Josh Kurtz: Annapolis Bits

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Yup, that was Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) drinking at Galway Bay in Annapolis one night last week.

But he wasn’t there looking to persuade legislators who have been reluctant to embrace his ambitious agenda. Instead, he was knocking back a few with former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D), who had been in Annapolis that day testifying in the Senate for O’Malley’s wind energy bill, in his capacity as a consultant for the company Atlantic Wind Connection.

And that fact had some potentially persuadable lawmakers grumbling. Where is the outreach, some have been wondering, especially to moderate Democrats in swing districts, as O’Malley asks legislators to support gay rights, tax hikes and more stringent environmental regulations?

That may be an annual complaint in Annapolis, and O’Malley is hardly the first governor to be accused of not doing enough to reassure jittery lawmakers about his agenda. And of course, we don’t know -- will never know -- exactly what O’Malley is (and isn’t) doing behind the scenes. He already has one significant victory under his belt, with the passage of the marriage equality bill in the House Friday, and by most accounts he worked aggressively to ensure its success.

But the lament carries a little more sting, the resentments build a little higher, when some critics believe O’Malley is already looking way beyond State Circle to the 2016 presidential campaign. And the former governor of Iowa? Well, we all know what role Iowa plays in the White House nominating contest.

Culver, in fact, has a Maryland connection. He largely grew up here while his father, former U.S. Sen. John Culver (D), was representing Iowa in Congress, and he graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Before being drummed out of office in the Republican wave of 2010, Chet Culver was a major advocate for renewable fuels. He spent tens of millions of dollars to start a state power fund for alternative energy, and during his single term as governor, Iowa was No. 1 in the nation for per capita use of renewable energy.

Since leaving office, Culver, 46, has been working as a consultant in the energy industry. And he’s expected to be back here again Thursday, testifying for O’Malley’s wind power bill in the House. Whether there’s a return trip to Galway Bay remains to be seen.

* * *
Speaking of persuadable legislators, do the supporters of same sex marriage have it wrapped up in the Senate? Advocates may want to keep their exuberance to a minimum at the moment.

Sure, the House was seen as the bigger hurdle this year. But advocates have miscalculated before: remember, the Senate was supposed to be the bigger hurdle last year, and the bill passed narrowly there before stalling in the House.

Last year 25 senators voted for gay marriage. Have advocates checked in with all 25 of them? Are any wavering? Do any have reason to be mad at O’Malley (see: Brochin, Jim), who may change their minds as a result? Could anyone who voted no last year flip this time? Advocates and leading senators seem to think its success is assured.

But until the bill is headed to O’Malley’s desk, things seem very tenuous. A lot can happen in a couple of days, and it isn’t clear who’s whipping the votes right now.

Twenty-six Democrats voted against the bill in the House; that seems like a lot. The bill would not have passed without the support of two Republicans. As a result, O’Malley may want to get himself back to Galway Bay very soon -- this time with someone other than Chet Culver in tow.

* * *
As the debate over paying for transportation in Maryland heats up, a thousand statistics have been thrown around. But this may be the most stark of all: Since the 2008 fiscal year, the last time Highway User Revenues were fully funded in Maryland, the amount of money the state’s cities and towns have received for transportation and infrastructure has plummeted from $45 million to just $1.6 million this year. O’Malley’s proposed 2013 budget calls for $6.5 million to be divided among the state’s 157 municipalities.

“It’s been rather devastating for us,” says Scott Hancock, executive director of the Maryland Municipal League, in a dramatic understatement. “We understand the fiscal condition the state’s in. But the municipalities feel they’ve done more than their share.”

The consequences, Hancock says, have been dire -- and all too easy for residents to see: “Not only are we not repairing the streets, but we’re not even maintaining them.”

Hancock says O’Malley has teased him at public meetings about being like an expectant father, waiting to see just what the transportation spending package will look like.

Hancock says many municipal leaders believe that lawmakers in Annapolis need to show some political courage and raise taxes, and there is some support in city halls for a tax hike. But at the same time, he says, municipal officials will not embrace a transportation bill unless and until they get some guarantees that the funding they require will be locked in.

That seems like a perfectly reasonable position.

* * *
In part because the Maryland State Board of Elections website has been so balky, as a new electronic campaign finance reporting system has been put in place, the stories about 2011 campaign fundraising have so far been limited to the 2014 gubernatorial election.

But here’s a noteworthy nugget: state Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D), gearing up to run for comptroller if the incumbent, Peter Franchot (D), runs for governor, loaned his campaign $250,000. Add that to the $75,000 he raised, he had $321,000 in his campaign account as of January.

That certainly makes a statement and blows away what other potential Democratic candidates for comptroller reported in cash on hand: $49,000 for Del. Kumar Barve, and just $5,000 for Del. Galen Clagett. On the other hand, the comptroller is Maryland’s chief financial officer: What does it say if a candidate for the office is willing to incur big debts -- even if it is out of his own pocket?

* * *
Heading to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., with the Maryland delegation? Plan to spend a lot of time stuck in traffic.

The Democratic National Committee announced last week that Maryland delegates, their families and other state party dignitaries are being parceled out to two hotels in Concord, about 17 miles north of downtown Charlotte. OK, one is billed as a golf resort and spa and is probably pretty nice. But 17 miles? What a logistical nightmare! Charlotte does have a light rail system, but it mostly runs from downtown Charlotte south, meaning it will be of limited use to the Maryland delegation.

This reinforces my long-held opinion that political conventions should be confined to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, major cities with big, reliable public transit systems. So you’re not standing on a downtown street corner late at night, half drunk, negotiating a 75-dollar ride home with some enterprising cabbie.

Of course, if Maryland Democrats are feeling bad about their lodging -- which is, supposedly, chosen by lottery -- they can take some consolation knowing that during the convention, U.S. Capitol Police officers will be housed in South Carolina.

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

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

A Grown-up David in a World of Juvenile Goliaths

Rich Man, Poor Campaign?

The Brawl We Won’t Be Seeing Here (Plus: Women Emerge in Maryland)

Free Shot

Miller’s Crossing

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?

O’Malley and the Mod Squad
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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.