1st Dist. Congress: Harris Easily Wins Primary, Setting up Rematch vs. Kratovil

September 15, 2010

(By Guest Blogger– Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

State Sen. Andy Harris Tuesday handily defeated businessman Rob Fisher in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 1st District seat in Congress, setting up a general election rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil – who two years ago defeated Harris by less than 3,000 votes out of more than 360,000 cast.

 With all but a handful of precincts reporting, Harris led Fisher by a 2-to-1 margin district-wide. In Cecil County, Harris bested Fisher by 61 percent to 39 percent.

 Fisher, an information technology consultant, poured nearly $500,000 of his own money into the primary race – enough to finance advertising on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August.

The 1st District encompasses the entire Eastern Shore along with portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties on the Western Shore.

While he appeared to have few, if any, ideological differences with the strongly conservative Harris, Fisher crafted himself as an outsider in a year of strong anti-incumbent feelings among voters – while seeking to characterize Harris, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland Legislature, as a career politician.        

For Harris, who chose to largely ignore Fisher, this year’s primary was a cakewalk compared to two years ago – when he ousted GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a party moderate who had represented the district since 1990. Gilchrest crossed party lines to endorse Kratovil prior to the 2008 election, and is widely expected to do so again this year – despite an 11th hour endorsement of Fisher in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney who was unopposed for renomination Tuesday, is regarded as one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents nationwide this year. The Republican-leaning 1st District voted for the GOP presidential candidate, John McCain, over President Obama by a nearly 3-2 margin in 2008.

Harris, a physician, was widely thought to have been hurt in 2008 in the Eastern Shore section of the district by his status as a Baltimore County resident. Before announcing for a second run at the seat, he sought to remedy this by working part-time at a hospital in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore. He is an anesthesiologist with long-time professional ties to  the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. 

Since Kratovil is considered the only one of the eight Maryland House members in danger of losing aseat in Congress this fall, the Kratovil-Harris contest is expected to attract statewide attention – second only to Maryland’s other marquee rematch, between Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and former GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

As of the end of August, Kratovil had raised over $1.9 million for his re-election bid, with Harris not far behind at $1.65 million, for a total in excess of $3.5 million. With seven weeks to go until Election Day, this puts them on track to equal or exceed the total of $5 million — $3 million by Harris, $2 million by Kratovil – spent two years ago.  And those totals don’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars more for advertising expected to be spent on the race by political party committees and independent groups.

Advertisements

Harris, Kratovil Attract Big Donors in Run-up to Primary

September 13, 2010

(By Guest Blogger, Lou Peck– Contributing editor, CongressDaily)

Democratic incumbent Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris – likely to face off this year in a rematch for Maryland’s 1st District House seat — have been attracting big-dollar donors at a steady pace in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election, according to new reports filed through Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

Harris, who outraised Kratovil in the reporting period that covered July and much of August, pulled in another $46,300 from big-money individual donors and political action committees (PACs) in the nearly three weeks since the close of the prior reporting period on Aug. 25.

That’s somewhat more than the $38,900 that Kratovil received from PACs and big-dollar individual donors during the same three-week time slot.

The latest fundraising statistics by Harris and Kratovil are based on an examination of so-called 48-hour reports, in which candidates for Congress are required to report contributions of $1,000 or more received 48 hours prior to the primary or general election. The next full accounting of contributions to – and expenditures by – the Harris and Kratovil campaigns will not be available until the next FEC filing deadline in mid-October.

Kratovil is unopposed for renomination Tuesday, while Harris faces a primary challenge from businessman Rob Fisher. Fisher, who has pumped nearly $500,000 into a largely self-funded campaign, is seen as the underdog in the primary – notwithstanding an 11th hour endorsement Sunday from former 1st Dist. GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest.

Gilchrest was ousted by Harris in the 2008 primary; Gilchrest later swung his support behind Kratovil, who narrowly defeated Harris in the 2008 general election..

Although Harris has criticized Kratovil for reliance on “inside the Beltway special interests,” and Kratovil has run TV ads boasting of his record of independence from his party’s legislative agenda, both men have benefited in recent weeks from contributions made by some key inside-the-Beltway players.

Harris last week took in $9,800 – four contributions of $2,400 each – from officials of the Washington-based Carlyle Group. Under federal law, contributions from individuals are currently limited to $2,400 per election, with the primary and general considered to be separate elections.

The Carlyle Group is one of the nation’s largest and best-known private equity firms. The four Carlyle Group officials who donated to Harris – Peter Clare, Francis Finelli, Ian Fujiyama and Allan Holt – are involved with managing the firm’s holdings in the defense, aerospace and technology sectors, according to Carlyle’s Web site.

For his part, Kratovil recently attracted contributions from officials of several of the capital’s major lobbying/consulting firms. These include $1,000 each from R. Scott Pastrick, a former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee who now heads Burson Marsteller, a public relations company; Oscar Ramirez of the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm; and Anthony Harrington, an Easton resident who is chief executive officer of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm whose principals include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H.

Kratovil also reported receiving two $5,000 contributions last Friday from the American Federation of Teachers’ PAC. That total of $10,000 represents the maximum that a PAC can donate to a member of Congress during any two-year election cycle.

In addition, Kratovil last week received a contribution of $1,500 from the Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. PAC, bringing the total he has received from the Comcast committee to the legal maximum of $10,000. According to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast has donated a total of $1.4 million to federal candidates during 2009-2010, at a time when it is lobbying hard for federal approval of its proposed acquisition of the NBC television network.

Closer to home, Kratovil received a $1,000 contribution from Glenn Weinberg, a vice president of the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. The Cordish enterprise is currently seeking passage of a referendum on the November ballot in Anne Arundel County allowing construction of a slots parlor at the Arundel Mills shopping mall.

[UPDATE: Kratovil’s congressional press secretary, Kevin Lawlor, said Kratovil has not taken a public stance on the Comcast/NBC merger. While final approval of the deal is up to the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, some members of Congress have chosen to comment publicly in an effort to sway regulators at those agencies.

Lawlor also said that Kratovil has not taken a position on the referendum on whether to allow a slots casino at the Arundel Mills mall. While Kratovil represents a portion of Anne Arundel County, the mall itself is just outside the 1st District. In 2008, when a statewide referendum on whether to allow casino gambling in Maryland was approved, Kratovil “basically abstained” from that debate on the grounds that it was up to state and local jurisdictions rather than federal officials to determine how best to proceed, Lawlor added.]

Meanwhile, Harris – an anesthesiologist by profession – continues to benefit significantly from out-of-state contributions from medical interests. Non-Maryland physicians donated a total of $6,400 in individual contributions to Harris in recent weeks, on top of nearly $25,000 in similar contributions that Harris received in July and August. A couple of medical PACs chipped in another $1,000 each last week.

There are a couple of well-known Maryland names on the latest filings. Chicken magnate Jim Perdue, head of the Salisbury-based Perdue Farms, gave $2,400 – the maximum an individual is allowed for the primary – to Harris.

In Kratovil’s camp is Mayo Shattuck, chief executive officer of Constellation Energy – the parent company of Baltimore Gas & Electric. Shattuck donated $1,000, while another $2,400 came from Jonathan Thayer, Constellation Energy’s chief financial officer.


Dist. 36: Sossi Melts Hershey on Campaign $, GOP Primary Endorsement Tiff

September 6, 2010

  Incumbent Delegate Richard Sossi (R-36) is melting the campaign finances of his Republican primary challenger, Steve Hershey, who features a modified version of the chocolate bar in his campaign signs and ads.  But a last-minute flap over which candidate is endorsed by Robert Ehrlich, the expected Republican candidate for governor, has really heated things up.  

   Since no Democratic candidate has filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat in the 36th, the GOP primary will decide that race. (There are three Delegate seats in District 36 and one resident Delegate each from Queen Anne’s, Kent and Cecil Counties is  elected by voters in those counties, plus half of Caroline County.)

   Sossi also had no opposition in the GOP primary until a last minute challenge was filed by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., of Queenstown. (See previous Cecil Times report on the contest here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/36th-delegate-seat-with-gop-friends-like-this-who-needs-democrats/  )

   Sossi has been ahead in the campaign fundraising race by a better than 3-to-1 margin but in the final days leading up to the Sept. 14 primary, the contest has taken on a war of words twist.

    Hershey recently sent out a four-page flyer, citing his past state employment as a political appointee during the Ehrlich administration in Annapolis. The flyer seemed to suggest that Ehrlich, who is hugely popular among Republicans in his bid for another term as governor against incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley, was endorsing Hershey for the Delegate’s seat.

 That made Sossi see red. Sossi had received permission from the Ehrlich campaign to post his own campaign signs in tandem with Ehrlich’s around the 36th District and Ehrlich had earlier endorsed incumbent Republicans seeking to retain their seats in the House of Delegates. (Hershey has been pairing his signs with those of Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36. Hershey was the campaign treasurer for Pipkin’s failed bid for Congress two years ago.)

  So Sossi took to his Facebook page (  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/richard.sossi?v=wall&ref=mf  ) and he wrote on his “wall” about the “endorsement” flap:  “Tis the election season. Because  a very slick mailer, albeit misleading and specifically not approved, implied endorsement of my primary opponent, the Ehrlich campaign has taken the extraordinary step of approving a press release reaffirming his endorsement of my election.”

   In the press release, supplied by the Sossi campaign, Ehrlich “reaffirmed” his support of Sossi: “Dick Sossi has a track record of fighting for our constituents and I look forward to once again working with Dick to return Maryland to a sound financial footing and to getting our fellow Marylanders back to work.”   The press release also quoted Ehrlich as saying, “”There are some folks that talk the talk, but Dick Sossi walks the walk.” 

  In the latest Sept. 3 campaign finance reports to the State Board of Elections, Hershey does not include costs related to the controversial flyer. In his previous report, Hershey does include  $850 in expenses, paid to a Georgia company, to set up his website, www.hersheyfordelegate.com . However, that site does not comply with Maryland elections law requirements for an “authority” tagline, stating the name of the campaign treasurer. His website has a box, stating “Paid for by Friends of Steve Hershey” but does not include the authority line or treasurer’s name.

   Hershey’s campaign has been largely financed by a $10,000 loan he made to his own campaign, with just $942 in individual contributions, including several from family members. His latest Sept. 3 report listed $2,018 in expenses for printing yard signs and tee shirts but did not cover costs of a flyer mailing by a direct mail operation. Hershey’s report showed $$7,702 cash on hand for the final days of the primary campaign.

   Meanwhile, Sossi still had $36,345 cash on hand, after a year-long fundraising push and spending for campaign ads, printing, signs and mailings.  Most of the contributions to his campaign have been relatively small and based within the district. But in the most recent report, he received a $1,000 donation from the Maryland Realtors Political Action Committee. 

   Sossi’s report showed $1,815 for mailings by a direct mail business, which he said covered two mailings to district residents: one to newly registered Republicans in the district and another to senior citizens.

   Cecil Times has called Hershey for comment and will update this report upon his response.

UPDATE: In the final days before the primary election, Hershey has sent out a slick four-page flyer, with pictures of Sossi purporting to show him nodding off or sleeping in the House chamber and accusing him of “sleeping on the job.”  The Hershey attack flyer asserts “only your vote will wake Sossi up.”  If the pictures were taken on the House floor, the angle is such that they would have had to have been taken by another Delegate or a Delegate’s legislative aide, since average citizens are not allowed on the floor. The flyer does not state a date or time when the pictures were shot, but the House often holds late into the night sessions.

   Reaction to the flyer in the District has been swift and angry. On his Facebook page,    http://www.facebook.com/richard.sossi      Sossi received support from Republicans and citizens who denounced the attack as “dishonest” and “slime.”  Sossi called the attack a “dirty tricks smear campaign” and said constituents had expressed “disgust both with my opponent and his puppet-master.”

   In case there was any doubt, the “sleep” flyer from Hershey was followed up by a separate flyer mailed to District residents by Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) declaring Pipkin’s endorsement of Hershey. The Pipkin flyer listed his own re-election campaign as the source of funds to pay for the mailing. (Pipkin is opposed in the Repubican primary by Donald Alcorn.)

   The Hershey “sleep” mailer appears to have been planned well in advance as a last-minute ploy and seems to explain what had been a puzzling buzzword of his campaign: “energetic.” Sossi has long been the most “energetic” Delegate in the 36th, keeping a grueling schedule of attending community events in the sprawling, four-county district. Hershey has claimed he is the more “energetic” candidate on his campaign materials. It now appears it was all stage-setting for his last-minute attack flyer on Sossi.


1st Dist. Congress Race: Harris Outraises Kratovil, but Incumbent has More Cash

September 3, 2010

( By Guest Blogger: Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

Seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil this year, Republican state Sen. Andrew Harris outraised the incumbent during July and August – but Kratovil still has more money in his campaign treasury, according to campaign finance reports filed in advance of the Sept. 14 Maryland primary.

According to reports filed late Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, Harris raised just over $172,000 in contributions during the period from July 1 through Aug. 25, in comparison with about $134,000 for Kratovil. In addition to the contributions, Harris loaned his campaign $20,000 during the latest reporting period.

But Kratovil – who narrowly defeated Harris in the 1st District in 2008 and is considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable members of Congress in this year’s election — had almost $1.35 million in the bank as of the end of the filing period,  in contrast to about $945,000 for Harris.

Businessman Rob Fisher, who is opposing Harris in this month’s GOP primary, reported just $410 in contributions during the latest filing period. But Fisher reported spending almost $219,000 during July and August, while Harris spent $145,000 on his campaign.

Fisher is largely self-funding his campaign: He has invested $475,000 of his own money to date, including a $60,000 loan during the latest filing period. He had about $80,000 in his campaign treasury as of the Aug. 25 filing deadline.

Fisher, widely seen as an underdog in the primary race, tried to raise his visibility with an ad that ran on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August. Harris, apparently conserving his resources for the general election, has yet to run broadcast TV advertising.

Kratovil, who is unopposed in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, went on television this week with a widely noticed ad that downplays both his status as a Democrat and an incumbent legislator. Lettering that appears at the bottom of the screen identifies him as a “former Eastern Shore prosecutor” rather than a member of Congress. He also boasts of having voted against healthcare reform legislation that President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders regard as their signature achievement over the past two years.

Throughout the current 2009-2010 election cycle, Harris has raised a total of $1.65 million, which is approximately $250,000 less than the $1.9 million taken in by the Kratovil campaign.

In terms of outside donations, Harris reports that about 85 percent of his funds have come from individual contributors, with the balance coming from political action committees, or PACs. Kratovil, on the other hand, has raised a slight majority of his donations during this election cycle – 53 percent – from PACs and other political committees.

In a dig at Kratovil’s fundraising patterns, Harris declared in a press release: “Maryland’s First District is ready for a new Congressman, one who doesn’t receive most of his money from inside the Beltway special interests.”

But while he is drawing primarily on individual donors, Harris is relying heavily on out- of- state fundraising from one group – his fellow anesthesiologists.

Harris, a physician by profession, is an anesthesiologist associated with the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and in the past year has worked part-time at the hospital in Salisbury, on the Shore. He received just under $124,000 in itemized individual contributions during the latest reporting period, and at least 20 percent of this money — $24,172 – came from non-Maryland residents who are physicians, with most of the donors in that group identifying themselves as anesthesiologists.

In addition, a national committee representing anesthesiologists has begun broadcasting ads for Harris on Baltimore radio stations.

Meanwhile, several Cecil County residents contributed to Harris during July and August. E. Ralph Hostetter of North East, retired publisher of the Cecil Whig, donated $1,000; Carol Hunter, of Rising Sun, whose family owns the well known auction barn, $250; and real estate broker Patrick Ulrich of Elkton, $20 (Ulrich has donated a total of $800 to Harris in the course of the campaign).

Also, David K. Williams of Chesapeake City – who operates the Williams Family Auto Mall – donated $500, while another family member, Nancy Williams of Elkton, gave $1,000.

Kratovil received $100 from Charlestown Mayor Robert Gell, the retired president of Cecil College; $100 from Jobeth Bowers of North East, a law office employee who is currently a candidate for Cecil County’s Democratic Central Committee; and $50 from Sue Fuhrmann, an Elkton-based retiree.

One well-known Maryland name on Kratovil’s latest list of donors is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a wealthy Baltimore attorney,who gave $2,300.


36th Delegate Seat: With GOP Friends Like This, Who Needs Democrats?

July 28, 2010

   Queen Anne’s County Democrats have taken a pass on fielding a candidate for that county’s resident Delegate in the 36th District but incumbent Republican Richard Sossi got a last-minute challenge from an unexpected source: the former campaign treasurer for fellow 36th District Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin’s failed race for Congress two years ago.

   Stephen S. Hershey, Jr. of Queenstown, an unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Queen Anne’s County commissioner and a political appointee in former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, filed his candidacy for the Delegate seat on July 6, the last day to file. No Democrat filed by that deadline to seek that party’s nomination for the seat and the county’s Democratic Central Committee had until July 21 to appoint a candidate to run.  But state election records show no such candidate was put forward.

   Hershey, a commercial real estate executive, served as an assistant secretary of the state Department of Planning and also as an assistant secretary in charge of state property management in the Department of Natural Resources in the Ehrlich administration. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that Hershey was one of three “political appointees'” named by Ehrlich to newly created top positions at the planning agency. ( http://www.latimes.com/features/bal-jobs061603,0,5461236,full.story )

   In the 2008 election season, Hershey served as the campaign treasurer for E.J. Pipkin’s failed attempt to obtain the Republican nomination for the First District Congressional seat.  Federal Election Commission records show that Hershey, as treasurer, was cited for failure to file a required campaign finance report for the Pipkin campaign account and the campaign was fined $250 in September, 2009.

   In an interview with The Cecil Times, Hershey said he “had a lot of conversations,” including with Pipkin, about filing in the GOP primary for the House of Delegates seat. Since there was a period of uncertainty over Pipkin’s plans and whether he would run for his Senate seat again, “there were a number of us discussing the Delegate’s seat,” Hershey said. (If Pipkin had given up his Senate seat to run for another office, possibly state Comptroller, Sossi was expected to seek the Senate seat and give up his House seat.)

  Pipkin filed for re-election to his Senate seat on June 30, a week before Hershey filed for the Delegate’s race. Sossi filed for re-election to his House seat nearly a month before Hershey filed.

  “I think the timing was still correct” to run for the Delegate’s seat, Hershey said, adding that “most people I talked to about it” did not oppose his getting into the race. ( He did not speak to Sossi before filing.)

   “Everyone who knows me knows I’m a hard worker,” Hershey said.

    Hershey, 46, a native of Bowie, MD, has lived in Queenstown for more than ten years. He graduated from Catholic University and holds an MBA degree from George Washington University. He has been active in Queen Anne’s County GOP groups, including the Republican Central Committee and the county’s Republican Club. He has also done volunteer work and coached youth football.

   State campaign finance records show he donated $500 to Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006, a modest amount to have been rewarded with a plum assistant secretary’s job paying more than $74,000. Hershey said he worked hard as a volunteer for Ehrlich’s campaign. The state records also show Hershey donated $300 to Pipkin’s 2006 Senate re-election campaign. He has also made donations to the county Republican Central Committee but not to Sossi’s campaigns.

    Sossi, who has been aggressively fund-raising for more than a year in anticipation of a possible state Senate seat run, is well-positioned financially for a re-election bid  to the House and the fact that Democrats chose not to challenge him means he can aim most of his considerable warchest at Hershey in the GOP primary.   

     Sossi didn’t seem particularly concerned about Hershey’s late entry into the primary, telling The Cecil Times, “Well, he paid his filing fee, that’s his right.”  But, Sossi added, “I still haven’t heard why is he really running.”

   However, the political signs going up all over the 36th District might tell the tale.  In southern Cecil County, individual Hershey signs have been posted in clusters with joint  signs touting the candidacy of Pipkin and his comrade-in-GOP-arms, Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36. Our spies in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties tell us the same thing is going on there. Hershey’s small signs are brown and look like the candy bar of the same name, but with a few modifications to probably keep the trademark lawyers at bay.

   Individual Sossi signs are showing up in the company of joint Ehrlich for Governor and Andy Harris for Congress signs in Kent and Queen Anne’s, our spies tell us.  

   Sossi has been carving out an increasingly independent course from the Pipkin-Smigiel duo. He refused to co-sponsor their attempt to impose from Annapolis a  mandated Cecil County property tax rate on the county commissioners.  The Pipkin-Smigiel legislation was killed in Annapolis– an embarassing outcome for local lawmakers’ sponsorship of a local bill– after the Cecil County Commissioners hired a lobbyist and commissioners personally appeared in Annapolis to oppose the Pipkin-Smigiel gambit.

 (On their own, the Cecil County Commissioners cut the local property tax rate and potential revenues to the county in the new Fiscal 2011 budget, cutting the past rate to the “constant yield” tax rate. But, to meet their bare bones budget, the Commissioners then cut popular services such as free recycling of plastic bottles and cans at the county landfill.  Smigiel and Pipkin have attacked the Cecil County Comissioners repeatedly on tax issues but have been notably silent on the recycling and trash “fee” increase imposed by the majority Republicans on the five-member county board. One Democrat opposed it and the other Democrat abstained.)

     Sossi was the top vote getter in the 2006 House of Delegates races in the district. Under the arcane system for voting in the district, three Delegates are elected but each must be a resident of Cecil, Kent OR Queen Anne’s Counties. Residents of each county, as well as three precincts in Caroline County, cast ballots for three Delegates to represent the District. (In Cecil County, about half of the county is in the district, including southern Cecil, Elkton and a few westward precincts.)

   Sossi  is a graduate of the University of Colorado and served five years in the U.S. Navy, including duty in Vietnam. He also served his country as a deputy branch chief of the super-secret National Security Agency and received advanced training in Chinese language studies and cryptology.  Before running for political office, he owned and operated a military antiques store.


Food Aid Rising in Cecil County: 11% Get Help

January 3, 2010

  Federal food stamps are now used by about 11 percent of  Cecil County residents, up from about 10 percent of county residents just a few months ago, according to state data. The indicators show the impact of the recession is still growing in Cecil County, even as some economic forecasters project that the economy is improving.

    Detailed statistical reports by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees various welfare programs including food stamps, show a sharp increase in food stamp aid in Cecil County within the past year. There were 11,059 participants in the program in November, 2009, up from 8,241 participants in November, 2008.  And just since this summer, participation in the food aid program has jumped by nearly 1,000 people in the county.

   The food stamps program has long been viewed by many economic analysts as a leading indicator of financial hard times, since the federally-funded program has less restrictive rules for participation than cash welfare programs and many newly poor-but-proud families who shun traditional welfare will accept food stamps to feed their children. The program, formally renamed “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” or SNAP in 2008, provides debit cards that can be used to buy groceries, with the amount of aid dependent upon family size and income.

   Statewide, food stamp participants numbered 527,011 in November, up from 491,262  just a few months ago, in July, 2009.

    Although the numbers show rising numbers of Maryland families are getting food aid, a Baltimore court ruled several weeks ago that state social services agencies are not moving fast enough to meet the demand. The judge ordered the state to come up with an action plan to make sure that all applicants for food stamps receive a decision within 30 days, as required by federal regulations.  (Read about the court decision here:)http://www.acy.org/articlenav.php?id=592

    During the court case, advocates for the poor calculated that just 59 percent of eligible families in the state were actually receiving benefits in 2007. The state argued that it had made efforts to improve its outreach to eligible families and speed up processing of claims. But the court found otherwise and directed the state to comply with the 30-day processing rule by the end of this year.

    Anecdotally, local Cecil County food pantries and churches have reported increased calls for assistance in these tough economic times. On the Upper Shore, other counties are also hard hit. As of June, 2009, food stamp participation amounted to 13 percent of the population in Caroline County; 10 percent in Kent County; 7 percent in Talbot County; and 5 percent in Queen Anne’s County.

     Statewide, Cecil County’s food stamp rate tied for eighth highest, along with Kent County, Washington County and Worchester County. The highest food stamp rates, as of June, 2009, were Baltimore City (24 percent of the population); Dorchester County (20 percent); Somerset County (16 percent); Allegany County(15 percent); Wicomico County (14 percent); Caroline County (13 percent); and Garrett County (12 percent).

    Seven of the counties on that list are in the First Congressional District. That means that incumbent Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat, and whichever Republican ends up running against him in this year’s November election, would be well advised to pay attention to what the food stamp numbers mean in political terms. People in the First District are hurting, and when they are hurting, they are usually angry. And an angry electorate is unpredictable.


E.J. PIPKIN: Campaigning in Cecil, but for what job?

September 9, 2009

   Our spies around the county tell us that State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, was in full campaign mode on Route 213 in Cecil County on Wednesday morning, waving from a pick up truck with aides holding signs declaring, “Pipkin for State Senate.” Now that would seem like the declarative statement many have been waiting for to answer the question: what is E.J. running for in 2010?

   But, no, like that movie ‘international man of mystery,’ Sen. Pipkin’s  signs do not necessarily reflect his intentions, according to an aide.

   “This was part of the Senator’s listening tour,” said Katie Nash, Pipkin’s Chief of Staff. “He’s continuing to listen to citizens,” she said, after doing similar roadside waves in Queen Anne’s County on Tuesday.  He will also be in Kent County on Thursday, waving signs to protest the Governor’s proposed closing of the Upper Shore Mental Health Center, she added.

   (As we were writing this post, we received an automated “robocall” from Pipkin urging us to call the Governor to protest the proposed closing of the Kent County facility as part of the latest budget cuts.)

   Although the signs said “Pipkin for State Senate,” that doesn’t necessarily mean he is indeed running for re-election to that post, the aide said. So he might still be looking at the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil in the 1st District, or challenging Democratic incumbent state Comptroller Peter Franchot.

    If Pipkin does not seek re-election to the state Senate, we’d put our bets on the Comptroller slot. Republican State Sen. Andy Harris– who beat both Pipkin and former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the 1st District Congressional Republican primary two years ago– is already fund-raising for a general election re-match with Kratovil and has strong backing from the national Republican party. 

   Pipkin usually self-funds most of his campaigns, but given the uber price tags of the last 1st District Congressional race, there’s only so much self-funding a candidate can do. Federal campaigns are much more restrictive in donation rules than Maryland election law so it is virtually impossible to shift state campaign funds to a federal contest.

      So far in the 2010 state election cycle, Pipkin has raised a modest $60,348, with expenditures of $43,773. Most of his donations– 38 percent– came from Political Action Committees based in Maryland with 32 percent coming from  individual donors, according to state election records.

    Comptroller Franchot has been running a non-stop re-election campaign almost since the day he was elected but  it is not a job that most voters pay a lot of attention to until shortly before the election.  It’s a post that could be a good fit for Pipkin, with his Wall Street financial background, and the fact that it really doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting  day in and day out. 

 But it’s a job that does require a lot of campaigning and PR– remember Willie Don Schaefer, and before that Louie Goldstein? Not many voters had the slightest idea what they actually did in the job but they sure did campaign a lot.  Pipkin has shown he likes campaigning, a lot, and the Comptroller job might suit his style and aspirations.  A statewide win for the Comptroller slot would position him for a potential gubernatorial or U.S. Senate bid in the future.

   But he’d have his work cut out for him challenging Franchot, who is very popular in his home base in the populous Montgomery County  and other suburban areas of the state where Pipkin barely registered on the political pulse in his last statewide race against U.S. Sen. Barbara Milkulski.

    Meanwhile, as Sen. Pipkin waves signs that may or  may not signal his intentions, other Republicans are left in the lurch on whether they can aspire to his state Senate seat or not.  Del. Richard Sossi, R-36, has signaled his interest if Pipkin moves up or on. Sossi is one of the most visible members of the Cecil County delegation, even though he doesn’t actually live in the county.  Last time we checked his Twitter schedule, we were exhausted just contemplating all those community meetings he attends.