By Josh Kurtz
Jaws in Annapolis are still dropped over Del. Charles Barkley’s interview late last week with the Naptown Pint blog over the controversial bill to enable Guinness to open a brewery and tap house in Baltimore County.
Many stakeholders believe the compromise bill that emerged from the Senate on Friday is still flawed. However, it at least enables the state to save face and not lose a valuable economic development project, while at the same time expanding the number of barrels most craft brewers can produce annually – albeit in a tortured fashion typical of the tortured system that governs sales and distribution of alcohol in Maryland.
But in a State House where most members are afraid to speak their mind for fear of reprisals, Barkley’s interview is one for the ages.
On the beer blog (see http://naptownpint.com/2017/04/house-bill-1283-meet-del-charles-barkley-maryland-beers-original-supporter/) the teetotaling Democratic lawmaker from Montgomery County, who chairs the House Economic Matters Subcommittee on Alcoholic Beverages, said House members were “misled” by their leaders about the contents of the bill when it came to the House floor and passed unanimously. He also complained that Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis (D) cut him out of the negotiations over the bill in the final days of the legislative session – and that craft brewers, whose annual output and hours of operation are affected by the legislation, were not kept in the loop.
“I’ve never had this kind of intervention before,” he said.
The first reaction of many people was, did Barkley know he was on the record?
The answer is, yes.
“I was asked a question, so I was just being honest,” Barkley told Maryland Matters.
Not surprisingly, Davis was furious.
“Barkley lied,” Davis said Friday. “He knew exactly what was in that bill ahead of time.”
Davis conceded that Barkley was removed from the negotiations at the end, when it had become a high-stakes game involving many of Annapolis’ top lobbyists. But he said the multi-layered legislation, with many competing interests, political undertones and moving parts, was so sensitive that he felt compelled to handle the negotiations with the stakeholders and Senate leaders himself.
“Charlie thinks that there’s two chairmen of Economic Matters, but there’s only one,” Davis said.
The chairman, according to witnesses, lit into Barkley at the panel’s voting session late Friday. But Davis told Maryland Matters that he does not intend to ask Barkley to give up his subcommittee gavel. He said he’d like Barkley to stay on in the interest of working together.
Even if there are short-term consequences for Barkley in the House, his explosive interview is probably a net gain as he prepares to give up his seat and run for the Montgomery County Council in 2018. A rare show of independence is an undeniable asset, especially if Barkley is in a crowded at-large race for council (Barkley has said he will run at-large unless 2nd District Councilman Craig Rice moves on).
And there will still be calls to privatize Montgomery County’s unusual alcohol distribution system during the 2018 campaign. Barkley could find himself at the forefront of that movement with his knowledge of the state’s antiquated and cumbersome liquor system. That carries both political risks and benefits, but at least Barkley, unlike some other candidates, will be able to speak with clarity and authority on the issue.
Asked if he thought about the short- and long-term political consequences when he spoke to Naptown Pint, Barkley shrugged and said he was unconcerned.
Barkley, first elected to the General Assembly in 1998, has a history as a maverick. He was previously forced off the House Appropriations Committee for defying leadership, and encountered similar problems when he served on the Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, expect to hear more from state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who injected himself into the middle of the controversy over the brewers’ bill, to say more on the subject – maybe even as early as this week. Franchot on a recent Facebook post promised to address the state’s regulatory system for the beer industry – and he may offer some details as early as Tuesday, when by coincidence he is scheduled to address the annual national Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C.
It also would not be surprising to see Franchot spending the summer visiting craft brewery taprooms around the state – possibly with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in tow – to express his solidarity with that segment of the industry and his displeasure with the liquor laws he’s charged with policing, not to mention the influence of industry lobbyists in Annapolis.
ANNE ARUNDEL WOMEN LAUNCH PAC Emboldened by Hillary Clinton’s victory in Anne Arundel County – a first for a Democratic presidential nominee in that jurisdiction since the LBJ landslide of 1964 – and by all the grass-roots activism and energy that has emerged since President Trump was elected, a group of Anne Arundel County Democratic women have launched a political action committee to help Anne Arundel Democrats in 2018.
“All these great candidates are coming forward to run for office, but they don’t have any idea how to raise money, and we intend to help them,” said Susan O’Brien, a Democratic strategist and one of the co-founders of the Back to Blue PAC.
Making one of her first public political acts in years, Jennifer Glendening, the former first lady, will be the PAC chair. Kia Chandler, an attorney from Arnold, will be treasurer. Kelly Derthick, who has been a behind-the-scenes player in state and local governments, is the secretary.
O’Brien said the group aims to raise about $200,000 this cycle. The idea is to help women Democrats who are running for county offices or legislative seats in Anne Arundel, but also to help male candidates who take progressive positions on women’s issues.
“There are a lot of people running who will not be well-known names in this community,” she said. “If people give a thousand bucks they can feel like they’re really helping a number of races.”
LAST CALL The 90-day legislative session can feel a little like one long floating cocktail party. So it’s fitting that lawmakers are being invited to at least eight parties on Monday, the final day of the session.
It’s 90 days of special interest wining and dining in miniature: According to the General Assembly’s protocol calendar, which lists receptions and dinners being held in the legislature’s honor, the sponsors of Monday’s receptions are (in the order in which they’re listed in the calendar):
–Capitol Strategies, a top Annapolis lobbying firm.
–The Maryland Catholic Conference.
–Pica and Associates, the law and lobbying firm of former state Sen. John Pica (D).
–Alexander & Cleaver, another top lobbying shop.
–The Premium Cigar Retailers Association and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (and their lobbyist, Bryson Popham).
–The Baltimore Jewish Council.
–The Sierra Club Maryland chapter, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Gally & Associates (a white-hat lobbying firm), Citizen Shale and Friends of Deep Creek Lake.
–The Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
COMING TUESDAY The session’s winners and losers — and other post-mortems.
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