The second campaign

November 29, 2006 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

As I sit here, I have 23 e-mails and 3 snail mails here that relate to the various hopefuls seeking positions within the Maryland Republican Party. It’s like going through the election all over again except this time my mind’s not already made up for the most part. (Actually it’s sort of like the primary except we only get one election come Saturday.)

I haven’t actually read through all of the information yet, but I suppose the people I’ll vote for need to assure me that they’ll keep several things in mind and work toward certain goals for 2010.

As some readers may recall, I ran for Central Committee with a particular set of goals in mind. One is, “an open-door policy and outreach to the…College Republicans as well as local Young Republican chapters. (W)e as Central Committee members need to do what we can to encourage these interested youths to get involved with the political process. Take advantage of their youthful energy, not just as grunt workers for the same old candidates but give them an opportunity to make a difference. Will mistakes be made? Yes, but it’s better to make a mistake trying to make a positive change than screwing up doing the same old thing.”

The other key and relevent one is, “I’m a believer in contested primaries regardless of office. Just because someone is in elected office makes them no more special than the rest of us…In 2010, I would like to see even the Republicans who win election this year pushed to a contest in the primary. A spirited but friendly competition is a good warmup for the real test, when our candidates square off with those Democrats who will likely have the advantages of help from Annapolis and a friendlier media.”

The second one may be the rub and place me in a small minority as far as the Maryland GOP goes. The conventional wisdom is that having uncontested primaries frees up money for the general election and keeps the mud from being slung within the party. An example is the “Willie Horton” ad used by Democrats as an example of Republicans being mean and racist – it was actually first used by an opponent of Michael Dukakis in the 1988 Democrat primaries (I want to say Al Gore, but I’m not sure. Looked it up on Wikipedia and there’s conflicting stories on the source.)

Anyhow, I’m a person who puts his trust in party voters to elect the right person for the position. But sometimes the state and national GOP brain trusts place their support behind a warm body who just happens to carry an “R” behind his name and the power of incumbency instead of a candidate who is more in line with the party’s interests as a whole – only to see their fair-haired boy stab them in the back when the chips are down. See Specter vs. Toomey in Pennsylvania (2004) and Chafee vs. Laffey in Rhode Island (2006). In particular, I was perturbed when we had a representative from the state GOP come to a meeting to explain the Republican GOTV efforts and use this year’s Rhode Island primary as an example because the party was using it to endorse the RINO Chafee, who may have lost the primary if not for the efforts. And do you think some conservatives in Pennsylvania may have kept the memory of Rick Santorum endorsing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the back of their minds when they decided to skip that race or pull the lever for Bob Casey out of spite?

I want candidates to run my state party who understand that there’s no need to compromise its principles because we live in what’s now a “blue” state. We just need to solidify our base (the “outstate” areas) and focus on reeducating those in the swing areas that a conservative philosophy of governance is the best one.

Note to fellow bloggers…

November 27, 2006 · Posted in Delmarva items · 1 Comment 

Just to make this clear…

Update:

I received a phone call today from a nice lady who wanted me to clarify my brief post. The swearing-in ceremony at Wicomico H.S. is open to the public and anyone may attend.

However, the subsequent “inaugural ball” if you will is only open to those personnel in the Sheriff’s Department and invited guests (i.e. a private party.)  

I found out that next Monday Sheriff-elect Mike Lewis is being sworn in at 4 P.M. at the Civic Center and is closing the office so all personnel can attend (paid). (The State Police will take the calls.) He has invited all of the deputies and their families for this catered affair.

I mention this because I can’t be there to take notes and pictures (since I’m a loyal employee and have to get our projects out), but my fellow Salisbury area bloggers (:::cough:::Joe:::cough:::) may want to record this for posterity.

Late edit: Mike Lewis has changed plans…swearing in at Wi-Hi and post-party at Brew River. The times remain the same.

WCRC meeting – November 2006

I attended a wake tonight. Ok, it wasn’t QUITE that bad, but there was a little bit of discontent at our meeting. Obviously, our side didn’t win as much as we’d hoped starting from the top down and a good deal of the time was spent in analysis why we thought this happened. But, as it turns out, in the words of one commenter, “we got butt whipped.”

Discussion touched on a number of topics, including a lack of enthusiasm by Republicans as a whole, how the primary losers didn’t get behind the primary winners, and a need for better organization and more targeted advertising.

There’s one topic that I got raw numbers for (thanks to Woody Willing at the Board of Elections.) The Republican turnout was 57%, while the Democrats managed 51% and independents were 2,800 strong (that’s roughly 40%.) It works out to about 10,830 Republicans, 11,730 Democrats, and the 2,800 independents. So the independents were enough to tip the scales.

What was noted at the meeting is that the 62% Ehrlich vote didn’t translate all the way down the line – aside from Mike Lewis and Gail Bartkovich, no other contested Republican came close to those numbers. The GOP could not even hold its base in a lot of races as some votes leaked away for Norm Conway, Mark Bowen, et. al.

So that turned out to be the bulk of our meeting, and I even chimed in with my thoughts, which I’ll elaborate on at the end of the post.

We did do some business items. Our treasury is still pretty healthy and ready for the next election cycle. The club also got nice thank-you notes from State Senator Lowell Stoltzfus, Bonnie Luna, Bryan Brushmiller, M.J. Caldwell, and District 3 Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich. And come January, the club will begin the process of nominating and selecting its officers for 2007. It was also revealed that the next event for the club will be our Christmas Party, which will be Sunday, December 10th from 5-7 p.m. at the Elks Club on Churchill Drive. Admission is $5.

Fellow incoming Central Committeeman Dave Parker told us about the state Executive Committee meeting (he attended in place of our chair, Dr. John Bartkovich), particularly about the remarks that Michael Steele made to the attendees. Steele stated that basically the Maryland GOP was back in the same position that they were in after the 1998 elections – beaten down and battered because of poor election results. At the time their goal was to eventually elect a GOP governor…by 2006. Obviously Bob Ehrlich beat that timetable.

According to Parker, Steele had two points that he stressed to those in attendance. One is work on getting candidates early, particularly younger candidates (which our local party did pretty well this cycle.) The other is place more emphasis on the annual Lincoln Day dinner, as that draws attention to the party even in off years. Dave noted that Michael Steele was quite upbeat and positive at the gathering, despite being handed a convincing defeat at the polls and despite having the better position on issues facing Maryland. (Ok, the last is my editorial comment.)

We also heard briefly from two electoral winners. Joe Holloway, newly elected in County Council District 5, joked about the tone of the meeting, quipping “(I guess) I’m the bright spot. Sorry about your luck.” He admitted that he’s still getting up to speed on some of the issues but looked forward to tackling them. (Note to Joe: read the blogs more often.) But he thanked all of us for our help, and complemented opponent Ed Werkheiser on running a gentlemanly campaign.

Delegate Page Elmore also spoke a few words, saying that we all needed to move forward and most likely the first big issue out of the chute when the General Assembly kicks off will be the slots debate, as Maryland is facing a financial crunch and Page didn’t see Governor-elect O’Malley raising taxes right away. In Elmore’s view, if slots are going to be placed it should be where gambling already occurs; in other words, at the racetracks.

There was also a quick question regarding revamping the club’s website, and it was reiterated that the issue had been left up to the officers and they were awaiting a proposal from a prospective operator (it’s not me!)

Which leads me to my comments. During the whole discussion about what happened in 2006, I had to place my two cents in. In so many words, I just had to say that 2006 is history now, let’s learn from our mistakes and move forward.

We have two years now before the next major election. What I thought should happen among the people in the room is not necessarily to spend that whole time being political with people, but rather to lead by the example of doing things in the community and get out among other people. Sooner or later they get to know you and it’s at that point that, if politics becomes a topic of conversation, they’re more amenable to listening to the Republican message. You have a much better chance for success with stating a case for a candidate by talking to a friend about him/her than any 30 second commercial or mail piece ever does.

I was also the subject of an interesting comment put to me because I’m a blogger. Since I have a record of my blog posts it gives me an institutional memory that can be used for or against a candidate or a point of view. Obviously I spent a LOT of time attending forums and the like and compiling my notes on what was said…so someone could go back and say (for example) Rick Pollitt, you said you “want no more government than is necessary” but here you are asking for funding on (fill in the blank) and that’s more intrusive government. It’s sort of like opposition research on the cheap, and as the blogosphere expands and becomes more of a “legit” media source, many more voices can and will be heard. (Finally, someone who MIGHT understand this blog thing and how it can work for the GOP.)

All in all, it was a long meeting that was basically an exercise in getting out the frustrations we have over the election results of three weeks ago in a civil manner. Maybe we didn’t work quite hard enough, and maybe our side was hurt by national events, but now that’s all water under the bridge and we must move on. I’m not going to be like those on the other side who were STILL whining about Bush stealing elections years after the fact. We have a county, state, and nation to help govern even if we are in the (temporary) minority in most cases.

Posts on development

November 26, 2006 · Posted in Delmarva items · 3 Comments 

I’m going to bounce off a couple posts I read earlier today on Delmarva Dealings, one regarding the Northeast Collector extension and the other about the Discovery project slated north of Laurel, Delaware.

Putting aside the fact that the city of Salisbury, already in hock up to its eyebrows, plans on borrowing millions to complete the Northeast Collector, it occurred to me that the idea behind this road was to provide an alternate route to the mall. Cato brought up a good point, though – the road as planned would stop at the intersection of Kelly Road and East Gordy Road. As it stands now, the corner is a forlorn 90 degree curve in the road, which simply changes direction and name.

This got me to wondering if the proposed improvements also include:

  • widening the probably half-mile of Kelly Road that’s existing
  • reworking the current “T” intersection with Zion Road into what should be a curved intersection with Kelly Road/Northeast Collector given the right of way
  • widening the current Zion Road bridge over the U.S. 13/50 bypass

If these items aren’t done, the road pretty much becomes useless for its stated purpose. You would have a four-lane highway first dying into a two-lane road and then coming to a dead stop (or at least a turn if the light is green, I’m certain there’s going to be a traffic light installed there.)

Now, the purpose behind the road is an alternate route to the mall. I actually sat down with a map of Salisbury and mentally drove the two possible routes – one using Business Route 13 and the other the Northeast Collector. If my memory is correct, there are 13 traffic lights between the corner of College Avenue and the mall along Salisbury Boulevard.

Thinking of the College Avenue/Beaglin Park Drive corridor and that route, along with probable lights at Old Ocean City Road and at the Zion Road terminus, I come up with… 13 traffic lights. Traffic from the south and west would do roughly as well to stay along Route 13, while traffic from the east would probably use the bypass and exit directly in front of the mall.

So the reason for the road comes down to servicing the proposed Aydelotte Farms development. While the additional traffic could assist in developing the moribund Beaglin Park office development between Business Route 50 and Old Ocean City Road, the purpose of this highway seems a little redundant given the bypass that already exists.

Speaking of redundant developments, there’s certain parts of the proposed Discovery development which seem to be lacking in thought and some that could do a lot of good.

According to the news report, the development is slated for 1,400 residential units, 250 retail stores, sports fields, a water theme park, a 6,000 seat baseball stadium, and a 12,000 seat arena.

Starting with the residential units; one has to ask, given the slumping real estate market, whether throwing all these units into a market already suffering from a glut of available new housing will fly. I can personally vouch for at least one major housing development being placed on hold, I’m sure others are in the same boat. Obviously these units are planned on the mid-to-long term basis (maybe 3 years out before any significant number are built) but 1,400 units over 10 years is still a lot to work in. And of course, the age-old question: will people be able to afford them and work close by?

Moving on to the retail stores, Delaware (as most readers know) is a state with no sales tax. Obviously this gives them an advantage over adjacent Maryland businesses, particularly if incoming Governor O’Malley becomes compelled to raise the sales tax to pay for his cornucopia of new and expanded government programs. It would likely be about a 6% advantage over similar products in Maryland stores.

Here’s the rub though. With the closest large population base being in Maryland and a mall about 10 miles south of the site, it’s going to be tricky for a mall to secure stores that aren’t duplicating those already down Route 13 in Salisbury. Yes, there may be some cannabalism that occurs if someone like, say, a Best Buy decides to build a larger store in Laurel to supplant its Salisbury location, but most stores would prefer to stay where they are as traffic patterns still favor the location closer to Route 50, the other major highway in the area.

A lot of the buzz over the project deals with the outdoor aspects of it. While our part of the country has a more favorable three-season climate, the outdoor activities would still likely be limited to about eight months (March to November.) If the water park is outdoor, that has a even more limited shelf life, basically the tourist season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

I also can’t see the logic of a 6,000 seat baseball stadium. We already have a 10,000 seat park for the Shorebirds, and while the idea of the Discovery park is more geared to youth tournaments and the like, where would 6,000 people come from? More importantly, where would they stay? The lodging capacity is just not there at present and it’s doubtful anywhere near the required number of motel rooms could be built nearby.

However, the one thing I’d love to see is a 12,000 seat arena. Maybe we’d get some decent concerts for once…the Civic Center isn’t drawing flies as far as I’m concerned. It would become another white elephant if the Discovery Arena is built because Wicomico County would be hard-pressed to find events for a building that already needs millions in upgrades just to stay current.

I did a little bit of research in the census figures for the area. I’m thinking that this facility would draw from an area that includes Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware and the counties along the lower and mid-shore in Maryland (Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester, Dorchester, Talbot, and Caroline.) Once you get to the edges of that area, commerce is more likely to flow to Baltimore or Wilmington.

According to 2005 census estimates, the total population of that area works out to 584,419. I was shocked when I figured that out but then again both Sussex and Kent counties are geographically huge. They contribute 320,516 to the total, although many on the northern end of Delaware’s Kent County would likely migrate to Wilmington for their needs.

One thing that was brought up was the amount of population over the age of 65. The national average is about 12%, but practically every county within this region exceeds that – Worcester County has an estimated 21.7% of their population above 65. Kent County, Delaware is lowest at 12%, but they will split their allegiance as it were. Overall, I calculated that 16.1% of the population in the affected area is 65 plus. Those in the “seasoned citizen” set have traits that would affect the success of the venture.

For one thing, they would likely not partake in using the outdoor facilities as they’re generally in poorer health. The other, more important thing came to me in talking to my mom over the weekend. She’s 66 and my dad is 71, and neither of them feels much up to driving anymore. My mom won’t drive on expressways and my dad worries about driving at night. She also told me that the trip north they’ll take this coming summer (from Florida) will likely be the last one they take by car because of these concerns about driving the distance safely. With the heavy traffic sure to be created by this megadevelopment, this is a factor that will discourage 1/6 of the population from using it.

To be sure, I’m not against the idea of development – my paycheck depends on it. But I’m not certain all of these factors were thought through, and abandoning a development halfway through when the unplanned factors become too much for a deal to remain profitable makes everyone look bad and leaves a number of problems in its wake. Quite possibly a scaled-down development with some of the features that are more certain to succeed is what’s called for in this case.

 

Hey, it works!

November 25, 2006 · Posted in Personal stuff · 2 Comments 

As of this moment, I have completed my upgrade to WordPress 2.0.5. I know the place looks the same to those of you on the outside but I’m looking at something which is much different! (Like the fact I can center-justify.)

In the next day or so, I’ll rework some stuff and add things I promised like band links. I think I’ll remain with this theme since the “Journalized Sand” one continues to work on the new version. I like the three-column theme.

Shifting the blame around

November 25, 2006 · Posted in Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics · 1 Comment 

The other night I was reading the blog done by the Republican Study Committee, which is on the site of Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. On this I came across a press release from the rival Republican Main Street Partnership, claiming the far right as “soley (sic) responsible for Democratic gains” because they “push(ed) a legislative agenda cow-towing to the far right in our party”; in particular blocking measures to raise the minimum wage, expand embryonic stem-cell research, and “real” ethics and lobbying reform.

For those of you who don’t know and haven’t figured it out, the RSC represents the conservative wing of the House Republicans, while the Main Street Partnership caters to the more moderate in the party. While the RMSP members are mostly in the House, a smattering of Senators and state governors also claim membership, including luminaries such as Sen. John McCain and California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also included among RMSP politicians are local House members Wayne Gilchrest and Mike Castle, along with outgoing Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich. Representing the Republican Study Committee in Maryland is Sixth House District Congressman Roscoe Bartlett.

So I looked at this short press release, misspelling and all, of this group which lays claim to the legacy of Ronald Reagan despite talking about “ignor(ing) centrist concerns (and pursuing the) far right’s legislative agenda.” Then I decided to look at who REALLY lost the House.

Of the two competing groups, the RSC is by far the larger, with 102 House members on their roster. Of these 102 members, 90 will continue on to the next Congress. Using the American Conservative Union ratings that are done annually as a guide, I found that all but one of these 102 members had a rating of 80% or better, and the odd member had a 92% rating in 2005 (to bolster his overall 64% rating.) In fact, all but nine of these Congressman have maintained a 90% or better ACU life rating since they began their service.

Further, when you look at the election results, 54 of these 90 winning Congressmen won their seats with over 60% of the vote and 9 of those had better than 70% – obviously most of these members were reelected by a clear mandate. Of the 12 who are leaving Congress, three vacated their seats to run for other posts, and 9 were defeated for reelection. The other 3 seats split 2-1 Democrat.

The Main Street Partnership as a group has a much worse ACU rating, with only 16 of the 48 members achieving an 80% rating. Just five reach the 90% mark lifetime, and none exceed 92%. (Our Congressmen, Gilchrest and Castle, rank at 62% and 57% respectively. Across the Virginia line, Congresswoman Thelma Drake, a member of the competing RSC, has a solid 92% rating.)

Now, here’s the results for the MSP membership. Coming into the election, they had 48 House members in their group. They lost 11 members of their 48, with seven of those losers coming out of northeastern states and three from the midwest. Only 14 of the 37 survivors won with 60% or more of the vote, topping the list was Wayne Gilchrest with 69%. The RSC lost the other GOP seat vacated by Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, that seat flipped to the Democrats.

But as a whole, almost all of the seats that switched from Republican to Democrat control came from the northeast and midwest; mostly RMSP members in the more liberal northeast and disenchantment with a Congress deemed not conservative enough in the midwest, particularly in Indiana. Also, three seats were lost to Democrat and media-stoked scandals in Ohio, Texas, and Florida (Ney, DeLay, and Foley respectively.)

If anything, I think the RMSP needs to look in the mirror if they want to find someone to blame. Many items on the Bush agenda have been held up or watered down by Main Street members, particularly the eight in the Senate. Democrats took advantage of the infighting and managed to find more “conservative” candidates because what’s considered the “center” in this country has taken a rightward turn in the quarter century since Ronald Reagan took office. However, I doubt any of these new Democrats will be Reagan Democrats, I’m certain they’ll be pretty much following the marching orders given to them by Pelosi and company.

The election results have spoken. Almost 1/4 of the members of the Republican Main Street Partnership were ousted from Congress, while barely 10% of the Republican Study Committee group was. Something tells me the mandate from the people is for a conservative opposition to thwart and temper the extreme liberalism sure to be attempted by the Democrats in the 110th Congress while working to regain a majority in 2008 and elect a more conservative President.

Afterword: I was thinking about the 69% of the vote Gilchrest received. Imagine if the Democrats had recruited a candidate not as far left as Dr. Jim Corwin was and placed some dollars behind his campaign. (Someone like our County Executive candidate Tom Taylor comes to mind, pretty much a Reagan Democrat.) Honestly, I think Gilchrest would have lost that election.

In many instances where the Democrats picked up seats, they got candidates that were at least perceived to be as conservative as the GOP incumbents they replaced, but weren’t tarred with the “culture of corruption” brush or tied to President Bush (read: the War on Terror) – ideas hammered into the average voter on a daily basis by the partisan, “drive-by” media.

And many conservatives deserve a good share of blame about being tied to the Abramoff scandal because it showed clearly how they had strayed from the ideals of the “Contract With America” that got them elected. After all, if government is truly smaller, lobbyists will follow the money someplace else. We never did follow through on ridding ourselves of the Department of Education or the frivilous spending. Instead of rebelling against the system, these Congressmen embraced it, and it cost them.

Hap…py…Than…ks…giving

November 23, 2006 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off on Hap…py…Than…ks…giving 

Fortunately I didn’t hire a helicopter to drag a “monoblogue” banner and Les Nessman isn’t reading it. There’s not all that many memorable Thanksgiving TV shows out there but that episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” was, especially when it comes from my early teenage years. “As God is my witness…I thought turkeys could fly.”

I was going to use this as a lead-in about a group I thought were turkeys but I’ll save it for tomorrow, it’s not the freshest of news and it’ll join the plenty of other leftovers to go around.

Instead, I’ll simply leave you with my wish to you and yours for a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving and a quote from the original Thanksgiving Proclamation (thanks to the Founders’ Quote Daily from the Patriot Post):

“It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors.”

George Washington (Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789)

The regression begins

November 22, 2006 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on The regression begins 

And before the Maryland General Assembly has even met!

This week a group billing itself as the “Healthy Maryland Initiative” announced its support for a $1 per pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax, which would double if the proposal is enacted. Currently the $1 per pack tax is ranked about the middle of the pack (no pun intended) as far as state cigarette taxes go, but an increase of this magnitude would skyrocket Maryland to a top-5 spot in the country (along with Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.)

The reason I entitled this “The regression begins” is that a tax of this sort is probably one of the most regressive taxes around, as cigarette smokers generally can be found among the middle-class and lower on the economic ladder and that additional dollar is a larger proportion of their income. Buying a carton of cigarettes would mean another Jackson leaves their wallet.

According to the HMI group, the tax would raise about $211 million, which they claim would insure an additional 62,000 Maryland residents. However, this is still a small portion of the estimated 788,000 uninsured in the state. They also boast that there will be 50,000 fewer teen smokers as a result of this taxation. In our area, there will simply be several thousand more trips across the Delaware border to buy cigarettes, which will hurt the businesses on this side of the “old line”.

Some may recall that onetime candidate for governor Doug Duncan was also in favor of a similar tax, which was proposed in the 2006 General Assembly but didn’t make it out of committee. (The numerical data being used was that prepared to calculate the financial impact of the bill when it was introduced.)

And I have the same questions now that I did when the would-be governor proposed the tax hike:

Does it not seem strange that on the one hand your plan would “save 50,000 Maryland children from tobacco addiction” yet it’s totally dependent on a new additional cigarette tax?

Secondly, does your estimate of $211 million in revenue from the tax account for a probable reduction in the number of smokers as cigarettes get more expensive?

And if the revenue doesn’t get totally generated, where would the shortfall be made up – additional taxes on working Marylanders or cuts in the programs?

Other aspects to the second question I didn’t think of at the time were regarding a possible increase in criminal activity as cigarette smuggling becomes a more profitable opportunity; and also the subject I touched on earlier about business crossing state borders. Maryland is a long state but not particularly wide, and it’s very tempting if this tax becomes law to save anywhere from 65 cents to $1.68 per pack depending on location. (Pennsylvania is the border state with the highest per-pack tax, $1.35; Virginia’s ranges from $0.32 to $0.45 depending on jurisdiction. Delaware and West Virginia are both 55 cents per pack.)

And obviously the best-laid plans generally fall short when they come to estimating government revenues from new taxes. (They always seem to underestimate spending as well.) That $211 million may well turn out to be more like $180 million – then where do they get the money? I never got answers to any of my questions and I doubt anyone in the HMI group will answer them now either.

In the interest of disclosure, I’m not a smoker who would be affected by this tax insofar as I don’t purchase cigarettes, mainly because I have a mild (but controlled) affliction of asthma. This is a stand on principle. It has always puzzled me as to why we have on the one hand government spending all this money telling people not to smoke (as do the cigarette companies which REALLY blows me away.) But, rather than just be logical and ban smoking as they do with hard drugs, they tax the crap out of tobacco and have become dependent on that revenue as well as the money they extorted from tobacco companies as part of their legal settlement.

For his part, Governor-elect O’Malley has remained coy on the subject, as spokesman Rick Abbruzzese noted, “We’re not inclined to support it at this time. The governor-elect is primarily focused on building a professional and competent state government.”

Leaving aside my opinion that we just threw out a “professional and competent state government”, something tells me that when O’Malley and his minions start adding up all of his promised spending, there’s going to be a change of heart the moment that additional cigarette tax makes it out of the General Assembly. Remember, they only said that they would not support it “at this time.” Times do change, and I’ll bet O’Malley’s mind will as well. He knows that it’s only 2007 (not 2010), and people have short memories when it comes to political promises kept and broken.

Long past overdue

November 20, 2006 · Posted in NFL News, Personal stuff, Sports · 1 Comment 

This is a repeat of a picture I posted about the same time last year on monoblogue. Same old same old.

Photo from a 2005 Detroit Lions loss. The story still applies in 2006. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In 2000, the Detroit Lions were a 54-yard field goal made by Chicago’s Paul Edinger with 2 seconds left in the season finale away from reaching the playoffs for a second season in a row. In early 2001 the Lions hired Matt Millen to be their new GM after the tough ending to a 9-7 campaign.

In Matt Millen’s first season, the Lions were 2-14 and began a league-record streak of 25 road losses in a row.

While almost every other team has had at least one postseason appearance since 2000, the Lions continue to suffer humiliating defeat after defeat under Millen’s direction. On Sunday they lost to Arizona, who ended an 8 game losing skid with the 17-10 victory.

There are 3 other teams who have roughly the same length of playoff futility as the Lions do. They are the aforementioned Arizona Cardinals (last playoff appearance in 1998), Buffalo Bills (last playoff appearance was in 1999), and the Houston Texans (no playoff appearances since their 2002 debut.) In the stretch since Millen has assumed his GM role, Arizona has an overall record of 29-61, Buffalo 35-55 (with a 8-8 season in 2002 and 9-7 in 2004 so they’ve been playoff contenders), and Houston’s all-time record stands at 21-53. Given the fact that Houston started its franchise from zero, it’s a sad commentary that Detroit’s record in the same span is the exact same 21-53 with Millen at the helm. For the full period Millen’s now 23-67.

And if you look at the six #1 draft picks that Millen’s had, only 3 are still active with the Lions. His first pick was OL Jeff Backus, who’s been a solid starter throughout his career. But the next year’s pick, QB Joey Harrington, had three so-so years with the Lions and now starts for the Miami Dolphins. WR Charles Rogers was cut after two unproductive seasons in Detroit, WR Roy Williams is a good but not regularly gamebreaking receiver (153 receptions and 20 TD in 2+ seasons), and last year’s first pick, WR Mike Williams, has been left off the active roster as a healthy scratch in all but 2 games this year, with just 29 receptions and 1 TD to his credit in his brief career (all in 2005). This year’s pick was LB Ernie Sims, who’s been a starter and done a reasonable job, so maybe Millen drafts better on defense.

However, if a boss at any level had this sort of dismal performance, someone would likely show him the door. But somehow the woebegone Lions continue to keep this guy around.

So, on Thanksgiving Day, once again America will get to watch the Lions most likely be routed again like they have the last couple Thanksgiving Days – by its former quarterback no less. (But then again, maybe the Lions do have a shot with #3 at the helm for Miami.) And on Friday, the football writers will howl about how rotten it is that the lousy Detroit Lions always get a Thanksgiving game and why don’t they spread the games around? (They don’t complain about Dallas having the same tradition though.)

I say the first turkey sacrificed in the Detroit area needs to be Matt Millen. With the Tigers winning the A.L. pennant in 2006 and the Pistons and Red Wings recent champs in their respective sports, there’s only one losing team left in Detroit and now’s the time to work on changing it to four-for-four.

Support your local music scene #2

November 19, 2006 · Posted in Delmarva items, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Support your local music scene #2 

Local band Halflink, a photo from their Myspace site.

As I alluded to last week, last night I was out at Cactus Club to catch another local band called Halflink.

Let me tell you something – if you like your rock hard and heavy (as I do) these fellas are a band for you. They did three sets of roughly an hour each, with a mix of maybe 3/4 originals with several covers thrown in. And the covers weren’t just the normal metal staples like Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name” or Staind’s “Mudshovel” (which they did well) but also a little more obscure song like “Leader of Men” by Nickelback, which is probably my favorite song by that band. Even better, imagine a more classic mainstream rock song like “Another Brick in the Wall” on heavy-metal steroids and you get the picture. The volume might have killed Syd Barrett (if he weren’t already dead) but the song really jammed. Of course, one original they did was “Stand Up”, a song that’s gotten some airplay locally (and that’s how I heard of Halflink.)

Unfortunately, I also found out that they didn’t win the competition they were entered into last week out in Los Angeles. But it did sound like they had interest and possibly at least one show out there, which would be good. After the interest that our area got with Phil Ritchie of Lennex getting invited on the Rockstar TV show, maybe the Delmarva region can become a hotbed of national acts – who knows?

If Halflink is ready to take the next step, you might want to be at Memories in Delmar on December 2nd (a week from this coming Saturday) to catch them live.

I think also once I do my site upgrade over Thanksgiving weekend I’m going to add local band links to some of the other links I have for various blogs and such. While the focus of monoblogue is still going to be political, remember I write about things that interest me and sometimes I like to branch out.

Sage commentary

November 18, 2006 · Posted in Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on Sage commentary 

Tell me if this isn’t pretty close to the truth. I wrote this back in May to comment on a post by the Detroit area bloggers Conservababes: Right From New Fallujah.

If you ask me (well, since I’m adding the comment I guess I wasn’t asked – but anyhow):

In 1994, the Republicans won back control of the House by having principles.

In 2006, the Republicans risk losing control of the House because someplace along the line they lost their principles.

And they reason why they may lose the House is that those voters who have principles and elected the GOP no longer have the faith in them to justify their vote. In my home state of Maryland, we could have the perfect storm:

Conservatives stay home because they’re disillusioned with the political process.

Democrats, who’ve already attempted to game the system with some poorly written early voting laws and other election reform, “turn out” in great numbers. Probably those numbers will be inflated by provisional ballots, but nonetheless are counted.

What happens then is that the GOP governor is defeated for re-election and the black GOP Senate candidate loses his bid, keeping the seat in Democrat hands.

On November 8, the Washington Post crows about these Maryland losses in a state the national GOP thought might be in play and plants the seed (spread throughout the MSM) for a Democrat rout in 2008.

Then the remaining Republicans, seeing what they assume is a public backlash against their policies, become even more moderate, thus disappointing their conservative base farther.

And the vicious cycle begins…because an uninformed electorate believes what they see on TV and dutifully reflects it on Election Day.

The immigration fight could be the last hurrah for the Reagan conservative movement if it’s not won.

Aside from the part about early voting (I’ll grant the results were relatively legit in Maryland) I think I hit the nail pretty much on the head.

If you’re interested in some of my other comments on other posts, I maintain and occasionally update a section called “My feedback” which is linked on the left column of monoblogue. I was reading it today as I added a comment I made on another local blog.

Maryland issues to embrace

Back in October I attended a forum here at Salisbury University sponsored by a group called PACE which featured three speakers from a think tank known as the Maryland Public Policy Institute. Sad to say, these three speakers were 1/3 of the people in the room, a fourth being the wife of one presenter, a fifth being the woman who runs PACE, and this blogger was a sixth. Yes, there were just six people sitting in a large room listening to these three, which is really too bad and shows a deplorable apathy in the Salisbury area.

I’d actually thought about doing this commentary about 3 weeks ago right after the event occurred but I decided to hold off until the election was decided, since it seemed more relevant as a look forward to the 2007 session of the General Assembly than as a pitch for any particular candidate or party. But the MPPI would probably be placed in the conservative side of the governmental argument, standing as they do for “free markets, limited government, and a civil society.”

As a “gift” for attending, I received the MPPI’s latest tome, called simply enough, “Maryland: A Guide to the Issues.” The 2006 edition is the second edition, and is probably a bit more suited for policy wonks than the public at large for the most part. But some of the issues covered in this volume are health care, public schooling and school choice, state budgetary demands, transportation needs for the DC/Baltimore metroplex, and public safety. The PACE/MPPI gathering looked mostly at the health care aspect but also touched on budgetary concerns. They also looked at a practice common in Maryland called “rent seeking” and gave examples I’ll explain at the end. (This is also covered briefly in the MPPI book.)

According to Marc Kilmer of MPPI, health care in the form of Medicaid takes up 27% of the state budget. This 27% accrues to the benefit of just 14% of Maryland residents. Kilmer argued that the state has “no incentive to cut Medicaid” since the federal government pays half the freight, thus help on this issue is needed concurrently from the federal level. (It’s probably not coming anytime soon with a Democrat-controlled Congress.)

Kilmer pointed out examples of successful Medicare reforms in other states that may be worth a look. In Florida, there’s a managed care model that provides a choice of health plans; meanwhile residents of South Carolina enjoy expanded health savings accounts and vouchers to help defray their medical expenses. While Marc cautioned that “structural reform (of Medicaid) is needed now” in Maryland, it appears that the first order of business in our state will be to pursue a Massachusetts-style health insurance mandate paid for by employers and portable between jobs within the state.

MPPI’s Tom Firey continued with this health care theme as he looked at the aspect of health insurance. He noted that this “impending health care crisis” had been the topic of no less than 400 bills introduced in the General Assembly between 2005 and 2006, most famously the “Wal-Mart” bill.

Tom spoke more about a measure adopted in a special session in late 2004 regarding medical malpractice insurance. The result of this special session was an HMO tax that would pay for a reinsurance fund that is to sunset in 2010 after payouts totaling about $120 million. The cause of this special session was two consecutive large premium increases from Maryland’s largest malpractice insurer. With doctors unable to change their payouts from the various health insurance providers to the degree necessary to absorb this increase, they had little choice but to drop out of various specialties, in particular obstetrics.

Unfortunately, Firey contended that this fund was little more than a way to hide the problem and punt it down the road. What Tom looked at most in his presentation was the conjunction of two items: the amount of court cases brought about by plaintiffs seeking relief for real or imagined problems, and the sheer number of medical errors that occur in this country on an annual basis.

He found that of all medical errors, which sport a rate that is “remarkably high” in the United States (the 8th largest killer as a matter of fact), only 1 of 7 ever reach the point where a lawsuit is attempted. Obviously there’s much less harm in accidentally giving a patient double the dose of Tylenol required on a single basis than there is in amputating the “good” leg and leaving the diseased one.

On the other side, cases that are brought to trial for real or perceived errors are found to have “no merit” 2/3 of the time. Firey compared this phenomenon to a two-chamber balloon – by squeezing the side of medical errors to encourage bad doctors to get out of the profession, you bog down the court system…but the flip side of tort reform may protect those poorly-performing doctors by discouraging lawsuits and allow their negligence to go unpunished.

What Tom suggested was an approach that encouraged competition on both sides once the reinsurance fund was terminated. By expanding competition within the plaintiff bar, that allows those who are victims of medical malpractice to see more of their settlements, instead of the bulk being swallowed up by attorney’s fees. With additional competition among insurers, good doctors who aren’t the target of frequent lawsuits could see their premiums decrease, while less skilled doctors would be able to pursue insurance but at higher cost, which is incentive to shape up or ship out of the medical profession. Another possibility that’s already in place in some states is what’s called a “bad baby” fund, where the state subsidizes parents who have the misfortune of having a child that’s a victim of malpractice. In return the parents stay out of the court system. While Tom has some misgivings about that use of government, he saw this fund as an idea worth consideration.

Firey also had some comments on the Massachusetts-style insurance bill that now seems destined for a date with our General Assembly come January 2007. He noted that of the 788,000 or so uninsured Marylanders, a bill like Fair Share (a.k.a. the Wal-Mart bill) would’ve only subtracted about 1,000 or so from that roll. To him, a Massachusetts plan mandating health insurance would be “awkward.”

As an example, take a healthy 25-year old. A person buys any insurance policy because they see it as a fair tradeoff – the expenditure of a sum of money on a regular basis in exchange for the safety net of a payout should that unlikely loss occur. In this healthy young person’s eyes, health insurance may seem unnecessary and they may want to spend their money on other items or save it for other long-term goals. Meanwhile, this healthy person may also be in his first job right out of college, and many’s the case where the choice is between, say, making a health insurance premium payment or a car payment. When a car is required to access gainful employment, it makes the choice simpler.

What Tom saw as better solutions can be boiled down into three bullet points:

Appreciate preferences. There’s just some folks who do not feel the need for carrying health insurance as they feel that the risk of a major medical calamity occurring to them is quite low, or at least low enough that they choose not to pay the premiums to obtain health insurance. As it turns out, many of the uninsured make several times the poverty level and may desire to pay cash for their occasional health care needs.

As a corollary to this, Allow lines of insurance tailored to the needs of uninsured. Maybe one who doesn’t carry any health insurance because all of the plans are “Cadillac” plans would be willing to buy a “Chevrolet” plan that essentially only covers catastrophic occurrences.

Thirdly, Use subsidies instead of mandates. The Massachusetts mandate “hides” the problem because it does little to encourage competition among insurers. Those chosen by the state have a captive audience, but if the insurance were subsidized that makes insurance companies try harder to gain customers and also opens up the possibility of outside insurers.

Regardless, the health care issue will be one that remains on the front burner for decades as Boomers age. One example of this was, where Medicaid in its infancy (1966) was a $1 billion item, by 2014 it will be a $635 billion item. Obviously that’s a lot of money changing hands and innovative ideas need to be implemented to help the cost of health care not blow governmental budgets and not be an anchor holding down the economy.

With regard to our upcoming state budgets, the third speaker, Christopher Summers, noted that Maryland faced a “serious fiscal crisis on Medicaid in 3-5 years.” This in addition to a possible $20 billion in unfunded pension liability that the state would face, not to mention the additional $1.3 billion mandated by the Thornton bill passed earlier this decade to fund Maryland schools. Summers told us that, while state revenues were expected to increase 25% by 2011, spending would zoom up 41% and 10% of that 25% increase in revenue would go to service debt. According to Christopher, in order for the state to deal with its structural deficit, personal income growth would need to double.

Summers blamed two simple factors for this onrushing freight train of financial doom – unchecked spending by the state government, and what he called a “leadership deficit.” Neither political party boasted a governor who was willing to make tough choices to address the long-term impact of excessive spending, instead using the increased revenues from a net inflow of jobs to continue a spending spree unabated for decades. Maryland has some of the most generous benefits around, and it’s becoming our own “third rail” of state politics.

While the bulk of the program dealt with the pocketbook issues of health care and budgetary concerns, Firey began the evening by speaking about something he calls “rent seeking.” Most readers of monoblogue would call it more simply, “corporate welfare.” In Fiery’s words, Maryland is the “worst state” in the country for this practice. After speaking of his dashed hopes about the recent movie “The Aviator” bringing more attention to this issue (in the movie’s TWA vs. Pan Am battle, which was based on actual events), he gave us a few examples of this political patronage.

Back around 2001, there was a concern from many gasoline dealers about incoming competition from stations like Sheetz and Wawa, who tended to sell gasoline at lower prices than these dealers could. So the establishment gas stations managed to get a bill passed mandating a minimum price for gasoline based on the local wholesale prices. This spelled the end of any meaningful gas wars, and are yet another factor in keeping prices artificially high. Three bills to end this practice were introduced in this year’s General Assembly session, none made it out of committee.

Another example that I posted about back in May is Maryland’s funeral home industry. Firey also noted the Institute for Justice’s involvement in attempting to overturn these laws in court (as I sat there nodding because I knew all about that), but I found out that the pretrial hearings had started that very week (which was late last month.) So hopefully the next issue of Liberty & Law will have more on this.

And then you have the “certificate of need” scam. Some of the broadest laws in the country regarding this are found in Maryland. These also stifle competition within the health care industry and contribute in part to the higher prices.

Finally, it was the Maryland liquor stores lining up to keep a chain called “Total Beverage” out of the state. Instead of doing this at the state level, though, they’ve managed to convince several of our counties that out-of-state companies would run them out of business. While none of the counties on the Eastern Shore are affected, it’s likely to be something seen in the near future.

It was a shame that many more people didn’t take advantage of this forum to learn about and get an idea of the impact that these issues are going to have in our state, particularly with the recent elections bringing in a governor who’s not going to be shy about spending taxpayer money, and lots of it. I know I’m not looking forward to “the Mick” reaching deeper into my back pocket.

But they still can get the same book I did, although it’ll cost them a few dollars to do so. While they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about this at the town hall meeting, a pet issue of the MPPI is school choice. If for nothing else than trying to create opportunities for Maryland parents to get their children out of the at best underperforming and at worst indoctrinating public schools, the MPPI deserves our commendation and support.

Certainly they deserve more attention than having just a handful of people who attended the forum.

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