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First Click: How Maryland politics really works

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Thursday, August 19, 2010:

The Agenda
Aaron.jpgMaryland's gubernatorial frontrunners have all but locked up next month's primaries. Families are flocking to the beach for final summer vacations. The start of school is just around the corner. Naturally - and perhaps healthily - few right now are worrying about Maryland politics.

But under the veil of this hazy week in August, the wheels of Maryland politics have begun to turn furiously. In the last two days, a batch of campaign finance reports, a little-noticed press release and the start of an annual schmoozefest in Ocean City, have helped shape Maryland's political agenda for the remaining 10 weeks before November's election, and beyond.

Fundraising reports filed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) tell us this much about how the rematch may unfold:

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for o'malley-kickoff.jpgO'Malley has an undeniable, 3-to-1 money advantage over Ehrlich that could allow him to control the airwaves and spend more leading up to Election Day on crucial get-out-the-vote efforts.

Ehrlich, however, received twice as many small donations as O'Malley over the last seven months. The reversal from the type of large donations that often fuel Maryland Republican campaigns has suggested to some political observers that angry voters may be beginning to channel their discontent into the state's top race.

Thumbnail image for Ehrlich-campaign.jpgThe fundraising reports also confirm just who pays for the majority of Maryland's political workings: Less than 15 percent of all the donations that O'Malley and Ehrlich received since January came from counties outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor, according to an analysis by the University of Maryland's Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

While you may have heard a little about the fundraising, chances are you probably didn't hear about the success of a grassroots effort to force a vote on raising the state's alcohol tax when the General Assembly reconvenes next year. Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative and other groups that successfully pushed for a doubling of the cigarette tax in 2007 are back at it.

Taking a page from their last campaign, the group has convinced over 130 candidates for the House of Delegates and the Senate to sign pledges promising to vote for a 10-cent per-drink tax increase to fund programs to reduce alcohol abuse, underage drinking and healthcare for residents with special needs.

O'Malley and the state's Democratically-controlled legislature did not want to go anywhere near new taxes heading into this year's election. For decades, Maryland's alcohol lobby has also squashed proposed tax increases that would bring Maryland's levy on alcohol in line with most others. But Vincent DeMarco, the initiative's president, said he thinks the climate will be different when the General Assembly meets next year, in part because of this year's election.

"I think candidates are beginning to see that it's not only good policy, but good politics," DeMarco said. "Voters will not be pleased with those seen as being on the side of the alcohol lobby."

The alcohol tax will be one of dozens of topics discussed between lawmakers and lobbyists from today until Saturday at the Maryland Association of Counties annual summer conference in Ocean City.

MaCo's power in Annapolis - as well as the seafood buffets, free drinks and other goodies from lobbyists and companies looking for public contracts from the state - draw hundreds to the annual event each August.

But in an election year, the crowd is even bigger. By Friday, both Ehrlich and O'Malley will be on hand.


-- Aaron C. Davis


News You Should Know
Curry endorses Baker for Prince George's executive, says his time has 'gone'
Thumbnail image for Curry-thumb-200x147.jpeg"Former County Executive Wayne Curry (D) made it official: he's banking on Rushern Baker, a former state delegate to succeed Jack B. Johnson (D) as exec in Prince George's," writes The Post's Miranda Spivack. "Curry, who was elected the county's first black executive 16 years ago, is a lawyer in private practice, doing development deals and keeping a hand on local and statewide politics. Some think he might try for a comeback and run for governor someday, but as he outlined the reasons why he was backing Baker at a news conference at a union hall in New Carrollton, Curry quipped: 'My time has come. And gone.' "

Maryland adoptions on the rise, O'Malley says
omalleyTWP.JPGMaryland has achieve "a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of adoptions statewide over the past three years, according to the Department of Human Resources. Since 2007, approximately 8,760 children have been placed with guardians, adoptive families or reunited with their parents. The state had 738 adoptions this year, up from 597 in 2007," writes The Baltimore Sun's Raven L. Hill. "Gov. Martin O'Malley reported the increase Wednesday at the Fishers' home near Forest Park in Baltimore, where he highlighted his three-year-old "Place Matters" initiative that aims to find more stable and secure homes for children in foster care. Three years ago, the state had difficulty even establishing the number of children in foster care, he said."

First African-American woman judge joins Special Appeals Court
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley this week swore in the first black woman to a Maryland appellate court, reports WAMU's Tamar Hallerman. "Judge Michele Hotten says she's still in shock over her nomination to the the Court of Special Appeals, in Prince George's County. 'It is such an honor, such a privilege. I still keep pinching myself,' says Hotten. For the last 15 years Hotten has served as an associate judge on Prince George's circuit court. She's also worked as a prosecutor in the state attorney's office and in private practice."


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Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each Monday and Thursday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of a top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And other features 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  |  August 19, 2010; 9:23 AM ET
Categories:  First Click  
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Next: Ehrlich pledges to up local road funds by 25 percent

Comments

I've heard that there will actually be fewer people attending MACO this year. None of the Montgomery County Council is attending, although some staff members will attend. The municipal conterpart, Maryland Municipal League had more cities represented, but fewer people, at its conference this past June. I'm guessing people running for reelection are wary of spending money on food and hotel rooms, although I believe the conferences are educational as well as political gabfests.

Cathy Drzyzgula

Posted by: CathyD3 | August 19, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

MACO needs to get a grip. In this age of high unemploymnet, record foreclosures, and nearly flat economic activity, they need to scale back or curtail their annual extravaganza. If pols want to network these days, do like my young nephews do, text or email, get on chat boards, don't drive all over the state and waste taxpayers money. Exspecially at a time when you are furloughing or laying off public employees and private sectors workers are lucky if they keep their jobs, let alone get a COLA or step increase.

Posted by: VikingRider | August 19, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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