Gansler comes to Dundalk
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:57

Douglas Gansler

Democratic hopeful sits for Eagle interview

by Ben Boehl

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler has been campaigning across the state in his battle with fellow Democrats Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur to become the party’s nominee for governor.
    Last week, his itinerary included a hastily-arranged stop at the Dundalk Eagle office.
    “Dundalk is one of my favorite places. This is where the O’Malley-Brown administration is least liked,” Gansler joked.
    He said he plans to make Brown’s time as Gov. Martin O’Malley’s lieutenant governor a central element of the campaign, arguing that the performance of the current administration should be the yardstick by which Brown is measured in his own gubernatorial campaign.
Drawing contrasts
    Gansler pointed to the recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that Maryland lost 9,800 jobs in January and a reported 23,000 jobs between December 2012 to December 2013.
    He laid the blame on tax increases, which he said are hurting businesses and stifling job creation.
    “We need jobs. I don’t think they get it. They raised taxes 40 times,” Gansler said.
    Referring to last year’s campaign by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lure Maryland businesses to his state, Gansler said, “There is a reason why Perry picked Maryland. [The tax increases] have gotten national attention.”
    Gansler leveled other criticisms at Brown, including faulting him for what the attorney general called a lack of administrative and managerial experience.
    “He’s never managed anything,” Gansler said tersely.   
    The lieutenant governor has endured significant criticism for his leadership of the Maryland Health Exchange program, which has experienced enrollment problems mirroring those of the federal program. Gansler called the criticism “fair game.”
    “He has had six and a half years [in the administration],” Gansler said. “Without any management background, this has been his test — and we’ve seen how he has done. There’s been waste, and there’s been deception.”

The alternative

    The performance of the state health exchange enrollment system, Gansler said, is so poor that he is calling upon the administration to “at least give people the option” of enrolling under the federal system instead.
    Meanwhile, on the jobs front, he has proposed a 30-point plan that includes raising the state’s minimum wage — “the right thing to do,” he said, “and it actually helps productivity by reducing turnover and the need for retraining.”
    Other elements of Gansler’s economic plan include cutting the state’s corporate tax rate to create more favorable business conditions, while balancing out the lost revenue by eliminating a wide range of “loopholes and tax breaks that cost money but don’t do much good.”
    While the state’s Department of Legislative Services has projected that the cost of Gansler’s proposal would be about $300 million per year, and the Office of Policy Analysis has said that revenue increases due to economic growth would make up only about half of that loss, Gansler said he thinks the results would be far better, especially if the state makes the most of its highly-educated workforce and its solid transportation resources.
    Those advantages are not universal in the state, he noted, and he laid out his proposals for filling the gaps.
    He told The Eagle that he advocates expanded training programs to help workers — like those formerly employed at the Sparrows Point steel mill, he said — learn new skills that will prepare them for a changing job market.
    Gansler also proposes to aid and promote an expanded trucking industry in Maryland in order to take advantage of potential increases in port traffic in the wake of the Pannama Canal expansion.
    Even state pensions and contracts, he told The Eagle, can contribute to job growth in the state. He noted that his jobs plan includes a proposal to target the investment of state pension funds toward companies that created jobs in the state, as well as another to require that state contractors use Maryland workers.

    While touting Maryland’s highly educated workforce, Gansler was critical of the state’s achievement gap in public education between black, Latino and poorer students and white, more affluent students.
    “We have to go with Common Core,” he said  in support of the national curriculum standards currently being implemented in Maryland and other states.
    Gansler also said he favors allocating money for “higher quality teachers.” He said that, as governor, he would ensure that the proceeds generated by state-supported gambling would help fund salary increases for teachers and other education initiatives. [Currently, gambling revenues fund an education fund which is then borrowed from for a variety of purposes.]
    Gansler also favors a two-track educational system that would give 16 year-olds in public schools a choice between college preparatory and vocational curriculums.  
The environment
    Gansler voiced support for the levying of fees by county and municipal governments for the purpose of complying with stormwater run off limits mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency — what critics call the “rain tax.”
    “The Chesapeake Bay is far worse than what’s said,” he explained. 
    Asks about criticisms of fees, Gansler said that counties and municipalities have the authority to remedy any apparent inequities in the fees.
    Gansler said he tentatively supports the export of natural gas from the Cove Point facility in Calvert County, pending the project’s approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He noted the site’s relative isolation as a buffer against any accidents.

Marijuana laws
    Gansler also addressed the issue of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana for either medical or recreational use.
    Bills seeking to expand medical marijuana access and decriminalize small amounts of marijuana are currently being considered in the General Assembly.
    Gansler acknowledged the national trend toward loosening marijuana laws, predicting decriminalization “almost everywhere relatively soon.”
    While he does favor making medical marijuana available to patients who will genuinely benefit, he did point out that the medical marijuana system has been abused in other states.
    Gansler also explained that he does favor decriminalization of marijuana, though he is not on board with full legalization.
    “I’m not there yet,” he noted.
    In any case, Gansler  indicated that he prefers a slow, incremental approach to modifying marijuana laws, preferring to see how policy changes in other states work out before committing to a course of action in Maryland.
By the numbers
    Gansler hopes promoting his own proposals, as well as getting voters to take a critical look at Brown, will help him make up ground against the frontrunner.
    A recent Washington Post poll showed Brown leading Gansler by a 34 to 15 percent margin in the Democratic primary race, with  Mizeur trailing at 8 percent.
    A Baltimore Sun poll yielded similar numbers, with Brown at 35 percent compared to Gansler’s  14 percent and Mizeur’s 10 percent.
    Both polls were conducted in mid-February and both indicated that over 40 percent of voters are still undecided.
    Gansler is confident that he will get many of those undecided voters.
    “We have had to run on name recognition. We have been able to do well in places like Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and other conservative districts,” Gansler said, adding that he considers himself a conservative Democrat.
    Asked about Mizeur’s role in the race, Gansler admitted that he is concerned about dividing the anti-administration vote — “I can’t imagine her taking [votes] from Brown. She’ll take votes from me,” he said  — but said he believes Mizeur’s poll numbers will eventually go down.
    “I don’t think she will get her vote any higher.”
    His focus, he said, is on Brown.

The political battle
    Gansler noted how many high-profile Democrats in the state were quick to endorse the lieutenant governor. “The Democratic machine has lined up behind Brown,” the attorney general said.
    He pointed to Del. John Olszewski Jr., who, along with his father Council John Olszewski Sr., is a supporter of Brown.
    [The elder Olszewski is co-chair of Brown’s Baltimore County campaign.]
    Gansler said he believes that Del. Olszewski is endorsing the ticket mostly because of his close relationship with Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
    “John [Olszewski] Jr. can’t stand Brown with all those taxes, but he was in Ken Ulman’s wedding.” Gansler asserted.
    His own campaign, he said, is focused more on issues than on endorsements.
    “If you go to (Brown’s) website, he has all the endorsements and we have all the policies on our site.”
    The same focus on winning instead of policy, Gansler claimed, can be seen in Brown’s fundraising.
    “His [campaign finance] reports are like a corruption rap sheet,” the attorney general alleged.
    One remedy, he said, is to create a database cross-referencing state contracts and campaign contributions, which would both help fight corruption in the contracting process and save the state money on bad contracts.
    Gansler criticized the lack of transparency in the procurement process under the O’Malley administration. In particular, he linked the lack of competitive bids for the contract to run Maryland Health Exchange to the program’s problems.

Working together
    For his part, Gansler has both raised a substantial war chest and earned some endorsements of his own, most notably from the Baltimore-based Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a religious and civil rights organization with a long history of influence in state and local politics.
    Given its history and makeup, the group might have been expected to embrace the potential election of Brown as Maryland’s first African-American governor, but Gansler credited the group with looking past race to emphasize policy.
    He also gave credit to the woman he hopes will be the state’s next lieutenant governor: Prince George’s County Del. Jolene Ivey.
    Ivey may be familiar to some Dundalkians for her work with local legislators  Sen. Norman Stone and Del. Joseph “Sonny” Minnick on a flood insurance-reform bill in 2010.
    Gansler noted that Ivey would be the first African-American woman in the country to be elected as lieutenant governor of a state, and said he asked Ivey why she wants to run against Brown and try to keep him from becoming Maryland’s first African-American governor.    
    Ivey’s response, Gansler said, was that in her eyes, Brown has not done enough for African-Americans.
    He spoke highly of the two-term delegate’s character and focus.
    “She is into parenting issues. She raised five boys. She is tough,” Gansler said about Ivey.
    “She’s more of a liberal Democrat, and I’m more of a conservative Democrat, but we work together. And we can get this state to work together. Which is what we have to do, anyway.”

Early missteps
    Gansler’s campaign was plagued last fall by incidents which opponents used to call his judgment into question.
    The commander of the Maryland state police executive protection section said Gansler regularly instructed his state trooper drivers to speed, run red lights, bypass traffic jams and use lights and sirens while driving him to routine appointments.
    Also in October, The Sun published a photo of Gansler at a beach-house party in Delaware during which underage drinking was taking place.
    Gansler said he does not think voters care about the two incidents, but expects the stories will re-emerge as the election approaches.
    “[Brown’s campaign] can’t attack me on policy issues,” so they’ll try to attack his character, Gansler told The Eagle.
    The state police official who wrote the report, Lt. Charles Ardolini, is closely aligned with O’Malley and Brown, Gansler said.
    No troopers who drove him went public with such complaints, Gansler said.
    In October, Gansler admitted to being a back-seat driver and apologized to any troopers made uncomfortable by his actions.
    Any suggestions he made were only suggestions the troopers were free to ignore, a Gansler spokesman said at the time.
    The photograph of Gansler at the beach-house party was taken in June at a rental home in South Bethany, Del., where Gansler’s son was staying along with several other recent graduates of the Landon School.
    Gansler said he stopped by the house to deliver a message to his son, and it wasn’t his place to break up the party.
    In hindsight, Gansler said he should have talked to the house chaperones about any underage drinking.
    But, Gansler told The Eagle, since then “several parents have told me they would have done the same thing in that situation.”

• Dundalk Eagle staffers John G. Bailey, Nicole Rodman, Bill Gates and Steve Matrazzo also contributed to this report.