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May 7, 2007

Political Winners & Losers (Part One)

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

It's been an interesting year gone by for politics, from the federal to the local level. Since I'm sick of my work being picked apart by pundits possessing half-knowledge, it's only fair to provide my own questionable analysis.

President George W. Bush - Loser (for now)

The president's staunch support of a commitment to U.S. troops in Iraq places him at odds with a majority of Americans. He considers this battle plan essential to fighting terrorists somewhere other than on our soil; but the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, aided ably by the network news, have convinced the American people that the U.S. military machine is an ineffective mechanism for fighting an insurgency.

The president's commitment in the face of growing opposition forces a situation where something positive has to happen; or the opposition within our country will grow and spread.

The 2008 congressional election hangs like a noose from the gallows over President Bush, Vice President Dick Chaney, and Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor. If the troop surge strategy starts to pay off, the president will seize the media spotlight, and the situation could improve quickly. If not, see below.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - Winners (for now)

Representative Pelosi and Senator Reid are playing a very dangerous game right now on a very tenuous world stage. They are betting that the president's strategy will fail; and both are actively engaged in a media campaign to insure that outcome. Senator Reid has gone so far as to already claim the war is lost, roughly equivalent to the president's early (and faulted) claim of "mission accomplished."

So far, Senator Reid and Congressman Pelosi find validation in the stories coming out of war-torn Iraq, particularly when the body count includes the names of American soldiers cut down in their prime.

If this pattern continues into the fall, the Democratic congressional leadership stands to add to their numbers, gaining the power they currently lack to override a veto. The wheels come off their wagon if things start to turn around, which places our national legislative branch majority party leaders in the weird position of hoping for a U.S. military failure.

The Roberts Court - Winner

The U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has issued a ruling that is likely to define the next several years. It came on the issue of late-term abortions, a medical procedure whereby a fetus is killed in the interests of the health of the mother.

The court held that there is no "right" to such a procedure, prompting fears that the court will expand its reach into the Roe v. Wade debate. Never mind that the actual written opinion includes language that separates the two, and leaves in place the right to choose abortion as settled law.

The Roberts Court has now demonstrated its willingness to tackle tough issues. Expect more of this in the future.

As subliminal sub-category loser here is the aforementioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Senator Reid, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or Mormons, to many of you), had typically been more conservative on the abortion issue throughout his congressional career.

Church teachings (of which I know a pretty good deal) rule abortion as murder, following a more typical conservative Christian theological view. Senator Reid, now the leading voice of Democrats nationally, chose to voice his concerns over the Roberts Court ruling on a woman's right to choose rather than his own faith. Interesting choice! Wonder how the big guy upstairs will view that decision?

Governor Martin O'Malley - Winner (so far)

Except for the state Republican Party leadership, most people in the know would have to give Governor O'Malley a winning mark for his first legislative session. He avoided high-profile spats with the legislature; he made some very smart Cabinet choices; and his StateStat initiative appears poised to help him identify savings (maybe even significant) in the cost to provide state services to Marylanders.

Governor O'Malley is focused on his image and reputation, much more than his predecessor was. If you look up the O'Malley staff directory, you'll find a new position. The Governor's Press Office includes a Creative Director, something that you typically find in an ad agency or out in Hollywood.

Part of his winning grade is related to timing; the honeymoon aspect is undeniable. It appears that everyone, including the Republicans in the legislature, wanted to see Governor O'Malley succeed for all of us. As soon as we start talking about tax increases, all bets are off, and this season of love will be over.

Governor O'Malley's Cabinet (Push)

Some winners, and some losers. Gary Maynard, Secretary of Public Safety, closed down the dangerous and unstable prison at Jessup before he even had his knick-knacks put away in his office. Clearly, he's a winner.

Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin was embraced by Maryland's sportsmen, a critical constituency for him. On the other side, former Montgomery County Councilman Tom Perez was chosen as the Secretary of Labor and Licensing, a position important to business in Maryland. Unfortunately, his statements as a sitting councilman and as a candidate for Attorney General give business reasons to be very concerned for the next several years.

Senate President Mike Miller - Winner

He is known simply as "The President" in Annapolis. His power is legendary, and his knowledge of state politics and the use of political power to achieve his desired outcomes have cemented his reputation as the ultimate Annapolis power broker.

This session was no different. He single-handedly killed every major legislative initiative that came out of the House of Delegates, setting an artificial threshold of $250,000 in cost for any policy bill. If the bill cost more 250K, it was Dead-On-Arrival.

He once again claimed slot machine gaming as a critical part of the solution to the structural deficit, adding a discussion of tax increases to generate the required $1.5 billion dollar limit.

In a surprising move, Senator Miller announced his planned retirement as the longest-serving active Senate president in a state legislature at the end of the current term. A lesser politician would be writing his own political eulogy, but not Mike Miller. If anything, he's stronger now than he was in the past.

House Speaker Mike Busch - Winner

As a Republican legislator, it pains me to identify all of these Democrat winners, but fair is fair. Speaker Busch has solidified his hold on the Annapolis media machine; he is now recognized as the most sought-after quote machine in the state capitol.

His grip on the House process is considerably stronger now, and he doesn't even have former Gov. Bob Ehrlich to offer up as the resident boogeyman. Speaker Busch continues to build the bench he draws on as the "coach" of the Democrats, so much so that he will continue to be a force in state politics until he decides its time for a change.

Rumors abound in Annapolis that Speaker Busch might want an appointment to a high-profile (and high-paying) state job. Given his broad powers and scope, and his apparent love of his job, I just don't see it.

More next week.


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