Follow the FreeStater Blog by Email

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Instead of Railing Against Hogan's Budget, Assembly Democrats Should Focus Efforts on Reforming the Process

It's abundantly clear that most Democratic members of the Maryland General Assembly are not pleased with major elements of Governor Hogan's proposed budget. The most contentious issues include a significant reduction in the rate of increase for spending on K-12 education and the elimination of a promised 2% cost of living increase for state employees. House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate Budget Committee Vice Chair Richard Madaleno have been among the most vocal opponents of the budget. Numerous Democrats have pledged to fight Hogan's budget.

But their pledges and their passions amount to next to nothing. There is precious little that any Democrat (or Republican) in the Assembly can do to substantively change Hogan's budget. Maryland adopted an executive centered budget process via a constitutional amendment it 1916 and ever since the General Assembly has been without the power of the purse. According to the constitution of Maryland, the Assembly cannot increase spending in the governor's budget and it cannot move funds around in an effort to increase funding in one area by reducing it elsewhere. All the Assembly can really do is reduce the amount of spending proposed by the governor.  The Assembly can introduce legislation to provide funding for programs - but only if the legislation identifies a funding source (e.g. raising taxes). Certainly, members of the Assembly can work with Hogan and try to convince him to introduce a supplemental budget that provides more funding for programs they value, but failing that, Hogan's budget will stand.

If Democrats in the Assembly really want to make a difference they will work to support SB 660, sponsored by Senators Madaleno, Guzzone, and Manno.  The bill would undo a constitutional amendment that has long outlived it's usefulness. The key section in the state constitution can be found in Article 2, Sec. 52 (6):
(6) The General Assembly shall not amend the Budget Bill so as to affect either the obligations of the State under Section 34 of Article III of the Constitution, or the provisions made by the laws of the State for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools or the payment of any salaries required to be paid by the State of Maryland by the Constitution thereof; and the General Assembly may amend the bill by increasing or diminishing the items therein relating to the General Assembly, and by increasing or diminishing the items therein relating to the judiciary, but except as hereinbefore specified, may not alter the said bill except to strike out or reduce items therein, provided, however, that the salary or compensation of any public officer shall not be decreased during his term of office; and such bill, when and as passed by both Houses, shall be a law immediately without further action by the Governor (amended by Chapter 373, Acts of 1972, ratified Nov. 7, 1972).
So in Maryland, the General Assembly is allowed to amend the budget to increase or decrease appropriations for the operation of the General Assembly or the judiciary, but it all other cases it may only reduce or eliminate spending. This is simply ridiculous! It's hard to imagine anything more counter to the concept of representational democracy than a legislature without the power of the purse. In no other state are legislators so irrelevant to the budget process. In roughly half of the states, governors are tasked with developing a budget (much like the president), but that budget is then subject to revision by the legislature. In the other half, the governor and the legislature share the responsibility of making the budget.

How did we wind up with such an executive-centric process? We overreacted to a budget crisis. Maryland was faced with a huge deficit in 1916 and the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the General Assembly. Our solution? Strip the Assembly of its budget power and hand it all over to the governor. We see how well that worked out. Our ongoing struggles with structural deficits make clear that executives are not any better at budgeting than are legislators.

It's time for Maryland to undo the overreaction of 1916. Instead of offering what are largely hollow pledges to "fight spending cuts," legislators should instead focus on an amendment to the state constitution that would restore the legislature's proper role in the budget process. SB 660 would restore the legislature's role while still respecting the power of the governor. The legislation is far from perfect, especially with regard to the line item veto restrictions that it would place on the governor, but it's a good start.

And no, I'm not proposing this because there's a Republican governor or because I agree with those who would have you believe that Hogan's budget is a draconian overreach. I'm proposing this reform for the same reason I support redistricting reform, because both proposals would boost accountability and representation - two essential ingredients for democracy (unfortunately, none of the redistricting reform legislation introduced thus far is worth discussing).

** I'd like to add that I think Republicans in the Assembly should line up in support of this reform as well. There have been 2 Republican governors in the last 4 decades in Maryland. In most circumstances the GOP is totally shut out of the budget process. If the Assembly actually played a meaningful role then the GOP could gain opportunities to have a role as well. And keep in mind, the GOP made historic gains in the 2014 election. In the Senate, they GOP is 5 seats away from being able to filibuster legislation, thereby earning an automatic seat at the bargaining table. There are 4 Democratic Senators who won with less that 52% of the vote and another 4 or 5 who won in districts carried by Larry Hogan. At present, the MD GOP is one or two election cycles away from being a full-fledged minority partner in governing in the General Assembly. Wouldn't it be better to be a minority partner with the ability to influence the budget as opposed to a minority partner forced to wait for the next Republican governor? 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Maryland Senate Democrats Offer A Clear Reminder of Why Hogan Won

In response to Larry Hogan's "partisan" and "campaign-like" state of the state speech last week, Senate Democrats in the MD General Assembly have decided to take a page from the Mitch McConnell School of Partisanship by slowing down approval of Hogan's appointments and by subjecting the appointees to retaliatory treatment... In other words, Senate Democrats are responding to a speech by jeopardizing the proper functioning of state government. It's always great to see my state Senators behaving like my 4 year old... 

I wrote last week that I believed Hogan committed a strategic error with his first state of the state address as it was a time for more cooperative language. But Hogan did win. And he won comfortably against the Maryland Democratic Establishment's hand-picked and coddled candidate. And Hogan won on a message and an agenda identical to what he proposed in his speech before the Assembly. So what did Assembly Democrats expect to hear? Did they think Hogan would stand before them, hat in hand, and pledge to make a better Maryland for more Marylanders? If they did, they were either naive or arrogant.

And let's keep something very important in mind. Martin O'Malley's state of the state speeches were partisan as well. And in recent years they amounted to little more than test runs for potential campaign themes in a future presidential run. And as Assembly Republicans sat on their hands, Democrats dutifully rose and applauded. But no one in the Assembly or the press cared that O'Malley was being partisan. No one cared that his speeches may have offended Assembly Republicans. With Hogan's speech, Democrats got a taste of their own medicine and decided they didn't like it. Too bad.

Yes, I think Hogan made a strategic error with the speech, but Senate Democrats are behaving like children. I half expect them to announce plans to hold their collective breath until they turn blue if holding up his nominees doesn't force Hogan to come before them seeking forgiveness. 

Senate Democrats may be pleasing the party faithful, the partisan activists, and the other members of the state Democratic establishment that failed to deliver victory in November, but I suspect that their behavior is reminding a lot of voters why they decided to stay home and a lot of other voters why they decided to vote for Hogan.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hogan May Have Stumbled, But State Democrats Fell Flat

Newly elected governor Larry Hogan delivered his first State of the State address this week and though he started off on the wrong foot he planted a firm landing. Hogan opened his speech be repeating much of his campaign rhetoric concerning the weak state of Maryland's economy. I believe he got some bad advice. He should've opened by saying the election was over, the time for assigning blame passed, and time to work together at hand. Instead, he told an Assembly full of Democrats that they had horribly mismanaged the state and he was there to fix their mess. That's an odd strategy considering that Hogan can't accomplish any of his broader agenda without the support of some Assembly Democrats. But once Hogan transitioned to his 11 point plan he recovered quickly and closed strong.

Even though I think Larry Hogan erred a bit in his speech, the Democrats' reaction has been downright ridiculous and really shows how coddled the establishment has been in this state. In reality, Hogan offered a pretty modest and moderate agenda - no automatic gas tax increases, a small personal property tax exemption for small businesses, a repeal of the so-called Rain Tax (keep in mind that the Total Maximum Daily Load mandate from the EPA applied to Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. But only Maryland implemented a tax to comply. So other approaches do exist), restrained growth in the rate of funding increases, renewed support for public financing of gubernatorial elections, and a fair redistricting process. There is nothing radical, ridiculous, our unreasonable in this agenda.

But state Democrats reacted as if Hogan had offered right wing, fire and brimstone red meat. Democratic Senator James Rosapepe suggested the speech represented a mix of Republican and Tea Party appeals. I'm sorry, but if Hogan wanted to appeal to the Tea Party, he would've delivered a far different speech. In reality, Hogan's speech was a reasonable response to the 2014 election results that saw the election of only the 2nd Republican governor in 4 decades and included record gains for Republicans elsewhere in the state (and if MD had a non-partisan redistricting process the GOP gains would've been even greater). It's a sad commentary that to some state Democrats moderation and pragmatism is equated with Tea Party extremism.

Unfortunately, too many Assembly Democrats had become accustomed to having a fellow partisan come before them, heap praise upon all they were doing, and tell them to keep up the good work. Voters sent a different message last November (only a fool would blame Anthony Brown for the outcome). The days of praise are over (for at least the next 4 years). Hogan's speech offered a rude awakening to many in the Democratic establishment and their reactions suggest that many had still not come to grips with the outcome of the election. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Anne Kaiser's Democratic response was a tone deaf bit of fluff that should have been backed by a choir of Democratic Assembly members singing "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie. If voters agreed with Kaiser's take on the state of the state then Anthony Brown would've delivered the State of the State address and not Larry Hogan.

In the end, Hogan's speech, the official Democratic response, and the reaction of establishment Democrats tell us that Hogan understands the results of the 2014 election, but that many Democrats still don't. I mean who could sit stone faced and silent in response to a call for fair redistricting reform? Turns out the answer is nearly every Democratic member of the General Assembly. Hogan may have stumbled a bit out of the gate, but it was establishment Democrats who fell flat in the end. Yes, Hogan needs the support of Assembly Democrats to accomplish many elements of his agenda, but in a state where the governor essentially dictates the budget and wields a veto pen, Assembly Democrats may need him more.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Watergate Story... Kirby Delauter Style

It's late one evening in 1973 in the office of Ben Bradlee executive editor of The Washington Post, when the silence is broken by a ringing phone.

Bradlee: Hello, this Ben Bradlee

Caller: Please hold for the President of the United States

Richard Nixon: Mr. Bradlee, it's come to my attention that two of your reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein, are preparing to publish articles in which you link my office, including myself, my Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and former Attorney General John Mitchell to the break-in at the Watergate Complex. Is that correct?

Bradlee: Yes sir, that's correct. The evidence is pretty overwhelming.

Nixon: Oh it is?

Bradlee: Yes Mr. President, it is.

Nixon: Well it just so happens that Haldeman and Mitchell are here in the office with me and we've decided that we're not going to authorize Woodward and Bernstein or the Washington Post to publish our names... right boys?

Haldeman and Mitchell: That's right! 

Bradlee: I'm sorry to hear that. But don't we have the right to a free press?

Nixon: Your rights end where mine start!

Moments later Bradlee pokes his head into the newsroom...

Bradlee: Woodstein!!!!

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Yes Mr. Bradlee?

Bradlee: The Watergate story is finished...

Woodward: What happened? 

Berstein: Did we make a mistake?

Bradlee: Nope, but I just got off the phone with Nixon, Haldeman and Mitchell and they won't let us use their names.

Berstein: Gosh darn it!

Woodward: And it seemed like such an important story... but we certainly shouldn't be aloud to to just freely write about elected officials and their actions while in office.

Bradlee: Goodness no... what kind of society would allow such a thing!

Kirby Delauter...

"Frederick County Councilman Kirby Delauter wrote on social media that he plans to sue The Frederick News-Post if his name or any reference to him appears in print without his permission."

"Billy Shreve, R-at large, told The News-Post in a phone interview he supported Delauter taking legal actions.
“I did not see his post, but I think The News-Post is extremely biased and someone should sue them,” Shreve said.
When asked if news media outlets should obtain permission to publish an elected official's name or reference, Shreve said, “I think media outlets are cowards and they hide behind the label of journalists and that's a bully pulpit to expand their liberal (agenda)."  (Emphasis mine)

I really need to ask Billy Shreve a simple question... whose the coward, a reporter who writes about people in power and takes public credit for all that she writes or an elected representative of the people who threatens to sue a newspaper if it dares mention his name?

Oh, and one more thing... Kirby DelauterKirby Delauter, Kirby DelauterKirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Obama's Executive Action on Immigration Offers More Evidence of A Weakened Presidency

As Obama is set to take unilateral action on immigration reform, I am reminded of an op-ed I wrote on the eve of his 2nd inaugural. Sadly, Obama's decision to "go it alone" is a common feature of contemporary presidents and by far a greater sign of presidential weakness than of gridlock.

Steve Schier and I cover the presidential power trap in great detail in our book, American Government and Popular Discontent.

Excerpt:

"Faced with obstacles to successful leadership, recent presidents have come to rely more on their formal powers. The number of important executive orders has increased significantly since the 1960s, as have the issuance of presidential signing statements. Both are used by presidents in an attempt to shape and direct policy on their terms. Presidents have had to rely more on recess appointments as well, appointing individuals to important positions during a congressional recess (even a weekend recess) to avoid delays and obstruction often encountered in the Senate. Such power assertions typically elicit close media scrutiny and often further erode political capital.

Faced with the likelihood of legislative defeat in Congress, the president must rely on claims of unilateral power. But such claims are not without limit or cost and will likely further erode his political capital."

Full Op-Ed:

January 21, 2013|By Todd Eberly
As Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in for the second time as president of the United States, he faces the stark reality that little of what he hopes to accomplish in a second term will likely come to pass. Mr. Obama occupies an office that many assume to be all powerful, but like so many of his recent predecessors, the president knows better. He faces a political capital problem and a power trap.
In the post-1960s American political system, presidents have found the exercise of effective leadership a difficult task. To lead well, a president needs support — or at least permission — from federal courts and Congress; steady allegiance from public opinion and fellow partisans in the electorate; backing from powerful, entrenched interest groups; and accordance with contemporary public opinion about the proper size and scope of government. This is a long list of requirements. If presidents fail to satisfy these requirements, they face the prospect of inadequate political support or political capital to back their power assertions.
What was so crucial about the 1960s? We can trace so much of what defines contemporary politics to trends that emerged then. Americans' confidence in government began a precipitous decline as the tumult and tragedies of the 1960s gave way to the scandals and economic uncertainties of the 1970s. Long-standing party coalitions began to fray as the New Deal coalition, which had elected Franklin Roosevelt to four terms and made Democrats the indisputable majority party, faded into history. The election of Richard Nixon in 1968 marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of divided government. Finally, the two parties began ideologically divergent journeys that resulted in intense polarization in Congress, diminishing the possibility of bipartisan compromise. These changes, combined with the growing influence of money and interest groups and the steady "thickening" of the federal bureaucracy, introduced significant challenges to presidential leadership.
Political capital can best be understood as a combination of the president's party support in Congress, public approval of his job performance, and the president's electoral victory margin. The components of political capital are central to the fate of presidencies. It is difficult to claim warrants for leadership in an era when job approval, congressional support and partisan affiliation provide less backing for a president than in times past. In recent years, presidents' political capital has shrunk while their power assertions have grown, making the president a volatile player in the national political system.
Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush joined the small ranks of incumbents defeated while seeking a second term. Ronald Reagan was elected in two landslides, yet his most successful year for domestic policy was his first year in office. Bill Clinton was twice elected by a comfortable margin, but with less than majority support, and despite a strong economy during his second term, his greatest legislative successes came during his first year with the passage of a controversial but crucial budget bill, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the North American Free Trade Agreement. George W. Bush won election in 2000 having lost the popular vote, and though his impact on national security policy after the Sept. 11 attacks was far reaching, his greatest domestic policy successes came during 2001. Ambitious plans for Social Security reform, following his narrow re-election in 2004, went nowhere.
Faced with obstacles to successful leadership, recent presidents have come to rely more on their formal powers. The number of important executive orders has increased significantly since the 1960s, as have the issuance of presidential signing statements. Both are used by presidents in an attempt to shape and direct policy on their terms. Presidents have had to rely more on recess appointments as well, appointing individuals to important positions during a congressional recess (even a weekend recess) to avoid delays and obstruction often encountered in the Senate. Such power assertions typically elicit close media scrutiny and often further erode political capital.
By mid-2011, Mr. Obama's job approval had slipped well below its initial levels, and Congress was proving increasingly intransigent. In the face of declining public support and rising congressional opposition, Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, looked to the energetic use of executive power. In 2012, the president relied on executive discretion and legal ambiguity to allow homeowners to more easily refinance federally backed mortgages, to help veterans find employment and to make it easier for college graduates to consolidate federal student loan debt. He issued several executive orders effecting change in the nation's enforcement of existing immigration laws. He used an executive order to authorize the Department of Education to grant states waivers from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act — though the enacting legislation makes no accommodation for such waivers. Contrary to the outcry from partisan opponents, Mr. Obama's actions were hardly unprecedented or imperial. Rather, they represented a rather typical power assertion from a contemporary president.
Many looked to the 2012 election as a means to break present trends. But Barack Obama's narrow re-election victory, coupled with the re-election of a somewhat-diminished Republican majority House and Democratic majority Senate, hardly signals a grand resurgence of his political capital. The president's recent issuance of multiple executive orders to deal with the issue of gun violence is further evidence of his power trap. Faced with the likelihood of legislative defeat in Congress, the president must rely on claims of unilateral power. But such claims are not without limit or cost and will likely further erode his political capital.
Only by solving the problem of political capital is a president likely to avoid a power trap. Presidents in recent years have been unable to prevent their political capital from eroding. When it did, their power assertions often got them into further political trouble. Through leveraging public support, presidents have at times been able to overcome contemporary leadership challenges by adopting as their own issues that the public already supports. Bill Clinton's centrist "triangulation" and George W. Bush's careful issue selection early in his presidency allowed them to secure important policy changes — in Mr. Clinton's case, welfare reform and budget balance, in Mr. Bush's tax cuts and education reform — that at the time received popular approval.
However, short-term legislative strategies may win policy success for a president but do not serve as an antidote to declining political capital over time, as the difficult final years of both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies demonstrate. None of Barack Obama's recent predecessors solved the political capital problem or avoided the power trap. It is the central political challenge confronted by modern presidents and one that will likely weigh heavily on the current president's mind today as he takes his second oath of office.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

About the Hogan Poll Showing Him Ahead by 5 Points....

I have no idea how the MD gubernatorial race between Republican Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown will end, but the race appears to be very close. The Cook Political Report recently classified the contest as a tossup.  The Hogan camp caused a stir this past week by releasing an internal campaign poll that showed Hogan beating Brown 44-39%. Right away I was suspicious - a dead dog with a D after its name on the ballot would draw more than 39% in Maryland -right? So I contacted the Hogan campaign and convinced them to share all of the internals of the poll including questions asked and demographics of the sample and voting coalitions. Try as I might I could not find a flaw in the methodology or the questions. The sample size is a bit small so the error margin is a bit larger than usual. But if you consider the succession of polls from the Washington Post, to the Baltimore Sun, to Gonzales Research Marketing, and now to the Hogan poll there has been movement toward Hogan. Also, the three debates were good for Hogan. The first two were a tie, but Hogan won big in the third debate. Contrary to the dangerous candidate Brown accused Hogan of being, voters saw a candidate who was about as extreme as a vanilla milkshake.

The poll appeared to have a proper sample. It assumed an electorate that was 55% Democrats, 26% Republicans, and 19% Independents. Some have argued this is a bad sample as Democrats were 62% of the early voters and Independents were only 10% - wrong. Early voting attracts partisans eager to vote, but early voting is not a predictor of overall turnout.  In 2010, Democrats were 57% of the electorate and they have lost registration ground since then.

The Brown campaign has tried to downplay the poll, pointing to the 2 to 1 early vote Democratic turnout advantage last week. Problem is, that advantage was 3 to 1 in 2010. So Democrats are doing worse this election cycle than in 2012.  Of course in 2010 O'Malley crushed Ehrlich by a 14 point margin - so Democrats can lose some ground and still deliver for Brown. Then again, Ehrlich ran a horrible campaign in 2010 and surrendered votes a better GOP candidate would've won. This time around it's Brown who is running a bad campaign. As noted by Heather Mizeur, Brown's campaign has been relentlessly negative and, as described by the Baltimore Sun, "strikingly dishonest." Who knows how all of that will shake out.

The sample also assumed an electorate that would be 29% African American - essentially what it was in 2012. Based on weak primary turnout in PG County and Baltimore City, the final share may be lower than 29%. The poll found Hogan beating Brown 3 to 1 among white voters, but Hogan was only attracting 13% of the African American vote. Hogan was winning Independents by 2 to 1 and was receiving a 25% of the Democratic vote. The numbers all made sense. There were many undecideds and the poll pointed to a lot of unease with Brown.

And the most interesting aspect of the poll, to me, were the questions asking "How much have you seen, read, or heard recently about Anthony Brown/Larry Hogan and his campaign for Governor?" Then folks were asked "would you say you have a MUCH (more/less) favorable impression of him?" Now 2/3 of respondents said they learned some or a lot about Hogan during the campaign and by a 55-32% margin, what they learned made them feel more favorable toward him. But 3/4 indicated learning some or a lot about Brown and by 34-48% margin what the learned made them feel less favorable toward him.
It suggests Brown's negative campaign has backfired.

Is the poll a fluke? A bad sample? We'll find out Tuesday. But the findings certainly help to explain all of the high profile visitors like the Clintons and Obamas trying to rally support. The finding also help explain the recent mailing by the MD Democratic party that attempted to link the election to the incident in Ferguson, MO. The poll found Brown receiving 60% of the African-American vote. Hogan was at 13%. So 27% of African-Americans were undecided a week before an election where Brown could become the state's first African-American governor. You have wonder, if Brown can't count on the overwhelming support of the Democratic party's most loyal voters then how many other normally Democratic voters are equally ambivalent about him?

As a political scientist, I'm trained to predict the the future based observation of the past. As such, I have to believe that Brown is likely to win this race. Democrats have tremendous structural advantages in the state and come Tuesday we could see Hogan win by 3 or lose by 10. But it is becoming easier to see Hogan's path to victory. Though it's still hard to see how Hogan could be 5 points up in a state that has only elected two GOP governors in the last 45 years. It's hard as well to accept that Brown could be doing worse than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. But this poll reveals real trouble for Brown. And he may well find himself the second MD heir apparent to have stumbled on his way to the coronation.

Tuesday will tell the tale.