CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 3: District 38

Since I’ve now covered the county and District 37 races, it’s time to focus on the last political subdivision involved, District 38. The turnout for this one was disappointing because they failed to get the two Senate candidates, nor did they cover District 38C (although Democrat contender Judy Davis was in the audience.) On the other hand, District 38A received part of the billing despite the fact the district no longer covers Wicomico County.

So there were just four candidates to deal with: Delegate Charles Otto and former Crisfield mayor P.J. Purnell in District 38A and Delegate Norm Conway and Delmar, Maryland mayor Carl Anderton, Jr. in District 38B. I’ll start with the race that pits Otto, who was elected in 2010 after surviving a four-way Republican primary and rolling up 62% of the general election vote, against Purnell, who served as Crisfield’s mayor for the last eight years before not seeking re-election this year.

Their initial question concerned the wind turbine farm slated for Somerset County, but placed in jeopardy for a time due to objections from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, who was concerned about effects on their radar equipment from the spinning blades. Otto said he had committed to the developers about being neutral toward the project although he objected to the renewable energy portfolio. He believed, though, the project was sited in an “appropriate place” to alleviate health concerns, and would rather see wind turbines than solar panels that directly affect the environment.

Purnell spoke about his experience with wind turbines in Crisfield, where he secured a $4 million “green grant” to build a 750 kilowatt turbine to service the town’s sewage treatment plant. “If it doesn’t work it will be Purnell’s Folly,” he said. But he felt the electricity savings would benefit the city by allowing other items to be funded.

It led into a question on unemployment, and Purnell stated the obvious: “Unemployment is tough.” But he looked for anything he could to create jobs, including grants. “Economic development is a tough process,” said Purnell, who added that we needed to be prepared.

Otto used the aborted Walmart distribution center to point out how the state’s business climate affects job creation – on the very day Somerset County was to reopen discussions with Walmart about the site, the state passed its minimum wage law. Minimum wage and tax structure were the cause of many of our job creation problems, although the toll increase which makes it $1 per mile from the Bay Bridge to Salisbury for a truck doesn’t help either.

In terms of helping the realty industry, Otto blasted the Septic Bill he opposed as part of the “war on rural Maryland.” He vowed, “I’ll continue to defend property rights” in Annapolis.

On the other hand, Purnell believed “sustainability is the root of all our problems on the Eastern Shore.” He predicted we won’t be able to build in five to ten years.

In his closing statement, Purnell pointed out he’d cut Crisfield’s workforce, and made the case he believed smaller government was the answer. Otto talked about the state’s increasing spending and told the gathering, “I was taught to pay for it when I bought it.”

Again, this was a case where the Democrat in the race tried to convince the audience he was just as conservative as the Republican. It wasn’t so much the case in the District 38B race, which places a Delegate who has represented the area in Annapolis since 1986 (and was a Salisbury City Council member for a dozen years before that) against a mayor elected in 2011, who spent six years before that as a member of their town commission.

I noted the other day in my initial report that Anderton apologized for a mailing which depicted Conway as a masked criminal. But Carl was critical when he was asked the question about what he would do differently than Norm.

“Communication is key,” said Carl, who gave the crowd his cell phone number as a way of promoting access. He also noted that “I haven’t seen my Delegate in my town hall” during his entire tenure in Delmar government, reinforcing his belief that “we’re such an underdog in representation.”

Unlike the other participants, Norm had a different question regarding highway user revenues. Conway said that the Transportation Trust Fund had been repaid, but as for the lost highway user revenues it was his claim that the approach was the preference of MACO (the advocacy group for Maryland’s counties.) But “no one knew” the depth of the recession or the extent of the cuts needed, argued Conway.

Norm was asked then about tuition costs, noting they’d maintained a 3% level of increase while other states had done far worse. But he also bemoaned the fact that many students take much longer than four years to graduate, accumulating more debt along the way.

Anderton was asked about how to bring job opportunities here, but pointed out that Wor-Wic Community College, the site of the debate, won’t have its funding restored to previous levels until 2023. “The things that go on in Annapolis have to change,” said Carl. “We have to be fundamentally different (and) we have to do better.”

Something Carl wanted to address for the realtors was the tax differential, although he also spoke helping to create the success of the Heron Ponds development. Conway agreed the differential needed a review or discussion, but felt that eventually Sussex County, Delaware, with its extremely low assessed rates, “will have to face reality.” Norm also praised those moving into downtown Salisbury, calling it “a real plus.”

In his closing statement, Norm talked about how he had always set goals for himself. But Anderton stressed a different approach: “it’s all about teamwork.”

This was an interesting part of the forum because the two candidates answered mostly different questions, which made it difficult to compare and contrast. Obviously Carl wouldn’t have the same voting record as Norm has, but one thing which stuck out at me was that both of Norm’s questions touched on appropriations – how much money it would take to hold tuition costs at 3% increases or how best to cut to fit a budget. Some of that was out of his hands, but I would have really loved to have Norm answer how he could create jobs when things have gone steadily south during his last couple terms. There are reasons Sussex County is so appealing at the moment and advantageous assessments is just one.

As I think I said in a previous rendition, I think this forum would have been far better spread out over a couple nights. It was also disappointing we didn’t get to hear the exchanges between Jim Mathias and Mike McDermott for the District 38 Senate seat or Judy Davis and Mary Beth Carozza for District 38C – which, ironically, is the district Wor-Wic lies in. It went on for over 2 1/2 hours, but with 15 participants there was only time for three questions apiece, plus the opening and closing statements.

Overall, I don’t think anyone crippled their chances for victory so we’ll have to hang on for another couple weeks to see how it goes.

2014 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

Yet again I was found at Pemberton Historical Park for an event involving potent potables. But this one was more like work for me because I’m simply not a wine drinker – didn’t have a drop. Yet I did take a few photos.

So once the ribbon was cut by (among others) County Council members Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, and John Hall, we were underway. I was really there for our Republican booth.

Carol Rose is a big fan of monoblogue and now she’s famous. Actually it gives me an opportunity to thank a whole crew of people who helped out for at least part of a day for the two events: Jackie Wellfonder, Shawn Jester, Carol Rose, Greg Belcher, Linda Luffman, Phil Adkins, David Warren, and Larry Dodd, who you’ll see in a little while. Jim Jester didn’t sit with us, but he was valuable for helping me to set up and take down for each event. That’s a job in and of itself.

But I wasn’t the only person helping get out the vote. Circuit Court judge candidate M.J. Caldwell had his own space.

These were the Ritz crackers with cheese. Sunday visitors got the upgrade to Triscuits.

On the other side of the aisle (literally) were our friends, the Democrats. Pete Evans was there most of the weekend, and as I noted this morning I spoke to Delegate candidate Rod Benjamin for a bit while I was there. I also saw Laura Mitchell from afar.

I was a lot closer to Mike McDermott and Chris Adams, who stopped by Saturday to try and collect votes.

As I noted, District 3 contender Larry Dodd was by on Sunday checking out my neighboring tent while helping man the table.

It’s worth pointing out that attendance between Saturday and Sunday was like night and day. While I took these from different vantage points, the time of day was pretty close between the Saturday photo on top and the Sunday one at the bottom.

Something else a little different was the use of one space. On Saturday, the top photo shows a VIP area. On Sunday it was converted to an artisan’s tent with some of their wares put out.

For a few extra dollars on Saturday, you got the nicely appointed tables, a bigscreen TV, a large sectional sofa, and private restrooms. With the exception of the tables, they kept those things on Sunday but very few were there.

Of course, the weather had a lot to do with the spotty Sunday attendance. While it was in the 70s and balmy Saturday, a chilly, cloudy morning and gusting gales on Sunday reminded me again why I call it the Autumn Wind Festival. And those gusts created havoc at the other political tents, oddly enough.

M.J. Caldwell’s tent reared up on two legs before being corralled. But as David Warren saw with his photo, the Democrats weren’t as fortunate.

You’ll notice how devoid of people this end of the festival appeared on Sunday. Unfortunately for a lot of vendors, it was that way Saturday, too. I took this about 3:45, just at the end of the peak time.

While a few were playing games and some watched the college football – granted, the television tent was a little busier on Sunday afternoon for the Ravens game – there was another place people stayed.

Bear in mind I took the next picture Sunday, with the smaller crowd.

Practically every section of this fence had a group staked out. They were close to the wine tents, lucky ones had a view of the stage, and they had their chairs for the duration. With the layout of the event, it was tough on the vendors beyond the last tent – we were lucky enough to be on the back side of it so at least we had some traffic.

If you noticed the chair Larry Dodd was sitting in, it was part of a collection from this vendor.

They have an interesting story since this couple, who I presume are married, traveled from Ohio to the AWF – apparently they do several similar shows a year around the country with the next one in Texas.

So if you wondering who the couple in the Cleveland Browns gear was, there’s your answer. And the chairs seem to be fairly comfortable based on my limited experience of sitting in one for five minutes, so why not give them a plug as thanks? Besides, at $139.95 I figure a year’s free advertising on my site is a fair trade for an air chair. (Never hurts to ask!)

Of course, my better half might prefer the Gollywobbler.

That was fairly good marketing, but not as unique as this tagline.

And since I had the hop head from last week, why not the grape guy?

Still, I favor the more traditional. I really liked the usage of the barrel.

And, of course, the more colorful the bottles in the sunshine, the more likely it is I’ll use the shot. The Winery at Olney gets that honor this year.

But as a vendor, I want to close with my two cents. For those at the south end of the festival, it was pretty brutal. One thing about the layout they use is that 80% of the people can conceivably cluster around the four large tents and the stage in the middle all day. I saw a few people who brought their lunch so they were all set aside from the bathroom breaks.

What I would suggest is a two-stage setup like the Good Beer Festival employs, because it may entice a little more churn in the crowd. Yes, you will get your campers but they may be more inclined to move during an hour break between bands than a 30-minute one.

I’m sure we’ll be back next year, even though it’s pretty much an off-year election (except for the city of Salisbury, which will be in campaign mode.) We may have a little Presidential material as well as those who may run for the Senate, but we won’t have a lot to give out. I would like a little more traffic, though.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 2: District 37

Yesterday I discussed what was said by the county-level candidates at this forum, so today I’m covering the six hopefuls who represented District 37: Addie Eckardt and Chris Robinson for the Senate seat, and Christopher Adams, Rod Benjamin, Keasha Haythe, and Johnny Mautz for District 37B.

Of the two seeking the Senate seat, Eckardt has by far the most political experience as she was elected as a Delegate in 1994, serving in the House ever since. At the eleventh hour this cycle she dropped her quest for a sixth House term and jumped into the Senate race, defeating longtime incumbent Senator Richard Colburn in a bitterly-contested primary. Robinson, on the other hand, is making his second straight bid for the Senate seat after losing to Colburn in 2010. He could be considered a perennial candidate as he’s also run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2006, twice finishing second in the First District primary. Chris was also a last-minute addition after original Democratic candidate Cheryl Everman withdrew.

Their first question had to do with the retirement climate in Maryland, which is bad, but relevant to the district as a number of retirees live along the Chesapeake Bay. Eckardt properly noted the state’s poor showing in rankings of best states to retire in, but added that we needed to look at tax policy across the board, along with addressing the “duplicative nature” of our regulatory system.

After stating that “our jurisdiction is no different than any other jurisdiction,” Robinson agreed that we had to “ratchet back” spending and not raise taxes. But on the second question about the Affordable Care Act, Chris made the case that “it hasn’t worked its way through the country,” and while the rollout of the state exchange was “botched” he thought the emphasis on preventative care was worthwhile. “Give this process a chance,” he concluded.

Eckardt told us that the “good news” about the state’s adoption of Obamacare was the Medicaid expansion, which she believed should have been done first before the exchanges. With it being done in its present manner, premiums were up and employers were dropping coverage. She believed the states needed to promote change at the federal level.

When asked about key real estate issues, Addie wanted to bring together mortgage holders and first time homebuyers by conducting an inventory of tax sales and foreclosures. Meanwhile, Robinson wished to “put points on the board” by making towns exciting and vibrant, calling on builders to create quality homes.

I found Robinson’s closing statement to be intriguing, as he said he was “inspired” by Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway. “I want to be just like them,” he said. Eckardt stressed the power of communication to solve problems, and pledged to be focused and deliberate.

To be honest, I didn’t see Robinson saying or doing anything which would suggest he’ll do much better than the 40 percent he got last time against Colburn. He tried to portray himself as a fiscal conservative, but in this region it’s tough to out-conservative the Republicans.

In contrast to the veteran presence of Eckardt and the perennial candidate in Chris Robinson for the Senate race, the House of Delegates will have two new representatives. Those representatives will have to pay attention to southern and western Wicomico County, which has felt underrepresented in the past based on the thrust of the opening question.

As it turns out, Christopher Adams is from Wicomico, so he stated the obvious: he will be a resident delegate, focusing on our municipalities and business. That business background led him to pledge that “my customers will be my constituents,” regardless of where they live in the district. But he also stressed that we have to start “winning the argument” against the Democrats.

Keasha Haythe replied that she was used to working across county lines as an economic development director, so working with Wicomico County residents wouldn’t be an issue. Similarly, Rod Benjamin pointed out the similarities between his home area in Church Creek and the area of western Wicomico County.

Johnny Mautz noted that he had spent a lot of time in Wicomico County and would work with its local and municipal governments.

This quartet got perhaps the strangest question of the night, one which asked about the effects of climate change and flooding.

Mautz indicated his belief that the state should help flood-prone landowners, but reminded us the flood insurance rates are based on federal mandates.

Benjamin also believed the flood insurance cost was “unfair.” And climate change? “Truth is, I don’t know what the truth is,” he said, noting that he’d seen some extreme tides recently.

Haythe believed we needed to be proactive about the sea level rise, stating it’s already affecting the planned Harriet Tubman visitor center.

But Chris Adams turned the question on its head, taking issue with subsidized government interference. The Eastern Shore, he said, “should be pro-growth, pro-construction.” He also objected to the federal government turning a significant part of Dorchester County into a national park, warning that it would adversely affect private property owners in the area who would lose their rights.

Adams stayed in that vein during the “realtor” question, making the case that Sussex County, Delaware was the prime beneficiary of Maryland’s mistakes, which include a prospective 64% property tax increase because of our state’s growing debt. He pledged to be business-friendly, saying “I’m about jobs.”

Haythe thought a path to success for realtors involved taking advantage of state and federal programs, and leaning on pros (like herself) who know how to create jobs.

Land use was “a large concern” to Johnny Mautz, as were taxes.

Benjamin was asked a little later on about this question, and made the case that local control of issues is preferred. He also offered that the “tier system is better than the smart growth system.” He also proposed a Startup Maryland program, based on a program Wicomico County already has in place for tax abatement.

Later, in his closing statement, Rod told us all we had homework: tell others about what was said tonight. He repeated a mantra of “reduce taxes, reduce government.”

Reducing taxes was also on the agenda of Johnny Mautz, who told us “my word is my bond.”

Keashe Haythe encouraged us to consider both her track record of results and her “human American platform.”

Finally, Christopher Adams begged Annapolis to “leave us to our Shore way of life.”

To me, this was the weakest link in the debate. The questions were relatively uninspiring and most of the answers were fairly rote. One interesting aspect of the House of Delegates discussion was that Rod Benjamin was openly trying to sound as conservative as the Republicans. (In fact, I ran into him at the Autumn Wine Festival and his tone was relatively the same.) On the other hand, Keasha Haythe wanted to make us believe that an economic development director could create jobs.

Yet I did a quick bit of research into Dorchester County’s job creation and retention since 2009, and it shows their labor force has declined by 921 people in five years, with 554 fewer unemployed but 367 fewer actually working. Since she began her job in 2008, Dorchester isn’t doing all that well and one could argue it’s state policies holding her back – policies which emanate from her party. Perhaps it’s something which a woman who’s worked in the public sector for over a decade may not understand.

On the other hand, Adams and Mautz both run businesses so they have created jobs and added value. (Both also support this local blog.)

To me, it was telling that almost all of the candidates tried to convince the crowd of their conservatism. It was much the same in District 38, although there were a disappointing number of omissions. More on that tomorrow.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

Weekend of local rock volume 62

October 19, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music · Comment 

This year’s Good Beer Festival entertainment lineup featured an eclectic collection of bands, so let’s take a look.

One thing I should caution you about: my reviews of the bands are somewhat limited because I was actually working during the time, and I really couldn’t hear much from the main stage. On the other hand, I have more of an idea what was going on at the bar stage. Here’s the lineup.

It meant GBF veteran John Emil Montagino and his unique bluesy guitar got the proceedings underway.

There was a lot of jamming during the set, the mournful guitar matching the dreary day. On the other side of the festival they were getting ready to use this bass.

It belongs to Cool Hand and the Swagger, who opened up the main stage.

Back at the bar stage, it was the acoustic stylings of Lauren Ventura, who had a more conventional guitar and country influence.

Children of a Vivid Eden performed next on the main stage. I think they were here last year as well.

Things got funky on our bar stage end when Uprizing took the stage. Anyone like to twerk for a shirt? They were asking, but I wasn’t taking those photos.

As you can tell, it was lightly raining at the time but they had energy to spare.

The final band of Saturday was The Stickers. From what I gathered they were a country-rock band, but overall I couldn’t really tell from my distant vantage point.

Generally the band which plays last on Saturday is the biggest name draw, as they try and select an up-and-coming artist. In this case, the Pennsylvania-based band has made some impact on the country scene. But there weren’t a huge number of people left around to see them on a chilly, drizzly day.

Sunday began with Landing Mary, which did a great job of constantly re-introducing themselves (which made sense, as people were arriving as they were playing) and noting they were proud enough of their home state to use it in their name. The music wasn’t half-bad either, sort of a 90s alternative groove.

On the main stage to begin were Such Fools.

Since they also played the Autumn Wine Festival yesterday I can tell you they interpret classic songs in a unique fashion given their instrumentation.

Don Adler was the requisite second acoustic act on the bar stage.

What’s sort of sad is that he played nearby yet I really don’t recall a lot of it because I was moving around at the time. Apparently he’s a guitarist of some repute.

But I will tell you who sounded from our end like they were jamming, and that was Eastern Electric.

They were a bright spot to a dreary day, at least to the lady in the foreground who was dancing.

Wrapping up the bar stage for the GBF was the multi-instrumental duo of Smoking Flowers. Yes, she broke out the accordion.

And she can play guitar. And there was actual sunshine, too.

Another country-tinged act, they seemed to play best when she got behind the drums.

Finishing up the Good Beer Festival was perhaps the most eclectic band of the lot, Community Center.

Alas, what they played didn’t seem to hold the interest of a quickly dwindling crowd. But there’s always someone who enjoys the music.

This year the Good Beer Festival leaned heavily on a country sound, drawing some acts from Nashville itself while reserving the top billing for a regionally-known act. In many respects, my title is a misnomer because it wasn’t all that local and not much of it was rock.

It just didn’t seem to me that the musical selections were that great. I know most of the couple thousand who come to the GBF are really not there for the bands, but I think they have picked a lot better in years past. It wasn’t just the weather that was a disappointment.

monoblogue music: “Big Apple Blues” by Tomas Doncker Band

October 18, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

For the second time in just over three months, Tomas Doncker and his band will put out a new release. And while the last compilation mostly featured his remakes of classics by blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, this time he teams up with a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

To be released next Tuesday – with a more formal sendoff during the Dodge Poetry Festival the following weekend – “Big Apple Blues” features ten original compositions between Doncker and poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994. It’s the second time they’ve teamed up, and while I didn’t listen to the first piece between the two I noticed that Komunyakaa has more or less perfected the art of song lyricism as opposed to poetry. While they may seem like two peas in a pod, writing lyrics which make sense musically doesn’t always come naturally to a poet. There’s only one instance, Can’t Say No, where Doncker’s vocal limits are stretched by the song’s lyrics.

So while there are a handful of songs which sound a little too poetic, like The New Day, Coney Island, or the spoken word portion of Hellfighters of Harlem, the lyrics also do a great job of painting an image, like the “Sunday go-to-meeting clothes” of The New Day. The poet’s influence also very apparent in At The Midnight Hour as well as the reversed chorusing of Little Blue Room, one of the better tracks on the album. That song flips the typical lyrical arrangement around in a clever manner.

Meanwhile, true to its name, the album takes you on a musical tour of New York City as many of ten songs contain some sort of reference to the Big Apple.

Now some of this is lost on me since I’m not from New York and haven’t ever been to the city. But if you strip away the lyrical assistance and focus on the music, you’ll notice that there’s somewhat of a jazz influence to it. However, it’s brought home to its blues roots by the liberal use of David Barnes’s harmonica on many tracks as the lead instrument carrying the tune. It provides a smoky jazz feel to the title track and shuffles its way through That Horse, just as a couple examples.

Yet other parts of the band shine through on other tracks, such as the guitar work in Ground Zero and horn section of Fun City, which closes the album. What struck me as a little odd was ending Fun City with 30 seconds of city noise. It’s a minor quibble considering the ten songs combined run just over 43 minutes, but maybe 10 to 15 seconds of that would have been enough.

One thing this new release shows, though, is the talent of Tomas Doncker’s band. They successfully pulled off a good tribute to Howlin’ Wolf yet made this subtle but noticeable change in musical direction without missing a beat. Given the rapid succession of releases it wouldn’t surprise me that both were in the pipeline at about the same time.

So if this is representative of true Big Apple blues, the genre seems to straddle the edge of jazz moreso than rock. I think it’s rather fitting that I’m reviewing this on the same weekend as the Autumn Wine Festival here because it seems like something that would fit right in there. But don’t take my word for it – listen for yourself and if you like it, go ahead and pick it up when it becomes available Tuesday.

AAA backs Question 1. But I don’t and here’s why

Thousands of AAA members across Maryland received an e-mail blast encouraging them to vote for Question 1. In it, the group’s VP for public and governmental affairs, Catherine Rossi, writes in part:

Over the last few years Maryland elected officials have “borrowed” over $1.5 billion dollars from your gas taxes, vehicle registration fees and other sources that were intended for local transportation improvements. Unfortunately, over $1 billion was never repaid and as a result, many local transportation projects have gone unfunded.

Year after year, many of our roads and bridges have been rated poor or in sub-standard condition, as Maryland motorists face some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States. While the State has a long list of state and local projects that would help improve safety and mobility and reduce congestion, these projects could all be derailed if Maryland fails to protect the Transportation Trust Fund, which is why it is so important that you vote FOR Question 1. (Emphasis in original.)

While it’s a compelling argument and outlines the principle of the problem, where I take issue with Question 1 is the substance.

But let’s begin by looking at the other source of the road funding problem. In 2012 it was noted that mass transit takes up 48% of the highway budget, compared to 23% for roads. Simply reversing that proportion would likely have alleviated the need for the additional gas tax passed in 2013 – a gas tax which may provide less income than expected because prices have retreated below $3 a gallon for the first time in a few years. Unfortunately, powerful political interests wanted to construct some useless light rail lines so it looks like we’re going to get them.

And those powerful political interests have enough allies in the General Assembly to make a “lockbox” comprised of a 3/5 majority all but worthless. In actual numerical terms, that’s 85 House members and 29 Senators and as long as the majority party exceeds those numbers there won’t be any sort of taxpayer protection in the TTF.

I know there’s an argument that says I shouldn’t let the perfect get in the way of the good, and just having a lockbox is a good step – basically echoing the AAA contention. But to me voting no sends a message that the proposal is not good enough. We should hold out for a “lockbox” of at least 2/3 – I’d prefer it to be 3/4, meaning that at least some GOP votes would be required. If we pass it this time, the issue will never be revisited, I guarantee it.

If I could trust the majority party any farther than I can throw it, that would be one thing. But I’ve seen the definition of some things they consider “emergency” legislation and there’s potential for abuse here.

If you’re messing with the Maryland Constitution, you should at least do it right. Vote NO on Question 1.

And now a programming note. Instead of burying my forum coverage on a weekend, I’m going to look back at that Monday through Wednesday – just in time for early voting. Tomorrow I have a music review slated and Sunday I’ll detail a special event I attended Thursday night.

Outside the forum

I’ll go a little more in-depth later about the Coastal Association of Realtors/Salisbury Independent candidate forum over the coming days, but there are two key takeaways involving Delegate Norm Conway.

The first is the public apology made by Carl Anderton to Conway regarding the recent release of a flyer depicting Conway in a ski mask. He devoted the main portion of this opening remarks to his mea culpa.

I had a great opening speech prepared – I thought about it all day driving in the rain, but I need to do something, need to correct a wrong and this is how I was raised: to do the right thing and put everything aside for what’s right.

And I want to apologize to you, Mister Conway for a mailer that was sent out, apparently on behalf of me – if that was on behalf of me, I wish it would stop. It was tasteless, shameful, and disgusting and I apologize to you on behalf of whoever sent that.

Anderton went on to say that he had contacted the state Republican party and expressed his disappointment, as he was seeking to run a clean campaign based on the facts and issues.

But just a few hours after the debate, another photo came out.

The car has a House of Delegates plate on it and one can easily read the Conway sticker. Obviously there are a few possible explanations for this, but unless Mrs. Conway was there and needs the designation it’s pretty likely that the car was in a spot most people couldn’t take without a fine. Joe Steffen came to his own conclusion.

Without going too deeply into the content of the forum, though, I wanted to pass along some of my observations.

For one thing, the event lasted 2 1/2 hours and featured a total of 15 candidates – six from District 37, four from District 38, and five in Wicomico County at-large races. Notably missing were the two District 38C candidates (although Judy Davis was in attendance) and the two running for Senate in District 38; on the other hand, both District 38A candidates were there despite the fact their district no longer covers Wicomico County. Regardless, the high number of candidates made for too few questions – I think the event should have played out over two nights as it did in 2010.

Maybe it was just me being tired, but to me I didn’t pick up a great deal of variety among the answers. Even the Democrats pretty much tried to sound conservative, but we know better how they will fare in Annapolis (or in county government.) I’ll still write up a summary on this, but the unusual nature of some of the questions made me scratch my head.

So look for that over the coming days as my plate is filling up. I just wanted to jot down some initial thoughts this morning.

A sea change in Maryland too?

In the midst of what’s good news about energy production in America – despite the headwinds created by an administration that believes global warming is a large problem while spending millions to prop up failing green energy companies – the question can be asked whether Maryland has achieved its share. I want to quote writer Mark Green from the Energy Tomorrow blog, who writes that based on Energy Information Administration data that:

This is a snapshot of America’s energy revolution – the fundamental shift from energy scarcity to abundance that would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago. The shift is the result of surging oil and natural gas production using advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, harnessing oil and gas reserves in shale and other tight-rock formations. Safe, responsible energy development has made the United States the world’s No. 1 natural gas producer, and the U.S. could become the world’s top producer of crude oil related liquids before the year is out.

Larry Hogan has acknowledged that western Maryland has an “enormous” amount of natural gas and that he favors an “all of the above” energy policy. On the other hand, Anthony Brown is studying the issue to death. At the other end of the state and scale, Brown backs his boss’s offshore wind boondoggle while Hogan mentions that “proponents (of wind power) rarely mention the actual costs which include billions in state and federal subsidies.” In a separate statement, he also decries the potential for offshore wind’s “crony capitalism” under a Brown administration.

You know, there’s no question that the key issue in this gubernatorial race is the economy. Maryland is a state lagging behind its peers, and more and more people speak about pulling up stakes and relocating somewhere else: Delaware, Florida, Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee – name a state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and it’s likely someone you knew in Maryland moved there.

But one piece of the puzzle is energy, and those who toil in the oil and gas industry understand what the potential is. In his piece, Green closes by quoting American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard:

We need leaders who reject the outdated political ideology of the professional environmental fringe and the political dilettantes who advance the irresponsible and unrealistic “off fossil fuel” agenda. Because if we get our energy policy right today, we can be the generation that erases what for decades has been our country’s most potent and intractable economic vulnerability: dependence on energy resources from less stable regions and countries hostile to our goals, ideals and way of life.

Writer Rob Port at the Say Anything Blog also asks the pertinent question, and the answer on a state level can be found in Maryland.

I look at it this way. There was a governor and a majority in the General Assembly who were willing to risk over a billion dollars in ratepayer money on something which studies suggested might work but hadn’t been tried in Maryland before, offshore wind. Conversely, given the success of the Marcellus Shale formation in several surrounding states (most notably Pennsylvania), why not encourage the exploration of several other regions in the state which share many of the same characteristics? The worst that can happen is that we find these areas aren’t worthwhile for natural gas with current technology, but the rapidly evolving science of energy extraction means studies done even as recently as a few years ago may be rendered worthless.

Given the correct conditions for marketable extraction of coal and natural gas and an aggressive expansion of power plant capacity which uses those resources, it should be a goal to make Maryland self-sufficient in electricity by 2030. I don’t think offshore wind will get us there, but extracting those resources we have gives us a shot, and provides good-paying jobs for Maryland families who need them.

Anderton among Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC endorsees

Yesterday the Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC announced seven endorsements for the 2014 campaign. All seven of these candidates are Republicans and they are seeking office in most corners of the state, so I will cover them in district order. As a hint to what they are up against, I’m featuring the lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) score for incumbents.

  • Robin Grammer, District 6. This Baltimore County district elected three Democrats in 2010 but only Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28), who is seeking his fourth term, decided to run again. (John Olszewski, Jr. decided to run for the Senate seat of retiring Senator Norman Stone and Joseph “Sonny” Minnick opted to retire.) So two of the seats are open in a district which has elected moderate Democrats and just might be amenable to the GOP alternative.
  • Gordon Bull, District 12. Sliced between Baltimore and Howard counties, this used to be a 2/1 split district. But all three incumbent Democrats, who had a combined 52 years in office, decided to get out so the opening is there. Not the easiest territory but hopefully the district’s conservative voters can unite and sneak Bull into the top three.
  • Michael Ostroff, District 14. Ostroff certainly has a tough race. All three incumbents are running again: Anne Kaiser (mAP = 3), Eric Luedtke (mAP = 2), and Craig Zucker (mAP = 3) are in the race. But for Luedtke and Zucker, this is their first bid for re-election so the jury could be out on them – Ostroff provides a conservative alternative for MoCo voters.
  • Philip Parenti, District 27B. Some could write this race off because it’s in Prince George’s County, but a significant part of the 27B district lies in Calvert County, much friendlier to Republicans. It’s the eastern half of the old two-member District 27A, but shifted even a little more eastward into Calvert. Moreover, Parenti is up against a newcomer rather than an incumbent – James Proctor, Jr. is running in adjacent District 27A while Joseph Vallario, Jr. was redistricted himself to District 23B. So this is a winnable race as well.
  • Deb Rey, District 29B. St. Mary’s County has been trending more Republican over the last four years and the opponent is 15-year veteran John Bohanon, Jr. (mAP = 6). True, her section of the 29th district at the southern tip of St. Mary’s County has a Democratic voter advantage – but so does Wicomico County and we see how Republicans do there. This is a case where the Delegate may be a mismatch for the district in terms of voting record.
  • Sid Saab, District 33. Saab is in the catbird seat among these contenders. Two of the three incumbents in the newly-restored District 33 (it was a split district) are Republicans who have represented Anne Arundel County well – Tony McConkey (mAP = 82) and Cathy Vitale (mAP = 80) decided to stay on, while Robert Costa (mAP = 44) opted to leave after three terms. It created the opening for Saab, who should hopefully score about as well as McConkey and Vitale, if not better.
  • Carl Anderton, Jr., District 38B. Most of my readers should be familiar with Anderton, who’s running against a 28-year incumbent in Norm Conway (mAP = 6.) State Democrats tried to assist Conway by excising most of the geography of his old district, removing Republican-heavy Worcester County entirely and centering it in the Salisbury metro area. Voter registration would suggest it’s a leaning-Democratic district but in terms of registered voters it’s also the third-smallest in the state – so the candidate who can motivate best has an advantage and Carl is working extremely hard.

While this PAC isn’t wealthy by any means, they can throw a few hundred dollars into the coffers of each of these candidates should they so choose. But it’s more important to spread the word about these worthy conservative alternatives – imagine what the General Assembly would be like if all six won and pushed the GOP numbers tantalizingly close to 50. Even getting to 47 would be a victory as they could get around the committee process if all stick together.

So those who bought raffle tickets from the group should be pleased with the results.

2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

Plagued once again by poor weather on its bigger day (Saturday) nonetheless hardy beer enthusiasts from around the region gathered to sample a few swigs and generally celebrate all things beer.

Did I mention the weather was subpar? At least we salvaged one decent day, unlike last year.

Unlike last year’s effort, though, there weren’t a whole lot of new wrinkles. Coming back for another year, for example, was the home brewer’s competition and dedicated area.

Another old favorite kept around was the TV lounge, where people cheered on the Ravens and Orioles on Sunday.

Close by were the cornhole games and that maddening peg hook test of skill.

Once the skies cleared for Sunday, those in attendance could (and did) express themselves.

Those chalkboards were mounted aside the local beer garden, which had an interesting occupant.

Perhaps Backshore Brewery (from Ocean City) was here last year but I don’t recall the old VW Microbus.

They also win the monoblogue prize for the best beer name. That and $4 would have secured a pint, I guess.

Yes, I did try it and I thought it was pretty good. But their Boardwalk Blonde Ale was one of my two favorites along with the Shotgun Betty Ale from Lonerider Brewing, which I think came from North Carolina.

Perhaps pale ales weren’t this guy’s style, but it’s what I prefer. I just wanted the shot of his hat, a style I saw on a couple people over the two days. I didn’t notice anyone selling them.

Another local brewer, though, was angling for donations to a different cause.

Burley Oak is doing a Kickstarter campaign to enable the canning of its beer – as it turns out, they achieved their goal. But the coasters were a nice reminder and quite useful, since that coaster is under my drink (alas, diet Pepsi) as I sit here.

Oh, did I mention I was there for political reasons?

It wasn’t quite dripping with political types as the last time we were in a local election year (the first rendition of the GBF back in 2010) but some of the local political incumbents came to cut the ribbon Saturday.

Doing the honors in this instance were four members of County Council: Bob Culver, Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, and John Hall. Culver was around on both days to press the flesh for a County Executive run, but he was pretty much the only one there.

Yet the reception at our tent was quite good and I handed out a lot of items. My emphasis, particularly with out-of-town people who were interested in Larry Hogan items, was on promoting William Campbell for Comptroller and Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. Those statewide downballot races are very important as well.

And despite the rain attendance held steady, described as just under 3,000. It’s good exposure and this year there wasn’t much obnoxious behavior. In short, a good time was had by all.

Oh, and about that top picture? I’m not averse to bartering advertising space for a monthly supply…just saying.

A million and four too many

I have a friend that’s tired of seeing this commercial for Jim Mathias because, as she said, “I feel like I’ve seen this same Jim Mathias commercial a million and four times already.” So it’s time for me to expand it and tell you what he’s really saying.

The ad cuts through a number of different scenes from around the area. Most of it is shot in a restaurant but there are stills from a number of outdoor scenes, inside a firehouse, and so forth.

The script is rather simple.

Mathias: Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator. In Annapolis, I make SURE we get heard and get results for the Eastern Shore. I fight for lower taxes and less regulation so our businesses thrive, make money, and hire more people.

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke, make our roads safer like Route 113, or improve our schools like James M. Bennett, I get the job done. I’m asking you for your vote so that we can continue to preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore.

So let’s go through this a little at a time.

Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator.

Not by choice, and certainly not by voting record.

In Annapolis, I make SURE we get heard and get results for the Eastern Shore.

That can be taken any number of ways, but based on the fact we have higher unemployment and slower growth than the state as a whole, I’m not sure you’re getting them to listen or give us the desired results.

I fight for lower taxes and less regulation so our businesses thrive, make money, and hire more people.

Now wait a second. You’ve voted for 11 of the 12 total state funding items since you’ve become Senator – all four operating budgets, all four capital budgets, and three of the four BRFA bills – 2012 being the exception. In that year, you waited until the Special Session to vote for that BRFA, which was the one that shifted teacher pensions to the counties. Seeing as that the budgets you voted for were increases over the previous year, wouldn’t it follow that revenue had to come from somewhere?

It seems you don’t have a lot of influence on your party since they keep voting for the tax hikes and regulation, yet many of them give you campaign financing. And as I referenced above, when compared to other parts of the state, businesses aren’t hiring more people so it’s doubtful they’re thriving or making money.

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke…

Interesting you should bring that up. According to the SHA, the Pocomoke River bridge project was paid for by the gas tax increase you opposed, yet it’s been in the pipeline for a few years. From the minutes of the Somerset County Roads Commission, November 15, 2011:

Commissioner (Charles F.) Fisher then asked about the status of the Pocomoke River bridge. Mr. Drewer (Donnie Drewer, SHA district engineer) stated that the north bound side deck will be replaced and a latex overlay will be placed over the south bound lanes. The project is slated to be funded with FY2013-2014 funding.

FY2013 began July 1, 2012, so the project ended up being almost two years behind schedule.

It’s noted that Mathias was present at that Somerset County meeting so if he was fighting as hard as he states, wouldn’t that bridge be finished by now? Instead, the SHA added it to their FY2013-18 plan, which reveals that of the $17.2 million cost, the federal government covers almost $13.8 million. (Page 447 of this exceedingly large file shows it.) So maybe Andy Harris deserves more credit.

…make our roads safer like Route 113…

This is a project which has spanned decades, with original studies dating from the 1970s and off-and-on construction over the last 20 years. So there’s not much Mathias has really done for it. It’s actually been dedicated to the man Mathias was appointed to replace in the House, Bennett Bozman.

…or improve our schools like James M. Bennett, I get the job done.

Actually, much of the money for improving the Bennett Middle School – which I assume is the one he’s talking about since the high school was under construction when he became Senator – comes from Wicomico County taxpayers, who are the recipients of millions in debt to build the new school after two members of Wicomico County Council caved to a vocal support group and changed their initial vote against the bonds. The state money wasn’t coming until the Council bowed to the “Bennett babes.”

The job that was done was placing those children who will eventually attend the new BMS in debt.

I’m asking you for your vote so that we can continue to preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore.

There are a lot of things worth preserving on the Eastern Shore. But for all the rhetoric, I come back to something I wrote four years ago when Mathias took advantage of the retirement of Republican Senator Lowell Stoltzfus to jump from the House to the Senate:

There’s a reason that I get day after day of mailings from Jim Mathias explaining how, despite his Baltimore roots, he’s an Eastern Shore conservative at heart (today it’s being against “liberals” and for the death penalty.) Annapolis Democrats wouldn’t be backing him if he weren’t useful to them – they know the score and the fact they need Republicans to have fewer than 19 Senate seats to keep them meaningless. He will be no such thing as a loose cannon.

In order for the state of Maryland to be a true two-party state and keep in check the appetite of the liberals who have been running our state into the ground for God knows how long, Republicans need to maintain at least 2/5 of the Senate, or 19 of the 47 seats. (Getting 19 Senate seats is paramount because that can sustain a filibuster.) The GOP got to 14 seats in 2006, only to lose two in 2010 – one of them being to Jim Mathias. Prior to that, the 38th District Senate seat had been Republican for nearly 30 years, which matched the conservative nature of the district.

I won’t deny that Jim Mathias has a more moderate voting record than most Democrats in Maryland, and on certain issues he will vote with Republicans, such as overt tax increases or the gun law. But these seem to be the exceptions to the rule, and now Jim is casting himself as someone who got pork for the district. Going along to get along, with the exception of votes where the hall pass to vote against the party line because the votes are already there, is one thing.

But in order to “preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore” we need a reliable conservative voice to reflect the conservative area and that’s not Jim Mathias.

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  • More Campaign 2014

    Contested races only.

    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

    ___

    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Chris Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

    ___

    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

    ___

    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

    ___

    County Council at-large

    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

    ___

    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

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    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)