bipartisan support across the Baltimore County political establishment.

While the Kach for County Council campaign team has demonstrated a white tube-socked sense of earnestness based on some of their campaign trail pictures, it also exudes a sense of confusion. Case in point:

  • There is no Wade Kach for County Council web page. Instead, visitors to the old delegate site are invited to click on a button leading them to a newly-created subpage referencing Kach’s attempted change in careers while offering few specifics.

  • On her personal Facebook page, Wade Kach’s wife Evelyn’s profile picture shows her holding up a Wade Kach for Delegate sign, and wearing a Wade Kach for Delegate tee shirt, as opposed to a photo tailored to the new campaign. 

Look, I think Kach is a decent citizen-legislator who got caught up in a very difficult issue that, politically speaking, he could have handled better. But forty years of service on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore County in Annapolis is not only a record to be proud of, it’s enough.

Rightly or wrongly, Kach’s flip-flop has given many Baltimore County residents reason to associate him with the kind of “get along to go along” they hate about Annapolis politics. Will they be willing to bring it to the Towson Courthouse?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"The Walking Dead" of Maryland Politics

Here is my latest oped for the Frederick News Post, which pertains to “The Walking Dead” of Maryland politics.

The show is about to go on hiatus until March. When it resurfaces, I’m guessing that political conditions in Maryland will be ripe to do a Part II column.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

What I Would Have Said at the HDB Roast

So, I just returned from the Helen Delich Bentley 90th birthday celebration and roast at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

The event was a who’s who of current and past political leaders, and individuals from the many different phases of her career. My old colleague Michael Kosmas was one of the main organizers and played the emcee role. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representatives Elijah Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger, and Maryland Parole Commission Chairman David Blumberg were among those delivering standout speeches.

I greeted Mrs. Bentley as I entered the event, and she asked me to speak. I’d prepared remarks just in case, but time did not permit me to do so. No harm, no was a great event and I was just pleased to be there.

In any event, here is what I would have said had I made it to the dais. Please keep in mind I crafted them with both snark and affection – as I do most things.


Helen Bentley Roast Remarks

Well, I prepared for these remarks by watching old episodes of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, so forgive me for my snark.

I'm Richard Cross, political troublemaker, Frederick News Post columnist, and oped contributor to The Sun

I'm proud to honor the person Baltimore Magazine dubbed "The Cranky Congresswoman." 

As a shy and callow intern, HDB launched me on my political journey three decades ago. That journey included multiple stops in the U. S. House of Representatives, and time spent working as a gubernatorial speechwriter.

And, I’m sure some of the people in this room haven’t yet forgiven her for that.  

Now, Mrs. Bentley, a word of advice: Have fun tonight, but no twerking, please. 

That goes for you, too...Governor Mandel.

What sets HDB apart?

First, she really cared about young people. 

She even let her younger staffers commandeer her signature "Office on Wheels" van in order to – as they put it – “take in a show.”

The show in question: A Grateful Dead concert at RFK stadium.

I’m not sure that was the kind of constituent outreach she had in mind when she bought that thing.

She also hired at least two really hot schedulers over the years – a source of fun and occasional peril for me.

She had many colorful characters in her political orbit – including many who have since passed away.

Her Towson receptionist was a cross between Golden Girl Estelle Getty and a Jim Henson creation. 

A published poet, she shared that fact with everyone who visited the office. And more often than not, constituents left the office with photocopies of her work, courtesy of the office copy machine, whether they wanted them or not.  

And day, she used the office microwave to irradiate the most foul-smelling meatloaf sandwiches imaginable.

Thirty years later, I can still smell that effing meatloaf.

HDB was always willing to teach me new things.

At a gas station in Essex late one night, I filled her car and was cleaning the windshield when the passenger door swung open violently. She confiscated the squeegee and cleaned the windshield herself because she didn't like my technique.

"How do you clean your own windshield?" She sharply inquired after we’d gotten back in the car.

"The process is much easier in my car," I replied. "I just push that little button on the dashboard and it all happens kind of automatically." 

My snarkiness didn’t go over well that night.  

Speaking of driving…did you know that, years before he named the Port of Baltimore after her, then-Congressman Ehrlich even tried to get the Baltimore beltway named in her honor?

But for some reason, the name his chief of staff suggested didn’t pass muster with Congressional leaders. 

I didn’t get that at the time … who wouldn’t want to drive on a highway called “The Bentley Girdle”?

In all serious, there are two things I learned from Mrs. Bentley that I have carried with me ever since.

First, her "the job is done when the job is done" mindset.

Second, our shared affinity for President Richard M. Nixon.

So it's fitting that I present to her - straight from the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, CA - a cap like the one I’m wearing.

And Mrs. B, if you don’t like it, don’t take it out on me. Please take it out on a process server. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on "The Warrior Princess"

Last weekend, I attended the MDGOP Oktoberfest event held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds as a guest of Councilman Todd Huff.

I haven’t hesitated to slap the MDGOP upside the hypothetical head when it has made errors, so I don’t mind showing it some love, too. Resurrecting this one-time annual Ellen Sauerbrey campaign event as a fundraising vehicle for the MDGOP was a really good idea, and the people responsible for conceiving and pulling it off – such as Delegate Bill Frank as well as Mrs. Sauerbrey herself – deserve kudos. It was a nice, fun, well-executed event.

I’ve noticed that reactions to me at these events fall into three categories.

First, people are legitimately happy to see me (usually past coworkers and political comrades in arms). Second, people are scared to interact with me (typically people I have written about but do not know well). Third, people react negatively because they resent some of my past blunt assessments of missteps made by Bob Ehrlich and his senior advisors.

Originally I planned to illustrate my experience last Saturday evening by describing my interactions with one person in each category.

Instead, I decided to focus on just one person with whom I crossed paths, and let you decide for yourself in which category she falls.

I had never heard of Mary Beth Carozza before I encountered her for the first time shortly after joining the Ehrlich Administration. But that initial two-minute conversation told me everything about her that I needed to know.

You see, Carozza – then Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Ehrlich, now a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates from District 38C on the Eastern Shore – is a parochialist of the highest order. During that initial conversation, she mentioned the three passions that dominated her entire belief system.

And, in the four years that I worked with her, she never ever really stopped talking about them.

The first was her devotion to military issues.  She was a civilian employee at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 and, by all accounts, acquitted herself with great bravery and dedication to her colleagues.  It was clearly a moment of pride for her, and something she liked to talk about often.

But while you can take the girl away from the Pentagon, you can never really take the Pentagon out of the girl, I guess. 

Her preoccupation with military matters – something a Deputy Chief of Staff for a state governor doesn’t often encounter – became something of a running joke within the State House. The Baltimore Sun’s David Nitkin alluded to Carozza’s martial proclivities when he profiled her in February 2003, even mentioning the bellicose nickname allegedly given to her by Don “Rummy” Rumsfeld himself: “The Warrior Princess.”  

This militiaphilia even brought her into conflict with Governor Ehrlich on at least one occasion.

According to a story Greg Massoni told a bunch of us in the press office, the governor made plans to play golf on September 11, 2003. This rankled Carozza’s sensibilities, and she aggressively counseled him to change his plans, which he refused to do.

Now, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with Ehrlich’s decision for two basic reasons. First, one of the legacies of 9/11 is that Americans should not alter their routines due to intimidation by terrorists. Second, the man was, after all, the governor and therefore entitled to make his own choices without being subject to staff harassment.

But Carozza refused to let it go.

Indeed, according to Massoni, while Ehrlich was on the golf course, she kept calling his cellphone in an apparent effort to disrupt his game through one contrived inquiry after another. Eventually, he stopped taking her calls. 

Later on, I discussed Carozza with one of the governor's other press secretaries, and his comment mirrored what Phil said about Allan in The Hangover: "I think the governor keeps her around because he thinks she's kind of funny."

We had another Deputy Chief of Staff, Edward Miller, who was equally myopic on issues affecting Israel. I often thought the Ehrlich Administration would have been more successful had Carozza and Miller been compelled to swap their pet issues – but I can sure understand why neither of Ehrlich’s chiefs of staff nor the governor himself was anxious to have that conversation with the Princess.

The second defining facet of Carozza’s identity: Her loyalty to her hometown: Ocean City, Maryland.

Carozza’s idyllic, idealistic vision of Ocean City and the surrounding Shore community rivaled Forrest Gump’s unblinking affinity for Greenbow, Alabama. Its needs were always prioritized, and its personalities elevated to celebrity status.

As Hurricane Isabel was about to hit in September 2003, Carozza assumed personal control over Ocean City’s storm preparation activities. Local officials were so pleased with her efforts that I think they were reluctant to send her back to Annapolis when the storm was over.

Some of us would have been happy if they'd kept her. But I digress.

The third element of Carozza’s worldview is a devotion to the mythical legacy of Governor Ehrlich.

Look, I was proud to serve the governor, and think that – although he wasn’t perfect – he accomplished a lot of good things.

But Carozza is a member of a subgroup of my former coworkers for whom feelings of respect and appreciation for Governor Ehrlich are not enough. For them, every success was transformative, no mistakes were ever made, and every setback was someone else’s fault.

After the governor’s defeat, Carozza headed an effort to produce a taxpayer-sponsored “legacy book” highlighting the governor’s successes. Boxes of undistributed copies of this glossy exercise in hagiography sat in the Maryland Republican Party’s offices for years.

Carozza’s zealous devotion to all things Ehrlich also contributed to the administration’s biggest public relations nightmare.

As was widely reported, and told to me by Joe Steffen himself at the time, Carozza was the person who sent Steffen into state departments to make assessments of personnel and policies. Indeed, the two departments which Steffen visited for that purpose – Juvenile Services and Human Resources – were both part of Carozza’s portfolio of departments for which she had oversight responsibility.

The fact that she was not summoned in front of the legislative committee that investigated that matter still mystifies me. But the facts are clear: Carozza green lighted it from the beginning. 

So what kind of delegate would the Warrior Princess make? 

As this article demonstrates, all three of Carozza’s guiding passions are as much a part of her campaign as they were her State House tenure.

In some respects, the job she’s seeking plays to her strengths.

After all, parochialism is not only a useful quality in a legislator, it’s also something of a requirement. Her tenacity and knowledge of her home city/county would certainly be assets.

And, if Virginia decides to send an invasion force up the Chesapeake Bay, she’s got it covered.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Open Primaries: Ellen Versus Ellen

The issue of whether or not Republicans should move to an open primary format seems to be dominating the political debate right now, especially since MDGOP Chairman Diana Waterman – correctly, in my view – convened a committee to study the issue.

The arguments on both sides are well-known. 

Proponents of the idea such as myself believe it is a way to engage the state’s fastest growing voting bloc – so-called “Unaffiliated voters” – in the candidate nominating activities of the state’s minority party, perhaps helping to build the countervailing force to the majority Democrats the state is sorely missing.

Opponents of the idea believe it creates opportunities for Democrats to make mischief during the GOP primary process, ultimately resulting in dilution of the party’s core values and beliefs.

But the most interesting debate seems to be the one going on in Ellen Sauerbrey’s head.

Former House of Delegates Minority Leader, two-time gubernatorial nominee, Republican National Committeewoman, and Bush ambassador, Mrs. Sauerbrey obviously still engenders respect among Maryland Republicans. Clearly she was trying to leverage that goodwill when she sent this message to the members of the Waterman Committee.

“I understand that you have been appointed to a Republican Central Committee group to make recommendations on our Primary process. I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to the proposal to open the Republican Primary to Independents. As you know, this was tried once (in 2008 I believe) and was abandoned as a bad idea. Seems bad ideas don’t die.

“I note that the Baltimore Sun which is always promoting a strong Republican party (LOL) thinks this is the way to grow our party. They make no argument about how this will help the Republican party except that we should ‘invite them (Independents) in’, dilute our ‘far-right faction’ and that we need more moderate candidates like Olympia Snowe, that presumably would happen because we open our primary. Is this our agenda????

“As for expanding the party, I think it would have the opposite effect. As more and more people are choosing to register Independent, enabling Independents to vote in our Primary takes away one more incentive to register Republican. I predict that should this be adopted we will see fewer people registering Republican.

“As a candidate for the legislature and for Governor, I always had a primary. I purchased the voter list and focused my attention on Republican voters in the primary, as most of our candidates do. To allow Independents to vote adds a wild card that will add unnecessary cost to mailings since candidates will have no idea who will turn out to vote. Take a statewide race where we have a contested Republican Primary. Adding Independents to the mix vastly expands the universe our candidates have to reach. Raising money is tough enough without adding to candidate costs.

“My biggest objection comes from what we see at the national level. Several of the early primary states have open or crossover primaries. The impact is indisputable. Open primaries in early states have, for example, given us John McCain as our nominee because those early primaries have such impact on the rest of the campaign. And take the last election where Obama had no opposition. There was every incentive for liberals to vote in those early open primaries and vote for the weakest or most ‘moderate’ Republican candidate.

“It may be considered an old fashioned idea by our friends at the Baltimore Sun, but I believe if you want to have a vote in any organization, you should be a member, So join our club or don’t whine because you have no voice in choosing our leaders!!

“I urge you to oppose this bad idea.”

Yet, back in 1999, when Maryland Republicans were debating the merits of an open primary system, Mrs. Sauerbrey was quoted in the May 23rd, 1999 edition of the Washington Post as espousing a very different message:

“Among Maryland's Republicans, the fight over opening the primary was seen by many as a split between moderates and conservatives. But many leaders -- including conservatives such as Sauerbrey -- said the measure had a practical goal: to help Republicans win.

"'I was conservative before conservative was cool, and I'm still a conservative to the marrow of my bones,' she told the convention. But, she said, 'we cannot move our agenda forward if we don't elect more Republicans. We can't do it by ourselves. Independents have chosen not to be Democrats, and I want them to take a closer look at our party.'"

So, what’s changed?

Mrs. Sauerbrey would no doubt argue now that she learned from the party’s brief experiment with open primaries in 2000 (not 2008, as Mrs. Sauerbrey incorrectly stated in her message), particularly because such tampering results in dangerous liberals like John McCain and Olympia Snowe being unleashed on helpless GOP primary voters.

But I’d argue that the open primary experiment was terminated too soon. Its value cannot be correctly judged unless we see what kind of impact it would have on nominations for state and local offices as well (2000 was a presidential rather than a gubernatorial cycle in Maryland).

If Mrs. Sauerbrey wishes to speak out on this issue, then she needs to explain her change in position. Otherwise, she’ll come across as merely another faded spokesperson opining on behalf of the sepulcher wing of the MDGOP. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Haddaway: What's In a Name, Anyway?

One of my cause celebres has long been for the MDGOP to do a better job recruiting and developing talented women candidates and officeholders. It was the topic of an op-ed piece I had in the Frederick News Post last February, and it is a recurring theme on this blog.

I have actively promoted talented, successful women legislators like Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio in the past. And, I was not at all surprised when, earlier this week, apparent GOP gubernatorial front-runner David Craig chose her as his running mate. 

I think it was the best possible pick Craig could have made under the circumstances, as it infuses the 64 year old public servant’s campaign with youth (Haddaway-Riccio is 36), private sector experience (Haddaway-Riccio is a small business owner), some geographic balance (she is from the Eastern Shore whereas Craig’s Harford County, albeit largely rural, can still credibly be characterized as a Baltimore metropolitan area suburb), and – of course – gender diversity.

News of Haddaway-Riccio’s pick leaked out last week, so when the formal announcement finally came, I wasn’t expecting any real surprises.

That is, until I saw the yard sign for the newly-minted ticket.

The sign touts the team of “David Craig and Jeannie Haddaway,” with the hyphenated part of her name lost for some unexplained reason.

I wasn’t the only person to notice this discrepancy.

John Wagner of the Washington Post observed that, “Though she has used her hyphenated last name as a delegate, the ‘Riccio’ was dropped from signs that the campaign debuted on Tuesday. On those, she is simply ‘Jeannie Haddaway.’”

In his report, WBAL’s Robert Lang mentioned this change as well. He later told me that the delegate told him she, “wanted to use her maiden name for the campaign.”

To put things in context, I checked out Haddaway-Riccio’s present campaign website. Indeed, the banner at the top of the homepage reads, “Haddaway for Maryand House of Delegates.” However, she’s referred to as “Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio” in some of the news items that pepper the site.

I emailed Jim Pettit, Communications Director for the Craig-Haddaway-Whatever campaign (and a former colleague of mine from Bob Ehrlich world) seeking clarification on the name issue. 

Unfortunately, the usually efficient Pettit never responded to my inquiry.

Coincidentally, I noticed that one of County Executive Craig’s senior aides, another colleague of mine from Ehrlich country, abruptly defriended me on Facebook.

Now, I did make a few snarky, Vozzellaesque comments on Facebook recently about the naming discrepancy, so I am wondering if these old friends of mine are now annoyed at me and punishing me accordingly. 

If this is the case, one wonders how they’ll react when the shock and awe message machine of Maryland’s Democratic establishment begins its daily assault on Team Craig, assuming they make it through the primary.

And, for the record, I attended a blogger’s session with David Craig in September 2011, and wrote this even-handed if not vaguely favorable post afterwards. So, there has certainly been no history of bad blood between me and Team Craig.

Well…until now, apparently.

Anyway, a friend of mine who attended the Tawes Crab Feast told me there was some casual buzz about the subject. Speculative explanations ranged from the need to shorten the LG candidate’s name to accommodate yard sign space, the alleged reluctance of some conservative voters to support a “hyphenated” candidate, or Delegate Haddaway-Riccio’s desire to stick with the name with which she was first elected.

At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

Personally, I’m more curious to see whether What Is Love, the signature song of another “Haddaway,” will become the new ticket’s theme. This song was made famous, or perhaps even infamous, by a series of sketches on Saturday Night Live featuring the guido-like Butabi brothers.

I could certainly see Craig Campaign Manager Paul Ellington, Political Director Josh Wolf, and Communications Director Pettit driving around the state, full-on Butabi style, in support of their candidate Haddaway, with What Is Love playing in a continuous loop over the car stereo.

Can’t you?

Monday, July 15, 2013

'Tis The Season for Political Hubris

Merriam Webster defines hubris as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence.”  The ancient Greeks had a far more sinister definition for it, regarding it as a sin so terrible that it required swift and exacting vengeance by the gods.

Taken in the context of Maryland politics, however, I would suggest a third use for the term. For me, “hubris” can be observed when a local politico offers a fanciful explanation for events and - through their own charisma, bluster, or brazenness  - assumes they can get others to believe it, facts notwithstanding.

This summer, I observed two rather striking examples of political hubris in action.

The first was presented by Delegate and candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, who in June co-signed a letter to current Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman and Council Chairman Jerry Walker suggesting that they take aggressive steps to halt implementation of the so-called “rain tax” approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

According to the Baltimore Sun, “’The laws passed by the Council, which will result in higher bills sent to taxpayers on July 1, have several major flaws that must be addressed,’ Schuh and Kipke wrote. They suggested lowering the fees, increasing credits for environmentally friendly practices and decreasing the number of employees who will be hired for the county's stormwater program. ‘We need to stop this train and start over again,’ they wrote.”

So why does a GOP delegate from conservative Anne Arundel County standing up for taxpayers qualify as hubris? Because Delegate Schuh voted in favor of the original legislation authorizing the fees in 2012.

As you might expect, Delegate Schuh’s jeremiad against the rain tax received some sharp, immediate pushback. Councilman Jerry Walker dismissed it as, “nothing more than a political maneuver to cover his tracks after voting for HB 987 that mandated Anne Arundel to pass the rain tax."

County Executive Neuman called the letter “hilarious” in a tweet, then issued a brief statement calling upon Schuh to, “admit he voted for legislation that burdens the taxpayers of Anne Arundel County and convince Gov. O'Malley to call a special session of the General Assembly to fix this flawed legislation."

There are two things you should keep in mind in assessing what Schuh hoped to accomplish by cosigning the letter. 

First, memories are short and the primary for Anne Arundel County Executive is about a year away. Second, lawmaking in Maryland – especially as pertains to an issue requiring both state and local action – lends itself to confusion.

Clearly Delegate Schuh is concerned that fallout over the rain tax could harm his campaign, and is therefore trying to shape the story that will ultimately crystalize in voters’ mind. In other words, the political damage that may result from his support for the authorizing legislation is somewhat mitigated if people are distracted by finger pointing and debates about process.

Recently WBAL TV asked Governor O’Malley to speak to the hotel situation. The governor blamed the hotel’s insolvency on the fact that the state failed to provide funding at the project’s outset, stating, “You may recall, at the time, that we asked we were told no by the then governor.”

I think any fair reader of this blog would agree on two basic facts.

First, I have not shied away from offering criticism of former Governor Ehrlich (who also happens to be my former boss) when I felt that it was warranted.

Second, though I disagree with a lot of what he has done in office – especially after the destructive 2013 legislative session – I have tried not to make this an O’Malley-bashing blog. I think it is more constructive to focus on the continuing excesses and failings of the state’s decades-long one-party regime rather than the individual who currently personifies it.

That said, when I read Jayne Miller’s Facebook posting about the governor’s comment, I literally did a spit take.

For O’Malley to continue pointing his finger at his twice-defeated Republican rival evokes that scene in the best film version of A Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come eerily directs Ebenezer Scrooge to a forgotten, overgrown headstone (skip to 1:12:10 to see what I mean). 

Exhuming Ehrlich, who has been out of office nearly seven years, from the political graveyard to blame him for an idea that was hatched, supported, and bankrolled by the City of Baltimore under then-Mayor O’Malley's leadership lacks credibility.

As for Governor Ehrlich, he reemerged to rebut O’Malley’s claim, and to accuse his successor once again of “whining.” I don’t blame Ehrlich for wanting to fire back. That said, I thought that O’Malley’s original statement was so fanciful that a rebuttal was almost unnecessary. 

Also, some of the words Ehrlich used to rebut it - "I have no specific recollection or document that they requested the state during my administration” – seemed better suited for a deposition than a public war of words.

From my own little perch in the Ehrlich Administration, I don’t remember hearing any talk that Baltimore City had approached the State of Maryland to help bankroll the project. In any event, it seems unlikely that this happened for three reasons.

First, Mayor O’Malley was then gearing up to run for governor, and it did not serve his interests to be perceived as beseeching favors of his rival. This is why he choose to cash out the city’s rainy day fund in order to replenish $58 million in missing City school funds, rather than accept the additional oversight and political embarrassment state funding would bring.

Second, there was a perception at the time that the hotel deal was a nod to the City’s building trade unions, who wanted it in exchange for backing O’Malley’s 2006 bid for governor. Indeed, support for the hotel deal was not universal, and then-City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell and others on the Council loudly opposed it. Under these circumstances, requesting state monies for an obviously politically-motivated project would have been a pointless ask.

Lastly, even if O’Malley had asked and Ehrlich turned him down, this decision would, retrospectively speaking, be a plus for Ehrlich’s legacy. Only in Maryland’s political echo chamber could a governor turning down the opportunity to waste state taxpayer dollars on a proven boondoggle be seen as a liability. In other words, had it happened, I would expect Ehrlich to be loudly bragging about his foresight, rather than fumbling through legalese.

In any event, I have been to the Baltimore Hilton. It is a great amenity and an asset to the City. If this gem of a hotel is not meeting expectations, the solutions needed to set things right will not be found in the details of how it was financed years ago, but in how it is utilized and being programmed now.

Anyway, the 2014 political season is still young, so I’m sure there will be many more examples of hubris to report. I hope you’re looking forward to them as much as I am.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Justice, the Death Penalty, and Kami Ring

Today is probably the first time you’ll ever hear the name Kami Ring. Unfortunately, in all likelihood, it’ll probably also be the last.

Ring – 10, of Cecil County – was buried today, the victim of an exceptionally heinous crime committed by someone she regarded as a family member.

Ring’s body was discovered in a field behind the Port Deposit home where she’d been staying last Monday. According to the report in the Baltimore Sun, “She was partially nude, with signs of a cutting injury to the neck and injuries indicating she had been raped, as well as having been struck in the head, the charging documents state.”

Her accused killer, Richard Eugene Madden, Jr., has been charged with first- and second-degree murder, as well as rape and assault. A serial offender, Madden was released from his most recent prison stint in February 2013, and was in jail on drug charges when police linked him to the crime.

Though not related by blood, Ring regarded Madden’s parents as her de facto grandparents, making Madden her de facto uncle.

According to The Sun, Madden posted the following message on Facebook: "right now i am going out of my [expletive] neice kami want missing some time in the night or morning... so pleas if i have seen or heard anything please let me know ASAP."

Apparently, when searchers wanted to check out the field where Ring’s body was found, Madden tried to direct them elsewhere, explaining, “Those babies would not be walking over there near those briars."

A DNA test positively linked him to biological evidence found on Ring’s body. A gray shoestring was found on the child’s body, and Madden’s tennis shoes were found to be missing their gray shoestrings. Madden also had, “scratch marks on his body he could not explain.”

At a candlelight vigil, Ring was remembered as a consistent honor roll student who achieved a perfect attendance record during the most recent school year.

As I heard this story reported on the radio, I felt myself getting angry.

First, of course, I got angry at the monster who perpetrated this crime against an innocent child.

Second, I got angry at the governmental leaders who – through their blithe arrogance – decided to repeal the state’s death penalty during the most recently-concluded legislative session.

Maryland has never been known for its swift and sweeping application of the death penalty. Since its reinstatement in 1978, only five people on death row were actually executed, the last execution occurring in 2005. Instead, it remained an infrequently-used option to be applied in only the most egregious cases, as well as a valuable tool for prosecutors.

Nonetheless, the state’s political establishment – buoyed by ballot box wins on other progressive touchstone issues in 2012 – decided that eliminating capital punishment was its next burning priority.

In a June 2nd opinion piece in The Sun, Benjamin Jealous – president of the NAACP – celebrated the repeal of the death penalty and the failure of so-called “right-wing activists”  to get it on the ballot.

Still, solid majorities of Marylanders (54 percent to 41 percent according to a February 2013 Washington Post poll) supported the state’s death penalty. Among that majority: Democratic Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Doug Gansler and Democratic Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger.

Now, the death penalty repeal does not take effect until October 1st – which I presume means Madden could technically still be eligible for it.  

Still, I question whether a prosecutor will even bother trying to impose it during its waning hours.

I hope I’m wrong…because, to me, it sure seems like this guy deserves it.

So, at the end of the day, here is where things stand: Kami Ring goes into the ground, and her killer will – in all likelihood – avoid a similar fate, thanks to the misdirected compassion of the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Martin O’Malley.

I’m sure the progressive activists who worked so hard to repeal the death penalty – majority will be damned – are breathing a collective sigh of relief that Madden will be spared the ultimate penalty if he is convicted.

But I’m pretty sure the rest of us are just thinking about Kami. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"MDGOP to Bloggers: Drop Dead"

Hey, MDGOP…was it something I said?

That’s what my first thought was when I read the party’s policy on credentialing bloggers interested in covering its spring convention this weekend (as reported by The Sun’s Michael Dresser).

The policy reminds me of that famous New York Daily News  headline regarding President Ford’s reaction to New York City’s insolvency in the 1970s: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

According to the “MDGOP to Bloggers: Drop Dead” policy, the MDGOP is only allowing “credentialed members of the media” to cover the event, and “will not allow journalists to register as ‘media’ for the purpose of writing a personal online blog.”

Bloggers can still attend the floor festivities, of course…at a cost of $75. That’s about enough gas money to get David Ferguson back to South Carolina, if not back.

If such a policy existed during the previous party chairman’s race in 2010, then it was certainly not enforced. Back then I followed the chairman’s vote via Facebook dispatches sent from the convention from Red Maryland’s Mark Newgent. I followed up with Newgent, who stated he was unaware of any such policy being in force back then.

Clearly this policy, as communicated by MDGOP Executive Director David Ferguson, is a petulant response to the steady string of criticisms the party establishment has received from me and many other members of the blogosphere.

There is much diversity of opinion among bloggers, and we certainly don’t always agree on everything. But, independently we have criticized the recent missteps of the MDGOP and its interim chairman, Diana Waterman, with a high degree of unanimity.

This campaign to reform the way MDGOP does business has an “X-Men United” feel to it. Clearly the defenders of the status quo are feeling the pressure, as evidenced by some of their questionable crisis communications maneuvers. And that must have them collectively shaking in their boots.

It should also be noted that the MDGOP’s restrictive policy against bloggers bucks the trend evident among other conservative leaning organizations.

When I worked at the 2000 Republican Convention, space was reserved for bloggers to cover the convention proceedings for the first time ever. Since then, conservative organizations hosting events such as CPAC have largely integrated bloggers and traditional media into the same space (as fellow blogger Jeff Quinton reports).

Interestingly, in response to an inquiry from another blogger, Ferguson responded that only bloggers with “sponsoring media outlet like the Washington Post, Annapolis Capital, or WBAL” can be credentialed.

Does anyone else get the irony of a state GOP official extolling members of the alleged “liberal media” as examples of legitimate journalism? I’m not sure even Ferguson himself does.

In the end, I don’t think the MDGOP’s pathetic attempt at a crackdown on bloggers will have the intended chilling effect. We’re all going to be at the convention. We’re all going write what we would have written originally without paying David Ferguson $75.

The only difference is that, while our criticisms before were born of political disagreement, David Ferguson and his ham-handed policy has now interjected personal resentment among bloggers into the situation as well. He has also signaled definitively where his personal loyalties lie. If anyone other than Diana Waterman is elected chairman on Saturday, this stunt has likely sealed David Ferguson’s fate as far as keeping his job is concerned.

My late father used to say, “People would rather you urinate on their faces than ignore them.” The fact that the MDGOP has moved away from ignoring bloggers and towards a crude attempt at stifling and exclusion is an unmistakable sign of weakness on the part of the establishment and its defenders.  

Gandhi famously said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

The MDGOP establishment can no longer afford to ignore its critics. And its clumsy foray into censorship demonstrates that it lacks the energy and ideas to defeat them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ellen Sauerbrey: "Showing Up Counts for Something"

One of the iron laws of MDGOP politics is the fact that, other things being equal, the establishment of the past will always support the establishment of the present.

We witnessed this phenomenon last year when a variety of party elders – the mausoleum wing of the MDGOP – lined up in support of Audrey Scott’s unsuccessful bid to become national committeewoman.

At the time, one of Mrs. Scott’s most ardent backers was former GOP gubernatorial nominee, House Minority Leader, and Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey.

Well, Mrs. Sauerbrey has jumped into the fray again, this time by circulating a letter in support of interim MDGOP Chairman Diana Waterman’s bid to serve out the remainder of departed Chairman Alex Mooney’s term.

Mrs. Sauerbrey’s message follows in its entirety:

GOP Friends, 
The Maryland Republican Central Committee will make an important decision in a few weeks, selecting a new Chairman to fill out the remainder of the term to which Alex Mooney was elected. Needless to say, the coming year is a critical one, leading up to the 2014 election.  Our priority and our common mission must be to elect Republicans dedicated to our values of conservative limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom.  We cannot afford the luxury of division and infighting. 
Congratulations on the excitement and debate surrounding the campaign for chairman.  However, instead of a spirit of unity, I hear concerns about   “the establishment” vs “the activists”…  “insiders” vs “outsiders”.   Clearly, we need both.  We need  seasoned leadership and experience and we must fully embrace new activists,  new energy, and new ideas  if we are to turn around the declining trajectory of the Maryland Republican Party... 
Diana Waterman has shown me both.    For the past few years, she has worked tirelessly on campaigns and party building activity.    Showing up counts for something and Diana seems to be everywhere.  Being State Party Chairman is hard and often thankless work. I believe  Diana is prepared to put the time and energy into the job. 
I share the concern that our party has failed to fully embrace groups like the Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty,  that are a source of highly motivated, dedicated, and often young volunteers.  Diana has committed to me her intent to establish an Advisory Committee that will welcome  and involve the vital  energy and ideas of these groups. 
She has given considerable thought to a comprehensive program to move the party forward.  I hope you will give her a chance to implement it..I support Diane’s candidacy and will do what I can to help her and the party succeed. Ellen

Let me go through Mrs. Sauerbrey’s letter line by line.

Ellen Says: “Needless to say, the coming year is a critical one, leading up to the 2014 election.  Our priority and our common mission must be to elect Republicans dedicated to our values of conservative limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom.  We cannot afford the luxury of division and infighting.”

My Take: This is a pervasive thought among members of the MDGOP establishment: Dissent in any form constitutes “division and infighting” and is unacceptable. This same sentiment caused a Talbot County central committee official to purge from that party’s website comments that were critical of interim GOP chair Diana Waterman. How ironic that a party which stresses personal freedom would resort to Soviet-style tactics to insulate its leaders from fair criticism.

Ellen Says: “However, instead of a spirit of unity, I hear concerns about   ‘the establishment’ vs ‘the activists’…  ‘insiders’ vs ‘outsiders’”.   

My Take: For me, this was the most interesting part of Mrs. Sauerbrey’ statement in that, based on the language she uses, she seems to be responding directly to points I made in a prior blog post, and in a subsequent op-ed which recently ran in the Baltimore Sun.  I’m certainly flattered to have drawn a rebuttal from one of the MDGOP’s barons. In any event, these are organic and not contrived concerns resulting from the disconnect which exists between party regulars and grassroots activists.  Unless the MDGOP addresses them directly and honestly, they will remain.

Ellen Says: “We need seasoned leadership and experience and we must fully embrace new activists,  new energy, and new ideas  if we are to turn around the declining trajectory of the Maryland Republican Party...”

My Take: No argument from me there. Indeed, I give Ellen credit for offering a sanguine view of the MDGOP's political fortunes.

This contrasts with the fanciful account presented by Louis Pope, who in his recent letter writes: 

“After all the harsh and nasty emails and comments by some in our Party I feel terrible to have put Diana in such an awkward position, over the last three years she has been a driving force on the success of the Maryland Republican Party. She has given of her time, talented, and her own financial resources to keep our Party strong and vibrant…”

Um, let me review modern history:

2006: Bob Ehrlich loses.

2008: Andy Harris loses as John McCain carries his district by 19 points.

2010: Bob Ehrlich loses by a bigger margin than he did in 2006.

2012: The GOP loses one of its two remaining members of Congress, and is badly beaten on the ballot questions.

Exactly what “success” is Louis Pope referring to?

Ellen Says:Diana Waterman has shown me both.    For the past few years, she has worked tirelessly on campaigns and party building activity.    Showing up counts for something and Diana seems to be everywhere.  Being State Party Chairman is hard and often thankless work. I believe  Diana is prepared to put the time and energy into the job.”

My Take: Woody Allen famously said that, “Half of life is just showing up.” I’m not sure that is the primary characteristic people want in a party chairman. Vision matters as well. Based on Mrs. Waterman’s performance at the Montgomery County chairman’s debate I attended, she appears to be a caretaker for the party’s status quo. In other words, she’s an Aaron, not a Moses.

Ellen Says:I share the concern that our party has failed to fully embrace groups like the Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty,  that are a source of highly motivated, dedicated, and often young volunteers.”

My Take: The rules changes adopted at the GOP convention in Tampa last summer are a major reason the groups Ellen mentions feel alienated towards the party regulars. Diana Waterman served on the Convention Rules Committee alongside Louis Pope.  Yet she has never publicly disclosed exactly what her role was with respect to the rules changes.

Ellen Says:I support Diane’s (sic) candidacy and will do what I can to help her and the party succeed.”

My Take: If you’re taking the time to endorse someone, one would hope you’d at least get the person’s name right in the endorsement.

Anyway, reading Mrs. Sauerbrey’s missive makes me wonder when other past GOP luminaries will weigh in on the chairman's race as well.  

Rest assured that, should Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele, Roscoe Bartlett, Charles “Mac” Mathias, or the Teds (McKeldin and Agnew) opine, I’ll letcha know.