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Political Notes: Moore’s southern junket, Harford Council case goes Supreme, a tolling issue, a Trone triumph and more

Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Orioles CEO John Angelos talk during a visit by the governor to the team’s training facility in Sarasota, Florida. Governor’s office Twitter photo.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) is adding a second sport to his resume this week while also looking at one potential future for a revitalized area around Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Moore started the week posting video of himself sinking a 15-footer before a Washington Wizards game. Friday he’ll try baseball in Florida after a brief stop in Atlanta.

The governor’s jumpshot and his southern junket are not about being state government’s answer to Bo Jackson.

Moore traveled south with three aides, Maryland Stadium Authority Chair Craig Thompson, and Orioles CEO John Angelos. While there they met with Atlanta Braves executives on best practices.

The cost of the trip to taxpayers is estimated at roughly $4,300, according to Carter Elliott IV, a Moore spokesperson.

“Governor Moore is committed to working in partnership with the Baltimore Orioles to provide the best possible experience for Marylanders and this trip shows his dedication,” Elliott said in an email. “The governor is excited to work alongside the Orioles and looks forward to the bright future ahead in Baltimore.”

Of primary importance is the Battery Atlanta. The venue around Truist Park, where the Braves play, features 2 million square-feet of restaurants, shops and a live entertainment venue.

The Orioles are currently in negotiations with the Maryland Stadium Authority to extend the team’s lease at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Last month, the team issued a joint statement with Moore focused on “reimagining Camden Yards to deliver a live, work, play theme that will bring residents, businesses, and tourists to downtown Baltimore year-round.”

Moore rounds out his trip with a stop at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota Florida, the team’s spring training home.

The governor is scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch Friday before a 5:30 p.m. game against the Minnesota Twins.

Harford Council case goes Supreme

The Maryland Supreme Court has agreed to consider the dispute over whether a Harford County schoolteacher can serve on the County Council.

The court granted certiorari this week in the challenge filed by Jacob Bennett, a Democrat who served on the council’s panel from December until late February, when he was removed by Circuit Court order.

Bennett has maintained that his employment is not barred by a county charter provision that precludes state, county, or municipal employees from election to the council. He’s pointed to other teachers who serve as elected county councilmembers throughout the state in making his case.

Now the Supreme Court will decide, with arguments set for April 4.

During and before his tenure, Bennett’s ability to serve on the panel has been challenged by Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly (R). Bennett was not allowed to take part in county inaugural events and he was not paid during his tenure on the council, functions controlled by the county’s executive branch.

The outcome of the Supreme Court case could settle the question of whether a teaching job in public schools in Maryland is a county position, a state position or neither.

Because of the court order, the Harford County Democratic Central Committee launched a search to replace Bennett on the County Council last week.

The committee is accepting applications until March 20. It has scheduled interviews and voting for at least three nominees on March 28 at the Havre de Grace Police Department at 715 Pennington Avenue.

“Depending on the outcome of the April 4th hearing, the Council may either appoint a replacement or welcome Jacob Bennett back to the Council dais,” a statement from the central committee said this week.

A new plan with an old wrinkle

The decision by Australia-based Transurban to exit a partnership with the state to ease traffic around Maryland’s DC suburbs using toll lanes leaves questions about what comes next.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) told reporters Friday there may be one constant — toll lanes.

“No matter what, I think it’s really important that folks know that as this moves forward, the bridge and I believe it’s eight miles on the Maryland side of 495 will require tolling because that’s what the record decision of decision was,” Ferguson said. “And so the federal record of decision requires tolling for that project no matter who is to build it. So unless we wanted to go back to scratch and start from the beginning, it’s likely that any solution that moves forward, whether built by the state or private actor will require tolling.”

Transurban and the members of the consortium known as Accelerated Maryland Partners received an initial predevelopment contract for the project. The group was considered a favorite to build and manage the expanded highways. The private consortium would recoup the cost of the project — estimated at $7.6 billion — over 50 years through toll collection. At the end of the term, the toll lanes would have reverted to the state.

Not everyone is excited about the potential of retaining toll lanes.

“I’m not sure it has to be toll lanes,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D).

Included in Elrich’s objection is the possibility that the tolls will make the lanes an option only for those who can afford it while leaving the vast majority of commuters mired in traffic.

“If it winds up being toll lanes, it becomes incumbent that any plan includes tolls that are reasonable and not reliant on inflicting pain on some people,” said Elrich. “I’m not comfortable with having people in pain because they can’t jump to a toll lane.”

Trone triumph

Some potentially good news for U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th), who represents the most competitive congressional district in Maryland: The campaign arm for U.S. House Democrats did not include him on its initial list of most vulnerable Democratic members facing reelection in 2024.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Friday released its “Frontline” list of Democratic incumbents most in need of protecting this election cycle. Trone, whose district includes a piece of Montgomery County and most of Western Maryland, was not on it.

Trone, who won his third term in November by defeating then-Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington), 54.7% to 45.2%, was not on the DCCC’s initial Frontline list last cycle. But he was added to the list in June of 2022. His victory margin wound up being larger than most operatives in both parties expected — as the cycle turned out better for Democrats nationally than initially forecast.

Being on the Frontline list means party strategists are paying extra-close attention to your race, and party leaders are trying to dedicate more resources — financial and political — to your campaign.

The 29 Democrats who got the initial Frontline designation won their races by anywhere from .7 points to 13 points in 2022.

The DCCC’s assessment of the 6th District more or less aligns with the first ratings for House races of this election cycle from Inside Elections, the nonpartisan political handicapper, which came out Friday. The analysts there put the district in the “likely Democrat” category, which means they find at least 42 districts more competitive at the moment.

Transurban head exits

The decision by Transurban to exit the D.C. Beltway project wasn’t the only news for the company this week.

Pierce Coffee, president of the firm’s North America division, announced on LinkedIn on Wednesday that she was also moving on.

“After more than 13 years with Transurban, I have made the exciting decision to pursue the next chapter of my career,” Coffee wrote in her post. “It’s been a great ride — from helping to introduce the first dynamic #ExpressLanes in the U.S. to launching new customer programs in Australia to welcoming a growing portfolio of roads, partners, and investors.”

In 2021, Coffee sat for a Washington Post article in which she touted the highway widening project in Maryland, calling it “transformative.”

Editor’s note: The story was updated to add a reference to Inside Elections’ rating of the 6th District.


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Political Notes: Moore’s southern junket, Harford Council case goes Supreme, a tolling issue, a Trone triumph and more