I’m way behind on my holiday shopping, the Fools on the Hill show no signs of going home, and a thousand deadlines loom. So with your indulgence, Dear Reader, we resort to a cheap literary technique that’s generally credited to the late, great New York sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon.
Nobody asked me, but… There’s something a little off-kilter about crying poverty in a gilded hotel ballroom. But that’s exactly what elected officials did last week at Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast.
Held in the county’s conference center on Rockville Pike – a facility operated by Marriott but paid for in large measure by your tax dollars and mine – the star-studded event brings together all the tribes of Montgomery County’s peculiar political village to hear their top electeds talk about the year ahead.
Not surprisingly, the theme this year was fiscal austerity and the need to pull together in tough times. It’s all been said before, but this time there was a greater urgency.
Montgomery County’s political insiders, despite their competing agendas, tend to come together in a somewhat cohesive way fairly often – especially whenever gadfly Robin Ficker gets one of his amendments to limit county government on the ballot. Then you get business and labor, environmentalists and developers, linking arms and singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
Of course, beneath the surface, and the pledges of solidarity, there were undeniable tensions at the breakfast this year: leaders of public employee unions mixing uneasily with politicians who are contemplating major changes to the way the county compensates its workers.
Sometimes, at these breakfasts, the primary entertainment isn’t on the dais.
Nobody asked me, but… There was something equally discordant at the breakfast watching Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) mocking all of Maryland’s jurisdictions for their perceived grievances and inferiority complexes. It was funny and dead on, but it betrayed a certain frustration on the governor’s part. He desperately wishes he were governing in good times, and he’s tired of all the whining and poor mouthing.
Still, listening to O’Malley, there was a temptation to yell, “Dude, you got elected to make tough decisions in tough times – get over it!”
Nobody asked me, but… With her stirring speech, free of most of the usual platitudes, about the traditionally “eyes glaze over” topic of maintenance of effort laws, new Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin (D) emerged as the star of the breakfast. Most insiders expect her to run for county executive in 2014, and she made it clear that she’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Nobody asked me, but… You couldn’t help contemplating Kurt Schmoke’s political trajectory when new Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) the other day asked Schmoke to co-lead a commission looking into the possibility of creating a county Inspector General’s office. The former Baltimore mayor, who is now the dean of Howard University Law School, will do a fine job heading the commission in tandem with William Missouri, a retired judge.
But Schmoke’s time in the sun (and in The Sun – heh heh) is limited these days, and whenever he emerges from academia – the last time was when he was part of the legal team trying to get controversial appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) seated in early 2009 – it’s always a reminder of what a talent he was, and how his political future once seemed unlimited.
Nobody asked me, but… Speaking of people involved in Baltimore politics, I wonder how many candidates will hire Julius Henson in the future. Unless he goes to jail, the guess here is that he’ll still get steady work.
Nobody asked me, but… Speaking of Prince George’s County, what did people think of the dual scoldings the residents of the county got, about the corrupt political culture they’ve tolerated, by Lee Hockstader in yesterday’s Washington Post and Blair Lee in The Gazette of Politics and Business 10 days earlier? Strong stuff, raising many valid points. But you sure wish there were some high profile African-American voices weighing in so sternly on Prince George’s affairs in the pages of our local media regularly as well.
Nobody asked me, but… For all the talk about President Obama emerging from his funk in this lame duck session of Congress, the Democrats are a long, long way from political recovery. They’ll be reminded of that today, when the U.S. Census releases its plan for Congressional reapportionment.
Without knowing all the specifics, we have a general idea of how this is going to look. Maryland won’t lose or gain any Congressional seats, but some of our neighbors are in for substantial losses: Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio will each lose a seat or two. New Jersey might lose a seat, and other Rust Belt states are also going to lose representation on Capitol Hill. Texas is going to pick up four of five seats; Florida will pick up a seat or two. Arizona, Nevada and Utah will also gain seats.
With so many seats headed to the South and West, it will make it all the harder for Democrats to flip the 25 seats they’ll need in 2012 to retake control of the House. As it is, Republicans control the redistricting process in many key states, which will also hinder the Democratic rehabilitation.
Taking back 25 seats, under the current boundaries and in an uncertain political environment, may seem doable. But by the time the seats shift West, by the time Republicans have their way with district lines, the hurdle is going to be a lot higher.
And by the same token, Obama’s route to 270 electoral votes in 2012 will become considerably harder, too. Just as an example, in 2004 and 2008, the Republican presidential nominee was awarded 34 electoral votes when he won Texas. In 2012, Texas will bring the winner 39 or 40 electoral votes. Extrapolate that to the rest of the country and Obama has no Electoral College cushion whatsoever, when you consider that it’s going to be harder for him to win traditionally Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina than it was in 2008.
Nobody asked me, but… I cannot see Michael Steele’s end game. Sure, he wants to be re-elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who pays attention to these things who thinks he can win. So what does Steele gain by staying in the race? He’s causing plenty of Republican stalwarts – including former supporters of his – a lot of grief. Wouldn’t it be better, if you’re thinking about your future, to exit the stage gracefully?
Nobody asked me, but… David Nitkin’s decision to leave the Baltimore Sun and become the legislative and policy director for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) is good news for Ulman and bad news for the Sun and for Maryland political journalism in general. The news certainly gives one pause.
Nitkin is a smart and talented guy, and he’ll do well in the job. But it’ll be weird seeing him hustling around Annapolis like other county lobbyists. Wonder how many legislators will realize what he’s there for?
Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz: