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Trump Criticizes Bush During Visit To Maryland

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

LINTHICUM, MD — There were no golden escalators and no paid actors. But even without props, Donald Trump knows how to put on a show.

The billionaire real estate mogul, who entered the race for the GOP presidential nomination this month, told Maryland Republicans in Linthicum on Tuesday night that his background as a negotiator and businessman makes him the most qualified candidate to “take back our jobs,” “take back our money” and “take back our country.”

His visit to Maryland, which had been in the works months before he announced his presidential bid, came as a new Suffolk University poll put Trump in second place in New Hampshire behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Trump reacted to the poll’s findings by attacking Bush.

“I can’t believe Bush is in first place. This guy can’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag,” Trump said. “So I’m in second place to Bush? I hate it!”

More than 600 people attended the annual dinner of the state Republican Party, and a GOP official said the event would bring in more than $100,000, money the party plans to use to support candidates in local and state races.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan did not attend the dinner, and several speakers acknowledged his announcement this week that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

The dinner at the BWI Marriott was quieter than Trump’s campaign announcement in New York, when he descended into the crowd on a golden escalator. Still, there was plenty of Trump’s characteristic bombast. He reiterated his opinion that the nation’s current leadership is “stupid” and “desperate,” and he called President Barack Obama “incompetent.”

He focused his remarks on the nuclear negotiations underway with Iran — suggesting the Obama administration appeared “desperate” in the talks with Tehran — but also spent significant time arguing that reporters had taken statements from his announcement speech out of context.

In particular, Trump has been criticized for suggesting Mexican immigrants entering the U.S. are rapists.

Asked about the April riots in Baltimore, Trump said he “loved Baltimore,” but then said the city was afflicted with “killings on an hourly basis, virtually.”

“Baltimore is a very, very special case, and it’s a very sad thing that’s happened,” Trump told reporters. “Baltimore needs jobs and it needs spirit. It’s got no spirit. None.”

(c)2015 The Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Ben Carson: Fix Economy To Address Poverty

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

BALTIMORE — Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who announced his presidential campaign this week, returned to Baltimore on Thursday to tell community leaders that the way to relieve tensions with police and help impoverished neighborhoods is to fix the nation’s economy.

Carson, who on Monday entered the rapidly growing field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination, largely sidestepped direct questions about police cameras and the high rate of incarceration in African-American communities — suggesting that reducing taxes and regulations would restart an economic engine that would benefit everyone.

“The economy has a lot to do with that,” Carson told a member of the audience who asked specifically about policing.

“Most of the people that I have heard from in the political arena, they say, ‘One of the big solutions to our problems is we have to remove the entitlements,'” Carson said. “And I say, no, what you have to do is fix the economy. … When people have viable options, that’s when you start pulling entitlements.”

Carson, a 63-year-old Florida resident who has never before run for office, spent nearly two hours taking questions from a few dozen community members and a handful of reporters packed into a conference room at the Bilingual Church of Baltimore east of Armistead Gardens — on the other side of the city from where riots took place last week.

The former Baltimore County resident, who had a celebrated career leading the pediatric neurosurgery department at Johns Hopkins Hospital, weighed in directly on one issue: whether State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby overreached in charging the six officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries sustained while in police custody.

“I probably wouldn’t have charged them to that degree,” Carson told the group. “But then again, I’m not a lawyer.”

Carson promoted school choice as a way to address beleaguered inner-city schools and argued for giving patients vouchers to pay for medical care rather than relying on Medicaid. He suggested teaching young black students about the contributions African-Americans have made to the country’s development so that they can be inspired to achieve.

“Once you get into the penal system, it gets really hard to get out of it,” he said. “That’s why we need to get to them before that happens.”

He also spoke at a Maryland Right to Life banquet late Thursday.

Carson saw his political star rise after he delivered a fiery address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2013. He criticized President Barack Obama’s policies a few feet from the president at the traditionally nonpartisan event. Talk of a possible White House run began circulating soon after.

Carson faces significant challenges in his campaign. Among them will be distinguishing himself from other conservatives in the race, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida as well as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Other prominent GOP figures, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also are expected to run.

Though he lacks political experience, Carson arguably has the most compelling personal story of any candidate. Born into poverty in Detroit, Carson initially struggled academically. But he went on to graduate from Yale and the University of Michigan’s medical school.

At 33, he was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins, the youngest person to lead a major division at the institution. He won international acclaim in 1987 when he became the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head.

His first book, Gifted Hands, was made into a television movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. In the book, Carson describes how he overcame early struggles with school and anger through a love of reading and faith.

(c)2015 The Baltimore Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Mikulski Leaves The Senate A Changed Place For Women

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

WASHINGTON –– When Barbara A. Mikulski first stepped onto the Senate floor in 1987, she saw only one other female senator. They were required to wear skirts and were prohibited from using the male-only gym.

But as the retiring Maryland Democrat prepares to relinquish the title of “dean of the Senate women,” she leaves a political environment that is fundamentally changed — from access to the treadmills to the possibility that a woman could ascend to the presidency.

The number of women serving in Congress has increased from 25 to 104 since 1987, and research indicates that female candidates now are just as likely to raise money, capture media attention and get elected as their male counterparts.

“The Senate, certainly, has changed,” said Republican Senator Susan M. Collins of Maine. First elected in 1996, she’s now one of 20 female senators.

At the same time, advocates are troubled by a deep enthusiasm gap that has slowed the pace of gains among women at some levels. The proportion of women serving in state legislatures, for instance, has remained essentially stagnant, at just over 20 percent, since the mid-1990s.

And while the number of women in the Senate has grown, they still represent a smaller share of the body than in the U.S. population at large. Women hold just two committee chairs in the new Republican-controlled Senate and only one in the House.

“There has been tremendous progress,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. But “I wouldn’t want it to sound as though we’re post-gender, that there is no issue here, that the problem is solved.”

Mikulski, who waited until her fifth term before she was given her first committee chairmanship — she took over the Appropriations Committee in late 2012 — believes that significant work remains.

The first female Democrat elected to the Senate in her own right, Mikulski has campaigned for other Democratic women across the country for years. And she founded the bipartisan, closed-door dinners of female senators that have long been a Washington institution.

“Now we’re going to go for the big enchilada, which is Hillary,” said Mikulski, who announced this month that she would not seek re-election in 2016.

She has been an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton, having served as national co-chair of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. And she is backing Clinton in her potential 2016 race, even as former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley considers a run for the nomination against her.

Mikulski bristles at the notion that the country is approaching an environment in which gender no longer matters.

“Whenever you have a minority status in our society, it’s like, ‘Oh, why should that count?'” she said. “Well, it does count.”

She noted that the election of President Barack Obama did not eliminate racism: “You look around at our country and you tell me if race doesn’t matter.”

But in some ways, analysts say, gender matters less in politics than it used to. Jennifer Lawless, who heads the Women & Politics Institute at American University, said her research shows that gender does not seem to have been particularly relevant in elections for about the past 20 years.

“Increased party polarization has made it such that whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ by your name is far more important than whether you have an X or a Y chromosome,” Lawless said.

“Campaigns can still be quite gendered,” she said, “but it’s when the candidate wants them to be.”

Consider Clinton, who has taken to pointing out that she recently became a grandmother — an effort that many view as an attempt to soften her image.

The former first lady and senator, seen by some as lacking empathy, experienced a boost in popularity in early 2008 when she teared up on the campaign trail.

Still, women are less likely to run then men. Lawless attributes the gap in part to perceptions about the system.

Of Maryland’s ten representatives in Congress, only two are women: Mikulski and Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George’s County. That share — 20 percent — is about average; women make up 19.4 percent of Congress.

But several women in the state point to a burgeoning farm team, and a coordinated effort — influenced by Mikulski — to change the numbers. Women are increasingly running for state and local office, they say. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is the second woman in a row to hold that job. And the state ranks seventh in the nation in the number of women serving in the legislature, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

“There is no reason to sit around wringing our hands thinking that it’s bad to be a woman in politics,” said Martha McKenna, a Democratic operative in Washington with deep ties to Maryland. “We’re laying the groundwork for something that’s going to be very significant.”

McKenna chairs a group called Emerge Maryland, launched in 2012 to encourage and train Democratic women to run for office.

She said Mikulski cut the group one of its first checks.

Another measure of progress is the number of women who could step up to try to replace Mikulski in the Senate. At
least six have publicly expressed interest, including Edwards, Rawlings-Blake and former Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who was the first to formally announce his candidacy, already has secured an endorsement from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, an indication that some in the party hope to avoid a bruising primary. Others have embraced the idea of a large, diverse pool of candidates.

Edwards, who announced her Senate bid last week, said it’s important that a woman win Mikulski’s seat. If elected, Edwards would also be the first black woman to represent the state.

“Maryland needs that kind of inspiration,” Edwards said. “When you go into classrooms, all the girls know Barbara Mikulski.”

Collins remembers meeting Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine Republican who was the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate. Smith didn’t discuss her gender when they met.

For Collins, she didn’t have to.

“As someone who had just turned 18, when I left her office my reaction was that it opened my eyes to the fact that a woman could do anything,” Collins said. “So, I don’t think you have to talk about your gender for gender to be an influential factor.”

Collins would later serve with Republican Senator Olympia J. Snowe, making Maine one of the few states that has been represented in the Senate by two women at once.

“We will get to the day — and I want us to get to the day — when gender is not an issue,” Collins said. “But right now, there is still a sense of pride when another woman makes it to the top ranks.”

Photo: Maryland National Guard via Flickr

Longest-Serving Woman In History Of Congress Announces Retirement

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

BALTIMORE — Senator Barbara A. Mikulski announced her retirement Monday morning.

Mikulski, speaking at the podium by herself, said she spent considerable time thinking about how she wanted to spend the next two years and ultimately decided she didn’t want to run another campaign.

“Do I spent my time raising money or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs? Do I spend time focusing on my election or the next generation?” Mikulski said. “The more I thought about it, the more the answer became really clear.

“That’s why I’m here to announce I won’t be seeking a sixth term as a United States senator for Maryland,” she said.

Mikulski, often described as “tough as nails,” became emotional as she recalled her years growing up in Baltimore and thanked Maryland voters for honoring her “with your confidence and trust.”

Mikulski said she is eager to help elevate the next generation of Democrats, but declined to say whether there were any particular potential candidates she thought might be good for the job.

“Maryland has a lot of talent,” Mikulski quipped. “They’ll be telling you about it in the next 10 minutes.”

The Democrat and the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress addressed the media after promising an “important announcement about her future plans.”

Mikulski, 78, is Maryland’s senior senator. She began in 1976 in the House of Representatives. She has served in the Senate since 1987, recently heading the Appropriations Committee and would have been up for re-election next year.

Mikulski’s retirement is expected to set of a flurry of jockeying among the state’s already fractured Democrats, who have yet to unite after the finger-pointing that followed their loss of the governor’s mansion in November.

“It’s going to be a donnybrook,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. “It creates turmoil down the entire chain. I’ve had three would-be congressmen call me already and tell me not to make any decisions. … There is no unity. There is no party boss. There is no party discipline. It’s a free for all.”

Senator Jon Tester of Montana, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he is confident another Democrat would emerge “and make Barbara Mikulski proud.”

Photo: Maryland National Guard

In Retirement, Ben Carson Moves Closer To 2016

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

NEW YORK — Ben Carson had a modest plan in mind last year when he retired from Johns Hopkins Hospital after a celebrated, decades-long career in neurosurgery: He wanted to improve his golf game and learn to play the organ.

But the 63-year-old has been too busy crisscrossing the country, raising money and elevating his profile to pursue his golf swing or his love for Bach. Nearly two years after he burst unexpectedly onto the national political scene, Carson is sending every signal that he’s interested in adding a presidential campaign to his bucket list.

Given Carson’s penchant for controversy and his lack of experience as a candidate, it might be easy to dismiss talk of his political ambition. But it’s difficult to ignore the loyal following that has grown up around him, or that the ‘Draft Carson’ movement has raised $12 million — a little more than the similar effort underway for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“The possibility of running for high public office is not something that thrills me, to be honest with you,” Carson told The Baltimore Sun in an interview before a recent talk with business leaders in New York. “I also recognize that sometimes you just have to deal with the situation that you’ve been thrust into.”

The retired director of pediatric neurosurgery is a consummate Washington outsider, an African-American conservative and a best-selling author with a personal story so compelling it was made into a television movie. Talk of a presidential campaign began to swirl immediately after he delivered a fiery address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last February.

Video of Carson laying out his conservative views on federal budget deficits, taxes and health care at the ordinarily nonpolitical event — with a stone-faced President Barack Obama sitting an arm’s length away — quickly went viral.

But while his rhetoric has fired up conservative Republicans, his language has sometimes been divisive. When discussing his concern that American voters are afraid to speak their minds or engage in politics, he likens the United States to Nazi Germany. He has described Obama’s health care law as the worst thing that has happened to the country since slavery.

Carson blames what he says is a PC-obsessed media for missing the broader point of his words. And as he does so, his poll numbers climb.

A CNN/ORC International poll released last week had Carson in second place among Republicans nationwide behind Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in 2012, and ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. That poll showed him with support from 10 percent of respondents.

By contrast, Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley, also frequently mentioned as a presidential candidate, captured less than 1 percent of Democratic voters in the same poll. Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who told The Sun last week that he is also weighing a possible campaign in 2016, hasn’t been in the mix long enough to even appear as an option in polling, though he will also start off with a low level of name recognition on the national stage.

Carson rose from inner-city poverty in Detroit to graduate from Yale and the University of Michigan’s medical school. At 33, he was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins — the youngest person to lead a major division at the institution. He won international acclaim in 1987 when he became the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head.

His first book, Gifted Hands, was made into a television movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. In the book, Carson describes how he overcame early struggles with school and anger through a love of learning and faith. When he was in the ninth grade, he tried to stab a friend during a fight over which station was playing on the radio. The incident shook him, he writes, and he willed his short temper into submission.

Former colleagues describe Carson as a brilliant and determined surgeon who would come to the hospital in the middle of the night to perform procedures he could easily have left to others.

“He took on a lot of great challenges, a lot of children that other people — other very talented pediatric neurosurgeons — said could not be helped because he realized that if nobody took on the risk that they were doomed,” said Dr. Henry Brem, a Hopkins neurosurgeon who worked with Carson throughout his career.

“He made each family, each patient feel that they were the center of the world,” he said. “The closer I got to Ben over the years the more in awe I was with him as a person.”

President George W. Bush awarded Carson the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2008.

In his speeches, Carson rails against extreme partisanship, suggesting that voters should ignore party labels on Election Day and focus instead on each candidates’ ideas. But he nevertheless embraces a host of conservative policy prescriptions, which he describes as “common sense” ideas.

At the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan, he told a small a group that Congress should vote again on the Affordable Care Act, described the global rise in temperatures as “irrelevant,” and suggested that the United States shouldn’t shy from using combat troops to tackle the spread of Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

“Ideology has said we can’t put boots on the ground,” Carson said. “If you’re going to fight a war, you need to fight the war and get it over with.”

Carson spoke for about an hour over cocktails at the club, a quiet, wood-paneled spot appointed with Persian rugs. In a soft-spoken bedside manner, he told about two dozen people that his ideas were neither Republican nor Democratic.

For years, Carson was an unaffiliated voter. He recently registered as a Republican.

Many in the audience said they were only vaguely aware of Carson before they heard him speak — he is less well known in New York City than in more conservative parts of the country — but several picked up copies of his most recent book, One Nation, that were positioned nearby.

Sitting under the books was paperwork describing how attendees could make contributions to Carson’s various political committees.

“What he says makes a lot of sense,” said Dr. Jerry Katzman, a retired ophthalmologist who was hearing Carson for the first time, vowing to learn more about him. “He speaks from a very practical point of view.”

Carson’s signature domestic proposal is an expansion of health savings accounts, an idea he said would spur competition among doctors and clinics by giving families a greater stake in choosing where to spend their health care dollars. Instead of getting coverage through a government-run program such as Medicaid, low-income families would receive a set medical stipend that they would be responsible for managing.

The concept of giving patients more control over the cost of their care has been supported by members of both parties.

Disdain for political correctness is central to Carson’s approach to politics. And while his bomb-throwing has brought him considerable attention — and a spot, until recently, as a pundit on Fox News — it has also meant he sometimes winds up spending more time talking about his word choice than his underlying messages on the economy and health care.

In addition to the Nazi and slavery comments, Carson came under fire last spring when he mentioned bestiality and the North American Man/Boy Love Association during a Fox News discussion of same-sex marriage.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said during the appearance. “No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition. So it’s not something that’s against gays. It’s against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society.”

The backlash led Carson to withdraw as commencement speaker last year at the Hopkins School of Medicine.

Carson acknowledges that the storms his comments can generate have helped solidify support among mostly conservative voters.

“The interesting thing is the more they attack me, the more popular I become,” he said. “So it kind of puts them into a little bit of a quandary.”

What stands out about Carson these days is his schedule. Weeks after the midterm elections, when many of the politicians who are eyeing 2016 took a break from the campaign trail, Carson is speaking in four or five states a week.

He is also the focus of an hourlong video that aired on television stations in 22 states last month. “A Breath of Fresh Air: A New Prescription for America” was produced by Carson’s business manager, conservative columnist and TV host Armstrong Williams.

Fox News cut ties with Carson over the video, which some perceived as a move toward campaigning.

The conservative group Family Leader invited Carson to speak last month in Iowa, the first state to hold a caucus in the 2016 primary calendar.

“We book a lot of speakers because we’re in Iowa, and he has definitely been the toughest one for us to land because he’s in such high demand,” Family Leader President Bob Vander Plaats said. “There’s a lot of respect and a lot of interest in Carson.”

The longtime Maryland resident owns a house in northern Baltimore County, but he retired last year to a home on the 17th hole of a golf course in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The idea of a Carson campaign is generating significant political cash, frequently from small-dollar donors. The National Draft Ben Carson committee — which is prohibited by law from coordinating with Carson — has brought in $12 million since last year.

But the draft-Carson group is spending money as fast as it’s receiving it. In its most recent Federal Election Commission disclosure, filed last week, it reports owing more money than it has in the bank.

Carson is the chairman of Save Our Health Care, a group that supports Republican congressional candidates. The group is funded by the American Legacy PAC, which has raised $7.3 million since last year. The organizers of the group have also formed the American Legacy Center, a nonprofit that can accept unlimited donations and does not have to disclose its donors.

Carson created another group in August, USA First PAC, that raised $377,000 this year.

But despite the travel and fundraising, Carson is not committing to a 2016 campaign yet.

He said he expects to make up his mind about his next steps by May.

“I really had no intention of getting into the political arena. But as a platform made itself available and I began to talk about these things, they resonated so strongly with millions of people across the country,” he said.

“I don’t know what my role will be in the future,” Carson added, “but I know that I will continue to fight extremely hard for these principles.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Maryland Governor Defends Position On Immigrant Children, Shelter In His State

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley came under fire Wednesday for advocating for thousands of children entering the U.S. illegally while simultaneously trying to waive the White House off a potential shelter in Westminster, Md.

CNN and others reported that O’Malley spoke Friday with White House adviser Cecilia Munoz and requested that the administration reconsider its assessment of a former Army Reserve Center in Carroll County. A White House official confirmed the conservation to The Baltimore Sun but declined to comment on the nature of the call.

Late last week, at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Nashville, O’Malley urged compassion for the children and argued that they receive due process before being deported. The comments came as the Obama administration is seeking to alter legal protections for the children in order to expedite their removal.

O’Malley is considering a run for president and has occasionally attempted to stake out positions to the left of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who polls show currently dominates the potential field of Democratic candidates in 2016.

“We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death,” O’Malley said on Friday.

Carroll County quickly pushed back on news, first reported by The Sun, that the Department of Health and Human Services was considering the site just outside of Westminster. O’Malley aides said the state was concerned about the site in part because of the reaction in the community.

“What I said was that would not be the most inviting site in Maryland. There are already hundreds of kids already located throughout Maryland,” O’Malley said of his phone conversation with Munoz in an interview Wednesday on CNN.

“Whatever the motivation was of the people at the White House that leaked it to you, I’ll leave you to determine,” he added.

A day after the federal health department decided against pursuing the facility, a vandal painted the words “no illeagles here” on the side of the building. State police are investigating the graffiti as a hate crime.

O’Malley aides dismissed the idea that the governor was being hypocritical by advocating for the children while opposing the Carroll County shelter. They said they have worked cooperatively with the federal government on potential sites and also pointed to a “statement of need” to be published later this month that solicits licensed providers to care of the children.

An aide said the state, along with the federal health department, is also considering another potential shelter site in Maryland, but an aide declined to provide detail about that facility.
Meanwhile, the state’s leading immigration advocate group, CASA de Maryland, supported O’Malley’s decision to question the Carroll County site.

“When we heard about the proposed Westminster site, our immediate thought was that the only place in Maryland less hospitable to children fleeing violence in Central America would be inside the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department building,” said Kimberly Propeack, an attorney with the group.

“We think he is right to question why the administration would propose the most anti-immigrant locations rather than the many other parts of the state where children will be sheltered and loved,” she said.

Photo: Gregory Hauenstein via Flickr

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