Josh Kurtz — We Don’t Know Jack: Fallout from Johnson Arrest Could be Far-reaching

Friday’s arrest of Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson (D) is part of a wide-ranging and growing scandal involving elected officials, developers, merchants and other county leaders. It was hardly surprising, given the actions of federal authorities, revelations in the media and rumors that have been swirling around county political circles for the past several months.

And the hits just keep coming, with arrests Monday of Prince George’s police officers and liquor store owners that were related to the Johnson case in undefined ways. Expect more indictments and more arrests – and other shoes to drop – soon.

As if the pressure on incoming Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) wasn’t enough, it’s now been ratcheted up even higher with Johnson’s arrest. Baker’s mission, in his own words, is to make a good county great. That’s certainly a good – OK, great – goal, and he’s laid out a broad vision for making it happen. The devil, of course, will be in the details.

More urgently, though, Baker needs to clean up the cesspool in Upper Marlboro and across the county, and that’s an even tougher job than making Prince George’s great. Baker is smart and earnest and well liked, but reformers all too often are like lambs in the lion’s den. There will be a lot of powerful forces arrayed against him – people unwilling to give up their power bases or sinecures or secret sources of income.

Baker spoke briefly about the Johnson scandal last night, and promised to “deliver a first-class government.” Unfortunately, he is now raising money for his inaugural festivities in early December, which include a ball at the National Harbor resort – and many developers and business groups, most of whom did not flock to his side during the campaign, will be eager to pay up. Some might even become $25,000 “Diamond Path” sponsors.

In the wake of Johnson’s arrest, commentators, insiders and law enforcement officials have made note of the “pay to play” mentality in Prince George’s – as Baker himself did during the recent campaign. But in Prince George’s it’s not just county officials that you have to pay off to get anything done.

The county has 27 municipalities, more than any other in the state. That’s a lot of people with their hands out – or, to put it more charitably, a lot of political scenarios to navigate and bureaucracies to reckon with.

And let’s not forget about the corruption that was recently pervasive in the school system, with ex-Superintendent Andre Hornsby now serving a six-year prison sentence. Or the fact that one of the county’s most powerful state Senators, Ulysses Currie (D), is under federal indictment.

Baker is going to need a very big broom, and he’s not going to be able to clean up alone. It will be very interesting to see if he gets help – and if so, where it comes from.

If Baker succeeds, he doesn’t just merit re-election in four years or a promotion to higher political office – he deserves a Nobel Prize.

This most jarring development in the Prince George’s corruption probe comes amid very quiet rumors that Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland who just indicted Johnson and the other bad seeds in the county, may be replaced before too long. Rosenstein, after all, is a Bush appointee who has been on the job since 2005.

Rosenstein isn’t seen as a particularly partisan operator, even though some political observers note that he’s only gone after Democrats – many of whom are African-American. That’s true – but then again, Democrats are all we’ve got in Maryland. Rosenstein is a long-time government employee who has worked for the Justice Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

But it’s entirely possible that President Obama may want his own person in the job – especially now that U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) is going to be out of work soon.

Kratovil is a career prosecutor who was Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney before he was elected to Congress. He loved the prosecutorial life and probably wouldn’t mind returning to it.

But Kratovil has political options available to him as well. He could wait for the new Congressional district lines to be drawn and see if he wants to run for his old seat again – or a more politically favorable version of it.

Or he could run for state Attorney General in 2014, with incumbent Doug Gansler (D) all but certain to run for governor. Kratovil may be a little too moderate to win a statewide Democratic primary, but you never know who’s going to wind up running for AG. State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D), who is very liberal, seems like a distinct possibility.

Still, it’s good to have options in defeat – and friends in the White House. Let’s just hope the White House doesn’t inadvertently mess with the investigations in Prince George’s County if it decides to install a new top cop in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My column last week on the Maryland Republican Party after Ehrlich got more feedback than any other I’ve written for Center Maryland. I heard from officeholders, party operatives and activists – and even a few Democrats.

That’s a sign of something – Republicans’ hunger, I suppose, to pick up the pieces and move on.

Some of the people I heard from said I erred in neglecting to mention two men who can help rebuild the state GOP: state Sen. E.J. Pipkin of the Upper Shore and Del. Steve Schuh of Anne Arundel County.

Both have money, ambition and real accomplishments – and a desire to do more than just promote themselves. Seems like a good place to start.

And, depending on what happens in the months ahead, Rod Rosenstein might be available…

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

After Ehrlich

Tomorrow Never Knows

To Be Frank (Part 2)

The More Things Change….

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Polls Apart

Van Hollen’s Burden

Not Rhee-a-listic

Tomorrow’s Headlines Today!

20th Century Comes to Baltimore County

Primary Colors

Murphy the Smurf

A Gene for Public Service

No Agnew Here

The Full Montgomery

Shock and Tawes

Uly’s Gold

Death and Deadlines

Bad News for Democrats From Washington to Washington County

Mr. Smith Goes … Where?

End of the Line for Vallario?

Mission: Control

Post Plays Favorites

Red Storm Rising

Michael & Me

Wanted: Fresh Blood

Taylor-Made

Black and Blue?

Slugfest

Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George’s County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne’s World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation