A debate worth having

Unfortunately, I can’t make the event with my work schedule but I was asked to at least spread the word.

Christopher Summers of the Maryland Public Policy Institute invited me to a Maryland Policy Forum on A Better Way to Restore the Chesapeake Bay, to be held Tuesday night (the 28th of October) at Washington College in Chestertown. (It would be a close trip for my friends and fans up Cecil County way.) The event is billed this way:

Maryland officials expect that it will cost over $14 billion in the next decade to meet EPA pollution mitigation targets for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Yet Maryland has pointedly ignored a single, enormous source of the pollutants—the massive amount of water-scoured sediment and trapped nitrogen and phosphorus behind the Susquehanna River’s Conowingo Dam. Periodic discharges from the dam, such as the one following Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, spill enormous amounts of sediment and nutrients into the Bay, dwarfing the most optimistic cleanup targets that have been set for the watershed.

What should Maryland do to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution, and is current policy too much or too little?

In looking at the bios of the three panelists and moderator, it looks like a good mix of opinions will be had. Of course, there are those who believe the MPPI will put its thumb on the scale for the conservative side but it’s a side which isn’t often listened to in this state.

Personally I believe the cleanup behind Conowingo should take precedence over the regulations which have been adopted. Ditch enforcement of these tier maps, the seven-lot subdivision limit, and septic regulations which only serve to curtail growth in rural areas of the state like the Eastern Shore until the sediment behind that dam is cleaned up and we have a year or two of testing to see the difference. Instead of picking on agriculture, figure out ways to upgrade the real problem: failing urban sanitary sewage treatment plants.

I doubt either of the two candidates for governor will be there, but I think Larry Hogan should send a surrogate to hear what the MPPI and their panelists have to say. Obviously job creation is the key issue in this election, but a different, localized approach to cleaning up Chesapeake Bay would be a good secondary issue to discuss in the waning days of the campaign.

Time to do the deed

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 3: District 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, my better half might prefer the Gollywobbler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 2: District 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

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

First, the contenders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside the forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sea change in Maryland too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A million and four too many

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

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

The script is rather simple.

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

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

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

Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator.

Not by choice, and certainly not by voting record.

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

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

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

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

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

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke…

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

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

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

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

…make our roads safer like Route 113…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth about ‘Liberal Jim’

For several years I’ve done the monoblogue Accountability Project for this very purpose – disseminating the truth about how members of the Maryland General Assembly really vote when the rubber meets the road. There are few races with as clear-cut of a difference as the 38th District Senate race between incumbent Democrat Jim Mathias, whose mAP score as a Delegate from 2007-10 was a 15 (out of 100) and Senate lifetime score from 2011-14 has been 28 (out of 100) and Republican Delegate Mike McDermott, who replaced Mathias in the General Assembly and has a lifetime rating of 84.5 of 100. (The 2014 version of the monoblogue Accountability Project is here.)

But what does this mean in terms of issues? I went back and researched the common votes taken by both men. Since 2012, I have set up the mAP to use bills which received votes in both the House of Delegates and Senate – out of 25 votes, 22 of these would be common. (The other three were committee votes for the respective bodies.) So 66 votes over the last three years’ worth of sessions were placed in front of both men.

In 2011 I hadn’t changed the rules yet, so while I had standardized the number of votes at 25, only 9 were common. Yet of those 9 common votes, Mathias and McDermott only voted the same on two. In total, out of 75 possible votes, Mathias and McDermott differed a total of 45 times while agreeing on 27 occasions. (Mathias was absent for three votes in that time period.)

Eleven of those 45 votes of disagreement were budgetary. Year after year, Mathias has been a rubber stamp for the annual spending and debt increases put in by the state. It’s not just the operating budget but the creation of more and more state debt and all the legerdemain that goes into each year’s BRFA. The only agreement between the two: Mathias voted against the original 2012 BRFA.

But in 2011, Mathias also voted to force home care providers into paying union dues, which created an unearned estimated benefit to Big Labor of over $430,000, the crony socialism of the InvestMaryland Act where the state ate its seed corn of future receipts, state law conformity with Obamacare, and the gerrymandered Congressional districts which took effect for 2012.

Mathias also had a hand in some dreadful 2012 legislation, voting for the state health exchange that’s only enrolled about 1/3 of the expected number of people at a wasted cost of over $125 million. Some guy named Anthony Brown was taking credit for that until it tanked. On a related front, Jim also voted to establish so-called “health enterprise zones,” which was something requested by minority legislators. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lift all boats?

But that’s far from all of it. Remember that “flush tax”? Mathias voted to double it. Jim also voted to burden the nascent state natural gas industry with the presumption of guilt in well contamination, mandate expensive fire sprinkler systems in new homes, adding thousands to the cost, and punished cellular customers with an expansion of the USTF surcharge. And again, Mathias did a favor to unions by expanding their reach among state employees.

And remember the “doomsday budget”? In that 2012 special session, Mathias voted for the measure that transferred teacher pensions to the counties and forced Wicomico County to raise its income tax and maximize its property tax increase to stay eligible for a $14 million lower maintenance of effort payment. Thanks for the higher taxes, Jim.

2013 was the year with the most departure between the two, as they differed on 15 of 22 votes. Several of these were bills dealing with the state’s implementation of Obamacare – including Medicaid expansion which is purportedly covered by federal funds (for now) – but there were other differences. Mathias supported provisions permitting voting by mail and, beginning in 2016, same-day registration during early voting. Both are invitations to voter fraud.

Mathias also voted in favor of the $18 annual surcharge residential customers start paying if offshore wind becomes a reality. (This may be hundreds of dollars annually for commercial customers and thousands annually for industrial users.) Jim also allowed the Maryland Stadium Authority to fund the construction of schools in Baltimore City. I’m not sure what sort of precedent that sets, but is Somerset County any wealthier of an area? Why is Baltimore City getting this new source of debt?

Nor were Jim’s union friends left out. In 2013 he voted to enact so-called “service fees” at five state universities and statewide for public school employees.

But the most interesting vote was on the Transportation Trust Fund “lockbox.” While it’s supposedly in place to prevent the annual raid of the TTF by a governor who can’t suppress his appetite for spending, the key to unlock is laughably weak: a 3/5 majority of both houses of the General Assembly. At this point Democrats by themselves could allow the transfer with 13 House votes and 6 Senate votes to spare. Those lucky Democrats, likely in swing district’s like Jim’s, would have the pass to go against their party while knowing passage is safely in the bag. I sense that Mike McDermott knew this when he properly voted no.

(That Constitutional Amendment is on the 2014 ballot as Issue 1, and I would encourage a vote AGAINST it. Make the General Assembly come up with a real lockbox – either a blanket prohibition or a 3/4 majority, which would require at least some Republicans to buy in – 106 House votes and 36 in the Senate.)

This year’s agenda was somewhat less ambitious, but there were still major differences. Mathias dodged a bullet when the bridge-eligible assistance program he voted for proved to not be too expensive (although there was no final expense tally at the point this was updated) but he also kept adding more Obamacare provisions to state law while paying for a needle exchange program in Baltimore city.

On the educational front, Mathias supported a pre-K expansion which will be of dubious benefit (except to public school unions) and supported a workgroup of yes-men studying how to better implement Common Core, which they don’t call Common Core anymore. And not only did he once again support a bloated budget, he tacked on a $10 additional fee for pesticide registration. Granted, it’s an aggregate of about $130,000 a year but it’s yet another burden for businesses.

Aside from the budget bills, though, the supporters of Jim Mathias would probably point to the bills both voted for as evidence of his moderate stance.

In 2011, both voted against the supplemental 3% alcohol tax and in-state tuition for illegal aliens. 2012 brought several points of agreement: voting against a prohibition of arsenic in livestock feed, enactment of same-sex marriage, the “rain tax,” the Septic Bill (with a caveat as I’ll get to momentarily), and even requiring helmets for moped riders. In the first Special Session that year both voted against the income tax increase.

When I revisited the Septic Bill, though, I noticed there were two Third Reading Senate votes – one for the Senate bill and one including some changes from the House version which passed, which had to be voted on again as amendments to the Senate version. Oddly enough, on the first iteration Jim voted yes but on the final product he was a no vote. Apparently Jim was for tier maps before he was against them?

Anyway, 2013 brought a lot of disagreement but Mathias and McDermott voted alike on some key issues: the gas tax increase, death penalty repeal, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, and the SB281 gun bill all drew their opposition. Credit Mathias with unsuccessfully trying to place a sunset date on the gun law. This year they both fought the minimum wage increase as well as prevailing wage applicability, helped to decrease the estate tax (a rare win for conservatives) and the “bathroom bill.”

One thing I noticed in my research, though, is that Mathias rarely offers any floor amendments, whereas McDermott has several per term. Obviously that stage seems to me the one point where Republicans get in their say, giving Democrats more opportunities to be on the record as opposing common sense.

So while it’s true that Jim will “stand up to his own party” on some limited instances where tax increases are too obvious, he gives the game away by voting for each budget. I suppose the question is who is really fighting for the district, and in part two of this post I’ll look into where McDermott is fighting the other side.

Next Page »

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  • More Campaign 2014

    Contested races only.

    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

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    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Chris Robinson (D)

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    House District 37B

    Republican

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

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    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

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    House District 38A

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

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    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

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    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

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    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

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    County Council at-large

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

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    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

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    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)