No, I’m not talking about Jerome Anthony Gourdine, the 1960s crooner (“Tears On My Pillow,” “Hurt So Bad,” “Going Out of My Head”) backed by the doo wop Imperials. I’m talking about Anthony Brown, the candidate for Maryland governor, backed by an Imperial Guard of elected officials, state bureaucrats and partisan journalists.
Brown has a lot going for him: the vigorous support of African-American voters, the largest war chest, name recognition and a great life story. He’s also the Democratic establishment’s favorite, backed by most elected officials, most labor unions and most special-interest groups.
Running far ahead of his wounded chief rival, Doug Gansler, Brown is conducting a modified rose garden campaign. He’s ducking candidate forums, limiting debates, avoiding controversy and, generally, running out the clock until the June 24 primary. Running out the clock with a big lead often backfires in sports, but in politics it makes sense if you have the Imperial Guard on your side. Here’s how it works.
Each of Maryland’s local governments runs and funds its own jail except Baltimore city. Rife with mismanagement and corruption, Baltimore’s jail came under state control (and funding) in the 1990s. But last April federal authorities busted Baltimore’s state-run jail, leading to the arrest of 44 guards and inmates, including the Black Guerrilla Family gang, which was running the place.
When the jail bust made national headlines the embarrassed Maryland legislature launched an investigation into how it happened and who was to blame. No surprise, the Democratic task force didn’t hold anyone in the O’Malley/Brown administration accountable, not even the corrections secretary. Instead, it blamed the scandal on the jail building.
That’s right, the building. The task force’s chief recommendation? Have state taxpayers build a new $533 million city jail. Also, heighten screening and scrutiny of guards, but not enough to upset the corrections officers union. No one held accountable, cover-up complete.
Accounts of Attorney General Doug Gansler hectoring his state trooper drivers to speed and ignore traffic laws were kept under wraps for two years by the O’Malley/Brown administration and, then, leaked (thanks to a complicit Washington Post reporter) right before Gansler’s big news conference announcing his running mate.
Gansler stupidly called the obvious setup what it was, a political hit job, but that only compounded the damage by pitting Gansler against the state police, who responded with a blistering 500-word broadside.
As veteran political pundit Barry Rascovar points out, “It’s also next to impossible (for the state police) to release such a harsh statement without first gaining approval from the governor.” It was Gansler’s introduction to below-the-belt, Baltimore-style politics, courtesy of the Imperial Guard.
Seventeen years ago, the state banned state lawmakers from political fundraising during the 90-day General Assembly. The problem wasn’t lobbyists bribing lawmakers, it was the lawmakers shaking down the lobbyists who begged the assembly’s presiding officers for protection. The fundraising ban covers statewide incumbents (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general) and all 188 state legislators. But what about a “covered” candidate’s running mate, such as Ken Ulman, Brown’s ticket mate, who is not a state lawmaker?
The State Board of Elections issued a ruling favorable to Brown that, yes, Ulman can fundraise during the session. But wait, the ruling wasn’t issued by the board, it was issued by the election’s administrator, Linda Lamone, who owes her job to Senate President Mike Miller, one of Brown’s biggest supporters.
Even worse, Lamone acted without the requisite legal review, a big no-no. This blatant insider favoritism sparked angry newspaper editorials and a lawsuit from Gansler’s camp. Next, a chagrined Elections Board walked back Lamone’s ruling by issuing “clarifying” regulations defining coordination between ticket-mates such that Lamone’s ruling was nullified.
So, blocked from fundraising and facing an ugly backlash, Brown pretended to take the high road, forgoing the now-banned fundraising and promising to plug the ban’s “loophole” once he’s elected.
This is the Imperial Guard at its best, or worst, as the case may be. Maryland’s $260 million Obamacare website crashed on opening day and remains one of the nation’s four most dysfunctional exchanges.
Because Lt. Gov. Brown was supposed to be in charge of Maryland’s Obamacare program, the Imperial Guard now is closing protective ranks around him. Brown says no one told him about the website’s defects, which is like Custer saying no one told him about the Indians.
Brown and the Imperial Guard also say that fixing the exchange is more important than investigating what went wrong and who’s to blame. Like, we can’t do both simultaneously?
Funny, Brown and O’Malley have no difficulty multitasking when it comes to governing and running for higher office. Likewise, the legislature overcame the multitasking challenge in 2005 when it conducted a yearlong, $1 million dollar investigation, complete with special prosecutor, of Republican governor Bob Ehrlich (the “investigation” came up empty but served its purpose, smearing Ehrlich).
Also, the Baltimore City Council currently is investigating who’s to blame for the city’s speed camera fiasco. But in Annapolis, the Democratic legislature is giving Maryland’s Obamacare exchange train wreck the Benghazi treatment: delay, obfuscation and inaction.
In his Washington Post column “Brown bungles health-care plan debut but will probably win Md. governorship anyway,” Robert McCartney predicts voters will forgive Brown because “the issue is one of competency and not morality.”
Huh? Is that what now passes for standards in one-party Maryland? Makes me feel like singing “Hurts So Bad.”
Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.