Marion, Odenton: What is the current status of HB1441 sponsored by Del.[Herbert H.] McMillan regarding state pensions?
Nitkin: According to the General Assembly Web site, the bill onteachers' pensions received a hearing in the House Appropriations Committeeon March 7 and has yet to be voted on.
Theo, Greenbelt: What did you think of Allan Lichtman's commercial? Have youseen it? Do you think it will give any name recognition to his campaign?
Nitkin: I've seen the commercial, albeit with the sound turned down(that's the usual status of the televisions in our newsroom). In Lichtman's ad, the American University professor jumps into a pond to demonstrate the big "splash" he would make in the U.S. Senate, as compared to the bare ripple he believes U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin would cause. The commercial is cute and deliberately a little bit goofy, and deservesdistinction as the first of the Senate campaign. My view is that Professor Lichtman is looking for a humorous gimmick to get people to remember him. This may or may not be it.
Pete J., Perry Hall: What delegates are most at risk of losing their seats thisyear and why?
Nitkin: Any Democratic delegates that get seriously targeted by theGOP in an effort to pick up seats will experience some risk, as willdelegates who have not yet been elected on their own and are serving theunexpired terms of legislators who have left the Assembly. With former Sen.Thomas L. Bromwell under indictment for charges related to misuse of hisoffice, his son, Del. Eric Bromwell, could face problems in the votingbooth.
Larry, Westminster: With Sen. [Thomas M.] Middleton introducing a bill about hiring andfiring practices, does this spell the end of the panel?
Nitkin: The panel probing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s personnel practices probably won't end until the public has heard from Joseph F. Steffen Jr., the former Ehrlich aide dubbed by the governor as the "Prince of Darkness." Plus, recent revelations about e-mails in thestate Public Service Commission, where Steffen associate Craig Chesekworks, now enter the mix. Look for the personnel committee to extend itswork beyond the legislative session.
Donald Brady, Columbia: In a few months, [Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.] bills will increase, on average, 72 percent. In his three-plus years in office, what has Ehrlich done to address the impact shock on BGE customers?
Nitkin: Neither Ehrlich nor members of the Assembly have donemuch over the past three years to prepare customers for higher energyrates. This was a hypothetical, back-burner issue until the power companyin recent weeks conducted an auction and bought power at prices 72 percenthigher than now charged.
Terry, Hampden: The revelations of [City Council President] Sheila Dixon's unethical actions and close ties to the mayor tells me that Mayor [Martin] O'Malley should distance himself. Will he treat her like the governor treated the guy involved in the MD4Bushscandal? The governor fired him right away, which was the right thing to dobecause that behavior has no place in a public office. I realize the mayorcan't fire Mrs. Dixon, but he does have the power to tell the public shewas wrong and stepping down would be the right thing to do.
Nitkin: Sure, the mayor could ask for Dixonto step down. But she is normally an ally of O'Malley, and he hasstood by her as questions continue to mount about city technology work thatwent to a company that employs her sister and a company run by her campaignmanager. O'Malley has said that if he is elected governor, voters willdecide 11 months after that about Dixon's fitness to be elected mayor onher own (as City Council president, she would automatically serve as mayorin the interim).
Michael, Baltimore: What do you think of the bad press The Sun is receiving ofits harsh and misleading headlines toward the governor since the ruling against The Sun? Is The Sun even more out to get him?
Nitkin: No. Sun reporters and editors are simply doing their jobs,covering the news. I disagree that headlines have been misleading andharsh.
James, Timonium: David, I want to ask you what kind of relationship thegovernor has with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. ManyRepublicans have "argued" that technically Ehrlich doesn't control tuitionincreases. Also, great Q&A section, and I love your articles. Don't letthose Republicans second-guess your journalistic duty, nomatter how much they don't like the truth!
Nitkin: The Board of Regents is supposed to operate independently.But a position on the Board of Regents is one of the most prestigiousappointments a governor can make -- even though it's a volunteer position.That's why Ehrlich gave a position to Dick Hug, his top fundraiser whosingle-handedly raised millions to put Ehrlich in office.
Here is how tuition increases work: The governor decides how much money he is going to give intax dollars to the University of Maryland System. The amount is always lessthan the operating costs of higher education. So, the regents set tuition atthe rate needed to make up the difference between tax dollars and the moneythey need, unless the system adjusts by cutting operation costs.
Under the Ehrlich administration, tuition revenue has gone from being less than halfthe cost of higher education, to more than half the cost, according toSenate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a notable supporter of CollegePark. So, while the governor doesn't directly set tuition, he does soindirectly, and he is well aware of what the tuition increase is likely tobe when he makes his higher education spending decision.
Jason Reddish, Bowie: How is Kendel Ehrlich's part-time consultancy with Comcasta conflict of interest? Even assuming she has influence over the governor'sdecisions, she certainly cannot do anything to induce the General Assemblyto pass any laws favoring Comcast. Is there any evidence that Comcast hasbeen treated with undue favor by the executive branch? Isn't $55,000 areasonable [annual] salary for an attorney with her experience doing part-time work?
Nitkin: Comcast is a regulated industry, and therefore does businesswith the state at a variety of levels -- from entering contracts for cableservice at state agencies to negotiating naming rights at the College Parkbasketball stadium to negotiating regulations regarding competition fromother broadband providers who want to provide broadcast service, such asVerizon. Comcast also has a notable interest in Maryland's tax policy.
There are all kinds of state executive branch decisions in which they havean interest, and some of the Ehrlich family income comes from Comcast. SomeDemocrats and ethics experts have said the relationship creates at the veryleast the potential for conflict. There's no evidence that Comcast hasreceived favorable treatment.
The real question regarding the first lady's$55,000 salary is not whether it is reasonable for someone with herbackground as a lawyer; the question is, how much work is she doing to earnit, critics say. To date, neither she nor her office or her husband haveanswered questions about the amount of time it has taken her to produce 16half-hour shows on drug abuse that are available on Comcast's on-demandlibrary.
Roger Eels, Washington, D.C.: I'm curious to know, who are the candidates running forAnthony Brown's seat in the legislature now that he is running for lieutenant governor?
Nitkin: Brown is currently one of three delegates who representsDistrict 25 in Prince George's County. In the 2006 election, all 188members of the Assembly face re-election, including 47 senators and 141House members. In District 25, the three top vote-getters will get electedas delegates (That's a long way of saying that technically, no one will runfor Brown's seat -- candidates will run for the district, in which one ofthree incumbents is not seeking re-election).
According to the latestinformation at the State Board of Elections, Democrat Robert J. Barnes hasfiled to run, but no one else has -- including incumbent Dels. DereckDavis and Melony G. Griffith, both Democrats. There may be candidates whohave announced their intentions but not yet filed, but I don't know whothey are.
Chris, Baltimore: Why hasn't [Montgomery County Executive Douglas M.] Duncan selected a running mate yet? With O'Malley picking Brown months ago, it seems that Duncan is behind the curve. Selecting a running mate would also give him some media attention that he desperately needs.
Nitkin: For a sitting lawmaker to run with Duncan, he or shewould have to give up their job -- because they can't run for bothlieutenant governor and their legislative seat. The Montgomery Countyexecutive is certainly running an aggressive race, pitching policy ideasand criticizing O'Malley and Ehrlich frequently.
But with Duncan trailing in the polls and yet to show that he has closed thegap with O'Malley, it seems that few current officeholders are willing togive up their current positions to join a Duncan ticket.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun