Kratovil Files for Judge as 1st Dist. Congress Map Turns More GOP to Favor Rep. Harris; Where’s Pipkin?

October 7, 2011
By

ANALYSIS

Former Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil has filed as a candidate for an appointment to a vacant Queen Anne’s County District Court seat, after a proposed redistricting plan redrew the First District to be a Republican bastion favoring re-election of Rep. Andy Harris.

Although Kratovil would not be precluded from also filing in January to run as a Democrat to regain the seat he lost to Harris in the 2010 election, the court candidacy triggers questions about the prospects of a credible Democratic challenger to Harris in 2012. Kratovil’s action, as well as the new map, also create the possibility of a last-ditch challenge to Harris in the Republican primary before he consolidates his hold on the seat for a long-term stay in the newly safe Republican district.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) challenged Harris unsuccessfully in the 2008 GOP primary but could be a viable, largely self-financed opponent to the well-funded Harris in a 2012 primary. Harris has upset some moderate Republicans especially on environmental issues and Pipkin could make a credible claim to be more attuned to the district’s concerns with the Chesapeake Bay.

The proposed redistricting map will be reviewed by the General Assembly at a special session expected to begin Oct. 17. The plan consolidated GOP voting strength in the First District in order to redraw lines elsewhere, and target the Western Maryland seat now held by the 85-year-old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-6).

The Bartlett district was re-drawn to bring in more Democratic voters from upper Montgomery County and create an opening to change the political makeup of Maryland’s congressional delegation from the current 6 Democrats and 2 Republicans to a possible 7-1 alignment, favoring the Democrats who control the State House and the General Assembly.

As a result, the First District was re-drawn to include all of the Eastern Shore, including Cecil County, that are currently in the 1st but tossed out areas of Anne Arundel county formerly in the district. Instead, the new map would extend in broader swathes of heavily Republican Harford County and add segments of heavily GOP Carroll County for the first time.

A Democratic-controlled redistricting advisory panel submitted its proposal to Governor Martin O’Malley on Tuesday but the outlines of the map had been circulating since last weekend and Kratovil was no doubt given an advance “heads up” on the outlines of the new 1st District.

Kratovil filed his candidacy for a Queen Anne’s County District Court vacancy before the deadline to do so on Wednesday, October 5. Four other candidates applied, and a judicial selection panel will review the applications before forwarding a list of qualified candidates to the governor by Dec .6. However, the governor has no deadline by which to fill the vacancy, which was created by the retirement of Judge John T. Clark III.

[See court candidates’ list here: http://www.courts.state.md.us/judgeselect/judicialvacancy.html ]

The Kratovil-Harris matchup was one of the most costly in the nation in the 2010 election, with a total of about $12 million in campaign expenditures. Harris has continued fundraising since his election and currently holds a sizeable warchest. According to Federal Election Commission records, Harris has over $414,000 cash on hand in his campaign treasury as of June 30. A new financial report is due to be filed Oct. 15 and will likely show even more fundraising by Harris.

Since being out of office, Kratovil has not been fundraising and the re-drawn lines of the 1st District would be a disincentive to many donors to invest in a Democrat’s campaign against Harris.

But Pipkin, who has run for U.S. Senate as well as the House seat in the past, has largely self-financed his past campaigns. He is a former Wall Street ‘junk bond” trader.

Pipkin is known to have aspirations for higher office, as witnessed by his track record of running for other positions. The state Comptroller’s position is expected to be vacated in 2014 by Democrat Peter Franchot, who is expected to run for governor, and Pipkin would be a credible candidate for that statewide office. Pipkin has staked out a position in the state Senate as a critic of excessive spending in Annapolis, and the Comptroller holds a seat on the state Board of Public Works that must approve most spending.

Prior to the redistricting maps’ release, Pipkin’s political allies have been floating the prospect of his running for the new position of County Executive of Cecil County in 2012 under the new charter form of government approved by local voters in 2010. Pipkin campaigned against charter, which removes much of the power of the state legislative delegation over local county affairs.

But worrying about potholes in Earleville does not fit with Pipkin’s political DNA. Rumors of a county executive candidacy seem to be more of a “fear factor” gambit to deter others from getting into the race.

If Pipkin did run for county executive, voters would no doubt wonder how committed he was to the job or if he would immediately turn his focus to a 2014 run for statewide office. And if he pledged to serve out a four year term with the county, that would likely put his statewide office ambitions on the back burner until 2018 for a comptroller run or 2022 for a gubernatorial bid, assuming that whoever wins the 2014 governorship gets a second term.

Political patience has not been one of Pipkin’s virtues in the past.

At this point, Pipkin’s best political calculus seems to be whether to risk another run at Harris in the GOP primary—a speak now or forever hold your peace gambit—or to sit out any race in 2012 and wait for other statewide opportunities in 2014.

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ALAN McCARTHY for COUNTY EXEC

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