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Spin control [Editorial]

Laws and LegislationJustice SystemElectionsGovernmentExecutive BranchAnthony Brown

As is inevitable in an election debate, the Democratic candidates for Maryland governor stated as facts some things that, to put it kindly, could use a bit more context. We'll parse three of them for you.

Brown on the health exchange

After being blamed by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler for the failure of Maryland's health insurance exchange website, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown accepted that he, along with everyone else associated with it, was responsible. He went on to say, "Nobody was more frustrated than me, and that's why I took the action I did. I reorganized the leadership at the exchange; the executive director left. We refocused the vendors, fired those who didn't perform as promised, including IBM, and after evaluating the resources and capabilities at the exchange, we plussed up the call centers and the navigators, and the result [is] 330,000 Marylanders now with access to affordable, quality health [care]."

But exactly what Mr. Brown had to do with the efforts to fix the website, just like what he had to do with the management of its development, is something of a mystery. Gov. Martin O'Malley designated him the state's point person for implementing the Affordable Care Act, but after the website's initial failure, he described his role narrowly as ensuring that the project got the funding and regulatory framework it needed from the General Assembly. He also said he was kept out of the loop about problems before the launch. The governor's office withheld from release under the Public Information Act any emails to or from Mr. Brown related to the exchange in the weeks before and after the launch.

Mr. Brown appeared, often with the governor, at news conferences in the first weeks after the failed launch, but the extent of his involvement in deciding on a recovery plan and executing it is unclear. Notably, he has not appeared at any of the legislative oversight committee hearings on the exchange since mid-January.

Gansler on the reprimand

Mr. Gansler made a number of statements that merit parsing — for example, the contention that only four people signed up through the health exchange website — but we'll focus on one Baltimore-area readers may know less about: his reprimand as Montgomery County state's attorney by the Court of Appeals.

During the debate, Mr. Brown said Mr. Gansler was the only state's attorney to have been reprimanded in this way (true) and that it was "because he denied a defendant the right to a fair trial because he, for political gain, spoke out." Mr. Gansler said he "took on a judge who said to an 11-year-old girl who was raped by a sexual Internet predator that it takes two to tango and that it was her fault for responding to his emails." "I wear it like a badge of honor," he said.

In fact, the state's highest court reprimanded Mr. Gansler for extra-judicial statements he made in three separate cases in 2000-2001 on the grounds that he had affected the defendants' ability to get fair trials. None of them involved the rape of a young girl. The court faulted Mr. Gansler not for "publicly reading a public charging document at a press conference with the police" but for going beyond a recitation of facts and into embellishment that "magnified the prejudicial effects of his statements."

Mizeur on experience and leadership

Del. Heather Mizeur pointed on several occasions during the debate to instances in which she showed leadership as a legislator. In particular, she claimed credit for providing health care coverage to 50,000 children, decriminalizing marijuana, working with the head of the House tea party to expand family planning for low-income women and allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance policies until they are 25.

On the latter two, the record is fairly clear. She was the lead sponsor of the 2007 bill to expand coverage for young adults, and she did, in fact, work with the very conservative Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. on expanding family planning. He said it made sense to him to reduce the rates of abortion an infant mortality. "Heather was great to work with," he said.

On getting coverage to 50,000 children, what Ms. Mizeur did was to get the comptroller's office to send eligibility notices for the Maryland Children's Health Insurance Program to those who qualified because of their incomes. The 50,000 figure came from a 2009 analysis by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It noted Ms. Mizeur's Kids First Act as a factor but also cited the economic recession and other initiatives that expanded coverage to parents.

Ms. Mizeur did sponsor the House version of the marijuana decriminalization bill this year (also with Delegate Smigiel, incidentally), and her stance in favor of full legalization certainly pushed the issue forward. However, those involved say she was not the central player in determining in the strategy to resurrect the decriminalization bill after it was gutted toward the end of this year's session in the House Judiciary Committee.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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