Ad watch: In Baltimore County, Olszewski goes on the offensive

Democratic Baltimore County executive candidate Johnny Olszewski Jr. has a new ad airing on broadcast and cable stations that criticizes his Republican opponent, Al Redmer Jr.

The ad, which airs starting Wednesday, represents Olszewski’s first move to attack Redmer in an ad. Olszewski’s previous ad was a light, biographical piece that touted the candidate’s experience.

What the TV ad says:

The ad opens with a series of black-and-white photos of Redmer set to dramatic music as the narrator says: “What do we know about Al Redmer? As insurance commissioner, Redmer sided with big insurance companies, raising premiums by up to 76 percent, costing families thousands every year.”

The narrator continues: “Redmer voted to defund our schools and opposed paying teachers a fair wage.”

Then the ad shifts to brighter music and images of Olszewski that are recycled from his first ad: touring a shop, in the kitchen at Costas restaurant in Dundalk, talking with people.

“The Baltimore Sun endorsed Johnny O, calling him the right leader for Baltimore County,” the narrator continues. “The Sun praised him for his work with both parties to lower our taxes and improve our public schools.”

The ad ends as the first one did, with a close-up of Olszewski’s face, eyes gazing off in the distance.

The narrator concludes: “Johnny O, a bipartisan leader for Baltimore County.”

The facts:

The ad’s claims about Redmer and insurance rate increases refer to insurance rate increases that the Maryland Insurance Administration — led by Redmer — approved in 2017.

The rate increases applied to health plans that are sold to individuals who buy their own insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That year, certain federal subsidies for health insurance companies were ended, and so the companies sought permission to charge customers more — up to 76 percent in some cases.

The 76 percent increase was not across the board, with some insurers being approved for 44 percent and 58 percent increases that year. Those rate increases did not affect health insurance that Marylanders buy through their work, or Medicaid or Medicare.

The claims about Redmer voting to “defund” schools and his opposition to “fair wages” for teachers are related to votes he cast during his 13 years in the state House of Delegates.

Redmer voted against a bill that established the Thornton funding formula, which governs how much state money goes to public schools. He also voted against some state budget bills, which include money for schools, during his time in Annapolis.

Olszewski was endorsed this week by The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, which is separate from the news staff that covers the campaign. The ad quotes from the endorsement, but also slips in a line purporting to be about bipartisanship from four years ago, when Olszewski ran (and lost) for a seat in the state Senate.

The full quote from the 2014 endorsement is: “Mr. Olszewski is not a party-line Democrat, particularly on matters of taxes and fees, which is likely what district voters expect from their representatives in Annapolis.”

Redmer’s spokeswoman, Hannah Marr, said in a statement that the Olszewski campaign “is playing fast and loose with the facts” in the ad.

“Like his buddy Ben Jealous, Johnny knows the voters of Baltimore County are rejecting his brand of far-left, tax-and-spend progressivism, so he’s not only sprinting to the center and rebranding himself as a ‘bipartisan’ candidate in the 11th hour,” Marr said, “he’s using blatant lies to smear the reputation of a true independent community leader who actually has a record of avoiding partisan battles to seek common-sense solutions.”

Analysis:

This Olszewski ad starts with facts and stretches them to make its claims.

The ad makes it sound as if Redmer personally raised health insurance costs for all Marylanders by 76 percent, when in reality, the specific rate increase applies to only certain Marylanders — and it was driven largely by actions taken by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Redmer certainly would disagree that he wanted to “defund” schools or not pay teachers a “fair wage.” The ad never defines what a “fair wage” is for teachers.

Redmer has said he voted against the Thornton funding plan for schools because he’s opposed to mandated spending formulas.

And voting against state budgets is a common symbolic move from Republicans in Annapolis, who wish to show displeasure with some element of the budget, such as a tax increase or what they see as wasteful spending. The state budget generally passes by overwhelming margins, so funding for schools is not usually at risk.

The ad also does a bit of trickery with quoting The Sun’s editorials, mixing in a quote from an old endorsement. The 2014 endorsement never said anything about Olszewski being a bipartisan leader. Rather, it noted that he broke with Democrats at times and voted against tax increases.

The tax increases that Olszewski voted against — gas tax, sales tax, alcohol tax — were approved anyway.

Redmer went on the air first and went negative, and now Olszewski is joining him with an ad that spends half the time in attack mode.

Olszewski makes some interesting style choices as well, never mentioning his full name or putting it on the screen. As with his first ad, it makes no mention of Olszewski being a Democrat. It also does not make mention of any of his progressive policy ideas, such as raising the state’s minimum wage, offering tuition-free community college or expanding free prekindergarten.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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