Is the Hogan business mojo wearing off?

It’s only one survey of 280 small (perhaps micro-scale) businesses in Maryland, but a recent poll conducted by a company which should be familiar to regular readers calls into question the effectiveness of Larry Hogan’s efforts at improvement in Maryland’s business climate in his first few months in office.

In cooperation with the Kauffman Foundation, Thumbtack.com has done annual, quarterly, and now monthly surveys of small business sentiment around the country. (I’ve written about their surveys on business friendliness in the past.) While it comes in a more graphical form than I can readily share here, some items I gleaned from the most recent Maryland and national data follow:

  • In terms of revenue and overall financial outlooks, Maryland businesses are less positive than the rest of the nation in the former and fall right at the national mean for the latter. The good news, though, is that over 70% of these businesses have a positive outlook over the next quarter.
  • Less than half, however, rate their financial situation as “very good” or “somewhat good.” Maryland’s total is 45.9% compared to 48.1% nationwide.
  • Maryland businesses are more pessimistic about profitability than their national peers; still, over 60% think they will do better. On the other hand, their perception on business conditions is actually better than the national average – 53.4% in Maryland think they will be better in three months’ time, while only 51.9% nationally share that outlook.
  • Finally, 24% of Maryland micro-businesses anticipate hiring over the next three months, while just 22.1% do nationwide. But while only 2.1% of businesses nationwide thought they would need to furlough workers, that percentage was 2.5% in Maryland.

As I noted above, this data was compiled at different intervals. Until March, this was done as a quarterly survey; now it is monthly. But one asset of this approach is that I can go back to the beginning of the year, and in their release accompanying the information Thumbtack.com noted:

In June, respondents nationwide indicated reduced optimism about the economy for the third month in a row, though sentiment about current and future conditions continues to be higher than that reported one year ago.

Key findings for Maryland include:

  • Maryland small businesses reported a sharp decline across each of the metrics tracked by Thumbtack, with the strongest declines coming in their expectations about future financial conditions and the economy.
  • Maryland experienced one of the largest overall business sentiment declines in the country in June; the state is now below the regional and national averages for small-business sentiment and ranks 30th overall nationwide.
  • Sentiment is still higher than it was one year ago, reflecting a broad-based increase in perceptions of economic conditions by small businesses across the country.
  • For the second month in a row, small businesses nationally expressed increasing pessimism about future economic conditions, which have been the largest contributors to the decline in overall sentiment.

Thus, it sounds like Maryland is reflective of a national trend.

But it’s also worth noting that the 2015Q1 survey showed broadly higher numbers across the board – revenue outlook has declined 10.9 points, financial outlook 5.2 points, profitability 11 points, and business conditions 8 points.

In addition, those who thought they may be hiring declined from 26% to 24.1%. Only the respondents’ assessment of their financial condition stayed relatively unchanged, declining just 1/10 of a point.

Unfortunately, these were the types of numbers we came to expect in the O’Malley administration. Obviously Hogan apologists would argue that their guy has been in office less than six months and it takes time to turn the ship of state around. And they would be correct, as the Augustine Commission agenda sailed through the General Assembly with its effective date in October.

Yet to me much of that was a simple rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. While we can’t do a whole lot about the national economic climate, one thing Maryland could have done was allow these entrepreneurs to keep a little more of their money by reducing personal income tax rates; meanwhile, they could accommodate the entire elimination of corporate taxes with modest budget cuts of 3% or less. (The corporate tax brings in just over $1 billion of a $40 billion budget.) This would encourage larger businesses to consider Maryland for their growth and create more spinoff work for these micro-businesses.

Think of it this way under my scenario – Justin relocates from New York to work at the new Maryland corporate headquarters of XYZ Company, which was attracted here by the zero corporate tax rate as well as the other benefits Maryland brings. He needs a guy to fix his laptop, someone to watch the kids while Justin and Mrs. Justin are at work, and so on and so forth. Imagine what 250 Justins can do for a community and how many extra jobs they create. (I’m sure someone somewhere has done a study on this but today I’ll work without a net.)

The point is that addressing regulation and red tape is great, but the financial incentive has to be there as well. Among states with flat corporate tax rates, Maryland ranks among the highest. On a personal income level, Maryland’s rates appear to be a little better but that doesn’t add in the local county tax. (Granted, other states may also have the same practice.)

Let’s just say this: with an agenda that includes financial incentives as well as some cooperation from thoughtful Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly, by this time next year we can have a far more optimistic business community and in a few months after that they can better enjoy the results of hard work because the state takes a smaller cut.

2016 dossier: Education

As I promised awhile back, now that my monoblogue Accountability Project is out of the way I can begin to focus on the 2016 presidential race. With the exception of governors John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, it looks like we have the initial field in place for the start of what should be a memorable campaign – if only for the sheer number of people seeking to clean up the mess Barack Obama has made.

As I have done before, I break my method of choosing a candidate to support down by issues, which I rank in importance as part of a 100-point scale. Education ranks at the bottom of my ten top issues, thus a perfect score in this category is five points.

So what would be the ideal course of action for our next President? There are a number of answers I’ve written about previously, but to boil it down to a few items:

  • The first step would be to eliminate Common Core as a federal incentive. It would be the icebreaker to a philosophy of restoring educational control to the states, with the eventual goal of maximizing local control.
  • This President should then do what Ronald Reagan promised to do but could not: abort the federal Department of Education.
  • He (or she) should then become the leading voice for real educational reform in two areas: maximizing school choice and establishing the standard that money follows the child.
  • The President should also be an advocate for alternate career paths such as vocational education and apprenticeships as well as ending the stranglehold the federal government has on financing college education.

For this exercise I am going to rank the fourteen current candidates from best to worst, assigning them a point value from zero to five.

Rand Paul would abolish Common Core – although since it’s actually owned by a private corporation he can’t exactly do that.

He also believes strongly in local control, quipping that “I don’t think you’ll notice” if the Department of Education were gone, and adding that local boards of education shouldn’t have to fight Washington over curriculum. But where he shines is his statement that money should follow the child.

As you’ll see below, some put qualifiers on their advocacy of that concept. “Let the taxes Americans pay for education follow every student to the school of his or her family’s choice,” he wrote in the Washington Times. That, friends, is the correct answer.

Total score for Paul – 4.4 of 5.

Ted Cruz has many of the same good ideas Paul does, vowing to end Common Core and scrap the Department of Education. He also proposed legislation designed to enhance school choice for children on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. While I haven’t heard or seen Cruz speak much to the other areas on my docket, I am giving him a little bit extra because he has shown a willingness to lead on issues.

The only faults I find with his Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Act is that it only benefits lower-income children. If every child has a right to a quality education, every child should benefit, as Paul points out.

Some may ask why I feel that way, since wealthier students can likely afford private schools. However, the chances are good that they invest more in the system through paying higher property taxes, so they should be given the same opportunity. Remember, money is only following the child to the extent a state would support him or her, so any overage would be borne by the parents.

Total score for Cruz – 4.2 of 5.

Bobby Jindal was for Common Core for awhile, but now notes the more parents and teachers deal with it the more they dislike it - he also thinks it will “strip away state’s rights.”

Yet he’s definitely hurt in my process because, while he argues that federal control should revert back to the states, he only wants to return the Department of Education “to its original intended purpose.” There was no intended purpose for the Department of Education except to suck up to the teachers’ unions for backing Jimmy Carter. They just wanted a Cabinet-level department.

Bobby’s only reason for scoring as high as he does is that he has done the most to create a situation in Louisiana where money indeed follows the child regardless of school type – a roster which includes online schools. In doing so, he has also shown the true feelings of teachers’ unions, who claimed Jindal’s reforms “would destabilize the state’s public education system and reduce teachers’ job security. They also claimed parents are not mentally equipped to choose a good education for their children.” (Emphasis mine.)

Once he realizes that the federal government is infested with bureaucrats who think the same way, Jindal could do a lot of good.

Total score for Jindal – 4.0 of 5.

It dawned on me that the reason Rick Perry doesn’t speak out as forcefully against Common Core is that his state never adopted it. He also wasn’t as forceful about dismantling the Department of Education, although it was part of the gaffe that ended his 2012 campaign.

Yet the reason, Perry claims, why his state did not do any federal programs was that Texas had established higher standards. He had also called upon colleges in his state to create degree programs which could cost no more than $10,000, which several Texas universities have achieved. It’s a initiative Perry claims has spread to Florida and California.

Of course, the question isn’t whether these state initiatives can be done at the federal level but whether Rick can stand by as President and allow the laggards to fail. He seems to understand, though, that education is a local issue.

Total score for Perry – 3.8 of 5.

The one thing that sticks out about Lindsey Graham is his support for homeschooled kids, for whom he vows “you have no better friend. He also expresses his opposition to Common Core as a tool of coercion, which is good but maybe not quite as good as those above him.

However, he has previously worked to eliminate the Department of Education and supported tax measures aimed at assisting young educators with their student loans. It’s not a idea I could wholeheartedly back because I dislike pandering via tax code, but it will be interesting to see how Graham’s campaign develops on this front and hear some of his other thoughts.

Total score for Graham – 3.4 of 5.

Mike Huckabee was once for Common Core, believing it needed a “rebrand,” but now is against it saying “We must kill Common Core and restore common sense.” Whether that means some sort of standards just for public schools or not, his thinking has changed dramatically. But it could be better late than never, unlike Jeb Bush.

Mike is an advocate of school choice, claiming he was the first governor to place a homeschooling parent on his state board of education, and also noted that he increased teacher pay. He also thinks the federal Department of Education has “flunked” and needs to be “expelled.”

While he says the right things, I just don’t trust him to be a forceful advocate for sound educational policy. I just sense that Big Education will roll over him.

Total score for Huckabee – 2.8 of 5.

While he is new to the race, Chris Christie has a 15-point reform agenda which he believes “can and should be a model for reform for the nation.” It covers a number of subjects: teacher tenure and pay, school choice, charter schools, college affordability and accountability, and ideas for higher education.

Unfortunately, what it doesn’t tell me is what he would do to eliminate federal involvement; in fact, as this is written it sound to me like he would simply make New Jersey’s initiatives nationwide. Other states should succeed (or fail) on their own merits, but I would encourage them to adopt ideas like “stackable credentials,” apprenticeships, and credit for prior experience.

Total score for Christie – 2.6 of 5.

More than any other candidate, Marco Rubio talks about the federal role in college financing. But he also talks about alternatives such as vocational education and believes parents need to be empowered through the enhanced choice of educational scholarships that they can use anywhere. Local control also extends to curriculum, and Rubio suggested that the Department of Education may be eliminated.

But if the federal government is going to have a role in college financial aid, it’s likely that no federal agency will be eliminated. Rubio seems to be on a populist rather than conservative path, with the major difference being Uncle Sam’s role in financing school. Why should they have any role in something the private sector could easily do?

Total score for Rubio – 2.5 of 5.

I don’t know if Rick Santorum intentionally stole the tagline of “common sense not Cfommon Core” from Mike Huckabee or vice-versa. But that’s about all he talks about, aside from a nod to local control which he doesn’t really come out and embrace.

One thing that I would expect Rick to talk more about is vocational education, considering he has supported the rebirth of manufacturing. But nothing has been said, at least that I’ve found.

Total score for Santorum – 2.4 of 5.

George Pataki was the governor of New York for 11 years, so a large portion of his agenda is an extension of his record there. So while he says that “Common Core should go” and that education should be local, he would not rid us of the Department of Education, but retain it in a “very limited role.”

The idea of tax credits that could apply in either a public or private system has a little bit of merit, though, and that’s what pushes him ahead of other contenders – that is, assuming he could use his office as a bully pulpit to get states to adopt this.

Total score for Pataki – 2.2 of 5.

In his educational platformBen Carson talks mainly about local control and that Common Core must be “overturned,” which is good. School choice is also a subject he has touched on.

But aside from the platitudes and buzzwords, I really don’t see a lot of depth in what Carson has to say. And, like Pataki, there’s one thing which definitely detracts from his overall score – he will not eliminate the Department of Education. While I don’t agree the Department should be an arbiter of speech, I really don’t agree that any government agency will accept a reduction in its role – it simply must be uprooted.

Short of some major pronouncements of policy regarding issues others above have touched on, this is not a strong category for Ben.

Total score for Carson – 2.0 of 5.

In several ways, Jeb Bush is like Rick Perry and others above. His state has been a leader in school choice, he advocates for digital schools conducted online (think of a high school version of the University of Phoenix, to use a familiar example) and he favors school choice.

But the issue I have is that he would prefer a top-down approach, and while he argues Common Core should not be construed as a federal creation of standards (which is true to an extent, as a private entity created and licenses it) he still encourages the federal government to have a role in education, to provide “carrots and sticks.” Those carrots and sticks should be created by the market, not the federal government.

Total score for Bush – 1.8 of 5.

For all I know, Donald Trump could be good on education – perhaps he could make it into one giant for-profit enterprise and eliminate the government altogether. But I doubt it.

And aside from thinking Common Core will “kill Bush” (he is against it, though) and believing education should be local, there’s not much on the Donald’s educational platform. I hate the lack of specifics, and if he was to run based solely on educational philosophy I would fire him.

Total score for Trump – 1.0 of 5.

Aside from a number of vague statements about school vouchers, the size of federal impact, and the thought that Common Core limits parents’ options, Carly Fiorina really hasn’t put together much of an educational platform. And some question her change of tune from her Senate run four years ago.

When others have an agenda that is well spelled out, the lack of specifics from Fiorina sticks out like a sore thumb.

Total score for Fiorina – 0.5 of 5.

Next up will be a category with considerably less nuance and a value of six points – the Second Amendment. And as a programming note, I think I will leave this up through Sunday night and otherwise leave the site dark for Independence Day.

And it begins…

I didn’t figure it would take too long.

Once the floodgates had been opened, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone would try and push the envelope.

The next frontier will be that of “consenting adults.” Just wait until the first person citing his religion wants to marry a preteen under the age of consent. It will be discrimination to not allow this person his wish, after all it is love and “love wins,” does it not?

Methinks that the Supreme Court has left us a legacy of banana peels and jagged cliffs.

I still marvel at the lightning speed by which we went from one state court decreeing that marriage licenses should be given to same-sex couples (in a split 4-3 decision) to having it become the law of the land in all 50 states in less than a dozen years. Aside from fighting an actual war with bullets and fatalities, it’s rare to see such a pace of change.

And where once the concept wasn’t polled, now about 3 in 5 Americans are supportive of same-sex “marriage.” That simply means 3 in 5 are victims of the constant propaganda, although maybe I should be encouraged that 2 in 5 still apparently believe in the word of God.

But then I’m just a “hater” because I believe marriage remains between one man and one woman. We Christians are funny that way, I suppose.

Exploring a race again

Every so often the name of Richard Douglas pops up on my site or in my e-mail box. Of late it’s been because of his defense of the Bladensburg Peace Cross, but he was a much more frequent subject in those days when he ran a spirited race for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2012. While Dan Bongino eventually won, I was impressed as well with Douglas and would have happily backed him had he prevailed.

The latest item to come to my attention, though, is a clear indication that Douglas considers the 2012 effort as unfinished business, and he is again using the star power of Ambassador John Bolton to fund a Senate exploratory committee at a reception July 16 in Washington, D.C.

Would-be backers should be cautioned, though, that exploring without committing has occurred before with Douglas. In late 2013 Republicans were delighted to see his interest in running for Attorney General only to back away in January of 2014. It may have been a missed opportunity for the Maryland GOP, but honestly the Senate seat would likely be a better fit for Douglas anyway based on his background.

If you believe that knowledge of foreign policy is the starting point in creating a good Senator, then Douglas would be a good choice and the backing of Bolton emphasizes that point. While both he and previously announced candidate Chrys Kefalas share a legal background, Kefalas has worked mainly on domestic and social issues.

I would have to assume that the question of whether Douglas makes his campaign formal will depend greatly on how much he raises with Bolton. Certainly there are some donors out there who backed him before but Richard basically financed his own effort last time, and that’s not going to cut it for an open seat where the leading Democratic contender had over a million dollars on hand back in March. Douglas has the advantage of experience in running statewide – and that’s a modest plus – but a guy like Chris Van Hollen will simply run a Congressional front porch campaign and just carpetbomb the media markets with 30-second ads running against the Confederate flag and those racist, homophobe hayseed hicks who will scream “Second Amendment!” until it is pulled from their cold, dead hands in front of their tax-shirking church.

In short, the exploration needs to be smiling and dialing. Of course, if all hell breaks out around the world because of events those like Douglas and Bolton have warned us about we have a fighting chance. I figure we will know all we need to know by summer’s end.

Announcing: the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the eighth consecutive year, covering sessions since 2007, I have completed my annual guide to the voting record on key issues from the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.

There will also be the sidebar link I maintain for future reference.

This guide not only features the General Assembly’s voting records on specific votes in graphical form for easy comparison, but also my take on the bills they voted on this year. Suffice to say it was a very unusual year, perhaps as much so as the last initial session from an incoming administration in 2007 – the first year for which I did the mAP.

I began this project in 2008 as a continuation of the former Maryland Accountability Project, which was a similar attempt to catalog legislators’ votes that ended with the 2006 session. (Here is a cached version of its website, which is no longer active.) Over the last eight legislative years I have focused on over 200 votes by the General Assembly. Once committee votes became publicly accessible in 2010 I began adding those as well. This year I looked at 52 separate votes – 22 floor votes and 30 committee votes, or three from each of the ten voting committees in the General Assembly.

So what can you do with the information?

Well, while the mAP is by its nature reactive because it documents events which occurred in the recent past, we can learn from history. While I can count the number of legislators who have attained a perfect 100 percent rating in any given year’s legislative session(s) on one hand, the sad truth is that Maryland has far too many who have a lifetime score of 10 percent or less cluttering up the General Assembly. Our job is to learn who they are and educate the voters of that district as to why their legislators are voting against the interests of their fellows. That’s why the bulk of the mAP is a summary of why I, as someone who favors liberty, would vote in the way I denote in the report.

On the other hand, there is a group I consider the Legislative All-Stars, those who score 90 percent or above or at least lead their legislative body if none reach 90 percent. (Alas, it was not a bumper crop this year.) If the Maryland General Assembly had those legislators as a working majority we could vastly improve our state’s lot in life.

Before I conclude, I want to once again thank someone for her work, a task which perfectly complements the idea of this one but occurs during the legislative session. Elizabeth Myers (who I have interviewed before for my old TQT feature) runs Maryland Legislative Watch, which covers every vote a legislator makes during session and recently updated the site to provide this information for legislators all the way back to 2005 for Delegates and Senators. It may seem like competition but we actually work together in the respect that MLW provides a lot of raw data and I give context on key issues. The Maryland Legislative Watch data is also useful for showing just how many votes are unanimous and how much of the legislature’s time is devoted to local issues; these are the ones which incumbents generally point with pride at bringing home the bacon.

You can judge for yourselves whether legislators vote the correct way on the issues I present. I simply provide this service to Marylanders as a way of being more aware of how the sausage grinding in Annapolis turned out this year.

And while we are still three long years away from the next legislative election, this can be a guide to use to correct the representatives you think are voting in an errant way. Let’s just say some of my local ones need a little chat and leave it at that for now.

So make use of the information. Hopefully creating the 2016 version will have far fewer twists and turns than this one did, since I originally planned to release it four weeks ago – but it’s done and all I ask is a link to my site if you use it somewhere.

And call me crazy, but I am seriously considering doing this same exercise for Delaware since I now work in that state. In one respect it should be easier since they only have a total of 62 legislators, but I have to learn their system so it’s still under consideration as their legislative session comes to an end this week.

Not too late for change

It was 2009, and Americans were still captivated by a shiny and new (or articulate, bright, and clean, if you prefer) President. Yet deep in the nether lands of liberalism there were people already thinking about how to maximize the political gains they could make. In November of that year I wrote about a scheme dubbed the “10-0 project” where Maryland Democrats would gerrymander their way to having all eight Congressional seats by pairing up the few Republican strongholds in the state with large Democratic enclaves, such as wrapping the First District into Baltimore City. The person who developed that plan bragged how it split the McCain voters out so that no district had more than 40 percent McCain support.

While the redistricting plan developed after the 2010 census wasn’t quite that extreme, there were still some of the shenanigans of rerouting the Sixth District toward Washington, D.C. to pave the way for that district to turn Democrat (canceling out the GOP strongholds west of Frederick) and dissecting other heavily GOP areas in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties into multiple districts. They also made the First District a nearly impenetrable Republican fortress, an R+13 district in a state which is nominally D+26.

But while we are past the halfway mark to the 2020 census, there are still those out there who believe the state’s Congressional lines were drawn for partisan advantage rather than true representation. Last week a number of plaintiffs – one from each Congressional district – utilizing the assistance of Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit alleging the current setup “harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State’s congressional delegation that only the voters should make.”

As relief, the suit seeks to have the current districts tossed out and a new district plan drawn which better conforms to the Polsby-Popper compactness test. As it stands currently, Maryland has the worst score of any state, but the plaintiffs allege (through a map they created) that significant improvements can be made. (Unfortunately their map is somewhat confusing because the district numbers assigned on it are quite different than the ones in use now. As an aside, if this map were adopted we would likely be placed in the equivalent of the Fifth Congressional District while both Andy Harris and GOP challenger Michael Smigiel would land in what’s basically our Second Congressional District shifted more to the north and east.) Regardless, the plan appears to keep more counties and areas together rather than the Rorschach test we have now.

While Judicial Watch has stepped in, though, it’s obvious that the battle will be an uphill one. As the suit notes, this is not the first time there has been an objection to the Congressional redistricting plan, and the current scheme was maintained through a misleading referendum in 2012. Thus, the chances for success aren’t very good.

But this should come with a parallel effort to change the system once and for all by putting it into the hands of an independent commission comprised of citizens from each district or even each county. As an example of this, Wicomico County had a commission to redraw County Council districts and its end product had few complaints regarding compactness or gerrymandering. (The most unusually-shaped district here is the one mandated to be majority-minority.) Let them come up with the maps away from the General Assembly and have our legislature give them a simple up-or-down vote. The same goes for state legislative districts, which also should become exclusively single-member districts – no more jungle elections where the top two or three get in.

In our case, unless it sees significant growth, the Eastern Shore will likely always have to share its Congressman with someone else. But that someone else should be close and accessible neighbors – surely the folks in Carroll County are nice people but they really don’t belong in our Congressional district. If we have to take some of Harford and Baltimore counties to make up the population that’s understandable.

Maybe in the next Census I’ll draw a real map that shows the way it should be done. But if Judicial Watch somehow gets its way I can always move that timetable a little closer.

State’s rights? Hardly.

Simply put, it’s been a brutal week for those who believe in right in America.

First of all, those of us in Maryland who had been anywhere from pleased to excited that the state elected a Republican governor when it was thought impossible found out Larry Hogan was not superhuman, just flawed and prone to health ailments like the rest of us. We all hope that he can beat back cancer and finish out his term, but the nagging question will surely remain if he chooses to run for re-election in 2018.

But that paled in comparison to having a Supreme Court which can’t read plain language in the law but can elect to reshape the meaning of words to suit a politically correct fancy. Aside from Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, the SCOTUS blew it twice.

Here’s the problem with both instances: in each we had a varying number of states that chose to do their own thing. In the former instance, most of the states elected to go with the federal Obamacare exchange; in theory giving up the premium subsidy that was supposed to be a sweetener of the pot for Obamacare. Most of these had no desire to set up a state exchange, while a few saw the trainwreck that was Obamacare coming. (Just look at all the issues Maryland had in setting up its state exchange as a prime example.) It was a key flaw among many in the law but six Justices decided the intention was there and states without their own exchanges could still take advantage of the federal tax break. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

So now we’ll have Democrats crowing that it’s the law of the land and that we should deal with it. If this is so then I guess all those exemptions built into the law for various groups and businesses should be immediately eliminated, too. (I also wish they felt that way about illegal immigration.) I’m not naive enough to believe that has any chance at occurring, but it seems to me that states should be taking the lead. After all, the first state to have an Obamacare-style insurance mandate was Massachusetts and that was their right.  No one from the federal judiciary stopped them from trying it, but let Arizona try to enforce federal law on border security and immigration and all hell breaks loose.

And then we have the gay “marriage” decision. No court is going to tell me that marriage is anything other than between a man and a woman, period, end of sentence. Granted, some churches accept that particular ceremony and I suppose that’s their right, as far-fetched as that may appear to be. I’m not ashamed to meet my Maker and say that I believe marriage is only between a man and a woman – some may call me a bigot, but they can hang on to any delusion they want.

Yet we went through this in Maryland – the gay lobby tried and failed a couple times to get the same-sex marriage bill through the General Assembly before they conned a couple centrist RINOs into voting for the bill (note they had more than enough Democrats who could have voted for it, but there were some who wouldn’t touch it.) It passed by one or two votes, thousands upon thousands of concerned citizens managed to get it on the ballot via a referendum, and it squeaked by after a President changed his mind and it had the good fortune to be on the ballot in a high-turnout year. (If it was on the ballot this year I suspect the referendum would have gone the other way.) The point is, though, that Maryland made this decision. It was the wrong one, but now in all but one or two cases (Maryland being one, and I think Minnesota the other) the will of the people has been thwarted somewhere by a state or federal court. Either you had a case like California where voters ended the practice only to have it restored by an activist court or you have the SCOTUS decision today that eliminated the preference of the 14 states where same-sex “marriage” was not on the books.

And again I come back to the fact that states don’t seem to have any autonomy anymore when it comes to social issues. Over the last half-century states that had laws against abortion, gay marriage, and various other “blue laws” have had them taken away by societal mores and activist judges. The question is where this all stops. Are states now just lines on a map as Maryland counties seem to be as they are sucked deeper and deeper into the Annapolis-based morass?

The other sad event held over from last week was the Charleston church shooting, which was apparently caused by a Confederate flag. At least this is what you would be led to believe from the coverage. If South Carolina wants to remove it from their statehouse lawn it’s their business – however, if any state is tied in with the War Between the States it would be South Carolina since the battle began there. So being in the Confederacy is part of their history, just as the behind-the-scenes struggle to keep Maryland in the Union is part of ours. Both Maryland and Delaware were slave states.

Yet there’s something else about this whole scenario that I find interesting. The stated purpose of Dylann Roof in opening fire in that church was to begin a race war. In most cases where someone strikes out against oppression, though, it is generally from the side being oppressed – hence, you have groups which range from relatively peaceful like the NAACP  to more radical entities akin to the Black Panthers all working to advance the black race. Roof may have felt intimidated by his perception that whites were getting the short end of the stick, but in the wake of nonstop coverage of Ferguson and Baltimore it’s not a giant leap to come to that conclusion.

But rather than postulate about the typical role reversal and saying what if a black gunman entered a white church, perhaps you should ponder this: whites kill hundreds of blacks a day all over the nation and hardly a word is said. The biggest race war being perpetrated right now is blacks killing themselves, whether through homicide or abortion. Instead of going on a wild goose chase and blaming the flag of a failed insurrection of 150 years ago – during which the slaves that were freed were only those in states which had seceded, not the border states which stayed in the Union – each of us needs to look inward and ask ourselves if this is really the republic we intended to live in.

America has changed while most of us were sleeping. It’s time to wake up.

The context for Jindal

We weren’t really paying a whole lot of attention in these parts, but today Bobby Jindal became what he hopes is the lucky 13th candidate to seek the Republican nomination for President. And it didn’t take long for our friends, the Democrat “hacktivists,” to take a few potshots in an e-mail titled “Bobby Jindal for president? Really?”:

Take a look at our Bobby Jindal primer:

  • He’s one of the least popular governors in the country: Under his failed leadership, nearly 1 in every 5 people in Louisiana lives in poverty.
  • He’s one of the architects of the scheme to turn Medicare into a voucher system.
  • He will say anything to please the Tea Party base, like denying climate science and championing extremists like the guy from Duck Dynasty.

Really, that’s all you’ve got? Granted, Jindal doesn’t have overwhelming approval numbers in Louisiana – earlier this year, he was polling in the 20s at home, but had significant positive ratings elsewhere. Jindal was popular enough to win 66% of the vote in his 2011 re-election campaign, though. It’s not unheard of for a governor to lose polling momentum in a second term as he had 50 percent approval two years ago. And if failed leadership involves cleaning up a corrupt state, I’ll take some in Maryland.

As for the poverty rate, it is roughly the same in Louisiana as it was in 2000. Under governors of both parties it has stayed around 20 percent, with the low point occurring under Jindal’s watch in 2010. In those terms it is not too distinct from its southern peers.

It’s worth noting that the same poll that had Jindal at 50 percent also polled on his decision not to expand Medicaid. And don’t let them fool you: nothing would happen to Medicare until 2024 at the earliest, and, as Paul Ryan explains, this is a program to allow more choice. We know the Democrat hacktivists think they know what’s best for us but I like having choices, thank you.

But I loved that last bullet point. I don’t believe the climate “science” either because there’s too much money at stake for those who parrot the government line to state otherwise; moreover, there are the inconvenient truths that the Earth has been warmer and cooler than it is today for extended periods before the industrial revolution. In short, we don’t have a damn thing to do with it but people want us to think so in order to tax and control us. Yet it’s working, so don’t tell anyone it’s a con.

And “that guy from Duck Dynasty” happens to be a pretty successful Louisiana-based businessman. You could be friends with worse people, like suspected child molesters. To the extent Phil Robertson is “extreme” is the extent he is God-fearing.

With all that, I’m starting to like Jindal a little more. Really. Let’s face it: the Democrats have nothing except the scandal-plagued Clinton family and the walking failure that is Barack Obama. They can’t even get Jim Webb on the same page.

So if you need a good laugh, just wait for the Democratic “hacktivists” to speak up. You’ll get one.

Fast track bill bounces back to Senate

By Cathy Keim

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is alive and well due to political shenanigans to keep it going. When the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill was voted down by Democrats hoping to block TPA, the game was supposed to end. However, Speaker Boehner is determined to work with Majority Leader McConnell in the Senate to present fast track to the president.

Part of what makes this so confusing is that the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working overtime to present the Democratic president the gift that he has been longing for: more authority to pursue multiple trade bills with Congress only able to vote the deal up or down. Why would the Republicans be feverishly pursuing this goal?

The obvious answer is that free trade is so important that any way of achieving it is worth making any sacrifice. That may be what they are telling you, but it just isn’t true. There are plenty of ways that this deal could lock the US into untenable trade agreements. Currency manipulation, immigration, patent and copyright issues are just a few of the areas that could turn against American workers.

Even when you look at the Maryland delegation’s votes, you will see strange bedfellows. First, take our two senators who split on the issue. I cannot find a statement by Senator Mikulski about her vote, but she voted no. Since she is not running for office again, she does not have to worry about offending the president.

Senator Cardin voted yes after he introduced an AIPAC backed amendment. AIPAC states:

On April 22, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to include an amendment targeting harmful anti-Israel trade and commercial practices in the “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority bill. The amendment, authored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), addresses efforts by foreign governments to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. It also directs that one of the principal American objectives in upcoming trade negotiations will be to discourage trading partners from taking actions that would limit U.S.-Israel commerce.

I can understand why Senator Cardin would want to defend Israel when the current administration has shown real hostility towards them, but one has to ask if this is shortsighted on the Senator’s part. Giving the same administration fast track authority when the president has shown little interest in adhering to any restraints put upon him, may in the long run turn out worse for Israel. Perhaps Senator Cardin would do better to vote no and stop the whole fast track process.

Only one other representative from Maryland voted yes on TPA and that was Congressman John Delaney of the 6th Congressional District. He stated in a press release that:

Right now, two things are happening: 1) Congress is considering a bipartisan agreement that instructs the President on trade negotiations and begins the deliberation process for a new accord and 2) China is working on their own regional trade agreement. I support giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority because it will give the President the tools he needs to negotiate the best trade deal for America and our workers. For the first time, the bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority package includes groundbreaking environmental and labor standards and provides unprecedented human rights protections. The Trade Promotion Authority Package gives President Obama new ways to enforce these standards to make sure we’re not having a race to the bottom that drags American workers down. So it’s either going to be our country setting the terms for trade or it’s going to be China. I want our country, our government and this President setting the terms of international trade, not China.

Congressman Harris of the 1st Congressional District voted no. His Facebook page states:

Thousands of citizens in Maryland’s First District contacted my office regarding bills on trade that were recently considered in the House. Today, I voted against the Trade Promotional Authority (TPA) bill for a second time. Representing your views are of the utmost importance to me and it is truly an honor to serve the people in the First District.

He did not listen to his constituents about CRomnibus or voting out Boehner as Speaker of the House, but this time he heard us loud and clear and responded as we asked. I wonder if that is because former Delegate Mike Smigiel has announced that he is opposing Andy in the primary next April?

Representatives Donna Edwards (4th District) and Chris Van Hollen Jr. (8th District) are both running for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Edwards is running to the left and Van Hollen is obliged to move left too. Van Hollen explains his reasons in a letter to Rep. Levin.

He lists multiple concerns such as currency manipulation, increased investor lawsuits, workers’ rights, environmental issues and more as his reasons for voting no.

Representatives Ruppersberger, Sarbanes, Edwards, and Cummings all signed a letter to President Obama explaining why they were voting no on TPA.

For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated.

(snip)

Beyond traditional tariff issues, these include policies related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, competition, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, e-commerce, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.

(snip)

Congress, not the Executive Branch, must determine when an agreement meets the objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article I-8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.

Representative Steny Hoyer is the Minority Whip. He voted against TPA because:

Trade Promotion Authority legislation lays the foundation for how we approach trade policy as part of our overall economic strategy, and we cannot look at trade simply on its own. We must consider all the elements that affect American workers and jobs.

(snip)

Our workers deserve policies that boost our competitiveness and place us at an advantage in global markets, making it easier for them to get ahead.

He then lists a whole smorgasbord of expensive programs that he wants for the workers.

The reasons for the votes cast vary from constituent demands, to fear of China, to wanting more spending, to defending Israel and to pursuing a Senate seat. Some of the reasons I can agree with while others, like wanting the Export-Import Bank renewed, are not acceptable. However, on this important vote I am happy to have the Democrats join with as many Republicans as will stand against TPA.

Keep on calling and prodding your senators to vote against TPA. The cloture vote is expected today, with the final vote coming tomorrow. If the bill survives cloture, it will likely pass, so the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

WCRC meeting – June 2015

As it turned out we didn’t have a speaker for tonight’s meeting so the agenda was on the light side. Still, there was plenty of discussion at our gathering.

We did the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance as we always do, but in between we had a silent moment of prayer for Governor Hogan. I had not heard the news about his cancer diagnosis, so I was quite shocked. It was definitely a somber way to begin the meeting.

With no speaker, we jumped to Julie Brewington’s Central Committee report. She recounted our appointments to the Board of Elections and Board of Education and revealed we were in the process of working on a fundraising event. We were also seeking a mayoral candidate for Salisbury as the filing deadline approaches in August.

Representing Somerset County’s GOP was Matthew Adams, who came up to sell tickets to the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake. Readers of mine know all about this annual event, which this year has increased its ticket price to $45. Between the state party and our two counties, we have half of one of the large tents for a total of 120 tickets. Adams expressed his interest in having Andy Harris make an appearance, but we were at the mercy of the House voting schedule for that one. Harris may be able to do a morning event, though. (I would assume that Harris’s primary opponent, Michael Smigiel, already has Tawes on his calendar just as Harris was able to do when Frank Kratovil held the seat.)

We also got the pleasure of meeting Patty Miller, who is the incoming president of the Salisbury University College Republicans. Their big task this year, said Miller, was to recruit new members. When asked about the atmosphere on campus Miller admitted that it was hard to overcome the liberal bias of the faculty, but it helped that many students came from rural areas. Adams noted that a good percentage of SU students come from Somerset County and was hoping to use them to gain inroads into UMES.

Some good news came from Muir Boda, who announced the beer license for the Crab Feast on September 12 should be secured this week. The issue was our non-profit status, which was resolved by (of all people) the IRS. Boda was working with Josh Hastings of the Democratic Club, who have the same issue with their event, so there is bpiartisan cooperation around here. He also announced he had filed for City Council last week.

Another upcoming event is the Wicomico County Fair in August, and we were in the process of getting our space there. Dave Snyder asked about voter registration and we encouraged him to do so.

Our most recent appointees to the Board of Education were then asked to speak, as their first meetinnd wg will occur tomorrow morning. And while the reaction to John Palmer’s appointment was “righteously fearful,” according to Julie Brewington, Joe Ollinger struck a more optimistic tone – although he admitted “public education is a tough job.” But it’s not a money issue, he added.

Some of his ideas for change were efforts to instill more discipline in the schools while encouraging more respect for the public school teachers. But he also wished to move as much responsibility as possible to the local board, hoping the state would cede some power.

One other item on the club’s agenda is a new officer. Since Joe Collins took a position on the Board of Elections, he can’t serve as an officer for the WCRC. Dave Snyder volunteered to be nominated but we would like to have other candidates step up, too.

Marc Kilmer filled us in on the public hearing process for an elected school board. Five hearings will be held beginning in September – wonder where they got that idea? It was also suggested that we hold a straw poll at the Wicomico County Fair to gauge support.

Marc also was lauded by Joe Ollinger for how he explained how he came u with his votes, and it was incumbent upon us to demand that same forthrightness from the others on County Council.

Shawn Jester passed along word from Delegate Carl Anderton that his district office was now open. We also learned from Cathy Keim that we would be using the optical scanner machines beginning in 2016. Of course, that brings a headache because the machines and paper ballots have to be kept in a conditioned space the county doesn’t have yet, so they will have to lease or build one.

Next month we will have two speakers. It’s no surprise that our old friend Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio is coming to address us, but having Jake Day speak is definitely different. He sought us out, though, and we’ll give him the forum on July 27.

Increased popularity. Decreased sunshine.

That, in a nutshell, was the story of my Third Friday.

I got home from work, changed my clothes, and walked out to my car. Felt a sprinkle, pulled out my phone, looked at the radar picture and saw this tiny orange, yellow, and green blob arriving.

Man, did it pour when I got downtown. I walked through a river to get there as people were scrambling to get their treasures under cover. So by the time I arrived it was pretty much cleared out.

At that point I decided to find my Delegate’s new office. It’s a modest little room above Roadie Joe’s downtown, but he had some good folks in there for its grand opening: County Councilmen Larry Dodd and Marc Kilmer stopped by as did Salisbury City Council candidate Muir Boda, who made it official today as he filed. I didn’t get a very good picture of the Carl Anderton district office, but my friends Jackie Wellfonder and Julie Brewington did. Find them on social media.

A few of those aforementioned folks were downstairs grabbing dinner as Dark Gold Jazz was playing. So I sat in with them: the dinner eaters, not the band. (Although I own a guitar, I can’t play an instrument to save my life.)

They did about the longest version of “Hey Joe” I’ve ever heard. I don’t drink all that fast but I swear I drank half my beer during the song. Luckily, I like the tune so it worked.

But as people drifted off to other locales like Headquarters Live, I took a few minutes to stroll the Plaza.

The sky was still rather turbulent as I left.

It’s funny because Kim was in Ocean City this evening with the kids (daughter and friend) and it looked nice and sunny there from the video I saw. Welcome to Delmarva, huh? From what I heard, though, 3F was rather packed before the rains came.

So it wasn’t exactly the Third Friday I planned but it was nice to catch up with some old friends nonetheless.

Editor’s note: Read more

Playing the Trump card

As if last year’s election results weren’t enough evidence that the Maryland Republican Party is leading a charmed life, look what happens when you schedule your largest fundraiser of the year with Donald Trump as your guest speaker: he decides to announce a presidential run just days before his scheduled appearance. It goes without saying that the media attention and kudos Baltimore County received from having fellow candidate Senator Rand Paul will also accrue to the state party. If the party draws a full house, I’m sure someone will try and take the credit for being smart enough to grab Trump as a speaker.

Yet there are also the possibilities that the room won’t be all that packed, Trump will deliver a horrific stump speech, or one of his hairs will slide out of place. Nor is it unprecedented to have a presidential aspirant at the event – Newt Gingrich was on the campaign trail when he keynoted the 2011 event. Maybe “the Donald” will actually start putting together an issues page for his campaign website based on what he reveals to the Maryland GOP next week, and hopefully we don’t find out he’s all sizzle and no steak when it comes to politics.

But the nice thing about all these happy coincidences is that Maryland may actually matter in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s not likely the field will be more than two to four by the time our primary rolls around on April 26, but we do have proximity to the major media markets. And while the attention is certainly on the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s a good time for campaigns to get their volunteers in order.

The question, though, is what Trump’s somewhat unexpected entry (after talking about running for several previous election cycles then backing away) means for the rest of the field.

Obviously we have the celebrity aspect to consider. Besides a bank account ample enough to self-fund a presidential run which could cost the winner $1 billion, the thing Trump brings to the race is instant name recognition – love him or hate him, one does not have to be a policy wonk to know the name. Political junkies like me know who John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham are, but the average guy on the street is only aware of two presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and (maybe) Jeb Bush. With Trump the GOP has star power, enough that few are talking about Jeb Bush’s formal entry into the fray yesterday.

That’s also important given the “top ten” debate rules in place for this cycle on the GOP side. While I had a better idea of multiple debates with randomly-selected groups of 5 to 7 apiece, there are now 12 formal entrants with Bobby Jindal slated to make it official next week and fellow governors Chris Christie and John Kasich still making noises about climbing into this free-for-all. Based on simple name recognition Trump should make that top ten easily and he better know how to deal with being on television.

The debate rule may be the key in culling the field before the summer is out. Those who are already starved for attention because they have no poll traction will probably see their campaigns wither on the vine because they can’t get into the debates.

And if Donald Trump alienates enough people, all his money won’t be able to buy him a spot. That will be the reason to watch his campaign as it unfolds, beginning next week with the Maryland GOP.

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