Newt Gingrich was right after all

I wrote a little bit about the 2012 contenders yesterday in a piece about 2016, but I’ve been seeing the evidence that Newt Gingrich’s thought and 2012 campaign plank that we could once again see gasoline at $2.50 a gallon (or less, as the recent photo above from my Missouri-based writer friend Melinda Musil demonstrates) has come true despite naysayers from just a short year or so ago. Yet despite experts who called the idea “absurd” and noted “the price of oil is set on a global market” and decreed “in the immediate term there is almost nothing you can do,” well, here we are. Musil reported yesterday her prices are now under $2 a gallon.

The reason prices are so much lower is pretty much what Gingrich proposed to do in the 2012 campaign: increased production. With fracking and other enhancements in technology allowing domestic output to increase, the benefits have been enormous. Considering that average prices going into the July 4 holiday hovered over $3.60 a gallon, the relief expressed by drivers may begin spilling over into the economy at-large. Now the average is about $2.54 a gallon, with this area’s prices relatively close to that point.

Over time, the benefits will be accruing to consumers – if an Eastern Shore driver goes 20,000 miles a year in a truck that gets 20 miles per gallon, spending $1 less a gallon for a year is equivalent to a $1,000 annual raise that’s tax free. On the other hand, this decline in prices is thwarting the state of Maryland’s scheme to take more out of our pockets by increasing the sales tax on gas, because as I noted a few days back their 8 cents per gallon projected revenue is sinking closer to a nickel. Luckily, the state government over the next four years will desperately try not to confiscate any more revenue from working folks like us thanks to the recent election, and this tailwind could help Governor-elect Hogan address the state’s structural deficit through a modest increase in economic activity.

It’s doubtful that our prices will stay quite this low, for oil at $60 a barrel means our extraction with its price point that’s a little bit higher isn’t sustainable in the long term. But there is the chance that more practice with these unconventional techniques could drive down production costs to a point where our producers could prosper at that price or even below – if we could match the Saudis’ lower extraction cost we could wipe out the OPEC cartel once and for all.

So enjoy these low prices while they last. Hopefully, this modest economic bump will kickstart other sectors and bring us prosperity despite the best efforts of some in Washington – you know, the ones who try to take credit for this energy boom despite having little to do with it.

Who’s out may be as important as who’s in

Recently I’ve posted about three likely entrants into the 2016 Presidential race – Jeb Bush and Dr. Ben Carson on the Republican side and Jim Webb representing the Democrats. Naturally with an open seat the interest in the job increases, since there’s no incumbent with his built-in advantages to contend with. This opens the field to a lot of potential contenders who passed on the 2012 race for various reasons. Recall that many of those who ran in 2012 on the GOP side are still active in the political arena – Newt Gingrich with his production group, Rick Santorum with Patriot Voices, Mitt Romney with endorsements and help with financial support, and Rick Perry with his RickPAC, among others.

Obviously Democrats were silent in 2012, but it’s been known that grassroots movements have sprung up for Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (who’s trying to tell her supporters “no”) while Martin O’Malley began his own PAC for 2014. Joe Biden claims he “honest to God hasn’t made up my mind” about running.

On the GOP side, these aforementioned contenders have one thing in common: except for Perry, who did not seek another term and leaves next month, they are not currently serving in office. (On the other hand, among the Democrats only Webb and Clinton are out of office, although O’Malley joins that group January 21.) Yet the GOP has an extremely deep bench of current governors, many of which are in their second term and have national name recognition: in alphabetical order, the group includes Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich in Ohio, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

In recent years, our presidents have tended to be former governors: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter all came from that background. Obviously their tenures in the Oval Office were a mixed bag of success, but Americans tend to be more confident that those who ran a state can run a federal government. (The only recent exceptions to this were 2012 with Mitt Romney and 1988, where Vice-President Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Maybe being governor of Massachusetts works as a disqualifier.)

With the large potential field of governors, it may be just as important to know who’s out. When you have a state to run for another four years, the excuses for trips to Iowa and New Hampshire are fewer. It’s not to say that governors who want the brass ring won’t try and make that effort, but as we’ve seen with Martin O’Malley and his frequent journeys to New Hampshire and Iowa in his second term, there is the potential for losing focus on your real job. It was enough to cost his anointed successor his election, for the dubious gain of polling at 1 percent or less in most 2016 Presidential polls.

There are perhaps 15 to 20 figures in national politics who could potentially run for President on the Republican side – far more than the Democrats boast. Of course, only one can win a party’s nomination, but beyond that there are only three or four who can be in the top tier and raise the money necessary to wage a national campaign. (It’s something that Martin O’Malley is finding out firsthand on the Democrat side, since he’s not one of those.) It’s been claimed on a grassroots level that the last two Republican campaigns were decided when the “establishment” settled on one candidate before the activists did – that group split their allegiances and votes several ways until it was too late. By the time Rick Santorum outlasted Gingrich, Perry, et. al. he was no more than the highest loser because at that point the nomination was just about sealed for Mitt Romney. Romney may have been the best candidate for 2012, but he wasn’t good enough to get the nearly 3.6 million who passed on voting for Barack Obama a second time to come on board.

People like to keep their options open, but since the announcements of who’s in seem to be receding farther and farther from the actual election, it may help those of us on the Right who would like to select a candidate to know who won’t be running. Obviously there will be a few ardent supporters who will pine for that candidate to reconsider – as far-left populist Democrats are finding with Elizabeth Warren – but we could save a lot of wasted money and effort by finding out who won’t make a half-hearted attempt at an early date.

The War on Rural Maryland: a counterattack from the hinterland

In the ongoing quest by Martin O’Malley and his administration to burnish his environmental credentials for a possible presidential run, the farmers of the Eastern Shore have been placed squarely in his crosshairs. I suppose this is MOM’s way to catch the fourteen counties not yet affected by his “rain tax,” although some local municipalities are joining in on that fun without waiting on the mandate.

At the beginning of the month, the administration began once again to try and enact the Phosphorus Management Tool, or PMT. The timing was important because the mandated public comment period comes to a close December 31, three weeks before MOM rides off into the proverbial sunset. Appeals for a public hearing have thus far fallen on deaf ears, so the comment period is really the only opportunity to make our voice heard. (Comments should be addressed to Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Hance. His e-mail address is earl.hance@maryland.gov.)

Needless to say, the environmentalists are thrilled about this prospect, including a “Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition” which doesn’t have a single farming-related entity within it. They note the 48,000 pounds (24 tons) of phosphorus the PMT is supposed to alleviate. Remember that number because it comes up later.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC) chimed in with its appeal, which states in part:

In furtherance of this objective and in the interests of its individual county members, the Coalition opposes the re-proposed regulations and requests MDA to withdraw the regulations for the reasons explained below. In sum, the implementation costs to farmers, the costs to taxpayers, the adverse impacts on local and regional economies, and the overall added strain from more piled on Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”) driven regulations far outweigh the purported reduction in overall phosphorus loading to Maryland waters and other speculative environmental benefits that may result from the PMT regulations.

In reading their ten-page letter to Secretary of Agriculture Earl Hance, the points made by the CCC appear to be as follows:

  • The economic effect on businesses is “grossly understate(d).” While the BEACON study was done in order to satisfy the demand for a study of these effects, its author admits it “was not meant to serve as a comprehensive economic impact study.”
  • Remember that 24 tons of phosphorus these regulations address, at a cost of $61 million over six years in increased expenses from farmers and state subsidies? The flow running through the Conowingo Dam spews out 3,300 tons of phosphorus a year – it’s like sticking your finger in the hole in the dike and ignoring the water pouring over the top. Meanwhile, the pond behind the dam has another 130,000 tons just waiting to be scoured out in a significant storm event.
  • Phosphorus concentration in tributaries of the Susquehanna River north of the dam is over 3.5 times greater than comparable tributaries on the Eastern Shore.

On that last point, it’s helpful to use the illustration the CCC provides:

Phosphorus is loaded into the Bay at an average annual rate of 3,300 tons (6,600,000 lbs.) from the Susquehanna River; not including what is scoured from the full reservoirs in the lower Susquehanna during storm events and on a more regular basis. Maryland’s annual average phosphorus loading to the Bay from agriculture of 985 tons (1,970,000 lbs.) is minimal when compared to the Susquehanna River.

Earlier this month, Exelon withdrew its request for renewal of its hydroelectric license at Conowingo Dam because more study of its effects on water quality downstream were desired. The utility has agreed to spend up to $3.5 million on studies of water quality downstream. It appears they’ve also become aware of the detrimental effects on the Chesapeake Bay, yet the environmentalists don’t seem to be interested nearly as much in Exelon and in the Conowingo Dam as they are the poultry industry.

A Washington Post story over the weekend noted the controversy, including remarks from Wicomico County farmer Lee Richardson, who seems to be something of a go-to guy when it comes to poultry growers. Many of the reader comments on the Post piece, though, illustrate the divide between the urban and suburban hipster whose idea of poultry is the organic chicken they buy at Whole Foods and the beleaguered grower who already has to comply with numerous state and federal guidelines without having to worry about arrangements to truck chicken droppings out of the area. The Post readers blame the industry itself, saying that its not carrying its weight in addressing the concerns about water quality – bear in mind these are the people who were just fine with enacting a nickel-per-bird “chicken tax” called the Poultry Fair Share Act which was supposed to raise $15 million a year.

In that fiscal note from the Senate bill, it’s noted that the Eastern Shore has “over 700″ poultry farmers. For ease of calculations, I’ll set the number at 750. If the cost to farmers is $22.5 million over 6 years – as estimated in the BEACON study – it works out to $30,000 per farmer over the six-year period or $5,000 a year. That’s a significant compliance cost – assuming, of course, it’s really true because government estimates are generally optimistic on revenues and short on expenditures.

So here’s hoping that our efforts can bear fruit and stop this particular piece of madness once and for all. There’s still time to comment.

Bush redux

Just a day or so after the push continued to retool Mitt Romney for 2016, the counter-movement came from another Presidential family: on his Facebook page, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, the former governor of Florida, announced he would seek the office his father occupied for four years and his brother held for eight. While this wasn’t a complete surprise out of left field, the pundits speculated how it would affect the Presidential horserace for 2016 and seemed to believe that this move by Jeb was going to hurt the prospects of both Romney and Chris Christie.

Even the Democrats decided the prospect of another Bush was a good excuse to push for donations; then again, almost anything can be a reason for them to go begging.

I seem to recall we had 5% unemployment with a booming economy at the time the last Bush was in office, and it was 5% unemployment they didn’t have to drop millions from the workforce to achieve. So there is that.

Anyway, it looks like Jeb will be making his first run for the Oval Office. To be honest, if his last name were anything other than Bush I think more people would be very interested in his record and accomplishments. I recall at the time George W. Bush ran many already said the wrong Bush was running for the office.

But there is the question of whether eight years away from political office will make him more of a relic. Jeb has been out of office just as long as Bob Ehrlich, but while few believe our former governor has any shot at being President, there are those in the political world who believe Jeb is a shoo-in to be the Republican nominee. If so, that sets up the second Bush vs. Clinton election nearly a quarter-century after the first and the fifth out of the last seven to feature either a Clinton or Bush (or both) as a nominee. (Since Hillary ran in 2008, seven of the last eight Presidential campaigns have featured a Bush or Clinton. One can even argue it’s 9 of 10 if you count George H.W. Bush running as Reagan’s Vice-President in 1984 along with an abortive 1980 Bush campaign.)

Bush’s entrance into the race, though, may mean the “Ready for Romney” movement will be short-lived – and that’s not so bad.

Inevitability, though, has its pitfalls – just ask 2008 nominees Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Oh wait, neither won the nomination, did they? But through most of 2007 that was how the election was predicted to shake out – no chance the rest of the field would beat them; that is, until we counted the votes.

So if you are reading this from Iowa or New Hampshire, please say hello to Jeb for me when you see him, because chances are he will be in those places quite a bit. One advantage of being a retired public official is the schedule is pretty much free and I suspect Jeb will be a familiar face in those places.

Ready for…another shot?

Since the 2012 election came to an unsatisfying close, there’s been a portion of the Republican Party who wondered how Mitt Romney would have done with an open seat as opposed to facing an incumbent with those built-in advantages. That group must be the people behind the Ready for Romney movement.

Not much more than a website with a brief “about” page and donate button, the simple fact that some Republicans want Romney to stop being coy about it and make the commitment for a third consecutive run may be enough to make Mitt a front-runner. Historically, a major-party nominee who has lost before doesn’t fare too well – since 1900 William Jennings Bryan (Democrat. 1896 and 1900), Thomas Dewey (Republican, 1944 and 1948), and Adlai Stevenson (Democrat, 1952 and 1956) have lost two straight elections. Republican Richard Nixon bucked the trend but there was an interceding election as he lost in 1960 before winning eight years later. I don’t think anyone is clamoring for nearly 80-year-old John McCain, though.

Yet the question is whether Romney can turn things around for a Republican Party which has cleaned up at state and Congressional-level midterm elections in the last two cycles only to lose their way in the Presidential year. It seems like Republican leadership has already deemed Romney as one of the three most “electable” candidates (the other two being Jeb Bush and Chris Christie) while discounting the chances of one of the other sitting GOP governors, firebrand Senators who have developed a following like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Marco Rubio, or the outsider Dr. Ben Carson. Since the polls now are pretty much name recognition anyway, the true desire for another dose of Romney may be overstated.

The last time I compared Presidential candidates Mitt Romney was near the back of the pack, even worse than he was in 2007 during his first try. There were a number of candidates who I thought were better, but they all seemed to fall by the wayside for a number of reasons. The same is probably going to be true this time because there is an establishment Republican cadre of donors who will back Romney while smaller donors will spread their money among the half-dozen or so conservative favorites.

For these reasons and more, I sort of hope Mitt returns to being a private citizen to stay. The candidate we need for 2016 will have to be a broad reformer who will hit the ground running because he (or she) won’t have much time to waste. 2017 will, by electoral necessity, have to be a very busy year and it’s guaranteed the Democrats and the press (but I repeat myself) won’t be giving much of a honeymoon.

Pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

Another chance to help out

Most people who read this site realize fairly quickly that its bread and butter is political news and commentary; oftentimes it references and considers a proper course of action on legislation which is introduced, debated, and voted on. Having studied our state legislative website for hours on end over several years and watched it evolve from a relic from the 1990s to a more functional site thanks to a fairly recent makeover, I have a pretty good idea of how to navigate through it to get the things I want out of it, but there are still some elements that it lacks.

I also have become aware that Maryland can be a trendsetter in legislation, but there are times where other states which have sessions that are longer or year-round consider legislation that’s sure to be eventually contemplated in Maryland – speed cameras are an example, as other states had them first before we passed the enabling legislation. And being as close to Delaware as we are, there is the potential for a spillover effect from bills they debate and pass as well.

Those who are truly in the loop about such things rely on a small number of websites that specialize in tracking legislation as it moves through the various states and Congress. StateNet, CQ Roll Call, Bllomberg Government, and Westlaw are examples of entities which perform this service for a fee, one which often runs into the five figures annually. While they are very useful sites, that sort of cost isn’t always attainable for a non-profit or advocacy group like a Maryland Pro-Life Alliance, Maryland Citizen Action Network, or Delmarva Poultry Industry. Their needs may be limited to just one state or a small group of states like those comprising Delmarva, along with relevant federal legislation.

You may ask where this is going, so let me let you in on some good news. Now it’s possible to get the legislative information you need in almost real time at an affordable price while helping maintain the political news and commentary you’ve enjoyed for over nine years. Allow me to introduce you to TrackBill.

TrackBill is a system which allows its users find the legislation they are interested in and track its progress through the state or federal legislative body of your choice. As they describe it, “TrackBill is a simple, yet robust, platform empowering government affairs professionals to search, track, and report on legislation in the US Congress and 50 state legislatures. Professional service firms, Fortune 1000 companies, and nonprofit organizations rely on TrackBill to spend less time tracking legislation and more time impacting the outcome.”

So let’s say you are a Maryland Citizen Action Network and you’re interested in legislation relating to education or Common Core. Each day you can receive an update on the progress of any Maryland or federal legislation dealing with these subjects and use that to spread the word about key votes and hearings. Delmarva Poultry Industry can do the same for all three states (Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia) plus other key poultry-producing states to keep an eye on their pet issues. There are three pricing levels:

  • A single state
  • Up to ten different states
  • Nationwide (all states)

Each of those also includes Congress, so even a statewide group has the advantage of knowing about federal legislation as well. This can be useful for keeping tabs on a state’s delegation to Congress.

I will cheerfully grant that this service isn’t for everybody. But TrackBill sought me out to ask if I would consider being their Maryland partner, and I decided to accept this new advertiser on a commission basis. Simply put, for each package they sell through my site (which has its own landing page) I get a percentage, and insofar as I know I’ll be the sole Maryland outlet for awhile.

This is one way to support a startup company which is trying to help out the little guys (packages range from just $999 to $1,999 a year, which is far less than five figures) as well as the one conservative Maryland political blog you’ve come to respect. I don’t do radio nor do I plaster my logo all over stuff at an online store – my energy is focused on providing the best content I can each day.

So I call on those of you who read here and are activists for various interest groups to see and hear what the fine folks at TrackBill have to show you and say. They say knowledge is power, so the more you know the better chance you have of making positive change. Since I get a trial version to play with, I almost can’t wait for the “90 days of terror” we call the Maryland General Assembly to start so I can see what all this website can do. Judging from the little bit I’ve done so far, I think it will be a great resource for all of us!

An update on Turning the Tides 2015

Maybe it should be subtitled: we won, so what’s next?

Regardless, the Maryland Citizen Action Network announced more speakers for their annual event coming up January 10 in Annapolis. The list now includes:

Dr. Alveda King
Niger Innis
Kira Davis
Sonnie Johnson
Scott Blevins
Leonard Robinson III
David Spielman
Dan Bongino
Cindy Strickline-Rose
Christina Delmont-Small
Wayne Dupree
Tony Ristaino

Obviously not all of these speakers are household names, even to me. Instead, they are local experts on topics such as Common Core, border security, political campaigning, and several others. One thing I’ve noticed is that many of them are minorities, which reflects a push toward outreach to that community which is long overdue.

Something they could use, even at this late date, are sponsors. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t be a Bloggers’ Table sponsor but perhaps someone out there who believes in the new media can step up and handle that responsibility. I know I enjoyed the experience a couple years ago when I was there.

TTT2015 will come at an interesting time – just days after the new General Assembly is sworn in, but a week and a half away from the inauguration of Maryland’s first Republican governor in eight years (and just third in the last half-century.) It will give activists an opportunity to brainstorm and hear some ideas on how to make Maryland a better, more competitive state as time goes on. A lot of damage has been done in the last eight years and undoing it will take effort and cooperation between conservative groups trying to combat entrenched special interests who look at the Larry Hogan administration as a temporary four-year aberration before business returns to usual. Simply put, we have to plan this term in such a way as to inflict maximum damage to those interests.

Right after the election, I saw a meme that joked about the old white male face of the Republican Party – I think it was photos of Mia Love, Tim Scott, and Elise Stefanik. (In order, they are a newly-elected black female Congressman from Utah, South Carolina’s junior Senator who was elected to a full term, and the youngest member of the incoming Congress.) Yes, there are still a lot of old white guys in the GOP (including me) but times are changing. I fall neatly along the line between Baby Boomer and Generation X; I tend to identify more with the latter. But the Millennial Generation isn’t exactly waiting its turn, and that’s fine with me.

You can see some examples of this in January in Annapolis.

And now for something completely different: I have exciting news about a new advertiser tomorrow.

To the left, the world is not enough

I’ve probably given as many pixels to failed candidate Rick Weiland as anyone outside his native South Dakota, but it’s because I think he’s very useful as a gauge of reactionary liberalism in a part of the nation which has maintained a streak of populism surprising for such a rural area. While the South has gone almost completely Republican, those in the rural Midwest will occasionally elect Democrats they deem to be centrists or populists on a statewide level. South Dakota has rejected Weiland several times, but it doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying and to me that exhibits precisely how the far left operates and why it’s important to hear about their desires. (He could also use the money since he can’t manage his campaign funds, but I digress.)

So yesterday, in the wake of the debate about CRomnibus, I received a missive called “We can’t breathe!” from which I quote in part:

The revenge of the money changers is in full swing in Congress today.

Let the big banks have their swaps back. Let Las Vegas advertise itself with your tax dollars. Increase by 1000% the amount billionaires can contribute to buy off our political parties.

Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold – now they’ve got all of us – and it’s way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!

Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. They think they can’t be stopped.

But WE can stop them!

24 states allow initiatives and referendums – 24 states where you can show them exactly what you think of their choke-hold on the rest of us.

So let’s put what they are doing to us on the ballot in those 24 states and find out who is right.

(snip)

Help us close down the debt on my just completed Senate campaign, and fire up our initiative and referendum team. Because we are going to turn our little state into a laboratory for direct democracy.

A laboratory and an export market.

Let’s put Citizens United, Ferguson, and Big Bank plutocracy on trial at the ballot box.

Because when you go down fighting instead of whimpering, a funny thing often happens: people notice, then they think a little, and pretty soon they’re fighting too.

If you have to vote on it you have to think about it.  So let’s put our ideas directly on the ballot and pick a fight. (All emphasis in original.)

This is the mirror-reverse of the strategy Maryland Republicans tried in 2012 to petition already-enacted legislation to referendum, which failed. Looking back, I wonder if the Maryland Republican Party isn’t kicking itself for not placing the “bathroom bill” or 2013 gun bill on the ballot this year – we may have even had a more shocking victory by repealing both laws. (The counter-argument, of course, is the “sleeping dog” school of thought which liked the Democrats’ low turnout – perhaps the inclusion of those ballot measures would have hurt Larry Hogan’s chances by bringing out more liberal Democrats.)

It’s also true that, even in the face of a Republican wave election, four states that had a minimum wage increase on the ballot, including the aforementioned South Dakota, passed these measures while electing Republican Senators – in Alaska and Arkansas the Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate were defeated on that same ballot. (Nebraska was the fourth state.) Again, this shows the streak of populism which occurs in the Midwest.

Obviously Weiland sees a trend, exhibited in his home state, where direct democracy can succeed in accomplishing those things a representative republic would not. As the minimum wage example shows, people can be fooled into voting against their best interests – that’s why we were founded as a Constitutional republic.

Weiland’s mindset is shared by a lot of people, though. Witness the populist appeal to Southern voters espoused by the writer of the linked New Republic piece, Michael A. Cooper, Jr., who pleads with his party:

Speaking as a southerner, we need help, not from the DCCC but from government to deal with issues like homelessness and drug addiction.

These aren’t esoteric concerns Beltway liberals tut-tut about like global warming or political correctness, but true pocketbook issues which unfortunately tend to affect the poorest among us. Conservatives would prefer these issues be dealt with on more of a faith-based level through private charity but it can also be addressed by local and state governments. (By the way, thanks to Jackie Wellfonder for bringing the New Republic piece to my attention just in time for me to add it in because it fit the point so well.)

Just as the right has its TEA Party movement which has cooled to the mainstream Republican party – and for good reason – many activists on the left are embracing their new savior as Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose populist screed against Wall Street has won the backing of elements of the Democrat Party who think Barack Obama sold them out and Hillary Clinton is too close to the right wing. They are also fed up with the government, but stare at the problem from the other side of the fence because they want the power of government to regulate corporatism out of existence, or rein it in as fascism dictates.

Meanwhile, while these Warren acolytes whine about what Barack Obama is not providing them, they fail to see that many of their goals are being realized anyway. Truly it’s the Right that’s not being served.

As the new year arrives and Republicans take over Congress (along with the governor’s chair in Annapolis) we will begin to see all the stories and tales of woe unreported on over the last six years. There’s a lot of work to do, and Republican leaders in Congress didn’t get off on the right foot by passing CRomnibus. We must demand, now that we’ve granted them the opportunity to complete the FY2016 budget in regular order as they’ve wished to do for several years, that our priorities be the ones funded and the mistakes of the last six years deleted.

Perhaps we can also do our part in using the referendum system in advancing conservative causes as well. Two can play that game, and it’s just as important to motivate our voters as it is for the other side to buy theirs.

The District goes to pot

It’s definitely a peripheral story to the overall House adoption of CRomnibus, but one provision which was passed in the bill prohibited the District of Columbia from enacting a recently-passed district referendum allowing the decriminalization of marijuana. Because the District isn’t one of the 50 states, Andy Harris remarked that the supporters of the law could leave. As quoted in Politico:

“That’s the way the Constitution was written,” Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland said in an interview Wednesday. “If they don’t like that oversight, move outside of the federal district to one of the 50 states that is not covered by the jurisdiction of Congress as a whole.”

Needless to say, Harris’s Facebook page is littered with protests – not about his vote on the overall CRomnibus, which he voted in favor of – but about the vote against pot, presumably from District residents who didn’t care for his vote and claim he’s in the pocket of Big Pharma. Ironically, most of these comments are on a post alerting constituents to the opportunity for public comment on fee increases at Assateague National Seashore.

Yet this re-ignited a thought I’ve had before – one which wouldn’t necessarily make Republicans happy, but one which I think would more truly reflect the intent of our Constitution. In Article 1, Section 8 it established one of the duties of Congress as:

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cessation of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States…

The key is the portion in parentheses, While the District was originally laid out as the maximum ten miles square, carved out of Maryland and Virginia, the Virginia portion was retroceded to the commonwealth in 1847. But since many government functions exist outside the District, the question becomes one of whether the District in its current form has outlived its usefulness. For decades denizens of the District have griped about “taxation without representation.”

Because the Constitution only dictates a maximum size and not a minimum size, perhaps the solution lies in retroceding all but the immediate seats and symbols of government – the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall, and various memorials – back to the state of Maryland, with the city of Washington having the same status with its Maryland affairs as does Baltimore City. Instead of a half-million or so, living in the District would only apply to a handful of citizens. This could be made effective in 2020 so there would be time for transition and Congressional and local representation could be redetermined for the somewhat larger state of Maryland. The effect would be similar to the Vatican City as part of the overall city of Rome.

Naturally Republicans in Maryland and nationally would be dismayed because the advantage in voter registration and representation already enjoyed by Maryland Democrats would be enhanced. But if we want to make the pot-smokers happy that they aren’t under the control of Congress – which really shouldn’t be concerned about the affairs of a city of a half-million in a population of over 300 million – perhaps this is the better solution.

It’s a better solution than making the District the 51st state, as some have wanted, or simply giving in and elevating their status by allowing them a House member and two Senators. The intent was creating the seat of government, not a state which would be placed above others by virtue of being the national capital. While we’ve ignored the Constitution numerous times over the nation’s history, here’s a chance to restore the intent of the Founders.

Update: I should mention that Harris gave his side of the marijuana story in the Washington Post today.

The start of something good?

Last week, Mark Green at the Energy Tomorrow blog posted a critique of the proposed fracking regulations Maryland may adopt in the waning days of the O’Malley administration. In his piece, Green stressed that Maryland needed to adopt “sensible” restrictions but feared Maryland would go too far. It was echoed in the Washington Post story by John Wagner that Green cites.

But the money quote to me comes out of the Post:

“In the short term, as a practical matter, the industry will probably choose to frack in other states than Maryland where the standards are lower,” O’Malley said. But in the longer term, he said, “it could well be that responsible operations may well choose to come here.”

Or maybe not, which seems to have been the goal of O’Malley and Radical Green all along. It’s funny that they don’t seem to have the objections to wind turbines dotting the landscape despite their own health issues. Certainly no one studied them to death.

Being a representative of the energy industry, Green naturally argues that “sensible” regulations are similar to those already in place in states which already permit the practice. As he notes:

Hydraulic fracturing guidelines developed by industry – many of them incorporated into other states’ regulatory regimes – offer a sound approach proved by actual operations.

I can already hear the howling from Radical Green about the fox guarding the hen house, and so forth. But is it truly in the interest of industry to foul its own nest?

On the other hand, the success of fracking and other domestic exploration may create an interesting situation. Even back in October, when oil had declined to $90 a barrel from a June peak of nearly $115 a barrel, analysts were speculating on the effects the drop would have on the budgets of OPEC member nations. Now that oil in closing in on $60 a barrel, the economic effects on certain nations will be even more profound, and contrarian economic observers are already warning that the oil boom is rapidly turning into a bust with a ripple effect on our economy.

Even the revenue scheme by which Maryland would collect a sales tax on gasoline depended on gas prices staying somewhere over $3 a gallon. Assuming the price of gasoline stays at about $2.70 per gallon through the first of the year, the predicted 8-cent per-gallon rate will only be 5.4 cents. (The sales tax on gasoline is slated to increase to 2% on January 1.)

In any case, there is a price point at which non-traditional oil extraction such as fracking or extraction from tar sands – the impetus for the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline – becomes economically non-viable. I had always heard that number was $75 per barrel, which was a number we had consistently hovered above for the last half-decade. Now that we are under that number, the question of exploration in Maryland may be moot for the short-term, although the price of natural gas is only slightly below where it was this time last year so that play is still feasible.

Whether the decline in oil prices is real or a manipulation of the market by a Saudi-led OPEC which is playing chicken with prices to try and restore its bargaining position by outlasting domestic producers, it may be yet another missed opportunity for Maryland as it could have cashed in during a difficult recession and recovery if not for an administration which believed the scare tactics and not what they saw with their own eyes as neighboring Pennsylvania thrived.

A full-court press for support

Last Saturday I received this pamphlet in the mail, something I could only describe as a full-court press to make Dr. Ben Carson into a viable Presidential candidate for 2016.

To those who didn’t receive it, here is a description: it’s a 32-page, full-color pamphlet – essentially 8 full-sized sheets of paper, front and back, with a cardstock cover, festooned with patriotic images and some descriptive text. In essence, it’s a very long fundraising letter but its stated purpose is for the reader to sign it as if it were a petition in an enclosed envelope and send it back, preferably with a personal note of support.

But wait, there’s more! I also received ANOTHER six-page fundraising pitch along with yet a third single-page cover letter, again asking for money. Not knowing just how many were sent out – I received two because another copy was inadvertently left with mine in the mailbox (it’s been sent on to the intended recipient down the road) you have to figure this operation is costing the “Run Ben Run” front group at least low six figures and perhaps even seven if the list is over 200,000 people.

So what is the pitch? The booklet claims Carson is the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton. Why?

It all comes down to 17% of the Black Vote!

Hillary knows that any Republican candidate who wins just 17% of the black vote makes it impossible for her or any Democrat running for President to win even one swing state.

Why am I so sure that Dr. Carson will win at least 17% of the black vote? Here’s why…

2012 Presidential Candidate Herman Cain’s Internal Polls Revealed A Shocking Revelation!

When Herman Cain ran for President in 2012, he was stunned to learn that his internal polls showed him winning more than 40% of the black vote and more than 60% of the Latino vote.

As you can imagine, the Cain campaign team was perplexed. How could Herman Cain draw huge support from both the African American and the Hispanic community running against America’s first black president, Barack Obama? It didn’t seem to make any sense.

What they concluded was that poor African Americans and poor Latinos saw in Herman Cain a man who had experienced their lot in life – being born into poverty. They believed that he understood their plight and more important, he understood how to escape poverty and experience economic success.

In short, they identified with Herman Cain.

Now, if African Americans and Hispanics identified that much with Herman Cain…

Imagine How African Americans and Hispanics Will Identify With And Support Dr. Ben Carson! (All emphasis in original.)

Oh yeah, it’s laid on just that thick and written that breathlessly throughout the pamphlet, which also includes the claim that Ben is “A Genuine Ronald Reagan Conservative.” (No conservative worth his salt can make a statement without comparing himself to Reagan.) That’s not to say the results wouldn’t be similar, but I suspect there’s a giant disconnect between the situation in 2011 when Herman Cain was planning a run and 2015 when Carson is contemplating his. Remember, Cain had at least run for office once before in a statewide race – campaign experience Carson is lacking. Something this book doesn’t cover is how Carson will fend off every liberal member of the media digging up (or making up) whatever dirt on Carson they think will stick. Any crank with a malpractice suit against Dr. Carson’s practice will walk away with their 15 minutes of fame for sharing their (probably embellished) story.

Something this book does have, though, is very sketchy bullet points on some issues.

For example, Carson “advocates cutting government spending by 10% each year, across the board, until the budget is balanced.” So defense that’s already being cut to the bone would fare worse still under Carson. It’s the problem with across-the-board cuts – things which are bloated are cut too slowly, while vital programs are starved of funds.

He would repeal and replace Obamacare while giving everyone in America an electronic medical record and pretax health savings account. That makes more sense, but still leaves me mildly skeptical.

Carson advocates a flat tax in order to “make sure that everyone has skin in the game.” I’d prefer the FairTax but a flat tax would be acceptable provided we also eliminated backup withholding. Our church doesn’t take money out of our paychecks off the top, so why should the government?

As for social issues, Carson believes marriage is only between a man and a woman and is pro-life. The book also quotes Carson on welfare:

A truly moral nation enacts policies that encourage personal responsibility and discourage self-destructive behavior by not subsidizing people who live irresponsibly and make poor choices.

He also points out:

While values, knowledge, and compassion are the key for getting America back on track, the most important thing is prayer.

Carson seems to get most of his support from social conservatives who haven’t been terribly thrilled with the last two Republican nominees. It’s a branch of the Republican party that the powers that be seem to take for granted, although they helped to maintain the campaign for Rick Santorum for quite awhile in 2012. Many of those southern and midwestern states (including Iowa and South Carolina) will probably be the most fertile ground for Carson if he decides to run – on the other hand, this may not play as well in New Hampshire and Nevada, although the latter would be a test case for the Hispanic vote.

The pamphlet comes on the heels of a 40-minute long infomercial which aired last month in a number of markets just after the election (and is being re-broadcast this week on the Newsmax TV network, available from satellite providers.) Carson isn’t officially in the race but isn’t preventing the speculation, either.

As for the petition: sure, I sent it in. There’s nothing wrong with Carson that the run won’t reveal, although if I were leaning toward anyone right now I would say it would be one of the governors considering a bid. But it’s good to see someone who explicitly exhibits Christian values take a shot at the brass ring.

PCUCPA will be back, under a new name

Naturally the news came with an appeal for financial help, but the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance shared some good news on the pro-life front for next year. They announced that newly-elected Senator Michael Hough will sponsor the Women’s Late-Term Pregnancy Health Act (WLTPHA) in the upcoming session.

The bill is described by MPLA as having several purposes:

  • Documents the undisputed medical risks to a pregnant woman’s health when an abortion is performed at 20 weeks gestation.
  • Substantial medical evidence verifies that an unborn child by at least 20 weeks gestation has the capacity to feel pain.
  • Based upon medical evidence of the risks to women’s health and the pain felt by unborn children, this bill will prohibit abortions at or or after 20 weeks gestation.

Without knowing the text of the bill, it sounds markedly similar to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HB283/SB34 in 2014) which went nowhere in the last two sessions. I doubt this bill would pass in Maryland, but there are purposes for introducing it in the upcoming session.

First and foremost, this bill surveys the lay of the land in the Senate. How many co-sponsors does it get? To use last year’s examples, the House version had 43 co-sponsors but the Senate bill had none other than its original backer, Senator Ed Reilly. Certainly there are more pro-life members there than just Senator Reilly but apparently no one wanted to step forward in an election year. That pressure is eased this time around.

And while the sponsors in the House for last year’s version included four Democrats, only one (Delegate Ted Sophocleus) returned for another term. Conversely, a handful of Republicans were not co-sponsors but of those only Delegates Wendell Beitzel and Mark Fisher came back. A companion cross-filed House bill could be important because there are now enough Republicans to force a floor vote if desired through the process of bypassing the committee it would be assigned to. Whether the WLTPHA is an important enough issue to use that option will also be a story that develops, especially if the fiscal portions of Governor-elect Hogan’s agenda have a difficult time getting a committee vote.

It will be many years before Maryland becomes as enlightened as other states about the physical and psychological hazards that freely available abortion carries. But the first step has to be made somewhere, and just as bad legislation sometimes needed to be introduced year after year to break down the barriers to passage, so do bills like this. Progress in Maryland for this year would be getting non-sponsoring legislators on record as to their support or lack thereof.

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