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First Click -- Maryland

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Monday, February 15, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgThe election year arrives at the legislature

Most of the media attention paid to Maryland's 2010 election year has understandably focused on the prospects for a high-profile rematch between Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). But all 188 seats in the General Assembly are also on the ballot -- a dynamic that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

In the pages of The Post this weekend, we looked at the number of generational primaries shaping up in both parties, in which challengers are taking on incumbents old enough to be their parents:

MD-OpeningDay-House.JPG"Several of the Democratic hopefuls -- including some sitting delegates, who might give up their seats to run for Senate -- have pointed to President Obama as inspiration for running for a higher office without a lengthy résumé. The Republican challengers are more apt to cite the national political climate, in which no incumbent seems safe."

In many of Maryland's legislative districts, the September primaries are pretty much the entire ballgame. In the others, the parties will turn their heavy firepower outward heading into November. Many of those battle lines are being drawn in the remainder of the 90-day legislative session.

We're currently between skirmishes on the apparently not-too-obscure-for-an-election-year issue of legislative pensions. House Republicans sought to make the most of it last week. This week, their counterparts in the Senate will pick up the fight.

The House voted last week to reject a pay raise for its members -- an easy call politically. But Republicans sought to up the ante by proposing the House pare back the pensions available to lawmakers.

Interestingly, the biggest flashpoint wasn't over the merits of the GOP proposal -- but whether the Democratic leadership used procedural rules to thwart debate of the issue in a year in which "open government" is the new religion in Annapolis.

Shank.jpgHouse Minority Leader Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) put it this way on his Facebook page: "Speaker Mike Busch today used brute force to block an amendment to cut legislative pensions. Using a procedural move he wouldn't even allow us to offer the amendment--Annapolis SNOW JOB!!!" As we noted in our weekend piece, Shank, 37, is among those seeking higher officer, having launched a primary challenge against 72-year-old Sen. Donald F. Munson (R-Washington).

The GOP outrage on the pension issue continued into the weekend, getting an airing on the weekly WBAL radio show hosted by the not-yet-a-candidate former governor and his wife, Kendel. Del. William J. Frank (R-Baltimore County) called into to complain to Ehrlich that his proposal had been "snuffed" by the Democratic leadership.

Thumbnail image for Busch mug.jpgFor his part, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), points out that lawmakers from both parties had plenty of opportunities to raise the pension issue during weeks of debate over legislative salaries, first by a commission and then by the legislature. They did not. And Frank and others remained silent on the issue during the appropriate window to raise it on the House floor.

Such squabbles will not affect who controls either the House or Senate next year. Republicans currently hold only 37 of 141 House seats and 14 of 47 Senate seats. On many issues in Annapolis, they remain a sideshow. There is not a scenario in Republicans' wildest dreams in which they gain control of either chamber this cycle.

But given the current political climate, the GOP could make some gains. In the Senate, picking up five seats would end the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority, a goal that has remained elusive to this point. That would be the equivalent of the Democrats losing their 60th vote in Washington.

It's a stretch, but one that could significantly affect the outcome of numerous issues if O'Malley returns for a second term. Of course, that would pale in comparison to Ehrlich returning for a second term.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

O'Malley reverses course, seeks modest education changes
OMalley on couch.jpgGov. Martin O'Malley is expected to introduce legislation on Monday that would add a year to the time it takes public school teachers to achieve tenure and make data on student growth a "significant component" of teacher evaluations, writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz. The governor's proposal comes after "disagreements with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick over whether the state needed to make changes to win the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top funds." Two months ago, O'Malley said Maryland did not need to revise its laws to be successful. Grasmick maintained that the state did need to make changes and "had been preparing to push her ideas without the governor's support, several lawmakers said."

No (reading) texts while driving?
Maryland's ban on sending text messages while driving has resulted in fewer than five tickets per week statewide since the law went into effect on Oct. 1, writes The Capital's Scott Daugherty. Baltimore County Delegates James E. Malone Jr. and A. Wade Kach say a bill that would go further and ban reading texts would make it easier for police to enforce the law. The proposed expansion "is receiving broad support in the House Environmental Matters Committee" even though there's no similar ban on reading maps, books, or other materials while driving.

Rawlings-Blake on board with table games
Table games.jpg"Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said she would like to see the state's fledgling slot-machine gambling program expanded to include poker, blackjack, craps and roulette, adding her voice Friday to a growing number of lawmakers who support bringing Vegas-style table games to Maryland," reports The Sun's Annie Linskey. "Such games, the mayor said at a meeting of Baltimore's state lawmakers in Annapolis, would make any proposed city gambling parlor competitive."

Northrop Grumman execs visit Annapolis, Richmond
"The governors of Maryland and Virginia held separate meetings with top executives of Northrop Grumman on Friday to encourage the defense contractor to move its headquarters to their states," writes The Post's John Wagner, Aaron C. Davis and V. Dion Hayes. "Northrop Grumman last month announced plans to relocate its corporate office from Los Angeles to somewhere in the Washington region, and since then Maryland, Virginia and the District have been waging a fierce battle to capture the prestige and millions of dollars in property taxes that would come with the move."

Look Ahead

-- House and Senate budget committees are scheduled dissect the state's health department budget.
-- The General Assembly's confirmation committee could vote on nominations of Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley and more than 30 others.
-- The General Assembly will commemorate President's Day with speeches at 8 p.m.

-- Gov. O'Malley and Rep. Elijah Cummings are scheduled to testify before House and Senate committees on O'Malley's proposed home foreclosure mediation.
-- The governor's proposed tuition stabilization, wind and solar energy bills are also scheduled to be heard by House committees.
-- Senate Budget will hold a bill hearing on maintenance of effort penalties that could cost Montgomery County tens of millions of dollars.
-- A House committee is set to hear a bill tightening restrictions on distracted drivers


-- A Senate committee will consider O'Malley's proposed tax breaks for purchasing electric vehicles
-- House and Senate committees will consider bills to make Veterans Day a school holiday.


Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  February 15, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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If the Republicans somehow manage to pick up five seats, Miller and Busch will simply lower the cloture requirement again.

Posted by: member8 | February 15, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

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