A Maryland political operative behind misleading election day robocalls has a long and colorful history of political tricks so dirty that even in Baltimore political consultants “don’t want to even breathe the same air as him.” But a lawyer representing Julius Henson (who has admitted he was responsible for robocalls telling mostly Democratic voters not to bother going to the polls on Election Day) is arguing that his client’s right to free speech protects such tactics.
Henson, a Democrat, was working for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) in his campaign against Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). The political operative has a long history in election shenanigans, much of it in the underbelly of campaigns in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
Here’s a bit about Henson from a Maryland Gazette story back in 2002:
For years, Henson has plied his unique brand of the craft in Baltimore city, his hometown. Now, however, he is expanding his portfolio like never before. The question is whether he will bring some of the hardball tactics — and baggage — with him.
“Some people don’t want to even breathe the same air as him,” a rival political consultant says.
Here’s a great Henson quote, as recounted by a Baltimore Sun columnist: “I put a man in who’s dumb, who’s a liar and lazy. He should be going to prison instead of [political office]. The best people lost. They’re smart, and they worked hard, and they still lost to my guy. ‘Cause I know what I’m doing. And I’ve got 14 candidates this cycle, and I’m gonna go 14 and 0 with them.”
This isn’t the first time Henson has campaigned against O’Malley. The Baltimore Sun recounts how during the 2000 race for mayor of Baltimore, Henson rounded up a few dozen homeless people, gave them a few dollars and sent them on buses to the War Memorial Plaza, where O’Malley was getting an endorsement from Del. Pete Rawlings.
Says the newspaper: “They stood inches from Rawlings’ face, screaming at him and attempting to drown out his words. It was one of the ugliest moments in modern Baltimore political history, and it set off such community revulsion that it helped propel O’Malley into City Hall.”
More on Henson from a 2002 Baltimore City Paper profile:
This is Julius Henson in action—the Democratic powerbroker some regard as the James Carville of Baltimore (and, increasingly, Maryland) politics and others consider the Don King. He’s built his reputation on a no-holds-barred style that his enemies hate, his opponents grudgingly admire, and eager unknowns embrace—especially if they want to make a quick splash on the political scene.
Henson, 53, made his name in 1995 by pulling off an improbable win for a then-unknown accountant named Joan Pratt, who shocked longtime state Sen. Julian Lapides in the race for Baltimore City comptroller. A few months later he orchestrated then-state Del. Elijah Cummings’ victory against a large field in the special congressional election to succeed Kweisi Mfume. After he worked on Gov. Parris Glendening’s landslide 1998 re-election, Henson seemed to have wrested the local kingmaker mantle from older Baltimore politicos like Arthur Murphy and Larry Gibson. Even his losses are spectacular—witness Lawrence Bell III’s Henson-managed crash in the 1999 mayoral election. But Bell’s belly flop hasn’t prevented Henson from filling his dance card in this year’s elections.
Henson’s lawyer argues in a court filing that his client shouldn’t have to pay fines for alleged violations of telecommunications laws.
“The damage promoted even to deceptive political speech is far greater than the evil it seeks to prevent,” Edwards Smith, Jr. argued on behalf of Henson, the Washington Post reported.
Henson’s lawyer defended his client’s work in the filing in response to a complaint the Maryland Attorney General filed in federal court back in November. Maryland investigators raided Henson’s home this month.
“The so-called ‘dirty tricks’ of politics have been well-known to the body politic of the United States of America,” Smith says. “Not only discrediting tactics, but voter psychological manipulations have been allowed in the media since the early 1960s to the present day. While the practices are certainly of questionable ethical techniques, they nevertheless provide for robust debate and decisions to be made by the electorate, who as citizens are responsible for their individual vote. … Government should not regulate political messages for truthfulness.”
That’s the legalize version of what Henson told Baltimore’s City Paper back in 2002: “The people who made that rule are the ones in office, and they want us to follow rules that benefit them. Fuck that. I’m not going to play their game.”
The filing by Henson’s lawyer is embedded below.