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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Political Notes: Keiffer Mitchell Headed to K Street, Take a Dem Straw Poll, Green Group Anoints ‘Climate Champions,’ and More

Gov. Larry Hogan and adviser Keiffer Mitchell at a State House news conference earlier this year. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Keiffer Mitchell, one of the most visible members of the Hogan administration — and one of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s most trusted Democratic advisers — is leaving the State House to take a job with a bipartisan Washington, D.C., lobbying and public relations firm.

BGR Group, a firm with offices in D.C., London and Austin, Texas, announced Thursday that Mitchell, who has also served in the House of Delegates and on the Baltimore City Council, will join the firm’s government affairs State and Local Advocacy Practice as a vice president starting June 15.

“Whether a red or blue state, county or city, decision-makers confront similar issues such as public health, the economy, education, technology modernization and, increasingly, social and cultural issues,” said Loren Monroe, head of BGR’s State and Local Advocacy Practice. “Keiffer understands how to achieve results by finding consensus between both sides of the political aisle.”

During his eight years working for Hogan, Mitchell has served as acting chief of staff, chief legislative officer and senior counsel, and senior advisor. He was a regular presence with Hogan in Baltimore during the 2015 unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, helped mold and sell Hogan’s annual spending plan, and was the governor’s chief negotiator with the General Assembly leadership on an array of issues. He is one of the few members of the Hogan administration to have genuine and long-standing friendships with members of the legislature.

“Keiffer has been with me every step of the way since my first day in office in 2015, and he has played an integral role in all of the accomplishments we have made and the crises we have weathered,” Hogan said Thursday. “…Keiffer will be greatly missed in the State House, but I want to wish my good friend and his family well as they embark on this next chapter.”

Part of a multi-generational powerhouse Baltimore political and civil rights family, Mitchell, 54, came to the Hogan administration after serving a term in the House and a dozen years on the Baltimore City Council. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Baltimore in 2007.

Mitchell currently serves on the board of directors at the University of Maryland Medical System and the Maryland Center for History & Culture. His past board service includes Habitat for Humanity, Midtown Academy Charter School and Maryland Food Bank.

In announcing Mitchell’s hiring, the firm included statements of support from Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume (D) and former state Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Bobby Zirkin (D).

The firm features such political notables as former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), former Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, and former Trump administration health official Deborah Birx, as well as former high-profile journalists like Jeffrey Birnbaum and Frank Ahrens.

“I am thrilled to join BGR Group and help their clients navigate complex budget and policy issues facing states across the country,” Mitchell said. “I am looking forward to bringing my experience as a Democratic legislator and service for a Republican governor to an already excellent bipartisan team.”

Really early voting

Want to weigh in early (though unofficially) on the Democratic primary for governor? Interested in experimenting with the concept of ranked choice voting?

Then you may want to check out a straw poll that the progressive organization Our Maryland launched on Thursday with two election reform groups, RCV Maryland and FairVote.

Straw poll participants — and it appears as if it’s available to anyone at https://bit.ly/md-straw-poll-elections — will be able to choose among the 10 Democratic candidates for governor and will be able to select their top five choices.

Ranked choice voting enables voters to list candidates in order of preference. In a multi-candidate field, it’s designed to ensure that candidates are eventually elected with the majority of the vote, even if voters’ first choice is ultimately defeated.

The concept is catching on around the country, including in New York City and the state of Maine, though in Maryland it’s only being used in Takoma Park municipal elections. Whether a ranked-choice vote would produce a different winner than a standard vote in the Maryland Democratic primary is pure conjecture.

The voting on the website will be open through June 15, and Our Maryland plans to make the results available shortly thereafter.

‘Climate champions’

For the first time in its seven-year history, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund is making endorsements in Maryland state races. In all, CCAN Action Fund endorsed 13 candidates Thursday, including retired Baltimore City Judge Katie Curran O’Malley (D) for attorney general and Del. Brooke Lierman (D) for state comptroller.

The environmental group said it was focusing on electing decision-makers who will act urgently on climate in a state overwhelmingly vulnerable to global warming. Another round of endorsements is expected later this month.

CCAN Action Fund said it was prioritizing candidates who had demonstrated a commitment to supporting climate justice legislation, including the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 and the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. Almost all of the endorsed candidates have also signed the Maryland Climate Justice Resolution, pledging to support legislation that reaches 100% clean electricity by 2035 without incentives for trash incineration. The resolution also calls for investments in underserved communities, increased access to clean transportation and transportation alternatives, and strong labor provisions for clean-energy projects.

“CCAN Action Fund is taking this unprecedented step — endorsing candidates for the upcoming Maryland primary election — because we’re running out of time to pass the bold and transformative climate legislation we need to avert a global climate crisis,” said Mike Tidwell, CCAN Action Fund’s executive director.

Besides Lierman and O’Malley, the environmental group endorsed five candidates for state Senate — incumbent Sens. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery), Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) and Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), and Del. Ben Brooks (D-Baltimore County), who is running for the vacant 10th District Senate seat.

CCAN Action Fund also endorsed six House incumbents: Dels. Marlon Amprey (D-Baltimore City), Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), Marvin Holmes (D-Prince George’s), Dana Stein (D-Baltimore County) and Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery).

“We need strong leaders who will take action as soon as possible,” Tidwell said. “As voters, the collective power is in our hands.”

Gansler, Baker back Vignarajah for state’s attorney

In an unusual move, two competing candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination traveled to the Penn North neighborhood in West Baltimore to endorse Thiru Viganarajah, a candidate for Baltimore City state’s attorney.

Among the 10 Democratic candidates for governor, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker have been the most vocal in their promises to fight crime, and in Vignarajah, both said they saw a valued ally. They added that while they have different approaches to addressing crime, they agree that electing Vignarajah to replace State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) would help them achieve their goals.

“He’s the smartest and most experienced candidate, and he has the integrity, management skills, and deep roots in the community that Baltimore needs right now,” Baker said.

Gansler, who served as Montgomery County state’s attorney before being elected attorney general, noted that he met Vignarajah years ago when Vignarajah was a federal prosecutor. He called Vignarajah “the clear and obvious choice” for the job.

Vignarajah is in a three-way primary with Mosby, who is completing her second term, and Ivan Bates. It’s a rerun of the state’s attorney primary of four years ago, which Mosby won handily. But the crime rate has spiked since then and Mosby is now under federal indictment.

Abortion ballot measure falls short

A group that was seeking to get a pending state abortion law overturned with a referendum this fall has failed in its petition drive to put the measure on the ballot.

The Campaign to Protect Women, formed less than a month ago, sought to overturn a law that goes into effect on July 1 allowing certain medical professionals who are not physicians to provide abortion services to pregnant women. But the organizers said Thursday that their efforts to collect the 23,045 signatures required to put the referendum on the ballot fell short.

“Three weeks was not enough time,” the group said in a statement.

The bill to expand the type of abortion providers in the state passed both chambers of the legislature largely along party lines and was vetoed by Hogan. But lawmakers overrode the veto.

“The Campaign to Protect Women, with volunteers from the counties and Baltimore City, will continue to inform Marylanders about this dangerous law,” said Deborah Brocato, the lead organizer of the petition drive. “We encourage our fellow citizens to read HB 937. Women and girls need to know what to expect when entering an abortion clinic.”