Romney takes the exit ramp

It’s all over the news today – sort of a Friday afternoon news dump, but definitely fodder for the Sunday talk shows: 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney said he was taking a pass on the 2016 race.

In their coverage, Fox News cited a poll from earlier this week that showed the race without Romney narrowly favored Jeb Bush, who had 15% of the vote in a wide open field. (Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul were at 13% apiece, Ben Carson was at 10%, and Scott Walker at 9%.)

Romney was the leader in many polls at this early date, with the caveat that polls this far out are heavily based on name recognition. But Mitt’s withdrawal, coupled with the decision earlier this month by his running mate Paul Ryan to stay in the House, means there’s no real odds-on favorite based on previous runs, unless voters decide Sarah Palin is not past her expiration date.

The conventional wisdom is that the money and advisers who would have worked on the Romney campaign will gravitate toward Jeb Bush and not Chris Christie – the guy who fits the Northeastern governor mold that Romney carved out last time. It’s probably why this poll conducted by Fox News worked out as it did. But the fact that 85% of the voters don’t support Jeb Bush and three times as many of those polled prefer one of the next four candidates down means that the GOP electorate isn’t nearly as sold on the younger Bush as Democrats are sold on the “better half” of the Clintons. To me, those who sat out the 2012 election because they weren’t excited about Mitt Romney are going to make it two in a row if Jeb Bush is the GOP standard-bearer.

If 2016 is another Bush-Clinton match 24 years later (with different players) my prediction is that we will see a record low turnout. I also think honest historians a century hence will see this run of Presidents from Bush 41 through Obama as the weakest since the group from William Henry Harrison through James Buchanan – a two-decade period where the United States couldn’t resolve the slavery issue and fought a war with Mexico, although they won. Granted, two of the seven presidents during that era died in office, but none of them served more than a single term in a restless time in our history. In the modern era, we have seen government grow and become more lawless, fought a pair of unpopular wars abroad, and watched the middle class struggle in a tumultuous economy. It’s not certain whether Mitt Romney would have turned that tide, but he didn’t win in 2012 and history isn’t very kind to nominees who lose a general election yet run again the next time.

The 2016 election really doesn’t have a parallel in the recent past. 2012 was a lot like 1996 in that they both pitted incumbent Democrats whose party was creamed in the most recent midterm election prior to those years (2010 and 1994.) But both Democrats survived when the GOP put up “establishment” moderate candidates in Mitt Romney and Bob Dole.

We need a path to victory in 2016, and Mitt Romney probably sensed he wasn’t the guy. It would take a lot to convince me Jeb Bush would be that person, too.

 

Testing the muddy waters

The GOP presidential field looks to be the deepest in many years as there are candidates coming out of the woodwork. It’s the time in the cycle when hopefuls make their intentions known, as Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham have done over the last few days.

All these candidates could make for a clunky debate, since an hourlong program with twenty candidates leaves very little time for broad exploration of the issues. And how do you determine who to invite and who to leave out? Right now there’s not just the known candidates, either – according to the FEC, 157 people have filed the necessary paperwork with them to run for president, with some barely waiting until the last election was over to file. I suppose in theory they should be in the debates, too.

But in response to a Facebook post about the prospect of who’s in and who’s shut out of the debates, I came up with a couple ideas I thought worthy of sharing with a wider audience.

Apparently there are 12 pre-primary debates scheduled, and the concern is having too many in the format – so they would use the polls to determine who gets in. To me, this is a problem because polls at this early stage are just name recognition – naturally a Mitt Romney or Jed Bush may poll much better than Walker or Graham, yet both could bring good ideas to the table. For example, Walker has taken a hardline stance against the abuses of Big Labor in government while Graham is a hawk when it comes to radical Islam.

So what I would propose is a debate not based on polls, but who can buy their way in. Anyone who has an exploratory committee or has filed, and can come up with a relatively significant amount – say $50,000 – can be in the debate regardless of poll numbers. (The money would be held in escrow for the eventual nominee.)

But Michael, you say, we would probably get 18 to 20 contenders, including one of those longshots who no one’s ever heard of. Well, the person would get one shot in what would be a series of hourlong debates, held on the same night in groups of 5 to 7, made as numerically equal as possible. Having 18 participants would mean three groups of six; groups which would be drawn at random so that the opening group in debate number 1 would be different the next time, and of course some will drop out or won’t be able to afford another debate.

If you assume the debates are the most important thing for a campaign at this early stage, then they should be open to whoever can afford the spot to get in. And if you complain about the monetary aspect, well, please come up with a better way of proving viability. It keeps the debate field to those who take it seriously and not those who just fill out the FEC paperwork as a lark or for publicity.

Now if we can get good debate moderators, we would be in good shape.

“The Kochs don’t have Michael Swartz.” So what do they have?

The Democrats send me the silliest e-mails sometimes.

Today they are whining that “The Koch Brothers plan to spend nearly $900 million to buy the 2016 election.” After I laughed, my first question to them was, “so?”

I saw the news pieces about this yesterday (here’s one) and it rolled off my back like water off a duck. Listen, I know there are people who will spend a lot of money on politics simply because they can, and as it turns out the Koch brothers are perhaps the leading conservative/libertarian donors. The Democrats don’t have a cow about the hundreds of millions bundlers and grifters on their side plunk down on the races; suffice to say that both sides do this.

But $889 million is a lot of money – heck, I’d be happy to see 1/100 of 1% of that come my way. And the great thing about the Koch brothers is that they wish to limit government, not expand it and try to cut themselves a slice of the pie.

Ever since the Citizens United decision, the liberals have cried that we need to get money out of politics. This wasn’t altruism at work, though – since most of the media outlets favor Democrats, conservatives not being able to pay for advertising and speech at election time gave the Left an advantage. That’s not to say spending more money always leads to a positive electoral result – if it did, we would be in the early days of the Brown administration, for example – but oftentimes the funding is better for incumbents and they tend to win re-election at a significant rate. Taking that advantage away helps to level the playing field.

Of course, I can see my liberal friends all worked up over someone like the Koch brothers, who are just very successful businessmen spending their money on politics. It’s better than yet another palatial mansion or a fleet of private jets, right? But compare that amount to the overall budget of just one county in Maryland – granted, it’s the largest one at a population of about one million – and $889 million is chump change. In the grand scheme of things, spread out over multiple states, it’s not a great deal of money in comparison.

So I’m glad the Democrats are whining. I don’t think there should be a limit in campaign spending because to do so would be counterproductive. My campaign spending may be miniscule in comparison to the Koch brothers, but between Kim and I we have just as many votes and that’s the key.

A Palin problem?

As the 2016 Republican presidential field begins to expand rapidly, there is one name that evokes equal parts devotion and disgust: Sarah Palin. The question of whether or not she would run in 2012 sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the early days of that race, yet this time she’s not the slam-dunk favorite some thought she was in the wake of her 2008 candidacy – which I would argue revitalized a somnolent John McCain campaign – and the 2010 TEA Party wave election. Certainly others with longer gubernatorial records can boast more relevance.

On the other hand, there is a significant portion of the conservative electorate which loved her story and honest willingness to stand up for those principles in a humorous manner. I was there two years ago when at CPAC Palin mocked the effort to ban large-sized sodas by taking a few sips out of a Big Gulp during her speech. It’s an approach which is apparently off-putting to some in the Republican establishment – witness the acid tone of this recent National Review Online piece by Charles C. W. Cooke from which I excerpt:

For a long while now, Palin has not so much contributed arguments and ideas as she has thrown together a one-woman variety show for a band of traveling fans. One part free verse, one part Dada-laden ressentiment, and one part primal scream therapy, Palin’s appearances seem to be designed less to advance the ball for the Right and more to ensure that her name remains in the news, that her business opportunities are not entirely foreclosed, and that her hand remains strong enough to justify her role as kingmaker without portfolio. Ultimately, she isn’t really trying to change politics; she’s trying to be politics — the system and its complexities be damned. Want to find a figure to which Palin can be reasonably compared? It’s not Ronald Reagan. It’s Donald Trump.

That is an interesting comparison considering that Donald Trump is making news again about running for President – at least enough noise that Breitbart News took the time to speak with him about it.

Yet while it can be argued that Trump has plenty of both business acumen and self-promotional skills – qualities Palin also has, as evidenced by her frequent forays into series television and devoted fan following – Trump has never taken the helm of the ship of state. His one advantage, which would certainly be turned against his by class-warfare-exploiting liberals, is that he’s willing to self-finance his campaign. Donald is definitely part of the 1 percent, while Sarah Palin’s chief sin seems to be the aspiration to join him despite her modest upbringing.

I’ve noted before that eight years can sometimes be the period of political rehabilitation, with the pre-Watergate Richard Nixon being an example. Having lost the 1960 Presidential election as the sitting Vice-President, he then ran in 1962 to be governor of California and lost again. But Nixon stayed active in the political world and reclaimed the GOP nomination in 1968. Similarly, Sarah Palin set her political office aside in 2009 but has stayed active in that “kingmaker” role with some success, campaigning for Republicans around the country.

Yet Sarah will not be the only one with executive experience who can appeal to Republicans. Just a cursory glance at some in the possible field reveals that a number of recent or current governors may jump in: Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker are among those mentioned, and all have more time in their governor’s office than Palin’s two-plus years.

Just as I would say to any of those I mentioned above, the more the merrier. The GOP field is perhaps the most wide open in memory, with a number of good candidates that a deep bench provides. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite – but she was at this stage in the 2008 campaign as well, even with a fairly large initial field as the Democrats were the party out of power the previous eight years. But there are likely many rank-and-file Democrats who would like a break from the Clinton circus and may not be keen on the prospects of a President Biden, so their side is a little dispirited and less than enthusiastic.

There’s a school of thought out there which believes the political opposition will tell you who they are most afraid of by the amount of ridicule and criticism heaped their way. In that respect Sarah Palin is a leader because she gets flak from both the Left and the establishment Republicans, and it’s one aspect where the Reagan comparison is quite apt.

WCRC meeting – January 2015

For awhile, given the pessimistic weather forecast over the weekend, we weren’t certain this meeting was going to come to pass. But the wintry weather held off long enough for the Wicomico County Republican Club to gather and, despite the lack of a featured speaker, come up with a spirited discussion about recent events and its own internal affairs.

So we began with our usual opening ceremonies, with a somewhat sparse attendance because of the weather.

The recent events in question were the procedures of getting an elected school board here in Wicomico County. Council members Marc Kilmer and Joe Holloway were present and made the case that what was presented to the General Assembly was a compromise which had the backing of the full Council, a step which was lacking in previous efforts. But they also encouraged the public to attend next Tuesday evening’s County Council meeting and provide input before the final package is provided to the Maryland General Assembly for introduction. As envisioned, it would be a hybrid board with the first members elected in 2018 to four-year terms. Members appointed by the County Executive would take office sometime before that so their terms would be staggered.

There really wasn’t much objection from tonight’s group, although my previous objections were noted. Basically, the hybrid idea is a concession to the NAACP, which was concerned about the prospect of a lack of minority representation on the school board. Holloway and Kilmer argued that the hybrid compromise was the way to get everyone on board and increase the chances of passage; they were also credited by some observers of the Council meeting with pushing the process forward, along with the insistence of Council President John Cannon that the elected school board be on a crowded agenda.

The other large task was that of making a change in how the WCRC operates. For years the club had seven officers whose duties weren’t always made clear by the bylaws. At tonight’s meeting we streamlined the future operations of the WCRC’s Executive Committee to just five officers as we reduced the four vice-presidential slots to two. Yet the two vice-presidents will have a significant say in the operations of the club as they will be in charge of several standing committees, with the functions of these committees more clearly spelled out in the club’s bylaws.

It’s a concept I’ve favored for several years, but with the help of Joe Ollinger we have made this a reality. The timing of this was important because we were also getting the Nominations Committee report for new officers for next term and there were only five officers listed. So once the revisions to the bylaws were approved, we could approve the committee report with the five officers. While nominees from the floor are welcomed, the Nominations Committee submitted the following names for each position:

  • President: Shawn Jester
  • First Vice-President: Muir Boda
  • Second Vice-President: Joe Collins
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz
  • Treasurer: Debra Okerblom

Only the latter two would be holdovers, although Jester was First Vice-President under Jackie Wellfonder this year.

The elections will be next month, although I also want to use the time to populate various committees we have now created as standing committees.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other announcements and reports. As a club, we funded the WCRC Scholarship for next year (2016) as the process is already underway for this year’s competition. That led to a consensus as a group that we needed to make fundraising a priority – much easier to spend money than to raise it, even for little things like a storage room for the WCRC’s stash of stuff like tables and chairs. That’s another minor item we were alerted to as an expenditure approved by the Executive Committee.

Ann Suthowski gave the Central Committee report in Mark McIver’s stead, noting that our convention was a “love fest” and revealing that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be a quad-county affair with a special guest most of you know. I wasn’t sworn to secrecy or anything like that, but I will let the official announcement come out rather than spill the beans.

We also received final reports on our Christmas party and headquarters – the former was deemed quite the success because we made money, while the latter had mixed reviews due to its poor location. (I guess it could be the reason the restaurants in that location also failed, but the WCRC has made a tradition out of operating out of recently-failed business locations for its biannual headquarters for many years now.) We were troubled by the lack of support from the state on certain issues, though.

Our next meeting will be February 23 – same bat-time, same bat-channel.

The power of one

The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.

Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.

But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.

Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.

These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.

Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.

(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.

(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.

And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:

We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.

The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.

Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.

Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.

And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.

Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.

Differing transportation thoughts

Last week at Blue Ridge Forum, regular author Richard Falknor stepped aside for a two-part series by writer Peter Samuel, a specialist in writing about toll roads. In part one, Samuel advocated for a reduction in tolls and license fees, which was good, but in return we would have to endure this:

Fairness and efficiency will be best served by moving toward transport systems that self-finance with user fees: more precisely, fees-for-use roads should finance themselves with fees based on the cost of providing road service, road use fees, or tolls based on the distance traveled, the scarcity of road space, and the costs the vehicles impose.

Unfortunately, this raises the prospect of abuse by the state. Imagine portions of U.S. 50 and Maryland Route 90 becoming toll roads from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City, such as the bypass around Salisbury and any future routes around Easton and Cambridge. Sure, you could avoid the tolls and go through town but the traffic would become the same issue it was before the current U.S. 50 portion of the Salisbury bypass opened a decade or so ago. This would also be discouraging for truck traffic.

Maybe the best example of the problem with this philosophy is the Inter-County Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The ICC, as it’s called, was in the pipeline for decades before finally becoming a reality under Bob Ehrlich, with Martin O’Malley finishing it last year. But the ICC isn’t popular with drivers because of its lower speed limit and heavy enforcement of traffic laws, so it hasn’t met revenue projections.

It’s likely Samuel is thinking more of the urban areas with their existing HOT lanes and other means to divide express traffic heading to the suburbs and local traffic which may hop on the highway for a couple exits. But Samuel’s second part discusses the fate of the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

In that case he is correctly diagnosing the problem with mass transit solutions such as these:

Project advocates list all the jobs created during construction, but this is only a measure of cost, and avoids the real question: what value are they creating?

In any enterprise there is positive net value if the users are paying sufficient user fees (fares) to both cover operating costs and provide a competitive return on capital (ROI).

To the extent fares won’t cover costs plus return on capital, we have a clear measure that the value to users falls short of costs, making the project a net loss to any operator.

Rail transit in Maryland presently collects in the ‘farebox’ less than 30 cents on the dollar spent on operating the system and, of course, makes no return on capital invested. Light rail is the very worst with lower farebox recovery (currently under 20 cents per dollar.)

Some of those results could be improved, but almost no rail system in America come close to the black (100 on the dollar + ROI).

If you read further, Samuel likes the concept of the Red Line but is concerned about the construction cost and likelihood of overruns. On the other hand, his thought on the Purple Line is that it should change its form and become a bus-only route. The construction would be far cheaper and the schedule could be more easily adjusted to suit the needs of consumers. That’s an approach which makes more sense, although one has to ask why automotive traffic couldn’t utilize the route then.

At the end of part two, Peter also adds a map of proposed changes, including a westward extension of the ICC which crosses over into Virginia and provides another Potomac crossing west of Washington, as well as an eastbound addition which connects to U.S. 50 near Bowie. Also noted is a “new span Bay Bridge.”

What I would propose, though, is a truly new span Bay Bridge that’s several dozen miles south and connects Dorchester County with Calvert County. There’s no question the environmentalists (and some of the locals) would scream bloody murder, but they would for any attempt at progress anyway.

I think this bridge would encourage more tourism from the Washington area and, if combined with an extension of I-97 to its original destination near Richmond, could open up the Eastern Shore as a new tourist destination as travelers seek an alternate route around the traffic presented in Baltimore and Washington. Adding a bypass around Easton and cutoff between U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 through Queen Anne’s County (paralleling or upgrading the existing Maryland Route 213) could make this route even more desirable. Samuel could even get the cutoff to be a toll route.

There is a lot which can be done in lieu of wasting money on the Red Line and Purple Line because both are destined to be money pits; on the other hand, investing in transportation alternatives which maximize options and freedom makes more sense. As Samuel writes:

Better mobility provides greater employment opportunities, better shopping choices, more specialized health and medical services, more social and family interaction, better education, sporting. and recreational opportunities.

Our travel is not frivolous. People don’t drive the Capital Beltway for the scenery. We travel because the trips provide value.

There would be value in having a second Bay Bridge as well as the other roads for which I advocated. People and goods could move more freely up and down the East Coast, avoiding the bottlenecks presented in northern Virginia and around Baltimore, while the Lower Shore would have more direct access to a route across Chesapeake Bay, allowing for easier movement west and south.

It’s time to think on a larger scale while accepting the reality that people want the freedom to be able to jump in their cars at a moment’s notice and go wherever they wish. Mass transit simply creates dependency on the provider and allows them some level of control of movement. That may be acceptable to some, but the rest of us want to get where we want to go as quickly as possible – on our terms – and this is where government can be of service to the public.

The wailing begins

I alluded to this the other day when Governor Hogan announced he was dropping the proposed PMT regulations, and almost as if on cue there was negative reaction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the (so-called) Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition – so-called because it has nary an agricultural group in it.

Allison Prost, the executive director of the CBF, called it “a sad day” for Maryland:

This is a sad day in the long fight to make Maryland waters clean enough for swimming and fishing. Governor Hogan’s decision has hurt the rivers and streams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where 228,000 tons of excess manure will continue to be applied to farm fields each year, and to wash off into nearby creeks and river. The new governor rolled back 10 years of progress when he withdrew the Phosphorus Management Tool, a common sense, science-based solution to the manure crisis.

Agriculture is the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, and is also the cheapest to reduce by far. Many farmers deserve credit for their efforts to stem pollution from their barn yards and fields. But just as those who live in our cities and suburbs are doing more to clean the Bay, so must farmers.

Businesses with technologies to help reduce phosphorus pollution from poultry manure are ready to come to Maryland and help ease the burden of excess manure. But these technologies will only have a significant impact if farmers are required to not apply excessive amounts of phosphorus to their crops. Regulations create demand for problem-solving technologies that otherwise would languish.

Additionally, by withdrawing regulations that would have reduced pollution from coal-fired power plants, Governor Hogan’s decision also has put corporate interests above the people of Greater Baltimore. Nitrogen oxides are linked to ozone which can be harmful to children and sensitive adults. As a greenhouse gas, nitrogen oxides are 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Also, nitrogen from coal plants and vehicles adds millions of pounds of harmful pollution to the Bay each year. The power industry used the same hardship argument in 2006 when the legislature approved the Maryland Healthy Air Act. In the years afterwards, electricity prices dropped, and the industry prospered.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation welcomes the opportunity to work with the Administration to ensure farmers have the resources they need to implement the PMT, and all residents see cleaner water. But we can’t compromise on science, or accept further delays on cleaning up Maryland’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. (Emphasis mine.)

I pointed out that one sentence in the CBF statement because it’s telling about their philosophy, If the market wouldn’t otherwise support these technologies, then they must not be that effective. Put another way: we know broccoli is relatively healthy for us, but not everyone likes broccoli. (Actually, I do when you cook it with a little butter like my mom used to.) It’s a market that languishes in comparison to, say, McDonalds. The CBF would have us compelled to eat broccoli every night because it’s good for us, not because we would want to.

It’s the same with the PMT as the process of spreading chicken manure on the fields supplements the soil. Otherwise, farmers would be forced to resort to artificial fertilizers which actually worsen the problem.

Dawn Stoltzfus, speaking for the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, echoed the CBF sentiments:

We’re deeply disappointed about reports that Governor Hogan has blocked one of the biggest tools to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and local waters in more than 30 years.

Governor Hogan had the opportunity to move forward a long-delayed tool to reduce pollution from manure. Instead, he stopped the regulation to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool, adding another chapter to the history of ping-pong politics and capitulation to the agricultural industry.

Governor Hogan has sent a very worrisome signal indeed. Just hours after being sworn in as Maryland’s governor, reports say he has turned his back on clean water and sound science. He has ignored Maryland’s leading agriculture scientists, who have been working on updating this tool for more than ten years and who have repeatedly stated how its adoption is needed, now.

Phosphorus pollution from manure is getting worse, not better in the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland rivers. The Governor’s action is a threat to the health of Maryland families and to our economy that depends on clean water.

Now you would expect to hear these types of sentiments from Radical Green. But I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction from Delmarva Poultry Industry:

Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. respects Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s decision not to move forward, immediately, with the phosphorus management tool regulation. During the campaign, he pledged that it would not, in its present form, become state policy. His pledge to study the issue further to make sure it is scientifically and financially valid is a wise one that we endorse.

We have said all along that this risk management tool, even according to its developers, could not estimate how much less phosphorus might reach the Chesapeake Bay. It makes no sense to create costly regulations on all farmers throughout Maryland, not just Eastern Shore farmers who use chicken manure, without knowing what the environmental benefits might be.

We look forward to working with Governor Hogan and his team and members of the General Assembly to develop a regulation that will provide improved environmental stewardship by the agricultural community.

Why do we need a regulation? The very fact they are conceding a regulation is needed loses half the battle. I have heard some rumblings about the impotency of DPI, and this statement seems to confirm that sentiment. You would think DPI would be thrilled to have that weight removed from its chest.

Until someone can figure out a better use for chicken waste than utilizing it as the natural fertilizer – a purpose it has served for hundreds of years on Delmarva – the farmers will continue to take the blame. I can understand if a sludge pile is exposed to the elements that runoff water will carry the phosphorus directly to the nearest body of water, but if chicken waste is spread into the soil I can’t comprehend how it travels distances to the waterway. After all, the minimum distance between well and septic leach field is usually 100 to 150 feet, which is supposed to give a large enough buffer of soil to protect the water supply on a semi-permanent basis, yet we’re expected to believe manure spread across a 240 acre field is a threat to a body of water or a stream hundreds of feet away?

Honestly, I think the problem is that those who travel from the urban areas to the beach in the warm months don’t like that occasional reminder that they are out in the country thanks to the foul (or is that fowl) smell. But that’s the smell of the Eastern Shore, at least in one governor’s mind, and to many farmers it’s the smell of a better crop and more money. It’s hard enough coaxing a good harvest from the Eastern Shore in the best of times, so a little natural help is always appreciated.

Think of it as truly organic farming.

Wage deflators?

The Center for Immigration Studies put out an unusual list yesterday, one which details the worst offenders for abusing H-1B visas. As CIS explains it:

The H-1B program is one that allows, in general terms, U.S. employers to hire nonimmigrant foreign workers, usually (but not always) into high-tech positions, at wages lower than those that would be paid otherwise. Thus all users of the program are at least nibbling away at labor standards, and are involved with denying jobs to available professionals who are citizens or green card holders.

Naturally I looked on the list for any local companies, but did not find any in the immediate area. Four different companies, two of which I suspect are the same entity, are listed from Newark, Delaware. There is also the Prince George’s County school district as well, for which CIS notes:

Prince George’s County, MD public school system qualified for the list by their extensive and controversial use of the H-1B program to hire foreign schoolteachers.

That should help the learning process out.

It should be noted this program is a little bit different than the J-1 student visas often used by foreign students, mainly from Eastern Europe, who annually descend on Ocean City and the other beach resorts each summer to work. The H-1B program operates under the notion that there aren’t enough qualified Americans to do these jobs, when opponents argue that there’s simply not enough Americans who want to work under the pitiful wage scale allowed.

Yet the process for an employer to secure H-1B visas is mind-boggling, so it’s hard to believe anyone is abusing the system unless there is a huge difference in wages that makes the various application fees all worth it. Perhaps that’s why there are comparatively few scofflaws.

But I suppose the real enforcement needs to come on the end of verifying these H-1B workers are making an appropriate wage. If a company would have to pay an entry-level engineer $60,000 a year but gets away with paying a foreigner $20,000 because they’re here under an H-1B visa, that is an issue and should be prosecuted under law. It’s the problem with the lack of scruples in our society that some employers look to take advantage of the system like this.

A quick score for the good guys

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline today, in the first few hours after Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor he found a few minutes to inform the Maryland Register that the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations should be pulled from Friday’s edition. However, Phil Davis of the Daily Times notes there is some question about the legality of Hogan’s move, with the lack of precedent cited as a concern. I would rate the chances of a legal challenge from one or more of the state’s environmental groups as good, although Timothy Wheeler of the B’More Green blog noted yesterday:

According to an opinion issued last month by then-Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the rules can be withdrawn or simply held up by preventing them from being published in the register, which is printed and posted online every two weeks.

Naturally that doesn’t mean new Attorney General Brian Frosh wouldn’t side with environmentalists, but it sounds like Hogan has the legal leg to stand on.

So the attention now will turn to the General Assembly, where it’s expected legislation with the same goal will be introduced in the next few days. Because of the way regulatory language is written for the Maryland Register, it’s relatively easy to translate to bill form. And as the Eastern Shore delegation only makes up 9 House seats and 3 Senate seats, their objections mean little when suburban Montgomery County has 24 Delegate and 8 Senate seats by itself. (Out of 124 Democrats in the General Assembly, that county makes up over one-fourth.) Few, if any, of those General Assembly members have been on a working farm – for the most part, their impression of the Eastern Shore seems to be that of knowing where all the speed traps are on the way to the beach.

But just taking the delegations from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City – areas which range mostly from urban to suburban, with little in the way of agriculture – gives that side a bloc of 63 House members and 22 Senators, meaning that prospective PMT legislation has a very good chance of passing. Add in the fact that the relevant committee chairs and vice-chairs mainly represent the three areas in question, with the fourth from a similarly suburban section of Baltimore County, and the skids are probably being greased right now. The Democrats aren’t going to let Larry Hogan get away with an opening victory that easily; it’s in that spirit of bipartisanship that they’ll demand these rules be enacted, you know.

Since word came down on this Hogan action late in the day, the environmentalists didn’t get a chance to formally react but some took to Twitter.

I look at it as withdrawing overly punitive rules when we haven’t even figured out yet whether the last set had an impact. When the entity that grades the Bay also solicits donations based on its assessment, we’re not exactly dealing with an honest broker.

So Larry Hogan’s initial major action as governor was a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a moratorium on these environmental regulations so we can evaluate the effectiveness of what we already have and see if dealing with the sediment that periodically leaches out of the pond behind the Conowingo Dam will make a difference.

Not what we were looking for…

It’s my understanding that Wicomico County Council brought forward a measure to enact an elected school board – sort of.

But in watching the proceedings, it seems that the Council double-crossed us by introducing the element of a hybrid part-appointed, part-elected school board. Five members, one from each Council district, would be elected while two others who represent the county as a whole would be appointed by the County Executive with County Council’s approval. Needless to say, I’m very disappointed in Councilman Joe Holloway – usually a reliable conservative voice – in bringing the concept up. While his reasoning was that of having something prepared for the General Assembly to approve, his hollow statement in support of an fully elected school board after the fact added insult to injury.

The informal vote on proceeding in this manner otherwise put the usual suspects on the side of a hybrid board – John Hall, Matt Holloway, and Democrat Ernie Davis were in favor of that approach (as was Joe Holloway) while John Cannon, Marc Kilmer, and Larry Dodd preferred the strictly elected school board.

While I think the 5-2 split between district and at-large members works well, if you had to stagger terms (which would not be my preference, as we don’t stagger the terms of other county officials) I would instead favor a system where the five district members are elected in the gubernatorial elections (2018, 2022, and so forth) while the two at-large were picked in Presidential years (2016, 2020, etc.) Under this system, everyone in the county would vote on one school board member with the rest of the County Council but would select two in presidential years. Both ballots would be non-partisan, which would give unaffiliated voters one primary vote.

Yet there are many of us who are fuming about a turn of events, particularly after the years we’ve been trying to get an elected school board in Wicomico County and join most of the rest of the state. So the plan is to voice our opinion at the next County Council meeting, to be held the evening of February 3rd. We didn’t come all this way to have the possibility of cronyism continue to taint our county school board so I encourage those with an interest to make it out there in two weeks.

The longest 2 1/2 months

Believe it or not, there will be 78 days between the time Larry Hogan won his election and the day he will be sworn in. Those 11 weeks have seen practically every other unit of government turn over since the November election – for example, Wicomico County changed over in early December while Congress went two weeks ago and the General Assembly last week.

In that timespan we’ve seen much of Maryland turn in a decidedly more conservative direction. But as one Facebook observer pointed out, Larry Hogan has bent over backwards to appease most of the groups in Maryland with his cabinet and executive branch selections, which include at least one O’Malley holdover and several former Ehrlich staffers. The one group he has not tapped, however, is the TEA Party branch of the Republican Party.

And with most of the prime spots already taken, it looks like the Maryland government will shift rightward but only about as far as the middle of the road because there’s not going to be anyone there to really push it hard right. Likely this is by design as the perception of bipartisanship may be necessary to win again in 2018, but then I always work under the assumption that the dominant media will support the Democrats in this state so it really doesn’t matter just how much our side panders to the left. So why not try to beat back the other side with conservatism on all fronts?

Now I also know that there are people on my side and who I call friends who say that we have to work with Democrats on things we can agree on. That’s okay as far as that goes, although I think that list of agreements is a lot shorter than my more moderate friends think it is. There are some functions of government I believe are necessary, though, and to the extent that we can improve them to make them more user-friendly I can deal with it.

But then take budget items like the Purple Line. In the 2 1/2 month lame-duck gap between the election and Larry Hogan’s inauguration that special interest has taken the time and money to lobby for its very existence. History and logic would dictate that the Purple Line would be a cronyist boondoggle to build and a money pit to maintain because ridership will never pay for the cost of running the trains, but I’m detecting a softening of Hogan’s previous hardline stance. A couple billion dollars would fix a lot of bridges and potholes, but those aren’t as sexy as a rail line which proponents will claim will improve the environment – of course, that’s based on full trains which we won’t see.

Everyone who is a prospective victim of the budgetary chopping block will be out in force over the next month or so trying to plead the case that they should be spared the axe, like the state’s arts community. But catering to everyone is how we got to where we are in the first place.

Obviously Larry Hogan needed a little time to make sure he won the election and mull over those people who he will need to run his administration. But this change in government couldn’t come soon enough for those of us who would like it rightsized, and while job one of the Hogan administration has to be that of getting the state’s economy back on sound footing and moving in a positive direction, not far behind that effort should be one to have a FY2019 budget that’s no larger than the one we passed last year.

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