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Government & Politics

Md. Business Group Rebrands, Highlights Polarization in Annapolis

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) worked the crowd before speaking to the business group Maryland Free on Tuesday. Photo by Josh Kurtz

A leading statewide business organization is rebranding but is keeping its influential legislative scorecard – the latest of which was released Tuesday.

Maryland Business for Responsive Government, which has promoted business-friendly legislation and attempted to hold lawmakers in Annapolis accountable for 36 years, has changed its name to the Maryland Free Enterprise Foundation – Maryland Free, for short.

“We spent a lot of time thinking it through,” Duane Carey, the president of the organization, said in an interview. “We kind of want to have a refresh.”

Maryland Free unveiled its new iteration online Tuesday, and Carey offered more details at the group’s annual luncheon Tuesday, which featured Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) as the keynote speaker for the fifth straight year.

Beyond offering his standard stump speech touting drastic improvements to the state’s business climate and the fact that an overwhelming majority of Marylanders believe the state is heading in the right direction, Hogan railed against “out of touch far-left politicians.”

“Some of them seem hell-bent on stopping all the economic progress and momentum that we’ve achieved,” he said. “Some are doing everything in their power to return us to the failed policies that we’ve spent so much time trying to dig ourselves out of.”

Hogan spent part of his speech making the closing arguments for his highway widening plan, one day before the Board of Public Works is due to vote on a plan to create a public-private partnership to fund the road expansion [see related story].

While the name of the business group has changed, the mission hasn’t – and a big part of it is putting together Roll Call, the annual scorecard that follows the 90-day General Assembly session.

The business group used 15 floor and committee votes to evaluate the 47 state senators and 16 floor and committee votes to grade the 141 delegates.

The group used some of the most high-profile legislation of the 2019 session to “score” lawmakers, including the $15 an hour minimum wage, the Clean Energy Jobs Act, the ban on Polystyrene food containers, and the Prescription Drug Affordability Board – all of which Maryland Free opposed.

Without quite saying so, the report card revealed a slight leftward drift in the legislature from the previous year. As usual, Republicans got high scores in the report card, while most Democrats did not.

Freshman Sen. Jason C. Gallion (R-Harford) was the lone senator to get a perfect score this year, compared to 11 who got 100 percent in the 2018 session. The highest Democratic score in the chamber belonged to Finance Chair Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), who scored 33 percent.

The lowest Republican score belonged to Anne Arundel County Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, who scored 73 percent. The lowest score overall of lawmakers who were present for the entire session belonged to Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who voted with the business group 14 percent of the time.

Pinsky is one of at least four veteran senators seen as possible replacements for 33-year Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), who was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer early this year, whenever he moves on. Other possibilities include Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), who scored 23 percent on the Maryland Free scorecard; Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery), who got 23 percent; and Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), who scored 25 percent.

Miller scored 27 percent.

In the House, 25 Republican members got perfect 100 percent scores – more than half the GOP caucus. The lowest Republican score belonged to Del. Andrew P. Cassilly of Harford County, who got a 79 percent.

On the Democratic side, the highest score belonged to Del. Harry Bhandari of Baltimore County, who got a 43. Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Middle Shore) and Del. Eric Browmell (D-Baltimore County) each got 38 scores. Two Montgomery County freshman delegates shared the lowest score – Dels. Lorig Charkoudian and Vaughn M. Stewart, who each got a 7 percent score.

Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who was elected speaker three weeks after the legislative session ended, following the death of former speaker Michael E. Busch (D), had a 23 percent score.

Asked if he believed the legislature was moving to the left, Carey replied, “I think it’s safe to say that they’re more activist.”

Carey said he was especially struck by the near-disappearance of centrists in the General Assembly. In the Maryland Free scorecard, 57 lawmakers – all Republicans – scored 70 percent or more, while 128, all Democrats, scored below 35 percent. Just three lawmakers scored in between – and they were Democrats, too.

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Md. Business Group Rebrands, Highlights Polarization in Annapolis