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David Nitkin on state politics issues

Julia, Annapolis: If Gov. [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] were to get re-elected, what, in youropinion, could (or should) he do different to avoid another 4 years ofhead-butting with the General Assembly? Thank you.

Nitkin: Judging from the campaign so far, if Ehrlich is re-elected,he will push for many of the same issues that he has over the past fouryears -- including bringing slot machines to Maryland. He is alsocampaigning on a theme that the state is heading in the right direction,and that the Democrat-controlled Assembly has overreached, is out ofcontrol and has encroached on his power.

If re-elected, he is likely to assert -- with some justification --that he has a mandate from the people for his ideas and policies. So if andwhen the Assembly kills, alters or otherwise rejects them, Ehrlich willcontinue to have a bully pulpit to argue that the Assembly is wrong.

Democratic leaders would say that Ehrlich, in a second term, shouldlearn to negotiate more to get his ideas through. But if he winsre-election, there would be little reason to negotiate; he would mostlikely argue, "This is what the people want."

Carolyn Hicks, Joppa: How about doing an in-depth report about the Democrats whoare running in the 7th Legislative District. This includes Harford andBaltimore counties. We need info about these people. Thanks.

Nitkin: We are in the process of preparing news articles for thelegislative primary contests in our readership area. I can't promise thatthey will be in-depth enough for your liking. With highly competitiveprimary contests for U.S. Senate, 3rd District in Congress, comptrollerand attorney general, we've got many good stories on our hands that areconsuming a lot of staff time.

Erin, Baltimore: Hi David. Do you think that Gov. Ehrlich's strategy toturn the Baltimore City school system into a political weapon against[Mayor Martin] O'Malley has any potential to backfire? I know that those who alreadysupport O'Malley and/or live in the city are extremely turned off byEhrlich's tactics. As a city resident who cares very much about the fate ofthe schools, I am really tired of this. But what about voters who live inother parts of the state who have other worries, like employment, healthcare and the environment? Or are his one-track attacks on city schoolslimited to the Baltimore media market?

Nitkin: City schools are a high-profile enough issue that voters inother parts of the state are interested and want to hear what is going on.State tax dollars go into schools, and state lawmakers from other parts ofMaryland have to vote on city school finances and other related matters. Ihaven't yet seen any indication that the governor's campaign message oncity schools is backfiring.

Bill Jackson, Savage: David, do you believe that [Lt. Gov.] Michael [S.] Steele will win theRepublican nomination even though there are many white [voters] who will not votefor a black [candidate]? We have seen this in black areas where blacks won't vote forwhites, and I am curious about your opinion. Is Michael Steele running hisnew commercial because there may be a primary opponent closing ranks in alow turnout election?

Nitkin: I think it's virtually certain that Steele will be the Republican nominee. Six Republicans will be on theballot, and with apologies to Daniel "The Wig Man" Vovak, Corrogan R.Vaughn and others, no one will come close. In our July poll, in ahypothetical match-up between Steele, a Republican, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, Steele got 39 percent of the white vote, with Cardingetting 44 percent and 16 percent undecided. In a match-up with formerNAACP chief Kweisi Mfume, Steele got 48 percent of the white vote, withMfume getting 33 percent and 17 percent undecided.

Don, Columbia: Did Kweisi Mfume resign his position as president of theNAACP of his own accord? Or was he asked to step aside? If he was asked toleave, what were the reasons?

Nitkin: To read our coverage of Mfume's departure from the NAACP, see:

For more coverage of Mfume's departure and the NAACP, click here.

Evangeline Diggs, Baltimore: What happened to the Public Service Commission? Ihave not heard anything about them. Did they get fired?

Nitkin: The Maryland Court of Appeals has yet to issue its decisionon whether the General Assembly acted legally when it passed a law that inpart fired the current members of the PSC and replaced them with memberspre-selected by the General Assembly. As of now, four of the five membersof the current PSC remain on the job; one resigned earlier this year andhas not been replaced.

Davis, Columbia: Questions about the select committee to investigate thepersonnel practices -- I just need some clarification on this issue. I movedfrom and used to work for a state agency in Connecticut. It was pretty muchcommon practice that every time the state house changed parties, there werefairly deep and comprehensive changes from the top down to middlemanagement. With no change in party for such a long time, I can see how thiscame as a shock here in Maryland. What I want to know, though, what does thelaw say about it?

If Ehrlich did everything that the "committee" (witch hunt) says, wasit against the law?

Plus, what is the price tag to taxpayers every time one of these"select" committees is convened?

If the Democrats have an issue [with] the personnel rules, I would muchrather them spend the money fixing the laws that have been in place foryears than investigating what the governor did (if it was legal).

Nitkin: The select legislative committee investigating the governor's hiring and firing practices will likely issue a final report that mayaddress the issue of whether any laws were broken. There have been noexamples of the administration breaking civil service rules and firingpeople who have civil service protection. What remains an open question iswhether low-level employees were replaced because of their partyaffiliation -- which the Supreme Court has said is illegal. There has beenmixed testimony about this, with some administration staffers saying thatpolitical affiliation was never an issue, and Joseph F. Steffen, thelongtime Ehrlich aide commonly known as the "Prince of Darkness,"acknowledging that party affiliation was a factor in personnel decisions.

The price tag for the investigation is largely for the work of thecommittee's counsel, Ward Coe. I haven't yet seen how many hours he has putin, and how much he has been paid. Lawmakers and committee staffers getpaid the same amount, regardless of whether the committee meets or isdisbanded.

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