Inside Out: Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger – Fix the Debt — VIDEO

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Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger reinforces the importance of fixing the national debt while critiquing some of the recent strategies being discussed by members of Congress both in the Senate and House.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.

Inside the Headlines with President & CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association Carmela Coyle — VIDEO

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President & CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association Carmela Coyle talks about the importance for Maryland to both preserve and modernize the state’s Medicare waiver.

Inside the Headlines is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Damian O’Doherty brings guests on the show to have in-depth conversations on major news happening in Maryland.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Damian O’Doherty is a corporate communications strategist, a principal of KO Public Affairs LLC and co-founder of Center Maryland.

Laslo Boyd: They’re Off And Running, Sorta

By Laslo Boyd

In an era in which campaigns for public office seem to run longer and longer, the race to succeed Martin O’Malley as Maryland’s next governor may prove an exception. While it’s only 13 months until the Democratic primary — let’s not pretend that any Republican nominee actually has a chance — the candidates are only beginning to introduce themselves to the voters and build organizations to mobilize supporters.

For a number of reasons, there may be less time than the candidates seem to think. None of them is coming from an office that has any history as a springboard for winning the governorship. None of them has significant name recognition beyond their geographical base, and even that’s not entirely a sure thing. None of them starts with the kind of “wow” factor — a well-known political name, accomplishments that make one of them a presumptive favorite, unlimited money — that has allowed candidates in some races to bide their time and wait until relatively close to the election.

Campaign money is being raised, meetings are being held with individuals and groups who are seen as politically influential, and the early steps in creating campaign organizations are being taken. However, no one has established a public presence and no one has jumped into the position of overwhelming favorite.

To be sure, Anthony Brown did formally announce his candidacy on May 17, although it’s hard to understand why. Most often, when you make an announcement on a Friday afternoon, it’s in the hope that no one will notice it. If that actually was Brown’s goal, he succeeded, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. It was either such a clever strategy that years from now we will all be saying that the “Friday Political Announcement Strategy” was born on May 17, 2013 or his political team is not yet ready for prime time.

To give Brown the benefit of the doubt, I checked his campaign web site in hopes of learning more about his campaign. Of the five tabs across the top, one was “Photo Gallery” and a second was “Videos”. Given that his principal role as Lt. Governor has been to appear in photos ops with O’Malley, that emphasis seems appropriate.

Finding out anything of substance was harder however. Lots of biographical material and an assertion in the section Anthony’s Story that “Anthony has transformed what was once a largely undefined and ceremonial position into one of substance.” You might want to ask Mickey Steinberg and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend how similar claims that each of them made worked out.

Still, Brown is a formidable candidate. The other presumed heavyweight contender, Attorney General Doug Gansler, really is playing a waiting game. While Attorney General may not be quite the politically dead end position that Lt. Governor is, Gansler has maintained a remarkably low profile over almost seven years as the state’s top lawyer.

Gansler has raised the most money and it’s widely assumed that he is counting on winning next year’s primary by massive spending on television ads. He proved himself a tough campaigner back when he was running for State’s Attorney in Montgomery County in 1998 and for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in 2006, but he may be a little rusty since he didn’t have an opponent when he was reelected Attorney General in 2010.

Gansler, undeclared as he is, does have a web site, and it has a lot more about his positions on key policy issues than Brown has on his web site. There is no mention of Gansler running for Governor — he is identified on the web site as the Attorney General — but it will certainly be easy to make that small adjustment.

Maybe the correct sports analogy — better than a horserace — is that these are two boxers feeling each other out in the early rounds. Neither is going away and they are acting as if they are the only ones in the ring. Peter Franchot’s early departure as a potential candidate has created that situation and probably helps Gansler the most in the short term by leaving him as the major Montgomery County candidate in the race.

Another previously mentioned candidate who seems to have disappeared without a formal withdrawal is Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. He is now expected to be announced early next month as the running mate for Brown. Ulman, who is the only candidate with executive experience and had been talking as if he was in it for the long haul, has apparently already made the decision that he can’t win. Too bad because he has an interesting case to make.

Whether he actually helps Brown is less clear. People don’t make their choice for Governor based on who the second person is. And Ulman doesn’t have that large a base anyway. He might have helped Brown more by drawing 20% of the primary vote, the largest portion of which would have come from Gansler.

I promise I’ll have something to write about the other name in the race, State Del. Heather Mizeur, as soon as there is any indication that she can have any impact on the election.

And that leaves former Baltimore County Executive and current Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. There has been a flurry of stories recently that he is considering running. If he did, it would turn the race upside down. Two reasons that he might: Democrats are likely to remain the minority in the House for quite a while; and it is a race that no one has wrapped up and it might be winnable by Ruppersberger.

The challenge: how well he’s known outside of the Baltimore area isn’t clear. Moreover, he’s never run statewide and would have to decide that he’s willing to give up his House seat for a rough-and-tumble campaign for governor.

Summer is fast approaching. Don’t expect too much drama before the fall, but then the pressure really will be on anyone who is in the race to get serious.

Laslo Boyd writes and consults about public policy, government, and politics. He is a regulator contributor to Center Maryland. His email is lvboyd@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Laslo Boyd:

Searching for Superman: The Future of Baltimore City Schools

Is Help Coming From Annapolis?

Center Maryland: Inside Out – Councilman Nick Mosby — VIDEO

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7th District Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby talks to Center Maryland about his grassroots anti-litter initiative called the One Piece Litter Campaign. Mosby also comments on the recent $1 billion school funding bill for Baltimore City Schools and his strategy for economic development in West Baltimore.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.

Josh Kurtz: Will 2014 Be a Republican Year Nationally — and in Maryland?

By Josh Kurtz

If, as is generally the rule, California is a trend-setter, then Democrats from Westwood to Worcester County to the White House may have reason to worry about 2014. In a special election last week, Republicans flipped a seat in the California state Senate.

Special elections tend to have their own unique dynamics. This race took place in a highly competitive district in California’s Central Valley, and was decided by just 3 points. As a practical matter, it did not do much to the state of the state Senate: Democrats still hold a 28-12 supermajority. And the Democrat who was being replaced was pretty conservative anyway — in fact, he left the legislature to become a lobbyist for Chevron.

But in the current national political environment, the result ought to give Democrats the jitters. With all the scandals suddenly swirling around the Obama administration, it would not be surprising if the past few weeks in Washington prove pivotal to the overall narrative of the 2014 elections.

2014 is going to be a “six-year itch” election, meaning it will take place in the sixth year of the Obama presidency. Historically, those are bad elections for the incumbent party in Washington; the last time we had one, in 2006, Democrats grabbed control of both the U.S. House and Senate.

But with the national Republican brand so damaged, with President Obama and his team so cocky coming out of the election and inauguration, Democrats were making the plausible case that 2014 would be an atypical midyear election. In fact, some of the first calls Obama made on election night 2012 were to Democratic House leaders, telling them he was committed to flipping the House in 2014.

Well, that talk sure has diminished in the past couple of weeks. The trio of scandals engulfing the White House may not prove to be much, individually or collectively. Surely they are nowhere near the scale of Watergate or Iran-Contra, and maybe not even Whitewater.

But they are not going to go away soon, particularly with the GOP firmly in control of the House of Representatives. Obama’s agenda has been stopped dead in its tracks. And the dispirited and dormant Republican base is suddenly revived and smelling blood, energized by another opportunity to kick Obama around a few times more.

People who track House and Senate elections closely are already detecting that Democrats’ candidate recruiting efforts have slowed since the IRS, Benghazi and Associated Press scandals surfaced a couple of weeks ago. Republicans need to flip six seats to take control of the Senate in 2014, and two vacant Democratic seats are almost certain to change hands — in West Virginia and South Dakota. Add to that Democratic vacancies in such swing states as Michigan, Iowa and Montana, and potentially shaky Democratic incumbents in four states that Mitt Romney won in 2012 — Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. Then factor in that there are no clear Democratic pick-up opportunities, and a GOP Senate majority come 2015 seems entirely possible. And it’s hard to see the Democrats’ path to a majority in the House.

Much can happen between now and Election Day 2014. The economy is improving, and that will accrue to Obama’s and Democrats’ benefit. But with the tea party and conservative media now awakened, it‘s starting to look a lot like 2010.

What does that mean in deep-blue Maryland?

2002 was a GOP year nationally, as every Republican candidate carried some of George W. Bush’s post 9-11 sheen. Bob Ehrlich became the first Republican governor elected in 36 years (though Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s inept campaign was also a factor).

It was a big Democratic year in 2006. Martin O’Malley ousted Ehrlich, and Michael Steele’s highly-touted Senate campaign fizzled.

It was a Republican year four years later, but Maryland hardly noticed. O’Malley broadened his winning margin over Ehrlich in their rematch. Republicans lost two seats in the state Senate, though they gained a handful in the House and won some key local races.

With the 2014 gubernatorial election now under way — and Republicans are going to get their first official candidate next week, when Harford County Executive David Craig formally enters the fray — you’d be hard-pressed to find many Republicans who think they have a chance to compete at the statewide level.

But if it’s a Republican year nationally, it’ll be that much harder for the handful of vulnerable Democratic state senators and the eight or so vulnerable Democratic delegates to prevail. They all sit in conservative districts where Obama is pretty unpopular.

U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D) is strongly favored to win a second term. But a nationwide Republican wave makes his district worth watching, especially if Del. LeRoy Myers (R) decides to run and invest some of his own money in the race. Democrats’ dim chances of winning the county executive race in Anne Arundel fade even more if it‘s a GOP year. Republicans’ slim chances of winning the Howard County executive race improve. And so it goes, down the ballot.

How will we know if it’s going to be a Republican year? 2013 should provide at least a couple of early clues.

The first will come a month from now, in a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. Democrats are already having bad flashbacks to the last one that took place there, in early 2010, when Republican Scott Brown was elected to replace Ted Kennedy.

Massachusetts may be a more heavily Democratic state than Maryland. But some of the same ingredients are in place for another upset this time around.

The Republican nominee, Gabriel Gomez, a 40-something retired Navy SEAL and entrepreneur, is a political novice. The Democratic nominee, Rep. Ed Markey, is 66 years old and is in his 37th year in Congress. The first ad Markey ran in the general election touted a law he passed 20 years ago. And that’s a problem.

National Republicans are now sending staffers and resources to the Bay State, and why not? They’ve got nothing to lose. Polls have shown Markey with a single-digit lead of anywhere from 3 to 7 points. That’s nothing, considering how long he’s been on the scene. Independents favor Gomez by an almost 2-1 margin — that’s a big deal, and, many pundits believe, a poor reflection on Obama.

If Markey prevails, it may be because Tom Steyer, a billionaire climate activist, has decided to invest huge sums of money in the race. But that won’t instill a lot of confidence in the Democrats’ prospects for 2014.

The next big test will be in November, when Virginia voters go to the polls. It may be that the choice for governor there, between Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, is the most unappealing I’ve seen in politics since the 1985 race for town supervisor in Eastchester, N.Y., featured candidates named Doody and Porco (you could look it up). A Cuccinelli win — a slightly better than 50-50 proposition at this point — would be more bad news for Democrats.

The 2014 national elections aren’t fully baked yet. But the temperature in the oven is rising, and Democrats are feeling the heat.

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

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Back to the Future

Conviction Politics

Union Powerbroker Taking New Role

Why the Rush (Hour)?

House Cleaning

Reality Check (in Four Parts)

Donald Fry — Maryland’s stormwater fees: a lesson in uneven policy making

By Donald C. Fry

Proposed stormwater fees being considered by Baltimore City would result in the city having the highest so-called “rain tax” on businesses in the state, according to experts who are following efforts in ten Maryland jurisdictions to implement the fees required by state legislation.

But even outside of Baltimore City, potentially substantial new stormwater fees facing many businesses in the Baltimore region and Maryland’s D.C. suburbs offer a compelling lesson in how not to make public policy.

State lawmakers passed enabling legislation during the 2012 General Assembly session in order to comply with new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards issued to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay from stormwater runoff.

Little attention was paid to the General Assembly’s enabling fee legislation at the time it was passed last year by votes of 91-45 in the House of Delegates and 33-14 in the Senate of Maryland. It was passed to require county governments in the Baltimore region and in Charles, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to raise revenue to fund the incremental costs of capital improvements needed in order to comply with EPA regulations. The counties were mandated to enact the fees prior to July 1, 2013.

Now that Baltimore City and the affected Maryland counties are engaged in the process of establishing the amount of the local stormwater runoff fees, everyone is paying attention, especially homeowners and businesses.

Enacted or proposed fees for residential properties vary moderately from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But the widest variation – and potentially the most debilitating fees – will impact businesses, for which fees are based on the amount of impervious surfaces – roofs, driveways, parking lots, macadam or packed gravel – on their properties.

For example, the proposed annual fees for homes in Baltimore City range from $48 to $144, depending on the size of the house. This is comparable to most of the fees for residential properties being enacted around the state. But businesses in Baltimore City face a proposed annual stormwater fee of $2,987 per acre – more than twice the fees to be imposed on businesses anywhere else in the Baltimore region and $1,300 per acre more than Montgomery County’s fee, which is second-highest.

The Baltimore City Council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee has scheduled a June 4 work session on the stormwater fee legislation.

Enacted annual per-acre stormwater fees for impervious business property elsewhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area are $1,513 in Baltimore County, $1,307 in Howard County, and $610 in Harford County.

Anne Arundel’s County Council passed a fee for businesses of $1,322 per acre. The legislation was initially vetoed by the county executive and the veto was subsequently overridden by the County Council. The Council has since passed a lower cap on non-residential fees of 25 percent of their real property taxes and also approved a three-year phase in for fee bills over $500.

Carroll County’s fee proposals are pending. Elsewhere, the Frederick County commissioners directed their staff to develop a fee of 1-cent per business parcel. Charles County proposes a $428 per-acre annual fee for business property and fees have yet to be proposed in Prince George’s county.

Though there is major variation in proposed fee rates, in most of the impacted Maryland jurisdictions there is potential for dramatically high fees to be imposed on companies that occupy large sites. “Are you ready for the biggest business tax increase you’ve ever seen?” asked a recent email alert the Maryland Motor Truck Association sent to its members.

One of the organization’s members in Baltimore City would pay $300,000 per year in new business fees under the City’s proposed stormwater fee rates, the email alert reported.

The proposed new “surprise” stormwater runoff fees are not unique to Maryland. They are being enacted not just here, but in many U.S. states, metropolitan counties and cities that are near bodies of water – such as the Chesapeake Bay – into which flow large amounts of polluted stormwater from impervious surfaces.

And Maryland isn’t the only place where such fees have prompted less than positive reactions, including a few lawsuits elsewhere.

A St. Louis court recently ruled in favor of plaintiffs that argued that the stormwater fee was actually a tax and, therefore, subject to approval by voters. That ruling was subsequently upheld by a state appellate court and was scheduled to be heard May 21 by Missouri’s highest court.

In the Denver area, bills sent to Adams County residents for stormwater fees that took effect on January 1 were found to have a 34 percent error rate, further inflaming residents who say they are organizing a class-action lawsuit contending that the new fee is, in fact, an illegal tax.

A federal district court in Virginia ruled in January that stormwater, in and of itself, is not a pollutant and therefore is not something whose flow can be restricted by the EPA. This is a very narrow ruling that most likely doesn’t apply to Maryland.

Virtually no one opposes taking appropriate strides to clean our nation’s waterways. However, a major private-sector concern is that the heaping on of an additional fee only adds to the cost of doing business.

In Maryland, the process of implementing stormwater fees has made one thing clear. It demonstrates how federal bureaucrats and state lawmakers, virtually without anyone paying close attention, put into place a well-meaning policy that will submit homeowners to new “surprise” fees and will dramatically increase overhead for many businesses in Baltimore City and in much of our state.

What’s more, the uneven fashion in which the policy is being applied will create among jurisdictions instant competitive disadvantages that didn’t exist a year ago.

From the standpoint of Maryland’s private sector, the stormwater fee policy as currently constructed runs directly contrary to four of the eight core pillars for business growth and job creation that were developed by the state’s business leaders and economic development experts and compiled by the Greater Baltimore Committee in its report, “Gaining a Competitive Edge.”

The fee policy is not an example of government partnering with business.

It is not streamlined, stable and predictable regulatory policy making.
It does not create a fair and competitive fee or tax structure.

And it, most certainly, does not steer clear of arbitrarily or disproportionately imposing additional overhead on the business sector.

Surely government in our nation and state can do better.

Our bureaucrats and lawmakers could start with better cost analysis and more thoughtful approaches beyond simple number crunching when enacting policies with wide-ranging impacts on business and quality of life.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Council should opt for ‘win-win’ approach, not ‘magic bullet’ for local hiring effort

Closing the ‘disconnect’ with elected officials over competitiveness

City takes constructive step toward strategy for job growth

Federal fiscal uncertainty could erode states’ infrastructure funding options

Business issues rose to the top of State House priority lists in 2013 session

O’Malley deserves better grade for affordable college in Maryland

Center Maryland: Inside Out – Abba Poliakoff and the Mission to Israel – VIDEO

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Abba Poliakoff,chairman of Gordon Feinblatt’s securities practice group and Israel practice group, details Maryland’s recent trade mission to Israel and Jordan, which was headed up by Governor O’Malley. As chairman of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, Poliakoff describes the different partnerships and successes from the mission.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.

Josh Kurtz: Back to the Future

By Josh Kurtz

An eerie fog hung over Montgomery County for most of the day Sunday, the kind that makes you think of ghosts and spirits and raising the dead.

A too-simple metaphor, perhaps, but an unavoidable one, for Doug Duncan’s comeback attempt, on the day he happened to hold the first big public event of his 2014 campaign for county executive.

Classic rock and soul blared from the sound system at Smokey Glen Farm in Darnestown — site of an annual Duncan picnic throughout his political career. Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’” seemed especially appropriate.

But they should have played the soundtrack from “The Blues Brothers” movie — because there was so much talk of getting the band back together again.

There was a sense of nostalgia in the air, and a lot of old Duncan hands were present — David Edgerley, David Weaver, Saralee Todd, Deborah Goodwin and Steve Simon, just to name a few.

The list of the two dozen event sponsors and hosts — from Gary Abramson to the Gingery Development Group to the career firefighters union — were a reminder of the go-go ’90s and early aughts that Duncan presided over, when the county government catered to developers and was generous to public sector unions.

There was a lot of wistful talk, about Duncan being a man of action, about always knowing where he stood, about him never accepting the status quo.

And yet, this did not entirely seem like one of those oldies revues where they put the surviving members of the Monkees and the Lovin‘ Spoonful and Paul Revere and the Raiders on the road together. Inevitably with Duncan, past is prologue — but the man of action theme has a practicable political effect looking ahead to 2014.

And speaking of action, say this for Duncan: He is the only candidate for Montgomery County executive actually running a campaign right now. And with the Democratic primary a mere 13 months away, that matters.

A picnic is just a picnic. Old hands are just old hands. Talk about the good old days may be mere nostalgia. But in Duncan‘s picnic, a seed of a real campaign, with a candidate loose and confident, was evident.

Ike Leggett remains the favorite for re-election, should he decide to seek a third term as county executive. He’s built up enough good will through the years, will take full advantage of incumbency, and has the county’s ever-changing demographics on his side. Councilman Phil Andrews, who is also running, may put together a smart, issue-oriented grass-roots campaign, but it’s hard to see him raising enough money or having the kind of reach or breadth of support he’ll need to compete countywide.

But skeptics of Duncan’s ability to compete in the modern Montgomery County, 12 years after his last successful campaign and a full two decades after his last competitive race, should take heed. Whatever wounds he’s accumulated during his long career, whatever enemies he’s amassed, whatever political wilderness he’s wandered in these past eight years, this is a candidate who is raring to go.

At the picnic, Duncan, who became increasingly isolated as his time in office went on — and not just because of his public bout with depression, which derailed his campaign for governor in 2006 and which he fully acknowledged Sunday (“a dark period in my life,” he called it) — was affable, fully engaged with everyone who stopped by to say hello, and fluent in county affairs, big and small.

Duncan trotted out his predictable litany of brick and mortar achievements from his three terms. “When I was county executive, we were known for getting things done,” he told the crowd of 300.

He also boasted about the county achieving newfound respect and savvy in Annapolis during his tenure.

Without ever naming Leggett, Duncan said, “our county government’s kind of off-course right now.” He mentioned the fiasco surrounding the still-unopened transit center in Silver Spring, which has made Montgomery County “a regional laughingstock.” He accused county government officials of squabbling with the school board and the legislative delegation.

“If we’re spending the whole time fighting each other, the people in Annapolis are sitting back and laughing and spending money elsewhere,” Duncan said.

And in an interview, he said the biggest problem facing the county is “the stranglehold caused by low job growth.”

Many of these points are debatable. And they’re coming from a man who was only too willing to divide the county political community into enemy camps.

Duncan was certainly a stronger presence in Annapolis than many of his predecessors. But Montgomery County got so much school construction money during that era in part because a handful of delegates defied their constituents’ wishes and voted to fund football stadiums in Baltimore and Landover and were rewarded for it, and later because Parris Glendening needed the county so badly in his 1998 re-election campaign.

The transit center is a disaster, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. And some of those contracts were let during the Duncan administration.

Job growth in Montgomery is an issue. County officials point to data showing that Montgomery’s job growth has outpaced the level of job growth of rival Fairfax County for the past two years (though a study from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis released about 18 months ago found that from 1990 to 2010, job growth in Fairfax County was four times faster than in Montgomery County). And Leggett has hardly been a pariah in Annapolis — he was at Martin O’Malley’s side just last week, as the governor signed the transportation funding bill, and O’Malley praised Leggett for his advocacy on behalf of the measure.

Though there were African-Americans and Latinos and Asian-Americans sprinkled throughout the picnic crowd, it did not exactly “look like Montgomery County.” But then, the county’s explosive demographic change has yet to significantly manifest itself at the ballot box.

Duncan, in an interview, had a ready answer for the suggestion that he will not be able to compete politically or govern effectively in a majority-minority county.

“I grew up here,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I know the county better than anybody. What’s really changed? It was trending this way when I was county executive. The school system was already majority-minority. It’s still Montgomery County. The issues haven’t changed.”

Duncan has begun to raise money aggressively. He takes inspiration from freshman Congressman John Delaney’s upset win a year ago — and said he’s prepared to employ some of the same tactics (indeed, Delaney was on hand to endorse Duncan Sunday, returning the favor Duncan bestowed upon him last year when most of the Democratic establishment was lined up behind someone else; a former Delaney aide, Kurt Staiger, has been hired on by Duncan‘s campaign).

Leggett, ever deliberative, remains publicly mum about his plans — though his actions suggest he’s gearing up to run again. But if he’s putting together a campaign apparatus, no one is seeing signs of it. Based on Duncan’s level of activity, Leggett will have to — and soon.

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

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Conviction Politics

Union Powerbroker Taking New Role

Why the Rush (Hour)?

House Cleaning

Reality Check (in Four Parts)

Winners and Losers

Center Maryland: Inside Out – Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger Part 2 — VIDEO

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Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger gives Center Maryland his take on Maryland’s upcoming race for governor, including speculation that he might run. Other subjects include Ruppersberger’s reaction to recent news about the IRS.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.

Donald Fry: Council should opt for ‘win-win’ approach, not ‘magic bullet’ for local hiring effort

By Donald C. Fry

Frustration on the part of well-intentioned Baltimore City Council members seeking to promote local hiring by businesses performing city contracts boiled over recently when Council President Jack Young reportedly chastised the city’s Law Department for not cooperating with council efforts.

Young and other council members want to pass a bill mandating that 51 percent of new hires working for private-sector contractors on city projects be city residents. In fact, the bill is poised for final consideration as soon as June 3 at the next council meeting.

However, the city Law Department advised the council in January that a hiring preference bill based on where a job applicant lives is inherently unconstitutional. Council President Young then asked the Law Department to “tweak” the legislation so that it would pass constitutional muster.

In effect, City Council members were asking for “magic bullet” legislative language.

No such “magic bullet” exists for any legislation that creates a hiring preference based on residency, City Solicitor George Nilson replied to the council in a May 2nd memo. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court has specifically rejected this approach. Although other cities, such as San Francisco and Boston have passed such laws that so far have gone unchallenged, “there is no reported case” where such a law has survived judicial review when challenged, Nilson reported.

City Council members clearly remain frustrated that there are obstacles to passing what, in their minds, should be a simple initiative to directly address the city’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate – highest in the state.

It is reasonable to expect that projects that receive city taxpayer funding provide an opportunity to encourage the hiring of city residents. However, any such program must pass constitutional muster.

Aside from the issue of constitutionality, the legislation has other obstacles, not the least of which involves its inclusion of criminal penalties, under certain circumstances, for non-complying employers. It also includes monthly reporting requirements to city employment development administrators that are burdensome, both for employers and for the administrators.

Nevertheless, the frustration of Young and council members is understandable. But there appears to be plenty of room to step back, take a deep breath and develop a “win-win” approach to the issue of local hiring, especially if council members are willing to build upon the substantial work by the Mayor’s Office, employers, nonprofits, and labor organizations that is already underway.

For instance, the city currently has six major initiatives to promote local hiring. The most prominent one – “Employ Baltimore” created by a mayoral executive order – requires most businesses with city contracts exceeding $50,000 to work with the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development to hire city residents for jobs created by the contract.

The initiative is collaborative rather than punitive, and connects employers to a menu of city employment services and to the city’s career delivery system that identifies qualified city residents.

Since the “Employ Baltimore” initiative was launched, 38 percent of employees hired by employers to work on city contracts have been city residents. That’s three-quarters of the way to the 51 percent goal the City Council is seeking.

The city also involves employers, nonprofits and labor organizations in initiatives to better identify and hire highly qualified city residents, deliver hiring support services to employers, operate “community job hubs” to strengthen residents’ job skills and to offer no-cost training classes, and to connect city youth with private-sector summer jobs.

Meanwhile, though City Solicitor Nilson was unable to deliver the legislative “magic bullet” council members wanted for their currently proposed legislation, Nilson did offer several specific suggestions for ways to structure local hiring legislation so that it would survive constitutional challenge.

Suggestions included focusing the hiring preference on income level rather than residency, focusing on those unemployed or who have completed job training programs, conforming low-income hiring preferences to already established models for projects where use of federal funds are involved, and amending the city charter’s requirements for procurement to reflect these constitutional methods to promote local hiring.

A constructive, well thought-out approach by city council members, working with the Mayor’s Office, the Law Department and business leaders is far preferable to ramming a seriously-flawed piece of legislation through the City Council. Although it may seem on its face to be well-intended, the process has not been transparent and the premise of passing an unconstitutional ordinance, irrespective of legal advice from the city’s top legal officer, is inconsistent with good legislative policy and with the oath taken by elected officials to uphold the constitution.

Virtually everyone in the public and private sector understands that the city’s high unemployment rate relates to a multitude of issues including, education, training, soft-skills and job readiness, poverty, health and mobility, to name just a few factors.

These types of complex issues are rarely resolved by arbitrary, punitive mandates. The City Council could play a more significant role in the solution if it pursued a constructive, inclusive approach with city government agencies, the private sector, education institutions and labor leaders to achieve the intended goal.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Closing the ‘disconnect’ with elected officials over competitiveness

City takes constructive step toward strategy for job growth

Federal fiscal uncertainty could erode states’ infrastructure funding options

Business issues rose to the top of State House priority lists in 2013 session

O’Malley deserves better grade for affordable college in Maryland