State Roundup, July 23, 2018

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ELECTIONS SECURITY: Members of the Maryland State Board of Elections met in closed session Thursday to get a “security briefing” –  in part to discuss the recent warning from the FBI that a Russian oligarch is now the lead investor in the private equity firm that owns a key agency vendor. The news that Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin, a man reported to have close ties with President Vladimir Putin, is the largest investor in Altpoint Capital Partners, the firm that owns ByteGrid LLC, reverberated around Annapolis the day it was announced late last week by legislative leaders, Bruce DePuyt writes in Maryland Matters.

  • Mary H. Kiraly, a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections and co-founder of the Maryland Election Integrity Coalition, writes in an op-ed for the Post that the State Board of Elections, under the leadership of administrator Linda Lamone, has rushed to embrace new voting technologies, relishing a national leadership role. Because the agency lacks the manpower and expertise to adequately manage and deploy these systems, layers of contractors are involved in delivering election management, she says. Given its history of failing to anticipate where election system vulnerabilities lie or to uncover them when they exist, it would be foolish to suppose that the agency would have been capable of uncovering this latest security concern.

DEBATE DEBATE: The squabbling and sense of uncertainty surrounding gubernatorial debates intensified on Friday, as Democrat Ben Jealous announced that he has accepted invitations from five Maryland media outlets, reports Bruce DePuyt in Maryland Matters. Earlier this week, Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. (R) announced he plans to participate in two televised debates. The contradictory public statements put the news organizations seeking to land a high-profile gubernatorial debate in a bind, and they underscore the benefits of having campaigns engage one another in negotiations before going public, something both sides acknowledge did not occur.

HOGAN ADVOCATES UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS: In an op-ed in the Carroll County Times, Gov. Larry Hogan opines that Maryland already has the toughest gun laws in the country, but it is clear to me that an effective, nationwide, universal background check system to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill is a tool police need to stop more shooters. That’s just common sense and it is something I will continue to support.

STUDENTS RALLY FOR GUN SAFETY: Jaxon O’Mara wishes she didn’t have to do this. The 17-year-old Great Mills High School student wishes life could go back to the way it was before, when her friend Jaelynn Willey, 16, was still alive, and her southern Maryland school hadn’t been added to the ever-growing list of shooting sites. This week, O’Mara and her fellow students felt they had a breakthrough. Their Saturday rally drew dozens, despite pouring rain. And they met face-to-face with both leading candidates for governor: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and his Democratic challenger Ben Jealous, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

DARK MONEY IN MARYLAND RACE: In a column for the Sun, media critic David Zurawik writes about dark money and its involvement in state elections, including in Maryland’s gubernatorial race. He writes, “I recently predicted ads attacking one or another of the candidates would show up as early as … Aug. 2 — as opposed to the more traditional date of Labor Day. Forget it. The night after that column appeared in The Baltimore Sun, an ad attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous aired during an Orioles telecast. That was July 9.”

THIS IS THE DEMOCRATIC STRATEGY? Deputy editorial page editor Tricia Bishop, in a column for the Sun, writes that the Maryland Democratic Party sent out an email blast — identified as being from “Ben Jealous Press” — with the subject line: “FYI: Hidin’ Hogan Afraid To Debate and Defend His Record.” And then, in case you missed that one, it followed up announcing a press conference with state Democrats and immigration activists to “call on Hidin’ Hogan to Find Courage to Defend His Record.” While the complaints are legitimate is this realy the big Democratic strategy? To try to paint Mr. Hogan as being Trump-like by acting like Donald Trump?

JEALOUS THE SPENDTHRIFT: In a column for his Political Maryland blog, Barry Rascovar writes that, “At the rate he’s going, Democratic nominee Benjamin Jealous will spend Marylanders into the poor house months before he’s conceivably sworn in as governor. During the primary, Jealous made huge promises in line with fairy-tale aspirations of other far-left Democrats running for governor. Free college tuition for all. Pre-kindergarten schools for all. Free health care for all. A gleaming, multi-billion-dollar cross-town subway for Baltimore. Vastly expanded social programs for Maryland’s poor.”

NEW SENATE COMMITTEE LEADERS: On Friday Senate President Mike Miller named new committee chairs for the next term, presuming their re-election and his own for a 33rd year as the longest serving presiding officer in Maryland and the nation. Miller’s task was harder than Busch’s after two of his long-time committee chairs — Sens. Mac Middleton of Charles County, 72, and Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore, 67 — lost re-election bids and several other senior Senate leaders retired, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.

  • For the second time this week, a veteran woman legislator from Montgomery County has been tapped for a top position in the Maryland General Assembly. District 39 Sen. Nancy King was named Thursday to chair the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee — often regarded as that chamber’s most influential panel — by Senate President Mike Miller. King’s appointment follows District 15 Del. Kathleen Dumais’ elevation to majority leader by House Speaker Michael Busch late Wednesday, writes Louis Peck for Bethesda Beat.

ELRICH ASSURES AMAZON ON COMMITMENT: Marc Elrich, the newly named Democratic nominee for Montgomery County executive, has written to Jeffrey P. Bezos, assuring Amazon’s founder and chief executive that he will honor the county’s commitments as Montgomery vies to attract the tech giant’s next headquarters, reports Jennifer Barrios for the Post.

OAKS FILES APPEAL: Former state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks has filed an appeal in his corruption case — but it won’t affect the 3 ½-year sentence he received last week, Ian Duncan writes in the Sun. Under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Oaks was given permission to challenge a judge’s ruling on one of the charges he admitted to. The judge has previously said even if the appeal is successful it wouldn’t lead to Oaks serving a shorter sentence.

CONCERN OVER SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAM: A move to provide free meals to about 9,500 students in 19 Baltimore County public schools is drawing resistance over concerns it could cost the district federal money for the system’s neediest students. The Maryland State Conference NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County and PTA members have called on interim schools Superintendent Verletta White to implement the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides no-cost meals to all students in schools that are targeted. But school officials are concerned they could lose federal Title I funding and state aid if they change the current system that collects poverty data from families, White wrote to school board members last month. Lauren Lumpkin of the Sun reports.

ARUNDEL STATE’S ATTORNEYS RACE: The race to become Anne Arundel County’s next state’s attorney was already awash in acrimony before the June 28 mass shooting: a former top prosecutor trying to win her job back from the man who unseated her four years ago. Peter Hermann writes in the Annapolis Capital that whoever wins the race — Republican incumbent Wes Adams or Democrat Anne Colt Leitess — could inherit the Capital Gazette murder case, barring an unexpected development before Election Day on Nov. 6.

CAPITAL GAZETTE SUSPECT INDICTED: Anne Arundel County prosecutors filed a 23-count indictment Friday against Jarrod Ramos, the suspect in the deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom last month, they announced in a news release. Ian Duncan of the Sun reports that the indictment means Ramos, 38, is now charged with attempted murder, assault and weapons offenses in addition to five counts of first-degree murder.

LATE BREAKING: A Howard County firefighter died Monday morning fighting the blaze that destroyed the home of Janet and Nayab Siddiqui in Clarksville. Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports in the Sun. Dr. Janet Siddiqui had been a two-term member of the Howard County school board and a candidate for County Council this year.