U.S. Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger spoke during… (Photo by Noah Scialom / Patuxent…)
Among the likely Democratic candidates for Maryland governor in 2014 — Howard County executive Ken Ulman, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler — Ulman comes closest to being the "Baltimore-area candidate."
But a genuine Baltimore-area candidate — someone who could pull votes from Baltimore County and the city, and enough in other key sectors of the state — would be a serious contender for the big-daddy chair in Annapolis.
And who might that be?
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the six-term congressman and former Baltimore County executive, "is considering it," says his spokeswoman, Jaime Lennon.
Ruppersberger is the ranking Democratic member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, a great assignment but one that has a term limit and ends when the current Congress does, in two years. With his work on the committee winding down, Ruppersberger might be ready for another challenge.
"I think as a pure politician, Dutch would be the class of the field," says Herb Smith, longtime observer of the Maryland scene and professor of political science at McDaniel College. "He connects with people. He has extensive executive and administrative experience. ... There's definitely an opening for a major Baltimore metro candidate. The 'Smith Rule' operates as follows: D.C. metro voters will vote for a Baltimore metro candidate in a statewide race, but the reverse, not so much."
Better a barbecue fundraiser
That $300,000 the General Assembly set aside last month for the legal expenses of the Eastern Shore farming family that was sued for polluting a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay stands. The allocation for Alan Hudson made it into the final budget, and isn't that nice?
I wonder where the line forms for other people who have legal bills to get such generous help from Maryland taxpayers.
Hudson was sued, along with poultry giant Perdue, in federal court on allegations that their actions led to pollution in a creek feeding the Pocomoke River, a violation of the Clean Water Act. The plaintiff, the Waterkeepers Alliance, was represented in the suit by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law. A federal judge ruled for Hudson in the case.
If Hudson can show that he has legal expenses beyond those covered by any court-ordered reimbursement or private fundraisers, he can get up to the amount set aside by lawmakers.
The state Board of Public Works gets the final say, and the governor, who criticized the lawsuit and the law clinic's involvement, sits on the three-member board.
Think what you will about this matter — that the suit was frivolous or the suit was well-intentioned — if anyone should help defray the costs of the Hudson family's defense (a big "if") it should be the plaintiff, not Maryland taxpayers.
Or maybe, if they feel sorry for the Hudsons, members of the General Assembly should stage a chicken barbecue and raise some money for the family.
Not much for land
While the legislature was being so generous with taxpayer money for the Hudson family's legal expenses, it cut funds that might have been used to help dozens of other Maryland farmers get into the state's agricultural preservation program. There's a waiting list.
Dru Schmidt-Perkins, the executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, pointed me to the budget for the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program, which funds the acquisition of conservation easements. That program, she says, took a $2 million hit over the course of the General Assembly session. In addition, legislators trimmed close to $7 million from the state's Rural Legacy Program, which is designed to protect large tracts of land from urban sprawl.
The Department of Natural Resources says Maryland loses 25,000 acres of agricultural and forest land to development each year. If we're going to spend taxpayer money on farmers, better to help them preserve their land — and work it smartly, within the environmental laws. We have no business picking up their legal bills.
He loved the Colts
Back when the Baltimore Colts were still here — but just barely — a letter arrived in my mailbox at the old Evening Sun, marked "Sort of Important." It was from Mary Lou Fonte, daughter of Joe Fonte, a city police officer and long-time volunteer equipment helper for the Colts.
Mary Lou wanted Colts owner Robert Irsay to know how much time her dad had given to the team over the years. Joe had never missed a Sunday home game and even paid his own way to two Super Bowls in Miami so he could help out in the dressing room. With Irsay threatening to take the team out of town, Mary Lou thought some attention should be paid — to people like her dad, who loved the Colts and wanted to see them stay in Baltimore.
Of course, the column I wrote about Joe Fonte didn't change Irsay's mushy mind — the Colts left for Indianapolis three weeks later. But I'm glad I got to salute Fonte in print.
That was nearly 30 years ago.
Joe Fonte died on Saturday. He was 87. Rest in peace.