By Len Lazarick
Tis the season to be jolly, with good tidings of comfort and joy, but not between Comptroller Peter Franchot and Senate President Mike Miller. This week they’ve had a spitting match conducted in that most old fashioned of social media: formal letters on government stationery filled with snark, insult and accusation.
The latest tit-for-tat began 10 days ago over air conditioners in Baltimore schools, but has escalated this week with missives that revived old grievances and unearthed new sources of complaint.
Franchot wrote to fellow Democrats Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch Friday, and Miller responded Tuesday in a letter, slowly getting himself worked up about incompetence and political meddling.
“As the tax collector for the State,” Miller writes, “it is indeed fortunate that you do not have to worry about the bigger picture at either the state or local level and can simply harangue others about whatever pops into your head every other Wednesday at the Board of Public Works. While you can print press releases, you cannot print the money from your ivory tower on Calvert Street to address all of the issues or needs in the state.”
Meddling in county affairs
Miller brings up tax revenues misdirected to wrong jurisdictions, tax checks undeposited, and refunds unprocessed. He vaguely alludes to Franchot’s advocacy for ending Montgomery County government’s monopoly on liquor distribution there. “Your attention to local government affairs in places like Baltimore County and Montgomery County is clearly distracting from your execution of you constitutionally mandated responsibilties.”
Responding to Franchot’s request for a hearing about the air conditioning, Miller says if Franchot wants a hearing, they’ll give him a hearing: “Given the severity of these issues, a hearing is indeed warranted early in the 2016 legislative session to examine the extent of the problems your office is experiencing in carrying out your responsibilities.”
Franchot responded to the response in kind and then some Thursday: “I was quite taken aback by the hostile tenor of your response,” he told Miller.
Franchot gets political
Franchot refutes the allegations. “I feel that our approach to these core responsibilities of the office was validated in last year’s elections, when I was re-elected with 63 percent of the electorate and was honored to be the only statewide candidate to receive more than one million votes.”
Then he got in a sarcastic dig. This election result came “in what otherwise proved to be a very bad year for Maryland Democrats as a whole, for legislative candidates in competitive districts throughout our state, and particularly for state and local candidates in Calvert County, where your political tutelage catapulted our party’s gubernatorial nominee to 30 percent of the general election vote.”
As far as Franchot is concerned, Miller’s comments, some in private that he suggests are unprintable, are just politics and bad politics at that.
“Your sudden and newfound concerns over the performance of my office are actually based upon my well-documented willingness to reach across partisan lines to work with Governor Hogan on fiscal matters of great importance to Maryland taxpayers. Rather than joining your efforts to launch the 2018 gubernatorial election three years early – as painfully awkward and as maladroit as they have been, to date – I am pleased to work collaboratively with the Governor in a shared effort to hold the line on excessive spending, unsustainable debt and higher taxes on consumers and small businesses.”
“What I will not accept, however, are efforts to diminish the work of my office, through rumors that lack documentation or credibility, by someone who customarily demonstrates an interest in taxes only when he believes it’s time to raise them,” throwing one of the most pointed barbs.
On the wrong side
Getting back to the hot classrooms that started the overheated exchange, Franchot writes: “If, as I suspect, your actions were motivated by political concerns rather than stewardship of the public interest, I’ll also note that this would put our party squarely on the wrong side of a deeply meaningful education issue at a time when the party is laboring to remind Marylanders of our proud tradition of commitment to better schools.”
“Put more directly, Senator, it would be a staggering display of political incompetence that neither your caucus members nor the Democratic Party as a whole can afford right now.”
Franchot does not mention his own crusade puts him sharply at odds with one of the Democratic Party’s likely contenders for governor, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
But Franchot then “call[s] for an end to the cycle of public correspondence,” which he started, and wishes Miller and his family a Merry Christmas.
This is only the latest in a series of spats between Miller and Franchot that goes back eight years to Franchot’s vigorous opposition to slot machine gambling for which Miller was a passionate supporter.