Josh Kurtz: Winners and Losers

By Josh Kurtz

The balloons dropped last night in the House and Senate chambers.

So you might say that all 188 members of the General Assembly were winners this legislative session. After last year’s end-of-session debacle, which required two subsequent special summer sessions to pick up the pieces, all that most lawmakers wanted this year was to go home on time.

Mission accomplished!

But it turned out to be an interesting and productive session as well — far more so than anyone could have predicted 90 days ago. So here’s a tally of some of the session’s winners and losers:

WINNER: Martin O’Malley. See last week’s column. Got almost everything he wanted — and has plenty to brag about on the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire.

WINNER: Mike Miller. As the canniest operator in Annapolis, Miller is a winner every session. But this year, he got the ball rolling on a transportation funding deal when nobody — including Miller, at least as the session kicked off — thought it was going to happen until 2015 (Virginia’s decision to tackle transportation funding this year gets a hat-tip as well).

WINNER: Mike Busch. The speaker handled a restive House with far more skill this year than he did last year, reaching out, listening more closely, and working more collaboratively. He still needs to do something to address the steam that’s building up among ambitious members with no place to go. Emeritus chairmanships for longtime gavel-holders, perhaps?

WINNERS: Vicki Gruber and Kristin Jones. The top aides to Miller and Busch, these women ran their chambers’ legislative strategies with skill and aplomb. Although she’s less visible and overtly political than some of her predecessors, Gruber in particular seems uniquely in command.

WINNER: Stacy Mayer. Joe Who? Once considered more of a figurehead replacement to Joe Bryce, O’Malley’s longtime legislative liaison, someone biding her time and waiting to be appointed to a judgeship rather than a true legislative strategist, Mayer instead guided an especially ambitious agenda through without missing a beat.

WINNER: Abby Hopper. The head of the Maryland Energy Administration saw the wind energy bill through after all these years, despite multiple impediments and political demands.

LOSERS: Maryland Republicans. Couldn’t organize a two-car funeral at this point if they wanted to.

WINNER: Larry Hogan. Where the state GOP has failed utterly, Hogan has become a pretty persistent and effective critic of O’Malley’s through his group Change Maryland. He may be powerless to stop the governor’s agenda, but he has become a significant irritant. Change Maryland’s big Annapolis breakfast in February was the most impressive gathering of Republicans and (a very few) dissident Democrats in recent memory. He may not become a candidate for governor in 2014, but Hogan’s style of bombast seems uniquely suited to the times — and stands in stark contrast to the nominal frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Harford County Executive David Craig, a Main Street Republican and policy maven disinclined to throw sharp elbows.

WINNER: Laura Neuman. OK, this wasn’t a legislative development per se, but the stink surrounding John Leopold was taking place just two blocks from the State House and has all kinds of implications for ambitious legislators. Neuman took over Anne Arundel County government and has so far done a brilliant job. Already a rare Republican rising star.

LOSERS: All Anne Arundel county exec wannabes not named Laura Neuman.

WINNERS: Liberals. The legislature this year was like the 1965 Congress, with O’Malley as LBJ — or like the Marin County Board of Supervisors on any given Tuesday.

LOSERS: Moderate Democrats. After the past two legislative sessions, they’ll have some ‘splaining to do to their conservative constituents — even if they did vote against tax increases, gay marriage, gun control, the DREAM Act, etc. etc. But did those votes inoculate them at all? How many will actually be endangered next year? And will the defeat of a few centrist Democrats tilt the political dynamic in Annapolis at all? Highly unlikely.

WINNER: Rushern Baker. From seizing partial control of the Prince George’s County school system, to winning an adjustment to the calculation for net taxable income, to securing more state support for a new county hospital, Baker made good on his pledge to utilize his contacts in Annapolis to push his agenda. The school issue could still blow up in his face, but it’s hard to recall another first-term county executive getting so much out of the legislature.

WINNER: Local courtesy. Baker and his allies somehow convinced legislators that the school control bill, which potentially has enormous statewide implications, was strictly a local matter.

LOSERS: The Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Maryland State Education Association. Both fought Baker’s school takeover plan and lost. Could similar efforts emerge in other jurisdictions? Stay tuned.

WINNER: Maryland Association of Counties. See above. Don’t be surprised if MACo is already drafting a more comprehensive schools takeover bill for next year.

WINNER: Mac Middleton. The consensus builder, at home and in the Senate. Shepherds offshore wind and a controversial utility surcharge, and resolves a hospital dispute on the Eastern Shore. Continues to be a power broker with a soft touch in swiftly changing Charles County.

WINNERS: Norm Conway and the Hudsons. The Eastern Shore Democrat scores a victory for farmers amid the Republican complaints of a war on rural Maryland. And Hudsons win the right to seek $300,000 in state reimbursement for legal costs incurred from the University of Maryland environmental law clinic’s support of the Waterkeepers’ misguided lawsuit. Wonder what the chicken industry will find in its PIA of Attorney General Gansler’s office for records on his involvement in the lawsuit?

WINNER: Vinny DeMarco. The man has enjoyed a lot of victories in Annapolis through the years, but he called the passage of O’Malley’s gun control package the culmination of his 25-year career.

LOSERS: Gun rights groups. Not that they expected much out of this General Assembly. Where have you gone, Walter Baker?

LOSER: Joe Vallario. Marginalized during the gun debate – his opinions were completely ignored and he saw his vice chairwoman, Kathleen Dumais, do the heavy lifting to pass the bill and work closely with O’Malley. And let’s not forget that he’s already been marginalized by redistricting.

WINNER: Dumais. This year’s gun debate sure felt like an audition for her to succeed Vallario, didn’t it?

WINNER: Don Fry. For years, the GBC president has been calling for the state to figure out a fix to its transportation funding issues, getting much of the business community behind him. Finally, the General Assembly listened this year.

WINNERS: Lisa Gladden and Sandy Rosenberg. Longtime advocates of death penalty repeal see their hard work rewarded.

WINNER: Brian Frosh. Gun control and the death penalty are perfect issues for a guy seeking to be the Democratic nominee for attorney general.

WINNER AND LOSER: Bill Ferguson. Young reformer asked by leadership to manage campaign finance reform bill on the Senate floor. A political maturing or a political co-option? Not much reform in that reform bill. But if leadership is willing to protect him against John Pica, George Della and car vandals, it may have been worth it.

WINNER: Towson University President Maravene Loesschke. Sure, she was pilloried by Peter Franchot and, to a lesser extent, O’Malley, after making painful cuts to the university’s sports program. And she had to fight her own board chair, David Nevins, who chaired the task force that studied the cuts but then joined the criticism against them. But in the end, she winds up with money to try to save the baseball team and $2 million from the capital budget for a new women’s softball field. Most college administrators would accept that kind of trade-off during tough budget times.

WINNER: David Moon. Lefty blogger kept Montgomery County legislators honest – maybe nervous is a better word – with his diatribes. His decision to publish roll call votes on controversial measures was also invaluable – especially his list of moderate Democrats and how they lined up on high-profile liberal bills.

LOSERS: The mainstream media. We remember a time when the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun published hard-hitting investigative pieces in the early days of a legislative session that helped set the tone – and the agenda – for the weeks ahead. That’s a thing of the past. Two weeks ago, in its obituary of former House Commerce and Government Affairs Chairman Gerry Curran (D), the Sun somehow failed to mention that its investigation into the shady comingling of Curran’s business and legislative affairs drove him to resign in 1998. Now, the Sun and Post race to post blogs on O’Malley’s out-of-state speeches and national TV appearances. Meanwhile, The Gazette of Politics and Business craps out and The Washington Examiner is about to deep-six its state and local coverage. Where’s the oversight?

LOSERS: The Democratic candidates for governor. Remained mostly on the sidelines this session, unseen and unheard, though Anthony Brown got his public-private partnership bill passed on the final day and can bask in some of O’Malley’s reflected glory.

WINNER: The next governor. Thanks to this year’s transportation package, he or she will get to preside over a lot of ribbon cuttings in the years ahead.

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

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Filing Deadline Quietly Changed to Early January

Stations of the Cross and the Station That’s Become a Cross to Bear

Fools Rushern In

A Sense of the Senate

Montgomery Councilmember Seeks Investigation Into Anonymous Web Attack

Peter Principle

Louie, Louie