MCAC and CBF to Hogan: drop dead

As I suspected, the slight bend toward agricultural interests that Governor Hogan made with the revised Phosphorus Management Tool regulations – now re-dubbed the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative – was met with hostility from the environmental community. On Friday the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation released this joint statement:

We commend the Hogan Administration for taking the problem of phosphorus pollution seriously and are pleased that the Administration embraces the scientific evidence showing we must implement the Phosphorus Management Tool to better manage manure on oversaturated farm fields.

The environmental community was not involved in the drafting of Governor Hogan’s proposed regulations that were released on Tuesday, and we have gone over them carefully since. Unfortunately, the regulations do not provide the adequate protection or assurance we need, and as such, we must oppose them. Our concerns are detailed in the attached analysis.

The regulations include a significant loophole, referred to by the agricultural industry as a “safety net,” that makes it unclear if they would ever result in full implementation of this much-needed tool. We adamantly oppose this lack of a clear, enforceable end date for putting the Phosphorus Management Tool into place.

It is also unclear whether the proposed ban on phosphorus on fields with FIV over 500 would actually reduce the amount of manure being applied to farm fields or protect Maryland water quality. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has been unable to clarify this.

Additionally, the regulations add one more year of delay, and they include troublesome secrecy provisions.

We continue to whole-heartedly support legislation sponsored by Senator Pinsky and Delegate Lafferty (SB 257 / HB 381) to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool with a six-year phase-in. Given the difficulties we’ve had with the regulatory process over the past three years, we prefer having a strong statute in place.

Their statement is an expanded version of a statement I posted on Wednesday from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. The MCAC is an interesting group in that none of the 21 groups involved has a thing to do with farming; instead many of these are “riverkeeper” groups from around the state. These groups blame farmers for a disproportionate share of the problems with Chesapeake Bay, imagining they are just wantonly dumping manure into streams and creeks.

While the groups have done a comparison sheet (or “detailed analysis”) between the O’Malley and Hogan proposals, their chief complaint can be summed up in this paragraph:

The Hogan PMT provisions for an “evaluation” for assessing manure markets and transportation programs, available land acreage, etc., allow for this “evaluation” to stall movement of PMT implementation for a year while MDA conducts a re-evaluation. The result is the possibility of an endless year by year postponement and re-evaluation possibility. (Emphasis in original.)

The way I read this is that, whether the infrastructure is in place or not - and, to be honest, I’m dubious of whether it can be in place – the CBF wants to move ahead on the PMT issue. Even the large-scale concession of immediately stopping the application of manure to certain fields, which is a provision allegedly affecting 1 of every 5 farmers on the Lower Shore, isn’t satisfying to the environmental coalition. They demand the data on how this would affect farmers, but pooh-pooh the need for data on how these regulations might affect the rural Maryland economy through the actual on-site studies sought by the Hogan administration.

In short, the contempt for the agricultural community by these groups is palpable.

So Larry Hogan tried to walk the middle ground. In backing off his original dead-set opposition to the PMT as “mandating how (farmers) use their property” to implementing a slightly less onerous version he still alienated the environmental community as well as discouraging some of the farmers who will be most adversely affected.

This whole episode will hopefully be a lesson to the new administration: you won’t get the friendship or the votes of those who would just as soon see the Eastern Shore collapse economically thanks to the demise of the agricultural industry regardless of what you do. So stick to those issues you ran on: improving Maryland’s economy and lowering the tax and regulatory burden on its citizens. Remember, no amount of regulation is enough for liberals, so why cater to them in the first place?

When three should be one

Last month I wrote about the controversy some Central Committees around the state faced when it came to filling vacancies for Senator and Delegate positions. It boiled down to the preference of Governor Hogan to have a selection of names to choose from when it came to these positions clashing with both the desire of local Central Committees to make the choice and the language of Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution.

If you look at those who have been appointed so far to the various positions, there is a level of familiarity involved: Barrie Ciliberti is a former Delegate returning to the House of Delegates, while Andrew Serafini and Justin Ready have moved up from the House to the Senate to fill vacancies there. The seats formerly held by Ready and Serafini are among the three current vacancies in the House of Delegates, with the other being the seat formerly belonging to Delegate Cathy Vitale, who was tapped by the outgoing O’Malley administration to fill an Anne Arundel County judgeship.

In the cases of Ciliberti, Ready, and now Vitale, there has been no shortage of controversy in filling the seats. Supporters of Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the District 4 primary for Delegate, fumed that a member of the slate also consisting of Delegates Kathy Afzali and David Vogt and Senator Michael Hough leapfrogged Peters in the selection process – Barrie Ciliberti was fifth in that primary, but a Frederick County Republican Central Committee consisting of Hough supporters made the decision with Carroll County’s body tabbing Ciliberti as one of their three finalists as well.

Carroll County’s Republican Central Committee has its own stain, replacing its original choice of Robin Bartlett Frazier for District 5 Senate at the behest of the Hogan Administration, which insisted that they amend the process to permit the elevation of then-Delegate Justin Ready to the Senate.

With Anne Arundel County now under the gun to replace Vitale, the three vs. one controversy is back. According to an article in the Capital Gazette by Chase Cook and Sarah Haynesworth, Anne Arundel County’s Central Committee is planning to send just one name to Governor Hogan – at least until there’s a formal request to do otherwise. Apparently such a request is on its way.

If it were my Central Committee, though, that formal request would be crumpled up and thrown into the circular file. The Gazette piece quotes current Delegate Tony McConkey at length, noting that he’s advising the AARCC to send just one name.

As I stated in January, the selection of a state officer should be done closest to the district involved, meaning it would be the Central Committee’s task to select the recipient and not the Governor’s. It’s a similar argument to the one we as a Central Committee have made regarding the wisdom of an elected Board of Education for Wicomico County as opposed to the current system of appointees from the governor’s office in Annapolis. Assuming we get the school board as currently envisioned, even the appointees for the hybrid portion of the board and for any vacancies would be done locally.

Yet there’s now another element being thrown into the mix. On her way out the door Delegate Vitale introduced HB1070, which would change the Maryland Constitution to allow for a special election in Presidential years once a vacancy is created. As an example, if the law were in effect today those who were recently appointed would face re-election in 2016 to a two-year term rather than serving all the way until 2018. In its description of the proposal the Gazette is incorrect because the earliest we could see such an election would be 2020 – even if passed this year it would be on the 2016 statewide ballot as a question (most likely Question 1.)

In some respects this is a good idea, but I think this would be very confusing to voters. In certain time frames, it could also be difficult to get a person to serve unless it was understood they would be a caretaker member until the election was over – sort of like the situation we faced in replacing Page Elmore in 2010 during the midst of a primary campaign for his successor. The consensus we reached with Somerset County was to put his widow in the seat until the new Delegate was elected (which turned out to be Charles Otto.)

Nor should we forget that, when the shoe was on the other foot and a Democrat was appointing for a Democratic seat, only one name was turned in by the local party organizations.

If appointments are going to be done in Annapolis from a list of three names, it begs the question: just what function do Central Committees have, anyway? At that point the Appointments Secretary just might as well handle the whole thing. I hope that’s not the overall intent of the Hogan administration, but right now they seem to want to cut the locals out of the process where they can and it’s disappointing.

Citizens’ Mandate a sign of the times

By Cathy Keim

A few days ago Michael posted the question: How will people respond if Jeb Bush is the GOP nominee this time around? He gave quite a few options to choose from. So far only one comment has popped up on the blog comment section and it was not positive towards Jeb.

Personally, I am not in favor of another Bush running for president, even if he was the one that was supposed to be president according to GOP folklore. We are not a kingdom, but a republic. We do not have royalty and do not need another Kennedy, Clinton or Bush for our survival. In fact, a Clinton or Bush as our next president might be more detrimental than other choices. I know that Bush is considered the lesser of two evils in a Clinton-Bush match up, but he still has terrible positions on Common Core and immigration, which are two huge issues.

Rather than waiting for the elites in the GOP and the donor class to tell us whom we may vote for, we should be actively working towards vetting and then getting behind a conservative candidate early. Marylanders do not have much of a part to play in the early primaries, but we can still do our homework and then support our candidate early so that they have a better chance of making it through the primary process without being picked off one by one as we have seen in the past.

The GOP leadership has already shown itself to be arrogant and disinclined to actually listen to their base. They are willing to campaign to the base, but not to actually govern for them once elected. Jeb Bush has made it clear that he will win the nomination his way or just go home. He is not going to “pander” to the base.

In an effort to talk some sense into the GOP elites, a group of conservative leaders got together and wrote a Citizens’ Mandate after the November 2014 landslide elections. The hope was to motivate the GOP majorities in the House and Senate to actually stop the unconstitutional overreaches that the Obama administration has made a daily occurrence.

Despite the November landslide election, the first things the Republicans did was pass the CRomnibus bill in the lame duck session and then re-elect Boehner as the Speaker of the House. The current DHS funding fight was supposed to be where the GOP finally stood their ground against the executive overreach. So far, this has been less than an awe inspiring fight as Mitch McConnell frantically tries to pass the hot potato back to the House rather than pressuring eight vulnerable Democrat Senators to vote for cloture. The House loudly proclaims that they have done their duty, but that the awful Senate won’t do their part.

Finally, you begin to figure out that it is all showmanship to make the rubes out there think that they really, really did try hard to beat back the out-of-control executive branch, but it just wasn’t possible. Next stop, immigration “reform” as the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders wanted all along.

This means that many people will not see the point in voting Republican again. If we give them a landslide victory and this is what we get, then if Jeb Bush is the nominee, I predict that many people will just stay home.

The GOP is quite sure this will not happen as the Democrats are so much worse. But are they?

It is time for the GOP leadership to read the Citizens’ Mandate carefully and think about their choices. Andy McCarthy in National Review wrote about the Mandate. Please read the whole article, but McCarthy concludes:

Conservatives fear that Republicans, with their eyes on 2016 and their ears on professional political consultants, have drawn the wrong lesson from last November’s good fortune. Voters are not suddenly infatuated with Republicans. Voters are alarmed at the direction in which President Obama is taking the country, and they elected the only available alternative.

The fate of 2016’s race for the White House will be decided by how well Republicans heed the mandate of 2014’s referendum on Obama’s policies. Will Republicans use the next two years to stop the president? If, instead, they use the next two years to further enable the president’s fundamental transformation of the United States, they will not have convinced the country that they can govern. They will have convinced their base that they are not worthy of support.

Then Ann Coulter piles on:

Why don’t Republicans spend all their airtime attacking the media for lying about what Obama’s amnesty does and what the Democrats are doing? It’s hard to avoid concluding that Republicans aren’t trying to make the right arguments. In fact, it kind of looks like they’re intentionally throwing the fight on amnesty.

If a Republican majority in both houses of Congress can’t stop Obama from issuing illegal immigrants Social Security cards and years of back welfare payments, there is no reason to vote Republican ever again.

In January, Diana Waterman, the head of the Maryland GOP, sent out a letter saying:

If we want to be successful next year and beyond, we must continue to work together!! Please work with me to foster this unity – we have shown we can do it. We must not lose sight of our goals – victory in 2016 and 2018!!!

No, my goals are not victory for the GOP in 2016 and 2018. My goals are to stop the fundamental changes that the Obama administration is ramming down our throats each and every day. The Republican Party is currently the only vehicle available to me to try and stop the disaster. If the Republican Party continues to show that it cannot or will not make the effort, then no, I will not support them in 2016.

There are many others that feel the same way. We may not be a majority, but I suspect there are enough of us to keep the GOP nominees from winning. I will not stay at home. I will vote, but it will not be for Republican candidates if they continue this farce.

The fallback position?

In the day since Governor Hogan announced his Phosphorus Management Tool regulations and I wrote my original take on them, I’ve had a chance to see what some of the involved players have to say.

I should preface this by noting I’m not a farmer; however, I have a rural background to the extent that I lived on acreage partially surrounded by woods and cornfields and went to school with kids who were honest-to-goodness members of the Future Farmers of America, complete with the blue corduroy jackets. And seeing that this is a predominantly rural area which depends on agriculture and my interest is in its economic success, I tend to favor the views of farmers over those who think that chicken comes from Whole Foods.

Anyway, the reaction I saw from the major agricultural players was somewhat disappointing, considering the dramatic effect those around here will feel from the PMT regulations. I begin with Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Statewide, the Maryland Farm Bureau echoed the inclusive approach.

To me, these farm groups are exhibiting the same attitude that’s expressed by the saying, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Perhaps I’m just wondering what happened to the Larry Hogan who promised the Maryland Farm Bureau back in December:

The first fight [when I take office] will be against these politically motivated, midnight-hour phosphorus management tool regulations that the outgoing administration is trying to force upon you in these closing days. We won’t allow them to put you out of business, destroy your way of life or decimate your entire industry.

The regulations are essentially unchanged in this rendition with the exception of promises of more resources for affected farmers and an extra year to deal with the mandates. But over 1 in 5 local farmers will have to stop their fertilizing practices immediately when the regulations take effect.

And the step toward environmentalists has apparently been met with defiance. Both the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation are skeptical. CBF’s Alison Prost notes:

We are pleased the governor recognizes that excess manure application on farm fields in Maryland is a serious issue, just as scientists have been noting for years.

(snip)

We learned general information about the proposal Monday afternoon, and are hoping to obtain a copy of the actual proposed regulation as soon as possible. Without such details, we are withholding judgment.  Once we are able to review the full proposal we hope that the Hogan Administration will allow the environmental community a chance to help shape this policy.  In the meantime, we fully support SB 257 and HB 381 which are intended to solve the manure crisis through legislation. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words: nice try, but we are still after the whole enchilada.

Honestly, I don’t know if this measure is an attempt to placate the center by throwing farmers under the bus or if it’s part of a grand gambit where concessions on this issue will be traded for relief from the “rain tax.” I don’t trust the Democrats to follow through on any such deal because they come with the attitude that their time out of power is a fleeting, temporary one. It worked in ousting Bob Ehrlich after one term.

Perhaps Larry Hogan doesn’t have it in him to be Maryland’s answer to Scott Walker. But this relatively rapid concession on an issue important to the rural voters who supported him by margins of 70-30 or better in many counties is troubling. Had he waited until we knew the fate of the General Assembly bills – which he could have chosen to veto and perhaps not have to deal with until next session – he could have positioned himself as more of the fighter we were looking for when we dispatched Martin O’Malley’s heir apparent and selected Larry to lead the state.

By their words today, the environmental lobby proved they have no intention of working with Larry Hogan – none whatsoever. There was enough of a broad outline presented yesterday that these groups could have embraced the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative, but they did not.

Of course, I sort of figured it would be this way all along but people keep reaching across the aisle and keep getting their arms bitten off. The only solution is to make the statist side concede by having superior numbers, and we can’t finish that job until 2018.

PMT: not eliminated, just pushed back

Yesterday, Governor Hogan announced that some local farmers will have tough new phosphorus regulations placed on them this year. While it wasn’t his overall intent, the news could be devastating to any local farmers who have existing high phosphorus content in their fields as it will necessitate their relocation of any manure present and prevent them from utilizing that fertilizing technique until 2022.

For the rest of the agricultural community, the change is a simple one-year reprieve from the regulations taking effect. Overall, the regulations aren’t a whole lot different from previous proposals. Granted, the new regulations Hogan proposes set up an on-farm economic analysis, but that should have been the first step well before the regulations were published and affecting many Maryland farmers.

So while the state is putting together a pretty picture of the new regulations’ effects, it may simply be a capitulation by the Hogan Administration as they try and put their best face on a fait accompliSB257/HB381, which codify the PMT regulations slated for adoption before Hogan pulled them hours after taking office January 21, have hearings this week and both have a substantial number of co-sponsors.

For his part, Hogan bills it as a ”fair and balanced” proposal:

We have listened to the agricultural and environmental communities to find a fair and balanced plan for limiting phosphorus, and I am pleased to announce the details of that solution today. The enhanced phosphorus management tool regulations and the broader Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative will protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay while still supporting a vibrant agriculture industry in Maryland. We are providing immediate action to limit pollution, investing in new technology, seeking alternative uses for manure, and improving on-farm management of animal manures – none of which were included in the previous proposals.

It seems to me the time to do the enhancements would have been before most farmers were affected. The excuse for an economic study produced by the previous administration noted the plan would cost farmers (and taxpayers) millions of dollars for comparatively little benefit to Chesapeake Bay. The impetus for the “Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative” should have been to study the effects on real farms first – which is part of this effort, but done simultaneously with the restrictions rather than in advance of them.

Moreover, we don’t know how quickly some of these waste conversion initiatives will get online despite the $2 million the state recently granted three such operations, including one in Worcester County and one in Dorchester County. How scalable these operations are is yet to be determined, but the need for their assistance in waste disposal will arise rather soon.

In short, there was a reason the Eastern Shore agricultural community was pleased about the demise of the PMT regulations – not that they want a clean Chesapeake Bay any less than anyone else, but because they can make a case that they have done their part yet still seem to be the target of more and more regulations. That month of triumph appears to be coming to a close, though, and while Hogan calls it a enhancement the end result will still likely be economic damage to Eastern Shore farmers.

The economic viability of producing poultry in Maryland may be a casualty of these new regulations as growers may find the market for their by-product suddenly diminished. Without the ready availability of chicken waste through the departure of the industry, the environmentalists may succeed in driving the soil phosphorus levels down, but there will be much less economic activity to speak of as well.

WCRC meeting – February 2015

While we didn’t have a featured speaker, there was plenty said at this month’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting – even as it ran a brisk 45 minutes in a chilly Chamber of Commerce building. But perhaps just as important was that which wasn’t said.

Once we got through our usual opening of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, we found out our Christmas Party was slightly more profitable than first believed. That’s always good news.

Mark McIver spoke on behalf of the Central Committee, noting that three appointments to the Board of Elections had been forwarded to the Maryland Senate for approval. In addition, we would be interviewing candidates for the open Wicomico County Board of Education seat at Monday’s Central Committee meeting. He also announced we would be holding a quad-county Lincoln Day Dinner this year.

Since we had talked about the school board, I interjected that our elected school board bills were now introduced and had hearings scheduled.

Next up were the officer elections, which were by acclamation when no one was nominated from the floor. Beginning next month Shawn Jester moves up from First Vice-President to President, with Muir Boda and Joe Collins moving into officer slots as First and Second Vice-Presidents, respectively. Deb Okerblom stays on as Treasurer and yours truly will remain as Secretary.

Marc Kilmer updated us on what Delegate Carl Anderton, Jr. was doing. Anderton was a co-sponsor of a number of good, conservative bills including the elected school board bill. But perhaps most interesting was HB1039, which is being called the “Evo Bill” after the local craft brewer Evolution Brewing. They wish to increase the barrel limit a particular type of license holder can brew as they are approaching the existing limit.

We also heard from Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver, who was in attendance and only half-jokingly solicited “letters of support.” He was asked about the status of take-home cars, for which he replied ”all but one (were) pulled in.” That particular employee had a legitimate need for it due to federal regulations, he added. Culver also pledged that there would be “no tax raise” this year in his budget.

I also got to announce that the WCRC Crab Feast is slated for September 12, with ticket prices slated to stay the same from last year.

But the talk of the meeting was what did not happen. Late this afternoon, we got word that the Wicomico County Council of PTAs was encouraging its members to attend and speak out.

Apparently that appeal fell on deaf ears because it was our usual group. Perhaps they originally believed our group was the Central Committee and would be discussing this issue, but it really wasn’t on our WCRC agenda.

We would have welcomed the company but either they decided the issue wasn’t that important to them or it simply wasn’t enough time to mobilize. In either case, the WCRC is fairly solid in its support for an elected school board, as is the Central Committee.

Next month’s meeting will also be held on the 23rd, at which time the new officers will be sworn in.

On ‘Death with Dignity’

February 22, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Maryland Politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

By Cathy Keim

“The solution to suffering never is to eliminate the sufferer.” – Dr. William Toffler

I was writing a piece on the Death with Dignity Act but Michael beat me to it by posting on it last Wednesday, so I will address some of the issues that Michael touched on briefly.

I agree with Michael that this bill has a good chance at passing. My reason for thinking this is due to the emotional appeal that is being made by the proponents. None of us like to think about death in general and our own death in particular. Even less appealing is to consider oneself in extremely poor health with no chance of recovery; indeed, only a continued progression downward.

Many people jump from that grim thought to friends or loved ones that they have seen suffer and are ready to declare that they will not submit to such a fate. This is really a very American “I am captain of my ship” type of thinking. We are a free people. Why should we have to suffer a lingering illness and the indignities that accompany such a loss of mobility or mental capacity?

The more libertarian among us declare that the government has no right to keep us from our choice. Perhaps they should stop for a minute and realize that the more present fear is that the government will all too willingly let you have your wish and maybe help you along before you quite decide that is where you want to go.

Now that our healthcare has been taken over by the government and our Republican leaders show no progress in their faint attempts to stop it, people should realize that things are quickly moving to the government being able to refuse care. After all, it costs a lot of money to treat sick or handicapped people and we could save a lot if we helped some of them choose to leave a little sooner.

Insurance companies are already questioning charges on patients that have difficult prognoses and are refusing to cover futile care. I think you can see that this could get pretty scary pretty fast. Or let’s consider that now Maryland hospitals are given a set amount of money at the beginning of each year and they are not to go over budget. The safest way to not go over budget is to reduce the number of patients you see, particularly the really sick ones.

Now some of these measures may be good, but when you change your basic outlook from “we are here to help sick people” to “we are here to not bust our budget” then you can quickly see how this might not be to the patient’s benefit. This is why we must consider the principles involved before we go to the emotional appeal. Sadly, the emotional appeal is more attractive, which is why it is used over and over again to gain voter support for a myriad of causes.

But on to the less attractive principled approach. This comes down to do we want a culture of life or a culture of death? When you start addressing the big issues, then you have to come clean on your worldview. There are really only two worldviews: we are either created by God (you may choose which one, but America was founded on a Judeo-Christian construct) or we sprang from somewhere with no purpose and no place to go.

If you believe that the world and all that is in it, including men, were created with a purpose, then you will lean towards a culture of life. Since you cannot create life, then you should respect it and care for all men, even those that are not perfect no matter how they came to be that way, whether through accident, age, birth, or war.

You will show compassion to those that need help, starting with your own family and then spreading outward to your community and beyond.

This culture of life says that each life is of value whether they can contribute economically or not.

If, on the other hand, you do not believe that you owe allegiance to any Creator, then you will be quite right to think that you can decide whatever you wish. However, you must realize that Nietzsche dealt with all this and you are heading down a path to a very dark place.

In a very short time, you will go from being captain of your own ship to “might makes right.”

One small aside is that weakness and compassion may have lessons for us all that we will never learn unless we are exposed to situations where we must care for or be cared for by someone. This is not a particularly happy thought, especially to our can-do American spirit, but it is true. Suffering is not something that we seek, but it does bring strength that nothing else can.

Dr. William Toffler, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University, is also the National Director of Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation. Since Oregon passed an assisted suicide law in 1997, Dr. Toffler has had plenty of time to observe the law in action. In a USA Today op-ed he wrote with Dr. Frank S. Rosenbloom, Toffler noted:

At the most fundamental level, the fatal flaw of assisted suicide is that it subverts the trust in the patient-physician relationship. Once a physician agrees to assist a patient with suicide, their relationship is altered.

(snip)

Clearly, the disconnection from the patient under the guise of compassion is contradictory to the long tradition of medical practice: ‘First, do no harm.’

In short, this legislation has not granted, but has actually stripped vulnerable individuals of their worth and dignity. In fact, it has diminished the dignity of us all.

Dr. Toffler’s last quote points us to another danger of the emotional appeal. Vulnerable individuals are not immune to the subtle push of the culture of death which whispers to them: you have no value, you are a burden to your family, you are costing everybody a lot of money and time, you should just take these pills as it would be better for everybody. Mothers carrying babies with handicaps are already told that it is for the best to abort the imperfect baby.

I told you that the principled approach would not be the easy way. Perhaps I have not convinced many to change their mind with such a short essay, but to those who understand I appeal to you to call your Delegate and State Senator and tell them that you do not support HB1021 or SB676.

Speeding in the right direction

In one piece of good news from the Maryland Senate they approved SB44, a bill allowing the maximum speed limit in the state to be raised to 70 miles per hour. The 39-7 vote in the Senate isolated a handful of Senators from urban areas who thought 65 was good enough, but common sense prevailed given most highways were designed for 70 MPH speeds decades ago when cars weren’t built with all the safety features they now have. If the law is passed through the House, it would take effect in October and most likely one of the roads affected would be the U.S. 50/13 bypass around Salisbury where the current speed limit is 65.

To me, it’s a start. While we’re not as open as Texas or other states west of the Mississippi, I could see interstate-grade highways in this area supporting an 80 MPH limit and perhaps even “autobahn” rules (no speed limit in the left lane.) Obviously with the amount of computing and communication around the state (think about those large billboard-style signs on U.S. 50, for example) we could even progress to variable speed limits with 60 MPH as a floor but ranging upward based on traffic and conditions. (I use 60 MPH as a basis because U.S. 50 on the Eastern Shore reminds me of U.S. 27 in central Florida where my parents live – a mainly rural highway with crossroads connecting a few small-to-medium sized towns, and it’s a 60 MPH highway.)

Now we all know that people use the speed limit as a suggestion and drive 7 to 10 MPH over, so 55 becomes 62 to 65 MPH in practice. This Washington Post story on the Maryland Senate vote quoted opponent Jim Brochin making that point. But no one says a municipality or county has to change its limit, although I would encourage them to do so.

When I moved here from Ohio a decade ago, I noticed that Maryland had quite a few nanny state driving laws. So while we are looking at changing the speed limits, can we also dump the full-time headlight requirement on certain two-lane highways like U.S. 113 and Maryland Route 90? Long stretches of both highways affected are now divided.

North of the border, I would love to see Delaware get with the program and raise a lot of its 50 MPH roads at least to 55 MPH.

I’m sure the insurance industry is already screaming bloody murder about the speed limit change, so I doubt that my pet projects will go anywhere because they have a lot more lobbying cash than I have. Yet this is the state that can’t even bring itself to discuss the possibility of self-driving vehicles with a task force (although they’re trying again in 2015 with HB172/SB778.)

We talk about making the state more business-friendly, but it’s not just financial – getting goods to market and being able to provide rapid service through improved utilization of transportation infrastructure is quite important, too. Adding 5 MPH to the interstate speed limits is a nice tiny step, but only one of many needed.

Question of the night

February 19, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, Politics · 2 Comments 

I haven’t set up an online poll for this – and there is the chance I may not, just using the comment section here and social media to see if my suspicions are correct – but I’m really curious to know what would happen if Jeb Bush wins the GOP nomination next year.

Anecdotally, the consensus seems to be that Jeb would make Mitt Romney’s 2012 vote total look really, really good. There are also some who postulate that a Bush family nomination for the fifth time in eight elections would bring about the end of the Republican Party, but I can’t see that happening with the way current ballot access laws are written.

I suppose there are several shades of answers I could get to the question I spelled out above. Some of these are:

  • I’m hoping Jeb Bush is the GOP nominee because he’s the best guy for the job and will bring millions of new voters to the GOP.
  • Jeb isn’t my first choice, but if he’s the nominee I’ll be backing him with my vote (and my checkbook and/or volunteer time.)
  • Meh. Jeb will be better than Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat. I’m going to concentrate on the Congressional and Senate races.
  • Jeb Bush = lesser of two evils.
  • Another Bush? I’m staying home.
  • I’m tired of the Republican Party always nominating squishy moderates, so I’m done with them if Jeb is the nominee.
  • Is there a link for the (pick your preference: Libertarian, Constitution, Conservative) Party on this site?
  • Any chance I can still sign up for that one-way trip to Mars?

So that’s my question of the night – call it an open thread. Be creative in your answers for bonus points.

To save the terminal

February 18, 2015 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · 1 Comment 

A few weeks ago the Maryland Right to Life group sounded the alarm about a proposed doctor-prescribed suicide bill intended for introduction to the Maryland General Assembly. Sure enough, on February 6 the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death with Dignity Act was introduced in the Senate as SB676. The companion HB1021 was introduced a week later, and differs from the Senate bill in that it has modestly bipartisan support as two Republicans are among the co-sponsors.

In principle, MRTL should be against the bill as it interferes with the natural death process. But in reviewing the reasons MRTL gives for their specific opposition, they lean heavily on the experience the state of Oregon has had with a similar bill. Maryland’s version addresses some of these issues.

The bill is one of those which splits the Republican community, though. Libertarian-minded members see this as a “death with dignity” issue – one example is this piece from Joe Steffen at his Darkness Revisited website. It’s a piece where he asks that:

I’ve heard EVERY counter argument, like, a million times. So, please don’t throw any pro-life/anti-abortion stuff or “unintended consequences” type crap at me.

Hearing every counter-argument isn’t the same as refuting them, however. Truthfully, I can see both sides of this bill and while the MRTL may be going a little overboard with their reaction, I don’t think this bill is going to be the final answer.

First of all, the bill which is supposed to give more freedom to those who would like to end their suffering makes them jump through a number of hoops in order to get their relief. It’s a very complex process, and perhaps that’s by design given some of the alleged abuses detailed in other localities. In most cases, the biggest fear is that of an elderly family member being bullied into making the decision to end his or her life in order to provide personal gain to the heirs or other family members.

Or – even worse – they may be bullied into the decision by the state, such as in this example from Oregon.

But one big problem with Maryland’s proposed law is that it requires the cause of death to be listed as the underlying illness rather than noting the assisted suicide. While there are legitimate reasons for this, such as patient privacy, I think it’s also going to lead to significant underreporting of how many people actually use the procedure.

Regardless, this is a bill which has a reasonably good chance of passage. It’s worth noting that the House version of this bill went to two committees, which is often done if there’s reason to worry about getting through a particular committee. But assuming the bill makes it through second reading, there are enough Democrats in both houses to pass the bill. A handful of Republicans will likely vote yes as well while most vote against it. Governor Hogan, who avoided social issues like the plague during the campaign, will most likely bend to the will of the General Assembly and sign the bill into law.

I understand the emotional appeal to the bill, as most of us know someone who succumbed to a lengthy and painful terminal illness. But the potential for abuse from future amendments to the bill has to be considered as well so I’m not sure I can be on board with this one.

Hostility to cuts

It’s been a little while, but the political hijinks of Cecil County return to my site via a dispatch I received from Bob Willick and their Campaign for Liberty chapter. The purpose of the dispatch was to relay the open hostility from a couple members of their pubic school faculty, making the point that:

Apparently, even though you and I have funded the local school system millions above the maintenance of effort level for years—we are still “slackers.”

Thomas went on a public rant last week writing a post on her new blog demanding that citizens fork over whatever outrageous increase CCPS asks for this year.

You see, Cecil School Superintendent, D’Ette Devine, is lobbying the County Executive and County Council for a taxpayer funded $8 million dollar spending hike over last year’s budget.

This when CCPS has been fully funded and given millions in extra funding for years.

Regardless of this fact, some CCPS teachers are showing their disdain for the hard working folks that pay their salary.

These attacks are coming from a government sector employee who receives competitive pay, sick days off, vacation time, summers off and a pension.

Thomas knows that this type of angry rhetoric will motivate the employees of the largest employer in Cecil County (CCPS) to pressure local government to once again award them with more tax payer funds.

Aside from the oversimplification that teaching is a nine-month profession given some of the training they may have to receive during the summers, there is a lot to be said about the Campaign for Liberty’s point. How many government agencies are protected by law against cuts in such a way that Maryland public schools receive thanks to “maintenance of effort” laws? The state dictates how much money counties have to fork over in order to match their goals, and whether the county can afford it or not (or passed a revenue cap as Wicomico County did a decade ago) does not matter to the state – if the county doesn’t comply the state treasury will hijack the county’s allotment of state money and make sure the schools are paid what the state thinks they are due. It’s a ridiculous constraint on county budgets.

Whenever conservatives take over in government, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Left is all but intolerable. Listen to them whine about cuts to education in the state budget and you’d quickly forget that the allocation to education (both pre-K to 12 and state-funded colleges) increased for the Hogan FY2016 budget – just not as much as the education lobby expected or demanded. Structural deficit be damned, they aren’t satisfied with any less than the massive increase they assumed they would get when Anthony Brown was elected.

The same holds true locally. Hours after being sworn in, County Executive Bob Culver announced he wasn’t going to borrow for a new West Salisbury Elementary School, triggering outrage in the local community. But after a January tour of the building by experts in the construction field as well as Wicomico Board of Education members and administration, it’s been quietly determined that spending $2 million would be enough for most of the desired upgrades. (The cynic in me thinks the folks at West Salisbury just took too much pride in maintenance and didn’t let the building go far enough to pieces, as opposed to the former Bennett schools.)

More recently the alarm sounded when Culver brought up the idea of keeping the old Bennett Middle School, which is being replaced by a new building away from the current Bennett High School site, as an office complex for the Wicomico County Board of Education. The Bennett community was outraged as the old middle school is supposed to be torn down for athletic fields to complete the planned three-phase replacement of the old Bennett Middle and High Schools with a new high school building and facilities on the existing Bennett site and a middle school built near Fruitland. (The middle school is slated to open next school year.) Proponents have taken to social media to make their case.

But perhaps the better question no one is asking is why more office space is needed? Over the years claims have been made that county government is very lean, but I question that assessment if the BoE needs more room for administration. The county has already bonded millions for the Bennett construction (among other projects, big and small) so debt service is a concern at our level as well as for the state.

It’s a problem because increasing debt load doesn’t help citizens in any way but takes money from needed services, such as snow plowing and otherwise maintaining roads. (I say that because the plows just went by here.) It doesn’t matter which county you are in, citizens feel they have enough taken from them by government but the public sector demands more. Martin O’Malley’s solution of tax increases and additional debt was bad for Maryland, so the new approach promised by Larry Hogan is in the process of being enacted. It’s not our fault the schools aren’t thrilled about the prospect of making do with less. Welcome to the real world.

Wicomico elected school board takes a big step

Update 2/18: Hearings are scheduled for both bills now: SB730 on March 18 and HB1040 on March 19.

Friday the 13th may be considered an unlucky day by many, but it was the day a crossfiled pair of bills allowing the changeover to a partially-elected, partially-appointed “hybrid” county board of education was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly.

HB1040/SB730, sponsored by the Wicomico County Delegation (comprised of Delegates Chris Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes) in the House and Senator Addie Eckardt in the Senate, both got their first readings and were referred to committees. The House version went to Ways and Means while the Senate version went to Rules because of its late introduction there. Chances are it will be re-referred to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Senate. (Update: It was.)

While the bills have been introduced, though, there’s still a long way to go. First of all, neither bill has a hearing scheduled and that’s the logical next step. It’s also worthy of note that Senator Jim Mathias, who has sponsored our elected school board bills before, is not a co-sponsor this time. I’m sure he’s aware the bill would be placed in the hopper but I suspect he and Delegate Sample-Hughes – being the lone Democrats in the delegation – are getting some pushback on the issue from certain constituency groups who like things just the way they are. Those groups, though, are the squeaky wheel minority.

All this comes at an interesting time as two of the seven members of the existing Wicomico County Board of Education have tendered their resignations while a third has stayed on for months beyond his term expiration because no successor has been appointed. These openings affect two Democrats and one Republican; however, with the election of Larry Hogan the board composition is set to become 4-3 Republican instead of 4-3 Democrat as it was with Martin O’Malley. So two of the three slots would be filled by Republicans, and the Central Committee is in the process of collecting applications, reviewing them and deciding on potential nominees at the next meeting March 2.

While I’m an erstwhile member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, I think I can speak for them when I say they would rather not have the job of selecting candidates – that should be up to the voters. I would have preferred a fully-elected board but for now we can try for a first-step victory by getting this through the Maryland General Assembly this session.

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