Political Memo: School Daze

Dallas Dance – the name always sounded a little like an adult entertainer’s, and all the more so now that he’s been indicted on four counts of perjury for not disclosing outside income when he was superintendent of Baltimore County schools.

Ever since he came to Baltimore County, the wunderkind Dance seemed a little too good to be true. Turns out he was.

Dance
Dallas Dance

As county executive, Kevin Kamenetz (D) is not directly implicated in the scandal enveloping Dance. But Republicans, like Gov. Larry Hogan and state Del. Christian J. Miele, who is running for a state Senate seat in Baltimore County, are trying to capitalize politically on the Dance scandal.

That’s bad news for Democrats.

Hogan is going around saying that Dance was essentially accused of taking bribes. Miele has launched an online petition drive demanding a full independent audit of no-bid contracts in the Baltimore County Public Schools.

But it gets worse for Democrats. Another leading Democratic candidate for governor, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, has also been singed by an education scandal. Baker and other Prince George’s officials are wrestling with allegations that certain school officials inflated high school students’ grades to boost graduation rates.

Prince George’s Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell is scrambling to punish the offenders and institute reforms to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. But it still doesn’t look great for Democrats. Baker has full ownership of the school system, power granted to him by former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the Democratic legislature a few years ago.

In fact, the dual scandals help blunt Democrats’ ongoing complaint that Hogan has not adequately funded Maryland schools. Hogan talks about making record investments in education, while Democrats and the Maryland State Education Association say he hasn’t done enough.

What is a voter to think? Saying you’re making record investments is perfectly easy to digest; explaining why Hogan could be doing better if he paid attention to supplemental and regional formulas is a lot harder. In politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Last week, Hogan and State Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) were at their one-two punch best querying state officials about the recent outcry over frigid classrooms in Baltimore City.

Hogan and Franchot have perfected the art of political umbrage. It is one thing to be angry and to demand accountability, yet the leaders’ tactics also include a healthy dose of finger-pointing.

That may be a politically potent way of practicing statecraft, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the cooling and heating problems on the ground in Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools. However, it remains a political winner for Hogan and friend Franchot.

And with Baker and Kamenetz weighed down by school scandals in their own jurisdictions, that’s more good political news for Hogan, for Democrats like Franchot who are in his corner, and, not incidentally, for the Democrats competing with Baker and Kamenetz for the gubernatorial nomination – especially Ben Jealous.

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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