Phil, Washington, D.C.: Where can one find a complete list of legislators receiving moneydirectly from Jack Abramoff?
Nitkin: The Maryland State Board of Elections keeps electronic records ofcampaign donors, and has a searchable database dating to 1999. If you clickon "search on contributions" and type in "Abramoff" as a last name, you will see the $4,000 each that Abramoff and his wife,Pamela, gave to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in October 2001 and November 2003. You will alsosee $8,000 that comes from Franklin and Jane Abramoff of Rancho Mirage,Calif. Maryland Democrats say Franklin and Jane appear to be JackAbramoff's parents, because other records they have searched show they andthe lobbyist have shared a mailing address in the past.
Ralph, Brooklandville: With the new security in Annapolis, will it take me longer to getinto hearings on environmental matters? Also, will the House committeerooms be in new locations?
Nitkin: The Maryland Department of General Services has implemented newsecurity procedures, reducing the number of people with identificationbadges that allow them to bypass magnetometers, or metal detectors, at theentrances to the House of Delegates, Senate, State House and otherbuildings. Because more people will be waiting in lines to pass throughmetal detectors, the waits could be longer. DGS police are pretty good atmoving things along, but the agency does say to expect long lines.
Additionally, an annex to the House office building is just aboutcompleted, creating new hearing rooms for the standing committees. A policeofficer wouldn't let me through last week when I tried to lookat the hearing rooms (it was a moving day, so they were trying to keep theaisles clear), so I haven't seen the exact location of the environmentalmatters committee room and others. But they'll still be on the ground floorof the House complex, in the same general location.
Walt, Baltimore: As a citizen of Baltimore, I have seen no good change come aboutin this city since [Mayor Martin] O'Malley has taken office. How will O'Malley's dismalrecord play into his campaign?
Nitkin: The mayor's record is open to debate and will be a lively campaigntopic. While he hasn't met his goal for decreasing the number of homicides,other violent crime has dropped. While he doesn't fully control cityschools (a city-state partnership runs them), he is being criticized forthe poor performance of special education students while also touting therapidly rising test scores of other pupils. Cranes are everywhere along thewaterfront, building high-end condominiums in a construction boom that hasoccurred on O'Malley's watch, but it's debatable whether the boom is theresult of market forces outside his control or his policies. O'Malley wasbooed at a recent community meeting convened by state legislators concernedabout his police department's aggressive tactics.
In short, Baltimoreremains a tough city to govern, and the successes and failures of the citywill be a major campaign issue in the months ahead.
Dan, Rockville: Why did the O'Malley campaign not target Isiah "Ike" Leggett as a runningmate? He is a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, a former Montgomery County councilman and a candidate for Montgomery County executive.
Nitkin: Isiah Leggett is an accomplished politician with a compellingpersonal story of pulling himself out of poverty through education. He wasconsidered a running mate contender for former Lt. Gov. Kathleen KennedyTownsend, who ultimately selected a white male partner who had been aRepublican for years before switching parties.
Any Democratic candidate --O'Malley included -- would have to put Leggett on the list of, say, the top10 candidates they would consider as a running mate. I'm sure his name wasdiscussed by O'Malley's camp, which eventually settled on Del. Anthony G.Brown, a legislator who is younger than Leggett, comes from politicallypivotal Prince George's County and who is a rising star because of hisservice in Iraq and his debating skills honed as a Harvard-educated lawyer.Meanwhile, Leggett remains a leading candidate for Montgomery Countyexecutive.
Bill, Baltimore: What are the abortion positions of [Montgomery County Executive Douglas M.] Duncan and O'Malley?
Nitkin: Duncan and O'Malley are Catholics who come from large families andwho have fathered relatively large families of their own. While they mayhold nuanced personal views on abortion, their public positions arebasically the same: they say they are strong supporters of abortion rights.
An article entitled "Duncan, Brown speak on abortion" ran in The Sun on Jan. 6. You can view it by clicking here.
Andrew, Gaithersburg: Duncan keeps showing off his record as county executive. Why is heacting like he turned the county around? Montgomery County is pretty muchthe same as it was before Duncan became executive. He also had a hugebudget and a county council of disciples to follow him. Did he really doanything that nobody else could have done with the same circumstances?
Nitkin: Montgomery County does have a tremendous amount of resourcesavailable to it, but that doesn't mean there aren't challenges or it isn'ta complex place to manage. How can Montgomery County be "pretty much thesame" as it was 12 years ago? Downtown Silver Spring has been vibrantlyredeveloped, a project for which Duncan deserves much credit. The countyschool system is the most culturally diverse in the state, yet remainsnationally ranked even with legions of non-English speakers -- thanks inpart to Duncan's leadership. The county pulled through the sniper crisis in2002 thanks in part to the executive's steady hand. Duncan has been aforceful advocate for state dollars for transportation and other countyneeds. Duncan also has critics on the council, so all of his actions arehighly scrutinized.
Aaron, Rockville: Do O'Malley and Brown actually care about the campaign issuesthey're talking about? Neither of the two candidates changed schools intheir jurisdictions from what they were like before they took office.
Nitkin: Politicians don't sacrifice time away from family and having theirpast actions and words scrutinized if they don't care about issues facingvoters. As mayor of Baltimore and a Prince George's County delegate, respectively,O'Malley and Brown have very little control over the school systems intheir districts.
In the city, schools are run by a city-state partnership,with the state providing most of the money. The day-to-day management is inthe hands of a CEO who is chosen by the city school board, which is notcontrolled by the mayor. Likewise, in Prince George's County, the schoolboard choses a superintendent. The school system submits its budget requestto the county government, not the state. So state lawmakers such as Brownhave little say over school operations.
Lucas, Mitchellville: What will happen to Ehrlich if he loses?
Nitkin: If Ehrlich loses his re-election bid and choses to continue acareer in elected office, his best chance would be running for U.S. Senate.If he choses another path, he could find a position in the Bushadministration, or perhaps become a lobbyist in Washington, where he was acongressman for eight years.
Carey, Arbutus: Does Ehrlich have any vice presidential potential for the 2008 presidentialelection?
Nitkin: He probably does. If Ehrlich is re-elected this year, his success --being elected twice in a heavily Democratic state -- cannot be overlooked bythe national party.
Gary, Hagerstown: Can any of the three candidates for governor rise above politics and becomea candidate who seems to really care about the people of this state? As ofnow they are just name-calling and pointing out the others' faults.
Nitkin: The 2006 gubernatorial campaign will be made up of a mix of"positive" messages from the three candidates -- O'Malley, Duncan and incumbent Ehrlich -- as wellas "negative" critiques on their records and styles. The race will be soclose that no candidate will have the luxury of simply "rising above thesituation." Couple that with the fact that, at least in the case of Ehrlichand O'Malley, these candidates genuinely don't like each other, and thename-calling is certain to continue.
Steve, Bethesda: Does Allan Lichtman have a real chance to win the open Senate seat?
Nitkin: Lichtman, an American University history professor runningfor Senate as a Democrat, serves a purpose in the campaign and is takingthe race seriously. He's articulate across a range of issues, including Iraq and the appropriate role of government in people's lives. But manypolitical observers say Lichtman is a regional candidate who will struggleto expand his appeal beyond a certain core of Montgomery County voters, andsay that his chances in the race are slim.
Brian, Laytonsville: Where do you see Sen. Rob Garagiola in 5 to 10 years?
Nitkin: Democrat Rob Garagiola is a first-term state senator fromMontgomery County who is one of the most promising young members of theGeneral Assembly. Senate President Mike Miller sees him as a true risingstar. He has potential for statewide office, I think, and I wouldn't besurprised if he runs for governor someday. He's hard-working, serious andconcerned about policy. I view him as an asset to the Assembly and thestate.
Warren, Montgomery Village: Can any of the District 17 state delegates be unseated in theupcoming election?
Nitkin: Former Del. Cheryl Kagan had considered challenging incumbent Sen.Jennie Forehand, and would have been a formidable contender. But Kaganrecently announced that she was forgoing the race and would continue asdirector of the Freeman Family Foundation. Del. Kumar Barve is the Housemajority leader, and Luiz Simmons is among the finest debaters in theAssembly; both are respected in the capital, and if they are effectivecampaigners, they should be re-elected. Del Michael Gordon is a seasonedveteran who has been hobbled by health problems.
Calvin, Baltimore: I read that Sen. Leonard Teitelbaum, 74, has announced thatafter 20 years of service he will not seek another term. Are thereany other state officials with 20 or more years of service considering notseeking another term?
Nitkin: Rare is the Assembly member who announces early that they are notrunning again. Teitelbaum joined Paul S. Sarbanes in that regard recently.There are rumors that Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus mayretire, and Sen. Norman Stone was said to have been ready to leave theAssembly four years ago, before a court-altered redistricting map restoredhis seat that former Gov. Parris N. Glendening all but took away with anearlier version of the map. In Baltimore, some delegates have had healthproblems, such as Del. Hattie N. Harrison. But her backers insist she is runningagain.
Andrew, Gaithersburg: Do you think that it is time for a change in Annapolis? Both thesenators and delegates are way too comfortable with their majority, andthey have no incentive to be creative. Would it be better for the people ofour state to get younger elected officials in the State House and Senate?
Nitkin: The legislative process is incremental by design. It takes time --often years -- for ideas to percolate and for the kinks to be worked out ofproposed legislation. Legislators intuitively know about the law of unintendedconsequences: today's creative idea is tomorrow's policy goof. That's whymany laws aren't rushed onto the books, and that's why there areorganizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures and theNational Governors Association, which serve as forums for discussingproblems and exchanging solutions.
Additionally, in legislatures, seniority is rewarded. Committee chairs get to their positions after having paid their dues, and even the brightest, hardest-working young lawmakers won'tbe effective if colleagues see them as showboats and discard theirsuggestions. Most of the issues and ideas in Annapolis aren't new and havebeen debated for decades, including slots, money for land preservation, howto clean up the environment and how to regulate utilities. As with anyprofession, there is a learning curve in a legislature, followed by aplateau when lawmakers are most engaged and interested, and a period ofennui and lack of energy at the end of careers. It may be hard to believe,but every four years, there is always significant turnover in the Assembly.
Debbie, Baltimore: When will The Sun do an in-depth investigation on the identity ofMD4Bush? The timing is certainly right, one would think.
Nitkin: I'll repeat my answer from last week: I've said repeatedly that The Sun isinterested in learning the identity of the Internet poster who talked aboutO'Malley. The source of the information must come from the Web site itself,www.freerepublic.com. We've gotten some information from them. We'd like toget more.
Daniel, Rockville: Why was Stephen Kiehl's article removed from The Sun'sWeb site in the political section? Mr. Kiehl wrote an important article onNov. 25, 2004, entitled "Steele reverses, says talk occurred."
Baltimoresun.com: With very few exceptions, articles are removed from the Maryland politics section of the Web site within six weeks of publication. The article you asked about still exists on the site as part of the archived coverage of Ehrlich's memo ordering government staff not to speak with Nitkin or former Sun columnist Michael Olesker. It can be viewed by clicking here.
Ken, Washington, D.C.: When will The Sun become an unbiased newspaper and start beingobjective to all three gubernatorial candidates? It's almost at the pointwhere The Sun can no longer be taken seriously as a newspaper.
Nitkin: Ken, bias and objectivity are words frequently tossed around bycritics who look at the paper from the outside. Inside the newsroom, wealso talk every day about fairness, balance and context. We're alwaysdiscussing where in the paper stories should run, how they should beorganized and who should be quoted in them.
In the past week, we coveredeach and every one of Ehrlich's highly orchestrated budget spendingannouncements, which were as much campaign events as they were policyannouncements. We cover the pros and cons of O'Malley's and Duncan's campaigns and administrations. You cite no examples regarding ouralleged bias in the governor's race.
If you have a specific example of asin of omission or commission, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If not, I encourage you to keep reading the paper or our Web site for thorough, analytical coverage of the governor's race.