Second Postcard from MACo: Lots of Tidbits

By Josh Kurtz

What is it about Maryland that forces office-seekers to campaign in extreme weather conditions, often while the voters they are trying to connect with have Old Bay and crab guts on their hands?

“You have to sweat through the summer to get through to the voters,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D), a candidate for governor.

That phenomenon was on full display Friday evening during the annual crab feast at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in Ocean City. As thousands of state and local officials and their families ate crabs, burgers, hot dogs, corn and more, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and three of his Democratic challengers – Baker, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and tech entrepreneur Alec Ross – made their way through the crowd, offering handshakes and hugs (two other Democratic gubernatorial contenders, state Sen. Rich Madaleno and attorney Jim Shea, spent time at the MACo conference but did not attend the crab feast).

Hogan, as he often is during events such as these, was the star of the show – and he spent far more time greeting well-wishers than anyone else. But remember: While Maryland is a blue state, the Democrats are concentrated in just a few jurisdictions. Numerically, there are far more Republican elected and appointed officials in the counties than Democratic. So he started off with an advantage: This was a Hogan crowd.

The dynamic between Hogan and Kamenetz will be fun to watch on Saturday, when Kamenetz, in his role as president of MACo, will introduce the governor before his annual speech to the county leaders, which by tradition closes the confab. Kamenetz, spies tell us, had breakfast on Friday at the Dough Roller near the Roland E. Powell Convention Center with Rep. Anthony Brown (D) – the Democrats’ standard-bearer against Hogan in 2014.

‘POLITICAL INTRIGUE’ COULD HIT ECONOMY Anirban Basu, Hogan’s favorite economist, helped tee up the governor’s speech, delivering an economic forecast to MACo attendees Friday that largely validated Hogan’s decision to pursue a pro-business agenda and shower largesse on the state’s rural areas.

Basu, the witty and insightful CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., noted that in the short term, “Maryland is doing just fine.” The state is currently tied for 10th in the U.S. in job growth, he said.

But the rate of employment growth is greatest in the Washington, D.C., region, Basu noted. It’s respectable in the Baltimore region – the city more than the suburbs, according to the federal data. But it’s lagging in rural areas like Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore (with the exception of Wicomico County, which came in at No. 6).

“We are still very far away from being ‘One Maryland,’” Basu observed.

The economist warned that the U.S. economy could get bumpy in 2019 or 2020, due to what he called the “political intrigue” at the federal level.

“In the next legislative session, I hope we’ll see some really pro-business legislation passed,” he said. “The political intrigue – we can’t really get around that.”

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MILLER TIME Senate President Mike Miller (D) made a brief appearance at the convention center Friday, and he still wanted to talk about the controversy surrounding the removal of the Roger Taney statue from the State House grounds earlier in the day.

Miller was upset that Hogan asked the State House Trust, consisting of him, Miller, House Speaker Mike Busch (D) and a representative of the Maryland Historic Trust, to vote by email on whether or not to remove the statue. Miller said he never got a ballot – and preferred that the vote take place in public after a robust debate.

“How do you evaluate a man’s history by checking a box?” he said.

Miller, a well-known student of history who finds the period from 1820-1860 the most fascinating in American history, said Taney had a storied career that has been overshadowed by his role in writing the Dred Scott decision, which decreed in 1857 that slaves are property, during his tenure as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Taney was the only chief justice from Maryland in history and was the first Catholic chief justice, as well as serving as U.S. attorney general, treasury secretary, Maryland attorney general, and a member of the state Senate and House of Delegates.

“People don’t know the man,” Miller said.

But Miller has offered Hogan a political gift, giving the governor’s spokesman an opportunity to accuse Miller of siding with Taney and muddying Democrats’ efforts to connect Hogan with President Trump, who has referred to “beautiful” Confederate statues in the wake of last week’s racially-charged rioting in Charlottesville, Va. In 2015, Hogan suggested that removing the Taney statue would be capitulating to political correctness.

NOT ELVIS As he ramps us his gubernatorial campaign, Madaleno is starting to assemble a staff and a team of consultants. He was in Ocean City Friday with his new campaign manager, Keith Presley.

Presley worked most recently for the Maryland Democratic Party, and he was field director for Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s successful Democratic primary campaign during the 2016 election cycle. A 2010 University of Maryland graduate, Presley has also worked on campaigns in Arkansas, Iowa, New York and Missouri.

Madaleno is also using the well-known Celinda Lake as his pollster, and is working with Indigo Strategies, a D.C.-based general consulting and media firm with significant Maryland experience.

“We have a serious team aimed at winning the election,” Madaleno said. “There is a clear path for me to win both the primary and the general.”

Madaleno said he was skipping the MACo crab feast to attend the Caroline Summerfest in Denton, “where real voters are.”

A HIGHER AUTHORITY? Hogan’s campaign bus was parked, as usual, in the convention center parking lot. The signs promoting Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) are hard to miss; what’s difficult to find on the bus is an “authority line,” which is required under state law with any piece of campaign literature.

After some investigating, we finally found it, in miniscule lettering on a “Hogan Strong” bumper sticker affixed to the back bumper.

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Is this sufficiently compliant with state law? We couldn’t reach Jared Demaranis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division at the State Board of Elections, on Friday.

KOPP ON TOP Even though they haven’t been confirmed by the state Senate – and they’re not being paid – acting state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader and acting state Planning Secretary Wendi Peters were present at the governor’s cabinet reception Friday at MACo.

Schrader and Peters sued the Democratic General Assembly earlier this month, claiming the legislature overstepped its powers by enacting legislation denying payment to acting cabinet secretaries whose nominations have been rejected by the Senate (Peters’ case) or have not been acted upon (Schrader’s).

They also sued State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, claiming she exceeded her authority by refusing to sign their paychecks, which were authorized by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D). Kopp was acting on the advice of Attorney General Brian Frosh (D). They used to serve together in the legislature, representing the Bethesda-based District 16.

Kopp, Franchot and Hogan sit on the Board of Public Works, and Kopp frequently finds herself in the minority during controversial votes. But for now, at least, she has the upper hand in this matter.

MERGER Of the dozens of parties and receptions that took place in Ocean City this week, one of the swankest was hosted Thursday night by Mayson-Dixon Strategic Consulting, feting Baker, Baltimore City Council President Jack Young (D), and House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis (D). The party occupied three floors at Skye Bar.

Earlier in the week, Mayson-Dixon, a public affairs firm with clients in politics, business and the non-profit sector, announced its merger with TruBlue Politics, a Democratic strategy firm.

“I am thrilled about the TruBlu Politics merger and excited to showcase our arsenal of services we provide to our existing and potential clients,” Mayson-Dixon founder and CEO Jayson Williams said in a statement.

NI The Maryland Public Policy Institute this week issued a report on the performance of Hogan in the General Assembly session. The conclusion: needs improvement.

Consider these grades: F on national politics, D on budget and taxes, D on the economy and C on crime. The only respectable grade was A- on transportation.

“State lawmakers spent more time inserting themselves into Washington politics and too little time promoting economic growth, public safety, or education reform here at home,” said Christopher Summers, president and CEO of the institute, which promotes free enterprise and limited government. “Marylanders who value free enterprise and limited government should demand more from their elected representatives.”

The full report can be viewed here.

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