Yesterday's post about Ken Ulman's veto appears to have been more controversial (or as some would say "wrong") than I had intended. Throughout the day, I received text messages, e-mails, and heated critiques over after-work beverages all centered around one thing: the "long-game" on an Executive veto of the tier map.
From my perspective, most of these arguments set up like so many Russian dolls, all attempting to ignore their previous shell. I don't see any base truths that persist outside of the perceptions, biases, or presumptions of the individual. Then again, my own responses share the same weaknesses, which make this an unpredictable set of weeks.
First, Ken's math is fine. This argument supposes that Ken will be able to woo at least one member of the County Council, with a nudge-nudge wink-wink knowhattamean smile aimed at Jen Terrasa. It is no secret that Ken and Jen have a close professional relationship, and that Ken heavily supported the Terrasa campaign down the homestretch of the 2010 race. Nevertheless, you would think those chits would have been cashed before the vote on December 3rd, right? Unless this is some political theater conducted by a very risky maestro, this is another bluff (of many). I don't see Jen's vote changing, nor do I see any other Council vote switching in response to an Executive veto.
Second, to quote Big Worm "You see, it's the principal. There's principalities in the whole thing." This isn't about "winning politics." It is about winning supporters. 1,000 Friends of Maryland. Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Ken doesn't have to win the day for these folks. He just has to show that he tried his best. Better to have veto'ed and lost than never to have veto'ed at all. The argument is that these organizations represent the "big picture" and that the Council is playing "small ball". I guess. Although I have to believe that when given a choice, these organizations would rather have champions that win than those that can't win over even 2 members of the County Council to sustain a veto. "Tried his best" just doesn't read well on campaign literature.
Finally, there is no down side to a veto. This is a play off the second argument, but merits separate discussion because I feel it is a continued misconception that has flummoxed the Ulman Administration in the past. They don't seem to have a feel for how things play out in the press, or if they do, they don't care. Just as when the George Howard building was packed with supporters for Pizza Hut and Kendall's, or when Frank Turner famously declared that he "carries water for no man" in the midst of the Board of Education fight, it seems clear that an Ulman veto will play badly within Howard County.
I don't need to call Greg Fox to know that he is telling everyone he meets that he "hopes Ken vetoes this bill." Why? Because Greg would love nothing more than to pack the George Howard Building again and hear three hours of testimony about why Ken Ulman is a power-hungry such-and-such.
I don't need to call Allan Kittleman to know that he is hoping for a veto as well. Why? Because it offers an opportunity for him to be the champion in the Council chamber, fighting for what may already be a winning ticket, raising his profile in a lead up to the 2014 Executive Race. Republican Allan Kittleman on the same side as the Democratic County County, showing his bipartisan bona fides, and the ability to get things done when the stakes are high.
I don't need to call Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, or Peter Franchot. They know this is a tight wire act that could score minimal gains for Ken with the risk of significant embarrassment for their erstwhile opponent.
And when you put it all into the crucible, the news coverage will be, at best, unpredictable. Unless you're a school-teacher, fireman, or third-grader-raising-money-for-X, The Baltimore Sun does not do hero journalism. Arthur Hirsch is not writing a story about Ken Ulman "standing up for the Bay." He's writing a story about why Ken Ulman and his Council are not on the same page and what that means for Ken's image on the State-wide scene. County news coverage is primarily focused on "why does it matter?" and "The Bay" is not a satisfying answer, particularly when there are salient political threads to chase down.
What would be much more impressive would be if the County Executive fashioned a solution that met the concerns of rural Howard County, while continuing to provide protections for the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, that's what surprises me the most about this - that Ken isn't already chasing down this avenue, that he didn't have a solution worked up last June, that we're even having a discussion "about a veto." Where is the ingenuity that made Ken Ulman a name discussed amongst the Gubernatorial prospects? Why are we now talking about the blunt politics of interest groups? There are too many smart, empathetic, and hard working people in the Howard Building to make this about a lost cause.