I don't have a whole lot to say about the whole "Kratovil hanged in effigy" incident -- it appears to be the act of a lone wolf wingnut rather than something endorsed by a conservative group of any significance -- but I think this is of a piece with the Birther movement: Republicans, and conservatives in general, are increasingly unable to keep extremist sentiments from clouding their political message. Of course, having courted extremist sentiment for so long, you could kind of see this one coming.
Plus, the story gives me an excuse to use the Rilo Kiley lyric from More Adventurous for a title.
James Surowiecki's article this week in the New Yorker is a must-read. He discusses how the recession could be prolonged by the budget crises the states are facing -- that is, slashing state spending on education, health care, transportation, etc., shrinks GDP, puts people out of work, and deprives people of services most needed during an economic downturn. This is the "fifty little Hoovers" argument that many commentators have made. While the stimulus package seems to have alleviated some of the pressure, the money doled out hasn't kept up with need. Maryland, for one, faces a $700 million deficit for the next fiscal year.
Surowiecki goes further, arguing that the legacy of federalism in the US could act as a major obstacle to economic recovery:
Fiscal federalism also makes it harder to spend the stimulus money efficiently. Much of the tens of billions of dollars that will be spent on roads, for instance, will be funneled through the states. As a result, a disproportionate amount of the money will be spent in rural areas (which exert disproportionate influence on state governments), leaving cities--which happen to have most of the people and most of the traffic--shortchanged.
Even more important, federalism is getting in the way of the creation of a "smart" American power grid. This would involve turning the current hodgepodge of regional and state grids into a genuinely national grid, which would detect and respond to problems as they happen, giving users more information about and control over their electricity use, and so on... But since nobody likes power lines running through his property, building the grid would require overriding or placating the states--and the prospects of that aren't great.
I would add to this analysis the point that the way in which the federal government shares financial or operational responsibility with the states can go a long way toward improving the effectiveness of these programs. For example, Marc Korman recently discussed some proposed reforms to federal transportation funding that would, among other things, make mass transit projects more attractive than they are under current formulas. If states want to invest more heavily in mass transit, it will help to have the federal government be more inviting to such projects. Whether these reforms are adopted is another matter, however: If rural areas exert disproportionate influence on state governments, their influence on the federal government, thanks to the US Senate, is gargantuan.
It's also worth asking whether certain federal-state partnerships, even those that aren't inherently of an interstate nature, make sense in the first place. Take Medicaid, for example: the program was designed from the beginning to be run jointly by the states and the federal government, and ever since has been plagued by inconsistent eligibility rules and inadequate funding -- and, thanks to the recession, it now weighs heavily on most states' budgets. No surprise, then, that the House health care reform bill would expand Medicaid eligibility solely with federal dollars -- and could possibly open the door to federalizing Medicaid outright. I would be fine with that, as it seems that the federal government does a much better job of running health care (e.g., Medicare, the VA health care system) than the states. But I'd be interested in hearing from those who think Medicaid would be better off remaining jointly run.
UPDATE: Also worth reading is Ben Adler's account of states grappling with dwindling operating funds for mass transit -- even as new transit projects are in construction.
That rather frank admission is included in a new fund-raising solicitation sent out this week by James Pelura, the embattled chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.
Pelura, who has refused to resign despite a no-confidence vote last week by the party's executive committee, writes that he is "honored and humbled to be your Chairman and guide our party to relevancy and victory."
And indeed their financial troubles are severe, as Adam Pagnucco recently noted. While the county organizations are doing fine, the state party has, at last count, only $58 in the bank, and over $57,000 in debt. And that's not including the more than $77,000 the party was recently ordered to pay to Michael Steele's campaign account.
Perhaps the Maryland GOP can qualify for a bailout?
So I just got an email from a former Free State Politics blogger, OnBackground taking issue with the analysis of Marc Korman over at Maryland Politics Watch. Korman wrote a piece this afternoon on the players in the at-large race for next year. OnBackground pointed out that while Korman relied on current fundraising data (more than a year before the next primary) and unexplained analysis that Nancy Floreen is "viewed as safe," the best indicator of who is vulnerable is how they finished in the 2006 Democratic primary. As you can see from the below primary vote totals, the at-large Councilmember with the least votes is Nancy Floreen.
COUNTY COUNCIL AT LARGE
Leventhal, George L.
Subin, Michael L.
Newsome, Robert Bo
Petrides, Bette Dale
Jacobs, William Andr
While I think Korman's theme is a worthwhile subject of speculation (who will run for what and why they should or should not do so), and OnBackground makes a good point about Floreen's vulnerability and Elrich's relative positive standing, that's not the point. The real point is that unlike some of the stuff on MPW, this post really offered very little new information or insightful analysis. It's reasoning for why some people might not want to run for a district seat was all too superficial. I guess, the real questio is, MPW, where's the beef?
Staff News: You always hear what the big names are doing, but what about the folks behind the scenes who often write the legislation, design the strategies, build the relationships and otherwise make political leaders' initiatives and movement possible? Well, from time to time we'd like to mention those folks.
To whit, it appears that Comptroller Peter Franchot's Chief of Staff Len Foxwell (formerly in the Glendening Admin, supporter of Duncan for Gov. and govt relations with the Board of Trade) has moved up to Deputy Comptroller. At the same time, Craig Zucker (formerly with SEIU and Rep. Al Wynn's office), is moving from Deputy CoS into the Chief of Staff slot.
Tidbits - it's been a slow newsday, but there are a few tidbits from across the state:
In Anne Arundel, a veteran school board member was just chosen to fill a vacancy on the County Council by the council itself. Neat arrangement!
In Prince George’s, County Executive Jack Johnson isn’t thrilled by the less than speedy confirmation process for his WSSC appointment.
In one of the most rare kinds of news political junkies ever hear, Wicomico County Board of Education member Robin Holloway is stepping down from the presidency.
And in some of the least fun news of the day, the headline from The Capital speaks for itself: “DNR, activists spar on method of swan-killing.” I'm thinking that very few of us will read past the headline.
Free Staters are coming to the realization that the American ideal of equality for all means that everyone should have the same right. We eagerly await Attorney General Doug Gansler's opinion on whether Maryland will recognize valid marriages between same sex couples in other states. At the same time, more and more of us are standing up for equality. And that makes for a powerful force as we head into the 2010 elections.
Cynthia Nixon at Equality Maryland's annual gala, reminds our elected officials that the supporters of equality are watching carefully...
(Hat tip to Judd Legum, candidate for Delegate in Ann Arundel’s 30th)
I highly recommend this CAP article on the appalling state of the water in the Potomac River and what can be done to remedy it. It seems bizarre that those of us who live in the Washington metro area have come to tolerate a situation in which the river has been deemed unsafe for swimming by the District and whose small-mouth bass population has suddenly become 80% hermaphroditic, but there it is.
The state of the Potomac also signals the importance of land use policy, which is already a key component to everything from climate change to traffic congestion. In this case, it seems less a matter of sprawl vs. density -- as is often the case in land use -- than a matter of jiggering existing developments to allow for a more natural flow of water. At the same time, it's arguably the case that denser development, with fewer roads, would have less of an impact on the land, and thus allow fewer opportunities for polluted runoff to find its way to the river.
Then there's the contribution of agricultural pollution to the Potomac's problems, which may be just as hard to solve, if not harder. Seen in the light of the efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, into which the Potomac empties, it may seem like a lost cause: enforcement of existing regulations has been so poor for so long, what reason have we to believe things will turn around? To make matters worse, federal money for farm conservation efforts -- which includes runoff prevention in the Chesapeake watershed -- is slated to be cut by around $250 million.
UPDATE: If you want some more bad news, check out the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new report on the dangers pollution in the Chesapeake pose to human health.
Ron Elving's column on the National Governors Association's annual conference this week, and the diminished stature of most governors, is worth a read. While most of the column is about the various scandals that have broken in the last year or two (e.g., Mark Sanford, Rod Blagojevich, et al) the key grafs concern the how the economic crisis has affected the ability of governors to get things done:
The economy is, of course, the main source of grief for governors of all stripes and in all regions. From Florida to Oregon, state governments are being forced to slash programs, lay off workers and, where possible, raise taxes as well.
Coping with that economy will be the main order of business at the NGA meeting, where frustration is likely to reign. There is not much a governor can do about unemployment approaching double digits (where it's not there already). Yet governors take the heat for all the unpopular measures they must take in a down economy.
Many political scientists and other observers continue to view the states as the laboratories of good governance, a source of hope for civic success. But a combination of hard times and bad behavior has battered this belief. And it has done even more to damage the image of the governor as the glamorous executive, the can-do source of solutions.
Neither tax increases nor budget cuts are popular, but governors, including Gov. O'Malley, have been forced to do both in response to the recession. Maryland, at least, is fortunate not to have California-style levels of political dysfunction; closing the deficit has mainly been a distasteful, but feasible, task, rather than a fiscal Armageddon.
What's interesting to me is that Gov. O'Malley does not seem to have suffered all that much on account of the lousy economy. The last poll that I'm aware of, from January, had his approval rating at 49%, and that had been on a upward trend since the beginning of 2008. And during that time, he signed off on a fair number of budget cuts as a member of the Board of Public Works. Granted, those cuts were much smaller than what the General Assembly approved in the most recent session, but I'd like to see what O'Malley's ratings are now, after that last round of cuts. Of course, the better question to ask may be, what will O'Malley's approval rating be after the (likely) next round of cuts -- during an election year.