Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sun Endorses O'Malley

I imagine this is old news in Maryland by now as this endorsement came out on Sunday and it is now Tuesday morning here in Berlin. I imagine the Ehrlich campaign will spin the endorsement as part of the enduring enmity between the Gov and the Sun. Indeed, the Sun endorsing O'Malley does have almost all of the surprise of a headline which reads "Earth Still Going Around the Sun." However, the Sun did usefully lay out the case for O'Malley:

Putting aside the rhetorical excesses of what has been an extended, if not
particularly inspiring, gubernatorial race, voters must choose between an
incumbent with, at best, an uneven record and a challenger with a worthy agenda. Both men are intelligent, telegenic and ambitious. But we believe Martin
O'Malley, who has performed well in the difficult role of big-city mayor, is the
better choice to lead this state through the challenges that lie ahead.

In the next four years, Maryland is likely to face a return of $1
billion annual budget deficits. Issues of growth and development, the continued
degradation of the Chesapeake Bay , the quality of public schools, the region's congested roads and strained transit systems, the rising cost of health care and the future of the state's economy are of paramount concern. Such issues require a governor with vision who can work with the General Assembly and overcome what has devolved into a dysfunctional and contentious atmosphere in Annapolis .

Mr. O'Malley has demonstrated these leadership skills. When he was first elected mayor in 1999, the former two-term city councilman inherited a city of rising crime, failing schools and shrinking economic prospects. He was able to reverse course in all these areas. He made fighting crime and beefing up the Police Department a priority, and reduced the number of murders and other violent crimes. He helped rescue the school system from the financial brink. And even the most jaded critic would have to concede that the city's economy has leaped forward dramatically - from the expanding Inner Harbor and east-side biotechnology park to the growing list of reviving neighborhoods, such as Patterson Park and Reservoir Hill.

Of course, neither Mr. O'Malley nor anyone else can claim that the city's chronic problems are now solved. Far from it. There are still too many murders, too much poverty and too many failing students in the public schools to even contemplate such a notion. But the progress under the mayor's tenure is clear and irrefutable. He has demanded accountability to a degree that his predecessors did not - and his CitiStat tracking system has become a national model.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has fared less well running a government - despite having far greater power and resources available to him. Too often the former congressman has chosen to score a political point rather than make policy. His slots proposal was a mess, a poorly considered handout to racetrack owners that squandered the administration's political capital. He abandoned his own medical malpractice reform bill when lawmakers insisted it be adequately funded. That tactic kept him politically pure but cost physicians the legal reforms they had sought. And his failure to provide an adequate response to rising utility rates, to remove a less-than-inspiring Public Service Commission or to recognize the problems associated with a looming deregulation of the industry continues to be troublesome.

On too many fronts, from his refusal to endorse a state minimum wage to the rising tuition he forced on Maryland's public universities through budget cuts, Mr. Ehrlich has turned his back on issues important to the middle class. At times, he has not even seemed particularly engaged with the day-to-day demands of the job. And too many of his most noteworthy successes - the $1.4 billion Thornton funding boost to public education, the state's investment in embryonic stem cell research, and the Healthy Air Act curbs on power plant pollution, to name a few - were forced on him by the Democratic legislature.

The incumbent likes to boast that he "solved" the state budget deficit. But mostly, he has deferred the problem by raising fees and taxes to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually and by diverting money from the state's vital transportation and land conservation programs. His piecemeal approach to fiscal policies - and an upswing in the economic cycle - have only forestalled the effects of the continuing structural deficit.

The mayor is not without his faults. He has sometimes shown a tendency toward impatience and arrogance, characteristics that have not served him well. But he has also had to endure personal attacks through a rumor campaign that was traced to a member of the governor's inner circle. And Mr. Ehrlich's brand of testiness has proved far more problematic, particularly in his dealings with lawmakers and the press. When confronted with an embarrassing sale of land in St. Mary's County to a politically connected developer, his response was to blacklist a Sun reporter and columnist.

Mr. O'Malley and Prince George's County Del. Anthony G. Brown, his well-qualified choice for lieutenant governor who brings diversity and legislative experience to the ticket, have crafted a platform that promises reforms and new ideas. They have vowed to bolster public education and make college more affordable, improve the health care system, expand drug treatment, protect the environment, focus on the state's expanding knowledge-based economy, alleviate traffic gridlock and increase openness and accountability in state government. All are laudatory goals. Where the proposal falls short is Mr. O'Malley's opaqueness regarding how all of it might be financed beyond cost-cutting and efficiencies.

But at least the Democrats have a vision. Rather than outline any plans for state government in the next term, Mr. Ehrlich's campaign has been devoted primarily to portraying Baltimore as the seventh level of the netherworld. Such a stilted view of reality would be harmless enough if its underlying message were not so destructive.

Mr. Ehrlich wants voters to believe he would have accomplished much more if only the Democrats in the General Assembly had not thwarted him at every turn. But that's not much of an excuse for the inertia of the last four years. Governors from California to Virginia have overcome such political barriers. They show flexibility, build coalitions and strike compromises. Annapolis has never been about monolithic rule. Even under Democratic governors, it has always required balancing the interests of poor and wealthy, rural and urban, liberal and conservative. We have no reason to believe Mr. Ehrlich would address the state's neglected agenda. Mr. O'Malley can, and therefore merits our endorsement.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Reader Reports Push Polling for Steele

I received the following email:

I am a Baltimore, MD resident and I was just called by a computer-programmed push poll. I was asked whether I was voting for M. Steele (said not sure) or B.
Cardin (said not sure). The program went through a list of questions. Sorry, it
went to fast to write them all down, but when asked if the issue mattered to
me ("Does killing unborn babies for medical research bother you?") I always
responded yes. Each time afterI answered "Yes" to a question, the computer
said,"FACT:" and then things like, "Ben Cardin supports stem cell research which
kills unborn babies." or "FACT: Ben Cardin voted against an amendement
banning homosexual marriage." The topics I wrote down were abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. Itried a "not sure" for one question and it just went on to the next one, without saying anything against Cardin about that one item. At
the end of the poll I was asked who I was more likely to vote for, and toboth
candidates I said, "Not sure." and it hung up.The call claimed to be from the
group "Common Sense Maryland" which of course has NOTHING on Google. The phone number that called me was Virginia-based, 703-961-8297 and on caller ID it says, "P Research."
Let's hope that this is not part of Michael Steele's plan to change politics in Washington. Of course, his version of change seems to support the Bush Administration in lockstep but then to deny it when politically convenient. Mystery Pollster also reports hearing of push polling in Maryland.


Friday, October 27, 2006

On to Germany

This afternoon, I plan to voyage to Dulles Airport and brave the long and slow line at the United international counter, the fast-moving security conga line which runs the length of the airport, and the no longer quaint but just old mobile lounges to the midfield terminal, so I can fly to Germany to speak both southern politics and the upcoming midterm elections for the American Embassy.

I am hoping to post a bit from afar, so just think of me as your Berlin correspondent. Fortunately, soon-to-be Sen. Richard Madaleno has once again graciously agreed to pitch in and blog about Maryland in my absence. Thanks Rich!

The sad thing is I can remember when the mobile lounges were uber-cool state-of-the-art airport transportation instead of sardine cans with wheels. I await with great anticipation the opening of the underground subway that will whisk me to the terminals. Just as long as they don't call it the Purple Line.


Rally for O'Malley

Election Day is just around the corner. Campaign your heart out for the Democrats this weekend:

1. March in the Potomac Day Parade (9:30 - 11: 30 a.m. on Saturday Oct. 28th). Meet up Location is at River and Chapel Roads at 9:30 a.m.

2. District 18 is being targeted for lit. dropping this weekend on Saturday AND Sunday (Oct. 28th and 29th). Time: 10 a.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Meet up is at Bethesda Elementary School, 7600 Arlington Road in Bethesda. Great exercise and great for the Democrats.

3. Sunday, October 29th. Big Democratic Rally at Blair High School. Time: 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. 51 East University Blvd, Silver Spring. The Democratic State-Wide Candidates will be there along with many other elected officials.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Denis v. Berliner

I watched the rerun of the debate between incumbent Howard Denis (R) and challenger Roger Berliner (D), the two candidates for the District 1 (Bethesda-Chevy Chase-Potomac) Council seat. The debate was moderated by Charles Duffy and held in the Friendship Heights village hall. I didn't envy Duffy who had to summarize questions from the audience even as he attempted to moderate exchanges between these aggressive candidates.

Roger Berliner made party affiliation his central theme of the debate. Democrat that I am, I didn't find it terribly convincing. This election will determine whether there is one or no Republicans on the Montgomery County Council. Unlike in congressional races, Denny Hastert doesn't get to hold on to the Speaker's chair if Denis wins reelection. Denis also subtly was able to get across the idea that it hasn't hurt Montgomery to have someone able to talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill and Annapolis on local issues.

Denis surprised Berliner, who relentlessly attacked Denis for being a Republican, by bringing up that Berliner had donated $500 to Republican House Majority Leader Roy Blunt. Denis also effectively countered by pointing to his many endorsements from Democrats and from organizations that normally endorse Democrats, like Progressive Maryland, the Montgomery County Education Association, and anti-growth Neighbors for a Better Montgomery.

The major issue difference appeared to be over the Purple Line. Denis is opposed to building it next to the Georgetown Branch Trail while Berliner is willing to build it that way but will fight hard for more palatable version, though he somewhat undermined his own arguments when he accurately pointed out that the money for a below-ground version is unlikely to materialize even as he rightly argued for more public transit.

However, I think the primary election results suggest that opposing the Purple Line is more likely to be a voter winner in District 1. Action Committee for Transit, the pro-Purple Line group, had little success in the Democratic primary. The most ardent pro-Purple line politicians, Steve Silverman and Hans Reimer, both went down to defeat. Only one member of the District 18 legislative delegation, where ACT most aggressively campaigned, supports an above ground version of the Purple Line.

Still, Berliner is a Democrat is what is looking like a very good Democratic year. If I am not mistaken, I don't think Denis ever won a race for the State Senate or the Council by more than 55 percent in his whole career. Denis may need a good deal of luck to combine with his past hardwork and constituent service to return to the Council in 2007. Berliner continues to campaign aggressively and is not going to allow Denis to gently slide into reelection.


Snaps from Cyprus

Haven't had a chance to be bored by someone else's vacation photos lately? Well, now is your chance to catch up on all the ennui you've been missing.

I've posted photos from my trip to Cyprus and Slovenia to speak about the midterm elections for the State Department on my website. Of course, most people's vacation snaps don't include pictures of the buffer zone which divides Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus and the world's last divided city into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot halves.

Though it is now much easier to cross the buffer zone than when the island was divided violently in 1974, the barriers with barbed wire manned by the nice young men with machine guns remain. An entire resort strip of hotels just south of Famagusta along a gorgeous beach and the amazingly blue Mediterranean has remained eerily empty since their Greek Cypriot owners fled the arrival of the Turkish Army.

Despite the deep divisions, thousands upon thousands of Cypriots now cross the buffer zone easily without incident every year. A fair number of Turkish Cypriots now commute every day to work in the southern (i.e. Greek Cypriot) and richer part of the island. Many have renewed old acquaintances or at least finally gotten to visit their hometowns (and homes) to which they remain quite attached despite decades of separation. I met one Turkish Cypriot who now lives in Kyrenia who still pines for Limassol even though both Greek and Turkish Cypriots generally agree that Kyrenia is much more beautiful and her home is now gone.

Unlike the conflict in nearby Israel, the Cyprus problem seems unlikely to flare into a new war. While Turkish Cypriots composed around 18 percent of Cypriots in 1974, the Turkish Army occupied about 38 percent of the country. Greek Cypriots find this division unlawful and unjust but they have no real means of changing it. Neither the military of Cyprus or Greece is a match for that of Turkey.

The Greek Cypriot government hoped that the accession of Cyprus to the EU would enable it to place greater pressure on Turkey. While the EU now demands that Turkey open its ports to Greek Cypriot shipping, EU courts also would likely uphold the right of Turkish Cypriots to reclaim their property in the southern (Greek Cypriot) part of the island. The Greek Cypriot government recognizes the right of Turkish Cypriots to their property in theory (and, of course, that of Greek Cypriots in northern Cyprus). However, it has been reluctant to turn property back to Turkish Cypriot control. Of course, Greek Cypriots are also unable to claim or to return to their property in northern Cyprus.

Turkish and Greek Cypriots meet quite civally--I gave a talk to a bicommunal audience in the buffer zone--but the divisions remain very real. The separation of the two communities reminds me of "Two Solitudes", the title of a book about francophones and anglophones in Quebec. Both sides of the divided island are unmistakably stamped by the culture of their mainland co-ethnics. Streets in southern Nicosia are named for Apollo, Socrates, and Makarios, while the main roundabout in northern Nicosia is named for Ataturk.

One sees more Greek than Cypriot flags in southern Nicosia. The barricades on the southern side of the buffer zone are invariably painted in the blue and white stripes of the Greek flag. Indeed, a past Greek Cypriot President once referred to the Cypriot flag, a golden map of the island above olive leaves against a white background, as a flag that no one would ever die for. The flag of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized by no nation other than Turkey, is almost the inverse of the Turkish flag (a red crescent on white instead of a white crescent on red). In northern Cyprus, it is invariably flown with the Turkish flag.

One shouldn't get the idea that Cypriots are without commonalities. One thing Cypriots share is an incredible degree of kindness and hospitality. People who barely knew me at all went out of their way to take me out for a delicious meal and to show me more of their beautiful island, which is a shared passion of all Cypriots. I remain extremely grateful to all of them.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

So What Exit Did You Get Married At?

Maryland was once a destination state for couples seeking to get married without delay. However, gay couples could soon be heading up I-95 in the other direction. New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled that the Garden State must equalize benefits available to heterosexual or homosexual couples within 6 months.

The decision is equivalent in its essentials to the ruling of the Vermont court which resulted in that state becoming the first to create civil unions which are basically homosexual marriages by another name. The State of New Jersey must either (1) permit gay and lesbian couples to marry, (2) create "civil unions" and give the participants all the benefits of marriage other than the name, or (3) eliminate all the many benefits accruing to straight married couples (really unlikely).

The ruling contrasts sharply with the decisions of the New York and Washington State Supreme Courts which found no right to homosexual marriage in their state constitutions. Supporters of gay marriage naturally hope that it will influence Maryland's Court of Appeals which now faces the same question before our state's highest court.

However, the immediate consequence is that Karl Rove will use the decision as part of a desperate effort to get social conservatives to return to the Republican fold and vote yet again for the GOP despite the Foley scandal, Bush's campaign for a man who beats his mistress, and the resignation of several Republican members of Congress due to corruption.

Anyone have any thoughts on Molly Pitcher or Vince Lombardi as a wedding venue?


Post Endorses Ehrlich But Does It Matter?

The Washington Post, wrongly pilloried by Republicans as a Democratic organ somewhat to the left of Pravda, has endorsed Bob Ehrlich for as second term. I doubt that the editorial will save Ehrlich's flagging campaign. Here's why:

(1) Unlike their endorsement of Democrat Ben Cardin for the Senate, it is hardly a ringing endorsement. It contains plenty of criticism of the incumbent:

There have been disappointments and dithering during Mr. Ehrlich's term as well, mostly of his own making. Relishing battle and cherishing his status as a besieged underdog, he picked fights needlessly, as in the childish blacklisting of two journalists from the Baltimore Sun. Likewise, his tiresome quarrels with the leaders of the General Assembly look more like clashes of puffed-up egos than hard legislative bargaining. Mr. Ehrlich could be a more effective governor if he applied himself more to the mechanics of governing and less to the skewering of his enemies on talk radio.
Hardly a description that inspires passion among voters.

(2) While ultimately plumping for another term for Ehrlich, the editorial ironically refutes the central theme of Gov. Ehrlich's campaign in its description of Mayor Martin O'Malley:
Mr. O'Malley, who has run a carefully scripted campaign for governor, has put his plentiful ambition to good use in one of the toughest big-city mayor's jobs in the nation. He made progress in stanching Baltimore's outflow of population, reviving some of its more blighted neighborhoods, reducing its level of violent crime, and adapting corporate methods of efficiency and accountability to the functions of government. Mr. O'Malley did not solve the problems of rampant crime and rough schools in Baltimore, but he put a dent in them.
Certainly not the picture of an incompetent mayor painted by Ehrlich. Although it fails to give the many Democrats who populate the Washington suburbs a burning reason to defect from their party and vote for Ehrlich, the Post has removed any real doubts about O'Malley's ability to do the job.

(3) Endorsements matter more when they are issued far out from the election, in down ballot races, and in primaries. The Post has not given Ehrlich all that much time to capitalize on the endorsement and it is hardly so strong that he would want to reprint it in its entirety and send it to voters. At most, I predict a few carefully snipped quotes.

Unlike in many races for local or state office, voters have enough information to form their own opinions in gubernatorial elections. In general elections, party also serves as a crucial cue which is utterly useless in primary contests and leads more to depend on newspaper and other endorsements.

(4) Maryland's swing voters are not concentrated in the counties where the Post's writ runs strong. Montgomery and Prince George's are not just lopsidedly Democratic, they are solidly so. Even in 2002, when support for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee was collapsing around the state, both counties remained strong Democratic bastions. If the Post had influence in the Baltimore suburbs, it would be an entirely different story.

(5) Ehrlich is just too far behind. Even if the Post helps him gain a point or two, it just isn't enough to make up his deficit. O'Malley led Ehrlich by an average of ten points in the last five polls. Incumbent governors who are ten points behind two weeks before the election are overwhelmingly headed for defeat.

Ehrlich may simply be a victim of President Bush's unpopularity or Maryland's Democratic nature reasserting itself rather than his own mediocrity and lack of accomplishment as Democrats claim. However, Ehrlich's millions of advertising have yet to put a dent in O'Malley's lead. It is hard to see the Post changing the fundamental dynamics of this campaign.


Monday, October 23, 2006

U.S. Senate Outlook Update

Democrats are now more clearly within striking distance of taking back the U.S. Senate than my last post on the Senate.

Democratic Seats
Democrats trail is none of the seats which they currently hold. New Jersey Sen. Menendez, a former congressman appointed to his seat, appear to have established a lead over his opponent, Assemblyman Tom Kean, Jr. after a rocky start to his campaign. In the second-most vulnerable Democratic race, Rep. Ben Cardin leads Lt. Gov. Michael Steele by an average of 5 points in the last five polls taken in Maryland.

Republican Seats
In contrast, Democrats now lead Republicans by an average of five points or more in four seats currently held by Republicans. In Montana, Bob Tester leads Sen. Conrad Burns by 7 points. In Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse is 6 points ahead of Sen. Lincoln Chafee. Rep. Sherrod Brown has established a 9-point lead in Ohio. Rick Santorum, the senator we love to hate in Pennsylvania, is down by 11 points in his uphill battle for reelection against Treasurer Bob Casey.

That gets the Democrats to 49 seats but they need to win two more in order to have a 51-seat majority--Vice President Dick Cheney would break ties in an evenly divided Senate. Claire McCaskill clings to a one point lead over Sen. Bob Talent in Missouri. Harold Ford, Jr. remains tied with Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker in Tennessee. Sen. George Felix "Macaca" Allen leads Jim Webb by 5 points in Virginia. Jim Pedersen trails Sen. Jon Kyl by 9 points in Arizona.

Republicans continue to hold an advantage over Democrats in using microtargeting as the basis for their GOTV operation. However, Democrats have made major strides since 2004 in organizing their own voter lists and GOTV organizations. Republicans can no longer count on saving close races with superior organization, especially since every major survey shows Democrats are far more energized and likely to vote than Republicans.

The New Senate and Future Elections
A 50-50 or 51-49 Senate seems highly likely. Assuming conservatively that Democrats take four Republican seats, Democrats would walk away with 22, or two-thirds, of this year's 33 Senate seats--a devestating outcome in a year when the GOP had fewer seats to defend and hoped to gain seats. Republicans would remain vulnerable to more losses in 2008 and 2010 as they will be defending more seats than the Democrats in those cycles.

The balance of power in the new Senate could well be held by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. He appears to be confounding the predictions of liberal bloggers like the DailyKos and leads blogger-darling and Democratic nominee Ned Lamont by 11 points. Pressed by bloggers, Democratic senators have rallied around Lamont, which could make efforts to bring Lieberman back into the fold more difficult after the election.


GOP Targets Speaker of the MD House

The Republicans are going after Democratic Speaker Michael Busch. Last weekend, Gov. Bob Ehrlich joined a Republican door-knocking campaign as part of an effort to unseat him. Speaker Busch, who has won five elections to the House, doesn't sound too worried:

Busch, 59, a county recreation and parks official who lives in Annapolis, said he relishes a good fight.

"My job is to stand up to unjust entitlement," he said. "I don't mind being the guy who stood against Blue Cross/Blue Shield over medical malpractice. ... The gaming industry makes the tobacco industry pale in influence.

"Do we want to be a go-along, get-along state or do we want to reach our potential in health care, education and the environment?"

The 20-year delegate -- in his first term as speaker -- said he is proud to have kept slots out. "Slots are an unstable revenue source which would balance the budget on the backs of people in the poorest, African-American communities."

Married with two young daughters, Busch grew up in a modest rancher in Glen Burnie and took the bus to St. Mary's School -- where he later went on to teach and coach.

He says the Republican Party has moved "way to the right" in recent years, noting his Republican challengers oppose legal abortions in most cases, although Ehrlich is pro-choice.

He's braced for this election, with about $275,500 in campaign funds as of Sept. 1, according to the most recent documents filed with the state Board of Elections.

Busch is a great Speaker. It is hard to see how he'll go down in what is shaping up to be a far better year than 2002, when Busch topped the list of candidates. I just hope he and his running mates are knocking aggressively on doors too. Although it is nice that his campaign war chest is so large, there is no substitute for voter contact. Having seen him recently wind up a crowd in person, I don't think anyone can doubt his willingness to take on the Republicans in his district or in the House of Delegates.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Absentee Voting

The New York Times explains why my proposal that the Democrats promote early absentee voting in Maryland was hardly an original idea. Thirty states allow no-fault absentee voting and get-out-the-vote is no longer just for Election Day. It also makes you wonder why Maryland was not prepared to handle more absentee ballots, especially after the fiasco of a primary election.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Ex-Cons for Ehrlich

Gov. Bob Ehrlich has repeatedly attacked Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's record on crime. One can only imagine the fierceness of the Republican attack if O'Malley hired an ex-convict to appear in a television advertisement on his behalf. However, Ehrlich appears to have same soft spot for former convicts who appear in commercials for him as President Bush has for Republican congressmen who beat their mistresses. According to the Baltimore Sun:

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s latest campaign ad portrays Baltimore resident Larry Gaines as a parent-advocate who worries about schools and crime. Gaines goes on to describe himself as a lifelong Democrat who has decided to "be bold" and vote for the Republican incumbent.

But there's much more to Larry Gaines. Not only did Gaines campaign for Ehrlich's first gubernatorial bid in 2002, but he readily concedes that he voted for Ehrlich. State campaign records show that he received a $200 payment from Democrats for Ehrlich four years ago.

. . .

While Gaines criticizes the crime-fighting record of Ehrlich's Democratic opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, he has had his own brushes with the law.

During an interview, Gaines said that he is a former drug addict with a criminal record that includes a theft charge that earned him a three-year prison stint in the 1990s. State court records also show that he was charged with breaking and entering in Baltimore County in 1985 and that his attorney at the time was William H. Murphy Jr., a Baltimore defense attorney who has appeared in an Ehrlich radio ad. According to court records, Gaines received probation in the case.

The TV ad, which has been getting heavy air play in the Baltimore market, does not mention that Gaines is a full-time city schools employee and a part-time bail bondsman. In the latter role, Gaines arranged bail for clients that have included two alleged drug dealers and a man who police say tried to have sex with his 14-year-old niece. The men missed their initial trial dates and the city had to post judgments against Gaines in an effort to collect the money, an amount that in one of the cases totaled $50,000.

Last year, one of Gaines' sons, a juvenile, was arrested in connection with the stabbing of another youth in the chest during a pickup basketball game. Gaines describes the experience as "horrible" and says it opened his eyes to problems in the Police Department, including racist views that he says resulted in an attempted murder charge against his son.
If this is the best "Democrat" that Ehrlich can find to publicly support him, his campaign was already in deep trouble. However, Democrats should force Ehrlich to explain the decision to use Gaines in an advertisements to voters attracted by his so-called tough-on-crime approach.


Dems Hope to Gain General Assembly Seats

Democrats already hold two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. One would think that there would be far more opportunities for Republicans than Democrats since the Democrats already hold so many seats. Earlier in the campaign, Gov. Ehrlich and the Republicans hoped to pick up fourteen seats in the House and five in the Senate. Ehrlich would love to have enough Republicans to sustain a veto in either the House or the Senate.

However, the atmosphere has shifted completely. Democrats now hope to pick up seats, especially in the House of Delegates. Ehrlich's hope of a veto-sustaining minority of Republicans seem rather irrelevant since he is going to lose the general election. In some ways, the strength of Maryland state legislative Democrats is not a surprise. O'Malley in 2006 is a stronger candidate than Townsend was in 2002. Democrats in conservative areas who survived 2002 should find 2006 relatively easy.

Read more details about which seats held by both parties appear vulnerable in the Gazette. Suffice to say that neither Montgomery nor Prince George's Counties contain any of the seats near the top of the list to watch. Most seats in both counties are Democratic bastions. However, even marginal District 15 in western Montgomery didn't rate a mention in the Gazette story.

Democrats certainly looked energized at a neighborhood fundraiser held last night at the home of Chevy Chase Councilman Rob Enelow and Dr. Amy Kossoff. Senate Candidate Richard Madaleno said that this election was a chance for Democrats to "emotionally cripple" Republicans who had been hoping for major gains this year as he introduced Speaker Michael Busch. Busch fired up the crowd with his pride in the achievements of legislative Democrats.

Speaker Busch acknowledged the future delegates at the event from Districts 16 (Bethesda) and 18 (Chevy Chase-Kensington-Wheaton) including Jane Lawton, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Jeff Waldstreicher, Susan Lee and Bill Bronrott. Democratic State Party Chair Terry Lierman promoted a strong turnout and cautioned against complacency.

Senate Candidate Ben Cardin and current Sen. Paul Sarbanes both joined the crowd after holding an event with former President Bill Clinton. Their talk of taking back Congress from the Republican naturally excited this partisan crowd. A panoply of other politicians came as well, including former (and future?) Congressional Candidate Donna Edwards, Montgomery Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, Attorney General Candidate Doug Gansler, and Chevy Chase Councilman Lance Hoffman.


Post Endorses Cardin, Disses Steele

The Washington Post endorsed Ben Cardin and utterly rejected the candidacy of Michael Steele in their lead editorial today:

ONE CANDIDATE in Maryland's U.S. Senate race, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin , would be a natural leader in the Senate by dint of his command of issues, proven integrity, formidable intellect and unstinting work ethic. The other candidate, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, deploys platitudes and gauzy rhetoric to disguise a tissue-thin grasp of policy. Mr. Cardin would give Maryland legislative clout from Day One; in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill, he has been an effective, knowledgeable, serious lawmaker. Mr. Steele is hard-pressed to claim a significant achievement in public service.

Slightly frumpy and occasionally professorial, Mr. Cardin, a Democrat, is sometimes stereotyped as a drab policy wonk. In fact he is fervent about ideas, chief among them that government should be effective, accountable and proactive. No one who has heard Mr. Cardin on the subject of health insurance, Social Security, or tax and trade policy will conclude that he lacks passion -- or an impressive mastery of detail. It is that passion and attention to the mechanics of government that have earned him such respect for pragmatism and problem-solving.

To a degree rare among Democrats, Mr. Cardin has broken through the barriers of partisanship and minority-party impotence in Congress, enabling him to craft major bills to help senior citizens and reform the Internal Revenue Service. He forged strategic partnerships with key congressional Republicans, notably former Ohio representative Rob Portman, who is now the White House budget director. Such alliances could help Mr. Cardin play a key role in the Senate on a range of issues, no matter who is in the majority.

Mr. Cardin is well known to Marylanders. While still in his 30s, he was the youngest-ever speaker of the state's House of Delegates. In that role and in Congress, he has been sensible, tough-minded and independent. He broke with many Democrats and labor unions to back the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr. Steele, a Republican, deserves credit for helping move Maryland's Republican Party in a centrist and more appealing direction. But during the campaign he has done everything in his power to sidestep questions of substance while positioning himself mainly as a friendly guy. At times he has bristled when pressed on, say, abortion, as if it were somehow unfair to delve deeper into his thinking. His economic prescription is tax cuts and more spending -- a recipe for budgetary disaster. As lieutenant governor, he promised a study on Maryland's death penalty, but he waited three years to produce a report that the governor did not see fit to make public.

Mr. Steele recently said on talk radio that the race is "not about the issues so much as it is about the style of leadership that we need to elect in Washington." We're old-fashioned enough to believe that leadership arises from a mastery of policy and a commitment to positive change. Mr. Cardin has both, and as a senator he would be an asset to the state of Maryland.

The contrast in the experience, knowledge, and ability between Ben Cardin and his opponent is one that Democrats need to bring home in the final days of this campaign.


Bush Campaigns for Mistress Beater

Apparently, Republican concerns for character and morality fly out the window as long as you have an "R" after your name. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reported today on a story that even the most creative Democratic strategist couldn't invent:

So it has come to this: Nineteen days before the midterm elections, President Bush flew here to champion the reelection of a congressman who last year settled a $5.5 million lawsuit alleging that he beat his mistress during a five-year affair.

"I'm pleased to be here with Don Sherwood," a smiling president told the congressman's loyal but dispirited supporters at a luncheon fundraiser Thursday. "He has got a record of accomplishment."

Quite a record. While representing the good people of the 10th District, the married congressman shacked up in Washington with a Peruvian immigrant more than three decades his junior. During one assignation in 2004, the woman, who says Sherwood was striking her and trying to strangle her, locked herself in a bathroom and called 911; Sherwood told police he was giving her a back rub.

At a time when Republicans are struggling to motivate religious conservatives to go to the polls next month, it is not clear what benefit the White House found in sending Bush to stump for Sherwood -- smack dab in the middle of what Bush, in an official proclamation, dubbed "National Character Counts Week."
And they say homosexuals are a threat to traditional marriage.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Absentee Ballot Shortage

Suggestions by Gov. Bob Ehrlich and County Exec. Doug Duncan (and, of course, this trendsetting blog) that voters might want to vote absentee this year has apparently resulted in a shortage of absentee ballots according the Gazette:

Worried about a repeat of September’s election debacle, voters have been asking for so many absentee ballots that they may cause the very problems they are trying to avoid, local elections officials say.

Many local boards, including Montgomery County’s, have not yet received all their ballots from the printing company, and officials are concerned that some voters may not be able to vote.

Montgomery has received only about 12,000 absentee ballots, 7,000 short of the number of completed voter applications so far, county Elections Director Margaret A. Jurgensen told elections board members in Rockville on Monday afternoon. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 31.

And guess what company is responsible for solving the problem? You guessed right: Diebold, the company that has made the rest of our electoral process run so smoothly. Money whine from company spokesman:

Diebold Election Systems, which prints the state’s paper ballots, insisted that all of Maryland’s counties and Baltimore city received their requested allotments in the past week and over the weekend.

‘‘Each county orders the amount of ballots they’re expected to need, which is a rolling number,” said Jessica Goon, a Diebold spokeswoman. ‘‘Using a staggered delivery each county receives between 20 and 100 percent of the amount of ballots that they will need.” If counties need more ballots, Diebold will provide them, she said.

What is this? Some kind of Crab Republic?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

SurveyUSA Says Senate Race Tied

A new poll from SurveyUSA has Cardin tied with Steele but O'Malley leading Ehrlich by 6 points. As this chart from Pollster.com shows, SurveyUSA is a real outlier in Maryland Senate polling. Both of their polls show the race essentially tied while all other polls give Cardin a lead outside of the margin of error. See a similar chart on RealClearPolitics to see exactly how different SurveyUSA's results are from those of other outfits.

The real question of course is why. Essentially, SurveyUSA shows Steele tied because Steele gets around one-quarter of the black vote in their polls. While high for a Republican, one-quarter is not out of the range of possibility. Is SurveyUSA on to a trend that other pollsters have failed to capture or are their results off for some methodological reason or just the incredible bad luck of two rogue polls in row?


Michael Steele: Always a Victim

No racial incident left unimagined is starting to become the theme of Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's campaign for the U.S. Senate. Republicans used to lambast minorities for crying racism whatever the occasion but they've now decided to play the game themselves.

According to the Washington Post, Steele accused Rep. Steny Hoyer of racial insensitivity for using the word "slavishly" the other day:

Steele, an African American running for the U.S. Senate, was reacting to remarks by House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who characterized Steele this week as having had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party."

After speaking to members of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce gathered in Ocean City, Steele called the description "the height of arrogance."

"It goes to just the sheer craziness of some in the Democratic Party who think they can use racist terms and infer things about me just because I'm an African American Republican," he said.

Steele added that he expects his Democratic opponent, Benjamin L. Cardin, to "stand up and tell his team to sit down and shut up, stop the noise and apologize."

I haven't heard anything so ridiculous since a white liberal resigned shortly after the beginning of the Williams Administration in DC after using the word "niggardly." Steele certainly has sucked up to Bush in the past, as Cardin's commercials reveal all too clearly for Steele's taste:

Steele is desperate to escape the president's suffocating embrace and to attract black votes away from the Democrats. He clearly thinks playing the race card is the way to do it. At this point, inventing racial slights which did not occur is almost old hat for our lieutenant governor. Who can forget the remarkable attempt by Republicans to claim that oreos were thrown at Michael Steele during the 2002 guberntorial debate?

As during the primary, Cardin's strategy is not to buy into a race debate but to methodically go about wooing African-American voters. While this is probably the right play strategically, one cannot help but think it would be wonderful to watch black leaders in Maryland to attack Steele directly on his racial tactics and his poor track record.


Bush Approval Steady in MD

According to SurveyUSA, approval of President Bush in Maryland held steady this month at 34% (disapproval rose a point to 64%). While I suppose it is good news for the Maryland GOP that the Foley scandal didn't drag Bush down further here, the nearly 2-1 disapproval of Bush weighs like an anchor and explains why Republicans are avoiding Bush, even as they are happy to let him and his administration raise money for them, like typhoid this year.


Jousting for Justice Debate Reviews

You can read detailed reviews of the two O'Malley-Ehrlich debates by Stephanie Dray of Jousting for Justice on October 17 and October 18.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Maryland Elections Quiz #2

The second of Don Rodrick's quizzes on Maryland electoral and political history is now available at Baltimoresun.com. I did much better this time with seven of ten correct. My knowledge of Baltimore mayors is still poor. Fortunately, I know a lot more about Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Mikulski.


GOP tries to Swift-boat Maryland Democrats on civil rights

There is a great column in today's Baltimore Sun by C. Fraser Smith detailing the outlandish comments Maryland Republicans are making about inclusion. The opening and closing paragraphs follow:

Does anyone really think Republicans have a better modern record on civil rights than Democrats?

The question arises in light of the suggestion that black voters in Maryland should abandon the Democratic Party, whose leaders endorsed the 1960s civil rights legislation at the risk of the party's historic dominance in the politics of the South - and the nation.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, he predicted that the previously "solid" Southern Democrats would seek refuge in the GOP. He was right.

Republicans now assert - with the help of some black political figures - that Maryland Democrats must be punished for conspiring to keep talented black office-seekers on the sidelines. The charge doesn't hold water. It's reminiscent of the "Swift-boating" of presidential candidate John Kerry or the suggestion that triple-amputee Vietnam vet Max Cleland, former senator from Georgia, was unpatriotic.

It is worth observing that there is not a single black Republican in the General Assembly. It would be better if there were, but their absence in the GOP is not the fault of Democrats - save for the belief that more opportunity was available on the Democratic side.

Black candidates for public office would be more plentiful in both parties were it not for a deplorable history of discrimination in this society. More blacks would have thought they had a chance to succeed and would have taken the risks that public life sometimes demands. The nation will be some decades in clearing those hurdles.

But it's important to remember that when the barricades began to come down in the 1950s and 1960s, Democrats led the charge.


Bush is Creating New Democrats

This fascinating graphic appeared in the New York Times today (see the article accompanying it as well). It probably doesn't show well here on blogger but click on it or the link to the Times to blow it up and take a closer look.

Politicians understandably focus on older voters because they go to the polls are far higher rates than young voters. However, young voters have a way of becoming older voters. Moreover, political scientists have long considered young voters among the most malleable in terms of partisanship. Like hardening cement, it gets harder to change the partisanship of voters as they age.

It is hard and fast rule of life and politics that old voters eventually die and are replaced by young voters. Differences between the partisanship of young voters and the voters they replace can gradually have profound effects on electoral outcomes. Popular presidents, like Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton, convert many of these of voters to their party. Unpopular presidents have the opposite effect.

President Bush is creating Democrats like they are going out of style. Indeed, the graphic shows that people who began voting during the Bush years are currently the most Democratic cohort alive: 52% identify as Democratic or lean Democratic compared to only 37% who identify Republican or lean Republican.

President Bush may not have much use for Democrats but new voters appear to have little use to him--and his party looks likely to pay for it in the decades to come.


On Class Warfare in Maryland

If you hold gubernatorial debates shown on television only on Friday and Saturday nights, did they actually occur?

Few people watch these political events even when they are held on a weekday but it is hard to imagine many of the people who stayed home on Saturday night tuning in to Maryland Public Television to watch the gubernatorial debate. Even your gentle blogger forgot to record it before he went out for pizza last night.

Fortunately, editors at the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun force brave yeoman reporters to cover these events so we know that Gov. Bobby Haircut (hat tip to Marc Fisher for the delicious moniker) relied on the old, reheated Republican rhetoric of "class warfare" to brush aside inconvenient, unpopular increases in college tuition and electricity rates brought to you by the Ehrlich Administration. You see, when costs rise for the middle classes, we're all in this together even though you pay the bills.

Republicans constantly expect voters to be outraged by tax increases but not by massive upping of the cost of services provided or regulated by the state. And tax increases are only tax increases when done by Democrats. Ehrlich is very proud that sales and income taxes didn't rise on his watch but property taxes as well as fees (read: taxes) on vehicle registration and sewage treatment (the ever popular "flush" tax) are up. Ehrlich may understand the difference but it all means less green in my pocket to you and me.

Meanwhile, Ehrlich doesn't mind playing a little divide-and-conquer class warfare when it suits its own purposes according to the Washington Post:

The most pointed exchange came in the afternoon debate over the way the two candidates view Baltimore and the significant aid that the state provides for social programs there.

"I pay for you," Ehrlich said, looking straight at O'Malley. "Without us, you are done."

Reading from a document, Ehrlich then ticked off annual state investments in Baltimore schools, transportation, social services and community colleges. "You get the drift here," Ehrlich said.

I guess we're supposed to be shocked that one of the poorest jurisdictions in the state with a high share of citizens living below the poverty line is a net recipient of funds from Annapolis. One thing I love about Baltimore Mayor (and Montgomery native) Martin O'Malley is that he is not afraid to call Ehrlich directly on his scurrilous tactics:

O'Malley shot back that Ehrlich was practicing "the politics of division and fear."

"I just wanted to remind you that the citizens of the City of Baltimore are also citizens of our state and that we're all in this together," O'Malley said. "Frankly, governor, the biggest philosophical difference between you and me is that I do believe that we're all in this together, and you believe this is a world of us and them."

O'Malley said much the same when I heard him speak at an Equality Montgomery event. Nice to have a politician who brings the same message to all audiences. It reminds me of what I liked about Bill Clinton in 1992: he was a politician who wanted to bring people together so we could all do better rather than divide us for political gain.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

New Polls in Senate and Gov Races

Rasmussen has released the results of a poll showing the Democratic candidates safely ahead in both the senatorial and gubernatorial contests. According to the poll, Cardin leads Steele 53-44, while O'Malley leads Ehrlich by 53-45. These results confirm those of other recent polls showing the Democrats ahead by varying amounts in both races.


Friday, October 13, 2006

More Confirmation of Drop in Bush Approval

The Harris Interactive poll for the Wall Street Journal confirms the post-Foley drop in support for Bush found in several other recent polls. Harris pegs Bush's approval at 34%, down 4 points from the 38% recorded by the same poll in September. The Democratic lead on generic congressional ballot questions is also hitting new highs in the wake of the Foley scandal.


Taking the U.S. Senate?

Democrats need six seats in order to hold a majority of the U.S. Senate next year. It's tough but possible.

Democratic Seats
Critical to any chance for Democratic success is not losing any Democratic seats. The most endangered Democratic incumbent is New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, who was appointed to fill the vacancy when Sen. Jon Corzine became Gov. Jon Corzine. This race remains extremely tight though the last five polls now give Sen. Menendez a slight edge of 45-41 over his GOP opponent, Tom Kean. Jr.

At one point, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell was also considered highly vulnerable but she appears to have a firm lead--an average of 9 points according to the last five polls. Democrats also hold solid leads in two open seats currently held by Democrats in Maryland and Minnesota. Ben Cardin leads Michael Steele by an average of 7 points in the last five polls in Maryland. Minnesota has been trending Republican in recent presidential elections, Democrat Amy Klobucher leads Republican Mark Kennedy by an average of 11 points in the last five polls in Minnesota.

Republican Seats
Democrats appear likely to defeat several incumbent Republicans. Extremely conservative Sen. Rick Santorum is headed for defeat in Pennsylvania. The last five polls have Santorum losing to Democrat Bob Casey by an average of 9 points--disastrous for an incumbent. Sen. Conrad Burns is in deep trouble in Montana. Gaffe-prone Sen. Burns trails Democrats Jon Tester by an average of 7 points in the last five polls.

Though the national Republican Party was able to save Sen. Lincoln Chafee from defeat in the Republican primary, they appear unlikely to repeat the feat in the general election. Sen. Chafee trails Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse by an average of 6 points in the last five polls. Sen. Mike DeWine trails his Democratic opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown, by an average of 6 points in the last five polls.

While it is not so hard to envision Democrats picking up four seats, the last two seats needed for Democratic control will not be as easy to win. Missouri is a crucial state that has repeatedly proven a heartbreaker in gubernatorial and senatorial contests in recent years. Once again, the polls show an extremely tight contest. Democrat Claire McCaskill leads incumbent Sen. James Talent by an average of just two points in the last five (and ten) polls.

Normally, incumbents who trail their challengers at all are in deep trouble. Republicans, however, have shown a stronger ability to turn out their voters in recent elections that should prevent Democrats from taking anything for granted. A strong ground game will be critical to McCaskill's efforts. Will George Bush's approval ratings have plummeted sufficiently and will Democrats have improved their GOTV machine enough to finally win one in Missouri?

Tennessee is an even tougher nut to crack. However, Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. leads Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker by an average of 3 points according the last five polls. Ford has been careful to run as a moderate in a state that has trended heavily Republican since it went for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996. If elected, Ford would be the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Tennessee since Al Gore won reelection in 1990.

Bush carried Tennessee with 57 percent of the vote in 2004 so Democrats cannot expect an easy Ford victory despite his current lead in the polls. Moreover, some scholars think that polls tend to overestimate the support for black candidates because some whites lie and say they are undecided or voting Democratic as they don't want to appear racist even though they intend to vote Republican. Still, Harold Ford is extremely talented and pulling out all the stops in his effort to leap from the House to the Senate.

Despite Sen. George "Macaca" Allen's best efforts to lose what should be a safe Senate seat, he still leads Democrat James Webb by an average of six points in Virginia according to the last five polls. Unlike Tennessee, Virginia has been trending Democratic though it is still tough for Democrats to get above 50 percent in statewide contests, especially federal ones. Webb needs a serious cash infusion if he is to close the gap. It also wouldn't hurt if popular ex-Gov. Mark Warner campaigned hard for Webb.

Democrats had hopes of defeating Arizona Sen. John Kyl. However, Sen. Kyl leads Democratic Party Chair Jim Pedersen by an average of 9 points. Still, Kyl remains below 50 percent in the polls so one should not give up on Pedersen just yet, especially if the anti-Bush tide runs as strong as Democrats hope this year.

Democrats will conservatively gain three seats this year and I'd be surprised if they managed less than four. Winning the six needed to take control of the Senate still appears a bit of stretch and will require Democrats to run the table of tight races. Nevertheless, Senate races often appear to fall in bunches and Democratic control is now a real possibility.

Note: The polling data to which I've linked in this post is constantly updated so the numbers can change from the current information I've reported here.


Gubernatorial Debate Tomorrow

Ehrlich and O'Malley have finally agreed to hold a live debate: tomorrow. The debate will be on WBAL-TV and MPT tomorrow at 7PM; details of the debate are still being worked out. The debate about debates has been going for sometime.

The debate should be interesting to watch if only because the 2002 debate was so disastrous. The almost all-black audience at Morgan State heavily favored Townsend. Townsend appealed to the crowd with her staunch liberal stands but sounded terrible and utterly forgot that her real audience should have the reporters who would interpret the debate for the public. Meanwhile, Ehrlich benefitted but only by comparison. After the debate, many wondered who the nasty guy on stage was and why the Republicans had not brought that nice suburban guy who appeared in all their commercials. Of course, the debate was also the source of the infamous, patently false allegations that Oreos were thrown at Michael Steele, then a candidate for Lite Gov.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

District 1 Debate Starts in Less Than 1 Hour

Howie Denis and Roger Berliner, candidates for the District 1 County Council Seat in Montgomery County will debate on the Political Pulse TV Show on Thursday, October 12th at 9 p.m. and Tuesday, October 17th at 9:30 p.m. Much of Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac is in District 1. Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Paper Ballots Available as Backup

The Baltimore Sun reports that the the State Board of Elections has ordered up around one paper ballot for every two voters as a backup in case the problems that plagued Maryland on primary day reappear at the general election. This is a wise decision as the state waits with baited breath to see if the e-poll books used to check-in voters still crash with great regularity.

I remain concerned based on the report that voters who experience problems at the polls will be made to cast provisional ballots rather than official ballots:

A portion of the 1.6 million ballots -- at least 66,000 and probably many more -- will be mailed to voters as absentee ballots. The rest will be available as provisional ballots, the Election Day backups that were relied upon so heavily during the September primary that some precincts ran out.
Just because the machines crash is no reason that a voter should have to worry that the ballot will not be counted. Backup ballots should be kept separately from genuine provisional ballots which are cast because it is unclear whether the voter has a right to vote in the election.


Republicans Giving Up on Maryland?

November 7th is shaping up as a potential debacle for the Republicans and the GOP is looking to save what can be saved. The gubernatorial race in Maryland does not appear to make the grade according to a small item in the Washington Post today:

Maryland Democrats gleefully pointed yesterday to e-mail from the Republican Governors Association that identifies six states to which the organization is sending volunteers because contests there are "going down to the wire." Maryland, where polls continue to show Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) leading Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), is not one of them.

Every poll shows Mayor O'Malley will a lead over Gov. Ehrlich. Indeed, the last five polls give O'Malley an average lead of 9 points. When an incumbent is running way behind and is at only 42 points in the polls, it is not a particularly shocking that the national Republicans are making other races a priority. While Democratic chances are still up in the air, the Democrats appear sure to hold a majority of governor's offices after Election Day. Maryland looks very likely to aid that trend.


Warner Not Running for Prez

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will announce later today that he is not running for president according to the Washington Post. It's a real loss for the Democrats because Warner was a highly popular governor of Virginia and has genuine appeal as a candidate.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Growing Latino Power

The Baltimore Sun takes a look at rising Latino power in Maryland today. The question remains whether the growing presence of Latinos will promote a political backlash which will balance out of the rise in Latino political participation:

Census figures from 2000 showed that Gaithersburg is 20 percent Latino, but some estimates run twice that high. There's a substantial visual presence, from strip malls with purely Spanish-speaking clientele to the large numbers of Latinos walking and riding bicycles downtown. Non-Latinos seem to be on a step quota: They glide by in cars, but infrequently stroll downtown streets.

Stephen Schreiman, who belongs to an anti-immigration citizens watchdog group, is the most vocal Gaithersburgian critic. He wants nothing to do with any politician perceived as immigration-friendly or amenable to day-labor sites.

"It's very personal," says Schreiman. "It's directly affecting my way of life."

Roy Passin says uncontrolled immigration adversely affects his business. He owns Roy's Place, a saloon-like restaurant decorated with vintage campaign posters, movie memorabilia and beer signs that has been a fixture on the edge of Olde Towne for more than 35 years.

Latino men with too much free time to kill, he says, illegally park in his lot, loiter near the property, get drunk, smash his security lights and basically spoil the ambience.

"In certain ways," says Passin, 84, the influx has changed Gaithersburg "a hell of a lot." And, to his mind, generally not for the better.

"I will not vote for anyone who is pushing day-labor centers or anything like it," says his wife, Melinda, 44. "This country was built by immigrants. But legally. ... People aren't trying to fit in anymore. They don't love America."

Melinda Passin is solidly in Ehrlich's and Steele's corners this November. Brian Wilson, a 45-year-old handyman eating lunch at the bar, is still uncommitted. He has good relationships with Latinos and would support a guest worker program. But he has "a problem" with Takoma Park letting illegal aliens vote in local elections and has reservations about the growing two-tier underground economy.
Personally, I don't buy the "they don't want to learn English" argument. No one comes to America to be poor and not learning English places huge barriers on advancement. Even if new immigrants don't learn English themselves, they universally want their children to learn English because, like all parents, they want their children to be successful.

The debate over day-laborer centers in interesting. Even if one believes that illegal immigrants should go home and the federal government needs to do something to stop people from entering the country illegally, would you prefer illegal immigrants who are here to be working hard and contributing to the economy or not working at all? Which path do you think is likely to lead to a failure to integrate into this country not to mention a rise in crime?


Miller Off Hook for Uppercut

As predicted on 22 September by Maryland Politics Watch, Senate President Mike Miller is not going to have serve hard time for his supposed attack on Developer Leo Bruso. Indeed, the case didn't even go to trial and the charges again Miller were dropped due to lack of evidence. Too bad Miller isn't from Montgomery. In this election year, I suspect his general election opponent would accuse Miller of orchestrating the attack by developers in order to win more votes.


Duncan Joins Call to Vote Absentee

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan encouraged voters worried about problems at their polling place to vote absentee. After the primary, Duncan called for the resignation of County Board of Elections President Nancy Dacek and Elections Director Margaret A. Jurgensen. Yesterday, he further called for the replacement of State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone's:

‘‘We can’t say it’s OK when thousands were denied the right to vote,” Duncan said. ‘‘I don’t think things will change until there’s a change at the top of the local and state level. The county administrator is in over her head and the state administrator [Linda H. Lamone] is in over her head.”
Duncan's call for voters to consider absentee voting was somewhat more muted than a similar call by soon-to-be-our-ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich. In any case, Democratic leaders didn't accuse the outgoing leader of the state's largest county of trying to tamp down turnout as they did Ehrlich.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Future of the GOP

I am sorry for the break in posts. Between family obligations and campaigning, I have been distracted. Just now, I came across the following quote from an interesting article in Salon about the fallout of the Foley scandal. It was attributed to an anonymous gay Republican Hill staffer. It explains the problem facing the Republicans in the long term.

"Most Christian conservative groups are looking for ideological purity," he explains. "You build a political party by expanding it, not by contracting it, and [Republicans'] continued appeals to conservative Christians and that element of the party are only going to last and only going to work for so long.

"Ultimately you're going to push so many people away that that's all you have left, a theocratic party. And if I sound like I'm being pretty critical of the Republican Party, I am, because it's something that they're going to have to realize. They're going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century one way or another."


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What Goes Around Comes Around

Last year, you may remember that US Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) commented that it was fitting that the child abuse scandal involving Catholic priests seemed to be centered in the Boston area. He said:

"When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political, and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm."
One columnist with The Boston Globe certainly remembered. And he wrote an entertaining column yesterday ("Back at You, Santorum") in which he pointed out that Washington is now at the center of another child abuse scandal. It is clear that the Republican culture of power and corruption has become quite sick.

Just think, only 33 days until it is daylight again in America.


Maryland Politics Quiz

Dan Rodericks of the Baltimore Sun is now writing a weekly on-line quiz about Maryland elections. It combines recent events with Maryland history and is not easy. I only got four of the ten questions correct. I must admit to my lack of knowledge concerning 19th Century mayors of Baltimore. Try it out and test your knowledge about Maryland.


The Senatorial Debate

Last night, the nominees for the US Senate debated each other in Baltimore. Both the Sun and the Washington Post have articles about the event that are worth reviewing. It sounds like there was a spirited exchange between the candidates. However, Michael Steele stepped over the line when, in speaking of Ben Cardin, he said, "A Senate seat is a terrible thing to waste." This remark was reported by the Sun but not by the Post.

It sounds as if the puppy let his candidate of the leash. Ben Cardin has forty years of experience in elected office. He is respected by both parties. Yet, in this political climate, experience is denigrated as being an insider. I would ask you, would you rather see a doctor with experience or a new resident? We should ask the same questions when it comes to elected officials.

Speaking of the Senate campaign, a friend of mine recently commented to me that most political ads about a candidate feature background pictures about their accomplishments. Yet, Michael Steele always stands in front of a blank screen. It is a fitting setting for a candidate with no platform beyond puppies. And, come to think of it, I do not remember him working to pass any anti-animal cruelty bills during his single term in office.


Monday, October 02, 2006

More Flip-Flopping from Giannetti

I just received the following statement from the Equality Maryland PAC announcing their support for Jim Rosapepe in the District 21 senate race. They had supported John Giannetti in the primary due to his support for various bills and his opposition to an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment. I remember vividly his comments to the Equality Maryland awards dinner in 2005 when, in receiving the award for championing the gay community, he said that a constitutional amendment would pass only "over his dead body." Now that his political career appears dead, he is willing to change his opinions.

Equality Maryland PAC has made the decision to endorse Jim Rosapepe in the General Election as our choice for the next senator in District 21. Equality Maryland PAC endorsed Sen. Giannetti in the primary, based upon his opposition to a constitutional amendment banning equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, his solid voting record on LGBT issues, and his sponsorship and stewardship of a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's existing hate crimes statute.

In recent days, Sen. Giannetti announced that he is becoming a Republican. Equality Maryland is a non-partisan organization that appreciates allies from all political perspectives. However, it appears that the LGBT community is being used as a political pawn and wedge issue in the District 21 race by members of the Republican Party who are backing Sen. Giannetti.

Sen. Giannetti was recruited by rabidly anti-gay State Senator Alex Mooney of Frederick. Another anti-gay senator, Nancy Jacobs of Harford County, told the Baltimore Sun that "He's so much in line with a lot of what we believe in." John Stafford, the Republican Primary winner in District 21, told the Baltimore Sun that he declined the nomination in favor of John, "noting Giannetti's credentials as an opponent of abortion and gay marriage."

Equality Maryland PAC is deeply troubled when minority groups are used as political footballs to garner votes. Attacks on LGBT Americans continue unabated across the country and must be condemned.

Equality Maryland PAC has asked Sen. Giannetti to reiterate his opposition to writing discrimination into the Maryland Constitution and to publicly condemn the attacks on LGBT Marylanders by his Republican supporters. He has failed to do so, calling into question our trust in his support of fairness and justice.

We believe that former delegate Jim Rosapepe will be a solid ally of the LGBT community. A former U.S. ambassador to Romania, Rosapepe was a friend to ACCEPT, the first Romanian non-governmental organisation [sic] established to defend and promotes LGBT rights at the national level in that country. He is opposed to constitutional amendments to ban marriage for same-sex couples, and supports domestic partner benefits for state employees, a statewide transgender anti-discrimination law, and an equal benefits in state contracts law. For these reasons, Equality Maryland PAC is endorsing Jim Rosapepe for State Senate in District 21. We look forward to working with him next January.


The Hidden Truth about these Amendments

The Washington Post reports today about the battle over an amendment to the Virginia Constitution which would both define marriage as being between one man and one woman only and limit the rights of unmarried couples. It is the second part of the amendment which is gaining attention and the opposition of elected leaders like Gov. Tim Kaine. It reads:

"This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."
Now, several of the amendments backers say that voters should simply ignore this section. They assure people that it is meaningless and that all the amendment does is to protect the "Commonwealth" from gay activists who want to use their right as American citizens to turn to their courts to have their rights protected.

However, the article points out cases in Ohio where some courts have ruled that domestic violence statutes no longer protect unmarried partners because of a similar constitutional amendment. The article does not mention efforts in Michigan where anti-gay activists have gone to court to prohibit the University of Michigan from providing insurance benefits to unmarried couples after they promised that Michigan's amendment could never be used for such efforts. The Virginia crowd will do the same if this amendment passes.

Why am I talking about this in a Maryland politics blog? Because the same forces are at work in Maryland trying to enact a similar ban in our constitution. This past session many Republican legislators cosponsored an amendment publicly backed by our Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. It failed this year but they will be back to push it in 2007. The text reads in part:

A civil union or relationship between parties of the same sex, by whatever name or title, that confers the benefit of marriage is not valid in this state and is against the public policy of this state.
Unlike in Virginia, the anti-gay people in Maryland did not even bother to hide behind unmarried couples and instead went right for their intended targets. This is not about protecting marriage but about constitutionally disabling a group of fellow citizens.

In addition, the language is so broad that it could have many unintended consequences. For example, a mother would be prohibited from granting a daughter power of attorney since they are both of the same sex. I am not just spreading fear. Our Attorney General's Office agreed with my concerns.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Changing Dynamic

Ike Leggett charged to a strong victory in the Democratic County Executive race this year. And, he will be the winner in November. Once in office he will face a different set of challenges dealing with fellow elected officials than Doug Duncan did when he was elected for the first time in 1994.

The election in 1994 returned a veteran County Council to work with the new executive who ran as an outsider. Duncan had been Mayor of Rockville and defeated a seating Councilmember for the seat. However, the council had eight returning members. The lone new member was Neal Potter, the outgoing County Exec and a former Councilmember.

On the other hand, the Montgomery delegation in Annapolis was very new. Of the six resident State Senators elected in 1994, only one was an incumbent. At the time, our seventh Senator represented a shared district with Howard County and actually lived in Howard. The only returning Senator was District 20's Ida Ruben. That was also the year that Larry Levitan, the Chair of the Budget & Taxation Committee, was defeated by Jean Roesser, a big loss for the delegation. Ten of the 22 Delegates were also new that year.

Jump forward to 2006 and Leggett will face the complete opposite. While there will be three new Senators (including myself hopefully), the senior Senators, except Ida Ruben, should be returning including one chair and one vice-chair. The House delegation should also have many returning members including one chair, one vice-chair, and the majority leader. Ike will have a veteran team to work with in Annapolis. However, the Council will have several new faces. While you might disagree with any or all of them, Steve Silverman, Mike Subin, and Tom Perez were all active members. Their departure will create a new dynamic on the Council.

From the beginning, Duncan worked actively in Annapolis and provided leadership for the delegation. Duncan's election also coincided with the elections of other activist executives in Prince George's (Wayne Curry) and Baltimore County (Dutch Ruppersberger). Together with Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, these chief executives with their almost daily presence in Annapolis changed the way each of the big four delegations functioned.

With a newer Council and veteran Annapolis delegation, Leggett may need to focus his attentions more in Rockville than in Annapolis.


The African American Vote in Maryland

The Baltimore Sun has another interesting article about the impact of African American voters in Maryland elections. Clearly, African American voters are one of the keys to Democratic victories in Maryland. Ehrlich's victory in 2002 was greatly aided by low turnout in Baltimore City and Prince George's County. I would argue that this had more to do with frustration with the Democratic ticket than with Ehrlich selecting Michael Steele as his running mate.

I believe that this election will be different because current African American elected officials have a vested interest in defeating Ehrlich and Steele. There are several extremely qualified African American Democrats who are in the top tier of potential candidates for the next US Senate race (2010? 2012?) including Anthony Brown, Kweisi Mfume, US Rep Elijah Cummings from Baltimore, US Rep Al Wynn, and Prince George's State's Attorney Glen Ivey who do not want to see Steele win this race. They will work hard to make sure there is a strong turnout in November. I expect Ike Leggett will be called upon to campaign around the state for the Democratic ticket as well. He is a dynamic campaigner whose appeal should not go unused.