BREAKING: NAACP, ACLU File Suit Over Red Line Cancellation

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that a coalition led by the NAACP and the ACLU has filed suit over Governor Larry Hogan’s cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line, claiming racial discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

A coalition of civil rights groups and city residents filed a federal complaint against the Hogan administration Monday, claiming its cancellation of Baltimore’s Red Line light rail project was racially discriminatory.

The coalition, which includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Maryland, said they are asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch an investigation into Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision in June to scuttle the $2.9 billion transit project.

In a conference call, lawyers for the coalition said they will take the action on behalf of the Baltimore City Chapter of the NAACP, the Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality (BRIDGE) and African-American city residents.

The complaint contends that Hogan’s decision to cancel the Red Line and shift hundreds of millions of dollars that had been slated for the rail line into highway projects around the state had a discriminatory effect on African-American Baltimoreans.

The lawyer in me says that this should make for an interesting lawsuit. The politico says that getting ahold of some of th internal communications of the Hogan (non)deliberations should be highly entertaining.

Van Hollen To Hogan: Close The Gun Loophole

Press release tonight from the busy beavers at the Van Hollen press office:

Van Hollen Urges Hogan to Take Action to Close Terrorist Gun Loophole  

 Washington, DC – Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen sent a letter to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan urging him to explore executive action to protect Marylanders from gun violence and close the loophole that allows individuals on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist from purchasing deadly weapons.

 “Despite repeated efforts in Congress to prevent people on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist from buying guns, Republican leaders prevented us from even having a vote,” Congressman Van Hollen wrote. “While Tea Party obstructionism and the NRA keep Congress from moving forward to protect Americans from gun violence and terrorism, I call on you to explore every possible State action to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns in Maryland.”

 He continued, “As Governor, your leadership can protect Maryland communities and our many high-profile assets like national security installations by prohibiting the transfer or sale of a firearm to anyone on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist.”

 Congressman Van Hollen has long supported efforts to prevent those on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns, fighting liability exemptions for gun dealers back in 2005 and consistently supporting legislation to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. He also supports legislation to restore the ban on assault weapons.

 According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, since 2004, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist have successfully purchased weapons in the United States. More than 90 percent of all suspected terrorists who attempted to purchase guns in the last 11 years walked away with the weapon they wanted, with just 190 rejected despite their ominous histories.   

And the letter itself:

Dear Governor Hogan,

 Gun violence and mass shootings plague our nation every day, and the horrific attacks in San Bernardino and Paris have renewed concerns about terrorism here and abroad. We should be doing everything possible to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those who seek to kill innocent Americans.

 Despite repeated efforts in Congress to prevent people on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist from buying guns, Republican leaders prevented us from even having a vote. While Tea Party obstructionism and the NRA keep Congress from moving forward to protect Americans from gun violence and terrorism, I call on you to explore every possible State action to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns in Maryland.

 Across the country, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist were permitted to buy guns over the past 11 years. At the same time, gun violence continues to terrorize our communities on a daily basis, as those who seek firearms to carry out crime find them all too easy to obtain. As Governor, your leadership can protect Maryland communities and our many high-profile assets like national security installations by prohibiting the transfer or sale of a firearm to anyone on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist. In Connecticut, Governor Dan Malloy is pursuing executive action. In New Jersey, which has a permit-to-purchase program that is similar to Maryland’s, Governor Chris Christie signed a state law to prohibit persons on the FBI Terror Watchlist from receiving a gun permit. I urge you to work with your Administration and the State Legislature to enact similar protections for Maryland residents. 

 I will continue fighting in Congress for common sense gun safety measures that will protect every Marylander, including law-abiding gun owners, and I look forward to working with you in that effort. 

 Sincerely,

 Chris Van Hollen

 Member of Congress

Van Hollen On Hogan

From the Van Hollen press office this afternoon.

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen released the following statement after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan requested that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland:

“FDR reminded us that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ It is shameful that Governor Hogan and others would seek to exploit peoples’ justifiable safety concerns by further fueling their fears. We can protect our security and uphold our values by carefully vetting refugees fleeing the horror of ISIS. Leadership requires soberly confronting the facts, not a stampede toward demagoguery.”

Good answer, Chris Van Hollen. Well done.

That Didn’t Take Long

“Careful consideration” lasted less than 24 hours – and probably consisted of a consultation with Chris Christie.

  Disgusting, revolting, uncharitable, manipulative, fear mongering, un-Christian,  immoral and illegal to boot. I’m only stopping the list of adjectives now because I’m really trying hard not to call him some very bad names.

Mr. Middle of the Road just drove the car into a ditch. This is unforgivable. Shameless political pandering at its worst. Maybe we should set up internment camps for Syrian orphans while we’re at it?

Dems Continue To Hammer Hogan on School Funding

The war between Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic leaders from around the state over education continues unabated today in Annapolis.

Maryland Democrats continued to take aim Monday at Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for his decision to withhold $68 million in school funding despite the impact that they say the reduction in funds is having on the state’s schools.

“I’m here today out of the frustration that I and many in Baltimore feel that the state continues to deny important education resources, important funds, from Baltimore’s children,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake during a news conference at the foot of the Statehouse steps.

Rawlings-Blake was joined by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice and Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner.

They told Hogan to “stop playing politics” with education funding.

Hogan has repeatedly said he has no plans to release the money, which was at the center of fierce debate between Hogan and Democratic legislative leaders during budget talks this year. He said education remains a top priority but is also concerned about the state’s structural deficit over the long term.

Hogan continues to dig in, refusing to spend the disputed $68 million on education. He’s already agreed to similar increases going forward, so this is a one time expenditure, the withholding of which is causing real harm to real people – children – right now. He’s just being stubborn and annoying, not exactly traits to be admired in a governor.

“Realigning Bus Routes” Is Not “Transformative”

Having killed the Baltimore Red Line transit project earlier this year, and then telling Baltimore that all the money from that project had been sent elsewhere, Governor Larry Hogan will this morning announce his new transit plans for the city.

Gov. Larry Hogan will unveil his transit plans for Baltimore Thursday morning, months after angering advocates by cancelling a major light rail project and sending millions of transportation dollars elsewhere.

Hogan’s spokesman Matthew A. Clark declined to offer specifics on the governor’s plan, but said it’s “something that we believe is going to be transformative to the city of Baltimore.”

Sources familiar with the plan said it involved making the city’s bus routes more efficient, among other initiatives.

Doesn’t that just make you feel tingly all over? If your big selling point is more efficient bus routes, the correct description is “zzzzzzz,” not “transformative.” Delegate Maggie McIntosh isn’t buying.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said city leaders want to know how Hogan will improve transit in lieu of building the Red Line.  Realigning bus routes, she said, wasn’t going to cut it.

“That’s fine, but that’s kind of part of their job. What they should be doing is looking for other modes of transportation so that we can be a city with a transit system of the caliber of other East Coast cities,” McIntosh said.

Prediction: this is going to be one of those classic efforts to turn chicken shit into chicken salad. It’s going to end badly.

More MD Polling: Hogan Approval Strong

The Post did some new polling on the state of public opinion in Maryland, and it confirms what we knowledgeable blog readers (and writers) already knew: Larry Hogan is very popular, and his job approval rating is very high.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is deeply popular nine months after taking office, earning high marks from residents who describe him as a “different kind of Republican” and who have watched him battle cancer, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll has found.

Hogan’s 61 percent approval rating — up from 42 percent in February — extends across partisan and demographic lines in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2 to 1.

He is viewed more favorably than either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, and is presiding over a state that is riding a wave of increased optimism. For the first time since 2007, a majority of residents say things in Maryland are headed in the right direction.

While there is definitely a relationship between Hogan’s cancer diagnosis and his numbers, hogan is getting a bump not just personally but on policy as well.

Nearly 6 in 10 approve of Hogan’s handling of the state’s economy, rising above his ratings on any other issue tested in the poll. Views on the economy’s direction are mixed — just over half see it as holding steady, and slightly more say it is getting better than worse, 24 percent to 19 percent. Among those who see improvement in the economy, more than three-quarters say Hogan deserves credit.

The poll finds 47 percent of Maryland residents approve of the way Hogan has dealt with education and 32 percent disapprove — his lowest approval rating on any issue. This year, the governor refused to release $68.1 million in education funding that the General Assembly set aside for Maryland’s most expensive school districts. He fought to give charter operators greater authority in running their schools and pushed to provide a tax credit to businesses that donate to private and public schools.

Perceptions of Hogan’s performance on education varied in different parts of the state. For example, in Prince George’s, which received less state funding than expected, Hogan’s approval rating on education was 29 percent.

In general, Hogan fared better in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties and rural parts of the state, and worse in Baltimore City, where residents by a 2 to 1 margin say the state is headed in the wrong direction.

In Howard and Anne Arundel counties, 72 percent of residents approve of Hogan’s job performance, compared with 55 percent in Montgomery County and 43 percent in Prince George’s.

While there’s a long way to go before 2018, these numbers do not bode well for anyone running against Hogan as he seeks reelection to a second term which would, among other things, give him control over the State’s redistricting process. I’ve sometimes been as guilty as anyone of this, so I feel no compunctions about saying this: Democratic rhetoric must stop preaching to the choir and begin the process of persuading voters – even among fellow Dems, a majority (54%) approve of Hogan’s performance – that we can and will do better on the issues that matter most. That’s going to require some outside the box messaging, as well as – oh dear, I said it! – some new messengers.

Hogan Poll Numbers Way Up

Goucher College has a new poll out, and the Sun reports on it this morning.

Gov. Larry Hogan enjoys growing popularity in Maryland as more residents make up their mind about the new Republican governor, a new Goucher College poll found.

The poll released Monday found 54 percent of those surveyed felt favorably about Hogan, a whopping 21 point increase from when the college conducted its previous poll in February.
* * *

Although his popularity appears to be on the rise, nearly a third of those polled still don’t know how they view Hogan. The survey, conducted last week, polled 636 residents on a variety of topics and has a 3.9 percentage-point margin of error.

* * *

A significant majority – 58 percent – approve of the job Hogan is doing as governor, which is an 18 point increase from February. In an open-ended question, those polled were asked what word best described Hogan. The most common answers were “fair,” “honest” or “determined.”

A strong majority, 56 percent, found the state was moving in the right direction, an increase of 18 percentage points since the college’s survey a year ago.

Those are very good poll numbers, although not surprising to me. But I think the Sun misses a big part of the reason why. Although the article notes in passing Hogan’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, it doesn’t explore whether the strong poll numbers are linked to Hogan’s ongoing treatment. As I’ve noted, for my own reasons I’m extremely sensitive to his situation, but even for me it’s in no way off limits to discuss it, and I think the Sun story is incomplete as a result of its failure to even try to assess the possible link.

Some other nuggets from the new Goucher poll:

65 percent believe confederate memorials in Maryland should stay in place, despite increased public discussion to remove them.

Two thirds of those surveyed said they believed police in their community were held accountable for misconduct.

53 percent said they paid “a lot” of attention to event surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. Another 29 percent said they paid “some” attention.

There was a sharp divide between how white and black people viewed the relevance of race in police encounters. Sixty percent of white people said all races receive equal treatment by police, while 68 percent of black respondents said they did not.

Education and taxes were the most important issues facing Maryland residents, followed closely by the economy.

President Barack Obama continued to enjoy strong approval ratings in the state, with 53 percent of those polled supporting the job he’s done and 38 against.

Congress’ approval ratings are up from a low in October 2013 during the economic shutdown, but they’re still dismal: only 9 percent of those polled approve of the job Congress has done; 89 percent do not.

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe congressional districts should be drawn by an independent panel. They are currently drawn by elected officials, a process supported by 21 percent of respondents.

72 percent of residents support beginning the school year after Labor Day, while 19 percent do not.

CouchGate Is Over

If Larry Hogan is going to get any traction on his war with former Governor Martin O’Malley, he’s not getting any help from the office of Attorney General Brian Frosh. CouchGate, the manufactured flap over O’Malley’s purchase of nine year old furniture, failed to launch this week.

The Maryland State Ethics Commission will not launch an inquiry related to former governor Martin O’Malley’s purchase of furniture from the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, according to a statement Thursday night from the state Attorney General’s office.

Upon leaving office in January, the family of O’Malley, a Democratic presidential hopeful, took dozens of items that his administration had deemed “excess property” to furnish their new home in Baltimore.

As first reported last month by the Baltimore Sun, the family paid $9,638 for beds, chairs, desks, lamps, mirrors and other items from the mansion’s living quarters that originally cost taxpayers $62,000. Many of the pieces were eight years old or more, and they were discounted by administration officials to reflect their age.

The Sun reported that a lawyer for the state Department of General Services, which approved the purchases, had asked the ethics commission to weigh in on the “propriety” of the transactions.

In Thursday’s statement, the Attorney General’s office said it had been advised by the ethics commission that it “has no jurisdiction over the matter, and that no investigation was commenced or is underway. “

The Attorney General’s also office said that the sale of furniture to O’Malley was approved “under established procedures.” A similar, though smaller, transaction took place when O’Malley’s Republican predecessor, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., left office in 2007.

The lawyer who requested the involvement of the ethics commission is employed by the Attorney General’s Office and assigned to provide legal advice to the Department of General Services.

Last week it was furniture, this week it’s the contract between O’Malley and a company that provides data and technology services to drive policy decisions. O’Malley’s involvement with this issue dates back to his time as Mayor of Baltimore (City Stat then, State Stat later when he became governor).

One piece of advice for the governor – if you’re going to question someone’s ethics, at least get your facts straight. I know it’s a challenge for you, but give it a shot. It really helps your credibility.

Hogan, in questioning the arrangement, spoke as if O’Malley’s payment from Esri was based on a single appearance.

“I hope that was a hell of a speech,” Hogan said. “I’ve never heard a governor give a $140,000 speech.”

O’Malley has given four speeches, not one. He also provides consulting services to the comps you as well. But hey, Hogan got what he wanted – to continue the sniping at his predecessor.

What will the next exciting non-scandal be? Tune in next week and find out. As always, I’ll bring the popcorn.

The Gloves Come Off

Larry Hogan is taking some free punches at former Governor Martin O’Malley, first over the furniture deal and now about O’Malley’s contract with a state vendor. While Comptroller Peter Franchot brought up the issue, it was Hogan who took the opportunity to pile on – again. It’s gonna get ugly.

A key piece of former governor and presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley’s legacy is under scrutiny in Maryland.

The state’s spending board this week put on hold a contract for mapping software, which drove much of the “data-driven” government style that has earned accolades for O’Malley, a Democrat.

The company that won a sole-source, $3.8 million bid to do work for the state back in 2011 while O’Malley was governor and later hired him to give speeches when he left office. O’Malley aides, meanwhile, points out the company first started working for Maryland in the 1970s.

When the company’s contract was up for an extension at the Board of Public Works Wednesday, Comptroller Peter Franchot, also a Democrat, questioned whether there was a quid pro quo deal that benefitted O’Malley.
“I think my concern here is fairly obvious, and I think that any Maryland taxpayer would have that same concern,” Franchot said when the extension vote came up for Environmental System Research Institute, known as ESRI. “Without knowing anything else about this firm or this contract other than what’s in my notes, this has the appearance of blatant quid pro quo.”

The issue will be back before the Bosrd of Punlic Works again on October 7. Get some popcorn supplies ready for that meeting.