Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Peter Franchot: Crazy Like a Fox

Very few politicians are more unpopular in Annapolis than Comptroller Peter Franchot. Put aside for a moment his raging feud with Big Daddy and his baiting of the Governor over the sensitive Montgomery County school construction issue (among MANY other things). I have asked quite a few state legislators about the Comptroller and, so far, only one has defended him. The Comptroller is so controversial that his anti-slots allies have tried to distance themselves from him and his enemies have tried to make him the face of slots opposition.

But the truth is that from a purely political perspective, Peter Franchot has placed himself in a no-lose situation. Whether the slots referendum passes or fails, the Comptroller will come out on top. Here’s how.

If the Slots Referendum Passes...

Franchot will benefit. Slots opponents are driven by strong moral views and have long memories. (Ask any of them about Big Daddy.) If the referendum passes, the opponents will still give the Comptroller credit for fighting the good fight. And he will carry with him his new relationships with the African American community as well as his old relationships with anti-slots Democratic activists.

Furthermore, even if the referendum passes, its implementation may not proceed smoothly. Racetrack owner Magna Entertainment could go bankrupt and several jurisdictions could see grass-roots battles to deny zoning for casinos. The Comptroller will almost certainly get into the middle of all these fights, thereby gaining even more friends and keeping his name in the news.

If the Slots Referendum Fails...

Franchot will benefit. The Governor and the General Assembly will have to plug out-year deficits reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the Comptroller will not have to participate. He can sit on the outside, call for Blue-Ribbon commissions and criticize whatever the other politicians eventually do. Peter Franchot can then run in 2010 with no taint from tax hikes or spending cuts, chiding his rivals for ignoring the potential of the life sciences industry as a revenue source.

Is this responsible governance? Hell no, but it’s great politics. And in their hearts of hearts, even the Comptroller's enemies know it.

Update: And here is the Comptroller telling the Governor to "call off the attack dogs, stop the negative campaigning and return the foreign gambling money." Is anyone in the state better at political jiu-jitsu than Peter Franchot?