For Henson, it's time for a robo campaign

Candidate should let robotics work for him in quest for Senate seat

  • Political consultant Julius Henson, is president of the Berea Eastside Neighborhood Association, Inc., one of the most influential in Baltimore. Having emerged from jail last year on a conviction in an election fraud case, he is running to unseat long-time State Sen. McFadden, who was also at the meeting.
Political consultant Julius Henson, is president of the Berea… (Algerina Perna / Baltimore…)
February 25, 2014|Dan Rodricks

Hyperchutzpahism is a condition in which an overactive chutzpah gland produces an excessive amount of chutzpah, causing people to be extremely audacious, if not obnoxious, and to cut in line at TCBY. The word, which I just made up, is taken from the Greek (hyper, for overly) and the Yiddish (chutzpah, for boldness or self-confidence.)

I'm not a doctor, but I think this is what afflicts Julius Henson, the political operative — hyperchutzpahism. He can't help himself. He's chutzpadik, and not in a good way.

Henson was convicted, jailed and fined for his role in the infamous "relax robocall" to suppress votes in the 2010 Maryland general election. He was involved in automated telephone messages that went to thousands of people in communities with predominantly black voters, telling them to "relax" and stay home in the final hours of the election.

That was then. This is now, and now Henson is a candidate for a state Senate seat.

That's chutzpah.

Another man, particularly a black man, might have been so ashamed of what he did that he never would have raised his head in politics again. The laws against such schemes go back to the great struggle to extend civil rights to the descendants of slaves and other people of color.

But obviously, getting involved in such an offensive and illegal plan did not bother Henson. He's shown no public remorse.

Not that anyone should be surprised by that.

Everything about Henson has been in-your-face, and consistently so over many years as a political operative in Baltimore.

So now he's campaigning against Sen. Nathaniel McFadden for the Democratic nomination in the city's 45th District.

But there's a catch: the possibility that Henson's candidacy constitutes a violation of his probation from the robocall case.

Turns out that the sentencing judge, Emanuel Brown of the Baltimore Circuit Court, ordered Henson to serve three years' probation and "not work in any political campaign paid/volunteer during probation."

That condition serves two purposes: It punishes Henson, keeping him away from the seasonal livelihood he obviously relishes, and it keeps him from playing dirty tricks on candidates or voters. No robocalls.

I like what the judge did. It's as if he issued issued a protective order for the next election. Henson has to stay away.

But here's another catch: The judge's order might not prohibit Henson from running for office.

Henson and his new lawyer, Russell Neverdon, will argue this week that while it's one thing to tell a political operative he can't manage a campaign, it's quite another to tell him he can't run for office. And besides, they say, that goes beyond the judge's order.

I agree. Henson should win this. Prohibiting him from running for office is not only a stretch of Brown's conditions, it's probably unconstitutional.

Still, even if Henson wins, there are lots of questions here. For instance:

Is running for office the same as "working" in a political campaign? Can shaking hands, giving stump speeches and participating in debates be said to be "work" in the conventional sense?

I think it is. So that would create problems for Henson, with campaign "work" being a probation violation.

Since he will still have to abide by the judge's order, Henson can't exert himself as a candidate. He can't break a sweat. He can't do anything that looks like work.

Under the order, he can't even volunteer to help himself.

That means he can't go door to door to hand out fliers. He can't volunteer to hang posters on abandoned buildings. He can't solicit contributions, either.

Henson would have to be a campaign couch potato.

He would have to sit still and let other people work for him against McFadden.

Knowing how hands-on the guy is, I'm sure Henson will find this frustrating. Campaign volunteers might have to tie him to a chair.

You see what I'm saying? This is tricky territory. We've never been here before.

So, if Henson wants to do this right — run for office but without working or volunteering for himself — there's only one solution: Run a robo campaign.

Henson should rent a robot and pay its handler to program the thing to make phone calls, campaign appearances and mac-and-cheese for the volunteers.

I can just see Henson's robot now: A humanoid like Honda's ASIMO, but with braids, walking around the 45th District handing out candy and bumper stickers and saying stuff like: "Hello. I am Hal. Relax. Julius Henson is my friend. He would like to be your senator. Please vote for him on June 24. Thank you. Hello, I am Hal. Relax. Julius Henson is my friend ..."

And on like that, all the way down Belair Road and across Erdman Avenue, and into the pages of history — a robo campaign.

Think of the press this will generate. Julius Henson will look like he's on the cutting edge of political technology instead of the trash bin of old-school dirty tricks. I hope he takes my suggestion seriously. He certainly has the chutzpah. He just needs the robot.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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