In Annapolis and Washington, finding the sensible center'
Maryland is among the bluest of blue states, overwhelmingly Democratic.
The odds for re-election are highly favorable for Democratic incumbents Sen. Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, Donna Edwards, and Gov. Martin O'Malley.
This year could be different. If the wave of opposition to incumbents and the party in control in Washington reaches Maryland, there could be an upset in the race for governor and possibly other traditional Democratic congressional strongholds.
How telling is it that while many Democrats are campaigning about all things local, distancing themselves from Washington, President Obama is invited by O'Malley to energize his gubernatorial race?
O'Malley has aligned himself with the president's performance of the past two years and believes his economic policies "just need a little more time to work." In an editorial board meeting, four-term senator Mikulski laments the days when senators from both parties sought the "sensible center" and she frequently references former President Bill Clinton in her discussion of politics, policy and governance.
In the House of Representatives, Hoyer and Van Hollen, lieutenants to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have been overtly involved with the Democratic leadership that is accountable for a stalled economy that has left 17 percent of the country looking for a full-time job or having given up the search for one.
The nation remains burdened with unsustainable federal spending, a mounting deficit, a health care reform law that half the country wants to repeal or change, and a government disconnect evident in responses to issues like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the civilian trials of terrorists.
The political landscape in Washington and Maryland will change. If Republicans win the House, the power of Hoyer (5th District) and Van Hollen (8th District) will be displaced. It is a fate that they and the Democratic leadership will have wrought upon themselves.
Democratic loss of power in Congress may hurt Maryland, which hasn't suffered as much as the rest of the nation thanks to federal government jobs, contractors and military base realignments.
If this election was about rewarding representatives for "bringing home the bacon," ours would get two thumbs up. But this election is about the crisis that is visited upon our nation and our national interest.
There is a deep unsettledness in the country. Angst has turned to anxiety and anxiety has turned to fear. Most Americans know how to hunker down, how to find that "sensible center." But they do not want their sacrifices to be for naught.
In this season of endorsements, Mikulski, Hoyer, Van Hollen and Edwards only deserve tepid support. They have toed the party line but missed the mark on the crises of the country. And, viable choices offered by other parties are few. (In the 6th District, which covers a portion of Montgomery County, Democrat Andrew Duck has received The Gazette's support.)
Maryland is largely a one-party state, with a closed primary, but there is one contest where the race is close and the outcome of great relevance.
The next governor will be responsibile for redrawing and redefining election districts, which can reward or punish political parties. The last time this was done, Democrat Parris N. Glendening was governor. He kept a redistricting map in plain view in his office, an ultimate bargaining chip in political manuevers. When his work was completed, the state's highest court threw it out.
What kind of political boundaries would a Democratic governor and Democratic state legislature draw? That is somewhat of an asked-and-answered question. One could surmise that a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature would yield a more balanced, albeit contentious, redistricting map.
Maryland's most critical issue remains its structural budget deficit, meaning its ongoing spending commitments are projected to produce deficits.
In recent years the state has come up with ways to close an annual billion dollar-plus shortfall. Under O'Malley, that has meant a 20 percent sales tax increase, transferring funds, some budget cuts, employee furloughs and passing costs back to local governments. Not to be overlooked, in fiscal 2009-2011 Maryland balanced its budget with $4.5 billion in stimulus from the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
During his tenure that ended in 2006, then Gov. Ehrlich, the Republican who is again challenging O'Malley, did not face the same economic climate in drafting the annual budget. But, neither candidate has waded into the structural deficit that has weighed heavily on Maryland for more than a decade.
One answer to balancing the budget is to raise taxes.
O'Malley says he has no plans to increase taxes but there are those, particularly in the business community, who believe he will change his mind and that such a move would add to Maryland's reputation of an unfriendly business environment.
Ehrlich would like to repeal the sales tax increase, but it is difficult to see how such an action could be taken at this time.
More revenue will eventually find its way to the state budget as the economy recovers. If slot-machine gaming gets established, the state will have a new source of revenue to support the cost of the education reform it took on in 2002.
The tougher choices in solving the systemic budget shortfall are on the cost side.
Maryland makes a worthy investment in education, but historically about one-third of the education budget in Maryland is poured into two jurisdictions, Baltimore City and Prince George's County. There must be accountability and success for the children in these districts to bring costs under control. Beyond that, the major budget-buster nationwide is the burden of pensions and benefits for public employees. Fair and reasonable solutions for taxpayers and employees are necessary.
Another issue facing the next governor is the infrastructure of Maryland: roads, bridges, mass transit, water and sewer pipes. The state needs strategies that are affordable with a source of funding like a gas tax that is modest, reliable, and cannot be touched to balance the general budget.
When considering the work ahead, Maryland will be best served by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as governor.
Ehrlich brings his own credentials, and a solid record, to the office. During his first term, he focused on fiscal responsibility, education, the environment, jobs and public safety.
Ehrlich opposed increases in sales and income taxes and supported legalization of slot machines to create a revenue stream to support an education-funding plan that he endorsed as a way of bringing equitable financial resources to poorer districts. He opened the first-ever public charter school and invested heavily in community colleges and the state's historically black colleges.
Ehrlich supported the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, hailed as "the most important pollution-reducing initiative in the state in 20 years" by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He established a position in his cabinet for people with disabilities, a long-term issue of his.
Ehrlich wants to re-energize the growth of private sector jobs and explore a bus transit system for the Purple Line, linking Metrorail stations in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The challenge he will face is working with a legislature dominated by another party, which is a high-wire act. In his first term, there was far too much acrimony in Annapolis.
Attacks during this campaign deserve some comment.
O'Malley has been critical of Ehrlich's school construction spending. But one analysis shows they both funded a comparable percentage of total requests from counties during their terms.
On college tuition and fees collectively, there has been a steady increase over the years. In Ehrlich's term, receipts from new taxes and fees were $2.9 billion. O'Malley's 2007 package alone amounted to $3.6 billion. On jobs, during the Great Recession, Maryland understandably has lost under O'Malley, with the unemployment rate jumping from 3.6 percent to 7.3 percent. Jobs grew under Ehrlich in a stronger economy.
Ehrlich is the best candidate to take on Maryland's unavoidable financial problems, all while maintaining quality schools, investing in vital transportation improvements, protecting basic human and health services and restoring a can-do business climate.
Incumbent Democrat Peter V. R. Franchot is the choice for comptroller over Republican challenger William H. Campbell.
Franchot, who served for 20 years in the House of Delegates before winning the 2006 Democratic nomination for comptroller and easily defeating his Republican opponent, has the vital statewide experience needed for tough economic times.
Franchot has cited significant accomplishments, such as collecting millions in previously unrecognized tax revenue. Recently, he announced that more than $162 million has been collected as a result of partnerships with federal agencies to recoup back taxes and other monies from tax scofflaws.
As well as his hawkish approach to tax collection, Franchot maintains an independent opinion witness his fierce opposition to slots when many key Democrats were trying to rally the party behind that legislation a few years back. This will serve the state well whether O'Malley or Ehrlich wins.
Franchot wants a top-to-bottom review of state spending to establish clear priorities. He offers an independent voice and a professional, calculated approach.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who was once Montgomery County's top prosecutor, has no opponents. Gansler's work has been solid, measured and responsive.
State legislative races
(all or parts of Burtonsville, Damascus,
Laytonsville, Montgomery Village, Olney and Silver Spring)
District 14 voters have a chance to strike a balance between experience and fresh ideas. Democratic Del. Karen Montgomery won a close race against incumbent Sen. Rona E. Kramer in the primary, giving her a chance to take her political savvy to the next level. Incumbent Del. Anne Kaiser and newcomers Craig Zucker and Eric Luedtke would make up a progressive dream team for the diverse district.
Kaiser is finishing her second term and has proven her prowess at handling complex budget matters. A member of the Ways and Means Committee, she serves as the chair of the Education Subcommittee and as Deputy Majority Whip.
As the deputy chief of staff for Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, Zucker knows how crucial it is to keep a sharp eye on state money. He has built a powerful list of supporters that would give him plenty of political muscle.
Luedtke is a passionate and intelligent newcomer focused on education but also keenly aware of the many other issues he will be handling to help make District 14 flourish.
(all or parts of Clarksburg, Germantown,
Poolesville, Potomac, Bethesda and Gaithersburg)
Sen. Robert J. Garagiola deserves to return to Annapolis. His leadership on the environment he is a proponent of conservation and renewable energy and on transportation he understands that a strong infrastructure means a sound business climate are vital to every part of the state.
In the House of Delegates race, two incumbents and five challengers are vying for three seats.
Incumbents Kathleen Dumais and Brian Feldman are smart, hard-working legislators who deserve third terms.
Feldman, chairman of the Montgomery delegation, is a leader in efforts to grow the biotechnology sector. An attorney and accountant, he has the skills to lead Maryland through its fiscal challenges.
Dumais, a family law attorney who serves as House Parliamentarian, makes sure the state protects families and children. She was able to get support for passage of several bills this year that get tough on sex offenders and she fought for legislation to curtail gang violence in schools.
The third seat should go to Republican Scott Graham, assistant fire chief for Montgomery County. Graham takes a practical approach to solving problems and has distinguished himself as a leader during times of extreme danger and stress. Graham is also a solid bet to live up to his promise of making the state safer and friendlier to businesses.
(Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac)
Sen. Brian Frosh (D) has served his constituents well and is a better choice than his GOP challenger, Jerry Cave, who substitutes an eye-catching purple vehicle and sweeping generalities for a legislative platform. Frosh is well known as an environmentalist. He takes a thoughtful approach to problems and eschews bumper sticker solutions.
Del. Susan Lee (D) deserves re-election. Who should fill District 16's other two House seats is a tougher question. Del. Bill Frick (D), appointed to his seat in 2007, should get another term. His state accomplishments have been slight (freshman legislators often have difficulty moving bills through the General Assembly), but he has worked hard on consumer issues and maintains an admirable interest in the unglamorous business of constituent service.
Republican Jeanne Allen is a good choice for the third seat. An education reform advocate, she lacks many Democrats' slavish devotion to unions and believes public employees should contribute more to their benefits. She embraces tough budget choices and creative problem solving. Allen is a fiscal conservative and social moderate, and could shake up the House a bit.
(Gaithersburg, Rockville and Garrett Park)
In District 17, incumbents Sen. Jennie M. Forehand and delegates Kumar Barve, Luiz R.S. Simmons and James Gilchrist are a strong team. Forehand (D), of Rockville, has been a consistent leader for 16 years. She has seniority and longstanding relationships that make her an important, productive force. She acknowledges her age 74 and sees herself as an energetic voice on issues facing a graying population.
Barve (D), of Gaithersburg, the House Majority Leader, gets the nod for one of the three seats. He has served his constituents for five terms and is a supporter of biotech, who will pursue investments for the biotech and technology industries and work to continue tax credits for green retrofitting of old buildings.
Simmons (D), of Rockville, urges the elimination of the $100 million a year public subsidy for horse racing and would create a state revolving loan fund for qualified small businesses.
Gilchrist (D), of Rockville, campaigning for a second term, is budget and transit minded, with an interest in improving the connectivity of transit options. He supports light rail for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a key component to the success of the Great Seneca Science Corridor in the district.
(Wheaton, Kensington and Chevy Chase)
In the House of Delegates race, Democratic incumbents Al Carr, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Jeff Waldstreicher are unopposed. In the Senate race, Democrat Rich Madaleno is defending his seat against Republican Kurt Osuch.
The three sitting delegates' strengths are complementary. A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Waldstreicher was instrumental in pushing through a ban on texting while driving, which will help save lives and money. Gutierrez has been an advocate for Latino issues at the local and national level and speaks for an important constituency in her district. Carr has been a consistent supporter of environmental issues and was the lead sponsor of a bill to reduce the use of disposable supermarket bags.
In the Senate race, Madaleno's opponent offers a noteworthy platform focused on public safety, economic development and education especially expanded parental choice such as charter schools.
Still, Madaleno deserves the nod. He is one of the state's most well-respected legislators on budget matters and has worked to close tax loopholes and push for civil rights for same-sex couples. Madaleno's efforts on an early compromise to cope with teacher pension funding was not well-received, and may have been politically hazardous, but he showed immense courage and foresight, rather than waiting for state leadership to force the issue.
(all or parts of Aspen Hill, Olney,
Wheaton, Laytonsville and Gaithersburg)
In sprawling District 19, the choice for state Senate is Roger P. Manno.
Manno, who has been a delegate, offers the best chance to produce results. He touts his efforts on transportation funding for Metro and says a major concern is ensuring the county gets its fair share of state funding.
For delegate in District 19, incumbent Benjamin F. Kramer and newcomers Sam Arora and Bonnie Cullison are the best choices.
Kramer has a firm understanding of the needs of the business community and a strong relationship with Manno.
Arora grew up in Derwood and knows the district. He is concerned about transportation and doesn't want the state fund stripped.
Cullison offers insight into the county's changing demographics. At 42 percent white and middle class, she believes there's little recognition in Annapolis of how much of a shift has been occurring.
(Takoma Park and Silver Spring)
In the House of Delegates race, Democratic incumbents Sheila Hixson, Tom Hucker and Heather Mizeur are unopposed, but their terms so far show promise they will do well for their constituents.
Hucker has been a key voice on the House Environmental Matters Committee, whose responsibilities include land use, planning and transportation. An advocate for smart growth planning, Hucker also supports increasing the alcohol tax and has pushed for legislation providing universal pre-kindergarten education.
Mizeur, with a strong record in supporting health care, family planning and education issues, favors increasing alcohol and gasoline taxes to help with revenue problems.
Hixson has served 17 years as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and has advocated for the Purple Line and the Intercounty Connector, job-creation and biotech tax credits, and funding for education
In the Senate race, incumbent Jamie Raskin is unopposed. Outspoken for progressive causes and workers rights, Raskin had success with legislation requiring state agencies to establish internal recycling plans and enabling nonprofit community developers and local governments to set up affordable housing land trusts.
(Montgomery Village, Washington Grove
and parts of Germantown, Darnestown,
North Potomac and unincorporated Gaithersburg)
Incumbent Sen. Nancy J. King narrowly won her primary battle with Del. Saqib Ali for the District 39 Senate seat in one of the county's most contested races, and she should be allowed to finish what she has started.
King, elected as a delegate in 2003 and having served on the Montgomery County Board of Education, has been an advocate for the public school system, including sponsoring a bill that waived the county's maintenance of effort penalties.
In the delegates race, Charles Barkley and Kirill Reznik should keep their seats.
Barkley, a retired educator who has served in the House since 1999, has significant knowledge of the state budget from time spent on the House Appropriations Committee. Reznik, who was appointed in 2007, has backed several autism-related bills and been an advocate for health care issues. The third seat should go to newcomer Shane Robinson, 33, of Montgomery Village, who will bring a fresh perspective to the delegation. He thinks the state should lead the nation in innovating green technology and he thinks access to quality health care should be a universal right.