By Josh Kurtz
Several Democratic state senators that Republicans are targeting for defeat in 2018 fared significantly better on a business group scorecard released Monday than most other Senate Democrats.
Maryland Business for Responsive Government released Roll Call, its annual look at whether legislators supported business interests during the year’s General Assembly session. MBRG timed the release of its report card to coincide with Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) third annual address to the group at the BWI Airport Marriott.
The organization used 15 Senate votes to rate members of that chamber this year, including the Democrats’ paid sick leave legislation and four amendments to the bill. Delegates were rated on 16 House votes, including the sick leave bill and three proposed amendments (see https://www.mbrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/MBRG_RollCall_2017.pdf).
Republican scores for the 2017 session were close to immaculate, in the business group’s view: No GOP senator scored less than 92 percent, and no delegate scored less than 83 percent. Eleven senators and 36 delegates scored a perfect 100.
Overall, the Democrats’ performance in this year’s General Assembly was considerably more varied in the group’s view. Senate Democrats averaged 31.6 percent on MBRG’s scorecard, and House Democrats averaged just 23.3 percent. Yet some Democrats scored fairly well in MBRG’s latest report.
The Maryland GOP is hoping to pick up five state Senate seats in the next election, and, for the most part, the Democratic senators with the biggest targets on their backs fared better in the MBRG report card than most of their party colleagues.
Anne Arundel County Sen. Ed DeGrange (D), who faces a challenge from County Councilman John Grasso (R), scored an 89 on the MBRG report card. Baltimore County Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D), who is being challenged by Del. Christian Miele (R), racked up an 80 percent score. Miele scored a 92 on House votes.
Baltimore County Sen. Jim Brochin (D) voted with MBRG 75 percent of the time. He is pondering running for county executive next year, and Dels. Susan Aumann (94 percent) and Chris West (92 percent) are among the Republicans eyeing his seat.
Anne Arundel Sen. John Astle (D) racked up a 53 percent score. He is planning to run for mayor of Annapolis this year and is unlikely to seek re-election if he loses. Former Del. Ron George (R) is already running for Astle’s Senate seat, and current Del. Herb McMillan (R), whose MBRG score was 85 percent, is considering the race.
Sen. Jim Mathias (D) from the Lower Eastern Shore received a 47 percent score; his likely Republican challenger, Del. Mary Beth Carrozza, scored 100 percent. And Frederick County Sen. Ron Young (D) had a 25 percent score. Burger King franchise owner Craig Giangrande and former Del. Mathew Mossburg are seeking the Republican nomination to oppose him.
On the opposite end of the MBRG ratings, Montgomery County Sen. Roger Manno (D) was the lowest-scoring lawmaker in the upper chamber, with 17 percent. Del. Angela Angel (D) of Prince George’s County had the lowest score in the House, voting with the business group just 8 percent of the time.
MBRG doesn’t lobby in the State House. But it does have a political action committee and is increasingly flexing its muscles as its leaders attempt to change both the membership of the legislature – and lawmakers’ attitudes about business.
Duane Carey, the president of MBRG, said the group was dismayed at how polarized the two chambers have become – and added that it was hard to identify any legislation where lawmakers sought to find common ground. But Carey said he and his colleagues were unable to explain the trend.
“We just report the results,” he said. “We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about why this vote or why that vote.”
When Hogan first addressed the group in 2015, the luncheon speech drew about 300 people. Last year, he drew 500 people. On Monday, the crowd exceeded 700.
“We really believe that this is the best organization to facilitate change in Annapolis,” said Robb Merritt, president of Baltimore-based Merritt Properties.
Hogan’s speech Monday emphasized how much the business climate has improved under his administration – and he repeatedly referred to the business leaders present as his partners and allies who have helped him overcome multiple obstacles.
“If we can accomplish all of this while dealing with partisanship – two-thirds of the legislature working against us most of the time – riots and advanced cancer, just think of what we can make together in the next six years,” Hogan said.
There were clear political undertones to the entire MBRG luncheon. Carey, the group’s president, turned away a question about whether Hogan’s status as a Republican governor helps advance the business agenda in Annapolis. He said partisanship often obscures the fact that a business-friendly government helps workers and not just corporations.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Gov. Hogan’s leadership is good for jobs, good for business and good for employees,” Carey said. “That’s one of the things that gets lost – that being pro-jobs is good for employees.”
But following Hogan’s speech, his commerce secretary, Mike Gill, spoke obliquely about the need to elect a more business-friendly legislature.
“We’ll get that to a really great place so we don’t have to keep overcoming that obstacle,” he said.
Then he told the crowd: “You can start the chant any time. ‘Six more years! Six more years!’”