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Anthony Brown on the issues: Slots, power and prisons

June 07, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown traveled to Hagerstown on Tuesday, his fourth trip to Western Maryland in five weeks to plug Gov. Martin O'Malley's vision of "One Maryland."

That vision would treat the needs of citizens in all parts of the state equally, because, Brown said, the problems of families across the state and their aspirations are the same.

That's a lovely scenario, but such promises are easier to make than to carry out. Whether "One Maryland" supplants the present system, in which the metropolitan areas get the banquet and the rural areas get the leftovers, remains to be seen.

Brown said that issues he heard about while in Western Maryland included the need for workforce housing, more affordable health care and the redevelopment of downtown Hagerstown.

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Asked about the new governor's relationship with correctional officers, many of whom were unimpressed by the former administration's efforts, Brown said that the appointment of Gary Maynard as the state's secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services has been a good first step.

Brown said Maynard is a veteran of troubled prison systems in other states and is committed to listening to the ideas of rank-and-file officers.

Asked to name any specific innovation in Maynard's previous correctional service that had significantly improved something, such as the rate at which inmates released committed new crimes, Brown said he could not.

He did say that those who interviewed Maynard had done their "due diligence" and had received positive comments from everyone contacted about his previous performance.

Asked about the possibility of requiring inmates released from the state prison complex south of Hagerstown to return to the jurisdictions where they were convicted - as opposed to relocating here - Brown was unsure about what could be required.

(Over the years, parole and correctional officials have told me that unless an inmate is paroled - released prior to the completion of his or her sentence - such conditions can't be placed on them.)

Brown said the real challenge now is to get parole and probation officials the technology they need so that they can better monitor the progress of their clients.

In a statement to The Washington Post during the campaign, Brown said that one of the most urgent problems facing the state was "double-digit increases in energy rates..."

Gov. Robert Ehrlich's Public Service Commission came under heavy rhetorical fire from Democrats for its alleged pro-utility bias, but O'Malley's PSC recently approved a 50 percent increase for Baltimore Gas & Electric.

Brown said that as far as rates are concerned, the administration's job is to ensure that the PSC does its job and that the rates proposed are justified.

There must be a renewed emphasis on conservation and alternative energy sources, he said.

He added that in his own all-electric home, replacing a failed heat pump with a modern one and replacing 80 percent of the light bulbs with energy-efficient ones cut monthly power use by 8 percent.

On slots, Brown said his sense was that they would be part of a comprehensive solution to the need for revenue to close the state's projected $1.5 billion deficit.

Departments have already been told to make $200 million in cuts, he said, and a transition team on which more than 1,000 citizen volunteers worked recommended improvements to make delivery of state services more efficient, he said.

There will probably be a special session on the deficit, Brown said, to allow lawmakers to concentrate on one issue as opposed to hundreds of bills.

In an op-ed on this page, Brown says O'Malley has delegated him to lead on economic development, higher education and health care. He is also overseeing the state's reponse to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decision that will send more jobs to Maryland.

That's a full plate and this Harvard-educated Army veteran seems eager to dive in. The potential pitfall he faces is the same on that tripped up Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

No leader, no matter how bright, can oversee everything personally. Brown must choose subordinates with great care, or, despite all of his good intentions, he could face some unpleasant surprises.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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