Political Commentary by Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com
Maryland Housing Secretary Ken Holt may be a nice guy, a financial expert, a former member of the House of Delegates from Baltimore County, a cattle rancher and a breeder of thoroughbred race horses, but he has turned himself into a giant liability for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.
Holt's stunningly ignorant claim made at the Maryland Association of Counties gathering in Ocean City—that some low-income mothers poison their children with lead weights to get free housing—was so far afield from reality that both Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford disassociated themselves from his assertions.
The governor then had some choice words for Holt in private about his "unfortunate and inappropriate statement"—but is keeping him on as housing secretary.
Holt's comments were far more than "unfortunate and inappropriate."
They had no basis in fact and showed an abysmal understanding of Maryland's lead paint law—an area that Holt's department deals with.
Even worse, it turns out Holt has no evidence to back up his claim that low-income moms intentionally poison their kids to receive free, long-term government housing. It was an anecdotal story, he said, that came from a housing developer.
Holt told the MACO attendees that he wanted to submit legislation to ease the legal burden on landlords if their rental properties contain lead paint that harms children.
That proposal is now DOA—dead on arrival.
Indeed, Holt's credibility with Democratic legislators has been destroyed by his hideous comments and intentions. Easing landlords' liability for lead-paint poisoning is a terrible idea.
Who's responsible for not taking steps to encapsulate or remove the lead paint in these rental units? Holt's proposal would turn those who are poisoned, and their parents, into the culprits while freeing landlords from their clear responsibility.
It's idiotic and gives the appearance that Holt is pandering to the whims and desires of business interests while ignoring health dangers.
Reductions in lead poisoning
Over the past 20 years, Maryland's lead-paint laws have resulted in a steep, dramatic drop in poisoning cases, from 14,546 in 1993 to just 371 cases in 2013.
The law is working and the children living in low-income rental housing are being protected. Why in the world would Holt move to weaken this law without even researching the topic?
It raises major questions about Holt's fitness for the cabinet-level post. He had no low-income housing expertise when he took the job. It shows.
What an embarrassment for Hogan and his administration. Is this the sort of pro-business "reform" the governor has in mind?
Holt's blunder pretty much closes the door on legislative changes coming from his department. Indeed, it puts a bull's eye on just about anything Hogan proposes in the next legislative session that would weaken existing laws designed to protect the public.
The Holt fiasco adds to the impression that Hogan's administration is anti-city and anti-black. At the least, it gives weight to the notion that the governor and his staff are insensitive and uncaring—and not well informed—when it comes to urban problems.
The best thing Holt could do to help the governor is make a quiet exit from state government later this year.
He's become Enemy No. 1 to a large number of Democratic legislators. Everything he says and does from now on will be put under a microscope. He's dragging the governor down.
Hogan, meanwhile, has yet to take any major step that shows he understands the state has a significant role to play in uplifting and improving life and economic opportunity in Baltimore.
Fortunately, it is still early in the governor's tenure.
The situation in Maryland's only urban center cries out for strong leadership and assistance from Annapolis. That is Hogan's most complex and perplexing challenge, one he has yet to confront.
Barry Rascovars blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.