Rascovar commentary: Gansler, Craig stumble in governor’s race

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Attorney General Doug Gansler announces Del. Jolene Ivey as running mate in race for governor. Husband Glenn Ivey, former state's attorney for Prince George's County is too the right.

Attorney General Doug Gansler announces Del. Jolene Ivey as running mate in race for governor. Husband Glenn Ivey, former state’s attorney for Prince George’s County is too the right.

Early stumbles in Maryland governor’s race are expected. Sometimes, though, those slips have lasting consequences. Already, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Harford County Executive David Craig have shot themselves in their political feet — wounds that might prove fatal.

Gansler’s trip-ups could be symptoms of a larger problem.

When the story broke that he’d been acting like an impatient cowboy in his state-owned car — sirens blaring, zooming through red lights and far exceeding the speed limit — he lashed out at the Maryland State Police and accused the governor of leaking news about critical State Police incident reports to help Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s gubernatorial campaign.

Gov. Martin O’Malley had kept this an internal matter for two years until John Wagner of the Washington Post made a public information request that documents how Gansler’s hyper-active personality extended to ordering troopers to ignore traffic and safety laws simply because he was in a hurry.

The reports — by at least seven different troopers — are highly unflattering.

Gansler needed to apologize, promise to end his back-seat driving commands and move on. Instead, he launched a PR effort to downplay and discredit the State Police documents. Bad move.

Then he blamed Brown and O’Malley for planting the story for political purposes. Second bad move.

Next, he partially apologized only to go on TV and blast “henchmen” in the State Police for trying to destroy him politically. Terrible move.

Maryland state police badgeUnprecedented response from police

It set off a volcanic reaction within the State Police and an unprecedented 500-word broadside denying Gansler’s assertions and strongly defending the troopers for doing their jobs. The statement vociferously rejected Gansler insinuations the Maryland State Police had entered the gubernatorial political fray.

Gansler repeatedly mishandled his responses.

He allowed the controversy to overshadow his selection of Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s County as his running mate. Moreover, it left the strong impression he may not be ready for prime time as governor.

Doug Gansler is a fast-talking, quick-paced lawyer who got in trouble. and was reprimanded in 2003, by the state’s highest court for mouthing off inappropriately about court rulings he didn’t like while Montgomery County state’s attorney.

He’s an aggressive campaigner (and an aggressive lacrosse player, too) who appears equally aggressive on the highway — and in his public comments.

That may not be the sort of person voters want in the governor’s mansion.

Would he run political red lights as chief executive, trample on protocol and offend legislators to get his way?

Would he act impetuously on important issues instead of following the rules of the road in the State House?

O’Malley’s role questioned

Gansler may be right that O’Malley and his minions leaked word of the State Police reports — though it is more likely a veteran reporter like Wagner got word of Gansler’s misbehavior from an angry state trooper or a Brown ally with State Police connections.

More curious is the lengthy State Police statement condemning Gansler. The name of Marcus Brown, the State Police superintendent and an O’Malley appointee, appears nowhere on this document. The superintendent was conspicuously missing from this food fight.

It’s also next to impossible to release such a harsh and condemnatory statement without first gaining approval from the governor. The timing of the release — right before Gansler’s event introducing Ivey as his running mate — is equally suspect.

In public, O’Malley kept above the fray, simply praising the state troopers and the leader of the executive protection unit for providing quality security.

Gansler sees all this as more evidence of “dirty politics” and “dirty tricks” similar to an earlier episode where an audio suddenly surfaced showing Gansler dismissing Brown as a do-nothing lieutenant governor.

But without concrete evidence to support his claims, Gansler is left with egg on his face yet again.

He’s gotten into a pitched battle he can’t win. The longer he continues to deny and denounce, the longer and deeper the damage.

There’s plenty of time for his wounds to heal. But there’s also a chance these self-inflicted injuries could fester if Gansler isn’t careful.

Harford County Executive David Craig (By Aberdeen Proving Ground)

Harford County Executive David Craig (By Aberdeen Proving Ground)

In GOP race, Craig moves right

David Craig’s early mistakes could be equally serious.

He’s got a dual problem: Winning a Republican primary against far more conservative candidates in an era of successful Tea Party challenges in GOP primaries across the country, and then presenting a moderate face in the general election.

Swing hard right in June, march toward the center in November.

Craig is seeking to out-conservative his primary foes but he may already have created such a right-wing image that he’s killed his chances in the general election.

He’s been the favorite to win the primary. But the growing influence of Tea Party activists and ideological purists may have made him leery of being viewed as a soft-spoken moderate conservative.

So he has strayed farther and farther to the right in his statements, especially on the environment.

To date, Craig has called for eliminating state-mandated charges on impermeable surfaces (the so-called “rain tax”); repealing one of the key environmental statutes protecting the Chesapeake Bay, the Critical Areas Law; wiping out a law banning increases in stormwater runoff, and abolishing a law setting limits on farm fertilizer and waste runoffs.

He’s also called for tighter time limits on those receiving food stamps and other benefits. And late last week he said the state should defy the federal government and ignore Washington’s Common Core standards for raising education performance in public schools.

In one-on-one conversations, Craig sounds a lot more reasonable and moderate. He’s not abandoning the Chesapeake Bay, he says. He simply wants programs that are effective in cleaning up this vital estuary. He comes across as a pragmatist, which has defined much of his public career.

The trouble is that by issuing harsh right-wing statements on environmental, health and education issues, Craig cannot retract them after the June primary.

Environmentalists won’t forget

No Democratic or independent voter who cares about the environment is going to forget that Craig called for abolishing the pivotal Critical Areas Law. To them, that’s equivalent to trashing the Chesapeake Bay.

Democratic politicians will tar Craig for being an anti-environmentalist. He’ll be portrayed as an antiquarian seeking to erase a half-century of progressive legislation in Maryland.

None of what Craig proposes is realistic. A heavily Democratic legislature wouldn’t tolerate any of the notions he is advancing. He’s seriously harmed his electability.

The irony is that we still don’t know the strength of Tea Party politics in state GOP primaries. It could be loud but localized. If that’s the case, Craig is needlessly pandering to the absolutists while losing any chance of pulling off a November miracle.

Rascovar has been reporting and commenting on Maryland and national politics and government since 1971, first for the Baltimore Sun for decades, then the Gazette of Politics and Business and The Community Times. We are publishing his columns simultaneously with his own blog, PoliticalMaryland.com.


About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. science-rules

    David Craig has gone on record many times talking about how difficult the times are and how we all must learn to do more with less. When he said this however he really didn’t me we in the universal sense he meant everyone but him. Since 2008 he has managed to give himself a very nice 15% raise including salary and benefits while the teachers of Harford County have had to endure years without even a cost-of-living increase. His salary alone has increased $10,000 from $95,000 to $105,000 since our last raise including a nice $3,000 increase for the coming year.

    However this fails to take into account the fact that in the budget he submitted he reports his benefits separately, blended with those of his staff, making it a little difficult to determine with precision what they are. However if you take the average benefits for the office (certainly underestimating his portion) you get a very tidy sum of $35,740 up from $26,883 in 2008. This gives a total compensation package of around $141,000 up from around $122,000. It must be nice to be able to give yourself a raise whenever you want.

    However this is not the end of the story. While he tells teachers that they must do more with less and that fewer teachers is not a problem, his office staff has ballooned from 4 (including him) in 2006 with an overall salary of $363,000 to a staff of 12 in 2014 with an overall salary of $1,248,000 for an increase of 340%.

    This has been happening while we lose teachers left and right and he laughs and says “I’ve been here for 30 years and teachers
    have always left”. He should be ashamed; however he seems to be very pleased with himself. He is even planning to run for governor.

    If this doesn’t make you mad then nothing will. This kind of naked unethical behavior cries out for some sort of challenge.

  2. stampede2014

    People and businesses are fleeing this state because they simply cannot afford to live here. It really doesn’t matter whether Craig moves “Right”. Quite honestly if Marylanders are tired of the Bull$hit from O’Malley & Brown, they will elect a Republican to the Governor’s Mansion. Only in MD would a Governor and his affiliates tax randomly occurring weather events. People are enraged over the Rain Tax, and they’re not happy about the restriction of their 2A Rights. Change will come.

  3. JoeBlowOnTheGo

    “Craig is seeking to out-conservative his primary foes but he may already
    have created such a right-wing image that he’s killed his chances in
    the general election.”
    Chances? What chances?

    What a stupid sentence….

  4. Josh

    Re: Common Core and Craig. I’m not sure if the author is categorizing Craig’s comments that Common Core is a Washington program or if the author assumes that Common Core comes from the federal government. Either way it is wrong. Common Core was a program put together by the governors of 46 states meeting independently of Washington. There is no Obama Common Core standard, or George Bush Common Core strategy, or Department of Education conspiracy. It is, has, and always will be a state sponsored exercise.
    If Craig got it wrong call him out on it, if the author got it wrong I hope they’d educate themselves on the plan and its history. It will be an issue for the foreseeable future, the least that can be done is to get basic facts right.

  5. Pilot

    I am not a fan of Gansler, Ivey or Brown. However, for some time the press releases “from” the Maryland State Police (MSP) have lacked the traditional MSP letterhead by-line listing the contact person for the press release and contact information. Reliable sources have indicated that many of the press releases attributed to the Maryland State Police were actually written by the Governor’s press office. The lack of a name attribution and contact information could be the MSP’s effort to distance itself from the politics.

    If Gansler wins and becomes Governor, the MSP will be the losers. Why would MSP want to pick a fight with the man who could become its boss? The MSP has nothing to gain, Brown does. So does O’Malley, if his Lt. Gov becomes governor.

    Think about it.

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