Franchot TV Ad Paints Dystopian Picture of Annapolis

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) at an Annapolis rally protesting the influence of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D). File photo

As if there was any mystery about Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot’s (D) intentions for the next four years, his first TV ad of the election cycle, which began airing Wednesday morning in the Baltimore market, will erase any last doubt.

The 30-second spot, titled “The Machine,” is unlike anything else airing on Maryland airwaves. It opens with a dystopian-looking Maryland State House, complete with disturbing looking tubes protruding from the building. A screen with the image of veteran state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) sits near the State House dome.

“It’s called the Annapolis machine,” a narrator intones, as images of soldier-like automatons march into the basement of the building, where they find themselves in a theater watching more footage of Miller. “Where bosses rule from the back rooms. And ‘yes men’ go along to get along.”

More sinister images follow: Of a man lighting a cigar, of glasses clinking and money changing hands. If you listen carefully, you can hear an audio of Miller exclaiming, “We took the vote in the lounge.”

“The insiders always win,” the narrator continues, “and everyone else is left behind.”

Suddenly, the tone of the ad changes and becomes much sunnier, visually and aurally. Franchot appears in several shots, meeting with merchants, community leaders and young civic activists in Cambridge.

“Peter Franchot, independent Democrat,” the narrator says. “Unbought. Unbossed. Serving the taxpayers. Protecting our money. Putting Maryland first. Peter Franchot. Because he’s your comptroller, not theirs.”

Subtlety has never been Franchot’s strong suit during his 32 years in public office. This ad, produced by the skilled Washington, D.C., media firm of Devine Mulvaney and Longabaugh, which developed the much-admired Bernie Sanders “America” commercial during the 2016 White House campaign, serves to remind legislative leaders, from whom Franchot remains estranged, that he will continue to attack them in the years ahead.

Legislators have already struck back at Franchot and his ally, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), by reducing their oversight over school construction projects in the state. And lawmakers are at least pondering the possibility of stripping Franchot’s regulatory powers over the alcohol industry.

A task force that could tee up proposed legislation to change the way alcohol is regulated in the state had its second meeting in Annapolis Tuesday. While there were political fireworks at the first task force meeting last month, Tuesday’s session was far more prosaic, as members heard from state and local liquor regulators and industry representatives about how the government oversees alcohol producers, distributors and retailers.

D. Bruce Poole, the former House majority leader and erstwhile state Democratic chairman who is leading the task force, said he and his colleagues would examine how alcohol is regulated in other states and would meet again in November before possibly formulating a legislative proposal in December.

Poole said that following the panel’s initial meeting, some stakeholders came away with the mistaken impression that lawmakers were moving toward proposing prohibition or higher alcohol taxes.

“I don’t want people to be subject to spin and being manipulated,” he said.

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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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