ANNAPOLIS — Two bills that would shift regulatory power of alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office to a new commission—and limit those industries from donating money to Franchot—were discussed at competing press conferences and a heated committee meeting last week.
Peter Franchot pulls no punches when discussing his Democratic colleagues in Annapolis. During the late 1980s, in his first years spent representing Takoma Park and Silver Spring in the Maryland House of Delegates, he says he was “ecstatic when someone came and told me 15 minutes before everybody else what I had to vote on and how to vote.”
But since his later years as a veteran legislator in the General Assembly—and increasingly over his past three terms as comptroller of Maryland—he’s grown not just tired, but outright critical, of the mechanics of the State House, in which leadership dictates how members vote if they want to remain in the party’s good graces.
“After 40 years of that, where nobody is sending anything back up the chain of command, it becomes corrupt, and it’s corrupt right now,” he says. His criticism is bipartisan, he claims: “If it were Republicans, it would be the same thing, because it’s just human nature.”
A lifelong Democrat, Franchot was first elected as the state’s chief financial officer in 2006. After serving through two terms with Martin O’Malley and one so far with Gov. Larry Hogan, he’s set be elected for a fourth time next Tuesday, barring a surprise upset from his Republican opponent, Anjali Reed Phukan.
To the chagrin of Democratic Party leaders, Franchot and Hogan became fast friends when Hogan was elected in 2014, bonding over a shared enthusiasm for fiscal conservativism, publicly grilling state employees over contracts and doing battle with Baltimore City and County schools officials over a lack of adequate or functional heating and air conditioning in schools.
Things came to a head this past spring, when Franchot came out campaigning against the two top Democrats in the State House after the legislature voted to strip the Board of Public Works—of which he and Hogan are members, along with Treasurer Nancy Kopp—of its role in school construction- and maintenance-funding decisions.
Lawmakers also killed his championed overhaul of craft brewing regulations for craft brewing, and passed legislation creating a task force to examine whether the comptroller’s office should even maintain any oversight of alcohol policy. He’s still smarting over the fact that Eric Best, an executive with the distributor Bob Hall, LLC, came out against the reform effort in an interview with The Sun and said there were concerns about excessive drinking, only to later release 77-packs of Natural Light in College Park.
“They came after me on the public health issue and then they got caught. Eric Best… got caught with his pants down,” he says. “College Park, it’s the only place they sold it in Maryland, and the only time was homecoming. It’s cheap beer, binge drinking, young people, underage drinking, all of it was kind of embodied by that.”
Ahead of the election, Franchot’s doubled down on his message of contempt for entrenched party leadership. “The insiders always win, and everyone else is left behind,” asserts an ad for Franchot’s campaign that’s been circulating in the Baltimore area recently, painting Annapolis as a cesspool of corruption and backroom deals.
The comptroller, his chief of staff, Len Foxwell, and press secretary, Alan Brody, stopped by Baltimore Fishbowl this week for a nearly hour-long conversation with managing editor Brandon Weigel and senior editor Ethan McLeod about booze regulations, government, federal tax policies, Franchot’s decision not to support fellow Democrat Ben Jealous in the gubernatorial election and more. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation:
ANNAPOLIS — Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would strip the state’s Board of Public Works of its power to oversee school construction funding, and was particularly aimed to take power away from Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat.
But the committee did pass another measure establishing a task force to see if the comptroller’s office should maintain oversight of the state’s alcohol industry. The House of Delegates passed that bill yesterday by a vote of 128-10.
Last week, the mayors of Annapolis, Frederick, Cambridge and Ocean City threw their support behind the Reform on Tap Act of 2018, a bill drafted by Comptroller Peter Franchot after he chaired a task force examining the state’s beer laws.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has campaigned for school to start after Labor Day, and teamed up with Gov. Hogan on air conditioning in schools. The latest issue he is wading into is what should happen at the State Center site in Baltimore.