David Nitkin on state politics issues

Alma T. Bell, Baltimore: How will the relationship between rap mogul Russell Simmonsand Michael [S.] Steele affect Steele's relationship with the religious right?

Nitkin: Steele, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, is a formerCatholic seminarian who has strong moral convictions and is opposed toabortion rights. His relationship with Simmons, the founder of Def Jamrecords, is based on economic issues: both Steele and Simmons are vocal intheir support of small black businesses. One of Steele's major campaignmessages is supporting black families and businesses in creating "legacywealth." Religious conservative voters -- a small minority in Maryland --will almost certainly not support the Democratic Senate nominee. Thequestion then becomes is there anything about Steele that keeps them ontheir hands during the election. It's doubtful that Simmons' endorsement ofSteele is a development that would keep those voters home.

Doug Johnson, Baltimore: Do you think Michael Steele will win his primary election?Or will he be upset? Will Kweisi [Mfume] upset [Benjamin L.] Cardin in the [U.S. Senate race]? Is political interestwaning this year because of apathy or some other reason?

Nitkin: I think political interest is very high this year and isnot waning. Michael Steele will win the nomination easily. I will not makea prediction about the Democratic primary. It's too close to call.

Dave, Bel Air: On TV advertisements, Martin O'Malley claims he will freezecollege tuitions, and offer more grants to students. Another ad states [Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.] raised tuition at [the University of Maryland] by 40 [percent]. How does O'Malley intend tofreeze tuition and offer more grants? I'm sure the governor didn't raisetuition just to do so. That would be political[ly] unwise. I think O'Malleyis "blowing" smoke again, and of course don't forget his "mirror".

Nitkin: Actually, O'Malley does not plan to freeze tuition ifelected, and that's why I think the ad is misleading. We pointed out asmuch in a Campaign ad watch article. The ad says "freeze tuition," and the O'Malley campaign explainedthat that was intended to be a reference to O'Malley's support of atuition-freeze plan offered by General Assembly Democrats during thisyear's session and ultimately also supported by the governor. Tuitionincreases came under Ehrlich during a time of fiscal distress -- they werein part driven by fiscal realities, and also by a philosophy espoused by amajor Ehrlich backer, Richard E. Hug, the governor's campaign financechairman named by Ehrlich to a position on the University System ofMaryland Board of Regents.

Laurie Hanig, Rockville: Why haven't you been covering the Democratic primary racefor the 4th Congressional District between Albert Wynn and Donna Edwards,which is a Maryland version of the [Connecticut Senate race between Ned Lamont and incumbent Joe Lieberman]?

Nitkin: We ran an article on the 4th Congressional District race, entitled "Primary mirrors national struggle," in Monday's paper .

Ginny Fite, Westminster: Why is Perry Sfikas not running for the 3rd DistrictCongressional seat? He's been waiting all his life for this.

Nitkin: Perry Sfikas is a former state senator from Baltimore whodecided not to seek re-election in 2002; he bowed out rather than face afellow incumbent, Sen. George Della, after the two were put in the samedistrict through redistricting. I haven't spoken with Sfikas, but there iscertainly a crowded field for the 3rd District right now, and it isuncertain that Sfikas would be a top-tier candidate if he had decided torun.

Tom, Forest Hill: Where did O'Malley find the $58 million?

Nitkin: In 2004, city schools had an accumulated $58 million deficit,and there were concerns that the system would run out of money and wouldnot be able to make payroll. There were weeks of intense negotiations thatincluded the mayor and Ehrlich toward a plan that would see the state give more money to city schools to cover the deficit, in exchange for more control over city schools. After hearing concerns from parents and teachers about the perception of a state "takeover," the mayorabruptly withdrew from the deal, and instead offered the school system $42million from the city's reserve account to patch a hole in the schoolsbudget (the city council and school board signed off on the plan). Themoney has since been repaid. For more on Baltimore City schools, you can read archived Sun coverage at baltimoresun.com.

R. Scholz, Baltimore: Has anyone noticed how wrong the attorney general has beenon the election issues? I guess one can conclude that the [attorney general] is eithercorrupt or incompetent.

Nitkin: The attorney general's office serves two roles: it advisesthe General Assembly when preparing laws; and defends those laws ifchallenged. The office had no choice but to defend the Assembly's laws onearly voting. One could argue, I suppose, that lawyers for the officeshould have advised their client -- the Assembly - while the law was beingdrafted that it was susceptible to a challenge and that the constitutionneeded to be changed first. The state Court of Appeals threw out Maryland'searly voting law recently; its full decision has yet to be published.

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