For First District Congress

My final primary endorsement comes in a race that, for me, has come down to the wire: do I go for the known conservative quantity that’s part of one of the most unpopular institutions in the country or do I go for one of the upstarts in a hope to bring about change or a more libertarian direction?

Well, the answer became a little easier as I looked into two of the four GOP candidates. Both Jonathan Goff, who challenged Andy Harris in 2014 and got the 22% of the anti-Harris vote in that primary, and Sean Jackson have expressed their support for Donald Trump so that eliminates them automatically as not conservative.

Yet despite the entry of Goff and Jackson, the Congressional race has been figured all along as a two-man contest between Harris and former Delegate Mike Smigiel.

We pretty much know the backstory on Andy Harris: he served in the Maryland State Senate for a decade before challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest in 2008. The problem with Wayne, as Harris and many others saw in the district, was that Gilchrest was too centrist for a conservative district. Harris ended up winning a contentious primary, alienating enough Gilchrest supporters in the process that Democrat Frank Kratovil (who Gilchrest eventually endorsed) won by a narrow plurality in the Obama wave election of 2008. (A Libertarian candidate took 2.5% of the vote, denying Kratovil a majority.)

Harris finished out his term in the State Senate as he plotted to challenge Kratovil, who served as a “blue dog” Democrat (case in point: he voted against Obamacare.) Winning a far less acrimonious GOP primary in 2010 over businessman Rob Fisher, Harris went on to defeat Kratovil by 12 points in the first TEA Party wave election of 2010. Since then Harris hasn’t been seriously challenged in either the primary or general elections, winning with 63.4% of the vote in 2012 and 70.4% in 2014 after Goff challenged him in the primary.

While Democrat Jim Ireton may think he has a shot against Harris, it’s very likely that Tuesday’s election is the deciding factor in who will be our representative to the 115th Congress. But Mike Smigiel is the first serious candidate with a pedigree to challenge for the First District seat since Harris and State Senator E.J. Pipkin, among others, both took on Wayne Gilchrest in 2008.

Like Harris, Smigiel served for 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly but he served in the House of Delegates, representing the upper Eastern Shore. This factor is an important one in determining who will be the better candidate, as their terms of service overlapped from 2003-2010. Smigiel ran for re-election in the 2014 primary, but finished fourth in a seven-person field. It’s worth noting that four of the District 36 contenders were from Smigiel’s Cecil County, which may have sapped his electoral strength – or reflected a dissatisfaction with Mike’s approach. Only one of them could have advanced, so in effect they cannibalized the primary vote.

Mike’s case for unseating Harris has evolved from an undertone of dissatisfaction from those who supported Harris for the seat. They say that Andy is not a fighter or a leader in the conservative movement, and long for a more libertarian Congressman perhaps in the mold of Justin Amash or Thomas Massie. To that end, Smigiel has advocated his case for a Constitutional, limited government, often waving his copy of the Constitution in a debate or forum session. His campaign has focused to a great extent on a number of Congressional votes that Harris has cast, particularly the 2014 CRomnibus bill.

In looking at this race, it should be pointed out that I saw Smigiel’s libertarian approach as an asset; however, I felt the strong emphasis on Harris’s voting record masked some of the real truth.

A key difference between the legislative process in Maryland and the federal sausage-grinding we find in Washington is that Congressional legislation is not limited to a single issue as Maryland’s is. You can take the CRomnibus bill as an example, as it was a compromise hammered out between the various factions of Congress. That’s not to say Harris made the correct vote, but Smigiel is counting on a bit of ignorance in how the system works. I could say the same thing about Smigiel since he voted for the first O’Malley budget while Harris voted no.

So let’s talk about voting records, shall we? Because voting in a federal legislature is not the same as voting on state matters, we have an apples-to-oranges comparison between Harris and Smigiel. But over the eight years both men served in the General Assembly, a more apples-to-apples approach is possible.

Since 2007, I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project, so it covers the last four years that Harris and Smigiel served together. As an aggregate, I found that Smigiel voted as I would have 77.7% of the time, or 101 times out of 130. On the other hand, Harris was “correct” 89.1% of the time, or 122 times out of 137.

I even went back and found three years’ worth of data on the old Maryland Accountability Project that mine continued. While the author perhaps had a different standard of what he considered “conservative,” in each of those three years (2003-2005) Harris had a higher score: 84%-60% in 2003, 80%-75% in 2004, and 84%-83% in 2005. (The 2006 results were not available for the House, but Harris only scored 65% in the Senate – so Smigiel may have prevailed that year.)

Yet these are not “clean” comparisons, either, because in my case I hadn’t streamlined the process of doing the mAP yet. (Since 2011, both House and Senate ratings are based on the same bills.) So I went back and tried to locate the cases in my work where Harris and Smigiel voted the opposite way. There were a handful that over time have mattered less, but I would like to point out a few items that Harris favored and Smigiel opposed, since Mike has attacked Andy’s record:

  • Smart, Green, and Growing – Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission (2010) – replaced a task force with the MSGC, an O’Malley-sponsored bill.
  • Higher Education Investment Fund – Tuition Stabilization and Funding (2010) – a spending mandate O’Malley also sought.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 – this was a horrible bill that established and codified carbon reductions into state law.

One can definitely argue that Harris was trying to soften his image with these votes, since they came after his unsuccessful 2008 run.

But there is another side: those bills that Smigiel favored and Harris opposed:

  • Other Tobacco Products Licenses (2010) – required separate licenses for those who sell cigars, snuff, or pipe tobacco. Harris was one of just 7 in the MGA to oppose this.
  • High Performance Buildings Act – Applicable to Community College Capital Projects (2010) – required LEED Silver or above ratings.
  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Program (2008) – an O’Malley bill to spend RGGI money.
  • Environment – Water Management Administration – Wetlands and Waterways Program Fees (2008) – established a fee of up to $7,500 an acre for certain developments.
  • Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program – Administrative and Enforcement Provisions (2008) – additional mandates on local government.
  • High Performance Buildings Act (2008) – the precursor to the 2010 act above.
  • Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 – an O’Malley bill requiring California emissions for Maryland cars, which added cost to new cars.
  • Higher Education – Tuition Affordability Act of 2007 – another O’Malley bill that extended an artificial tuition freeze.
  • Electricity – Net Energy Metering – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Solar Energy (2007) - a good old-fashioned carveout, picking a winner.

It seems to me there’s a major difference on environmental issues between Smigiel and Harris, and while that may not matter so much at a federal level my belief that “green is the new red” leads me to think that Smigiel’s pro-liberty case isn’t as airtight as we are led to believe.

I can go all night looking at voting records, but there is one other thing I’d like to point out.

Last week I criticized Smigiel for spending part of the weekend before the primary at a cannabis convention, a stance he took exception to in a private message to me. Without divulging the full conversation, which I assumed was just for my private use, the upshot was that he argued there were going to be fundraising benefits for him as well as possible job creation in the 1st District. I can buy that argument, but if it hinges on him winning the primary Job One has to be getting the votes.

So it was interesting that a friend of mine shared a card her daughter received, which looks like the one below.

420 USA PAC Smigiel postcard

My friend speculated the card was targeted to a certain age group of Millennials since her daughter was the only one in the house to receive it. Yet the card isn’t from Mike’s campaign but instead an organization called 420 USA PAC, which advocates for cannabis legalization.

Of course, my personal stance is not all that far from Mike’s, but we also have two laboratories of democracy in Colorado and Washington state to see how the legalization of marijuana plays out. Smigiel argues the District of Columbia cannabis initiative is a state’s rights issue but should know that in the Constitution Congress is responsible to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District per Article I, Section 8. So Harris performed some oversight.

On the other hand I can vouch for Andy being in the district over the weekend. Perhaps this is a classic conservative vs. libertarian matchup, although both men are well-accepted in the pro-life community.

This has been an endorsement I have had to think long and hard about; luckily it’s a case where I could easily work for the other gentleman if he will have me.

But I have decided that Andy Harris deserves another term in Congress. Saying that, though, it’s obvious people will be watching and if I were Mike Smigiel I wouldn’t dismiss trying again in 2018 because we could use his kind of voice in Congress as well. Think of the next two years as a probationary period for Harris.

So allow me to review my three endorsements for the major races.

For President, I urge you to vote for the remaining true conservative in the race, Ted Cruz. He has six people running for Delegate and Alternate Delegate who need your votes as well (although my friend Muir Boda is on the ballot, too.)

For U.S. Senate, I had a hard time deciding between Dave Wallace and Richard Douglas, but the backbone Richard Douglas has shown earned him my endorsement and vote.

And finally, retain Andy Harris as our Congressman.

Just don’t forget to vote Tuesday. It’s up to us to begin turning Maryland into a more conservative state – not just trying to teach the benefits of conservatism to an audience charitably described as skeptical but making sure we vote in the right manner as well.

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