Thomas, Baltimore: I have a question about Steele. According to his official biography, he practiced as an associate at a prominent D.C. law firm for six years. However, I haven't found any information that indicates he ever passed the bar for Maryland or D.C. Something clearly isn't adding up -- would you clarify this for me?

Nitkin: Steele passed a bar examination in Pennsylvania.

Ron, Bethesda: Is Dennis Rasmussen still running for the U.S. Senate? We haven't heard anything from him since his announcement. Thanks.

Nitkin: I assume Rasmussen is still running for U.S. Senate, but I, too, haven't heard much from his campaign since his announcement. Rasmussen said at the time that he planned to continue his Annapolis lobbying activities, and the General Assembly session ends Monday. I assume that lobbying during the session has taken most of Rasmussen's time during the past 90 days.

Governor's race
A baltimoresun.com reader: How can anyone reasonably claim that [Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's] message is resonating with Maryland voters when [Baltimore] Mayor [Martin] O'Malley leads his him by double digits in every major poll that has been released, including the most recent poll where the mayor and Duncan are running neck and neck in Montgomery County, Duncan's home territory? Isn't it time for Duncan to drop out of the race so that the Democrats can unite behind O'Malley? If now is not the time, when do you think Duncan will drop out?

Nitkin: It's hard to imagine him dropping out of the race. There's too much time until the September primary, and anything could happen. However, if he continues to be perceived as trailing in the race, he will have a difficult time raising money, and thus a difficult time buying television ads to deliver his message.

David, Annapolis: Why does The Sun continue to inaccurately refer to lieutenant governor candidate [Del.] Anthony [G.] Brown as a veteran of the war in Iraq, rather than as a "noncombat" veteran of the war in Iraq? Brown was not on the front lines in Iraq and was not a combat soldier. Doesn't The Sun give a misleading impression and do a real disservice to Maryland voters by omitting this critical piece of information?

Nitkin: Brown, a lawyer, left his wife and family for the better part of a year to serve in Iraq as a judge advocate general. We've reported on the nature of his service before. I did a Lexis-Nexis search -- which includes magazine and journal articles and official transcripts of government and Pentagon briefings -- to see if the term "noncombat veteran" is commonly used when referring to soldiers who served in Iraq. I found just three instances in the past year when the terms "noncombat veteran" and "Iraq" appeared in the same piece. Two of those were letters to the editor. It appears to me that neither news organizations nor the government frequently make the distinction you suggest we make.

Elections
Jim Baldridge, Baltimore: Do you have, or know of, a list of candidates, especially statewide and federal, for the 2006 elections? Thanks very much.

Nitkin: The Maryland state Board of Elections has a list of candidates who have filed for office. Go here, and click on the link for "listing of filed candidates."

Bernard L. Jones, Westminster: What is the current status of the Carroll County redistricting map? (Five districts with five commissioners versus three commissioners countywide.)

Nitkin: According to Mary Gail Hare, one of our Carroll County reporters, the House of Delegates passed legislation dividing the county into five commissioner districts, a plan known as Option One. The bill is now in the Senate, where Sen. Larry E. Haines expects smooth passage. Many residents, county and town officials favored a different plan, known as Option 2, according to Hare's reporting.

Cate, Baltimore: Why isn't [it] ever said: The old men of politics need to retire? [Comptroller William Donald] Schaefer, [former Gov. Marvin] Mandel, [Attorney General J. Joseph] Curran, etc. -- move over. No wonder others don't want to be involved.

Besides, if anyone thinks a 75-year-old is as sharp and innovative, and just plain open to change, as a 50-year-old ... well, they need to think again. What is wrong with Maryland on this issue? Ever since the beloved Louis Goldstein, it seems like the goal is to die in office at the age of 100. Seriously, these men and women -- [Sen. Barbara A.] Mikulski is getting up there, too -- are not necessarily representative of their constituents, most of whom are younger.

Nitkin: This is a frequent topic of debate in political circles. There are many upwardly mobile politicians, such as Tom Perez, the Montgomery County Council president, and Glenn F. Ivey, the state's attorney in Prince George's County, who would like to move into more prominent political positions but who have put their desires on hold out of respect for current office-holders. Many observers feel that Paul Sarbanes, Maryland's longest serving senator, handled the issue in the right way when he announced in early 2005 that he would not be seeking re-election.

Issues
John, Maryland: Do you think something will happen with Maryland state pension reform this legislative session? We are the worst in the country right now.

Nitkin: I'm not sure if lawmakers will reach consensus on this issue before adjourning Monday, but our reporters will be tracking it, and we will cover the debate and the resolution.

Melinda, Fells Point: David, I was reading in The Sun's talk section about Steele's identity theft. One of the bloggers pointed out that the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] staffer that stole Steele's identity went to school with The Sun reporter who wrote the recent stories on this. Isn't that a serious conflict?

Are [Sun reporter] Jennifer Skalka and Lauren Weiner friends? How can The Sun explain their connection and the appropriateness of someone reporting on someone they went to school with who pleaded guilty [to] a crime?

Nitkin: Medill journalism school at Northwestern is a large institution. Skalka and Weiner do not know each other. Skalka was a graduate student when Weiner was an undergraduate; their paths never crossed, and Skalka spent only limited time in Evanston, Ill., moving on to assignments in Chicago and Washington. There's no connection.

Bias assessment
Tim, Millington: David, you're ridiculous. Two weeks in a row, I submit a question regarding the professions of state politicians' spouses and/or children, and two weeks in a row, you completely ignore it.

This is the "typical biased coverage" that you hear so many complaints about. It's not always that what you cover is inherently biased, but it's what you don't cover that illustrates bias. Once you realize that, you'll actually be one step closer to being a stand-up journalist.

Nitkin: We report on spouses and children of politicians when their employment is newsworthy. It has been well-reported, for example, that O'Malley's wife is Baltimore Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley. Far from engaging in biased coverage, The Sun has fully reported the ethical challenges raised by this situation. In January 2002, for example, the paper reported: "A state judicial ethics panel has decided that the family ties of new Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, wife of Mayor Martin O'Malley, make it improper for her to hear at least two-thirds of the entire docket.

O'Malley, who's also the daughter of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., said she is "perplexed" and upset by the opinion, which concludes that cases calling for police witnesses, among others, should be off-limits to her because of an appearance of partiality."

Questions about the careers of political spouses have been in the news recently. Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of first lady Kendel Ehrlich working for Comcast, which is regulated by the state. To say, "Well, what about the jobs of other relatives of politicians, especially those on the state payroll?" does little to address the question at hand.