State Roundup, August 13, 2018

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STATE TO SPEND $7.4M ON ELECTION SECURITY: The Maryland State Board of Elections plans to spend about $7.4 million to improve election security, though a report states that no major overhauls are needed before November’s general election. After questions arose in April about the 2016 election and whether Maryland’s election systems were hacked, the Board of Elections received approximately $7 million in federal funds to make election security improvements. The state was required to match 5% of those funds, bringing the total to slightly more than $7.4 million to be spread across categories including voting equipment, election auditing, voter registration and management systems, cyber vulnerabilities, training and communication, Allen Etzler of the Frederick News-Post reports.

FAMILY PLANNING PROTECTIONS: Meghan Thompson of Maryland Matters writes that as the national debate escalates over stripping federal funding from organizations that counsel women to get abortions, Maryland is now legally prepared to step in. Maryland recently became the first state to pass a law protecting Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics from having to cut services should they lose funding at the federal level. The bill became law on July 1 without the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is personally opposed to abortion but has vowed not to try to restrict access to the procedure during his tenure.

UM TO PROBE COACHING PRACTICES: The University of Maryland, College Park will launch an external investigation into the football program’s coaching practices in the wake of damning reports about the team’s staff and treatment of players, school President Wallace D. Loh wrote in a letter to the university community Saturday night. The letter was sent about an hour after third-year football coach DJ Durkin and three other staff members were placed on administrative leave, Jonas Shaffer of the Sun reports.

MARYLAND A SHOWCASE FOR LIBERAL ACTIVISTS: Robert McCartney of the Post reports that a grass-roots upheaval in Maryland’s Democratic Party has made it an unexpected showcase for national efforts by liberal activists and unions seeking to revitalize the party and push it to the left. Primary victories by progressives in three premier races — governor and county executive in Montgomery and Baltimore counties — have created a prominent testing ground for a new brand of Democratic politics, featuring ambitious and potentially expensive policy proposals and greater outreach to the working class.

HOGAN, JEALOUS CONDEMN WHITE SUPREMACISTS: Michael Dresser of the Sun reports that Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous both issued statements Friday condemning the plans of white supremacists to hold a Unite the Right rally this weekend centered on Washington. Hogan put out a statement early in the morning calling the rallies “despicable” and offering the District of Columbia and Virginia the assistance of Maryland agencies including the Maryland State Police. Jealous, the Democratic nominee, followed with a statement in which he condemned the rallies marking the anniversary of the first Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

BA CO MAY BE KEY TO GOV’s WIN: Political analysts say Maryland’s governorship in 2018 might come down to winning Baltimore County — a concept that seems to be embraced by both Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic nominee Ben Jealous, Pamela Wood reports in the Sun. Both have been focusing on the sprawling suburban county, which despite a heavy voter registration margin of Democrats over Republicans went big for Hogan in 2014. He picked up more voters than anywhere else in the state in the last election en route to victory.

DEMS TARGET TURNOUT: Democratic Party leaders see increasing turnout as the key to victory in the fall. That’s the focus of the Howard County party headquarters that opened on Friday with seven paid local staff and an additional six field staffers the state party will be sending, reports Len Lazarick in MarylandReporter. “I have never seen us more organized and together,” Sen. Guy Guzzone told the crowd of about 100 attending the ribbon-cutting in downtown Columbia. With no opponent in the primary or general election, Guzzone is acting as the county party’s top organizer, and helped raise the money to hire the local staff.

STATIONS UNLIKELY TO PULL ATTACK ADS: In demanding that Baltimore TV stations stop running a Republican Governors Association ad he considers deceptive, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous is seeking an outcome he’s unlikely to get, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun. As of Friday evening, none of the four Baltimore broadcast stations running the ad attacking Gov. Larry Hogan’s challenger had agreed to pull the ad portraying Jealous as a socialist. One of them, WJZ, reported that it would keep running the spot.

SOCIALIST SENSITIVITY: In an editorial for the Sun, its editorial board opines that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous is not a socialist, as he has been tagged with, but he is very sensitive to the claim and the Republicans seem to be very good at getting under his skin.

NO MARYLAND SUPREME COURT: In a column for Red Maryland, Brian Griffiths calls Democratic gubernatorial nominee ignorant for for a Tweet on Sunday in which Jealous said that “The next governor will appoint 5 out of 7 judges to our state supreme court.” The state’s highest court is the Court of Appeals, not the Supreme Court. [Editor’s note: Many Marylanders are unaware of the name of the state’s highest court; Jealous may be compensating for that, and tying it to U.S. Supreme Court.]

FROSH STAYS BUSY, THANKS TO TRUMP: Maryland Matters columnist Frank DeFilippo opines on the work that Maryland’s attorney general, Brian Frosh (D), has taken on. He’s among the busiest lawyers in the state. Some would say too busy. Luckily, he has more than 400 assistant AGs to pitch in. The sudden increase in Frosh’s workload is not so much because of any nefarious goings-on in Maryland as much as what is, or might be, happening in Washington, D.C. There’s a reason for the spate of lawsuits against President Trump or agencies of his administration that Frosh has initiated or has joined.

TAX-FREE WEEK: Laura Lumpkin of the Sun writes about the positive impact Maryland’s tax-free back-to-school shopping week has on parents and small businesses alike. The week runs through Saturday, Aug. 18.

ELRICH WELL-KNOWN, BUT…: The Washington Post editorial board takes a swipe at Montgomery County executive hopeful Marc Elrich, writing that balance has been the hallmark of leadership in Montgomery County for the past 12 years under County Executive Ike Leggett (D), who is retiring. That very quality has eluded the front-runner to succeed him this fall. … the Democratic nominee for county executive in Maryland’s most-populated locality … is both a well-known and an uncertain commodity — well-known for his leftist, anti-development positions over the past 12 years on the county council; uncertain in terms of abilities as an executive .

SIMON ON SENATE BALLOT AS INDEPENDENT: U.S. Senate candidate Neal Simon gathered enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot this November as an independent. His team submitted more than 17,000 signatures last month. Late last week, he was informed by the state Board of Elections that at least 10,000 of them, the minimum for statewide races, met the agency’s criteria, Bruce DePuyt and Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters write.

PENSION COMMENTARY PROBLEMS: Caroline County Administrator Ken Decker takes issue with a commentary in the Aug. 8 MarylandReporter by Carol Park of Maryland Public Policy Institute. She wrote about local government pensions. Decker responds, “In the rush to the talking points, there are some missteps. Let’s start with the map showing how ‘local’ government pensions are funded. I use quotations for a reason. It’s easy to see that several of the counties have the same funding ratio. This isn’t a statistical anomaly; it’s because those counties participate in the State of Maryland’s pension system, not locally funded and managed plans.”

LEAD IN 19 ARUNDEL SCHOOLS: At least 19 Anne Arundel County public schools have unacceptably high levels of lead in their water, according to results from the first tests conducted under a new state law, Alexander Pyles reports in the Annapolis Capital. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of lead exposure, they U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends water be shut off at any faucet where lead levels exceed 20 parts per billion.

MOHLER AGAINST CUTTING BUS HOURS: Saying “It is 2018. Not 1950,” Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler weighed on a growing controversy over whether to trim the hours of public bus service to White Marsh Mall following a public brawl there last weekend, Melody Simmons of the Baltimore Business Journal reports. “I will inform the Maryland Transit Administration that I do not support any effort to limit bus service from Baltimore city to the county,” Mohler said. Council members Cathy Bevins, who represents the White Marsh area, and David Marks, whose represents Towson, said the bus service should be halted after 11 p.m. instead of 1:30 a.m.

HOEBER RESPONDS TO SUN EDITORIAL: The Aug. 9 State Roundup linked to a Baltimore Sun editorial that lamented that “none of Maryland’s state-wide elected officials and no members of its congressional delegation are women” and suggested that this situation was not about to change although “there are some real bright spots for women in key races around the state.” Amie Hoeber responds: “I would submit that my candidacy in the 6thCongressional District is one of those bright spots and that continuation of the lack of gender diversity in the Maryland Congressional Delegation is far from certain. Not only did I run strongly in CD-6 against incumbent Democrat John Delaney two years ago, but with Rep. Delaney not seeking re-election, it has become an even more competitive open seat. I am working hard to win, talking to constituents so that I can represent them and address the issues this district cares about.”

BALTIMORE AGENCY MISUSED $2M: At the direction of a “former management employee,” the Baltimore Department of Social Services misused nearly $2 million intended for poor children and did not properly account for another $5.5 million, a state legislative audit has found, Mark Reutter of Baltimore Brew reports. From $500,000 given to a nonprofit for foster care work that was never performed to $1.3 million secretly funneled to an out-of-state vendor – the former employee arranged a host of questionable payments that are now being scrutinized by state prosecutors, according to auditor Thomas J. Barnickel III.

GENUFLECTION: My seven decades in the Catholic Church, rather than the Sunday observance of NFL football, is no doubt why I find players quietly genuflecting for the National Anthem as a sign of no disrespect. Going on bended knee is what Catholics have done for centuries toward the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle — with its origins in the sign of respect for kings. People for whom “taking a knee” in football is their only context obviously find it offensive. I actually find the stupid Baltimore custom of shouting “O” during the National Anthem much more offensive and disrespectful. With the latest revival of this kneeling controversy, I had to get this off my chest. Len Lazarick, MarylandReporter.com.