Josh Kurtz: Nostalgia Edition -- Alex Mooney, Cas Taylor, the Ehrlichs, Doug Duncan AND MORE

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By Josh Kurtz

Is it 1998 all over again? Or 2002? You might think so, based on recent headlines and the people making news:

-- Annapolis is rife with irony; that’s nothing new. But it’s always good to take note of the latest dose.

Last week, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) started railing against gun manufacturers and their lobbyists, who, he said, imperil the gun safety legislation he’s pushing.

Just who are the hired guns for the gun industry? In Maryland, it’s the powerhouse Annapolis firm of Alexander & Cleaver, featuring Casper Taylor, the former House speaker.

That’s right, Cas Taylor -- who was ousted from his Western Maryland district in 2002 by Republican LeRoy Myers in part because of his role in shepherding Parris Glendening’s gun control package through the House. This was back when Taylor thought he had a chance of winding up as Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s running mate. But it was enough to make him, temporarily at least, Public Enemy No. 1 with the NRA and its financial backers.

So Taylor is back in the industry fold, representing the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group based in Newtown, Conn., of all places -- too late to save his political career, but with time enough for a handsome payday.

-- Speaking of Myers, there’s talk in Annapolis -- and in Washington -- that he’s training his scope on another big-name Democrat: freshman Congressman John Delaney.

Given the demographics of the newly-drawn 6th congressional district, and his own personal fortune, it’s hard to see Delaney being in any kind of danger at this point. But 2014 is a “six-year itch” election -- that could be good news for Republicans everywhere. And freshmen members of Congress are usually at their most vulnerable the first time they run for re-election.

Republicans could do a lot worse than Myers as their nominee. Even if he’s unlikely to win, a decent showing will boost other Republicans down ballot.

-- Of course, that was supposed to be Alex Mooney’s seat. In fact, you could say Mooney has been preparing to run for it his entire adult life. Now, with word that he is stepping down as state GOP chairman, it appears as if Mooney’s Maryland political career may be over.

For years, Mooney had a plan. He apprenticed himself to the district’s Republican congressman, Roscoe Bartlett. He nurtured ties to national conservative activist groups, and learned how to write provocative direct-mail fundraising appeals, just as they do.

Mooney’s election to the state Senate in 1998 at the age of 27, after upsetting an entrenched moderate Republican incumbent (just as Andy Harris did that year in Baltimore County), was a confirmation that the hard-ball tactics that worked in national politics could translate to Maryland -- and it seemed like he was on his way. Sure, there were several other politically promising Republicans in Western Maryland, including Bartlett’s own son, elected to the state House the same year Mooney won his Senate seat. Yet there was little doubt that Mooney would be at the front of the line whenever the elder Bartlett decided to move on.

But a funny thing happened on Mooney’s way to Congress. His legislative district started changing. Constituents demanded results, not just conservative bombast. Republican donors only responded to so many “sky is falling” fundraising appeals. Mooney in 2010 -- a Republican year -- lost his bid for a fourth term.

Becoming chairman of the state GOP then seemed like a lifeline for him, a place to hang his hat and put his fundraising skills to good use while he waited for Bartlett’s retirement, which surely was just around the corner. But Bartlett sent out mixed signals for a while. He raised so little money in one quarter of the 2012 election cycle that he looked like he was going to retire. Mooney began raising money -- only to hear Bartlett eventually declare that he planned to run again after all. So Mooney loyally stood down, and Delaney is now the congressman, well-equipped to keep that job for as long as he wants it.

There will be plenty of cheering about Mooney’s departure from the political scene -- by Democrats, naturally, but also among many Republicans, who felt the jabs of Mooney’s sharp elbows and found his political schtick to be a little too self-serving. In a way, that’s a shame. Mooney was quite the political talent, and contrary to his image, he had a bigger dose of compassion than many modern-day Republicans. If he’d been a little more disciplined, if he’d buckled down and become a real legislator, instead of just a provocateur, he might actually be fulfilling his dream and serving in Congress right now.

-- Speaking of dreams interrupted, let us contemplate the Ehrlichs. Although Bob Ehrlich’s loss in his rematch to O’Malley was just a little more than two years ago, it seems as if they’ve been looking for a way back into the game for a long time now.

So they’ve seized on this vacancy at the Anne Arundel County executive’s office as the vehicle -- with Kendel, famous for possessing the political courage to denounce Brittany Spears, as the voice of moral authority, uniquely equipped to set the county right after the tawdriness of John Leopold. The Ehrlichs are putting out the word to fellow Republicans, sometimes directly, sometimes through emissaries, that it’s “Kendel’s time.”

But buyer beware: Kendel Ehrlich may be telling the world that she’s only interested in a 21-month regency. But does anyone really believe that? Will the Ehrlichs be able to give up the spotlight so easily? Isn’t it easy to envision an interim County Executive Ehrlich beseeching the voters in 2014 to give her extra time, to finish up the job she’s taken on? What does a mere 21 months in office get a power couple craving upward mobility?

-- There was a flurry of speculation surrounding another comeback kid last week, former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan (D), after The Gazette reported that he might be contemplating putting together a full slate of newcomers for County Council as he seeks to get his old job back next year.

It’s a nice thought. Duncan can portray himself as the old hand with a new broom.

The more interesting question, if indeed Duncan goes ahead with his comeback bid, is not whether he’ll put together a slate (doubtful), but what kind of campaign he’s going to run. Throughout his career, Duncan has created a bogeyman -- a crisis, real or imagined, that he’s going to fix.

When he ran for mayor of Rockville, he was going to raze the downtown mall. When he first ran for county executive, he was going to put out the fire at the Travilah dump, which no one else seemed to know how to cope with. When he ran for re-election, he was going to defeat all those socialistic County Council members and candidates who were standing in the way of roads and development.

Who, or what, will be the target of Duncan’s derision this time? Ike Leggett? A County Council that is easy enough to lampoon, but actually contains many serious, hardworking individuals?

Leggett still hasn’t said whether he’s running for a third term as county executive, but the conventional wisdom is increasingly that he will. But -- speaking of throwbacks -- we’ve seen this Hamlet on the Hungerford routine before.

Leading up to the 2002 election, Leggett was adamant that he did not want to be Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s running mate. But everything he did seemed to carry the subliminal message, “Pick me, pick me, pick me.”

Until recently, Leggett has made it known that eight (years) is enough. Now, he’s not so sure. But he sure wouldn’t mind it if we’d, you know, beg him to stay.

-- And speaking of nostalgia, welcome home, Tommy Bromwell! Call me maybe? Ain’t too proud to beg.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Anne Arundel Agonistes

Numbers Racket

Like Moths to a Flame

New Year’s Appeal

Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Party Like It’s 1986
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.