June 10, 2019 — The good news for Marylanders is that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan isn’t running for president against Donald Trump in 2020. He doesn’t have to take time away from his duties in the Free State over the next year.
But here’s the bad news: Hogan is positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2024.
It means that virtually everything Hogan does as governor over the next three years will be colored by his quest for the crown jewel of American politics. And if Hogan seriously contests the 2024 Republican nomination, he’ll have to tilt sharply to the right, despite governing in a left-leaning state.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan
Hogan is presenting himself as a Republican centrist in an era where the political center in American politics is disappearing. He’s anticipating that a post-Trump Republican Party will cease its hard-edged social agenda and hyper-nationalism, returning to political norms of yore.
Good luck on that one.
Trump has re-made the GOP in his image. That’s not likely to change even if he leaves the White House after next year. Trump will not fade quietly away. He will still try to dominate the daily political conversation from Trump Tower.
Hogan’s opposition and at times hostility toward Trump’s statements and agenda won’t win him many friends in Trump-friendly state primaries.
Still, Hogan intends to try to duplicate the formula that won him a surprising gubernatorial victory in 2014, and then reelection. He’s starting a national political advocacy group, An America United, with the utopian goal of winning the presidency by promoting “bipartisan, common-sense solutions.”
He employed a similar strategy in Maryland by way of Change Maryland to rally support well before the actual campaign for his loud anti-tax, anti-establishment themes. He played his cards perfectly as the “change agent” in 2014 — pre-dating Trump’s similar positioning two years later.
Hogan also will use his coming chairmanship of the National Governors Association to push for agenda items where Democratic and Republican state leaders can agree — and he can take credit. But governors rarely are on the same political page as their counterparts in Washington, who generate all the headlines.
When Hogan hinted repeatedly earlier this year about taking on Trump in the 2020 primaries, it promised to taint his actions during the next General Assembly session. He also would have become an absentee governor, spending huge blocks of time visiting key primary states.
Those same problems could crop up toward the end of Hogan’s present term. The governor will be visiting primary states more and more often. And if he’s serious about a presidential run, he’s got to move decidedly to the right on issues. Right now, he’s way to the left of the party’s hard-core, conservative center.
Yet that would create increasing friction and bad blood between Hogan and liberal Democratic leaders in the General Assembly.
There could be far less “bi-partisan, common-sense” deal-making with Democrats and more tough conservative rhetoric in opposing Annapolis’s growing liberalism.
Rants and Grumbles
Given the veto-proof majority Democrats hold in the General Assembly, Hogan is virtually powerless to stem that liberal tide.
All he can do is rant and grumble about the “out-of-touch, far-left politicians” — as he did last week before his conservative supporters at the pro-business Maryland Free Enterprise Foundation (formerly MBRG — Maryland Business for Responsive Government).
He did a lot more grumbling in a testy Board of Public Works meeting where Hogan’s anger got the better of him when the state treasurer and local Montgomery County leaders strongly opposed his massive $11 billion toll-road project.
This governor doesn’t like to have his decisions questioned.
Time of Testing
Hogan’s next three years could test his ability to keep his nasty moments under control.
A landmark, $3.8 billion boost in education aid is already drawing angry words from the governor, since it will involve significant tax increases. He’s certain to harshly denounce efforts by Democrats on this front, despite public support for better schools.
Hogan also is far from the finish line on his mind-boggling toll-road proposal. If he’s aggravated by the local opposition to date, wait till foes in Montgomery County get fully engaged. As Al Jolson used to say, “Folks, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Can Hogan parlay this mixed bag into a winning run for the White House down the road? The odds are stacked heavily against him. But he’s used to long odds — and he apparently is determined to start laying the groundwork for a presidential bid five years from now .
May 30, 2019 — Gov. Larry Hogan has set the stage for future confrontations over two Maryland education issues. Either could blow up in his face if he’s not careful.
First, he signaled that he is unwilling to work with state legislators and the Kirwan Commission on finding vast new revenue sources to dramatically improve the state’s public schools.
Then he pretty much looked the other way when his allies in Baltimore County deposed the current school chief in secretive meetings and a quick vote. Meanwhile, two other Hogan boosters went on unconscionable racist rants about the school system’s top educators.
These issues could haunt Hogan in his remaining years in office.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan
There’s irony here, since Hogan regularly takes credit for “record” education spending — even though he’s merely abiding by state funding mandates that require him to spend more on schools annually.
On the other hand he refused to put his signature on a new law requiring a huge, new outlay of state funds to bring Maryland schools into the 21st century of public education.
He railed about the law’s lack of accountability on how that money would be spent.
And he rightly condemned the failure of lawmakers to say how they intend to pay for those costly education programs and services.
His concerns are on point.
But standing on the outside taking shots at expensive education reforms is a pointless exercise when you lack the votes to win your argument.
Hogan will score rhetorical points and cheers from Republican conservatives for lambasting Democrats as they struggle to find acceptable funding sources.
Yet a true “education governor” would roll up his sleeves, temper his headline-grabbing criticisms and work with lawmakers to moderate Kirwan Commission spending demands and thus moderate tax increases.
This clash between Hogan and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly could last until he leaves office. It might get nasty, too — unless Hogan decides to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
The governor’s other headache, in Baltimore County, is a self-created nightmare.
He’s the one who put strong-willed conservative allies on the county’s education board. They now are in position to micro-manage the school system if — and there’s a big “if” here — the newly appointed superintendent, Darryl Williams, meekly accedes to the board’s agenda.
Another flashpoint could come if ousted Superintendent Verletta White, who was rudely thrust aside by Hogan’s school board majority, decides to end her career by spending the next year as the county school system’s chief academic officer. (She can do this under terms of her contract.)
That would set the stage for bitterly fractious school board meetings, disputes with the new superintendent and louder dissent from the teachers’ union and PTO representatives.
Making matters far worse were the terribly offensive remarks from two Hogan cheerleaders, Republican Del. Robin Grammer and Republican School Board Nominating Commission member Michael Darenberg, who equated incumbent school officials with criminals and did so in clearly racist ways.
Darenberg, a Hogan appointee, has said school officials are “raping our schools” and that the system is chock full of criminals.
Like a good acolyte of Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his Red Scare hoax, Darenberg failed to name any of his alleged school-system miscreants. In other words he’s got nothing to back up his hateful assertions.
Grammer, meanwhile, responded to Darenberg’s offensive comments by egging him on, stating that offending school officials — again unnamed — should be lynched in full public view. The ugly racism of his remark was widely condemned as “hateful” and “dangerous.”
Yet all Hogan would say is that the conservative Republican’s words were “not constructive or appropriate.” In other words, a teensy tap on the delegate’s wrist.
This comes only months after a Democratic delegate from Harford County was virtually excommunicated from the House of Delegates by Democratic leaders for her racist comments in an Annapolis bar.
Yet Hogan shows no desire to take equally strong steps against Grammer or Darenberg.
Under the Microscope
The Republican governor’s actions will be closely watched by State House Democrats. Failure to crack down on viciously hateful and pointedly racist comments by members of his own party could lead to more ill will and hard times for Hogan in dealing with the General Assembly.
The governor is dealing with an exceptionally liberal Democratic majority in Annapolis that is hyper-sensitive to comments or actions loaded with racial overtones.
That same Democratic majority also is determined to put the Kirwan Commission’s sweeping education reforms in place over the next decade — with or without Hogan’s help.
This is the new reality in Maryland’s State House.
If Hogan ignores the overt racism of fellow Republicans, he invites a sharp public and legislative rebuke.
And if he ignores the growing public demand for heightened education spending, Hogan invites even more fiery fights with the General Assembly, fights in which the term-limited Republican has few high cards to play.
March 11, 2019 — It’s been fascinating watching Peter Franchot’s career path in Annapolis. He’s changed his political colors so many times in the past two decades, he’d make a chameleon blush.
Then again, maybe he hasn’t.
Franchot’s long career as a far-left liberal Democrat (20 years), representing the socialist-leaning community of Takoma Park in the Maryland House of Delegates, ended when he won an upset victory for state comptroller in 2006.
He lucked out when incumbent William Donald Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens got into a terrible name-calling contest, leaving Franchot as the only professed adult in the room He won by less than 15,000 votes in the all-important Democratic primary gaining just 36% of ballots cast.
As comptroller, Democrat Franchot has jumped ship, steering so far to the right he’s now best buddies with conservative Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot
He regularly castigates liberals in the General Assembly and relishes the chance to beat up on public school officials from Democratic Baltimore County and liberal Baltimore City.
Anything to grab the headlines.
Meanwhile, he has used his elective statewide office to launch daily public relations campaigns touting his every move around the state, creating phony citizen awards and other artificial devices to enhance his image as a friend of the people.
He upped the ante over the past few years, essentially declaring war on Democrats in the legislature who dare disagree with him. His vituperative broadsides accuse state lawmakers of corruption and rigging the system against the little guy — like himself (though his background smacks of blue-blood, not blue-collar).
He has cozied up to the craft brewing industry, becoming a shill for this group and accusing any legislator who disagrees of being un-American and in the pockets of big-time corporate brewers.
No wonder legislative knives are out to slash Franchot’s responsibilities as comptroller.
He’s acting so unhinged few can grasp if it’s all part of a Grand Plan to set himself up for a gubernatorial race as a unrestrained populist (part Bernie Sanders, part Larry Hogan) or if he’s simply enraptured by his runaway narcissism.
Peter Franchot has come a long way from his initial days in the General Assembly. He’s no longer the voice of ultra-liberalism, such as campaigning for the elimination of nuclear weapons — a key issue when he represented the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.
Instead, he’s an over-the-top enthusiast for a broader range of populist causes, including conservative fiscal issues that are sharply at odds with traditional liberal ideals.
As comptroller, Franchot is in an enviable position of having almost no role in determining government policies and direction. His office collects taxes. He sits on the Board of Public Works and the state pension board. He enforces alcohol laws. That’s about it.
Like his most colorful predecessor, the hyper-optimistic Louie Goldstein, who held the office a remarkable 40 years, Franchot has the luxury of a State Trooper to drive him all over the state so he can deliver feel-good speeches and present himself as a government official who is a friend to all — a perfect launching pad for higher office.
He’s being castigated as a turncoat to the Democratic Party, but his initial race for elective office shows Franchot may not have changed as much as his critics think.
The First Campaign
Back in 1986, Franchot ran a surprisingly strong race for House of Delegates via a relentless door-knocking and direct-mail effort fueled by loads of out-of-state money. He outdistanced three establishment candidates by nearly 1,000 votes.
It was an out-and-out common-man campaign. His campaign slogan? “Peter Franchot: His Only Special Interest is You.” (His critics today would modify that to indicate Franchot’s only special interest is self-promotion.)
In 1986, he ran ads with the headline, “Isn’t it time someone stood up to the banks?” Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would have given him a standing ovation back then. Today, Franchot is picking on the giant national breweries, rather than the banks, as his latest Evil Empire target.
During that first campaign, Franchot railed against special-interest lobbyists, whom he said controlled Annapolis. Today, he’s on a crusade to spread the fake-news message Democratic lawmakers, from the presiding officers on down, are in the pockets of those same special interests.
He said in 1986 he had “the know-how to stand up to the lobbyists” congregating outside the State House legislative chambers. He said he’d go after the banking and insurance industries as a delegate. There’s scant evidence he moved the mountain much, if at all.
According to the “1987 Yearbook of MD Legislators.” Franchot strongly favored easy-to-support issues such as higher teacher salaries, “the need to rid our schools of drugs and restore discipline in the classroom” and doubling spending on drug and alcohol abuse treatment. He also championed mandatory sentences, without parole, for drug dealers. Today, that posture is anathema to the Democratic left, especially in his old neo-socialist delegate district.
It’s clear Franchot, like many eager-to-please politicians, always has tried to embrace the popular, crowd-pleasing issues of the day.
Now he sees a chance to widen his support to include conservatives who lionize Hogan and President Trump while at the same time maintaining his image as a fighter for the common folk of Maryland who are ignored by all those corrupt politicians running Annapolis.
A chameleon? Of a different sort. A turncoat? It sure looks that way. If Franchot had his druthers, he’s probably start a new political movement that knows no left-right boundaries — the Populist Party of America.
Feb. 13, 2019 — What’s best politically for Gov. Larry Hogan and Republicans may not be best for Maryland school children educationally. But in this case, Hogan & Co. see gold to be mined in the 2020 elections. Generating sympathetic voters for the GOP — by championing post-Labor Day school-year starts and early finishes — must come first.
That explains the state Senate’s party-line vote in Annapolis to approve a Democratic bill that strips Hogan and state educators of their power to set the school calendar for local education boards.
Three years ago, Hogan issued an executive order overturning local decisions to start the school year prior to Labor Day or to finish the school year after June 15.
Why? To mollify Hogan’s conservative business supporters, primarily in Ocean City. They have trouble filling low-wage, temporary jobs at the start of summer tourist season when kids are still in classrooms.
Hogan also did it to win cheers from parents who enjoy a final summer family vacation around Labor Day weekend.
Hey, helping businesses at the Shore is far more important than classroom instruction, don’t you know? It’s the American way. So is favoring another vacation over an early start to classes. Who needs those early school days, anyway?
This became a popular selling point for Hogan and Republican at the polls.
Unfortunately, Hogan’s effort to politicize the issue for short-term gain hides a far more pressing point that lies at the heart of American governance — local control of local affairs.
Hogan’s effort to seize power of every jurisdiction’s school calendar runs counter to that tradition.
A one-size-fits-all beginning-and-end point doesn’t work.
Local school boards know what’s best for students in Worchester County or Garrett County, which are heavily dependent upon the tourist trade — and that is quite different from the needs and desires of parents and educators in Montgomery County or Baltimore County.
Annapolis bureaucrats, elected leaders and appointees should keep hands off.
If local folks strongly disagree with a school board’s decision to initiate a late-August start or a late-June finish, they have ample ways to force change. An inflexible edict coming from the State House second floor subverts local autonomy.
Climate change already is testing the limits of Hogan’s rigid box for the school year. For instance, Howard County has exhausted its snow days. It was forced to cancel Monday’s Presidents Day off for students (Baltimore City did, too). Howard schools now will conclude their year June 21 — a week later than Hogan’s mandatory end-date.
What happens next week, when another strong snow system is expected to hit the mid-Atlantic states? Weather could make a mess of Hogan’s school-year folly.
Fewer Days Off?
Then there’s the religious holidays issue. Minority-majority counties feel a need to recognize some of these groups’ major religious days. Smaller, more homogeneous counties don’t feel the same pressure from parents.
Other counties with large Jewish populations want to allow for days off during that group’s most sacred holy days in the fall.
Add that on top of essential days off for mid-year teacher training sessions and Christmas-time and Easter-time breaks. All of a sudden, finding 180 school days within Hogan’s tightly squeezed calendar doesn’t work.
The main strike against Hogan’s political ploy, though, is a traditional Republican theme — local folks should decide local issues. In this case, the county or city school board should vote on what is in the best interests of educators, parents and children within that jurisdiction.
What Comes Next
Hogan’s executive order was a blatant power play to consolidate his power and win cheers from vacation-loving parents and tourism business owners. No wonder the Democratic-controlled state Senate voted heavily to overturn it. The House almost certainly will follow suit.
Hogan, in turn, will continue to grandstand with his own self-interest bill — which will go nowhere. Then he will veto the local school-control bill passed by the legislature, which in turn will be easily overturned on a party-line vote.
Next, Hogan will lead a highly politicized petition drive to reverse the legislature’s will. (His heavy-handed propaganda pitch already has started.) The petition will gather sufficient signatures and go on the 2020 general election ballot.
The referendum is likely to win at the polls, helping the Republican Party solidify and possibly expand its base.
That’s the endgame for Hogan & Co. Education is totally irrelevant to them in this brouhaha
Jan. 29, 2019 — Gov. Larry Hogan says he’ll propose a “major tax cut” when he delivers his fifth State of the State Address in Annapolis on Wednesday. Guess he isn’t expecting a recession or worrying about Maryland’s projected $5 billion structural budget deficit over the next five years.
As is always the case, the proverbial devil is in the details of Hogan’s soon-to-be-announced tax-reduction plan. Give him the benefit of the doubt until all the specifics are unveiled as to how he intends to pull off this elusive feat.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan
If, indeed, Hogan is suggesting a “major” tax lowering, it would have a “major” negative impact on Maryland’s tax revenues.
In good years, that might be manageable. But during economic downturns, the loss of tax dollars creates a double-whammy — less money flowing in, more demand for state aid to help those harmed by a recession.
At the moment, Hogan’s nationally televised statement that he wants to launch a tax-cut crusade strikes a discordant note.
Maryland tax coffers took a heavy hit from the five-week federal government shutdown orchestrated by President Trump. The full impact has yet to be calculated, but it will widen Maryland’s existing $62 million structural deficit in Hogan’s budget for the next fiscal year.
The nation’s volatile economy has analysts nervous. One model predicts a recession would shrink Maryland’s tax revenues $1.6 billion over the next five years, while the state would spend an extra $700 million to help low- and middle-income people hurt by a recession.
The specter of a “major” tax cut could pose significant risks under those circumstances.
As the Department of Legislative Services noted in a recent fiscal report to state lawmakers: “Respected economic forecasters are predicting a mild recession will occur in calendar 2020 or 2021. Even a mild recession would reduce State revenues by $200 million or more annually for a multi-year period and increase demands for entitlement programs.”
Keep in mind, Hogan’s own forecast calls for a budget shortfall in fiscal 2020-2021 of $900 million, $1.8 billion the next year, $2 billion in 2022-2023 and $2.2 billion the following year.
Under these circumstances, how do you make room for a “major” tax cut?
Hogan will have to provide a persuasive answer if he expects to win approval from what is likely to be a skeptical General Assembly.
Heading in Different Directions
Up until now, Hogan and Democratic lawmakers have ironed out most of their differences. That isn’t likely to happen this time.
The Republican governor is a dedicated tax-cutter. He want to gain a national reputation in that regard. How better to achieve this goal than to propose a “major” lowering of Maryland taxes?
Senate and House Democrats in the State House have their own budget plans that directly clash with Hogan’s.
They want to find at least $4 billion in new money to lift Maryland public schools to world-class status, as recommended by the Kirwan Commission. They have a long list of other spending initiatives, too. Tax cuts aren’t on that list, but tax increases lurk in the background.
Reconciling these polar-opposite approaches may be hopelessly beyond resolution.
‘Must View’ Speech
Hogan certainly has drawn attention to Wednesday’s State of the State Address. Maybe that’s his intent. He’s sure to get a standing ovation for his “major” tax cut from Republicans in the House chamber, and perhaps even some national media coverage.
But Democrats, who hold a top-heavy majority in both houses, may not be receptive — especially with state tax receipts taking a hit from the federal shutdown and worries mounting about what a recession might do to state programs.
Adding a big tax cut to that unhealthy mix may not strike lawmakers as a step in the right direction.
Jan. 13, 2019 — Maryland Senate President Mike Miller’s surprise announcement that he is battling metastatic prostate cancer unsettled an extraordinarily settled situation in the Annapolis State House.
Senate President Mike Miller
Future leadership of the state Senate, where Miller has ruled since 1987, is now up for discussion. Whether he steps down this session, next year or the year after, Senate Democrats will start judging potential successors.
Ordinarily, the line of succession would be fairly obvious. For as long as anyone can remember, the top Senate post has been won by a committee chairman with years of experience shepherding bills through the laborious legislative process, finding consensus and middle ground on hot-button issues and engendering good will throughout the chamber.
Next time will be different.
Few expected Miller, a rock of stability over the decades, to show signs of mortality. He’s been a dominant force for moderation and common-sense legislation for so long senators came to rely on him to find a way to navigate through highly divisive times.
No Logical Successor
No one is primed to succeed Miller. Retirement and an election defeat robbed the Senate of the most likely contenders — Ed Kasemeyer of Howard County and Mac Middleton of Charles County — moderates who chaired the chamber’s money committees with skill and tact.
Who will rise to the top during the current session? At this stage it’s an open question. No one has an edge.
Sen. Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee but has run into considerable flak for trying to tone down high-profile bills pushed by far-left Democratic activists. This is his 25th year in the General Assembly. He knows the terrain but does he have enough friends and allies in the Democratic Caucus to win a majority?
Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery County is starting her 17th year in Annapolis and her first chairing the all-important Budget and Taxation Committee. It’s a big responsibility. If she performs well, it could put King in the race, given strong support from the big Montgomery County delegation. Vying to become the state’s first female Senate president would be a plus.
Sen. Guy Guzzone of Howard County hasn’t been in Annapolis as long — 12 years — but he also served eight year on the Howard County Council. He’s impressed during his single Senate term as a solid consensus-builder, sensible progressive and team player. Hailing from midway between Baltimore and Washington helps his status as a neutral bridge-builder. (This has been a key asset in the selection of other Senate presidents — Louie Goldstein of Calvert County, Bill James of Harford County and Jim Clark of Howard County).
Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Sen. Paul Pinksy of Prince George’s County are starting their 33rd years in the General Assembly. Neither has been a Miller favorite but both have vast legislative experience and could emerge as stars during the current session.
Pinsky finally gets a shot at chairing a major committee — Education, Health and Environmental Affairs. He will manage some of the biggest bills of the session — implementing parts of the Kirwan Commission recommendations, devising a permanent fix for Maryland’s Obamacare program and protecting the Chesapeake Bay from Trump administration attempts to degrade environmental standards.
A major drag on a Pinsky candidacy could be his longtime, tied-at-the-waist relationship with and incessant advocacy for the state’s powerful teachers’ union.
As a Senate president candidate, Rosapepe could tout a wealth of progressive virtues — as a recognized fiscal expert, a former ambassador to Romania, a former regent of the University System of Maryland and a former vice-chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He’s sharp as a tack but can rub some legislators the wrong way. He could be called upon as chair of the Democratic Caucus to line up support for controversial bills if Miller reduces his role.
Sen. Kathy Klausmeier of Baltimore County is starting her 25th year in Annapolis but until now has never has been a major player. As luck would have it, Miller named her president pro tem last month, putting her in position to take over from the president when he isn’t feeling up to the task of leading chamber debates.
This is not an easy task. Klausmeier’s skill set may not be aligned with her new responsibilities. A good showing could put her in position to vie for the top spot as a compromise choice.
Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore City chairs the Finance Committee this session, another money panel that handles major legislation. It’s a tough group to manage but Kelley has proved her toughness over her 24 years in the Senate and as a dean and professor at Coppin State College. She could pick up support from African-American senators in a bid to become the legislature’s first black and first female presiding officer.
However, Kelley’s age, 82, might give some senators pause. Presiding over the Senate, building consensus among Democrats and negotiating with the House and governor makes this an arduous and taxing job.
Others could emerge from the pack this session or in the months following, such as Sen. Ron Young of Frederick, Baltimore City Sen. Bill Ferguson and Sen. Douglas J. J. Peters of Prince George’s County. But the list of contenders may not be much broader because roughly one-third of the chamber consists of newly elected members will little Annapolis experience.
One of the big unknowns is Mike Miller’s position on succession planning.
Will he focus on running the Senate as long as he is up to the task, while he lets the battle to succeed him play out on its own?
Or will he try to shape the succession debate and groom someone as his choice?
The latter is more likely, given Miller’s deep love and respect for the institution he has guided for so many years.
These are not ordinary times for the Maryland Senate. Much will depend on how Mike Miller responds to chemotherapy during this session and how his Senate colleagues behave if the Senate president isn’t around for long stretches to provide equilibrium and a steadying hand.
Jan. 7, 2019 — For someone who has campaigned since 2015 to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, it’s ironic Martin O’Malley received more publicity from ending his quest than during it.
Ex-Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley
The former two-term Maryland governor and two-term Baltimore mayor proved an embarrassing failure in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, receiving six-tenths of 1% of the equivalent delegate vote. He sensibly got out of the presidential race at that point.
But this humiliation didn’t deter our man from Baltimore. Since that dismal show of non-support, O’Malley has rolled through more than 30 states looking to re-ignite his fleeting presidential dreams. He never came close to lift-off.
So last Thursday, he wrote an op-ed piece for the Des Moines Register throwing his less-than-substantial backing to ex-Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and making a dash for the presidential primary exit door. “It’s time for a new generation of leadership,” he later said.
In recent decades, running for president has become a cottage industry for ex-governors and members of Congress with inflated opinions of their own self-worth as presidential timber.
For them, extended terms in elective office leads to hyper-inflation of their egos. Thus, the stampede to promote yourself endlessly for president — even if you don’t have a realistic chance.
In 2014, 17 Republican wannabes flooded onto debate stages, including a slew of non-heavyweight governors. On the Democratic side, O’Malley was one of four light-weight contenders — two ex-senators and a Harvard law professor — who held firm to the misconception they could grab the brass ring.
Joining the Crowd
This time around, the ego-run-amok brigade tops three dozen on the Democratic side. Among those delusional souls (not including legitimate candidates):
an ex-congressman from Maryland (John Delaney) and five other former or current U.S. representatives
a West Virginia state senator who is a former major in the U.S. Army;
an Atlanta state senator who narrowly lost her race for governor;
a 65-year-old artist, urban designer and documentary film producer;
another documentary film-maker, motivational speaker and peace activist who founded the Free Hugs Project;
a former college football coach (with a 7-15 record) who ran for president in 2012 and 2016;
a decorated retired admiral and chancellor of the University of Texas System;
a lawyer who founded a non-profit and wrote, “Smart People Should Build Things;”
a spiritual teacher and author who founded Project Angel Food, a food-delivery program;
the mayors or ex-mayors of South Bend, Ind., Los Angeles, Tallahassee, San Antonio and New Orleans;
a multiple world-champion professional boxer and boxing promoter;
a well-known film actress;
an even better-known film actor;
the CEO of Starbucks;
a hedge-fund billionaire and liberal activist;
a former U.S. attorney general;
a former secretary of state;
four current or former governors;
more than a half-dozen current U.S. senators
should we add Oprah???
Thank goodness Maryland’s primary won’t take place until the spring of 2020.
The early action in Iowa and New Hampshire will be a performance zoo: Candidate debates start this coming June and July, believe it or not. Everyone will get a chance to appear in this out-of-control talk-a-thon.
The boxer, the ex-football coach, the film actress and the spiritual teacher might end up on the same debate panel as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren!
Pity the poor Democratic voters in early-primary states faced with candidate overload.
No wonder O’Malley dropped out (again). He would have been lost in a crowd of ambitious liberals spouting visionary, but unrealistic, rhetoric to cheering crowds.
The Plus Side
Still, spending years on the presidential hustings has its benefits.
You can put this at the top of your resume.
It helps you nab visiting fellowships at prestigious universities where you get paid well to continue your campaign commentary in front of impressionable political science majors and post-grads.
There’s a good chance you can leverage your way onto business boards or part-time jobs with non-profits.
You get to write a book or two or three about your presidential campaign experiences where you once again lay out your plan for saving America.
You raise your speaking fee by a considerable amount, since groups pay a lot more to hear from a presidential campaigner — however poor the showing — than listen to a run-of-the-mill ex-governor.
As Baltimore mayor, O’Malley performed impressively. Yes, he was wrong on how to stamp out crime (the “broken windows” theory of policing works in the short-term but is destructive to society long-term). Overall, though, he proved a strong, energetic and innovative chief executive.
As Maryland governor, O’Malley got mixed reviews — but it wasn’t all his fault. He fought through the country’s worst economic downturn since the 1930s, kept the state’s safety-net programs intact and avoided painful budget cuts that would hurt people.
To accomplish this, however, he had to raise taxes. Lots of them.
That left such a bitter taste in voters’ mouths they elected a tax-cutter as governor in 2014.
Now Martin O’Malley faces important mid-life decisions. He’ll be 56 next week. He’s run twice for president (for reasons still not perfectly clear), served twice as governor, mayor and as a City Councilman.
What lies ahead? He seems to have exhausted the political possibilities. It may be time to settle into a comfortable lifestyle in Baltimore with his wife/judge. But the adrenaline of politics and office-holding can be addictive.
He’s no longer in the running for 2020. Yet somewhere in the future the O’Malley name may re-surface. The lure of the campaign feeds the ego.
Dec. 24, 2018 — What is $4.4 billion divided by 188?
William “Brit” Kirwan, the former math professor and respected university big wig, thought he knew the answer.
He didn’t come close — and learned last week he had flunked his course in applied political mathematics.
Former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan
Indeed. Kirwan’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has botched the job.
For two years, Kirwan allowed commission members to get lost in the education weeds designing a world-class learning environment for Maryland schools. The panel forgot the sine qua non of successful Annapolis advocacy — winning support from 188 delegates and senators who sit in judgment on your proposal.
Little attention was paid by panel members to basic political realities. Lawmakers detest raising taxes, even for education. There is zero consensus on the panel’s recommendations — except that its $4.4 billion increase in education aid is a non-starter.
The panel’s response? It cut the aid increase to a mere $3.8 billion, phased in over 10 years.
No wonder the top two legislative leaders ordered the commission back to the classroom to get their mathematical equations in line with the politics of Annapolis — not the wishes of education special interests.
For an experienced university administrator steeped in the ways of Annapolis, it came as a surprise that Kirwan would fail to recognize the shortcomings of his panel’s work.
It’s all well and good to spend two years studying the importance of universal pre-K and programs for three-year-olds, extra aid for impoverished school districts and for children with disabilities and a big boost in teacher pay and training.
But lawmakers aren’t about to blindly endorse such proposals without a significant “education” process that persuades them such costly steps are absolutely essential — and can be implemented without breaking state and local budgets.
Waiting till the last minute to patch together a funding plan made no sense. It should have been one of the first orders of business. A limit should have been placed on the cost of these reforms, too.
No wonder Gov. Larry Hogan flatly rejected the commission’s $4.4 billion price tag and the panel’s other recommendations.
The panel should spend much of the next nine months shaping portions of its plan in ways that win favor with Hogan. Otherwise, any classroom reform will be difficult to push through the State House in 2020.
Unanswered Local Questions
Commission members neglected another pivotal aspect: Super-costly school changes will run into strong opposition from leaders in many of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions forced to raise taxes to pay for them.
Are leaders of Baltimore County, which has not increased its income tax or property tax in a quarter-century, going to do cartwheels in support of the commission’s local spending mandates? Not likely given the tornado of opposition that will erupt from an angry, anti-tax voting public.
How can poor jurisdictions like Somerset County or Baltimore City find funds to raise their share of the $4.4 billion?
Will wealthy counties, like Montgomery and Howard, support a funding plan that sends a major share of the $4.4 billion to impoverished jurisdictions with failing schools?
Will lawmakers from wealthy counties oppose an education-related tax hike because they feel it short-changes their jurisdictions?
How do you reconcile Hogan’s desire to pour billions more only into new school buildings with the commission’s desire to pour billions more only into classrooms?
Finally, how in the world do you pay for this monster funding plan?
On the state level, there’s no desire to raise the sales tax or income tax, especially with a popular governor in adamant opposition. Maryland got itself in a boatload of trouble when lawmakers backed an earlier panel’s education aid plan (the Thornton Commission) without raising taxes to pay for it.
Realists or Idealists?
Now the Kirwan Commission faces an added danger: By the time the panel finishes its revised plan in September, the U.S. economy may hit the skids. Warning signs are everywhere that Maryland’s economic good times are slowly giving way to uncertain or even recessionary times. That could doom a reform plan with a ten-figure or a nine-figure price tag.
So Kirwan really has his work cut out for him.
Well-intended legislators, education reformers and interest groups created this commission. They gave little heed to the governor’s dagger-like remarks about the panel’s work. Commission members never proposed piecemeal reforms that were financially and politically palatable. They avoided confronting unpopular local funding issues. They never faced up to the heavy tax burden their reforms require in the State House — and the heavy resistance they will meet.
Kirwan now has additional time to get his commission members down from the clouds.
Are they willing to be realists and settle for far less than sweeping reforms?
Will they settle for incremental education progress?
Or will they remain idealists and dump a budget-busting plan in the laps of skeptical legislators and a fiscally conservative governor?
The commission’s hard work could end up gathering dust on a shelf in the state archives.
Brit Kirwan has to create a new lesson plan for his panelists, one that focuses on what’s practical and possible, not on meeting the unrealistic demands of education dreamers.
Dec. 11, 2018 –When Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the wife of Congressman Elijah Cummings, seized leadership of the Maryland Democratic Party, she bought herself a truckload of troubles.
Despite a lopsided Democratic voter-registration edge in Maryland, the party is badly fractured. The far-left urbanist progressive movement cannot see eye to eye with traditional Democratic moderates.
MD Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings
They take Sen. Bernie Sanders’ movement label seriously : “Our Revolution.” The problem is that most voters in Maryland don’t agree.
These voters are not asking for the sort of revolutionary government takeover free-spending liberals demand.
That was obvious in the November gubernatorial election. Democrats voted decisively to reject the Our Revolution movement symbolized by its party’s candidate for governor, Ben Jealous.
It wasn’t even close. Jealous lost by 12% to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Jealous won just four of Maryland’s 24 subdivisions.
It marked the second straight debacle for Democrats. In 2014, Lt. Gov Anthony Brown, expecting an easy coronation as a big-spending liberal, was soundly beaten by Hogan, 51-47%.
Note that the margin of victory for Republican Hogan grew mightily in 2018 — it tripled.
Most significantly, Hogan captured much of the state’s large suburban vote — often by giant margins. This should deeply trouble Rockeymoore Cummings.
Jealous lost Baltimore County by 75,000 votes, nearly 50% more than Hogan’s winning 2014 margin in this swing county. That’s a telling statement.
Jealous got clobbered in other suburban areas — 5-1 in Carroll County, 4-1 in Washington County, 3-1 in Harford, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, 2-1 in Frederick County,
Turning around this situation won’t be simple. Rockeymoore Cummings must synthesize two sharply contrast views of Democratic politics and somehow restore the party’s credibility with its suburban core.
She must also develop a game plan for making the party relevant in rural counties, areas where voters rightly feel they have been ignored and snubbed by the state’s urban-oriented party activists.
And she must somehow persuade movement Democrats that compromise is not a dirty word, and that moderate Democratic nominees fare far better than ideologically rigid pols in winning over voters statewide .
Left vs. the Center?
The problem is that among activist party members, Sanders’ quasi-socialist movement is dogma. Another $5 billion for schools? Okay. Another $30 billion for universal health care? No problem.
Yet as a group, Democratic voters in Maryland are centrists. Especially in the suburbs and beyond, there’s a strong strain of fiscal conservatism. These voters fear tax hikes and are wary of big-spenders. Moderation is their favored cup of tea.
The far-left points to Jealous’ primary election victory to show Our Revolution is now mainstream Democratic policy in Maryland. But that election was an aberration. Jealous got lucky: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz died just as his campaign was gaining traction; Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker never developed momentum; the primary vote was splintered eight difference ways.
The November general election showed just how skewed this primary outcome had been. Moderate and conservative Democrats as well as independents deserted Jealous, leaving him with one of the worst showings in Maryland Democratic Party history.
The limited reach of far-left activists also was seen in the 2016 primary for U.S. Senate between two members of Congress — outspoken union activist Donna Edwards and liberal-moderate mainstay Chris Van Hollen. Edwards got clobbered by 14%.
Moderate-to-conservative Democrats flocked to Van Hollen’s side by 2-1 margins or better in nearly all suburban counties. His winning margins were even greater in rural counties. Game, set and match to Van Hollen.
Message for New Chair
There’s a message here for Rockeymoore Cummings. Activists who want to exile Democratic officials because they deserted Jealous are misreading the election results. There’s a sound reason why Hogan did so well with Democratic voters: Jealous’ urban-oriented message was wildly out of touch with non-urban party voters.
Until the party’s left wing tempers its extreme policy demands of candidates, Democratic officials like Rockeymore Cummings will have a difficult time unifying the party.
Maryland remains a state of “middle temperament,” as Captain John Smith wrote during Colonial times. Ignoring that fact in choosing party nominees will doom Democrats to more embarrassing losses in statewide elections.
Nov. 17, 2018 — Now that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has appealed a lower-court decision on redistricting to the Supreme Court, we might get some straight answers to such questions as:
What does or does not constitute political gerrymandering that violates the Constitution?
What are the new rules when maps for congressional and state legislative districts are drawn?
How deeply will the high court embed itself in hundreds of redistricting disputes?
Will the justices put in place new guidelines across-the-board for all states to follow or issue limited rulings that keep gerrymandering in place everywhere elsewhere?
Gov. Larry Hogan sharply criticized Frosh for pursuing this appeal. It delays a prime Hogan objective — redrawing congressional boundaries in Maryland to give Republicans a decent chance of picking up one, two or even three seats in 2020 and 2022.But the appellate court decision to order a re-design of the 6th Congressional District was badly flawed. It lacked the clarity only the nation’s top court can deliver regarding a historically political — not judicial — process. For instance, we still don’t know the rule of thumb for determining if a district other than the Sixth has been excessively politicized.
These are complex and intricate questions the Supreme Court has avoided for decades. The fear is that judges may be intruding too heavily into political matters best left to legislators.
There is more than one re-districting controversy that could be decided by the high court next year.
North Carolina terribly gerrymandered Democrats so Republicans could win most of the state’s seats in Congress. In Maryland, Democrats are accused of gerrymandering Republicans in the 6th District so a Democrat would win that seat. Other grotesque map-drawing is being challenged in Wisconsin and Texas.
The high court’s biggest problem is deciding if it has the constitutional authority to ban politics from the re-districting process — and then coming up with a replacement. That’s what good-government groups want.
But is there really such a thing as an impartial, non-partisan re-drawing of political maps?
Everyone comes to the map-drawing table with pre-disposed biases, be they politicians, academics, statisticians or interest groups.
When does map-making cross the line into political overkill by one party? Should non-elected, “impartial” map-drawers be given powers that throughout this nation’s past have resided with governors and lawmakers?
The Spoils of Victory?
In the case of the 6th District, there’s no doubt former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Democratic legislators intentionally re-drew the lines to include many more Democrats in a strong Republican district. But is that really unconstitutional? Or simply political reality as expressed in Jacksonian days as “to the victors belong the spoils”?
Redrawing the 6th District won’t be as simple as the appeals court imagines with a liberal Democratic legislature and a conservative Republican governor.
Even worse, there’s no guarantee a new political map will meet court approval. Nor is it clear the appellate judges’ guidance to the state will be in line with what the Supreme Court finally decrees.
Each political party has engaged in atrocious map-drawing to maximize political advantage. In Maryland it is Democrats trying to contain Republican gains. In red states, it is Republicans distorting legislative maps to eliminate as many Democratic lawmakers as possible.
Ironically, in Maryland the court fight revolves around one of the least gerrymandered districts in the state. Districts represented by Democrats John Sarbanes, Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah Cummings are perversely disfigured. That’s where the true evils of gerrymandering lie.
Instead, we are arguing over a single, isolated Western Maryland district and how it can be altered to help elect a Republican in 2020. Since when did that political goal become a judicial imperative?
Politics from the Bench?
What happens if the state makes relatively simple changes (placing all of Frederick County in the district along with all of northern Montgomery County) so the Sixth is compact, respects county lines and natural boundaries — but still gives Democrats a slight edge?
Does the appeals court reject such a plan because a Republican isn’t guaranteed to win that congressional seat?
As it stands today, the 6th District is no slam-dunk for Democrats. The problem lies with the GOP, which has failed to field a strong candidate since 2014 — when the Dan Bongino lost by less than 3,000 votes.
No appeals court can fix that malady without engaging in its own form of political gerrymandering.
So Frosh’s decision to try to force definitive answers on redistricting from the Supreme Court is a common-sense move.
Yet he runs the risk that the new Republican majority on the high court might play politics rather than stick to interpreting the constitution.
The time has come for the high court to lay out, with clarity, the rules for designing the nation’s redistricting roads ahead of the 2020 Census. Frosh’s appeal may present the justices with a defining moment.