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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Political Notes: Anne Arundel’s ‘Lincoln Project,’ Sierra’s Surprise, Hogan’s Reagan Play, a Scolding for Franchot and More

A tree blooms near the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

An Anne Arundel County Democratic activist is launching a political action committee that she hopes will play a similar role in local and state politics to the work the fabled Lincoln Project did during the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

The Lincoln Project, you’ll recall, was put together in 2019 by several high-profile “never Trumper” Republican strategists, including former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who created a succession of TV ads, websites and social media memes designed to embarrass President Trump and his acolytes.

The group attracted a lot of attention and often hit its targets with devastating precision, though its leadership splintered after the election, amid reports of bad personal behavior by at least one of the founders. The Lincoln Project exists to this day, albeit with a lower profile than in 2020 — most recently releasing a 2-minute video compendium on Tuesday called “Last Week in the Republican Party.” The title is self-explanatory once you’ve seen it.

Democrat Sharon Blugis aims to play the same role in Anne Arundel County this election season with a new state PAC called the Old Line Project, which had an inaugural fundraiser in an Annapolis restaurant on Wednesday evening. Blugis, the PAC treasurer, who previously worked for Anne Arundel County government and state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and is now a nonprofit executive, said the group initially intends to highlight the records of several high-profile Anne Arundel Republicans.

“We’re trying to create a vehicle so that [Democratic] candidates can talk about the real records of [Del.] Sid Saab or [County Councilmember] Amanda Fiedler or [state Sen.] Ed Reilly or [county executive candidate] Herb McMillan,” Blugis said. “We’re trying to point out some of the hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies of these [Republican] candidates.”

The Old Line Project was planning to debut some of its videos and social media posts at its fundraiser Wednesday night and intends to post them later on its Facebook page.

“This is to show people what we can do and what we intend to do,” Blugis said.

As a PAC, Old Line cannot coordinate or communicate with any Democratic candidates or campaigns. But Blugis said the goal is to provide information to voters and aid the Republicans’ political opponents. If the concept takes off, she said, the PAC could set its sights on Republicans outside of Anne Arundel County later in the election cycle and could get involved in state and local policy debates after 2022.

What would John Muir do?

In Montgomery County elections, it’s been accepted wisdom for decades that the two most important endorsements come from the Montgomery County Education Association — aka the teachers’ union — and The Washington Post. Yet the decision this week by the Sierra Club’s Montgomery County chapter to endorse businessman David Blair for county executive in the July 19 Democratic primary seemed significant.

Many endorsements in politics are expected before they happen. This one was not.

Of the three leading Democratic candidates for county executive — incumbent Marc B. Elrich and Councilmember Hans Riemer are the others — Blair has been the most closely associated with the county’s business community and is expected to be supported by the lion’s share of developers. He has also been supportive to a degree of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s proposal to widen portions of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270, a project the Sierra Club vehemently opposes.

What’s more, both Elrich and Riemer might reasonably have expected to get the environmental group’s support. Elrich has been associated with the county’s slow-growth political camp throughout his long career, and his administration is implementing a comprehensive plan to combat climate change. Riemer was endorsed by the Sierra Club when he sought reelection four years ago and has wooed environmentalists throughout his council tenure.

But local Sierra Club leaders said they were impressed by Blair’s policy proposals, which include seeking to triple solar generation in the county; expanding Smart Growth policies, mainly by building more housing near Metro stations; making free Ride-On bus service permanent; and various proposals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the county.

“David Blair understands the urgency of addressing climate change and is running a campaign dedicated to action,” said David Sears, political chair of the Sierra Club’s Montgomery County group. “He has a bold, achievable vision for Montgomery County where we grow public transit, support walkable and bikeable communities, emphasize smart growth and jobs in Montgomery County, and do our part to contribute to Maryland’s transformation to relying on clean energy located in-state…He has a track record of executive leadership and is dedicated to working for the public good.”

In response, Elrich’s campaign is expected to soon announce the creation of an “Environmentalists for Elrich” group, Bethesda Beat reported this week.

The Sierra Club this week also doled out endorsements in the Democratic primaries for the 11 county council seats on the ballot. In the at-large race, the green group endorsed incumbent Councilmembers Evan Glass and William O. Jawando, Councilmember Tom Hucker, who currently holds the District 5 seat, and former Gaithersburg City Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles. That left the other at-large incumbent seeking reelection, Gabriel Albornoz, as the odd man out on the endorsement front.

Incumbent Councilmember Andrew Friedson, who is running unopposed for a second term, got the nod in District 1. The other endorsements went to:

  • District 2: Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber of Commerce President Marilyn Balcombe
  • District 3: Gaithersburg City Councilmember Robert Wu, who is challenging two-term incumbent Sidney Katz
  • District 4: Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart
  • District 5: Brian Anleu, a former Hucker aide
  • District 6: Natali Fani-González, former vice chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board
  • District 7: Jacqueline Manger, a University of Maryland business school official

Wrapping himself in Reagan’s cloak again

Hogan, who made headlines when he announced in 2020 that he had written in the late President Reagan’s name on his White House ballot, has frequently attempted to associate himself with the 40th president in recent years, especially as the national GOP turns Trumpier.

Next Tuesday, Hogan is traveling to the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., to take part in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute’s “Time for Choosing” speaker series, which brings in Republican leaders to discuss the future of the party. The series kicked off a year ago with former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and has included several Republicans who, like Hogan, may be eyeing a White House run in 2024, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

The event is free to attend, in case any of our readers will be on the left coast, though registration is required. Hogan’s address will be broadcast online through the Reagan Foundation & Institute’s website and social media channels. Hogan spoke at the Reagan Foundation’s Washington, D.C., office in November 2020, just days after the presidential election. At the time, he called on Trump to concede defeat — something that has yet to happen.

Franchot gets a flat tire. Then, a scolding from lieutenant governor.

Wednesday morning didn’t go quite as Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot might have hoped.

His troubles began when his state-issued SUV got a flat tire on Route 50. The blowout caused him to miss the first 40-plus minutes of the Board of Public Works meeting. His security detail radioed for a second vehicle to pick him up from the side of the road.

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R), who chaired Wednesday’s meeting, was told Franchot would be approximately 20 minutes late. But around 10:06, he started the session, saying he wanted to be respectful of the cabinet secretaries, staff and members of the public who had gathered. Since Treasurer Derick Davis (D) was in his position, the board had a quorum.

Rutherford said the comptroller was dealing with a “car matter.”

Franchot arrived around 10:42. By then Rutherford and Davis were deep into the board’s lengthy agenda.

Like Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and his frequent stand-in, the lieutenant governor, Franchot, a gubernatorial hopeful, frequently makes long off-topic opening statements at BPW meetings. He frequently challenges agencies on contracts they’re presenting for approval.

“I want to apologize for being late,” Franchot said as he took his seat. “I wish you’d waited.”

After some snippy crosstalk, Rutherford then admonished Franchot for having cut his arrival so close.

“The business day generally starts at 8:30 [or] 9 o’clock,” he said.

“Thank you, lieutenant governor!,” Franchot responded loudly, if not sincerely.

Past meetings of the board have started late to accommodate a late-arriving participant. It is rare for a meeting to start with one of the three principals missing.

Franchot spokeswoman Susan O’Brien declined to comment on the dust-up, other than to say: “Ask Boyd Rutherford why he started the meeting without all three members present while the state police were valiantly trying to fix a flat tire on the state truck and sending a second unit to pick him up.”

Michael A. Ricci, a spokesman for the Hogan/Rutherford administration, said the lieutenant governor started the meeting “after waiting an appreciable amount of time.” He did so “out of respect for the citizens and stakeholders who scheduled their day around it to be there. After the comptroller arrived, the lieutenant governor granted him the opportunity to address any items he wished to address.”

“I recognize he has a busy campaign schedule these days,” Ricci added, “but surely the comptroller agrees it’s important to respect the time of the Marylanders who come from across the state for the meeting.”

During the pandemic, board meetings were held online. Ricci said there was “no request for the Comptroller to appear remotely.”

Speaking of Republican governors…

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) continues to be a draw for Republican political candidates in Maryland. On Thursday, he’s appearing at two fundraisers for GOP contenders.

At midday, Ehrlich is the host of a $1,000-a-ticket event for state Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, who is giving up his Harford County seat to run for county executive. The co-hosts are Kendel Ehrlich, the former governor’s wife; Martin Resnick, the proprietor of the Martin’s catering halls; and Anne Arundel County restaurateur Michael Stavlas. The fundraiser is taking place at the Glen Burnie law firm of Maurice Wyatt, the longtime Maryland power broker whose family’s influence in Maryland politics dates back to the 1930s.

On Thursday evening, Ehrlich is the headline attraction at a fundraiser at a private home in Gaithersburg for Del. Reid J. Novotny (R-Howard), a candidate for state Senate. Thanks to redistricting, Novotny’s district, once based in Howard and Carroll counties, is now in Howard and Montgomery, and the Ehrlich fundraiser is billed as Novotny’s Montgomery County kickoff. Ticket prices start at $100.

Gansler’s compadres

Being a state attorney general means you’re part of a pretty small club.

When former Maryland Attorney General held the job, from 2007 to 2015, his tenure overlapped with the likes of Kamala D. Harris, now the vice president of the United States and then the AG of California, and the late Beau Biden, the venerated son of President Biden, who was then the AG of Delaware.

But even after he left office, Gansler stayed in close touch with current and former attorneys general, more so than most of his colleagues. In fact, he built an entire law practice around working with — and occasionally trying to influence, on behalf of clients — state AG’s.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that 41 current and former AG’s from around the country endorsed Gansler’s campaign for governor on Wednesday.

“With violent crime on the rise everywhere, now more than ever states need leaders who know what it takes to build safe, thriving communities,” Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings (D) wrote in a fundraising appeal that the Gansler campaign circulated. “How do I know Doug Gansler will put the safety of you and your family first? Because I have seen him do it at every juncture.”

Still, it must be pointed out that of the 41 names on the endorsement list, only five — William Tong of Connecticut, Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, Bob Ferguson of Washington, Iowa’s Tom Miller, and Jennings — are currently in office. The rest are “formers” like Gansler — and some, like Jerry Diamond of Vermont and Rufus Edmisten of North Carolina — were first elected in the 1970s and haven’t served since the 1980s. But a club is a club is a club, and Gansler is sticking with his.

For a list of prior endorsements in the race for governor, click here.


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Political Notes: Anne Arundel’s ‘Lincoln Project,’ Sierra’s Surprise, Hogan’s Reagan Play, a Scolding for Franchot and More