Guest Post: Healthcare Hecklers: Grassroots or Harris & Ehrlich Proxy

Periodically we are going to have guest posts to this blog from all sides of the political spectrum. We give each guest the opportunity to write about anything they want and their posts are unedited by this blog. The first guest post is written by Steve Lebowitz also affectionately known as “justdafacts”. See his post below:

Healthcare Hecklers: Grassroots or Harris & Ehrlich Proxy

Professional and well funded Astroturf operations on both sides of the healthcare debate have attracted national attention, but little has been said about their presence in Maryland. Someone from the other team can ferret out pro-Democratic activity in the Free State; I’m after Republicans.

At least two Washington groups tied to the GOP have set up camp in Maryland with an emphasis on targeting Rep. Frank Kratovil:

Americans For Prosperity (AFP)

  • Consistent with its record of moving into states either during tight races or after Democrats win tight races, AFP appeared in Maryland, its 25th state, soon after Rep. Kratovil narrowly won a packed Republican district.
  • AFP hired Maryland state director Dave Schwartz, a longtime Ehrlich aide, straight from the Harris congressional campaign. Mr. Schwartz stayed on with the Harris campaign after the election, drawing his last paycheck on February 1, 2009; by March 2, 2009 he was blogging on the AFP website on behalf of “AFP Maryland.” From Harris to AFP—Same goal, new boss.
  • Another 1st CD GOP activist, Nick Loffer, appears to be on the AFP payroll. Nothing wrong with that [correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Loffer] but it underscores the absurdity of AFP’s claim to be a non-partisan organization.
  • AFP Maryland’s volunteer affiliate, AFP Lower Shore, has been a principle promoter of anti-Kratovil protests, although they were not responsible for the effigy incident as widely reported elsewhere.

AFP has been busy in Maryland with much more than drumming up opposition to Rep. Kratovil, but Mr. Schwartz or a spokesperson from AFP would be strained to deny that targeting the 1st CD incumbent isn’t high on the agenda. We won’t know for a long time how much money AFP is spending on its agenda right now, but in 2007, the most recent year for which I could get my hands on their returns, AFP and AFP Foundation spent $9.5 million in 20 states. That’s a lot of “change in a teabag.”

In 2007 the going rate for AFP state directors was $72,000 to $115,000 annually, and that year AFP reported a combined $2.3 million in payments for “consulting. Would someone please call the Ehrlichs’ WBAL radio show tomorrow morning and ask if AFP or any of its affiliates are paying his firm’s Strategic Communications Team or any other entity of his firm for any services. Gov. Ehrlich remains the Maryland GOP’s eight hundred pound elephant, and he forgot to mention his ties to Mr. Schwartz last week on his radio show (he has disclosed that in prior appearances) so it’s fair to ask what role he might be playing in Maryland’s take on the tea party/town hall craze.

Institute For Liberty

This boutique of a Washington conservative political operation is part think tank and part action center. Its prolific president, Queen Anne’s County resident and Maryland GOP central committee member Andrew Langer, is no stranger to these pages. By coincidence of residence if for no other reason, Mr. Langer has trained the resources of his organization on Rep. Kratovil. The Institute For Liberty ran an orderly picket of a Kratovil district office [notice the AFP sign in the photo], and somehow, Mr. Langer’s “personal press release” picking on Rep. Kratovil found its way onto the Institute For Liberty’s Scribd page, alongside lofty tomes like, “Property Rights: Twin Promises for Postwar Iraq” and “How to Brew a Tea Party.”

What if, after all the tea parties, tracking, and district office pickets, Andy Harris loses the GOP primary to Sen. Pipkin or another ambitious colleague? No matter; re-election might be a squeaker for Rep. Kratovil, but there’s more to the 1st C.D. electorate than tea partiers, and many of those attending his town hall meetings have been leaving very pleased with the way their new congressman handles his job. I predict his re-election.

– Steve Lebowitz, Annapolis

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Pelura’s Fake Olive Branch

We told you about Jim Pelura going to the RNC, hat in hand, to beg for money. We told you about Maryland GOP Chairman Jim Pelura’s hack Andrew Langer leaking confidential information to the press. (Andrew Langer refutes it here) Now the Washington Post has Jim Pelura making an insincere offer to Republican legislators.

The Washington Post printed an e-mail/letter exchange between Pelura and House Republican leaders Tony O’Donnell and Chris Shank.

“In an e-mail last week, Pelura informed O’Donnell and Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) that he had asked Mykel Harris, chairman of the Prince George’s GOP Central Committee, to head a commission to develop the contract. The commission, Pelura wrote, would include state and local Republican party officials, members of GOP clubs and other Republican activists.”

This is more than just a dumbfounded chairman on his last leg attempting to reach out to the people who could make or break him, this is a slippery PR ploy to make him look like Mr. Unity. How do we know? Because the legislative contract was already written by Charles Lollar – former MDGOP Tax Commission Chair and unqualified gubernatorial candidate and Pelura confidant – who posted it to his web site here:

So, Jim and Charles, and Prince George’s County Republican Chairman Mykel Harris, have already written the agenda. They just need to legitimize it thus giving inspiration to email the legislative leaders.

Their first mistake was attempting to play Del. Shank and Del. O’Donnell as a couple of novices (Tony’s taken his lumps going after bigger fish than Pelura.)

Tony and Chris wrote back that they need to take the lead, not some broken party apparatus:

” ‘The Contract with America, in 1994, was developed by experienced policymakers in the Congress under the leadership of the House Minority Whip at the time, Newt Gingrich, with assistance from many other members like Dick Armey of Texas,’ O’Donnell and Shank wrote. ‘The policymaking experience and political expertise for such an endeavor similarly exists within our joint caucus membership. … We know the policy, and we know how such policy relates to winning elections.'”

And they let Jim know they’re still not friends.

“‘We continue to have a lack of confidence in this chairman to prepare the party for statewide quadrennial elections just 15 months away. He seems to want to focus efforts into the policy arena while falling down on core fundamentals of party building activities. It is our political opinion that the state party chairman should excel at some very fundamental items before he delves into the realm of policy making. In our opinion, the chairman should be focused on improving the fundraising performance of our state party. He is still paying off debt that he has incurred years later, and we are less than five months away from being in a quadrennial statewide election year. … Maybe he hopes someone in Washington will magically send us a bailout for the Maryland GOP. How does the MDGOP criticize the Dem’s for out of control spending, a bailout mentality, or spending beyond their means, with this situation hanging out there?'”

Ouch.

*As a side note, it was this blog that first used the terms “bailout for the MDGOP” which was then picked up by Baltimore Sun and now used in an email from the GOP House Leadership.

McDonough for Gov? Not so much

Delegate Pat McDonough R-7 announced on WCBM radio this week that he was considering running for Governor. This just adds another office to the long list he has said he was “considering” since 2006. First it was the Senate seat being vacated by Andy Harris, then the County Executive race, and now a race for Governor. Next thing you know he will be talking about making a trip to Iowa…

GA Harrison over at RedMaryland has a good conservative response to McDonough considering the race.

Pat McDonough is a one-trick pony – Illegal Immigration. He even had Tom Tancredo do a fundraiser for him earlier this year – need this author say more?

Delegate McDonough is not a credible candidate. This author’s assessment is that he probably just wanted to get his name in the news again which he accomplished. Delegate McDonough makes a good delegate and should probably stay there.

One interesting question does come to mind: Will Pat be able to keep his radio show on WCBM or will he have to give it up? Wouldn’t allowing him to continue to get all of that airtime to promote himself and his candidacy be a campaign contribution from the station itself? I guess the same question can be asked about the Ehrlich’s on WBAL. Will they have to give up their show?

Impact of Health Care Protests in MD

Today, the Baltimore Sun has an editorial titled “Cynical Manipulation” that says “those who are protesting loudest about the health reform proposals being considered care little about the facts.” The editorial is particularly critical of Ellen Sauerbrey saying “should definitely know better” and that “she’s certainly sophisticated enough to find out the truth.”

Not a single member of Congress, including Ben Cardin, protester, or member of the Baltimore Sun Editorial Page has read the 1200 page bill so the truth is that no one knows the facts about the bill. The bill on page 971 could have a line that says no one will be allowed to drink soda on Thursdays, and no one would know about it right now because no one has read the bill. This blog encourages the Baltimore Sun to write an editorial encouraging a requirement that every member of Congress read the entire health care reform bill prior to voting on it and take the time to dispel some of the wilder talking points from both sides of the debate. The Baltimore Sun should also encourage members of Congress to place a copy of the bill online in an easily searchable format so the general public can review the “facts.”

The entire debate on health care is eerily similar to the 2005 debate on social security reform led by then President Bush and the Republican Congress. Democratic and liberal interest groups slammed the reform idea claiming it is “privatizing social security” and would mean seniors would lose their security blanket. Each of these arguments were untrue. Did the Baltimore Sun criticize them? No. The left-leaning groups never offered any solutions to make social security solvent for the long term. Instead they instituted scare tactics. Was the Baltimore Sun Editorial page as critical of those groups as they were of the health care protesters? No.

What is interesting is that two years after that debate, Democrats took over control of Congress. Attacking Social Security united a fractured Democratic base and began the alienation of America’s seniors from the Grand Ole Party.

This debate also reminds me of the immigration reform debate in that there were extremists on both sides. Some on the far left wanted completely open borders and some on the far right wanted to ship every illegal back to Mexico. Neither of these were serious solutions. The truth is that in every debate their are extremes. Some of the health care protesters are on the extreme side. Sadly the Baltimore Sun editorial and many other media outlets focus on the extremists instead of those who have legitimate concerns such as whether they will be able to keep their own health care, what the cost will be, will they have access to the same quality of care, and will this lower the costs they pay.

The protests and debate could have a real impact on Maryland.

The bad news for Republicans first. Republicans will not be able to make major gains in Maryland at the federal level in 2010. Barbara Mikulski will win reelection with 65% of the vote at least. Ruppersburger, Sarbanes, Edwards, Hoyer, Van Hollen, and Cummings will all get reelected by wide margins. Depending on who Republicans nominate and the type of campaign they run (meaning Andy Harris can’t run a repeat of 2008), Frank Kratovil will probably lose. The impact won’t really be felt at the federal level.

The good news for Republicans is that these protests and Democratic overreaching will unite the Republican Party (a difficult thing to do with all of the in-fighting we discussed here).

A united party will help down ballot races. Local delegates and senators will get a 3-5% bump from an energized Republican Party and ticked off Independents.

More bad news for the Democrats is that the health care reform bill is alienating the same seniors (See Politico article) they won over with social security scare tactics. The single largest group concerned about the Health Care Reform Bill is seniors. A July 31st Gallup Poll showed only 20% of people 65+ believe health care reform would improve their own situation. The benefit for Republicans is that seniors are the highest percentage voting population. With Democrats alienating them, Republicans have an opportunity to get their votes.

The bottom line is protesters should focus on the cost of the bill, the potential for bureaucrats getting in the way of the doctor-patient relationship, and the potential to limit access to physicians, instead of things that make them look like extremists (ie “Death panels”).

Mark Newgent over on RedMaryland has a critique of the The Baltimore Sun’s Editorial as well right here.

Cardin Town Hall

The news and blogosphere is being dominated by the town hall Senator Ben Cardin held last night at Towson University.

Here are some of the best links for info on the event:

Missed the town hall, no sweat (literally you would not have been sweating anywhere near as much as those present). You can watch the entire town hall on C-SPAN HERE

News Coverage:

WBAL Radio has audio quotes from people on both sides

Baltimore Sun says “Opponents Dominate Town Hall Meeting”

Towson Times has a great photo of the lined street and very neutral almost pro-reform “Scores turn out for Cardin Town Hall”

Fox News picked up the AP Story

ABC2News in Baltimore “Protestors Rally Against Health Care Reform”

Baltimore Business Journal “Cardin, public, spar over health reform”

Blogs Coverage:

Think Progress got in on it “Protests at Cardin Town Hall Feature AFP Book, ‘Death Panel’ Warnings, and Obama-Hitler Signs”

Michelle Malkin “Overflow Crowd at Cardin Town Hall”

RedMaryland has multiple posts: this one by Dr. Richard Vatz and this one by Mark Newgent

Joe Albero at SBYNews had lots of Photos

GA Harrison on Delmarva Dealings “Ben Cardin Recruits Help from ACORN SEIU”

The Jawa Report “Sire, the People are Revolting”

For those looking ahead, The Baltimore Sun is preparing an editorial criticizing the health care protesters.

Shank vs Munson, Old vs New

The 2010 cycle could produce some very interesting primaries for Republicans across the state. Today we will highlight one of those potential primaries.

Maryland Republicans may have a Republican Primary in Senate District 2. According to sources in Washington County, Minority Whip Chris Shank is looking to move up to the State Senate and is considering a primary challenge to Senator Don Munson.

Delegate Shank is widely known to be considering a run for Congressman Bartlett’s congressional seat when he retires. The Senate would be a much better stepping stone for a congressional run than a Delegate seat. Also it would put him on par with Senator Alex Mooney who is also a leading contender for Congress when Bartlett retires.

Delegate Shank would give Senator Munson a run for his money, though if he loses, he can kiss his congressional hopes goodbye.

When we think of Shank and Munson it is new school vs old school.  Washington County is in the transformation from old to new. Will Shank assume the risks?

What’s Jack Johnson Running for?

The Washington Post’s “Maryland Moment” blog has a great scoop.

Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson is “very much, definitely” considering a run for statewide office.

The County Executive is term limited in 2010 from seeking office again.

Wagner also provides these tidbits:

Johnson said he has been raising money, and plans to embark on a statewide listening tour after Labor Day to “see what interest there is” in him running.

Johnson said his tour will include visits to the Eastern Shore and the Baltimore region, and that he “should have a good feel” by November of whether he’ll throw his hat in the ring.

Asked if he was considering a run for governor, he said he’d “just stick with ‘statewide office’ ” as his answer, implicitly declining to rule out a challenge to incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Back in February, Jack Johnson had floated this idea to the Gazette Editorial Board but he had been pretty quiet since then.

As an African American candidate, Johnson should be able to count on the African American community as  a strong base in a Democratic primary. When you add in that his home base is in PG County and the Greater Washington Suburbs of Montgomery and Charles (which make up nearly half the Democratic Primary vote), Johnson could be a serious contender.