Josh Kurtz: Delaney’s Smart Play, Plus More on Gansler-Brown

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By Josh Kurtz: 

Lost in all of last week’s hoopla over Doug Gansler’s secretly recorded words – and more on that flap below – was U.S. Rep. John Delaney’s declaration that he would devote significant personal resources to the push to raise the state minimum wage.

“Raising the minimum wage is one of the most direct ways of helping working families succeed while also improving our economy,” he said.

For Delaney, it was a smart and interesting play.

It’s unusual enough for members of Congress to inject themselves into state policy debates. Delaney has done that and more.  He has essentially thrown down the gauntlet in front of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and legislative leaders.

O’Malley and Brown, who is, of course, bidding to succeed O’Malley next year, have signaled that raising the minimum wage will be one of their priorities for what is expected to be a quiet 2014 legislative session – their last in office together. But they haven’t put the political gears in motion yet to pass it, nor have they outlined their legislative strategy.

Now, before the O’Malley/Brown team can even act, Delaney is not-so-subtly telling them to hurry up. So O’Malley – just as he did with gay marriage, the DREAM Act, and some other hot button issues – is someplace other than at the forefront of the movement, forced to play catch-up if he’s serious about making the issue his own.

In the end, O’Malley took – and deserved – plenty of credit for the passage of marriage equality. But those who worked the issue from the beginning know he wasn’t always in a leadership role. Now he finds himself in the same position once again, courtesy of Delaney, as he tries to burnish his progressive credentials ahead of the 2016 presidential contest.

Delaney shows that he isn’t afraid to wade into controversy outside his normal sphere of influence – and he makes a few progressive friends along the way. At the same time, he reminds us that he doesn’t have the typical Maryland politics work-your-way-up-the-rungs background, and is not your typical breed of political cat. This is a guy who is equipped to be a player whenever he chooses to be.

Will Delaney’s entry into this particular field of battle make a difference in whether or not Maryland ultimately raises its minimum wage? Who can say? But he brings an interesting perspective to the table, as a multimillionaire businessman who says he’s convinced a higher minimum wage will bolster the state’s economic competitiveness.

“We believe we can bring a practical, business-minded, job creating voice to this important debate that has been dominated by ideology on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

Delaney’s role in this legislative and political push as it evolves will be fascinating to watch – and will inevitably raise questions about his ultimate political goals. No one is looking to draft him into next year’s gubernatorial race following Gansler’s ill-chosen words about Brown, but that day could come.

It was unsurprising to see Dutch Ruppersberger emerge from hibernation to say yes, he’s still thinking about running. But you’d be hard-pressed to find any political insider taking that notion seriously at the moment. And Peter Franchot’s head no doubt swelled a bit after fans at the MACo conference in Ocean City last week urged him to reconsider his decision not to run.

Gansler has already survived the storm. And ironically, the reporter who put him in trouble in the first place – The Washington Post’s John Wagner – helped get him out of it with his Sunday article suggesting that Gansler, to date, is running a more substantive campaign than Brown.

Still, Gansler’s allies have got to be wondering whether more tapes exist – and what Gansler might be caught saying on them. Moving beyond the race angle, two of the most reckless things he said on the tape the Post quoted were that he could get more than half the African-American vote, and that he is going to squash his opponents in Montgomery County.

Neither is true; the first assertion is laughable, and the second is wishful thinking. The fact is, both Brown and Heather Mizeur have strong pockets of support in Montgomery County. Gansler may vanquish his foes in certain sections of the county, like Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac, where so many of his financial supporters live, but his appeal doesn’t automatically extend to every corner of the state’s most polyglot jurisdiction.

And are there any tapes out there that could ensnare Brown? He’s been running a more effective campaign than Gansler to date – but Brown’s level of hubris is just as great as Gansler’s. It would not be surprising to see that side of Brown’s personality leak out at some point.

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.