Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker Announces 2018 Gubernatorial Bid

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III announced Wednesday that he is running for governor, sending a video message to news outlets and supporters that explains why he believes he can emerge from a crowded field of Democrats to challenge Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s bid for a second term.

Baker, 58, is midway through his seventh year as leader of the state’s second-largest jurisdiction. He has focused on improving schools, streamlining county services, and stimulating economic growth.

The Washington Post reports,

A former state lawmaker with a law degree from Howard University, Baker would become Maryland’s first African American governor and the first county executive to serve in the role since Parris N. Glendening (D), also of Prince George’s, did from 1995 to 2003.

“Being county executive gives me a good vantage point to look at Maryland as a whole, because we are urban, suburban and rural,” Baker said in an interview before his campaign announcement.

“When I look at what we had to do in Prince George’s, given the circumstances we were in, and I look at the state, it’s not dissimilar,” he added.

The son of a U.S. Army Special Forces officer and a nurse’s aide, Baker was born in Georgia. His family moved frequently, including stints in Okinawa, Japan, before settling in Massachusetts, when he attended high school.

After law school, Baker worked on Capitol Hill, in the D.C. government and as legal counsel for a nonprofit community development and social services organization.

He married his college sweetheart, civil rights lawyer Christa Beverly, and settled in Prince George’s, where he forged ties with fellow black politicos, including Wayne K. Curry, the late county executive. In 1994, with Curry’s guidance, Baker won a seat in the House of Delegates representing Cheverly and parts of Bladensburg.

But Baker badly wanted to be county executive. He lost two primary races, the first while serving in the House of Delegates. In 2010, he tried again and defeated four other Democrats in the primary, later easily winning the general election. Days later, federal agents arrested outgoing county executive Jack B. Johnson (D) on corruption charges.

Baker has traveled the state for months, sharing his story of an economic and civic resurgence in Prince George’s County, the only majority-black jurisdiction in Maryland besides Baltimore City and one of the most affluent majority-black jurisdictions in the nation.

In addition to pushing through ethics reform and seizing partial control of the struggling school system, Baker has boosted development around Metro stations and shepherded major projects, including a regional medical center slated to break ground in the fall. He abandoned his initial opposition to gambling in the county and became a major supporter of the glittering MGM National Harbor casino, which opened to rave reviews in December.

Before launching his campaign, Baker said he had to decide whether he thought he could do a better job than Hogan. That was the standard that Baker’s wife, whom he calls the driving force in his political career, had set in his previous races.

Beverly was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2012. Her condition has deteriorated considerably, but the county executive still includes her — along with their three adult children — in campaign meetings and conversations.

Her illness, Baker said, has increased his awareness of “the issues facing working men and women” who juggle work and caretaking. It’s also made him impatient about implementing public policy.

“Time is a precious commodity,” Baker said. “People want to know what you can do now.

“And I understand it, because I don’t know what tomorrow is.”

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State Elections Board Saw ‘Suspicious Activity’

Maryland’s State Board of Elections detected “suspicious activity” on the computer system it uses for online voter registration before last fall’s election and called in cybersecurity experts to evaluate it, administrator Linda H. Lamone said Wednesday.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Lamone’s disclosure came in response to an inquiry by The Baltimore Sun amid reports that Russian cyberattacks had breached election systems in 39 states.

Lamone said the system was not penetrated. She said the activity did not compromise vote tabulation.

“Because of our strong security protocols, the system was not breached,” Lamone said. “However, as an extra security precaution we had cybersecurity experts investigate the system and no intrusion was detected.”

Lamone said Maryland election officials shared the information about the activity with the Department of Homeland Security. She said Maryland’s experts did not determine the origin of the apparent attempted breach. Nor has the state heard back from Homeland Security about who might have made the attempt, Lamone added.

The system that was the apparent target of the attempt is one on which voters can sign on to register to vote, update personal information and request absentee ballots. They said it is entirely separate from the state’s voter registration database, which is not connected to the internet.

Maryland’s actual vote tabulations are conducted by local election officials in Baltimore and the counties. Elections officials say those systems are not online either.

Lamone said the online registration system is monitored constantly. She said any changes made online are verified by local board employees.

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Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman Launches Re-Election Campaign

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman launched his 2018 re-election campaign Monday evening at the Columbia lakefront – the same location where he announced his candidacy for county executive four years ago.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

More than 100 Howard County officials, business owners and residents gathered June 12, holding red and yellow campaign signs that read “Kittleman” and “Independent Leader – People, not politics.” District 5 Councilman Greg Fox, Howard County Sheriff Bill McMahon and Howard County Fire Chief John Butler were among the crowd.

During his announcement, Kittleman detailed county accomplishments under his leadership since 2013, including eliminating a $15.8 million deficit, restructuring county government offices and establishing local business initiatives.

“I’m thrilled to have this many people to support us and I’m looking forward to the campaign. We’ll have a lot of things to talk about,” Kittleman said. “Howard County will hopefully have a bright future and people can expect our quality of life to continue to improve.”

Read the full article for more information.

Madaleno Wins Anne Arundel Democrats’ Gubernatorial Straw Poll

Maryland Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) won an online gubernatorial straw poll organized by the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee.

The Washington Post reports,

Madaleno received 32 percent of the 272 votes cast. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III came in second with 21.7 percent of the vote, followed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz with 12.9 percent.

The poll results, released Sunday, are a boost for Madaleno, who has said he plans to run for the Democratic nomination but has not officially declared.

In April, U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) won a straw poll taken in western Maryland during an annual summit of Democratic Party loyalists. Delaney came in fifth in the Anne Arundel County poll with 9.2 percent, behind civil rights activist Ben Jealous, who took 12.5 percent.

Jealous and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Alec Ross are the only Democrats who have formally announced that they will compete for the party’s nomination to challenge popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in 2018.

In addition to Baker, Kamenetz, and Madeleno, others considering the race are former Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler and lawyer James L. Shea.

The primary is next June.

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Ex-NAACP Chief Ben Jealous Announces Candidacy for Maryland Governor

Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, announced his candidacy for Maryland governor Wednesday outside a cousin’s West Baltimore flower shop. Jealous is the third Democrat to formally announce his candidacy in the June 26, 2018, primary, joining high-tech entrepreneur Alec Ross and state Sen. Richard Madeleno. Several other Democrats are either expected to join the race soon or are weighing a run.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Jealous, 44, will seek the Democratic nomination in his first bid for political office. He joins a growing field of potential challengers to Gov. Larry Hogan, who is expected to attempt to become the state’s first two-term Republican governor since the 1950s.

In an interview Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun, Jealous took aim at Hogan’s record on education, the economy and the environment. And he faulted Hogan for failing to take on the Trump administration, comparing the incumbent to the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“He may have strength, but he lacks courage,” Jealous said. Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, declined to comment.

Jealous brings to the campaign a personal story that could differentiate him from the field. He is seeking to become governor of a state where his parents could not legally marry at the time they met in Harlem Park because his father was white and his mother African-American.

Jealous, who lives in Pasadena, was elected president of the Baltimore-based NAACP in 2008 at age 35, becoming the youngest person to head the civil rights organization. He led the group until 2013, the year after he spearheaded the NAACP’s successful campaign to abolish Maryland’s death penalty. During that year’s debate, he was a regular visitor to Annapolis as he lobbied lawmakers to pass Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley’s repeal bill.

When he was NAACP president, Jealous said, he saw how quickly the state can more forward. He pointed to some of the initiatives of the O’Malley administration — including the end of capital punishment, legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing students who are in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities.

Jealous in 2014 joined Kapor Capital, which funds tech startups that work on social justice issues. He is divorced and has two children who live with him part time.

Read the full article for more information.

Montgomery County Sets Up $11M Public Campaign Fund for 2018

The Montgomery County Council approved an $11 million public campaign financing fund — the first in Maryland — for the 2018 elections when it adopted the county’s $5.4 billion budget for fiscal 2018 last Thursday.

According to MarylandReporter,

The new public campaign finance law could be a model for other Maryland counties, such as Howard County, which is considering its own version for local races.

Montgomery’s new law gets mixed reviews.  It is not clear whether the new system will meet its promised goals of keeping special interest money out of campaigns, leveling the playing field for newcomers and increasing voter turnout.

Robin Ficker, a Republican running for county executive, who successfully spearheaded a 2016 petition referendum imposing term limits on the county executive and council members, calls the new program “self-serving.”

Four of the nine councilmembers have already filed to use the fund they set up.

“The tax-increase specialists on the County Council concluded they didn’t have any competition on the Republican side anymore,” Ficker said.  In Montgomery, Democrats enjoy a three-to-one advantage in registered voters over Republicans. “They thought they might as well finance their own campaigns now.”

The new law, which passed unanimously through the all-Democrat, nine-member Council in 2014, will debut for the 2018 elections. It allows qualified candidates participating in the county executive and county council races to receive taxpayer-subsidized funds if they get enough smaller campaign contributions from county residents.

The council provided $1 million more than the request from County Executive Ike Leggett, but that aligned with the recommendation of a county committee reviewing funding.  The Council added $5 million, instead of $4 million, to an existing fund of $6 million, which had been approved in prior budgets.

To qualify for public campaign financing, county executive candidates must collect 500 contributions totaling $40,000; county council at large candidates 250 contributions totaling $20,000; and county council district candidates 125 contributions totaling $10,000.

County executive candidates can receive up to $750,000 for both the primary and general elections; county council at-large candidates, $250,000; and county council district candidates $125,000.

At-Large County Councilmember Marc Elrich, D, who is also running for county executive and planning to use public funding, believes the new system will help reduce special interest money in elections.

“It’s more for the public than anything,” Elrich said. “The candidates are going to have to be largely financed by the public.  The large donors, who have the resources to mount the campaign, are not going to be able to shape it.”

The law prohibits political action committees (PACs), corporations, labor organizations and state and local political committees from contributing to candidates who participate in public campaign financing.  It also caps individual contributions at $150.

“The caveat is public financing doesn’t require everybody to public finance,” Elrich conceded.  “A non-public funded candidate can easily raise more money than [a candidate] with fewer donors. Large donors who have traditionally dominated donations can just create PACs.”

Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, takes the case a step further.

“Public financing won’t have an impact on big money at all,” Eberly said.  “[The U.S. Supreme Court case] Citizens United established that corporations and unions can spend unlimited money independent of a candidate. The research conducted on public finance systems in other states has shown that public financing systems does free candidates from the burden of continually fundraising, but incumbent candidates continue to enjoy a tremendous advantage over competitors.”

Eberly said it is a “false hope” to think candidates won’t be beholden to big donors just because the contributions are not coordinated with their campaigns.  In fact, Eberly said, independent expenditures increased in New York after public financing was introduced.

Both Ficker and Elrich believe new or unknown candidates will never see those types of independent donations.

Rachael Rice, a seasoned Democratic fundraiser who has worked for dozens of Maryland candidates, including former Attorney General Doug Gansler, believes the public funding program will help new candidates.

“Fundraising generally is much easier for incumbents and this new law may change that, depending on how it plays out. ” Rice said.  “I think it will be helpful to challengers because it gives them access to funds that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Candidates would receive $6 for every $1 of the first $50 raised in the county executive race and $4 for every $1 raised of the first $50 in county council races.  The county matches decrease with every $50 raised.

In Montgomery, candidates participating in public funding have no limit on how much money they can raise in small contributions.  Contributions can also come from outside of the candidate’s district, county and state. But county funds will only be matched to county contributions.

Montgomery County Democratic Party Vice Chair Emily Shetty sees that as an advantage to all voters.

“What we’ve seen in prior [election] cycles is that voters who donate to a candidate are voters who turnout to an election,” Shetty said.  “The matching [contribution] system will incentivize people who have not previously participated.  I think we’ll see increased voter turnout which is in the best interest of democracy.”

Read the full article for more information.

Anne Arundel County Council Chairman John Grasso to Run for State Senate

Term limits prevent Anne Arundel County Council Chairman John Grasso from trying for another four years on the council. But the outspoken Republican from Glen Burnie says he’s not ready to retire from politics.

Grasso recently announced he plans to run for Senate in District 32, mounting a likely challenge to incumbent state Sen. Ed DeGrange, a Democrat who has represented the northwest county district for nearly 20 years.

According to the Capital Gazette,

“As anybody’s seen, I’ve passed a boatload of legislation in Anne Arundel County, and there’s things I believe I can do in the state government,” Grasso said. “There’s certain things you can’t do as a county councilman that you can do as a state official.”

Maryland’s Republican party welcomed the news as another step toward its goal of identifying credible candidates to run in nine districts represented by Democrats where Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, won a majority of votes in 2014.

Grasso, who’s served twice as chairman of the council and once as vice-chairman, has broken with the party line before as a councilman. First elected in 2010, he’s developed a reputation as an occasional wild card.

An enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump during the presidential election — he dubbed himself “the Trump of Anne Arundel County” — Grasso has also voted with Democrats on environmental issues, such as instituting a stormwater fee to pay for water quality improvements, and greater transparency in government.

“I’m not a political person,” he said. “I try to do what’s best for the people.”

A few ideas for legislation Grasso said he’s considering if elected include measures requiring judges to issue decisions on cases within 60 days, supporting school vouchers and finding a way to ensure child support payments are spent directly on children.

He said he thinks District 32, which represents parts of Glen Burnie, Fort George G. Meade, Jessup, Linthicum, Odenton and Severn, needs a new voice.

“You need people that are constantly going to move forward with new ideas, fresh ideas,” he said. “When you’re in there that long, you’ve got to go.”

DeGrange, who has not yet announced his intentions for 2018, said he’s proud of his record as a senator since 1999.

“I’ve been elected numerous times in the district and I’m not getting any sense that people are dissatisfied with the work and the representation that I’ve given them over the years,” he said.

The Democrat from Glen Burnie is no lightweight; he chairs the Senate’s capital budget subcommittee and has garnered 59 percent of the vote or more in all but his first election.

“I’ve always felt that the voters will implement term limits when they feel that people aren’t representing them properly,” he said.

Read the full article for more information.

Gov. Hogan Vetoes Redistricting Bill, Setting Up Showdown with Legislature

Governor Larry Hogan on Monday vetoed a bill that would put a nonpartisan commission in charge of drawing the state’s congressional districts if five other states agreed to do the same.

His rejection of the measure immediately sparked criticism from Democratic leaders and potentially sets up a veto-override vote next year in the state legislature, where Democrats have strong majorities in both chambers.

According to The Washington Post,

Hogan described the vetoed bill, sponsored by Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), as a “phony bill masquerading as redistricting reform.” He noted that the measure failed to address redistricting of Maryland’s legislative districts and said the chances of a multistate compact for congressional maps are unrealistic in today’s political climate.

He said he preferred a single-state solution, which he has proposed for the past two years.

The Maryland chapters of Common Cause Maryland and the League of Women Voters, which have pushed for a nonpartisan redistricting process to end partisan gerrymandering, applauded the governor’s veto, saying in a statement that the proposal for a multistate compact “set an impossibly high bar.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) issued a joint statement criticizing the governor’s veto.

“Today’s veto reveals that, instead of supporting a true, non-partisan solution that could restore accountability and cooperation to Washington, Governor Hogan prefers his plan to simply elect more Republicans to Congress,” the leaders said.

They did not comment on whether they will try to overturn the veto, which requires 85 votes in the House and 29 in the Senate.

The bill received 30 votes in the Senate and 87 in the House.

Hogan has proposed that Maryland act alone in creating an independent redistricting commission to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts. The measures died in committee both years.

Maryland Democrats have said the state should not unilaterally switch to independent redistricting while many Republican-dominated states continue to gerrymander their voting maps.

Bryan Lesswing, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said Hogan’s redistricting plan would hand President Trump and congressional Republicans “more votes to carry out their agenda.”

The state Republican Party is working to end the veto-proof Democratic majority in the Senate by taking over five seats in the 2018 election, a change that could force Democrats to compromise with Hogan more on legislation.

Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), who stood with Hogan at the veto news conference, said he supports the governor’s proposal.

He said his party is “missing out on the boat, and they may end up being very sorry in the next election if they hold their ground.”

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: House Committee Votes Down Gov. Hogan’s Redistricting Bill

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Senator Madaleno at Metro Rally: I’m Running for Governor

Maryland state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) told a crowd of activists rallying around dedicated Metro funding Sunday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2018.

According to The Washington Post,

In a soaring speech appealing to the pro-worker crowd, Madaleno said that he supported prioritizing public transit in the D.C. region and that the region must unite to “find bold solutions to solve our problems with the ­Metro system.”

“I’m committed to giving you a new, bold vision for our area — one that focuses on collaboration,” he said. “It is time for a change, which is exactly why I’m running for governor.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

Madaleno, a member of the Senate since 2007, has been a leading liberal critic of Hogan in Annapolis and is vice chair of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. He was the first openly gay lawmaker elected to the Senate.

With more than 13 months until the June 26, 2018 primary, he is one of eight Democrats who have expressed interest in the race.

All eight participated in a Western Maryland straw poll of potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates last month. U.S. Rep. John Delaney (Md.), whose district includes Western Maryland, finished first in the poll with 66 votes. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz received 41 votes; former NAACP executive director Benjamin Jealous received 22; Baltimore attorney James L. Shea garnered 16; former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler won 13; and Madaleno and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III each received 12.

Entrepreneur Alec Ross, the only Democrat who has officially launched his campaign, did not get any votes in the straw poll.

Madaleno served four years in the House of Delegates before joining the Senate. Before that, he was a budget analyst with what is now the state Department of Legislative Services.

He and several of the other hopefuls have been busy in recent weeks, appearing at Democratic gatherings around the state. He told The Washington Post he will make a formal announcement of his candidacy at a later date.

Hogan has said he will seek a second term, but he has not formally launched his campaign.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Tech Entrepreneur from Baltimore Becomes First Democrat to Enter Md. Governor’s Race

Read the full article from The Washington Post

Tech Entrepreneur from Baltimore is First Democrat to Enter Md. Governor’s Race

Baltimore nonprofit founder, author and former Obama administration technology adviser Alec Ross on Wednesday became the first in what is expected to be a crowded field of Democrats to enter Maryland’s 2018 gubernatorial race.

As reported by The Washington Post,

The 46-year-old political newcomer declared his candidacy through social media and his campaign website, saying he has the knowledge and experience to prepare the state’s economy for the future.

Courtesy Alec Ross gubernatorial campaign

At least seven other Democrats have said they are considering a 2018 run for governor, including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, former Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, former NAACP executive director Benjamin Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno (Montgomery), state Del. Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore) and attorney James Shea.

The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has said he will run for reelection.

Ross, a Johns Hopkins fellow who served as a technology-policy adviser to Obama’s first presidential campaign and then as tech czar for the U.S. State Department, wrote “The Industries of the Future,” a 2016 nonfiction book that spent two months on the New York Times’ list of business bestsellers.

He graduated from Northwestern University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in history before joining Teach for America, which assigned him to a tough middle school in Baltimore. His work there was detailed in a three-part series in The Baltimore Sun.

In 2002, Ross founded a nonprofit group that focused on providing low-income and underserved communities with access to high-speed Internet. The organization has since become a multimillion-dollar corporation.

In his book, Ross predicted that five industries would dominate the global economy of the next several decades. They included robotics, cybersecurity, genomics, data analysis and digital currency.

Read the full article for more information.