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A Candidate Focused on His Day Job

04.10.2014

By Laslo Boyd

The 2014 Maryland General Assembly session is now in the record books and the members of the legislature – as well other public officials – can turn either to campaigning for the June primary election or contemplating retirement.

As Josh Kurtz pointed out on Tuesday in this space, an unusually large number of members of the General Assembly have decided not to return in 2015. Others likely will have that decision made for them by the voters in June or November. 

Candidates for statewide office can now focus all their attention on campaigning, including fundraising.  Given that voters are not yet paying much attention to elections and the prospect that turnout in June may be stunningly low, it is interesting to ask whether any candidate actually helped him or herself during the legislative session.

However, if one of the significant ways in which a candidate demonstrates readiness for higher office is by doing a good job in the office she or he currently holds, the session provides some relevant insights about the candidates running for governor and attorney general.

Although the three contenders for the Democratic nomination for Governor will undoubtedly send out press release extolling their successes, none of them had a session that was particularly noteworthy. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown will claim credit for the Administration bills that passed, but his record on such claims in the past has raised uncomfortable questions for him.

For Brown, the major news story of the past three months was the announcement that Maryland is going to abandon its health care website and switch to a version used by Connecticut.  The Lieutenant Governor continues to avoid taking responsibility for the failure of what he had earlier trumpeted as a prime example of his leadership. Still, the public acknowledgment that the State has given up on its initial web site has to be seen as a blow to Brown.

Attorney General Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur were, on the whole, bystanders during the General Assembly session.  Everyone was for raising the minimum wage and for expanding pre-K education, so those issues are a wash despite some back-and-forth about who was the “most” for any of them.

Mizeur initially advocated for legalization of marijuana. However, the legislature instead went for the more cautious step of decriminalization of possession of small amounts of the substance.  She was definitely out in front on this issue, but whether it will have much effect on the electorate seems doubtful.  On her efforts to index future increases in the minimum wage, she generated almost no support at all.

Gansler identified himself most directly with a bill to increase the penalty for committing an act of domestic violence in the presence of a minor. The legislation passed, but, again, is unlikely to draw much attention from the electorate.

The efforts of the candidates for Attorney General present a somewhat different picture.  In light of Delegate Aisha Braveboy’s minimalist campaign, with little money raised, evaluating her efforts during the General Assembly isn’t particularly relevant even with her active role in the Legislative Black Caucus.

A second candidate, Delegate Jon Cardin, through a strategy of continuous press releases, tried to claim credit for bills on which he had little impact and made pronouncements on many other issues.  One of the most curious of those press releases was a joint one with Delegate Luiz Simmons calling on the Senate to act on their “Revenge Porn Bill.”  Given that Simmons is one of the least well-regarded members of the House of Delegates, it is puzzling that Cardin wanted to associate with him so publicly.

The candidate for Attorney General whose work in the General Assembly session was significant and substantive was Senator Brian Frosh, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. 

The most important bill was one that changed the burden of proof for individuals seeking protective custody orders. This legislation, which had died in previous years in the House, was a top priority of victims’ rights and women’s groups and was incorporated into the Administration’s legislative package.  Frosh, however, was the real leader on the effort.

Another Frosh bill on domestic violence that passed this session closed a legal gap in the time frame between temporary and permanent protective orders.  A third outlawed a particularly disgusting practice known as “Rape by Proxy” that previously was not covered by any statute.  The term refers to a person using social media to pose as an ex-spouse and invite others to engage in sex with her or him.

At the request of the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association, Frosh managed to correct a legal defect in current law that sets the statute of limitations on felonies committed with a handgun at one year.  The new law makes the time frame for prosecution of the use of a handgun in a felony the same as for the felony itself.

In reviewing the results of the session, I also found an interesting historical footnote.  In 1861, Maryland was one of three states which ratified a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have prevented Congress from overriding any state law on slavery.  Maryland’s ratification of that law was repealed by SJ 1, sponsored by Frosh.

Will yet another session of leadership in the Senate be helpful to Frosh’s campaign to be elected Maryland’s Attorney General?  Or will having an opponent with a famous last name be too much to overcome?  

There are now little more two months until the primary, and a lot will happen in that time.  For voters who are paying attention and turn out at the polls, the difference in the qualifications of the candidates is strikingly clear.   

As to the gubernatorial candidates, Anthony Brown is likely to continue his Maryland version of a “Rose Garden” strategy, Doug Gansler will have to decide how hard he goes after Brown in television ads, and Heather Mizeur won’t have the money to compete. What a way to select the next governor.