Josh Kurtz -- Potpourri: John Delaney, Gansler’s Legislative Strategy, LG’s on Display, and Rich Colburn

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By: Josh Kurtz 

If in fact freshman Congressman John Delaney (D) is conducting polls to see if he should make a last-minute run for governor – and his team his keeping mum – it shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

Delaney insists that he enjoys serving in the House – and we ought to take him at his word. Why shouldn’t he be enjoying his time in Congress? 

But it’s also been clear from the get-go that Delaney wasn’t going to be a long-time member of the House of Representatives. Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen – they’re veteran legislators, and hard-wired to prosper on Capitol Hill despite the obvious constraints.

Delaney, a wealthy financier used to being the boss, was always going to be something different. And he was never going to get in line and wait his turn, as so many Maryland Democrats are expected to do.

If he decides to jump into the gubernatorial fray at the last minute, Delaney’s Democratic primary opponents will no doubt try to paint him as a multimillionaire in a hurry, unqualified to be governor.  But Delaney in fact is a thoughtful guy who has spent a lot of time studying the problems facing Maryland and the nation. The economic development report issued in 2011 by the group Blueprint Maryland, which Delaney headed and funded, remains a worthwhile read. And on the scale of raging personal ambition, Delaney doesn’t seem anywhere close to the three announced Democratic candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, and Del. Heather Mizeur.

Just how a Delaney candidacy would affect the primary dynamic is hard to say, but it’s easy to see him hurting all three in one way or another. He and Gansler are from the same part of Montgomery County, with many of the same friends and political supporters – so he could be particularly harmful to Gansler.

Delaney would cut into Mizeur’s “change agent” message, and as the guy who obliterated the party establishment’s candidate in the 2012 congressional primary, he’d serve as a living, breathing reminder of Brown’s flaws and fragility. Already Delaney has aggressively criticized the state’s implementation of Obamacare, and with an unlimited amount of money to spend he’s uniquely equipped to expose Brown further (Gansler upped his health care criticism Monday with a news conference blasting Brown and the O’Malley administration).

That late primary endorsement from Bill Clinton, which Brown is no doubt banking on, might not happen either, if Delaney runs (in competitive primaries, Clinton likes to reward Democrats who endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, which both Brown and Delaney did).

All of this is just conjecture at the moment. Probably Delaney won’t run. But isn’t it funny how Dutch Ruppersberger isn’t the member of Congress that the candidates for governor most have to worry about?

And consider this tantalizing possibility: If Delaney runs for governor, his House seat becomes enticing for any number of Democrats, and, potentially, a face-saving consolation prize for candidates facing uphill battles in other races (Doug Duncan, Bill Frick, etc.).

Meanwhile, the gubernatorial primary continues at a more prosaic level, with Annapolis the primary battleground for the next few weeks. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and legislative leaders will be working hard to make Brown look good on a number of fronts. Mizeur will be pushing her own legislative agenda – using health care and the environment as wedge issues with Brown.

 Gansler’s legislative strategy will be a little harder to discern. While he’s rolled out a substantive wish list – which includes environmental, pro-consumer and domestic violence measures – and has a well-respected legislative liaison in Kisha Brown (who appears on many lists of political up-and-comers), the establishment’s allegiance to Anthony Brown will make for some rough sledding, and Gansler’s supporters in the legislature don’t have an organized strategy.

“There is no coordinated effort to try to hijack the session for political gain – though I’m sure others will try that,” Del. Jolene Ivey (D), Gansler’s candidate for lieutenant governor, told me last week.

Both Ivey and Sen. Richard Madaleno (D), an early Gansler supporter, expressed the hope that good legislation will pass and that the politics will take care of themselves, with plenty of credit to go around. Madaleno noted that while there have been a few contested Democratic gubernatorial primaries over the past several elections, the last time there was a competitive primary where an administration was essentially trying to extend its rule, as the O’Malley-Brown administration is now, was in 1978 – and most current legislators weren’t in office then.

“It’s not like we just did this four years ago or eight years ago and there’s an accepted approach,” he said. “Everybody is flying blind. Hopefully we’ll just go about our business.”

Speaking of Ivey, I’ve long argued that the three Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor are in many ways more compelling than the principals. All three of them – Ivey; Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Brown’s running mate; and the Rev. Delman Coates, Mizeur’s No. 2 – are scheduled to address a meeting of the B.E.S.T. Democratic Club, in East Baltimore, on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. It takes place at Birdland Sports Bar & Grill, 6319 Belair Rd.

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It’s easy to feel repelled by the recent allegations surrounding state Sen. Richard Colburn (R), who has been accused by his wife in divorce papers of carrying on an affair with a 20-something legislative aide. And no doubt they will present a problem for him this year as he seeks a sixth Senate term.

But in many ways the bigger problems for Colburn were unearthed earlier in 2013, when the Salisbury Daily Times reported that he had spent more than $40,000 in campaign funds on lavish meals, sports tickets, flowers and other gifts.

The question of infidelity, while it has unfortunately become public, is really between Colburn and his wife. The notion that he has been living the high life, however, is something the voters of the Middle Shore now need to consider.

In the three-plus decades he’s been active in politics, Colburn has had a unique brand. He’s an everyman, the former supermarket bagger without a college degree who was proud to display his union card, the voice for watermen and farmers and sportsmen and other rural constituencies that get short shrift in the State House.

But Colburn evidently has “gone Annapolis” – he’s become a Jim Dandy who dyes his hair, who enjoys a skybox at Camden Yards and a good steak, who lavishes gifts on supporters and friends, just because he can. An affair with a woman young enough to be his daughter – well, that’s another sign of his sense of entitlement.

This is not the Rich Colburn the voters of Cambridge and environs have put so much faith in all these years. But will he pay the consequences?

Voters have been forgiving of Colburn’s past transgressions – whether it was a desultory, pointless run for Congress in 2004, or allegations that he had an aide write his college term papers a year later. And his district is fractured, set up in a way that no one has the base or wide appeal that Colburn, who was born in Oxford, lives in Cambridge, and serves as town manager of Federalsburg, does. There is no obvious contender – Republican or Democrat – who can take him out.

So distasteful as all this news about Colburn is, word of his political demise may be greatly exaggerated.

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

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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.