Josh Kurtz: The Permanent Government

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By: Josh Kurtz 

Maybe it’s because Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) has so far done nothing to flesh out his priorities. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t made a single appointment for his incoming administration.

But for now, the sense that a big change is coming to Annapolis, so palpable in the immediate aftermath of Hogan’s stunning victory, has faded considerably.

Make no mistake, change is coming. Even if Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) had won, there would be changes. It’s inevitable with a new administration.

But Hogan’s first selections for his transition team, coupled with the reshuffling of key leadership positions in the legislature and the early reaction of lobbying shops and interest groups around town, reinforces the notion that Annapolis is a place where even if roles occasionally change, the cast of characters never does. “The Permanent Government,” as the late, great New York muckraker Jack Newfield used to call it, remains intact.

Not that there aren’t some conclusions to draw from the last three weeks – we’ve no doubt seen clues as to what the next few years might be like around State Circle.

Hogan’s very first appointments to his transition team – Lt. Gov.-elect Boyd Rutherford (R), plus former state Business and Economic Development Secretary Jim Brady, and former state Sen. Bobby Neall (D) for the budget – were bipartisan selections, and shouted his willingness to rely, early on, on old government hands. No sign of change there.

The next six transition team members, announced last week, were also usual suspects. One is a current Republican member of the state Senate, another is a former GOP senator. Alexander Williams, a senior federal judge who first became active in Prince George’s County politics around the time Hogan’s father was county executive, is an intriguing choice – but he’s been on the scene for decades.

The other three selections carry a little more bite – economist Anirban Basu, former state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, and political columnist Blair Lee, a developer and former political operative whose father was acting governor in the 1970’s.

What do they have in common? They’ve all been major antagonists of outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for the past several years. Coincidence? You decide.

Basu is Hogan’s favorite economist. Hogan has used Basu’s critiques of O’Malley’s fiscal policies to great effect as he put together his organization Change Maryland, which helped launch him into the governor’s chair.

Grasmick is “St. Nancy” to her fans, for her long career and her undeniable devotion to Maryland’s school kids. But she is also a political infighter of the highest order, with survival skills unequaled by anyone in recent Maryland political history, with the possible exception of Senate President Mike Miller (D). She was a bur in O’Malley’s side dating back to his days as mayor of Baltimore.

Lee has one of the sharpest political minds in the state, and a very long memory. But where once he wrote admiringly of the O’Malley political operation, it’s been a good decade or more since he’s had anything nice to say about the governor himself, especially as O’Malley has led Maryland dramatically to the left.

Lee’s appointment carries heavy symbolism, and not just because of his weekly denunciations of O’Malley. In Lee, Hogan has found someone who throws brickbats on a regular basis at the city of Baltimore and its unquenchable thirst for state aid; at the grievances of African-American politicians and community leaders; at the complicity of the so-called liberal media with Democratic politicians (as if the local media, crippled without exception by budget cutbacks, could conspire to do anything); and, most zealously, at the gay rights movement.

Do Hogan’s views dovetail with Lee’s? We may one day find out. For now, Hogan, ever amiable, can keep on smiling while opponents comb through a lifetime of Blair Lee columns.

Last week the Montgomery County Young Democrats called on Hogan to remove Lee from his transition team, noting Lee’s “extreme homophobic views that do not view all Marylanders as equal.” If Hogan even noticed, he no doubt yawned. For Lee, the criticism probably made his day.

But that’s just a sideshow. What we’re still looking for is evidence of change.

You won’t find it in the House of Delegates, where the deck chairs on the S.S. Mike Busch (D) have essentially been rearranged. With House Appropriations Chairman Norm Conway (D) ousted by the voters, Busch, as expected, gave Environmental Matters Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D) the Appropriations gavel, which becomes more important than ever with a Republican governor – bypassing two senior members of the committee, Del. Adrienne Jones (D), and the panel’s vice chairman, Jim Proctor (D).

But rather than take the opportunity to spread leadership positions around, Busch simply added more to Jones’ and Proctor’s plates. Jones, who will remain speaker pro tem, a gig she has held since Busch became speaker a dozen years ago, now takes over the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Economic Development. Proctor will remain Appropriations vice chairman and become House chairman of the Spending Affordability Committee.

Moving over to take McIntosh’s gavel at Environmental Matters (newly rechristened Environment & Transportation) is Del. Kumar Barve (D), the House majority leader for the past dozen years and a legislator for the past 24 – surely one of the longest tenures in House history of anyone who eventually achieved committee chairman status.

The new members of Busch’s leadership team will be Del. Anne Kaiser (D), 46, the new majority leader after a dozen years in office; Del. Sally Jameson (D), 61, another 12-year Annapolis veteran, who becomes vice chairwoman of the Economic Matters Committee; and Del. Dana Stein (D), 56, who is starting his third full term and will be Barve’s vice chairman.

Del. Sheila Hixson (D), 81, who joined the legislature when Marvin Mandel was governor, retains the gavel at the Ways and Means Committee, which she has held since 1993. Del. Joe Vallario (D), 77, who has been in the House one year longer, remains Judiciary chairman for the 23rd straight year.

Meanwhile, Annapolis lobbyists not named Bruce Bereano – who put all his chips on Hogan and is now ready to cash in, big time – are scrambling to adjust to the Sort of New World Order.

Gerry Evans helped organize last week’s Annapolis fundraiser for Hogan and the state GOP, which netted about $250,000. Just last week, Harris Jones & Malone, a firm with close ties to O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), announced a "strategic partnership" with Bluewater Strategies, a Republican firm. Outgoing Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R) is being courted heavily by Annapolis lobbying shops – if she doesn’t wind up in the Hogan administration. Todd Lamb, a longtime Annapolis fixer with national Republican ties, will surely be attractive to firms that lean Democratic. Don’t be surprised to see a Lee Cowen comeback.

Of course, some lobbying shops just have to pivot a little. Superfirm Perry, White, Ross & Jacobson can now spotlight Jonas Jacobson, who worked for former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). DLA Piper, which was expecting to benefit from the close relationship between its lawyer Earl Adams and Anthony Brown, can instead turn to Carville Collins, who is aiding Hogan’s transition team. Venable can lean a little heavier on Marta Harding – who is married to Bobby Neall.

And contrary to what a haiku writer who hijacked this column last week observed, Tim Maloney – who some people believe is currently running the state – benefits by virtue of his lifelong friendship with Hogan. He now becomes the Democrat to see if you’re trying to see Larry Hogan.

The Permanent Government retains its permanence.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.