Kat on a Hot Tin Roof

By Josh Kurtz

Are Democratic leaders about to go over the cliff with another out-of-touch Kathleen?

Kathleen Matthews, the erstwhile congressional candidate, Marriott executive and TV personality, was named temporary state Democratic chairwoman Wednesday night — and is likely to win a full four-year term in May.

The same Democratic leaders who turned to ex-state House Majority Leader Bruce Poole to run the party in the wake of the 2014 Anthony Brown disaster, ostensibly because the former Hagerstown-based lawmaker could help the party reverse the terrible erosion Democrats experienced in rural and suburban areas, seem with Matthews to have gone in the completely opposite direction. With Republican Gov. Larry Hogan still crazy-popular, Democratic leaders continue to grasp for straws.

With all due respect, Matthews may be an especially thin reed. For all her smarts and skills as a communicator, which, Lord knows, the Democrats need, Matthews seems to be the wrong candidate at the wrong time.

In the wake of Hogan’s upset victory over Brown, Democrats have had two somewhat contradictory imperatives — to try to appeal to the moderate and conservative voters they lost in 2014, while simultaneously firing up base voters who showed little enthusiasm for Brown (or for Hillary Clinton in 2016).

Someone explain how Kathleen Matthews helps them achieve either goal.

This is a very wealthy woman with a very famous husband, who lives in a rarefied corner of the Washington, D.C., area. She counts powerful lobbyists, wealthy business executives, high-ranking politicians, famous journalists and Hollywood celebrities among her friends.

Yep, sounds just like the average Hogan/Trump voter from Essex whom the Democrats would like to win back. Sure to connect with the progressive Democrats who are about to fall in love with fiery former NAACP president Ben Jealous in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Matthews as a congressional candidate often seemed out of place in Silver Spring and Wheaton, just a handful of miles from her Chevy Chase home. So how he is she supposed to connect with voters in Salisbury and Bel Air and Severna Park and West Baltimore?

This is not intended to be a criticism of Matthews – an accomplished and impressive woman who improved as a candidate as 2016 progressed, and, under the right circumstances, could still build a successful career in politics or public service. But it sure does illustrate how confused the 70-year-old white men who are still running the Maryland Democratic Party have become. After Poole’s aw-shucks mountain man routine didn’t yield much – they somehow forgot that Poole last won an election in 1994 – they are dazzled by Matthews’ glamour, glitz and potential fundraising prowess.

Matthews raised a lot of money during her congressional campaign from her A List friends. But are these folks all that interested in propping up the Maryland Democratic Party? Matthews will have a lot of persuading to do.

And here’s a twist: As she tries to familiarize herself with the state, Matthews may come to rely on Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who does remarkably well in much of the territory where Brown slipped so badly in 2014. Franchot has personal and professional ties with Kathleen and Chris Matthews that date back more than 30 years. He endorsed her for Congress, even though her Democratic primary opponents included businessman David Trone, whose liquor businesses are major Franchot donors; Jamie Raskin, Franchot’s neighbor; and Kumar Barve, Franchot’s longtime friend and former House colleague.

So, as she gears up for a job that will require her to regularly blast Hogan, Matthews may use as a Sherpa none other than Franchot — whom many Democratic leaders despise, in part because he single-handedly lends the governor the patina of bipartisanship.

Under this scenario, the ill-fated 2002 gubernatorial candidacy of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend may start to seem considerably less befuddled.


STATE OF EMERGENCY… Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) have made fighting opioid addiction a top priority of their administration since they took office. But by formally declaring a state of emergency Wednesday, Hogan wasn’t just making a bold public statement – he was putting official government wheels in motion to address the crisis.

Specifically, the declaration unleashes certain emergency powers that the governor possesses, and allows for greater coordination between the state and local governments. Hogan also announced a supplemental budget allocation of $50 million over five years for prevention, recovery and enforcement programs, and he put his senior emergency management adviser, Clay Stamp, in charge of the effort.

“We need to treat this crisis in the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” Hogan said during an announcement at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s operations center in Reisterstown.

Fighting the drug epidemic has largely been a bipartisan concern in Maryland in recent years, but Hogan, according to The Daily Record, did find time to attack a lawmaker whose district is near the emergency operations center. The newspaper reported that Hogan, asked about legislation sponsored by Del. Dan Morhaim (D) to provide sites for drug addicts to safely use heroin, called the measure “absolutely insane.”

Hogan then noted that Morhaim, a physician, is under investigation by the Legislative Ethics Committee for his ties to a company that is trying to get a medical marijuana license in the state. “Now he’s trying to legalize heroin,” Hogan said. “I’m not sure if he’s just trying to get another license to sell heroin, but his proposal is idiotic.”

Morhaim, the Record said, demanded an apology.

“I would advise Del. Morhaim not to hold his breath,” Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer told the paper.


BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS…In the course of their ongoing bromance, Hogan and Franchot have frequently ganged up on Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D) – particularly over the issue of air conditioning in aging schools. But the trio can sometimes agree.

Proponents of a bill to disqualify certain individuals who engage in a financial boycott of Israel from bidding for state government procurement contracts consider Hogan, Franchot and Kamenetz among their strongest supporters.

“We’re obviously pleased to have the valuable support of all three of them, as well as so many co-sponsors,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “It’s bipartisan legislation that’s bringing people together.”

The proponents of the legislation were out in force in Annapolis Wednesday to testify for the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D), in the Budget and Taxation Committee. A House version of the legislation, whose lead sponsor is Del. Ben Kramer (D), was heard in the Health and Government Operations Committee in mid-February.

If Hogan, Franchot and Kamenetz can agree on this bill, does that serve as a template for peace in the Middle East?


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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.


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