Maryland’s loss

He was mentioned for political posts ranging from Congress to head of the state police to perhaps even governor, but like many Maryland families Dan Bongino’s is heading for the sunny climes of Florida. As he noted on social media:

My family and I will be relocating to Martin County, Florida within the next few months. The reasons are beyond the scope of this platform and, for that reason, I explain a bit more in this week’s podcast show. I will speak more about it over the coming weeks as I see many of you individually and during the radio fill-ins, but I felt that you deserved to know as soon as I did. You have allowed me into your lives in this small way and I feel like you are a part of my extended family.

(In case you are wondering, Martin County is along the Atlantic coast, north of Miami and Palm Beach. Its western border is Lake Okeechobee.)

Whatever the reason, Dan will be missed in Maryland politics as an effective, articulate spokesman for conservative values. His departure from the scene leaves a void which, quite frankly, is begging to be filled by someone – but there’s no one on the state’s political scene who can bring that combination of conservatism and charisma.

Naturally, naysayers will say that he never won a general election in either of his two tries, and this is true. Yet he was successful at one thing: nationalizing races that otherwise would have escaped the attention of political observers. I think that it can be argued that his success in that regard in 2012 helped a little in getting Larry Hogan elected two years later, as he made people believe races could be won here by a Republican.

The withdrawal of Dan Bongino may have effects on the Democratic side as well. I think it cements John Delaney as the contender to beat for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018 because now he has an easier path to re-election in 2016. (If Bongino were to have entered a 2016 contest, my thought is that he would have made a second try at a Congressional seat rather than another statewide race.)

I have a couple reasons for this line of thought. If you look at the U.S. Senate race for next year, you have two sitting Congressmen already eyeing the seat: Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards. It wouldn’t surprise me if another one or two get in, particularly John Sarbanes as his family name is still associated with the United States Senate. While Delaney is not hurting for money and could compete on the level required for such a high-powered field, I’m sure the state Democratic leadership is having a collective heart attack as more Senatorial aspirants come from the ranks of relatively safe Congressional seats. So his staying put may be rewarded down the road as far as the party goes.

On the other hand, Delaney is trying to make a name for himself as being a bipartisan player, and Democrats in the know realize that part of Larry Hogan’s appeal was the promise to work on both sides of the aisle. Those Democrats who crossed over to back Hogan probably don’t budge for a Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur, or one of the also-rans in the 2016 Senate race, but they just night for Delaney as he is the Democratic mirror image of Hogan as a business owner. The biggest difference is that Delaney won his bid for Congress while Hogan lost his.

Now I don’t think Dan is going to fall off the face of the earth, as I’m sure he will maintain his thriving broadcast career. I’m sure he’s looking at this as a different door opening rather than one being closed.

But for someone who, four years ago, was known to hardly anyone as he commenced what I’m sure most people thought was the crazy notion that he could be a U.S. Senator, Dan’s done well for himself. Yet don’t forget that his career is rooted in that of another upstart who also made a political splash for a short while before returning to private business – Brian Murphy. It was the onetime gubernatorial candidate who chaired Dan’s campaign at the start.

I guess that’s the problem with conservatives. They’re too busy being productive to play politics, and Dan Bongino is a pretty productive guy. I hope he finds success and happiness for his family in Florida, but as a force in Maryland politics he will be missed.

Shorebird of the Week – April 23, 2015

April 23, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

At this level, where pitchers generally are held under an innings limit, throwing complete games is a rarity – in the entire SAL last season there were only 31 thrown. This is even with the higher number of shortened games, such as those played as part of a doubleheader. Long story short, those guys who pitch in innings 6 to 8 are a key part of the pitching staff.

Zeke McGranahan is one of those guys, and in his last outing he was stretched to a career-long 2 2/3 innings against Hagerstown. Exclusively a reliever in his brief career, the 2014 23rd round pick just missed (by one spot) being the first player ever drafted out of Georgia Gwinnett College. So far in 2015 he hasn’t allowed an earned run in four appearances covering 7 1/3 innings, scattering just three hits along the way.

Zeke profiles as a power pitcher – a high number of strikeouts (10 so far) but a high number of walks as well (five so far.) It’s a continuation of his play from last season, which he mainly spent in the GCL (2-1, 1.50 in 18 innings with a WHIP of exactly 1) before getting four appearances with Aberdeen (allowing three earned runs and seven hits in five innings, a 5.40 ERA and 2.20 WHIP.) In those 23 innings, he gave up just 16 hits but walked 13. The former is great, the latter too high for advancement. It’s great that McGranahan misses bats, but he can’t miss the plate so often.

Zeke is on the older side for this level, as he turned 24 in January. But his professional career is barely 30 innings old so if he can work on improving the strikeout-to-walk ratio he will certainly be given the opportunity to catch up, as it were. And the guys who serve as the bridge between the starter and closer or soak up the late innings to back a struggling starter can be the ones who become starters (or closers) down the line. The way Zeke goes will be dictated by how he performs in his first full season.

The other side of session

Since the General Assembly session came to a close last week, I’ve received my share of end-of-session wrap-ups from a number of members. But one has stood out because it focused as much on what wasn’t done as it did on the accomplishments. Sometimes keeping bad ideas from becoming law is as much a victory as any bill which is signed.

So when I read Mary Beth Carozza’s assessment of the recent session, I noted that a significant part of her remarks focused on what did not pass.

While serving you here in Annapolis, sometimes the bad legislation we are able to stop is just as important as the bills we are able to pass. This year a number of new tax increases were proposed but did not pass due to our efforts to stop them. Among the worst of this year’s proposed tax increases was the so-called “Chicken Tax,” which would place a 5-cent per chicken tax on every chicken raised in the State of Maryland.

Another agriculture-related tax increase we were able to kill this year was a proposal to repeal the sales and use tax exemption for agricultural products and equipment, such as feed and tractor fuel, that go into producing a final good for sale. The repeal of this exemption would have increased taxes on our state’s farmers by approximately $212 million starting next year and increasing to $251.2 million by 2020.

Other taxes which did not pass this year include the “death tax,” which would have eliminated the “death tax” repeal passed by last year’s General Assembly, a “bottle tax” that places a 5-cent tax on every bottle, a “bag tax” that would ban plastic bags and place a 10-cent fee on paper bags, a $90 million increase in the tobacco tax, and a tax on utility bills for solar and wind that would eventually ramp up to a $566 million annual tax.

Having studied the General Assembly for several years, I can tell you that many of these tax proposals reappear session after session. The “chicken tax” was around last year, a number of Democrats were upset that the death tax repeal passed last year (as they were the ones who voted against it), and the others are proposals which are perennial. The repeal of the agricultural products exemption is a fairly new one to me, though.

To hear Democrats tell it, we need all those new revenue streams for various pet causes. As examples, one version of the “chicken tax” was going to pay for cover crops and to help replace failing septic systems, one previous incarnation of the “bag tax” was intended for stream cleanup through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and a small portion of the increased tobacco tax was (ironically enough) slated for a smoking cessation fund. (Most was intended for that vast fiscal hole we call the General Fund.)

But taxes weren’t the only thing needing to be stopped:

Members of the Eastern Shore Delegation also were able to kill another bill that would have increased the regulatory burden on farmers known as the “Farmers’ Rights Act.” This bill would have required the Attorney General’s Office to review all livestock production contracts before they are approved. In order to meet the bill’s requirements, the Attorney General’s Office would have had to hire three new, full-time Assistant Attorneys General at an expense of over $200,000 per year. This proposal is another example of an attempt to grow government bureaucracy at the expense of our citizens, especially our farmers.

I also worked closely with the Hogan Administration and local small business owners to pull regulations that would have hurt small arcade businesses in Ocean City and across the State of Maryland. For the last several months, the State Lottery Commission had been attempting to advance a proposal which would regulate these small businesses in the same way the state regulates casinos. I am happy to report that Governor Hogan directed the Lottery Commission to pull these proposed regulations.

These were all well and good, but I remain disappointed by the PMT regulations which will disproportionately affect local farmers, who are the victims of the “good faith negotiations between all stakeholders on this issue.” Remember, the eventual success of these regulations hinges on being able to use the excess chicken manure that local farmers can no longer use. If these schemes of creating energy or other by-products don’t succeed in creating a viable market, the state either has to continue to subsidize these failing enterprises or will simply leave local farmers hanging. Given the usual preference of Annapolis to side with environmental interests over those of farmers, I suspect the latter will eventually be the case, although we may be forced in the meantime to use millions more in taxpayer subsidies as the state tries to goose that manure market along.

I can tell you that I have picked out all the bills I will use for the monoblogue Accountability Project. Over the next few weeks I will be compiling the votes and seeing how all the new Delegates and Senators (as well as the holdovers) did. Will the change to a Republican governor be reflected in a more conservative overall voting pattern? Stay tuned.

A few convention thoughts

For those who don’t know, the Maryland Republican Party had its convention “downy ocean” on Friday and Saturday.

They certainly can go upscale now that we occupy the governor’s office.

Doesn’t seem that long ago we couldn’t scrape up convention sponsors, let alone “Governor’s Circle” or “Chairman’s Circle.”

Since I didn’t have a proxy, nor could I attend anyway because I had work to do for a new employer, I decided to do the Friday night drop-in. To allocate a couple lines from an old Bob Seger song: “I headed east because I felt the change would do me good – see some old friends, good for the soul.”

Unfortunately, poolside at the Princess Royale isn’t great for photos. But truth be told, I wasn’t much into documenting the night anyway. I was having too much fun chatting up folks like my old “partner in crime” Heather Olsen, being a radio guest for Ryan Miner, and talking shop with some others. I did take a few various shots with the cell phone, but they don’t rise to the level of worth commenting on because most are dark or somewhat tiresome.

But I did receive some flak from on high about the piece I wrote Friday, being scolded because I didn’t know the whole story. Yet this bears one question: what would Joe Burns – or those four members of the Carroll County RCC who opposed the change to submitting multiple names – gain from lying or embellishing the truth? Conversely, if they are right, what does the “good old boy establishment” wing of the MDGOP lose? The ability for cronyism at will?

There’s no doubt that Joe’s idea of a properly working MDGOP is different than that of the leadership, and it’s probably a far cry than mine. But it’s my understanding that Diana Waterman chose to address this at the very end of the convention, after the expected move by the Resolutions Committee to not report any resolutions out. Been there, done that. As always, we have plenty of time for rehashes of what’s going on with the various party leaders, but not enough time to put some simmering issues to rest. I’d love to have some input from those on Resolutions to know why nothing made the cut.

Going forward, though, this is something which needs clarity. Either we allow the governor to have his way simply because he has an “R” behind his name or we have consistency in rules. After all, there was no do-over on any of the other General Assembly nominees.

One other thought I had, thanks to the presence of Don Murphy, was his belief that “you must be present to win.” Where was everyone who is considering a 2016 U.S. Senate bid? Besides Andy Harris, who had a hospitality suite upstairs, away from the pool, I wasn’t aware anyone else hosted a suite. Perhaps they were on the downlow, but now that session is over you would think we would have some movement. We already know a couple of the players lined up on the other side.

From what I heard, the party will be back in Annapolis Solomons this fall so I’m sure all those Senate hopefuls will be out of the woodwork by then – along with the umpteen GOP presidential hopefuls (more specifically, their Maryland proxies.) Hopefully we can be arguing over the merits of Dan Bongino vs. Andy Harris vs. Laura Neuman for Senate and all those who wish to clean up Barack Obama’s disaster because we will have some resolution and direction on the subjects currently at hand.

And who knows? I might just get a proxy for that one, or I might not. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon for all but two things: working (which is what I did) or arguing politics. I only missed it a little bit, which isn’t bad considering.

It might be a good idea this fall, though, to bump the Resolutions Committee report to the front of the agenda – and bring some popcorn.

Third Friday, April 2015

Trust me, I like going to 3rd Friday, particularly the outdoor version. But last night they had a special guest who brought a few of his friends.

I have Mary Beth Carozza to thank for that photo, but as you can see it’s a bipartisan gathering. In fact, he even brought Salisbury’s mayor and Wicomico County’s executive together.

But they were on a relatively tight schedule, as the Greater Salisbury Committee dinner was slated the same night. So it was interesting watching the parade of state and local pols roll up one side of the Plaza and down the other, greeting friends along the way. If you weren’t there by about 6:30 you missed most of that excitement.

But 3rd Friday is maintaining its newfound status as a place to be.

I didn’t see a whole lot of people with beer, perhaps because it was Breakfast time.

Because I walked around and didn’t stay for the whole event, this won’t rise to the level of a Weekend of local rock segment. But I found Breakfast surprisingly enjoyable with their mix of covers and originals. (That sounds sort of strange, but I’l go with it.)

They certainly were better than most of the karaoke I heard as I circulated around the state convention prelude at the Princess Royale in Ocean City. Originally it was going to be one long post, but I decided to leave things there and pick up that side of the story in the morning.

Contention from the floor

A couple weeks ago I noted a prospective resolution for tomorrow’s business session of the Maryland Republican Party’s Spring Convention, which begins tonight in Ocean City. While that Article V convention was a hot topic, this one is even more blazing – so much so that sponsor Joe Burns is forgoing the usual process and banking that he can introduce it from the floor. He adds:

I expect I will be attacked a variety of ways, and other tactics used to prevent any issues like this from being even (being) discussed!

Therefore, I will need your help and assistance, if we are to reign in and correct these problems, now! The next elections and upcoming redistricting issues are at stake! We need to fix this now!

I am taking responsibility for one of our County’s own members. There may be others you feel also deserve some form of action too. I will leave this to your own good judgments!

If we all work together, we can nip some of these problems now, and save the rest of the Party, possibly winning future elections, and fixing redistricting problems!

(Obviously, Joe is heavily into exclamation points.)

The gist of his resolution is a demand that MDGOP Second Vice-Chair Larry Helminiak be subjected to a “vote of no confidence” and upon the presumed positive result of that vote, step down immediately. Obviously that would make for a much less harmonious convention, but Burns apparently feels the whole situation of submitting one name originally, then being strong-armed into rescinding the original vote and submitting three names for a General Assembly vacancy (as opposed to the tradition of just one) put Carroll County in a bad light. As his resolution reads:

Whereas, through the actions of one significant member of the Maryland State Party, the 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak, as an elected Officer of the Party’s leadership, participated in actively preventing other members of his own Central Committee, blocking information from being passed between members, plus pressuring other County’s Central Committee members, to violate their Oath of Office, or the unencumbered exercise of their franchise, while fulfilling their duties as fellow elected officials, (Article IV, Section 4.1, Subsection b, Clauses (1), & (5) plus Article XII, Section 12.1, & Section 12.2) and,

Whereas, by stating at an open meeting, that all members of any County Central Committee, were not ‘elected officials, as they do not stand for election in a general election, but were therefore equal to and should be only considered as ‘being appointed to their seats’ thus degrading the status and the earned, recognized, legal position of each elected Committee members, and,

Whereas, by his specific actions, both internally on this Committee, and throughout the state, he has tried to remove the lawful control of the State Party from the Central Committee elected delegates, placing it into the hands of a limited number of Party officials, contrary to traditional government by ‘We the People’ under consent of those being governed as outlined in our Constitution, a situation of Party Leadership tyranny is being fostered and created, and by using the power of the Party treasury to fund lawsuits to the detriment of, and promotion of these changes, no individual Central Committee’s independence or sovereign existence is guaranteed, and,

Whereas, as there was no reasonable excuse for the State Party to be involved in this lawsuit or situation at all, spending State Party assets to do so, unless this were an attempt to destroy the Party’s Central Committee’s function and their existence through these actions, thus destroying the Party itself,

Therefore, I submit a resolution under the By-Laws were these actions should be considered as ‘Conduct Unbecoming for an Officer of the Party’, I hereby request and require that 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak be given a vote of ‘No Confidence’ by this Convention for his continuing in office, stepping down immediately as an officer of the Party, and an election for his replacement be accorded as outlined in the State Party By-Laws (Article V, Section 5.5, Subsection e, Clause (2) immediately during this gathering of this Spring Convention.

We go back to the question of whether the Carroll County GOP made the proper play. Thus far the courts have disagreed with Burns, but there is a legitimate question of why the state party had to be involved in the case at all, particularly to the tune of $37,000. On those occasions where previous governors have plucked a member out of the General Assembly for his cabinet, or the more usual death or resignation of a member of either party, the standard procedure was one name picked by the local Central Committee. Carroll County’s first choice wasn’t to Larry Hogan’s liking, so someone requested a do-over. That does seem rather disrespectful of the local officials, yet a majority was fine with that. (You better believe it wouldn’t have been a majority on ours.) Bear in mind that the provision of Article III, Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution does NOT provide for the governor’s rejection of the appointee.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Burns’ accusation is the paragraph where he alleges Helminiak said members of the Central Committee were not elected officials. In the respects that we are not paid for holding office, need not fill out financial disclosures, and are elected in the primary election rather than the general, this is true; however, we do have to take an almost identical oath of office, have to fill out the campaign finance reports (which include having the bank account and selecting a campaign treasurer), and are given a set of responsibilities which include appointing various officials up to and including members of the General Assembly. I don’t know about Carroll County, but ours takes that responsibility seriously.

In 2010, the last time I was elected, 2,139 people said I was an elected official. I think that carries a little weight, don’t you?

I’ve known Larry for several years and to me he’s a stand-up guy. But there is a part of me who would at least support Burns’s resolution getting to the floor because the whole situation stinks to high heaven and I think Larry Helminiak (as well as the other Central Committee members attending the convention) should explain their actions and answer questions about how much influence was really exerted by the governor’s office.

If we are a party which truly stands for limited government and local control, we should make this an example of executive overreach from Annapolis. Just because the guy in Government House has a “R” behind his name doesn’t mean the party has to bow to his every wish.

Shorebird of the Week – April 16, 2015

April 16, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Last season the Shorebirds had the best hitting catcher combo in the South Atlantic League – hard to argue against a pair which had a SAL batting champ and a backup who hit a respectable .252 behind the dish.

While time will tell how well the 2015 combo does, Alex Murphy is certainly doing his part to keep up this new tradition. You might recall Murphy had a brief cameo here early last season when Chance Sisco went down, going 3-for-15 in 4 games. Despite a tough doubleheader last night that dragged his average down to .269 (on 7-for-26 hitting), those hits have seemed to be timely ones as the 20-year-old out of Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore leads the SAL in the early going with 9 RBI.

Murphy was one of four promising young catchers Baltimore snagged in the 2013 draft. 2014 Shorebirds Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns were two of the quartet; both are now toiling for Frederick. Coming up behind them are Murphy and teammate Jonah Heim, who will split the duty this season. As a sixth round pick, Murphy was actually the third of the quartet taken, after Sisco and Heim.

Alex has been a solid hitter in his brief career, sporting a .263 lifetime mark mainly based on a fine .277/3/25/.715 OPS performance as Aberdeen’s primary receiver last season – he also made several starts as the DH, which is likely the plan for this season as well. It’s something the Orioles almost have to do to get their catchers a sufficient opportunity to hone their offensive skills given the extraordinary organizational depth they have at the position with a number of major league-experienced catchers at the higher levels and four high draft choices moving up from the bottom.

So while Murphy may seem to be at the bottom of the totem pole, bear in mind that the Orioles can deal from strength at that position and may trade away one or more of these catching prospects in coming years. Being a hometown product, though, I’m sure the Orioles will make a little more effort to keep Alex within the fold. In the meantime – unlike the case in several previous Shorebird campaigns – we shouldn’t consider this catcher an easy out at the plate.

Hogan’s first veto?

I don’t know our governor’s position on Senate Bill 190, dubbed by some as the “travel tax,” but no less than Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is urging a veto. His organization has sent a letter (detailed at the previous link) to Governor Hogan asking him to reject this bill that was passed by both chambers during the session. As they explain:

This legislation would disparately impact the Maryland travel industry by apply the Maryland sales tax to online travel agents, brick and mortar travel agents, wedding planners, tour operators, and other service providers. With summer almost here, and tourism season gearing up, a new tax would hurt many small businesses in Maryland who rely on tourism for revenue.

Interestingly, the ATR letter quotes local Delegate Christopher Adams, who cites the hundreds of travel agents who would be affected by the bill. On the other hand, his Senator, Addie Eckardt, was the only GOP sponsor of the bill and lone GOP Senator to vote in its favor.

Perhaps the best explanation of the legalese of the bill comes from its Fiscal Note:

Online travel companies (OTCs) typically obtain access to hotel inventory (rooms) through contractual agreements with hotels. OTCs pay a discounted rate for these hotel rooms that they sell (as room rentals), and then retain certain fees that are part of the total price paid by customers. The purchaser of the room rental is typically charged the same rate as the person would be if the hotel room rental was purchased directly from the hotel. The issue that has arisen in recent years is the definition of taxable price that state and local sales and use taxes and hotel rental taxes are to be based on. OTCs have typically been paying and remitting these taxes based on the reduced rate that they pay for the hotel rooms; however, states and local jurisdictions have been arguing in court that these taxes should be collected on the total room rate paid, which is the base for which the taxes would have been imposed if a customer rented the hotel room directly from the hotel.

As I understand it and to create an example, let’s say a hotel room rents at $150 per night to the general public. An OTC comes to the hotel and says they will rent the remaining lot of rooms for $75 apiece – obviously the hotel profits by not having to deal with unsold inventory for the night while the OTC can provide a discount to the standard rack rate and still make money. Everybody wins – but the state.

The contention is that OTCs are paying room taxes based on the $75 rate, while the state believes they should be paying based on the $150 rate. That’s what this law would provide for, and while some jurisdictions in the state have come to agreements with the OTCs (and there is a court case on the subject pending) this law would force OTCs to pay taxes based on the higher rate, eating into their bottom line for dubious overall benefit. The Travelocity vs. Comptroller case cited by the Fiscal Note involves $6 million over eight years; even if Travelocity is accounting for just 10 percent of the overall market the amount in question is only a few million dollars out of a $40 billion budget.

If Hogan vetoes the bill, the margin in the House is close enough to make it very possible a veto would be sustained as it passed in the House of Delegates by an 84-56 margin – one vote short of 3/5. Delegate James Proctor could be the swing vote since he was absent from the original balloting.

Because Maryland law allows the governor to sign bills well after the legislative session has concluded, it’s quite likely that Hogan can wait as long as he needs to make the decision. While this bill is dubbed the “travel tax,” there is the complication of Marriott possibly moving from Maryland that Hogan may have to consider.

But the idea of electing Hogan was that of no new taxes, regardless of whether this is a “clarification” or not. Let the court case take its course, and veto the bill. It’s another vote that is likely to find its way to the monoblogue Accountability Project.

Shorebird of the Week – April 9, 2015

April 9, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

I begin this year with a “local boy makes good” story.

One tendency the Orioles have is their willingness to give hometown or regional talent a chance, even if they don’t draft the player. A good example of this is former Shorebird Glynn Davis, who has advanced over the succeeding years to Bowie and is considered one of the Orioles’ better outfield prospects.

Yet Nik Nowottnick is an even more local story to us, as he attended Colonel Richardson High School in Caroline County. Moving on to Towson University, Nik pitched well enough there to get Baltimore’s attention and signed on in late July of 2013 – just in time to get some innings in at the Gulf Coast League in August of that season.

Last year the 23-year-old righthander moved up to Aberdeen to start the campaign, going 2-2 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.4 WHIP in 30 innings. While a 18-to-14 strikeout to walk ratio wasn’t the most desirable one, Nik only allowed three walks in his last five Aberdeen appearances covering 13 2/3 innings while striking out seven. That stretch merited a mid-August promotion to Delmarva, where Nowottnick allowed just three earned runs in seven appearances covering eight innings, and was not scored upon in his last five outings. Here he struck out six and walked four for a 1.38 WHIP.

So the key for Nik this season will be to improve on his walk ratio a little bit – 18 free passes in 38 overall innings last year is a little bit high. As he did at Tuesday’s exhibition, it’s likely we’ll see Nik as a late-inning guy but not necessarily the closer.

One note: as I took the photo in last season’s Labor Day finale, this year Nowottnick will be wearing #31. Nik is one of a handful of carryover players from last season, mostly from the pitching ranks. In all, the “break camp” roster included 12 players who spent at least a few days with Delmarva last season, with most joining the team in the second half.

The Article V question

Because the GOP is now the party in power in Maryland, the biannual conventions will have more cooperation and less acrimony. The Fall Convention (which I did not attend for the first time in eight years) was described as a “love fest,” so I suspect the spring edition coming up next weekend in Ocean City may be more of the same.

But there will be a couple interesting and controversial pieces of business brought before the body, with the resolution in support of an Article V Constitutional convention the one likely to draw the most spirited argument. Lee Havis of Prince George’s County is spearheading the proposal, which reads:

Resolution in Support of an Application by the State of Maryland for a Convention of the States under Article V of the Constitution of the United States

Whereas, the State of Maryland has a duty to protect and defend fundamental rights of life, liberty and equal protection of the laws of its citizens from abusive actions and repression of these rights by unrestrained government, and

Whereas, the current operation of the federal government imperils these basic rights through excessive centralized control and lack of sufficient accountability to restrain its actions to a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and

Whereas, Article V of the Constitution of the United States provides that the Congress, on the Application of Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for the purpose of proposing Amendments to this document, such as to restrain these actions and related abuses of power,

Be it therefore resolved by the Maryland Republican Party that:

The Maryland Republican Party supports the application by the State of Maryland for Congress to call an Article V convention of the states for the purpose of proposing amendments to the US Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.

On its face, the resolution makes good sense. Because Congress cannot (or will not) place a check on its appetites for spending, regulation, and lifetime tenure, it would have to fall to the people to demand such a change. But opponents argue that there would be no limit on where the convention could go, and fret that regressives on the Left would hijack such a convention to remove the Second Amendment and put onerous restrictions on others in the interest of “fairness” and “equality.” They further argue that the Left is ignoring the Constitution as it is, so why go through the effort.

To buttress the point of opponents, it should be noted that regressives in the Maryland General Assembly introduced their own Article V resolution (SJ2/HJ2), but in their case it was intended to preserve what they consider voting rights and overturn the Citizens United decision:

WHEREAS, The General Assembly of Maryland favors the proposal and ratification of a “Democracy Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution to affirm every citizen’s individual right to vote, reject the doctrine that artificial entities have inalienable political rights, regulate campaign contributions and electioneering expenditures, and restore free and fair elections in America, and desires the convention to be limited to that purpose…

The Senate bill passed the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee with a 7-4 vote, and it’s passed the Senate by a 29-18 vote. (I don’t have that roll call yet.)

It brings up an interesting legal question as to the specificity of the state’s request for an Article V convention: if Oklahoma passes a call for a convention to deal with the balanced budget amendment, limitation of powers, and term limits while Maryland passes its version, do both states count toward the 2/3 needed? In both instances, the idea is to limit the purpose of the Article V convention but as one opponent pointed out, the idea of the original constitutional convention was to repair the Articles of Confederation, not replace them – instead, we came up with a whole new document.

Regardless, a Washington Times story from yesterday by David Sherfinski highlights a new approach by proponents; in this case Virginia State Senator Richard Black is being targeted for defeat. (In Black’s case, though, it would have to come from an independent candidate as the deadline to contest the GOP primary has passed.)

Presumably Republicans would like to not have regressives like Maryland General Assembly Democrats tinker with the Constitution, yet two Republican Delegates (Susan Aumann and John Cluster) were co-sponsors of HJ2 and Senator Bryan Simonaire voted for SJ2 in committee. It’s possible that other Republicans may have voted for it in the Senate, but as I noted the roll call is not up yet. We have close to four years before the next election, but the proponents (led by Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the Tea Party Patriots) will likely have more than a few Republicans in Maryland to target.

If this state party resolution even makes it to the floor – a dicey prospect at best – I don’t think it will pass. I would tend to agree with the opponents because there’s nothing in Article V that places a restriction on what can be accomplished. I understand Congress isn’t working on the issues conservatives care about, but we run a great risk of losing what freedoms we have should an Article V convention be called.

Redefining marriage wasn’t enough. Now some in Maryland want to redefine birth.

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

The twin byline is present because Cathy came to me with her thoughts on these bills, writing up a post quoting Delegate Parrott at some length along with some of her thoughts. I liked the direction of the piece, but thought I could add more and she was amenable to the changes. So here you go.

Recently Delegate Neil Parrott sent out a newsletter that had some information about two “shockingly bad bills” that are about to pass in the General Assembly. We had both heard from Robert Broadus with Protect Marriage Maryland about the first bill, but Delegate Parrott alerted us both to the second bill. Both have more or less passed under the radar in a session which has focused more on the budget, gubernatorial appointments, and environmental regulations.

In his message to constituents and other interested observers, Delegate Parrott stated:

Two shockingly-bad bills…are on their way to passing.

(snip)

HB 838/SB 416 is going to cause your health insurance rates to go up, when Maryland already has some of the highest health insurance premiums in the nation. This bill forces Maryland insurance companies to cover the cost of expensive In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments ($12,500 each time) for same-sex married couples.

Our high insurance costs in Maryland are primarily due to the great number of insurance mandate laws already in effect, and this new bill will simply make the problem worse. Governor Hogan and I both support leading Maryland towards more fiscally-responsible laws and policies, and the voters overwhelmingly agreed in the last election. However, the majority of Delegates and Senators still voted to create more complex and unnecessary insurance mandates in our flawed health system.

(snip)

Under current Maryland law, a husband and wife must donate their own sperm and egg to be eligible to receive insurance benefits for IVF treatments. If the couple requires a donation of an egg or sperm, IVF treatments would not be covered under current Maryland law. Under this new law, a same-sex couple would obviously need to get a sperm donor to have a child. This is a very unequal situation.

Same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt or have children, but many studies have been done that confirm that children born into a family with a mother and a father do the best in all measures – economic, social, educational, and emotional. Not only does this law create an unequal and less-stringent requirement for same-sex couples, but our insurance premiums will also be paying to have a child brought into the world to a situation where they will most likely be statistically worse off than other children. By passing this law, we are intentionally putting a child into a “family” where a father will knowingly be absent.

This sort of social engineering and fiscally-irresponsible law-making, solely for the pleasure of adults without any regard for the children that will grow up in these situations, is reprehensible. What homosexuals cannot do naturally, the General Assembly has now mandated must be provided by all insurance plans, creating a false sense of equality, with little to no regard for the children who will be negatively affected.

This leads to the concern of what could come next if this bill is passed. Will the General Assembly pass a mandate requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of hiring a surrogate to carry the child for male, same-sex marriages? (Emphasis in original.)

As Cathy wrote Sunday, our culture is under attack to redefine and destroy every institution that has sustained us as a nation since our founding. Marriage and our families are worth defending. The progressives only exist to tear down. We are the ones that believe in ideals that are true and good and have stood the test of time. When this country is a faint memory, the family will still exist. They may destroy our culture, but they cannot destroy truth. The family is the basic building block of society. Despite the malice and ridicule heaped upon the traditional family with a father, mother and children living and growing together in love, the family will still survive.

Delegate Parrott has made the case, as Cathy has before, that children do best when raised in a home with a married mother and father. Why should the state pay to circumvent this?

Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes both voted for this bill. When somebody says the Eastern Shore is conservative, just remember to check how Senator Mathias and Delegate Sample-Hughes vote.

The second bill that Delegate Parrott wrote about was HB862/SB743, which as Delegate Parrott notes:

…allows people to rewrite history. It would allow someone who gets a note from their doctor saying they are transitioning from male to female or from female to male to literally change the gender on their birth certificate. The new birth certificate would not even indicate that it has been “Amended,” as is the case when an individual decides to legally change their name. The change would not require that the individual has had a sex-change operation, but just relies on hormone therapy and how the person feels at the time. The change caused many of the legislators who work in law enforcement to question how they could even solve crimes given these false records. For example, suppose they are looking for the DNA of a male, but all they have is a female suspect.

Changing factual birth records without leaving a record of the change could have significant and harmful consequences for our society and is simply irresponsible policy.

Senator Mathias also voted for this bill as did Delegates Carl Anderton, Jr. and Sample-Hughes. Needless to say, we’re both disappointed with Delegate Anderton’s vote as he represents us in Annapolis. We would have expected this out of his predecessor, but Carl was supposed to be different.

At this point in time these bills are on their final step to passage, and it seems like the skids are being greased as the House versions of the Senate bills are passing without any amendments – this is important because no conference would be necessary.

Yet besides the many objections Delegate Parrott raised, both bills also raise a number of ethical questions about child rearing. Regardless of who has to pay for in vitro fertilization, there’s also the ongoing concern about the rights of the third party which needs to be involved with any same-sex attempt at creating progeny – either the surrogate mother for a gay couple or the sperm donor for the lesbian pair.

And much like the Hobby Lobby situation with abortifacient drugs, there’s a legitimate question of whether a religiously conscientious business should be forced to cover this procedure since it involves two partners of the same gender. It’s a situation which becomes quite complicated and I feel this is needlessly so.

As for the birth certificate bill, it would be more palatable if there was a notation of amendment. A law such as this may open the door to parents who are trying to raise a child as if it were the opposite gender (such as this recent case) to amend his or her birth certificate as a minor.

We believe that gender is not a mistake, nor was it an error that a person of each gender was required to create a new life. Even with in vitro fertilization, there’s no escaping the need for a male to do his part and a female to be the willing host for the embryo.

While there is an element of humanity in the selection of gender, I think I speak for Cathy when I say we believe that it was our Creator who made the ultimate decision as to whether we were male or female. Taking hormones, undergoing genital mutilation surgery, and identifying as someone of the opposite gender doesn’t change the fact one was born with the chromosomes and genitalia of a particular gender in all but a few extremely rare cases. It’s what the birth certificate should reflect.

However, it’s likely these bills will pass the General Assembly, so we call on Governor Hogan to use his veto pen on these ill-considered measures. And it’s all but certain these votes will be among those I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project later this spring.

Is the era of full employment over?

Simply put, March was not a good month for job creation around the country. Numbers were down markedly from previous months while, as the Americans for Limited Government advocacy group pointed out, the labor participation rate tied a 37-year low.

The news was even worse in the manufacturing sector, where it contracted by 1,000 jobs. While Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed the strong dollar, calling it “a big loser for factory jobs in the United States,” it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Paul would favor a more interventionist solution, adding:

There’s plenty that could be done to turn this around. The Treasury should crack down on currency manipulators, the Federal Reserve shouldn’t act prematurely, USTR should be assertive about enforcing our trade laws, and Congress must address currency and trade enforcement in the context of new trade legislation.

Based on Barack Obama’s promise to create a million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he needs to add 628,000 in the next 21 months – a Herculean task for any president, and almost impossible for this one. Let’s consider a few facts:

First of all, the continued low price of both oil and natural gas has tempered the energy boom to some extent. According to Energy Information Administration data, the number of oil and natural gas rigs in operation last week was 1,048. In terms of oil operations, the number is down 45% from last year and for gas it’s down almost 27%. While gasoline in the low $2 range is good for the overall economy, oil prices need to be between $60 and $80 a barrel for operators to break even, and the benchmark price has held lately in the high $40s.

As I noted, low energy prices are good for some aspects of job creation, but the energy boom is on a bit of a hiatus and that affects manufacturing with regard to that infrastructure. Throw in the unfair competition we’re receiving when it comes to OCTG pipe and it doesn’t appear this will be the cure to what ails us as far as job creation goes.

More important, though, is the financial aspect. Our corporate tax structure is among the most punitive in the developed world, which leads to capital flowing offshore despite the “economic patriotism” appeals of our government to demand it come back. Once you have the opportunity to take advantage of other countries’ willingness to charge 20% or even 15% tax, why should you willingly pay a 35% rate? Their slice of the pie may be less, but they get a lot more pies this way.

And then we have the aspect of regulations, particularly when it comes to the financial restrictions that Dodd-Frank places on the lending industry and the environmental mandates an overzealous EPA is putting on industry – look at coal as an example. If we went back to the conditions of 2006 the environment would likely not suffer serious harm and companies would have a much easier time with their accounting. I haven’t even touched on Obamacare, either.

Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but the majority of these problems can be laid at his feet. Alas, we have 21 months left in his term so many of these things will not change despite the presence of a Republican Congress which will be blamed for any setbacks.

So the question becomes one of just how many employers in general, not just in manufacturing, will be able to weather this storm. Even the recent news that both Walmart and McDonalds will be increasing their wages brought out the cynics and doubters. But it’s worth pointing out that both Walmart and McDonalds have stated they wouldn’t oppose a minimum wage hike. Such a move makes sense for them because their bottom lines can more easily manage a modest wage hike for their employees and they know their local competitors can’t. Both also have the flexibility to adopt more automation where they used to have a row of low-wage employees. As an example, most of the local Walmarts adopted a number of self-serve checkout lanes over the last year or so. If you hire a dozen fewer cashiers it’s easier to give the others another dollar an hour.

Change is a constant in the labor market, and we know this. But there are some circumstances under which businesses thrive and others where they struggle, and history has gone long enough to suggest the broad outlines we should follow. It’s unfortunate that some want to blaze a new trail when we know where the correct path is.

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