Maryland Matters Calls 2017 Session Winners & Losers

In a Maryland Matters blog post (2017-04-11), Josh Kurtz picks the winners, losers, and draws of the 2017 Session. A small sampling from his extensive list:

WINNERS

Attorney General Brian Frosh (D): Lawmakers gave him unprecedented powers and he’s now poised to join fellow Democratic attorneys general around the country as a major oppositional force to Trump. He may well be the de facto leader of the Maryland Democratic Party at this point as well. …

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (R): He finally got a bill through to create an elected school board in his county – an issue that has been simmering for decades. And as the election cycle ramps up, can anyone identify a credible Democrat who is even thinking about challenging him in 2018? ….

LOSERS …

Legislative Ethics: The session began and ended with legislators being indicted — and so was a guy connected to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) who was on the verge of being appointed to a House seat. Meanwhile, Del. Dan Morhaim (D) had his wrist slapped by colleagues for his connection to a company that attempted to get a medical marijuana license from the state. And this was just the stuff that was out in the open. We expect there’s worse taking place that isn’t being paid attention to – the medical cannabis process seems like one particularly target-rich environment. Between all this and the Democratic legislature’s resistance to Hogan’s desire to reform the state’s redistricting process, real and perceived corruption in Annapolis is the gift that keeps on giving for Hogan and the GOP. …

Extractive Industries: Maryland ain’t Pennsylvania – or Western states with huge tracts of exploitable land. But we’ve become the first state with proven natural gas reserves to enact legislation banning hydraulic fracturing. Vermont, which has no known gas reserves, voted in 2012 to ban fracking as a preemptive measure, and New York followed suit that year via executive fiat. …

DRAW …

Gov. Larry Hogan (R): It was Hogan’s most productive legislative session, but that’s only relatively speaking. He had a modest agenda, and some of the things he’s touting – like the bill repealing the transportation scoring law and his legislation combating heroin abuse – were changed significantly by the legislature. It was telling that all the drama on Sine Die did not involve the governor but rather tensions between the House and Senate. Some of Hogan’s vetoes were quickly and decisively overridden, and he faces a true dilemma over what to do about the sick leave legislation. What’s more, the Democrats now have a regular foil in Trump – and those drumbeats could accrue to Hogan.

He is in a more precarious place electorally than his high approval ratings suggest. And Republicans cannot be happy with his decision to lurch left on fracking. Hogan continues to show two sides – touting his bipartisanship frequently, except when he’s needling Democrats and their allies on Facebook. His decision to use the rape of a student at Rockville High School to go on an anti-immigrant rant seems ill-advised. But when all is said and done, Hogan is brilliant strategist who is especially talented about declaring victory in any situation, and with the legislature leaving town he will once again have the megaphone to himself. That’s when he’s best able to score points. …

House Speaker Mike Busch (D) and Senate President Mike Miller (D): These veteran lawmakers remain masterful legislative tacticians and still retain a great deal of control and loyalty in their chambers. They also have top-notch staffers who read the temperature of their caucuses as well as the leaders do. Both have tried to impose message discipline in their caucuses, with various degrees of success. And both can claim some individual achievements: Busch helped secure a Certificate of Need to bring a cardiac surgery program to Anne Arundel Medical Center, at the same time Miller helped guarantee an annual $10 million in operating budget funding for the new Prince George’s County Hospital.

Miller drew the ire of progressives for essentially killing the Trust Act – but he may have helped protect some of his most vulnerable Democratic members by putting off a vote. Yet for all their skills, both leaders seemed off their games at times, and both had periodic physical problems. These inevitably lead to discussions about their future plans – if even they know what they are.