An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Kendel Ehrlich Blasts Away

The Maryland Democrats' new enewsletter brings us a link to an editorial on remarks by the Governor's wife in one of the most conservative parts of our state:

Kendel Ehrlich rode her high horse into Ocean City over the weekend and touched off a firestorm rarely seen in Maryland political circles. Astride a stallion undoubtedly named "Righteousness," Maryland's first lady provided a gathering of Lower Shore Republicans a heaping helping of opinions and observations likely to do her, her governor-husband and her causes a measure of damage.

"They lie," she said, without naming a specific publication. "I would punish my son if I caught him in a lie, and they need to be punished." The next day, in case anyone missed what Mrs. Ehrlich meant, her spokeswoman, Meghann Siwinski, told the Associated Press: "I think she's urging people to not buy the papers, to not read the papers, to not trust what they read about her husband's administration in the papers."

Along those lines, the first lady also took some well-aimed shots at state Democrats, calling their behavior during the just-completed General Assembly session "despicable." Democrats, she said, are "so afraid of losing power it is unbelievable, it is rude and it is awful, and if our 5-year-old acted like that, he'd be punished. I'm not kidding." Mrs. Ehrlich, of course, neglected to point out that her husband's continued inability to work across party lines kept the governor's own major initiatives stymied. When it comes to failures at the Statehouse, the blame has to go both ways.

The cheap shots, heavy partisanship and severe exchanges have become too abundant in state politics. It has to stop somewhere -- and should stop at the top.

When are people going to tire of the perpetual "us vs. them'' mentality spread about by this governor and his administration -- and now by the first lady? Is Maryland's first couple more interested in getting things accomplished or having their egos massaged? Will all who disagree or fail to yield to their demands be branded as liars and enemies? And how much longer will the Ehrlichs insist on shooting the messenger?

High Gas Prices' Real Source

The Center for American Progress, quoting the Wall Street Journal:

As consumers struggle with high prices at the pump, "Exxon Mobil Co. reported a 45% surge in net income, while Royal Dutch/Shell Group's earnings rose 40%, as persistently high oil prices fed the industrywide profit bonanza."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Moving Forward

Culled an long article with lots of interesting history are Rollcall's key points points on Cardin vs. Mfume vs. Van Hollen: http://www.rollcall.com/issues/50_106/politics/9032-1.html

"With 39 years of elective office under his belt, he’s (Cardin) well-known across the state and is highly respected both at home and in Washington, D.C. His deliberative, cerebral style and passion for policy receives favorable comparisons to Sarbanes, who has held the Senate seat since 1977."


"Along with these advantages, Cardin appears to enjoy broad, if muted, support from the Maryland Democratic establishment. And as the only Jewish candidate in the race, he is poised to reap political cash from some of the party’s most active national donors."


"But in assessing what is shaping up to be a highly competitive Democratic primary, there is another part of Cardin’s history to also consider: For all his strengths, which will carry him far in the primary, the 61-year-old Congressman has never once competed in a close election."


"By contrast, Cardin’s two likeliest Democratic primary opponents, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who has already entered the race, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has created an exploratory committee, have plenty of tough political contests under their belts."

And in the race to succeed Cardin in Congress: http://www.rollcall.com/issues/50_106/atr/9031-1.html

"With Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D) now officially running for Senate, add Baltimore City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson (D) to the list of possible candidates for Cardin’s 3rd district seat."


"Beilenson, who has been associated with several liberal causes in Maryland through the years, said he would decide on whether to make the House race within the next two months."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wave 2: Policy

I liked the way Jeffrey Birnbaum started his Washington Post opinion piece on how interest groups influence the agenda:

With all these pressing woes, how did Social Security, Terri Schiavo's end-of-life fight and judicial nominations make it to the top of the Washington agenda? It's not merely because the White House or the party in power wants them to be there. It's because deep-rooted, well-heeled organizations have been targeting those issues for years. What seems like serendipity to the public -- why is Congress talking about trial lawyers again? -- is more often the result of an interest group's advance work combining with the right circumstances to send an issue hurtling into the limelight.

Like it or not, we increasingly live in a stage-managed democracy where highly orchestrated interests filter our priorities. These groups don't have absolute power, of course. In the nation's capital, home to 30,000 registered lobbyists, hundreds of politicians, thousands of journalists and untold numbers of entrenched bureaucrats, no one's in charge. But long-established entities like the AARP, the Family Research Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce mold our collective thinking and regularly dictate the language and tenor of our civic debates.

This notion runs counter to an abiding myth -- that political leaders actually lead. That's true sometimes, of course, but more often than not, the ideas and movements that get on the government's to-do list come from the broad middle and not from the top.

But he really got my attention with the following analogy:

The process is a lot like surfing. Interest groups float along, waiting for the perfect wave of public sentiment or official fiat to carry their issues to victory. They can't create the wave, but they can be ready for the moment when it comes. The key is to be prepared for that moment: Not every issue has an organization with the wealth and staying power to be in that position. Those that do have a shot at winning.

Probably because it sounds a lot like something I wrote quite a while ago in reference to the Dean boom and bust:

The “wave” analogy so often used in the media seems more than apt. Great surfing is as much about being in excellent shape with skills, timing, balance, and muscles developed through years of practice as it is about catching the perfect wave. Now your average Kansan couldn’t ride like a champion even if the greatest wave ever came and asked him to climb on. And even Bethany Hamilton can’t be very radical on the Chesapeake Bay that graces Maryland. Instead, the ultimate ride requires both an incredible surfer in just the right position and a great wave appearing as anticipated.

Why Steele Will Run

Did you also miss this Blair Lee piece on why Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will run for (and have a good shot at) the Senate seat?

In short, his argument is that the national Rs need another seat, he is MD R's only shot, it helps Ehrlich, and this is a better chance for him than waiting years for a longshot gubernatorial bid.

Before Sunset

Language in budget bill could unravel federal environmental protections

Buried deep in the 2,000-page budget bill President Bush recently sent to Congress is a three-sentence provision that threatens to eviscerate environmental and other protections. Authored by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the provision would, if passed unamended, subject any and all federal programs to the scrutiny of a "Sunset Commission." The eight-member panel, appointed by the president, would have the power to kill any programs not "producing results." Programs deemed non-productive would "automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them." "This is potentially devastating," warned Wesley Warren, who served in the OMB under President Clinton. "In short order, this could knock out protections that have been built up over a generation." The provision raises thorny constitutional questions, as it would subject congressional powers to what amounts to executive approval. Still, says Clay Johnson of the Bush OMB, "We just think it makes sense."

straight to the source: Rolling Stone, Osha Gray Davidson, 05 May 2005

Monday, April 25, 2005

Cardin and Mfume

Olesker of the Sun has some commentary on the Senate race:

Cardin wishes to replace the retiring Paul Sarbanes. Some say he is a natural successor, since he has spent his years in the House mirroring Sarbanes in intelligence and style. Each is respectful of process. Each is a serious student of issues. Neither makes the instinctive beeline for all available microphones, nor has the ego to alert TV cameras just because they're giving a talk to a classroom of college students.


In his days in the Baltimore City Council, Mfume used to enrage a mayor named William Donald Schaefer. He was the house contrarian. You'd hate to recount the number of council votes that ended 18 to 1. Mfume was the holdout. Often, just on principle.

When he went to Congress, he was such a strident voice for minorities and for poor people that he became a national figure. Even Schaefer (who has deep respect for Cardin) came to admire Mfume. And, after nine years in the House, he spent the next nine years as the NAACP's national president, until resigning last fall.

But there are those who say he lost some of his edge at the NAACP. They tell you this with mixed feelings. They understand that people mature, and they mellow. They figure out texture, and learn what sells. But, if Mfume has moderated, it comes with a history.

As NAACP president, his first mission was to bring the organization back to financial stability as well as political credibility. He had to reach out to those whose natural instincts aren't the embrace of bomb throwers. Mfume had to learn compromise.

Now, as he and Cardin begin to face each other, we will see if his viewpoint has changed, or only his vocal cords. At his most passionate, Mfume's voice is exactly what the Democrats have lacked. At his best, he talks about the need for economic fairness and doesn't worry about upsetting a bunch of multimillionaires who just got huge tax breaks.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

MDP Staff Changes

from Rollcall:

The new regime at the Maryland Democratic Party has installed Capitol Hill and campaign veteran Derek Walker as its new communications director.

Walker, who spent years working in various capacities for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), comes to the state party from the Hawthorn Group, an Alexandria, Va.-based public affairs firm, where he was a vice president. Prior to that, Walker was campaign manager for Terry Lierman, the Democratic nominee in Maryland’s 8th district in 2000 — who is now chairman of the state party.

Lierman, a wealthy businessman, is working full time at the party as chairman and CEO. The state party’s former executive director, Josh White, has moved over to become political director.

Steve Jost, a Capitol Hill and political veteran who is currently chief of staff to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), is pulling double duty as the committee’s finance director.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cardin In

In a move long discussed, Rep. Ben Cardin is almost certainly entering the Senate race, according to the Sun. Speculation now centers on Reps Van Hollen and Cummings, with the occasional mention of others.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Watching the Tom DeLay ethics brouhaha lately? If so, you might be interested to see how the Democrats are looking to tie Maryland's Republican representatives to the Majority Leader.

Jeffords to Retire

from Roll Call

Despite repeated assertions that he relished another election fight, Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) reversed course Wednesday afternoon and announced that he would not seek re-election in 2006. Jeffords reportedly did not take questions during a brief news conference in Burlington but he did try to deflect rumors about his health.

Rep. Bernie Sanders (I) has made clear that he is ready to jump immediately into any open Senate race in the Green Mountain State.

Democrats could give Sanders, who often votes with them, a pass while Republicans are expected to turn to either Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas or Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie for the Senate race.

Another Democrat to watch is Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ivey for Senate?

PG Prosecutor Glenn Ivey is another of the names being discussed for the MD Senate seat left open by the retirement of Paul Sarbanes.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Senate Poll

The Sun is running a poll for the open Senate seat showing Mfume and Steele in good position, with Cardin also looking strong. Comments accompanying the article suggest that this kind of showing should encourage Steele to get into the race.

Right Reed

There is an interesting piece in the Times on how former right wing organizer and now candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia Ralph Reed mixes his political ambitions with his conservative religious beliefs.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Jackin the House

Learn about all of the wonderful government officials and other people touched by the magic of GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff at Jack in the House.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Ruppersberger Out

In the race for Sarbanes' Senate seat, Baltimore County Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger just got out, and word is that Montgomery County Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Baltimore Rep. Ben Cardin are inching forward. If Van Hollen gets into the Senate race, Council Members Tom Perez and Nancy Floreen, local progressive advocate and American University law professor Jamin Raskin, and State Senator Brian Frosh are among the names being discussed to replace him.

What We Chose

Check out Steve Hill’s Maryland policy blog – a great source for in-depth, insightful news on how our state is run, such as the reminder of what our taxes provide: education, transportation/transit, parks and libraries, and the general welfare. I hope that we move toward a society that provides more, not less, support for those in need.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


The Baltimore City Paper has an interesting piece criticizing the Governor's my way or the highway policy advocacy. The City Paper's criticism of his team's failure misses the key point: the goal of Governor Ehrlich's team has never been to pass good policy, but to get reelected.

Sun Sum-up

The Sun has a quick legislative wrapup.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Old Polls

Check out polls on the gubernatorial race early. Have something more current than January?

Monday, April 11, 2005

D20 Watch

The Baltimore Sun update on the last day of the session:
One strictly political matter that could be addressed today is a last-minute proposal to move the state's primary from September to June.

Democratic supporters of the proposal have argued that it would give the party's gubernatorial candidate more time to regroup for the November general election. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan are gearing up to seek the Democratic nomination to run against Ehrlich in 2006.

Several potential congressional candidates also favor the date change, particularly with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) leaving an open seat in the 2006 election.

The Senate passed the proposal Saturday night on a vote that fell largely along party lines. Busch said there has been resistance to the idea in the House, particularly from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sheila E. Hixson (D-Montgomery), who had yet to schedule a vote on the bill.

Clearing the Senate Field

Rollcall reports talk of clearing the field in the Maryland Democratic Senate primary.

In Maryland, some national and state black politicians are suggesting that the party clear the field for former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume (D), who has already declared his candidacy.

Mfume said that while he has not been part of any discussions about pressuring the party to get behind him, he understands why black voters and leaders are frustrated.

“Probably what you are seeing is people who are very loyal Democrats assuming and believing that the party, to hold on to its base in the black community, needs to be showing a demonstrable willingness to do what it can to promote black candidates,” he said.

But several political observers believe that Mfume’s chances of winning increase in a multicandidate primary and that he would be the underdog in a head-to-head race with one white opponent.

Moreover, not all black leaders are insisting that the party make way for Mfume.
For starters, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), who succeeded Mfume in Congress, has still not ruled out a Senate run, though it is considered unlikely at this stage. Neither has Prince George’s County States Attorney Glenn Ivey (D), who is also black. And black Members of Congress may be hesitant to take sides in a primary in which some of their colleagues, black or white, may be competing.


Locally, Ike Leggett was at a meeting in Silver Spring Sunday to promote his candidacy for County Executive, Nancy Floreen is out shaking hands in what some have suggested is outreach prior to a congressional race, and Del. Bill Bronrott won a health care award.

Friday, April 08, 2005


The Senate passed a minimum wage bill for Maryland, sending the modest increase to Gov. Ehrlich whose views are unclear. Does state Sen. E.J. Pipkin really think that he can win office outside of his narrow base when opposing an increase in the minimum wage to $6.15? And more importantly, does Ehrlich think this is a way to get his reelection going? Either are hard to imagine in Maryland.


Also locally, CongressDaily reports that Rep. Roscoe Bartlett voted for a previous version of the energy bill with provisions allowing groundwater pollution while having some of the worst water in their own districts:

With House Republicans moving rapidly on a comprehensive energy bill, a leading environmental group is taking aim at House members whose districts have evidence of groundwater contaminated with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE.
According to a report released this week by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund, contaminated groundwater has been found in the districts of 112 House members in both parties who voted for the 2003 energy bill, which contained a provision shielding MTBE producers from lawsuits.
That measure stalled largely because of the MTBE liability waiver, which attracted strong Senate opposition.
The new energy bill as drafted by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Barton contains a provision, although unlike the previous bill it would not affect pending lawsuits.

The largest problems are in the districts of Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Mike Ross, D-Ark., with contamination found in 50 different water systems each. Bartlett was unavailable for comment by presstime.


Speculation abounds about the 8th Congressional District opening up if Rep. Chris Van Hollen gets into the Senate race. Not much is being heard from the Republicans, but on the Democratic side, Frosh is very well respected and has built a substantive reputation. Floreen has been out shaking hands a lot lately her name i.d. up. Tom Perez has been mentioned a lot. What about Bill Bronrott, Cheryl Kagan, or Ana Sol Gutierrez as young (40-somethings), energetic, up-and-comers?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

From the Trenches

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-Baltimore) gives an example of one of the ongoing questions of political junkies that involves both the reasoning behind Gov. Ehrlich’s slots initiative and his general strategy for reelection.
Speculation that the Governor would rather have no bill pass is most often raised regarding slots - by both proponents and opponents. However, it’s not limited to that issue. Strategizing with a Baltimore City official last week on funding for lead paint enforcement, we discussed the likelihood that the Governor would not compromise and let the money go unspent.

Given the lack of success on the Governor’s agenda (even the Washington Times admits that he “…has achieved only minor legislative victories this year…”, Republicans had better hope that this is a strategy, not a failure to get anything done.

It’s almost funny to read that both conservative Del. Richard Weldon (R-Frederick) and TrueVoteMD activist/one-time Green Party candidate for Delegate from Takoma Park Linda Schade (www.gazette.net) oppose legislation that would protect the state elections commissioner from dismissal by the appointed board. What does that tell you about the people who like the legislation?


The drumbeat of revealed unethical practices by House Majority Leader DeLay continues today in the NY Times with indications that significant amounts of money were passed to his wife and daughter. Partisans who are also good government folks might be a bit conflicted: on the one hand, the revealed problems are things that should be resolved for the good of the country; on the other, the DeLay scandals are starting to get stuck in the public consciousness and cannot be good for Republican candidates next year. What's a good liberal to think?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Aging, Less Active Senator...

As talk swirls in local circles aboutt he potential to challenge certain aging and largely inactive state senators who have not been heard of much in their districts as of late, Stuart Rothenberg brings us talk of upsets and their potential in even the most obviously secure of seats.

(Republican challenger) Close and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee handled the issue very delicately, praising Thurmond for his years of service and accomplishments for the state, but suggesting that the election was about the future — and who could best serve the citizens of the Palmetto State for the next decade or two — rather than about the past.

Eight years after that race, Kentucky Democrats adopted a different strategy to try to bring down Bunning. They argued that the then-73-year-old conservative Republican was mentally-impaired, that he had “lost it,” and ought not be handed a second term in the Senate.

Neither challenger prevailed in the end, but then few of our state legislators in safe districts are as well known or well loved as they might think. Other insights?

Old Line Roundup

The Sun's legislative assessment brings up the interesting point that the state Republicans think that the building of the ICC may peel enough votes out of Montgomery and PG counties to significantly help Ehrlich next year.

Locally, Martin O'Malley spoke to a crowd of local politicals (including names like Franchot, Hixson, Gansler, Floreen, Praisner, Leggett, Ruben, Leventhal, Ewing) and activists in Silver Spring yesterday, there was a profile piece on Tom Perez in the Post, and local gadfly/perennial candidate Debra Vollmer is comes out against Purple Line options that run above ground near her neighborhood.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


Moving the primary up to June (from September) makes sense. It makes sense that you don't penalize a party with a contested primary by making it just two months before the general election.

Of course, in a state where Republicans are struggling to be competitive in many elections, the one positive they have is that less competition in their primaries means they have a real shot at a weakened Democratic nominee, so they are unlikely to go along with this idea. This sounds like inside baseball to some, undoubtedly, but makes a real difference.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Where Have the Moderates Gone?

I was raised in an area where, at that time, moderates, mainly Republicans, ruled and most people considered themselves reasonable, moderate folks. Liberals and conservatives influenced some debates and contested some elections, but they were not major players. Maybe I got used to that amicable, middle-of-the-road policy and political environment.

As I read about the marginalization of moderates in the ruling Republican party today, I cannot help but long for those days where at least it seemed like people worked together, across party lines. As the conservative wing of the GOP has surged, the moderates in that party have chosen to hide in a corner. Reading a critical review of a book by, and the plans of, Christine Whitman, former EPA Administrator and NJ governor, reminds me of their disappearance.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April Fool's

Why didn't we come up with the clever spoof of conservative ranting as a Fool's gag? Well, take advantage of the fact that someone did, along with spiffy blogads to boot!

A Brand Name Pasted on A Bad Movie

In a well-written comparison of policy-making bodies in Washington and Brussels, Lewis Lapham offers up the following morsel in April's Harper's Magazine:

"For everybody who can afford the price of a Harvard diploma and a pet politician, America is a very nice place to live; for people not so fortunately situated, America is fast becoming a brand name pased on a bad movie or an empty box."