Dems vs. Van Hollen, Who’s more partisan?


It looks like Van Hollen has set the dogs on the legislature. According to the State Journal, Justice Dept. employees are being encouraged to lobby the legislature on behalf of the agency, which is currently slated for a 10 percent budget cut.

While it’s legal for rank-and-file state workers to lobby on state time, the practice is unique, according to lawmakers and a state ethics specialist.

Van Hollen said there will be less environmental and consumer protection enforcement, and that DOJ’s public safety mission could be compromised, if the 5 percent cut isn’t restored. About 80 people would be laid off, he said, under the cuts.
Van Hollen, a Republican, said there’s “no explanation other than partisanship” for the cuts.

Very interesting indeed. Van Hollen is now emphasizing aspects of law enforcement that liberals are more likely to look favorably upon. In fact, it is hard not to imagine Van Hollen having higher political ambitions. Although his actions and positions are typically party line (see election lawsuit, opposition to sentencing reform), even to the point where his allegiance to a healthy justice system is questioned, his rhetoric is generally pretty tepid. He doesn’t make the same kind of incendiary remarks as some of his party colleagues in the legislature, who labeled the current budget as “pro-crime.” He doesn’t seem to appeal as blatantly to the talk radio crowd. But by bringing the issue of “partisanship” up, he’s effectively flexing his ability to take on the opposing party. This onslaught of lobbying and press conferences will be a success for him whether or not he succeeds in changing the budget.

The legality of the lobbying obviously hasn’t stopped the DPW from responding aggressively. Jason Stephany, Executive Director of the DPW originally sent an open records request to obtain records of lobbying attempts, and had a few words of criticism:

According to sources within your agency, at least four of your top deputies, Ray Taffora, Kevin St. John, Gary Hamblin and Chris Blythe, have been contacting managers and instructing them to pass down these political lobbying orders and talking points to rank-and-file staff at the DOJ.

By doing this, you are essentially forcing state employees into a position where they must either act as your political pawns or face retribution from their managers at a time when job cuts are imminent. This is yet another example of your office abusing state resources and using state employees as tools to advance your political agenda.

Hence, the question: Are the DOJ cuts the result of partisanship? I wouldn’t put it past the legislature’s Democrats to do everything in their power to screw over the top GOP official in the state, especially one who has annoyed them as much in the past as Van Hollen. However, cuts in law enforcement don’t seem to be the best way to do that. First off, Justice is a touchy issue. Although Democrats don’t feel as weak on the issue as they did in the 90’s, cutting DOJ while also attempting sentencing reform probably isn’t optimal politically. Why give Van Hollen a platform to pontificate on?

If we’re really cynical, we could imagine that the move represents a warning to Van Hollen to stop poking his nose around in some shady business that some Democrats are involved in. Not likely, but it happens. But again, it seems that such a steep budget cut would likely be too drastic a move to take in a scenario like that.

The most likely situation is that the cuts actually needed to be made. As noted by Mark Pocan, DOJ’s budget had increased by 17 percent over the last two years. Hence, a 10 percent reduction isn’t a far greater sacrifice compared to other agencies that were forced to cut back 5 percent.


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