Every two years we hear the shopworn sentiment that “this is the most important election of our lives.” Okay, I wouldn’t go quite that far for Maryland in 2014, but the choice we have is clear: we can continue on a path where our fair state continues to become lock, stock, and barrel a ward of the federal government, conducted for the benefit of those who exist solely to suckle from the government teat, or we can turn our state around by diversifying the economy, restoring agriculture to a prominent position instead of favored environmentalist whipping boy, and making ourselves more prosperous by having government reach its grubby hands into our collective pockets less often.
I think any of the four Republicans can take steps in the right direction, but there are a large number of issues I care about and this is where Larry Hogan fails my test. His single-minded devotion to staying on an economic message is one thing, but it leaves me scratching my head about how he would govern when it came to other important issues. Even in its endorsement of Hogan for the GOP nod, the Washington Post noted that:
Given the time he’s had to plan his run, his campaign is glaringly short on policy specifics, and his views on education, health care and the environment are gauzy at best.
In other words, we just know that he wants to change Maryland. Well, so do I, and I have the little oval sticker on my car to prove it. But I’m just a writer and I’m not in charge of much of anything – he wants to run the state. Yet I’ll bet I’ve proposed more policy specifics than he has.
Another troubling aspect of a potential Hogan administration is that it would be the long-lost second term of Bob Ehrlich. Yes, Bob was a Republican governor, but he took pride in his bipartisanship, and Larry Hogan was instrumental in that because he helped to appoint all the Democrats who helped to undermine the Ehrlich term. Why is it only our side is called upon to be bipartisan?
There’s no doubt that Hogan has the best financial situation of any GOP challenger, but it came at a steep price. And why do I sense there’s a smoking gun someplace in the transition between Change Maryland – which was an outstanding foil to Martin O’Malley, bringing a lot of valuable economic data to public scrutiny – and the Hogan for Governor campaign? Obviously there was the wink and a nod from early on that Change Maryland was the vehicle for the eventual Hogan campaign but it really seems more and more like his organization was just a Potemkin village, bought and paid for out of Hogan’s back pocket.
I don’t want to elect the governor before we know what’s in him – we tried that once on a national scale and see how successful that was.
And then we have Charles Lollar, whose stance on many issues is quite appealing to me. I like the idea of eliminating the income tax in particular, but I notice in the interim he’s backed off his onetime priority of cutting out all federal grants – $10.557 billion worth in FY2015 – into Maryland’s budget.
But that’s not all he’s backed away from. On the NRA front, he blamed a lot of factors before throwing an unnamed campaign staffer under the bus. Listen, I understand Charles is for the Second Amendment and this seems fair enough to me, but some of the conspiracies I’ve heard on this issue from his staunch supporters boggle my mind.
Yet on the campaign trail he’s revealed a populist (as opposed to conservative) strain and tendency to pander to the audience in front of him. Take these two examples:
In an interview in September 2013 with Real Clear Markets, it was said about Charles that:
Lollar is opposed to the Purple Line, a $2.2 billion 16-mile rail project that even the richest Maryland residents are not prepared to pay for. It can only be built with substantial federal and state subsidies, as yet unappropriated: $900 million from Uncle Sam, $400 million from Maryland, and the rest from who knows where. The Purple Line is disliked by some residents because it would displace a popular walking and bike trail, but supported by developers because they think it would enhance the value of commercial property. Instead, Lollar favors small buses, which have high per-person pick-up rates.
Yet just a few months later at a Montgomery County transportation forum:
Of course we want better opportunities, better modes of transportation – a diverse collection of different ways to get back and forth to work. Livable, workable, playable communities where you can actually live, work, and play in the same place and have a legitimate conversation with yourself in the morning whether to walk or drive your bike to work and get there on time.
I think (the Purple Line) is absolutely doable. The question is – is it affordable? If it is, let’s push forward.
So which is it?
Now I definitely commend Charles for making the effort to go where Republicans fear to tread – even though he’s also been quoted as saying:
He said he is frustrated with “the Republican brand,” but chose to run as a Republican because his character and ideals most align with that party, he said.
As a whole, while he’s eliminated most of the missteps from his early campaign, I’m not sold on the hype that Lollar is the “only candidate who can win.” He has strong grassroots support in some areas, but very little money to get out his message, On Friday I received an e-mail from the Lollar campaign which claimed that:
We already have pledges from the Republican Governors’ Association and other outside groups to throw millions more into the race.
It’s not so much the RGA, which I would expect to remain neutral in a primary, but if those outside groups are so enamored with Charles, why aren’t they donating to get him through the primary? In a nutshell, it’s the story of the Lollar campaign: over-promise and under-deliver.
Early on, it seemed to me the choice was going to come down to David Craig or Ron George. So let’s run down an issue-by-issue comparison.
- On election reform, Ron George has done more to work out issues with LLC contributions and increased the allowable individual contribution limit to a particular campaign for the next cycle. David Craig will look into voter fraud.
- Both are willing to fight to overturn the law allowing illegal immigrants to have Maryland driver licenses, and Craig added his support of E-Verify.
- While Craig would tweak around the edges of Obamacare, George has promised to join other GOP governors in fighting it.
- Both candidates support opening up the western end of the state to fracking, but George also wants to build a single demonstration wind turbine off Ocean City as Virginia has proposed. I would let Virginia have its boondoggle.
- With his background in education and opposition to Common Core, that area is perhaps Craig’s strongest. Originally Ron George was against Common Core; he still is but concedes “a repeal ain’t going to happen” in Maryland. I say that’s why we need a leader who concedes nothing. On the other hand, Ron has some good proposals to help private school students and I love his emphasis on vocational education.
- Both would work to repeal 2013’s Senate Bill 281, although Craig is more vocal about supporting concealed carry.
- Personally I would love to see David Craig repeal the Critical Areas Act and other overly restrictive environmental measures – as far as I’m concerned the Chesapeake Bay Foundation needs to be put in its place. I sincerely hope this is not a case of running right for the primary and tacking back to the center, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if this wasn’t a hit piece from the Sun that quoted him out of context. (This is especially true when Harford County was in ICLEI for a time.) Unfortunately, Ron George assisted in putting a lot of bad law in place during his first legislative term, but he’s also correctly noted much of the Bay’s problem lies in the silt stuck behind Conowingo Dam. He’s also refrained from supporting more recent O’Malley bills.
- Craig would lean heavily on the Republican Governors Association in terms of initiative to limit government, but he would prefer to bring more of it back to the county level. George agrees, but would lean heavily on independent audits to better define government spending (and its role). Then again, David Craig would get rid of speed cameras.
- Craig would center his job creation strategy on the state’s economic development office, but would also prefer each county set its own minimum wage. George’s strategy employs tax cuts on business, but also would employ regional-level planning with a focus on Baltimore City and additional incentives for manufacturing jobs in smaller cities such as Salisbury.
- The two candidates differ on their taxation strategy, though. While Craig wants to eliminate the income tax (along with reducing the corporate tax), George doesn’t take it as far.
In both cases, there’s a lot to like although the strengths and weaknesses are slightly different. To be perfectly honest, it’s too bad we can’t have these two rolled into one super-candidate with the good ideas and aptitudes from both. But we each only get one vote, so I have to look at two other factors.
It’s truly unfortunate that state law prohibited Ron George from raising money during the legislative session, because it’s a law which has crippled him to this day. I’m sure he went into this with eyes open and was hoping to do better on fundraising last year before the session began, but it is what it is. With just a low five-figure amount in the bank at this juncture it’s going to be exceedingly hard for him to get a message out, although hopefully the other three losing candidates will assist the winner financially as much as possible. While he’s not in the catbird seat financially, David Craig should be in a good enough position to be competitive.
But perhaps the decision which sealed it for the man I’m endorsing was made early on. As we have seen with the current administration, the office of lieutenant governor can be useful – or it can be a hindrance. The rollout of the state health exchange proved Anthony Brown was a hindrance, and that’s why I think the early decision by David Craig to secure Jeannie Haddaway as a running mate makes the difference. Shelley Aloi is a very nice and gracious lady, but I didn’t get the sense of confidence she could handle the job when voters in Frederick rejected her mayoral bid. I just got the feeling she wasn’t Ron’s first choice, but he made the best decision he could at such a late juncture.
This campaign has been one of attrition – I’ve been a fan of Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland since its inception, and love the passion Charles Lollar brings to the stump. But in examining them over the course of the campaign, I’ve been left wanting. And if Ron George had made one or two decisions during the campaign a little differently, I may have been writing his name a few sentences from now. The overall decision was really that close, and if things work out that way I could enthusiastically support Ron as well. It reminds me of the 2012 GOP Senate race between Dan Bongino and Richard Douglas as, despite my eventual support for Bongino, I would have been quite comfortable if either had won because they both brought great assets to the table.
Two years ago, I saw David Craig as a moderate, establishment choice. Sure, in many respects he still is, but when it comes down to where he stands on the issues and the position he’s currently in, I think he could be the first of two great leaders for Maryland. 2014 is a good time to start the ball rolling on a new, improved Free State.
David Craig for Governor.