Slings and arrows: criticizing a “timid” approach

I wasn’t sure just what I was going to write on tonight, but thanks to Charles Lollar I have some blog fodder. It’s the kind of thing that happens when the race establishes a front-runner and those who aren’t king of the mountain try and climb up the hill.

Here’s what Charles Lollar had to say regarding Larry Hogan’s comments, quoted in the Washington Post, about his plan for “prudent” tax cuts:

All the Democrat candidates agree with Larry on this, that we should be “timid” in cutting taxes and putting government on a diet. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has said the state “can’t afford” even a modest reduction in the corporate tax.

Ken and I believe on the contrary that the time is over for Republicans to advocate tinkering around the edges of our bloated state budget, our confiscatory tax policies, and our corrupt and inefficient state government.

It is time for bold reforms that go to the core of our problems here in Maryland. That is why Ken and I turned to Dr. Art Laffer, who helped turn around our national economy in the 1980s, to vet our plan to eliminate the state income tax.

We have looked at the numbers, and we know we can achieve this step by step over the next five years, without putting at risk the services Maryland citizens expect their state government to provide.

Government is overhead on the economy. When you tax income, you reduce economic activity. Our objective is to restore economic vitality to Maryland, so families and small businesses will want to come here, invest, and grow.

Lollar and Timmerman are also vowing to eliminate the “rain tax,” the death tax, and the latest increases in the gasoline tax. So let’s look at what is at stake.

It’s difficult to quantify what chucking the “rain tax” would actually save because it does not affect all Maryland citizens equally. Sitting in Wicomico County, I pay no “rain tax” because our county hasn’t been forced to adopt one. Annual rates for counties which were mandated to adopt the fee range from one penny to $170.84, depending on location. Of course, we could go into why we are forced to come up with this when other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed successfully fought the mandate, but that’s for another time.

As far as eliminating the “death tax” goes, according to the fiscal note for this year’s House Bill 739, which set in motion a four-year process to recouple Maryland’s estate and inheritance taxes with federal law, these two taxes combine to create approximately $200 million a year in revenue for the state – a significant amount, but barely 1/2% of the state’s FY2015 budget. In short, we could easily eliminate this as a rounding error.

The gasoline tax, however, is another matter. By the end of Lollar’s first term, the increased tax is expected to bring $685 million in annual revenue, not counting the roughly $700-800 million the existing tax has taken in annually over the last decade. The intent of increasing the tax was to build light rail in Baltimore and metro Washington – note that by FY2019, O’Malley’s budget projected the Maryland Transit Authority would be allocated nearly as much as the State Highway Administration receives (page 33 here). Currently the MTA gets about 56 cents for every dollar that goes to SHA; by FY2019 it would be 92 cents. Just keeping the MTA at its current 56 cent rate to SHA for FY2019 would save about $405.5 million; reducing them to the 25 cents per dollar MTA/SHA rate exhibited in the FY2007 budget (Bob Ehrlich’s last, see page 19) would save $752.7 million. Guess what? There’s your gas tax increase.

In looking at the two example budgets, which happen to be the final ones presented by the respective governors, it’s remarkable that income tax has remained a fairly constant portion of the revenue. Its share was 23% of Bob Ehrlich’s $29.6 billion FY2007 budget and 22% of Martin O’Malley’s $39.3 billion FY2015 proposal. (In terms of real money, though, the income tax increase is $1.999 billion, from $6.552 billion to $8.551 billion.) Over time, we have to figure out what to cut and how to grow the economy to backfill $8.551 billion in revenues if the state income tax goes away.

But let’s assume we can hold the budget where it is, rather than grow it at a 5% annual rate as Martin O’Malley has been doing for the last few years – a trend we could easily assume Anthony Brown would continue. Rather than looking at a $47.8 billion FY2019 budget, $8.5 billion higher than today’s, we would be in a position where other revenue sources could indeed grow to obviate the need for an income tax. Even as people prosper and have more income, the state would get a cut from increased sales tax revenue and perhaps even additional property taxes as housing becomes more valuable in a growing, thriving state.

Yet all of this is academic to a degree. Even if Republicans split 50-50 on all the contested races this year in the Maryland General Assembly, they would remain the minority by 91-50 in the House of Delegates and 29-18 in the Senate. Most of the Republicans who won would be replacing the centrists of the Democratic delegation, so those remaining Democrats would be farther left than ever. We would need Reaganesque leadership to shepherd tax cuts through that body, particularly after those aggrieved Democratic constituencies begin taking a haircut on the budget. (If you thought the grumbling about the “doomsday budget” from the Left was bad, the caterwauling on this would be deafening.) If Charles Lollar (or, for that matter, David Craig, who is also suggesting the elimination of the income tax) can get it done, the prospects are there for voters to further reward both them and the Republicans in general in 2018 – an important election because the winners will draw the next set of redistricting lines.

So I would prepare to be a little disappointed if you’re expecting our income taxes to magically disappear the moment Charles Lollar is sworn into office. However, he makes a good point in that we should be making bold initiatives, because being cautious isn’t really getting us anywhere. If you’re going down, go out with your guns blazing and don’t spare any bullets.

A few convention leftovers

Hey, if Roch Kubatko can do it, I figure I can too. There were a few things I wanted to discuss in the post-convention aftermath.

One storyline was the low number of hospitality suites and rooms there were. Generally there are six to eight separate parties going on during a typical Friday night at the convention, but in this case I think two closed up shop relatively early so the other three became the centers of action. So it seemed to me that there was a crush of people for about an hour or so, but things cleared out pretty quickly after most of the food was consumed.

But I heard a grumble that the reason there were so few suites was the high price the MDGOP was charging. But since they don’t get a cut of any of the room-sized suites, their only recourse is to charge a premium price for the lobby spaces. Gubernatorial candidates seem to be willing to pay, though: last spring it was Blaine Young taking the spacious lobby of Timonium, in November they had Larry Hogan use the main space of the Annapolis Doubletree, and this time Charles Lollar took the Bethesda Doubletree restaurant.

In November I would imagine at least one Chair candidate using a large space, but that event will likely return to the higher number of rooms common to previous conventions as various party office hopefuls try to gain advantage.

Similarly, I don’t recall there being so few vendors. Maybe it was the way they were set up, but it seemed to me that previous conventions had more tables out. Yet as I noted in my main story, there were a number of counties well under-represented – nowhere close to preventing a quorum, but Diana Waterman pointed out in her remarks that a large number had registered on Saturday morning; more than expected. She had a right to be upset, but I think with so many proxies this couldn’t be helped.

Speaking of proxies, they were blamed for Charles Lollar winning the MDGOP Straw Poll. Here’s a press release Lollar put out:

The Lollar-Timmerman team for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Maryland won a key straw poll today at the conclusion of the Maryland State Republican Party convention in Bethesda.

Today’s straw poll at the Party’s spring convention marks the last gathering of the State GOP leadership before the June 24 gubernatorial primary. Elected representatives from all 23 counties and Baltimore City cast their votes in today’s poll in favor of the Lollar-Timmerman team.

“We are grateful for this tremendous show of support from the elected leadership of the Maryland GOP,” said gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar, a Charles County businessman and reserve officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Today’s poll results mirror the sentiment we have been hearing from grass roots supporters across the state,” Lollar added.

Conservative Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild enthusiastically endorsed the Lollar-Timmerman ticket on Friday night. “Everywhere I go, people have told me they are supporting Lollar-Timmerman,” Commissioner Rothschild said. “Those are the only names I hear.”

Both Lollar and Timmerman were attending other events on Saturday, but delegates at the state party convention erupted in cheers, jumping to their feet when they heard the results.

This latest straw poll victory from central committee members from across the state follows on the heels of a victory at the annual convention of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women in Calvert County.

The Lollar-Timmerman team has also won three successive Montgomery County GOP straw polls, including one on March 26 following the only debate where all four GOP gubernatorial candidates showed up.

“Ken and I thank you for your support and we will not let you down as we march to victory in November,” Lollar said.

I don’t recall the “jumping to their feet” part, but it was somewhat of a surprise to hear Lollar won. However, he didn’t mention that it was far from an overwhelming victory – if all the undecideds came down for third-place finisher David Craig, he would have won. The only one who finished poorly was Ron George; coincidentally or not, he was barely visible at this convention. Shelley Aloi was well-meaning and worked hard, but Ron’s table was unstaffed and volunteer sheet almost blank when I saw it Saturday.

We do know, though, that the party faithful who care enough to come to the convention have much more decisiveness about the race than a group of relatively random respondents selected for the St. Mary’s College Maryland Poll. The big winner in that poll was Mr. Undecided – nearly seven of ten hadn’t made up their minds yet. In that poll Larry Hogan leads by a somewhat comfortable margin, but at just 16 percent of the vote – a total of 43 votes out of 270, which wasn’t much larger than the room full of party activists.

Put another way, even Charles Lollar or Ron George has to convince just 34 more voters out of that remaining sample than Larry Hogan does to prevail. If either can start raising money, it’s doable.

On another subject, perhaps Don Murphy was right when he remarked that local candidates should have been out knocking on doors rather than at the convention. There were a handful of such candidates there who were pressed into service as Central Committee members or proxies, but I saw few General Assembly members about Bethesda over the weekend. Maybe they showed for the dinner, but they weren’t even there Friday night for schmoozing so they were likely following Murphy’s advice.

We also found out the next convention will be December 5-6 at Turf Valley, the site of our Fall 2012 convention/wake. Let’s hope for Maryland’s sake history doesn’t repeat itself.

WCRC meeting – April 2014

April 29, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – April 2014 

We didn’t have our president, who got struck in traffic returning from across the Bay, and our slated speaker had a conflict and sent his regrets. Even the treasurer had to take a rain check on the meeting. Yet the remainder of us persevered and we had our last meeting until the day before the June 24 primary hearing from a number of candidates who may well reach the end of the electoral road that day.

But Shawn Jester did a fine enough job running the meeting – with a little help from his right-hand man – that we learned a few things along the way and made a couple decisions.

With no speaker, once the formalities of doing the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and welcoming of guests were out of the way, we immediately cut to Dave Parker’s Central Committee report.

Parker told us that one of our own received an award from the state party, and as if on cue our Charles Carroll Award winner strode in the door. For a half-century of service, the state GOP honored Wicomico County’s “Mr. Republican” Blan Harcum. It was the “highlight of the convention,” said Parker. Harcum later added that it was “invigorating” to see so many new people in Bethesda.

But a lot of other things went on as well: the resolution condemning HB1513 was approved by unanimous consent, which was a rare time the procedure was done correctly, said Dave. He added that Diana Waterman helped play a part in the bill’s demise. Dave also assessed the bid for regional chairs as “not ready for prime time,” although it had been tried on a couple prior occasions. All in all, Parker called it “a good convention.”

Dave then passed out the flyer for the Allen West event in September, and explained how things would work that day – at least tentatively. We don’t know the sequence of West’s events before and after ours, so those details need to be firmed up.

Although it was not as well attended as we would have liked, Parker also called our Lincoln Day Dinner “successful.” It highlighted the “best crop I’ve ever seen” running for office.

I interrupted the flow a little bit by asking a question whether we should try to schedule a Super Saturday based on the West visit, figuring it would be a draw for other counties. The reason I brought it up at this meeting was that I knew we wouldn’t have a WCRC meeting for almost two months, so they should be aware if it comes up as a Central Committee issue.

Yet there were a number of events on the horizon for the post-primary summer, said Dave: the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake and our Farm and Home Show topped the list, with the WCRC Crab Feast coming in the weekend after Labor Day (as we were reminded later.) We also needed to set up our headquarters with some new volunteers. Before the primary, the MDGOP is sponsoring a forum on May 31, to be televised by WMDT-TV, Channel 47.

One other missing ingredient we needed to begin work on, concluded Parker, was a “get people to the polls” plan. Woody Willing pointed out early voting was June 12-18 at the Civic Center.

From there, we heard from all the candidates in the room regarding their campaigns. Among the door-knocking, fundraisers, and events, there were a few highlights.

Dr. Mark Edney, who is running for Central Committee and was one of our proxy carriers, remarked about his “great weekend at the convention” and the “ton of energy” there. He also raved about Sunday’s event for Mary Beth Carozza that he attended.

Delegate Charles Otto, who serves with scheduled speaker Mike McDermott in the House of Delegates, asked us to remember he still represents Wicomico County until the second Wednesday in January. He noted that at least 56 of the 141 Delegates next year will be new, as the others either retired or sought new positions, also assessing the state faced “challenging times” because they were increasing spending 4.8% while revenues were only increased 1.8%.

Dr. Rene Desmarais, a candidate for Delegate in District 37B, remarked on his interesting weekend as well. He was at the convention Friday night before departing to a medical conference on Saturday where he heard from four gubernatorial candidates, plus Jeannie Haddaway representing David Craig. While he said the Republicans all did a very good job, Desmarais called Doug Gansler “incoherent” and noted Anthony Brown made promises for the next 8 years he couldn’t keep over the last 8 – Brown also refused to answer questions, added Rene.

Circuit Court candidate M.J. Caldwell was late – he had come from a First Baptist Christian Church meeting with over 600 people on police concerns. He pointed out the vast gulf of experience between himself and his recently-appointed opponent, and stated he was “highly recommended” by the state bar – a distinction his opponent did not share.

(Personally I think if the guy’s last name were Jones he wouldn’t have sniffed a judgeship.)

Introducing himself to the group, District 37B hopeful Allen Nelson made the case that Martin O’Malley was a “scary individual” who was painting industries as villains. He brought up what he thought was a better idea – in Delaware, farmers have significant input in creating regulations.

Two events brought up by candidates will be held the same day, May 10: District 38B candidate Carl Anderton, Jr. is hosting a meet-and-greet at Main Roots Coffee and County Council District 2’s Marc Kilmer will have his event later at the residence of Bob Laun. Anderton also touted the new balanced budget for Delmar, which came with no tax or fee increases.

Carl also believed his leadership of the Maryland Municipal League was a “great experience.” And when challenged later about what to tell a Republican Norm Conway supporter, Carl pledged to speak with this gentleman himself.

Speaking for the David Craig campaign, Ann Suthowski said that the gubernatorial candidate will kick off a day in Salisbury Thursday at the annual Prayer Breakfast before meeting with public safety officials and granting a pair of media interviews.

With the candidates covered, we reviewed some past events.

Shawn Jester believed the Salisbury Festival was “a fantastic event” but it brought up the need for a new party banner to replace one that’s several years old and looks it. We voted to do just that.

And on a question which was brought up by membership, we decided not to take a formal position on city redistricting, although a few members who spoke up (including me) supported the five-district idea. It brought up a brief discussion about candidate recruitment, with Larry Dodd conceding “we fell asleep at the wheel” for a couple cycles. Our next chance will be the fall of 2015.

First, however, we have to get through this cycle. Because our usual fourth Monday falls on Memorial Day next month, as is common, we will not meet again until primary eve June 23. Attendance may be back to normal as candidates will be working the streets hard for last-minute votes.

2014 Maryland GOP Spring Convention in pictures and text (part 2)

In case you missed part 1, which dealt with Friday night, you can catch up here.

I was in bed reasonably early for a convention, in part because there weren’t a whole lot of hospitality suites to be found and in part because I wanted to cover breakfast with this immediately recognizable guy.

The former GOP national chair is always a welcome guest at MDGOP proceedings, and as a breakfast speaker he set a good mood for the day by predicting “we’re going to be back in our winning ways this year.”

But his message went back a few years, to when Michael took over the national party, which had become too “comfortable and cozy.” He saw his mission as one “to rebrand a party which had become moribund,” one where the gap between rhetoric and principles had become so large it snapped. “I’m so sick and tired of people blaming our principles for their failure to lead,” said Michael. “What we believe in is time-honored and true.”

Similarly, Steele noted that the state party had gone through its share of “definitional moments” and was ready to do so again. We needed to avoid being a party defined by what we are against and not what we are for, as we’ve “often found ourselves at odds with the very people that we want to represent.” We need to “talk about freedom but connect it to life.”

Taking that to a more local level, he noted that people are expecting leadership from the Central Committee members in the effort to “turn the elephant.”

“We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward,” said Michael. “Revolutionizing the (Maryland Republican) Party is our number one priority.” People are hungry for authenticity, leadership, and vision, he added. He got a token of our appreciation, too.

The wine is a Maryland red wine from Linganore called Black Raven. Diana thought it was a “providence” that she was thinking about how to thank our speakers as she drove by the winery. I had a shot of the bottle but, alas, I was too close and it came out way too bleached out. After breakfast, I had to gather my things and check out as well as make one other stop.

Instead of having a Friday evening suite, Larry chose to host a breakfast suite with Chick-fil-A items. Of course, all I was hungry for was information, so I spoke to Hogan about his experience on the Eastern Shore with our farmers. I found he has a fairly good idea about what they stand to lose should phosphorus regulations go through, so that was a plus. And I added to my weekend collection, a shot which included Larry’s wife Yumi.

It’s a bit askew because I was looking at two cameras at once. So I grabbed a Hogan-labeled bottle of water as I walked out and headed back down. With the stops, I missed much of what – from the part I did hear – was an interesting panel discussion by conservative black Maryland Republicans.

After that finished, I checked out some of the displays in the lobby. This one was new that morning.

As I understood it, my Worcester County cohort was selling “Benghazi bracelets,” which will be gray and black. Obviously that’s still on the minds of many people to whom it does make a difference. I also spied a more modest display that morning from the Lollar team.

I was remiss in not getting a photo of Ron George’s table, although I think it’s visible in the lobby photo in part 1. Of the four candidates, though, Ron had the least presence with just the table. Craig had a table and suite, as did Lollar, while Hogan had his breakfast suite, a folder at each table place, and hallways festooned with these.

In due course, you’ll understand why I thought it was important to make that comparison. Once that mini-tour was complete and I was checked out, it was time to begin the convention proper.

The first report was a legislative report from Delegate Gail Bates, who’s now running to become a Senator. She pointed out we don’t get our way much, but did achieve some good things: recoupling the estate tax to federal law, pieces of election reform – particularly on voter rolls – and straightening out the pit bull mess to place responsibility on dog owners regardless of breed. These, however, were outweighed by a litany of bad: a budget which continues a pattern of overspending revenues, increasing the minimum wage despite outcry from small business, decriminalization of marijuana, the “bathroom bill”, and the health exchange, said Bates.

We next received the bad news of the treasurer’s report from Executive Director Joe Cluster. The one positive note was that we were “right on course to meet our goals this year” after a slow start. This wasn’t her convention podium, but I wanted to show a shot of Party Chair Diana Waterman to signify her Chairman’s report.

She had one key announcement:

She also recounted recent events like the Reagan Ball and Johns Hopkins gubernatorial forum, but her message stressed the needs for turnout on Election Day and unity after the primary.

In an extension of the forum he moderated, Tony Campbell decried the lack of credibility the party had built in the 16 years he had been involved, and stressed that we needed to find issues that people connected with. This election was the combination of time and opportunity we had been waiting for, though.

Brian Griffiths gave a brief Young Republican report mainly focused on upcoming events, while the College Republicans gave no report because their incoming president, Christine McEvoy of Johns Hopkins, was studying for exams. Thus, the morning continued with National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose and her visual aids.

While Ambrose talked briefly about what the national party is doing, her focus has been on grassroots work in Maryland, particularly the Super Saturday program. Next Saturday, May 3rd, that program comes to Ocean City just in time for Springfest. A second one is in the works for June 21 in Montgomery County. Further ones for the fall will be determined over the summer, as there is an application process. She also stressed that every county should be looking into an absentee ballot program, particularly the larger ones.

But I thought this slide of upcoming events was cool.

It’s not just on the Eastern Shore, though, it’s right here in Salisbury. Do we need a better excuse to have a Super Saturday for Wicomico County? After all, the good Lt. Col. West shouldn’t arrive until the afternoon.

Louis Pope piled on to what Ambrose said as he gave his National Committeeman report, but also believed the June primary was an advantage to Central Committee members – those who win have a four-month period to learn the ropes, while the returning/retiring members could mentor the newbies.

Turning to the 2014 election, Pope quipped, “if you liked 2010, you’ll really like 2014.” The national GOP’s goal was to take the Senate, and with the recent Florida special election showing “it’s all about turnout,” coupled with the McCutcheon decision by the Supreme Court, the potential was there for a great year.

On a state level, Pope believed Wisconsin is a “model” for us – similar size, and a state controlled by Democrats until the last cycle. It all comes down to turning out Republicans.

Finally, we were through most of the reports, and we found out we had a quorum of 236 of 303 members present. But it was troubling that several counties were well short of their allocation. We’re used to this from Baltimore City, which, try as they might, has a hard time getting people to serve. But there were over half the members absent from Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Dorchester, and Talbot counties as well. Granted, it was the last convention of the term and not much was on the docket but that’s still a concern to me.

The last item we dealt with before lunch was a resolution condemning the introduction of House Bill 1513, sponsored by both the Harford and Baltimore County Central Committees. Thanks to a parliamentary maneuver, the resolution passed by unanimous consent in a voice vote.

We were actually well ahead of schedule, even with lunch, so Diana Waterman added two speakers to the agenda: Attorney General candidate Jeffrey Pritzker and Comptroller hopeful Bill Campbell.

Pritzker was blunt: “Maryland is in trouble.” He reminded us he was the first to call for a special prosecutor in the health exchange debacle – a position Doug Gansler would prefer to do away with. “The people need a lawyer,” Jeff said. He promised to create a task force to address the laws, seeking to prune away the unnecessary and redundant.

Campbell made the case that we needed to go to places where we were uncomfortable in order to win. For example, he addressed the Maryland State Education Association – not expecting their endorsement, but to make his case nonetheless. Reportedly he got 40% of the teachers’ votes, which Bill considered to be very good impact.

We also had the Executive Director’s report from Joe Cluster, who told us to focus on four numbers: 6, 19, 48, and 16. These weren’t for Powerball, they were 6 of 10 County Executive seats, 19 of 24 county councils or commissions, 48 Delegates, and 16 Senators. “It would make us relevant in this state” if we achieved all these milestones, said Cluster. Joe continued by pointing out both Barack Obama and Martin O’Malley had approval numbers under 50 percent. “People are tired of what they’ve done to taxpayers,” Cluster said. “I don’t see any incumbent Republican losing.”

He also announced there were plans for Victory Centers in Towson for District 42, and in the District 38 area – Salisbury is in District 38, as is Ocean City. We then got to new business.

The Tweet tells you the result, but how we got there was interesting. I was one of perhaps four who spoke in favor of moving it to the floor, but by the crowd reaction to myself and other speakers I knew the effort was doomed. By the time the roll call got to Baltimore County (only fourth in) the result was obvious: just Caroline County (and its one representative), Dorchester, Howard, Kent, and Queen Anne’s favored it (Wicomico was 6-3 against) and the motion died by a weighted vote of 385-91. (In terms of bodies, it was 192-42, with one abstention.) Ten counties were unanimously against it. I thought it would get between 1/3 and 1/2 of the vote, so less than 20% was shockingly low.

But it is typical of the party’s “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.

Before adjourning, we heard yet another plea for unity and turnout from Diana Waterman, who was stalling a little bit because there was a full hour before the afternoon seminars were scheduled. But we finally received the results of the straw poll conducted at the convention.

Brian Griffiths, a confirmed Hogan supporter, came over to Jackie Wellfonder and I and huffily said, “that’s the last thing (Lollar’s) going to win.” He chalked up the loss to proxies who were in the Lollar camp.

Here are the actual vote numbers:

  • Lollar – 68 votes (29.8%)
  • Hogan – 62 votes (27.2%)
  • Craig – 60 votes (26.3%)
  • George – 29 votes (12.7%)
  • undecided – 9 votes (3.9%)

I remember looking quickly at Wicomico’s ballots before I handed them over and we split among the four candidates. I think it was 3 Hogan, 3 Craig, 2 Lollar, and 1 George.

But look at what was put into the convention by the candidates. Granted, Charles Lollar had a large and very visible party and David Craig had a lively suite of his own. All but Larry Hogan had lobby tables, with Ron George having very little other presence. I didn’t even see him there, although I did see Shelley Aloi frequently making the rounds.

Yet Larry Hogan spent a lot of money for sponsoring the programs, the folders at each seat, the breakfast suite, and the multitude of signs only to come in second by just two votes. (I have it on good authority that one Hogan supporter I know may be switching to Craig – had that person came to that conclusion a little sooner, there would have been a second-place tie.) I would have expected Hogan to get 35 or 40 percent based on the hype.

Unfortunately, my traveling companion needed to get back to Salisbury so I couldn’t stay for the seminars. It never fails – had we started at lunchtime, we would have argued the bylaws change clear through dinner. But out of the seventeen conventions I’ve now attended, this was one of the more quiet and non-controversial. I guess we’re fairly united despite the straw poll vote.

It was definitely time to go home and get to work.

The template

April 27, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Education · 1 Comment 

There was something I didn’t know when the whole Wicomico County Education Association drive to decouple itself from the Maryland State Education Association came to light: it’s been done before, most recently in Michigan. Back in 2012, teachers in the Roscommon Area Public Schools decided – by a fairly wide margin – to drop their affiliation with the Michigan Education Association, and by this particular account the change has been welcomed. Like Wicomico County, the town of Roscommon is far away from the populated areas of Michigan and teachers there felt shortchanged by the state union based on a perceived lack of attention to their needs.

This video, created by Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Poilicy, speaks with the leader of the Roscommon effort.

Notice the focus in the Roscommon case was similar to the complaints here: dues which were too high and the desire for improved services. Their effort, however, has been a longstanding one as it took 21 years to convince teachers to make the switch – presumably as the old guard retired and newer teachers saw the situation, the votes for breaking away began to tally up.

Obviously the comparison isn’t perfect, since the Roscommon district is far smaller: perhaps the best local analogy to it would be the Mardela feeder system within the Wicomico County schools. It’s also different because Michigan is a recent convert back to a right-to-work state; unfortunately Maryland legislation to that effect never gets out of committee.

Still, Roscommon union leader Jim Perialas has made it clear he was no proponent of right-to-work, just an opponent of “big, bureaucratic unions.” Even so, the Michigan Education Association has taken the time to condemn Perialas for leading the effort away from the MEA. Local leaders should expect no less.

If the vote this week is one which supports the decoupling of the WCEA and MSEA, look for the cries of “fraud!” to erupt from both the state union and the rump directorate which tried to take control of the union a couple weeks ago. Conversely, a vote to maintain MSEA/NEA affiliation will likely result in another dues increase and Wicomico County being forgotten again until it’s time for the dues check to arrive.

As I’ve said before, I don’t have a child in Wicomico County public schools (but do pay taxes) so I really don’t have a dog in the fight. It won’t affect my life one way or the other, but hundreds among us will be affected by the outcome. So it’s your choice – choose wisely.

2014 Maryland GOP Spring Convention in pictures and text (part 1)

As has often been the case, I am splitting this into two parts. One will come out today and one tomorrow, since the news is of the sort that it will keep. Always leave them wanting more.

Anyway, my traveling companion Dave Parker and I arrived in Bethesda in the pouring rain, and after checking in I retreated to my room with a view…well, sort of I guess.

It was almost a three-hour trip, so when I got myself unpacked it was just about time to get registered for the convention and go to the Executive Committee meeting.

After MDGOP Chair Diana Waterman informed us she was “excited” about filling out the statewide ballot, she began on the subjects she would stress over and over during the event: turnout and unity. We would have had a Republican governor over the last four years if we had turned out our base, said Diana.

We also learned who would be the speaker at the annual Red, White, and Blue Dinner June 19 at Turf Valley. I Tweeted the news:

Diana then introduced party executive director Joe Cluster, who remarked “this state is tired of Martin O’Malley and Barack Obama,” based on their approval numbers sagging below 50 percent. He also predicted that, “incumbent Republicans will do very well in this election.” It was the “chance of a lifetime to really put a dent in the Democrats,” Cluster added. While the Treasurer’s Report was its usual depressing self, we were doing slightly better than expected on fundraising. It’s no secret the party is still carrying some debt, though. Waterman added that members could help by participating in the Old Line Club, where people could pledge as little as $8.25 a month to assist the party.

Diana also announced that there would be no open primary committee business on this convention agenda – we would address it after the 2014 election. She also announced the state Board of Elections denied a bid for online absentee ballots and same-day registration.

Cluster returned to the microphone later to talk about Andy Harris being “very supportive of the party” and began to speak about him not having a credible opponent. But Waterman cautioned that she would have a “very frank discussion” if Central Committees acted in a manner backing one contender over others. “We do not take favorites” in the primary, Diana warned. It was fine for individual members to do so, depending on local bylaws, but this cannot be done as a committee unless there’s only one contender. “I’d much rather have one candidate in every race,” she added, but conceded this wasn’t always possible.

We also discussed the proposed bylaw amendment for regional chairs and conventions. It was not recommended for approval by the Bylaws Committee, who held a conference call on it, but sponsor Kevin Waterman planned to bring it up from the floor. And while Diana Waterman believed it was “vitally important” to have regional chairs, the Bylaws Committee considered it a “distraction.” One county chair remarked, “if there was a call for (regional conventions), we would already do it.” Most of us already knew it was Diana’s birthday, but a surprise awaited as I Tweeted:

That pretty much marked the end of the open part of the meeting, as a brief closed session was held – it took place while I wandered one floor down to check this out.

They even had a two-piece band for entertainment, mostly classic rock from what I could hear.

I actually meant to take this photo of Charles Lollar hanging in the back meeting with campaign staffers, but it evolved into a conversation about engaging voters on the other side of the aisle after I noted he looked a little tired. You be the judge.

Charles told me he considered the event a success, and it was a lively affair while it lasted.

But before I went upstairs to see what else was up, I ran into another statewide candidate.

Not literally, of course – since Shelley Aloi is a karate expert that may be a sure way to get hurt. I just figured it was one way to document who was there among statewide candidates. (If you look closely at the second Lollar photo you’ll see his running mate Ken Timmerman and Comptroller candidate Bill Campbell also enjoying themselves, so they are covered.)

There were a number of interesting vendors in the lobby.

As you might be able to see, there were the usual campaign-related sellers there, but there was also a table of supporters for a draft Dr. Ben Carson for president movement as well as a table for First District Congressional candidate Jonathan Goff, who is running against the aforementioned Andy Harris for the nomination.

I also realized that the Maryland Liberty Caucus was holding their own party down the hall, although it appeared to be winding down as I arrived.

Yet there still seems to be a strong pro-liberty streak in our party.

So I finally went upstairs and decided to work my way up, which led me to find this in the elevator.

On Saturday, we all found a handout at our chairs detailing what Millennial Maryland really stood for:

We represent all Republicans, the old-white-straight-Christian males, and, well, all the others. We’re here to show that Republicans are listening to gays, to immigrants, to black and Latino Americans, to those concerned about the environment, education, and the poor. We represent the GOP in all its diversity, and while we may be more moderate at times than some, we would never advocate excluding someone for disagreeing with us. We’re here to make the tent bigger, more diverse, and more electable.

Judge for yourself whether that would be the case. Onetime MDGOP Chair candidate Mike Esteve is the head of this group.

My first stop after getting off the elevator was the MoCo suite. Very crowded.

So I went up two floors to find an equally lively David Craig suite.

But in the back corner I found Lieutenant Governor candidate Jeannie Haddaway and a man seeking to replace her, Dr. Rene Desmarais, having an enlightening discussion.

They were gracious enough to add to my collection of candidates, as did David Craig.

The mini-bank Craig was holding came with a few pennies inside so it would rattle. He was giving them away as trinkets.

After those good photos, I wandered upstairs to the last suite, that of Eugene Craig III and the Young Conservatives. Things were starting to wind down.

I think David Craig’s was the best suite, simply because it had the best food – had I made it to the Young Conservatives suite earlier, though, I may have been persuaded otherwise. With so few party suites, food was a little harder to come by as the night wore on.

So I made it to bed about midnight or a little after, which is about the time I’m wrapping up this post. For the evening I will complete part 2 detailing many of Saturday’s events.

monoblogue music: “Strings & Wood” by Joel Havea

April 26, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Strings & Wood” by Joel Havea 

This EP is slated for a May 24 release.

Joel Havea has an interesting story, and he’s not afraid to tell it.

The Australian native, who now calls Germany home, is in the midst of a European tour to both back his upcoming May 24 release called “Strings & Wood” as well as a full-length 2012 effort called “You Make Me Believe.” The May 24 release is a five-song EP and the subject of this review.

Havea is an acoustic guitarist, but his songs have a rich quality to them which takes them beyond the typical coffeehouse singer-songwriter and gives them more of a full-band feel, despite the inclusion of only a little bit of additional instrumentation. I found this to be best expressed on the opening song, Going Gone. It’s a solid tune, with great harmonies and a bluesy vibe to it that should play well on tour.

Track two, Simple Things, takes it a little slower, with the inclusion of a backing cello. Perhaps it’s the voice and the way the song is crafted, but the song reminds me of something a later-stage James Taylor would have done; it’s the impression I get as one who was there for the original, anyway.

Going Through The Motions is more of a slow-developing song, but it eventually reaches its payoff, with great instrumental backing for Havea’s playing – it’s another song which should draw wide appeal. A stripped-down version is featured in the video below, so imagine the song with a little studio work and organ.

After the work of Going Through The Motions, the ballad My Wings brings some surprisingly good harmonies to the mix, along with a uplifting chorus. It also brings back the cello to ably create the mood.

With more of a true singer-songwriter feel, thanks to its harmonies, the final song on the 18-minute EP is Fading Away. As Havea sings, “as the time is slipping by, the twinkle in your eyes is more of a glaze,” one can understand that the song’s subject is indeed fading away from life.

All five songs are well-done, and perhaps they could be the foundation for a lengthier release down the line, as many up-and-coming artists are using this repackaging technique to adapt to the changing market for music. If you’re into acoustic rock, this is well worth the few more weeks of waiting (although you can listen for yourself to it now.)

As I noted at the top of the review, Havea is not afraid to tell his story. This video is a promotional effort for the upcoming release.

From what I understand, Havea has some U.S. dates planned for later in 2014 so if you like what you hear he might just be coming to a venue near you.

monoblogue music: “Half-Life” by Marla Mase

April 26, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “Half-Life” by Marla Mase 

The February EP release from Marla Mase.

I haven’t reviewed a lot of music for this feature, but this album was perhaps the most challenging one to assess so far. There is a lot that goes on in “Half-Life,” which to me came across as a series of moving parts that couldn’t quite come together as a satisfying whole.

From the opening track, Drown in Blue, to the eighth and final ballad with spoken word called Hold Fast Your Dreams, Marla takes us to several varied corners of her performing world – I say performing because several segments and songs rely on her spoken word lyrical talents, including a track called The Heart Beats, with its minimal instrumentation.

Even Drown in Blue is taken in a different direction during the set – from the upbeat, rocking initial track to a shorter acoustic reprise later in the CD. It’s an interesting way to re-interpret a song, a tactic which reminded me of the old Eric Clapton song After Midnight, which found new popularity in a bluesier live release Clapton put out several years after the original.

Mase puts together several ingredients on the title track, which has a more smoky soul feel to start, but works its way into a rocking chorus before evolving again with tasty sax and a spoken word interlude.

But the album has some annoying quirks to it as well – the simplistic, sing-song lyrics of Things That Scare Me (billed as the “2014 Club Version” of the song) seemed to me that of trying to hard to make a musical point rather than just letting things play out.

Backed by the Tomas Doncker Band, comprised of many of the same musicians who backed Lael Summer (whose debut full-length release I reviewed in March) and participate in many other True Groove Records exploits, their instrumentation shines on songs like Bitch in Heat and Gaping Hole, the latter perhaps being the most conventional song of the album with its call-and-response element. The “Half-Life” version is actually the second rendition of the song, which, along with the original Things That Scare Me, was first released on Mase’s 2010 album called “A Brief Night Out.”

Mase has made her reputation as a performer moreso than as a musician – her resume includes other writing, as she bills herself a “writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter” who “writes songs, plays, monologues, short stories, erotica, blogs, and poems.” It’s obvious that spoken word and poetry looms large in her most recent release, but the problem is that poetry and other forms of writing intended to read and spread a message don’t always lend themselves to good, listenable music. Thousands of people fancy themselves as lyricists – witness the tiresome parade of rhymers and rappers we’ve endured over the last quarter-century – but few know how to craft those lyrics into a workable and marketable song. In the end, that’s what I find as the biggest weakness of this compilation.

As always, though, don’t just take my word for it: listen for yourself. You may come up with a different, more approving opinion.

Convention coverage

April 25, 2014 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Convention coverage 

I’m writing this just before heading up to Bethesda with one of my Wicomico cohorts. As is normally the case, my trusty laptop will stay at home for the convention so for updates from me you’ll need to check my Facebook page and Twitter site (@monoblogueUS).

I don’t think there will be a whole lot of new news unless something comes up in the various reports. But stay tuned anyway.

Shorebird of the Week – April 24, 2014

April 24, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · 1 Comment 

Jeff Kemp awaits a throw in a Shorebirds exhibition against SU.

Thus far Jeff Kemp has been one of the quieter contributors to the Shorebirds’ early success. The shortstop isn’t really regarded as a hot prospect in the vein of several others who advanced from last year’s Aberdeen team, but the 2013 33rd round pick out of Radford University (and native of Bowie, Maryland) has done his part for the Shorebird offense by taking the early lead in doubles (7) and runs batted in (10.)

In 48 games for the IronBirds last season, Kemp put together a decent but unspectacular slash line of .240/3/20/.686 OPS, showing a little bit of muscle with 13 extra-base hits among his total of 37. So those seven doubles are just two off his career high that he established in thrice the games last season – apparently Jeff is finding the gaps of SAL outfields to his liking and placing the hits there.

It’s likely he won’t keep up that pace of doubles, but his other Shorebird numbers are reasonably solid, with a .256 average (20-for-78) being perhaps the best feature. Progress can be shown in cutting down a 17/2 K/BB ratio in an effort to pump up an anemic .268 on-base percentage. Another need for improvement is in the field, where Kemp has already committed seven errors compared to eight all of last season. He would probably be better suited to second base, which was his predominant Aberdeen position and the spot he played best.

Although Jeff has been serving as the team’s cleanup hitter thus far, it’s more likely that down the line he would be a sixth- or seventh-place hitter. He has just enough speed to not clog up the bases, swiping eight bags for Aberdeen in 2013, and should carry enough of an average to not be an automatic out. But while he’s the guy in the cleanup spot for now, Kemp is taking advantage of the opportunity.

Plans and schemes for jobs

April 23, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Plans and schemes for jobs 

One recurring theme of this site is my interest in the manufacturing sector, both nationally and regionally. I suppose the realization that much of what we buy is supplied by a nation which points missiles at us and holds trillions of our debt made me consider the need to think a little bit more about self-sufficiency.

In the generations of my 78-year-old father and my last living grandparent, who died at the ripe old age of 90, America built things. Many cite Detroit as an example of where we as a nation once were “makin’ Thunderbirds,” but we made a million other consumer products as well, all over the country. And while the Thunderbird hung on through 2005 – as did my late grandfather – many of those other manufacturers long since had abandoned us for greener pastures overseas where things could be made more cheaply and regulations weren’t nearly as strict. The latter had to be the reason that companies could spend huge amounts to ship products across the ocean in order to bring them back to our market – the market where, in many cases, these same products were once made in factories which sat shuttered and dormant.

That’s why I’m glad to see some of our gubernatorial candidates pay attention to this long-neglected sector. In doing some research for this piece, I found that just one on the Democrat side, Doug Gansler, is making an issue out of manufacturing and doing more than simply giving platitudes in addressing it. I must say some of these ideas are worth discussion and adaptation; unfortunately Doug takes the time to pander to a certain crowd in advocating for the self-defeating ideas of a higher minimum wage and additional mandated sick leave – these would only discourage manufacturers and businesses from locating in this state. Gansler doesn’t quite understand the concept of market forces with some of his proposals, but with some tweaking a few – particularly the apprentice program – could be workable as an expansion of vocational education.

On the other hand, the leader in this arena on the GOP side is Ron George. While he already had a good beginning as far as job creation goes, yesterday he expanded on his existing ideas of rebuilding manufacturing in Maryland – as he pointed out at our Lincoln Day Dinner, “I cannot cut welfare payments unless I have those entry-level, mid-level jobs.” This is what George proposes to do:

The technology and life sciences industries in Maryland have taken off in part because of significant tax credits and a Tech Services tax repeal. By trusting you to use your revenue to enhance your businesses and create jobs, Maryland has become one of the most successful regions in the country for IT, healthcare technology and biotechnology companies.

I’m proposing we make the same investment in attracting and rewarding new manufacturing firms for creating jobs in Maryland. As Governor:

I will lower the Total Effective Tax Rate of new capital-intensive manufacturing firms from today’s current rate of 31.9% to 20% by 2016.

In the short term, I will work with local and county governments to lower property tax rates and with the legislature to exempt equipment from the property tax of manufacturing firms.

By 2018, I will eliminate the business personal property tax, returning stability and certainty to the manufacturing industry.

This proposal is an investment in the perseverance and innovation of Maryland workers. We must bring manufacturing back to Maryland.

While there is an appeal to eliminating the income tax we have to bear in mind that, as currently constituted, revenues from the income tax make up 22 percent of the overall pie, while business taxes make up far less – eliminating them, one could argue, would create enough of a multiplier effect that the other taxes could eventually also be reduced (with prudent spending, of course.) Having to account for the loss of a 22 percent chunk of state revenue is the reason why all of the income tax proposals out there phase themselves in rather than eliminate the income tax in one bite. (Ever notice, though, that tax increases are rarely phased in?)

But there’s also a lot being left on the table through the short-sightedness of the current administration, and while Gansler and his cohorts on the Democratic side are (literally) tilting at windmills for job creation, we can conclusively show that one $3.8 billion project will help a portion of the state succeed long-term. Maryland was one of the first states studied in a new series of blog posts detailing the impact of the energy industry.

And while the API concedes the state isn’t a leader in the production of oil and natural gas, there’s nothing saying we can’t hold our own through a combination of Marcellus Shale exploration in the state’s panhandle, the prospect of more natural gas in the heretofore barely- or unexplored Taylorsville, Culpeper, Gettysburg, and Delmarva (!) Basins, and perhaps oil drilling offshore. Even the idea of testing the waters can have a positive economic impact on a particular area, and one major key in attracting industry is having inexpensive sources of energy. We hear a lot of complaints from industry about the cost of electricity in Maryland, but having more natural gas (and the power plants to use it) would be of assistance in drawing manufacturers.

Now if the candidates can put together a proposal of transportation structure improvements, one which includes an interstate-grade highway north from Salisbury to I-95 (with the cooperation of Delaware) and the completion of the originally envisioned I-97 across the Potomac to meet with I-95 near Richmond to save trucks from having to deal with congestion around Washington so goods could find their way to market much more easily, I’d really be a happy camper. But for now these will have to suffice.

Just as an aside, you just might be hearing a lot more from me on the subject. Stay tuned.

A worthwhile proposal?

April 22, 2014 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

On Saturday, a somewhat contentious issue may come up at the state convention. But its path became a lot harder when the Bylaws Committee of the state party decided not to approve a proposal by Kevin Waterman of Queen Anne’s County to revamp the current structure of officers and move from holding two conventions during odd-numbered years to holding just one along with a regional convention.

A summary of the amendment changes, by Waterman:

This amendment is being offered to update and modernize the structure of the State Party in order to better reflect the needs and desires of the Party as it exists today, while incorporating lessons learned from auxiliary organizations such as the MFRW.

There are two chief changes being proposed through this amendment.

The first change is a revision to the structure of the Executive Board. As currently designed we elect 3 vice-chairs, however there is no clear portfolio or responsibilities that fall under their purview other than the duty of the 1st vice-chair to fill in as interim Chair if the Chairman for any reason vacates the office. The proposed revision does away with the 2nd and 3rd vice-chairs and replaces them with a set of regional vice-chairs who will have more clearly delineated duties specific to their regions. These chairs would be elected by the committee members of the region only.

The second change is a revision to the current approach to conventions. As everyone well knows the State Party holds conventions twice a year. These are almost always accompanied by complaints about the expense of travel and lodging twice a year as well as objections to the business sessions. The original version of this amendment called for going from 2 state conventions a year to 1; due to feedback on both issues relating to election of National Committeeman and Committeewoman as well as some concerns about the idea of regional implementations the change is now to 1 state convention in odd numbered years. The shift to regional conventions will reduce travel obligations for committee members, enhance regional camaraderie and political coordination, and allow for conventions and business sessions to be more focused on issues, speakers, and workshops of particular importance to that region. It is hoped that if this revised model is successful we can look to expand and go fully to 1 state convention and 1 regional convention (per region) in all years.

Yes, the Waterman in question is related to our current party chair; Kevin is her son.

Several years ago, at the time I first became involved in the state party, we thought we had voted in regional chairs but someone objected to how the vote was conducted and the matter was subsequently scrubbed. It seems the long-standing objection to this generally comes down to how the regions are divided out. A grouping like the Eastern Shore is fairly easy geographically, but at the time of the discussions we hadn’t reformed the voting system yet and many of the larger counties complained about how our region was far smaller in voting strength than the others but given an equal share of the executive chairs.

Some of the more private complaints I’m aware of deal with the fact that no one wants to be paired up with Montgomery County. Certainly those others who are placed with MoCo in the Western Region (under Waterman’s plan it would be Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Frederick counties) would feel slighted considering there are more members in Montgomery’s committee than in the other four combined. One change which may occur would be to create a region just for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which may help the proposal pass muster with several counties which would otherwise be included with them in a particular region.

The idea of regional conventions has more merit; in fact, Montgomery County is one county which has its own one-day convention. An Eastern Region convention can be held in several locations, perhaps rotating on a regular basis between locations along the Upper Shore, Mid-Shore, and Lower Shore. Obviously Ocean City would be a popular location as well.

On the whole, I think it’s an idea which should be heard and debated at the convention. We probably will not have any other significant business, so this would be a good time to discuss it. However, knowing how the process goes, the excuse this time will be of the nature that this is the final convention for this term – better to leave this discussion for the next one. And the next convention it will be one of having so much other business like officer elections, so it will be passed on to the spring of next year. Of course, then the officers are in the middle of their terms so why not plan this for closer to the end? And so on, and so forth. We complain about legislators kicking the can down the road, but the Maryland GOP can have a tendency to do the same with controversial ideas.

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