Governor's raceAndrew, Gaithersburg: Is picking an African-American as his running mate the onlyway Gov. Ehrlich can win re-election?
Nitkin: Democrats Doug Duncan and Martin O'Malley are almost requiredto select African-American running mates (O'Malley has done so already)after Republican Ehrlich chose Michael S. Steele four years ago and won.Because he has already shown a willingness to reach out to minorities, andbecause Steele is running for Senate, Ehrlich has flexibility in whom heselects as a partner next year; it need not be an African-American,although he is said to be considering black, Hispanic and female candidates.Ehrlich's chances for re-election rest on how voters judge his record inoffice, however, not his running mate.
Fred, Ocean City: Is Michael Steele a traitor to Gov. Ehrlich by leavinghim to run for Senate, and in turn leaving Ehrlich few, if any, promising African-American running mates?
Nitkin: As I said above, the governor need not select anotherAfrican-American as a running mate. Steele is not a traitor. He and thegovernor spoke repeatedly about Steele's Senate candidacy, and both seem tohave agreed that it is the best political choice for the lieutenantgovernor. It would have been hard for Ehrlich to nix Steele's candidacy,however, given the desires of Republican National Committee Chairman andMaryland native Ken Mehlman, Karl Rove, Sen. Elizabeth Dole and othernational players urging Steele to get in the race.
Jake, Dundalk: Will Doug Duncan invite Comptroller William Donald Schaeferto be his running mate?
Nitkin: No. At 84, Schaefer looks likely to end his political careeras comptroller. Schaefer has endorsed Duncan, and the two are close. Butgubernatorial candidates tend to use their running mate selections togenerate excitement and bring fresh blood to a state race; Schaefer isviewed as part of the old guard.
Senate raceOlin, Washington County: Is it too late for any other Republican, other than MichaelSteele, to win the Republican primary for the open Senate seat?
Nitkin: It's not too late, but it's unlikely. Despite Ehrlich's 2002victory, the Republican bench remains pretty thin, and Steele hastremendous name recognition and is viewed favorably by a majority ofvoters. Outside of Ehrlich himself or perhaps First Lady Kendel Ehrlich,Steele probably could not be defeated in a Republican primary.
Rick, Rockville: Is it too late for Doug Duncan to drop out of the Governor'srace and run for the vacant Senate seat?
Nitkin: Rick, thanks to the marvels of the Windows operating system, Ican cut and paste the answer I gave in a Q&A that was published on Dec. 5(with the added bonus that I can't plagiarize myself!) The short answer is: No, it's not too late, but it's highly unlikely.
"As the top elected official in the state's most populous county and awidely respected leader, Duncan would have a real chance to win any race heentered, including U.S. Senate. But his temperament, management skills andstyle seem more suited to an executive-branch position such as governor,rather than a legislative position such as U.S. senator."
Isiah, Baltimore: Do you think that Mfume should drop out of the Senate raceand try to become the Lt. Governor choice for Doug Duncan? Wouldn't thisbalance the ticket and give some Baltimore-O'Malley votes to theDuncan ticket?
Nitkin: Isiah, you've give me another opportunity to cut and paste.You can't try to become a running mate -- you have to be asked. And thosewho want it too much often don't get asked.
Here is a response from an earlier Q&A published on Dec. 19: "As ablack Baltimore Democrat, Mfume would be an asset to a Duncan ticket --although he does carry some baggage regarding allegations that surfacedafter he left as CEO of the NAACP. But after heading a national civilrights group and serving as a congressman for 10 years, Mfume is unlikelyto play second fiddle to anybody, even if he slips behind in the Senatecontest."
CardinMichael, Baltimore: Will Cardin's voting this week on the Patriot Act have anyimpact on his chances for the Senate next year?
Nitkin: Cardin's Democratic challengers will work to make sure thatthe congressman's Dec. 14 vote has repercussions. Alan Lichtman, anAmerican University history professor and political pundit running for theSenate seat, sent out a news release within hours of the vote that said:
"Despite repeated claims that he is a critic of the Bushadministration, Cong. Ben Cardin today broke with 78 percent of his fellowDemocrats to vote for the version of the USA PATRIOT Act pushed by the Bushadministration and its allies in Congress.
"This vote is consistent with his down the line votes as well forBush's position on the war in Iraq.
"This vote follows on the heels of an earlier vote in which hesimilarly broke with nearly 80 percent of Democrats to support the Houseversion of the USA PATRIOT Act that even the Republican-controlled Senaterejected for its extreme violations of our civil liberties."
But the chances of any single vote toppling the prospects of Cardin --a veteran who has cast thousands of votes -- are unlikely.
George, Washington D.C.: Won't Ben Cardin be just another typical white Senator,keeping the status quo?
Nitkin: That's what some of Cardin's Democratic challengers would likeprimary voters to think. Rep. Cardin's answer to questions about his longpublic service and whether he represents the change that voters might wantis that he would be well prepared to "hit the ground running" from Day 1,and needs no on-the-job training on national issues.
SlotsMartin, Mount Airy: If Speaker Busch is still anti-slots, should any slots billproposed by him be viewed as an effort to stop slots?
Nitkin: Any slots bill proposed by Speaker Busch should be viewed as aneffort to keep race track owners or corporations from becoming wealthythrough slots revenues. It should also be viewed as an attempt to compelRepublican lawmakers in rural areas who are backing the governor's push forslots to have an equal chance at seeing machines in their backyards asDemocratic lawmakers in heavily black Baltimore City and Prince George'sCounty.
GunsGlen, Easton: Why is Maryland's gun crime so high even with our strict guncontrol? Thirty-eight states have "shall issue" or right-to-carry laws and their guncrime rates have dropped. Why does the Maryland legislature not followthese states and lower our crime rate by allowing law-abiding Marylandersthe right to defend themselves?
Nitkin: Glen, I'm not an expert in the social science behind thecorrelation between "right-to-carry" laws and gun crimes. I'm sure there'sresearch you could find on the Internet. But I am familiar with thepolitics of gun legislation in Maryland, and recognize that the state'sDemocratic legislative majority strongly supports gun controls. Former Gov.Parris N. Glendening made a big push in this area, and part of the reasonformer House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. lost re-election in 2002 isbecause the Cumberland Democrat helped Glendening get gun laws passed.
PrimaryDave, Oakland: Will Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller be successful inmoving the primary elections to June or July as advocated by CongressmanSteny Hoyer?
Nitkin: It looks as if there aren't enough votes in the House ofDelegates for a primary date change.
Andy, Baltimore: Why is no one writing a story about how it was Matt Mosk,just after he joined the Post, who really got the O'Malley rumors going? Isit because the rumor's trail would lead back to The Sun's newsroom, whereMosk, albeit briefly, once worked.
Nitkin: Matthew Mosk was the first reporter to learn and write aboutthe existence of MD4Bush, the mysterious Internet poster who outed Ehrlichaide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. Mosk was once a reporter for The Sun, but thereis no evidence that he "really got the O'Malley rumors going." I've neverasked Mr. Mosk when or where he first heard rumors about O'Malley.
Brian, Guyton, Ga.: So, now that MD4Bush has been exposed as an operative ofO'Malley, just how much effort are you going to put forth in denouncingthe Mayor for such a despicable political trick? The sun rises and the sunsets and the The Baltimore Sun still shines as a democratic rag.
Nitkin: The latest twist in the MD4Bush story was the release byfreerepublic.com, the conservative web site, of the email addresses used toregister MD4Bush. One of the addresses was email@example.com. RyanO'Doherty is a former Democratic Party employee who has denied that he isMD4Bush. O'Malley has said he does not know who MD4Bush is.
Our story so far, for those needed a refresher: MD4Bush started anonline conversation on freerepublic.com with a poster named ncpac aboutO'Malley rumors. Ncpac said he knew that some people worked behind thescenes to give the story "float." An MD4Bush associate gave the emailexchange to the Washington Post. Ncpac turned out to be Joseph F. SteffenJr., who for years worked for Ehrlich and has been repeatedly accused oforchestrating dirty tricks during campaigns. Steffen resigned his statejob and apologized to O'Malley. Democrats are now investigating howSteffen operated in state agencies, and whether he was behind politicalfirings of low-level staffers.
EhrlichChris, Baltimore: Gov. Ehrlich seems to have a scandal arise within hisadministration every month. This month it's his hiring of formerConstellation Energy lobbyists to positions at the Maryland Department ofthe Environment. Isn't he just giving his Democratic challengersammunition? How can he cleanse his record before November without cleaninghouse?
Nitkin: Ehrlich took office saying that some state agencies, notablythe Department of the Environment, had become too "gotcha" in theirregulatory duties and needed to become friendlier to business. The hiring ofagency executives with business backgrounds was well-reported at the time.It will now be up to voters to decide whether those agencies have swung toofar toward business -- and Democrats are certain to highlight the ties thatTom Pelton's article pointed out in making their case.
DuncanMario, Wheaton: Why has there been no talk of Doug Duncan choosing a Latinorunning mate? Is the Hispanic vote not important?
Nitkin: The Hispanic vote in Maryland is small but growing. Most ofthe state's Hispanics live in Montgomery County, so choosing a Latinorunning mate would probably not help Duncan expand his geographic base.
In 2003, during a flap between Hispanic outreach groups in theRepublican Party, I wrote the following:
"In Maryland, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Central and South Americansare a small but growing political subset that has never commanded muchpolitical attention. The 2000 census counted 227,916 Marylanders ofHispanic extraction, or 4.3 percent of the state's population. But(activist Jorge Ribas) said the figure does not include those fearful ofreporting their status. He believes that the true population, includinggrowth over the past three years, is closer to 400,000."
Ulysseus, Gaithersburg: If Duncan loses the Democratic primary, is there any chancehe will run in the General as an independent?
Nitkin: That's highly unlikely. If he loses the primary, Duncan wouldlikely support the nominee and help the party overall.
Calvin, Laytonsville: Doug Duncan has had house parties hosted by various membersof the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. The MCDCC claimsthat they do not endorse a candidate until he has won the primary. Is thisnot a blatant violation of their own policy in order to endorse theircounty executive?
Nitkin: It sounds like a bending of policies to me. I'm not familiarwith the situation. Central committee members are the most active partymembers. It's not surprising that they would host house parties, or thatcommittee members in Montgomery would support their hometown candidate,Duncan. That said, some people host fund-raisers because they are asked toby the candidate and don't feel comfortable saying no. That could be thecase here. A committee member could rightly say, "I am helping Duncan raisemoney, but I haven't decided whether I am endorsing him yet." Granted, it'sa bit of a stretch.
Quentin, Timonium: Why have congressmen Albert Wynn or Elijah Cummings not beenconsidered as a running mate for the Duncan ticket?
Nitkin: They may have been considered, but it's unlikely they wouldaccept. Both representatives would rather be U.S. Senator than lieutenantgovernor. Maryland's lieutenant governor historically has been a dead-endjob. It's a step down to go from congressman to lieutenant governor, in myopinion.
Don, Arbutus: If O'Malley and/or Duncan were to publicly call out Ehrlich,and challenge him to have a clean campaign, would Ehrlich agree to theterms? And if not, would it make him look bad?
Nitkin: Those kinds of pledges are gimmicky -- and the devil is in thedetails. What does "clean" mean? Is an ad that illustrates murders inBaltimore clean? How about one that raises questions about the "flush tax"?Or higher tuition? And who gets to decide what is "clean" and what is"dirty." Ultimately, voter feedback -- with a check from the media --determines what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in campaigning.
MiscellaneousJeff, Hagerstown: If elected to the Senate, will Mfume be welcomed by BarackObama, or will Mfume be shunned?
Nitkin: I think Sen. Obama is the only one who can answer this. TheSenate is considered a collegial body, even in these highly partisan times.I don't think too much shunning would occur.
Martha, Annapolis: Does Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot have a chanceagainst Schaefer for the Comptroller election?
Nitkin: Franchot is running a primary campaign based on the theme thathe is the only real Democrat in the race -- and that Schaefer is really aRepublican in Democratic clothing. That message will resonate with manyvoters, but short of true scandal, it will be hard for Marylanders to voteagainst William Donald Schaefer, who has a half-century of public servicein the state.
Jayson, North Potomac: The Cardin campaign has ten times as much money as that ofMfume, the Cardin campaign has out-spent the Mfume campaign by greatmargins. How is Mfume tied with Cardin?
Nitkin: Cardin hasn't spent much of his campaign chest yet onadvertising and other visible efforts. Polls that show Cardin and Mfumeneck-and-neck, such as a November survey for The Sun, reflect nameidentification and the views of voters who know a candidate well. The Sunpoll showed that there are more undecided voters than supporters for anyindividual candidate in the Democrat Senate primary.
Quinn, Germantown: Does Bill Witham, a Republican in Democrat-heavy district39, have any chances of unseating any of the incumbents or overcoming anyof the newcomers?
Nitkin: I don't know Witham, but I know the four lawmakers in the 39thDistrict. Sen. Patrick J. Hogan is the vice-chairman of the Budget andTaxation Committee and considered one of the chamber's most knowledgeablemembers. Del. Charles Barley is the chairman of the Montgomery Housedelegation, and a longtime education advocate. Delegates Joan F. Stern and Nancy J.King are good debaters who are effective in their committees and on theHouse floor. But here's something: Hogan was first elected as aRepublican, and switched parties about five years ago. So the district (inan earlier version before redistricting) has been friendly to Republicansin the past.
Joshua, Baltimore: What is Maryland's beef with Slots?
Nitkin: Joshua, you win this week's award for the shortest questionthat takes the longest to answer.
Slot machine gambling has been debated in Maryland for decades.Polling for several years has shown that about half of the state's votersfavor slot machines, and half are opposed.
Those who support slots say that Marylanders are gambling anyway -- atslot machines at tracks in Delaware, West Virginia, and, soon, Pennsylvania.Why not keep the proceeds in state, they argue. Racing supporters say thatby allowing slots at Maryland tracks, the tracks could add money to purses,attract better horses, earn money for improvements and boost the quality ofMaryland racing. Proponents also say that slots are a way to raise revenuewithout increasing taxes: gambling is, as Gov. Ehrlich is fond of sayingwhen he shows his Libertarian streak, a choice by "adults making adultdecisions."
Opponents say that slot machine gambling is a state-sponsored tax onthe mathematically challenged, and is addictive to boot. Many cite moral orreligious reasons for their opposition. Maryland can afford to meet itsneeds for education, public safety and other programs without imposing whatis in effect a new tax that is disproportionately paid by the elderly,low-income earners and others on fixed income, slots foes argue.
Opponents also say that allowing slots at tracks at Pimlico or inPrince George's County would unfairly burden minority communities thatwould better benefit from other types of economic development. Finally,opponents say that slots would make a few well-connected business ownersvery rich, and that once gambling gets its nose under the proverbialcamel's tent, expansion to table games and full-fledged casinos would notbe far behind. It's a race to the bottom, they say.
The politics of slots are as follows: Former Gov. Parris N. Glendeningleft office as a strong slots opponent, repeating a mantra of "No slots. Nocasinos. No exceptions."
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who represented Baltimore County's horsecountry while in Congress, ran for governor as a slots proponent. FormerLt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was opposed to slots, but was not asvociferous in the eyes of many as Glendening.
Ehrlich called the 2002 election a referendum on slots. But he waslate introducing a slots bill during the 2003 legislative session, and hisproposal had flaws. The Senate passed a version, but the House of Delegatessaid they wanted a few months to study it. In 2004, the Senate again passedEhrlich's slots bill, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch emerged as thestaunchest opponent.
Busch says he is simply carrying out the wishes of a majority ofDemocrats in Baltimore City and Prince George's County in holding firmagainst slots. But Busch is also personally opposed to the stateauthorizing millions in profits for track owners Joseph De Francis, MagnaEntertainment, developer Bill Rickman or any of the other players who havepaid handsomely to lobbyists and want to see slots passed.
Busch has offered a few state-owned slots parlors along Interstates,but the Senate so far has refused to go along.
There are no indications that the stalemate between Ehrlich and theSenate on one side and the House on the other is going away.
Meanwhile, the state has a healthy budget surplus, meaning thefinancial need for slots revenue has abated.
David, Owings Mills: Tom Pelton makes a big deal of the Ehrlich administration'sefforts to derail the 'four pollutants' bill. Which 'influential senator'was lobbied and how was the bill affected? Where does the Democraticleadership in the House and Senate stand on this bill? Has Constellationmade any political contributions to legislators who might influence thislegislation?
Tom Pelton: Among the senators and delegates lobbied by the Maryland Department ofthe Environment against the air pollution bill was Sen. Thomas M.Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and chairman of the finance committee.The day before the "four pollutants" bill was killed, Middleton -- who hadrequested a "hold" on the legislation after a successful committee vote --received a letter from MDE arguing that the bill would economically harmMaryland's power plants. The letter was signed by Maryland's secretary ofthe environment, but the language came from a power industry lobbyist.
One of the lead sponsors of the legislation, Del. James Hubbard, aPrince George's County Democrat, said he was told by the chairman of thecommittee that killed the bill (Del. Dereck Davis, also a Prince George'sDemocrat) that the vote against the bill was done as a favor to Middleton,who has a power plant in his district and didn't want to lose any jobs ortax revenues.
Davis denies this, but Middleton confirmed that he had seriousconcerns about the bill, because he said his Charles County district can'tafford to lose any of the tax revenues from the power plant. Harm to powerplants like this was the central assertion of the letter, althoughMiddleton said the letter did not play a significant role in his position.
Constellation's political action committee has given $850 to Middletonover the last five years. As I explained in the article, the power companygives hundreds of thousands of dollars to a range of politicians,Republican and Democratic, including to the chairs of the committees thatconsider air pollution legislation.
I don't know what House Speaker Michael Busch's position on the "fourpollutants" bill was, because he didn't call me back before the articleran. Senate President Mike Miller told me he left the matter up to theEnvironmental Matters Committee last year (which endorsed the bill).Miller, Middleton and Davis all told The Sun they would support someversion of the air pollution bill this year.
Nitkin: The Maryland State Board of Elections maintains anonline campaign finance database that dates to 1999, and is searchable forspecific contributions from individuals and corporations -- which arelimited by Maryland law to giving $4,000 to a single candidate and $10,000to all candidates during a four-year election cycle. The database isaccessible athttp://www.elections.state.md.us/campaign_finance/database/index.html.