Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Gov. Martin OMalley and Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein at a news conference on the new health care exchange. (Photo by Tom Nappi, MdGovPics)
Commentary by Barry Rascovar, for MarylandReporter.com
Whos in charge of Marylands computerized Obamacare rollout? Until recently, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown wanted you to believe he was the man.
For years, hes been describing himself as Gov. Martin OMalleys point man on this crucial health insurance program. The governors press staff dutifully gives Brown co-authorship and quotable lines every time theres a press release.
Yet it has become painfully clear Brown is not the point man on Obamacare, Maryland-style.
What Webster Says
By every dictionary definition, Brown fails that test.
Point man: a person in the forefront of an economic or political issue (Websters College Dictionary).
Not so. Brown is in his usual position in the background as the governors second banana. At media events, he talks only when the governor directs him to do so.
Point man: A man who has a crucial, often hazardous role in the forefront of an enterprise (American Heritage Dictionary).
This doesnt describe Browns role, either. His healthcare designation is symbolic, not substantive.
He co-chairs an oversight panel on healthcare reforms but it is Marylands health secretary, not Brown, whos done the crucial, heavy lifting and taken the brunt of criticisms from legislators.
Point man: the leader or spokesperson of a campaign or organization (Collins English Dictionary).
Brown is neither leading the pack on Obamacare nor acting as spokesman for the computerized rollout except when the governor is out of the country.
OMalley Takes the Lead
More often than not Brown has had little to add to what more informed officials have to say about this terribly botched IT programming that continues to plague Obamacare in Maryland.
Hes avoided tough-questioning reporters and responded only in a few choreographed situations.
Once the governor returned this month from his business development trip to Latin America, he stepped forward to answer the difficult questions about the healthcare insurance rollout. Brown once again was relegated to a cheerleading role:
-- OMalley is the one who ordered emergency IT fixes by mid-December.
-- OMalley is the one who turned day-to-day authority for the exchange over to his top healthcare adviser.
-- OMalley is the one who dispatched his information technology guru to figure out how to fix this deeply flawed project.
-- OMalley is the one who announced hiring a Columbia-based computer management company to end this software nightmare.
-- OMalley is the one holding a flurry of media events to discuss the rollout, both pro and con.
Other than comments to back up the governors remarks, Brown has contributed little to the discussion.
None of this is surprising.
Lieutenant governors in Maryland are pitifully neutered. They hold office for a single constitutional purpose to replace the governor if the states leader dies or is incapacitated.
Brown has spent the vast majority of the past seven years in campaign mode, delivering prepared speeches at every conceivable event around the state.
Hes not deeply involved in policy decisions no lieutenant governor is. The governors tight-knit inner circle of aides and advisors makes sure of it.
How Brown explains all this to voters is his biggest problem now that his lack of real responsibility has been laid bare.
Evaluating Anthony Brown
The lieutenant governor may be OMalleys heir apparent, but does this heir deserve that title?
His track record is slim. Until the botched healthcare rollout put Brown in an embarrassing spotlight, he was an unknown to most voters.
His future depends in large measure on OMalleys ability to find a way out of this healthcare debacle.
If enough IT patches make the Maryland Health Connection reliable and usable for both applicants and insurers, public ire may die down by the June 24 primary D-Day for Brown.
But if computer glitches and foul-ups persist and tens of thousands of Marylanders are denied enrollment, if the state cant provide insurers with accurate customer data and if public fury increases by early summer, Browns chances of winning could tumble.
The Obamacare debacle in Maryland has exposed Browns vulnerabilities. It could mark an inflection point in the nascent 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
You can read more of Barry Rascovars columns at www.politicalmaryland.com.