Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts on John Leopold

Convicted Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold is an Abraham Lincoln fan, though I’m not sure if fandom is even the right concept. It’s more like a fetish. Anyone who’s seen the picture of him dressed in goofy Lincoln attire – complete with a frock coat, stovepipe hat, and a fake beard that makes him look more like C. Everett Koop in mourning attire than the nation’s 16th president – knows what I’m talking about.

Still, I have to wonder…if Lincoln’s enduring nickname is “Honest Abe,” what will the disgraced former county executive’s nickname be?

I’ve got it: Ol’ Pissbags.

There have been plenty of political scandals in recent Maryland history. We’ve had vice presidents taking bribes in the West Wing of the White House.  We’ve had people stuffing cash in bras and using state money to buy wedding gowns. We had a city comptroller who stole $25,000 from the city coffers she was elected to manage in order to finance her daughter’s hair stylist ambitions. And, of course, there was my own personal favorite: the robocall scandal.

But nothing quite as crass or low-rent as Leopold's pissbag politics. Think about it. County workers changing catheters? Sexagenarian mall parking lot sex? Vandalized yard signs? Police officers buffering one Leopold squeeze from another?

As Mike Tyson said in The Hangover, “Who does this sh*t, man?”

But in addition to the salacious, the Leopold saga had sinister elements as well. As I blogged a while ago, using the Anne Arundel County police to compile dossiers on political enemies is nothing to snicker about. Predictably, media coverage of the Leopold trial focused more on the tawdrier disclosures. But, from my perspective, this misuse of the police is the most serious, and dangerous, of Leopold’s misdeeds.

As for the rest of it, at times I had a hard time delineating the tacky from the illegal. So did the judge in the case, apparently. He acquitted Leopold on two charges involving clearly inappropriate behavior, and convicted him on two others.

Anyway, it looks like Leopold is headed for the door, as the Anne Arundel County Council is expected to vote to remove him from office when it meets next Monday. And, of course, Leopold awaits sentencing.

So what are the takeaways from the Leopold affair?

Well, elected officials – especially Republicans – need to conduct themselves in a manner beyond reproach.

I have always had mixed feelings about Leopold. While his electoral success was impressive, his behavior towards women was not.  Once he had a friend of mine – a statuesque blonde – cornered at a fundraiser, and I had to swoop in and rescue her. On another occasion, he pestered another friend of mine – an attractive brunette – in the State House.

When he ascended to county executive, one would have hoped he would have curbed these inappropriate behaviors. Clearly he did not, and it became his undoing.

Credible GOP candidates for statewide office are hard to come by. Republicans who make it to county executive automatically make that list. Indeed, many observers – including myself – speculated about a possible Leopold gubernatorial bid not long ago.

Through his own misdeeds, Leopold not only squandered his own future and reputation, he deprived an already floundering minority party an opportunity to hold the majority accountable.

Could he have won a gubernatorial race? I doubt it. But, the Democrats would have taken him more seriously than the GOP’s usual “red shirt” candidates (I mean that in the Star Trek sense of the term).

So, another promising political figure flames out, people’s cynicism about their elected leaders hardens (especially in light of the recent sagas involving Senator Ulysses Currie and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson), Republicans are deprived of another credible candidate for statewide office, and the majority party continues to run amok.

Sounds to me like everyone loses.

Friday, January 11, 2013

So Where Do I Send Flowers?

So, I took a bit of a blogger’s sabbatical for the past month or so. A very busy December, along with my private pessimistic musings as to where Maryland’s minority party can go from here, tamped down my enthusiasm for opining for a while.

But, I’m back. And I think I have a fun tidbit for you with which to kick off a new year of blogging, as well as the just-convened session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Now, I’m sure some people won’t be happy that I chose to shine a light on this incident. They’ll call me snarky and immature. But no one has even accused me of doing the mature thing before, so I can live with these disapprovals.

Yesterday, the House of Delegates convened on its second full day of business, and – as is customary – reflected back on some of the former members of the body who passed away in 2012.

Delegate Keiffer Mitchell spoke warmly of his uncle, the late State Senator Clarence M. Mitchell III. Republican Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell eulogized former Delegate and Democratic Majority Leader Ken Masters. And Delegate John A. Olszewski, Jr. had nice things to say about former Baltimore County GOP State Senator Robert Stroble.

In keeping with the bipartisan spirit of these tributes, Olszewski welcomed Delegate Wade Kach – a onetime ally of Stroble – to share his reminiscences about the late senator as well.

That was when things got a bit wonky.

I’m very familiar with Delegate Kach. He was one of our state representatives for much of the time my family and I lived in northern Baltimore County. I think I was 8 years old on the day he was first elected to the legislature in 1974. While he’s perhaps too understated to be considered an institution, he’s become like a comfy, re-electable old shoe to many people in northern Baltimore County.

So, the cringe factor was palpable when this comfy old shoe stepped onto the floor of Maryland House of Delegates and begun his eulogy by saying, “It was my honor to serve with Bob Ehrlich as my state senator for eight years.”

(Click here to access the link for yourself. The sequence in question starts at almost exactly the 53 minute mark of the January 10th link).

Um, excuse me? Bob Ehrlich?!

Granted the man doesn’t get as much attention as he used to, but I’m pretty sure he’s still alive – physically at least, if not politically.

I’m guessing I would have heard if some awful tragedy befell the man (something I certainly would never want to see happen). Minimally, at least one certain friend /political cohort of mine and I would be getting calls helpfully advising us not to attend the memorial service.

Kach eventually begins referencing “Bob Stroble” later in his remarks, but never actually corrects his Ehrlich reference. The episode made me flash back to that time in Congress when misinformed Majority Leader Dick Armey rushed to the House floor to announce the death of a still very much alive Bob Hope.

So what was going through Kach’s mind when he committed that gaffe?

Eastern Baltimore County Democratic Delegate Eric Bromwell displayed generosity when explaining Kach’s comments. In a Facebook posting, he stated, “He made a mistake when speaking of former House colleague, Bob Stroble who passed away in 2012. When you've had as long and distinguished a career as Delegate Wade Kach, I'm more inclined to forgive him for an obvious slip of the tongue.”  (Technically Kach and Stroble were never “House colleagues,” as the latter began serving in the Senate on the same day the former started in the House.)

Former GOP Delegate Don Murphy responded: “Wasn’t Wade there when George Washington resigned his commission???”

Look, I’m sure that Delegate Kach didn’t mean to pronounce former Governor Ehrlich dead. These kinds of things happen in politics. Just ask Joe Biden, who infamously asked a paraplegic former state senator to “stand up.”

But gaffes are also the kind of thing that brings a politico unwanted attention.

Delegate Kach, who angered a lot of his conservative constituents by flip-flopping on the gay marriage bill last session, already learned that lesson the hard way. While I have no quarrel with Kach’s ultimate position on that issue, the way he handled it left a lot of people scratching their heads – and asking questions.

It strikes me as ironic that a state delegate who has spent the past 38 years in Annapolis simply trying to blend in and not be noticed, seems to suddenly be stumbling into all this unwanted attention.

It’s also ironic that Kach – arguably a relic of a bygone era in Maryland politics – inadvertently paid tribute to Ehrlich, another politician whose ambitions are dead and buried.

Kach has been mentioned as a possible opponent to State Senator Jim Brochin, whose once Towson-centric district was redrawn to include more GOP-leaning precincts. The cagey Brochin has a history of crossover appeal to Republicans, and of avoiding dumb mistakes.

If Kach tried to extend his political career into its fifth decade by taking on Brochin, he may find that he won’t be the one delivering the political eulogy next time. He’ll be receiving it.