Money is reputedly the mother's milk of politics, and if that's so, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is very well-nourished with $573,183 in the bank according to campaign finance reports filed last week. Trent Kittleman, his undeclared but likely Republican adversary who launched a campaign Web site last week, reported having $8,038 on hand.
"I'm really pleased with the outpouring of support we've had," Ulman said while in Annapolis on Wednesday lobbying for school construction money and to prevent more budget cuts.
But once in a while, the voters get so riled that it doesn't matter who has the most money. Some Howard officials think this could be one of those years for incumbents.
"Some people with $1 million lose," said Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat who represents a fairly conservative portion of southwestern Baltimore County and Elkridge in Howard County.
Malone was thinking about 1990, when Maryland's Democratic incumbents lost big time. Then-Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, who had $1 million, lost to novice challenger Roger B. Hayden, a Republican school board member with one-tenth his funding. In Howard, Democratic Del. Elizabeth Bobo, then county executive, narrowly lost her re-election bid to Republican Charles I. Ecker, another school official.
Ulman said he doesn't believe that scenario will play out this year in Howard County.
"There's such a high quality of life" in the county, he said. Sure, voters might be anxious about national issues and the economy, but "I just feel folks in Howard County feel good about the county." Does his huge campaign fund make him unbeatable? Ulman didn't answer that.
"There will be plenty of time for those discussions later in the year," he said. Others aren't as confident.
State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, also a Democratic victim of the 1990 purge who rebounded in 1994, said he's been nervous about this year for a while, and the Republican upset victory in the Massachusetts special U.S.. Senate election Tuesday to choose a replacement for the late Edward M. Kennedy didn't assuage the worry.
"I've been concerned for six months now in terms of feeling that we've gotten off-balance," he said Wednesday. "We have to get back to the middle," he said, adding that too much national attention is going to health care, and not enough to the sour economy.
Most Howard incumbents of both parties said they have enough money to run good campaigns, and several Democrats said they are confident that local voters see the quality of life in Howard County and approve of what they've been doing, but the doubts heightened by the Massachusetts results are there, too.
"If we don't pay attention to it, that would be unwise," Bobo said. "Repeating a party line isn't good. We have to be ourselves and be in close contact with the voters, which is how I am anyway," she said. John Bailey, a teacher active in Howard's Republican Party, is running against Bobo.
"I don't think money's going to be the issue. Don't become complacent and work hard," said state Sen. James N. Robey, who reported having $73,000 on hand.
Del. Frank S. Turner, another Democrat, said he doesn't think Maryland will have an anti-incumbent year. Massachusetts has more independent voters, he said, and two wars and the economy are national issues. Republican novices Kyle Lorton, Jeff Robinson and Ed Priola are running against the Democratic team of Robey, Turner, Shane Pendergrass and Guy Guzzone in District 13. Guzzone is well-fortified with cash, reporting about $130,000 on hand, and Pendergrass has $80,000. Democrats Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher oppose Republican delegates Warren E. Miller and Gail H. Bates in District 9a.
Republicans feel cheered by recent events.
Kittleman, a former Cabinet official in Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s cabinet, said she "feels great" about her prospects of raising the money she needs. She has not declared her candidacy and has received donations just from family and friends, including $3,000 of her own money.
"Votes are what win elections. What happened in Massachusetts is just unbelievable," she said. "People are very, very upset, and that will resonate."
Her stepson, Allan Kittleman, said he's seeing worried Democrats react more to what the Republican minority in the General Assembly says and does. The vote in Massachusetts reflects similar tensions here, he believes, because Democrats control the state house and many local governments, including in Howard County.
"I think it's a frustration with one-party rule. Money may matter less," he said.
Local bills get 1st OKThe county's General Assembly delegation approved nine local bills at a brief Wednesday morning meeting in Annapolis.
Six were bond bills requesting relatively small amounts of state money for local projects, such as the Living Heritage Farm Museum, to pay for bathrooms at Alpha Ridge Park, to start work at Troy Regional Park in Elkridge, to help the Columbia Association pay for improvements to Symphony Woods, to begin repairs on Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage and for a concrete pad to support a telescope at Alpha Ridge.
Only the last item drew any criticism, though Kittleman, a Republican who is Senate minority leader, said he intends to oppose state spending on any local bond bills this year. Still, he supported Howard's requests.
"I will be advocating no bond bills this year, but I don't want to oppose these bond bills if they're going to happen," he said. The requests total $935,000, including $500,000 for Troy Regional Park and $250,000 for Symphony Woods.
Republican Del. Warren E. Miller opposed the $25,000 for the telescope pad, arguing that "it's not as needed as some of the other bond bills."
Also approved were two bills affording citizens easier access to government-held information. One is a bill Miller sponsored requiring the school board to create by 2012 easy computer access for the public examination of board expenditures over $25,000, not including salaries. The other measure, pushed by the League of Women Voters, would give citizens quicker access to information on political contributions by applicants for land-use changes.
Bills that affect only one local jurisdiction are usually approved by the full General Assembly if the local legislators are in favor.
The delegation will meet Feb. 3 to discuss four other bills, including two changing alcoholic beverage laws.