WCRC meeting – July 2016

It’s not all that likely people know that the woman who is probably Salisbury’s most famous widow – Mitzi Perdue – had such an interest in politics. We got to hear about that and her support for Donald Trump during our meeting Monday night.

Once we dispensed of the introductory business, we turned the meeting over to her and Perdue spoke for more than a half-hour on a number of topics – or as she called them, “things on my mind.” She was very pleased to see several younger people in the group, pointing them out as “VIPs” among us.

But after recommending the new Dinesh D’Souza movie “Hillary’s America,” saying “you’ll love it,” Mitzi revealed that she had been for Donald Trump “a long time.” She related a story that many were familiar with: the renovation of the Wollman Rink in New York City. It was a project the city had tried and failed to do for several years before Trump convinced the city of New York to give him a S3 million budget and six months to get the job done. Not only did he do so, but he made a profit. “I want somebody who is really competent,” said Perdue, “and cuts through the red tape.” It went along with her belief in smaller government and lower taxes.

Yet while Mitzi had a longstanding interest in politics, telling us “politics attracts me,” she could never take the step into running for office. It was so “incredibly tempting” though that she decided to enroll in campaign school. But there she learned that a candidate’s primary job was to deny their opponent’s identity, and she could not run under that condition. Perdue lamented the fact that campaigns aren’t about honesty or truth, pointing out the 65,000 negative ads run against Trump. As “a writer by trade,” Perdue thought “the amount of distortion was staggering.” She added her belief that Trump was “a product of where he came from,” as he grew up in Queens.

In addition, Mitzi related her opinion that in this election we are “up against an extinction-level threat.” While she asked the response of several in the room about their most important issues – and got solid answers such as illegal immigration, radical Islam, the economy, and so forth, she considered our national debt as the biggest threat. Citing a book by Reinhart and Rogoff called This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Perdue contended that when debt becomes too great, it brings about the end of nations. Because Donald Trump “understands balance sheets,” Mitzi believed he could best address the issue. “I want a businessman who knows how to say ‘no’,” she explained.

But when Perdue was asked about illegal immigration, she noted the research that shows all the new jobs this century accrued to immigrants, which led to stagnant wages. “Labor is a commodity,” said Perdue, who also noted that, while immigrants are paying $13 billion a year in taxes, they are using $100 billion in services. “I love that (Trump) is for our citizens,” she said, adding that’s in part because ”we don’t protect our borders.” A border wall is “very doable” with modern technology, she added. As an further benefit, it would slow the drug trade. “My hatred of drugs is unending,” Perdue explained.

Her next campaign task was going to be difficult, though: she was seeking a position she had contemplated as a national coordinator of volunteers. This person would evaluate the skills and aptitudes of those who wanted to work for the Trump campaign and give them appropriate tasks. Since Mike Pence had a slightly different strategy, Mitzi thought the job may not pan out.

A final question dealt with coordination between the campaigns of Trump and Maryland’s U.S. Senate hopeful Kathy Szeliga, but it morphed into a discussion about credibility since President Bush had used up a lot of his during his term of office. “Trump is cut from a different cloth,” said Perdue. As for the coordination (in particular signage) that may be up to the state and local parties.

It was an interesting talk, more or less aimed at people not sold on Trump – that would be me. Perhaps I will address this at a later date.

As for the meeting, I was pressed into service to give the Central Committee report. So I updated the club on the Board of Education, an upcoming local fundraiser for Kathy Szeliga to be held on August 20, and progress in planning the Lincoln Day Dinner.

Delegate Carl Anderton gave us an update, assessing that “everything is going great,” and that his immediate agenda would be that of trying to get local priorities funded in next year’s budget as he meets with the budget secretary.

Other issues Anderton found important were the impact of the Maryland Department of the Environment and of Obamacare, particularly the “numerous issues” constituents were having if their Obamacare plans lapsed due to non-payment. If it was a choice between that and cable, “stretch the cable bill,” said Anderton. Overall, he believed “the Lower Shore delegation is busting their humps” for us.

Speaking on the Department of Natural Resources, Joe Schanno pointed out two upcoming issues would be Sunday hunting and controlling the deer population because our area was seeing more frequent car vs. deer accidents.

We learned that we would have a GOP headquarters in the same location the Trump headquarters occupied, with the opening in late August – perhaps coordinated with 3rd Friday. Speaking of that event, Shawn Bradley stressed the need for volunteers at the GOP table there.

We “may need more volunteers” for the Crab Feast September 10, added Jim Jester. The club also authorized a package for sponsorships, which will shortly be available along with tickets to the event.

Regarding our two local womens’ Republican groups, Michelle Bradley reminded us the Greater Wicomico Republican Women would next meet August 11 at Adams Taphouse, with Delegate Christopher Adams being the featured speaker. For their part, the Republican Women of Wicomico will come off their summer break with a Brew River lunch meeting on September 7 with county Chair Mark McIver speaking, then have their Constitution Day gathering on the 17th of September, said Ellen Bethel.

Nate Sansom gave us a rundown on the local Teenage Republicans, who will get back together in August and plot out their strategy to work with both the Trump and Szeliga campaigns.

We also heard from Don Murphy, who came to thank the Central Committee for its support in sending him to the convention as a delegate. He noted that he “had never seen as much contention and dissention” at any other convention he had attended as he had seen during the Rules Committee fight. And while he was one of maybe 7 or 8 from Maryland who voted against the rules, he was one of those who did so as a Trump backer. “What Ted Cruz did was wrong,” added Murphy.

Yet as contentious as the GOP gathering was, Murphy believed it was “not even close” to what the Democrats were experiencing. “Hillary is our common enemy,” Don concluded.

So it was a very interesting meeting. The next one is slated for August 22 with a speaker to be determined.

The cooling-off period

At one time I planned on writing a rebuttal to all the Trump items I put up this week yesterday, but after all the events of the convention I decided it was better to hold off for a week or so and let emotions simmer down a little bit. It also gives me a chance to attend two of my meetings and gauge the mood of the electorate, so to speak – so perhaps after all that I will pick up that baton and share my thoughts on both Marita Noon’s commentary regarding Trump’s energy policy and the entire Art of the Deal series. Right now, emotions are too high and points will be missed.

It’s no secret I didn’t support Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, nor will I be backing the Clinton/Kaine ticket. (Hell, the guy doesn’t even know our part of Maryland exists because he thought Virginia shared a border with Delaware.) Yet I still have an interest in the downticket races, and this year I will be following the advice of Ted Cruz and voting my conscience. (Or, if you prefer, Ivanka Trump, who said, “I vote based on what I believe is right for my family and for my country.” So will I.) But the combination of the Democratic convention taking over the news cycle and my general fatigue with the Presidential race means I may look at some other stuff for a little bit.

One thing I was asked to look at by my friends at the Patriot Post for this week was the prospects for Republicans in the downticket federal races. (If you get their “Weekend Snapshot,” the article is prominently featured there as well.) But I find a little bit of fault with my editor because my original concluding sentence was, “The next four years could be the most interesting and unpredictable times our nation has ever known.” My thought in that sentence was to invoke the old adage “may you live in interesting times” as we seem to be cursed into a choice leading us toward them. To me, this may be the election where more people vote against someone that affirmatively vote for a candidate.

(To that end, can we install the “none of these candidates” option like Nevada has? I could see factions in all four parties on the ballot in Maryland who would love a do-over: Republicans who are anti-Trump, Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders, Libertarians who would like a more doctrinaire candidate than former Republican Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein of the Green Party who would happily move aside for Sanders, too.)

Just think about Congress for a moment. In poll after poll it’s shown to be one of the least popular institutions in the country, but voters send all but a small handful back term after term until they decide to retire. Maryland is a good example of this, with the longest-tenured Congressman being Steny Hoyer (17 terms), followed by Elijah Cummings with 10, Chris Van Hollen and Dutch Ruppersberger with seven apiece, John Sarbanes with five, Donna Edwards with four (plus a few months), Andy Harris with three, and John Delaney with two. Since Edwards and Van Hollen both sought the Senate seat, those districts will open up – but thanks to blatant gerrymandering, they are likely to be gravy trains and “lifetime appointments” for Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin, respectively.

Aside from the one term of Frank Kratovil here in the First District as a “blue dog” Democrat carried on the Obama wave in an otherwise GOP-dominated area, you have to go back almost forty years to find a handful of one-term wonders that Maryland sent to Congress. Both our current Senators came to the job after serving multiple terms in the House, as would Chris Van Hollen if he wins the Senate seat. Kathy Szeliga, on the other hand, has served just a term and a half in the Maryland House of Delegates – although compared to other GOP Senate candidates in recent years that almost qualifies as “career politician,” too.

Yet while our GOP candidate supports Trump and has an uphill battle to win, she was criticized for skipping the convention as well:

Some (GOP convention) delegates who wished to remain anonymous to avoid antagonizing another party member privately expressed discontent and disappointment with Szeliga’s and Hogan’s absences in Cleveland at a time when unity is a key goal of their party after a fractious primary season.

Of course, Andy Harris was there in Cleveland, but he’s in an R+13 or so district with far less to worry about. It was better for Szeliga to be in Crisfield meeting voters with her opponent there.

So while I will talk about the convention in at least one piece I’m considering – and my invited guests may decide on their own to look at the Presidential race – I’m going to step back from it for a little bit. It’s the pause that will refresh me.

40th annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

It was awful tempting to jump on into that water, but several thousand people managed to sweat their way through another hot Tawes Crab and Clam Bake. While Republicans tend to have a little more presence in the area, some of the Tawes regulars were absent because the event coincided this year with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

That convention minted the GOP Presidential nominee, who seemed to be pretty popular.

That group of signs dwindled little by little, as Trump adorned a number of tents. On the other hand, there were far fewer Hillary signs – but the Democrats also had their crowded space.

Sarah Meyers (in the blue shirt) is a friend of mine, and she was tearing her hair out as the coordinator there because they overbooked the space. (You may see her at the Democratic Convention next week, as she will be there as a page.) By the same token, the Somerset Republicans only went with one tent as well and it was packed, too. So both parties had close quarters.

Yet the businesses seemed to have ample space. I didn’t peek into every tent, but many of them (as well as businesses lining State Route 413 into Crisfield) had a simple message: welcome Governor Hogan.

Even lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who always has the largest space, got into that act.

Yet among those businesses I did pick out I found an odd juxtaposition there, particularly under the auspices of the local economic development commission.

In order, these businesses are Cleanbay Renewables, which is a chicken waste recycling firm, Pinnacle Engineering, which services NASA, the Somers Cove Marina Commission, and Great Bay Solar I. The last is interesting because this project was originally supposed to be wind turbines, but objections to the siting of the turbine towers from the Navy forced the company to go solar, making lemonade out of lemons. With the exception of Pinnacle, the state has sort of forced the market for the other two businesses.

Yet on the other side was a law firm that objects to the approach the state is using to clean Chesapeake Bay through its Clean Chesapeake Coalition. They believe much of the problem comes from the sediment that leaches out from behind Conowingo Dam in severe storms.

I happen to think the CCC has a pretty good case.

Speaking of business, the food business did pretty well there. Almost too well.

According to my cell phone camera, which took all my photos today, I took that picture at 12:01 as I walked over to get in line for food. Here is the end result, 46 minutes and four lines later.

I actually asked for the onion rings as I inched closer to the front of the French fry line. And I certainly don’t fault the crew because they worked hard, even toward the end when I snapped this.

I think the issue is the increasing use of “runners” who get multiple orders of food and slow down the lines. It seemed like every third person in line was one, which meant those who just wanted to fend for themselves had to wait.

The guy who didn’t have to wait in line was Governor Larry Hogan, because I don’t think he ate a bite.

This is a second segment of time lapse. I took this photo above in the area where the food lines were at 1:57 p.m. Now, let me ask you: where’s Hogan?

He’s barely visible in the center of the photo, obscured by Delegate Charles Otto in the pinkish shirt. In 35 minutes he had advanced maybe 80 yards thanks to the crush of well-wishers who wanted to shake his hand, have a photo with him (although he suggested it in a number of cases) and perhaps say their piece. I was in the latter group as I wanted to thank him for his stance on the Presidential election. Larry commented that he had noticed the reception I’ve received on social media a couple times as it echoed a lot of what he had seen on his.

Stay strong, Governor.

The two major-party candidates for U.S. Senator were also there. Now I missed Democrat Chris Van Hollen – perhaps because I didn’t recognize him walking around – but I did get a glimpse of Kathy Szeliga from the GOP.

Of the people I saw and photographed, she was one of the few I didn’t speak to at least a little bit. I don’t blame her – our paths just didn’t cross but once.

Of course, a few locals managed to be in front of my camera, such as Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought her family and a batch of others from Worcester County.

She was speaking to Duane Keenan from Red Maryland.

The other half of Worcester County must have come with Senator Jim Mathias, who had a number of folks with a matching shirt to his. He was a little peaked by the time I took the moment to thank him for his assistance with the school board election bill.

Yet while we had hot and cold running politicians there, we also had a lot of media asking questions. I noted Duane Keenan above, but here’s Ovetta Wiggins of the Washington Post (right) speaking to Jackie Wellfonder. Jackie made the cut in Ovetta’s story.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Mike Bradley, who hosts WGMD’s morning show out of Lewes, Delaware. Since his station covers a fair amount of the lower Shore in its signal, he was interviewing some of the local players. It’s a very good show that I catch once I cross into Delaware on my way to work.

And it could be that the Tawes event is becoming one for the greater Delmarva area. A delegation of elected officials from the First State included Representative Tim Dukes, who covers the Laurel and Delmar areas in his 40th District.

The reason I’m in the photo on the right: it was taken by Dukes’ fellow representative (and Minority Leader in the Delaware House) Danny Short of Seaford. Since we’re neighbors with Delaware it was nice to see some of their elected officials, too.

In that respect, this coverage was a little lacking because I did a lot of walking and talking to a number of nice folks from around the state. I want to say I overheard Jackie Wellfonder say this, but Tawes really is “like a big ‘ol family reunion.” We don’t often see a lot of politicians travel across the bridge but for attending Tawes, so you have to say hello and speak your piece when you can.

WCRC meeting – June 2016

June 29, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? It applied to last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting, as the expected legislative wrapup from the remaining non-participants in our May meeting were those slated to speak this month. Unfortunately, the MML conference and a Hogan fundraiser took precedence for those candidates, so it actually fell on a somewhat unexpected guest to deliver a few off-the-cuff thoughts on the session: Delegate Charles Otto, who came up from Somerset County to speak with us. As he was originally elected in 2010 in a district that then included a portion of Wicomico County, he’s considered us his constituents despite the fact he was redistricted out for this term.

Thus, once we took care of doing the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and treasurer’s report, we heard Otto’s assessment that “we have a challenge this year” in electing our President and U.S. Senator. On the latter race, Otto praised his colleague, saying of Kathy Szeliga that “I can’t think of anyone better to fill that position.”

As for the legislative session, he felt that we had “a lot of threats” in the 90 days, but “I think we fared well.” Efforts to mandate paid leave and a minimum wage increase were rebuffed, and while he termed the Justice Reinvestment Act ”a decent bill,” he admitted it was one of the hardest votes for him to consider in his six years on the General Assembly. To a degree, the same was true for the budget, which was more spending growth than he would have likely preferred.

Otto also believed that the transportation bill will be a “big hurdle” to overcome in the coming years, as it favors larger jurisdictions. But local development may be helped by the Triton unmanned aviation program, which is being considered for Wallops Island. Charles noted it has bipartisan support from all three Delmarva governors, who understand the economic impact this could have locally.

But Otto didn’t have an answer regarding a question about the aging school program and $80 million that was supposed to be included. It was a question brought up by John Palmer, who sits on our local school board. I chimed in with a somewhat rhetorical question about the many funding mandates Democrats seem to be adopting to tie Governor Hogan’s hands when it comes to the budget – could we do a reverse BRFA and try to get rid of them? It made for some discussion, and I was thanked later for bringing up the point. (Perhaps I need to save it for a Democratic Club meeting if I ever go to one.)

For being placed on the spot, Delegate Otto did a nice job, so we turned to the Central Committee report from Mark McIver. He noted that the Secretary of Appointments had selected two new Board of Education members who sounded like fine additions, but both of them applied directly to the Governor’s office. None of the five we interviewed, including the incumbent who desired another term, were picked. Yet McIver was “hopeful” about the selections, noting the Appointments office contacted him regularly through the process with questions.

But now it was time to work on the school board referendum, said Mark. It would involve creating a political committee to promote the fully-elected option.

We also learned Mark has tickets to the upcoming Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield and our committee’s next meeting would be pushed back until July 11 thanks to the Independence Day holiday.

Jim Jester revealed ”we’ve made progress” on the Crab Feast: we have secured the all-important one-day beer license. Now we just have to get approval from the health department, after he found out he filled out the obsolete old form that was online and was given a longer, more complicated new one.

Shawn Bradley updated us on Third Friday, which “was a nice surprise” with plenty of involvement as the Republican Club has tried to maintain a table there each month. This month they had the political realm to themselves as the Democrats apparently weren’t there.

Our next piece of business was a lengthy discussion about where to place a headquarters this year and how to pay for it. It will be a joint effort between the club and Central Committee, with a number of locations under consideration.

A contingent from the Republican Women of Wicomico was present to speak on their annual Constitution Day celebration on September 17 at City Park. Former Delegate Mike McDermott is the featured speaker, and the festivities will begin early: a 10:30 a.m. start is planned since Somerset County will be celebrating their 350th anniversary that day in Westover, as Delegate Otto pointed out. (It was also noted that we were sitting in what once was Somerset County; that is before it was split along Division Street in Salisbury and Fruitland to first create Worcester County to its east. Both then ceded territory in 1867 to create Wicomico County. So I stand corrected since Somerset preceded Worcester.)

We then found out from John Palmer that Wicomico County Board of Education meetings would soon be streamed online thanks to the PAC14 website. The eventual idea is to allow real-time involvement from those watching.

Finally, we were alerted to a townhall meeting Congressman Andy Harris would be holding tonight (June 29) at Black Diamond Catering in Fruitland from 6-7 p,m,

In less than an hour we had taken care of our business and become more informed. Next month we go off the political board a little bit as our speaker will be Mitzi Perdue. That meeting will come July 25.

Splitting up or making a stronger whole

In the wake of the successful Brexit vote I knew someone would resurrect this old idea.

Certainly the idea of the state of Delmarva (or as I would call it, the state of Chesapeake) has been around for generations. It’s only natural given the geographic isolation both the Chesapeake and Delaware bays provide, but reality’s heavy thud divided this sandbar somewhat unevenly into one full state and parts of two others. The full state is one of the smallest in the country by both population and geography while the states split by Chesapeake Bay have practically all of their population across the Bay – less than 10% of Maryland residents and barely 1/2% of Virginia residents live on this side.

Yet if there were a referendum on the subject, we would have a plethora of possible choices, with perhaps the top three being: one new state for the entire peninsula with a brand new slate of laws, the merger of the Eastern Shore portions of Maryland and Virginia into a greater state of Delaware, or remaining as we are. Perhaps Wilmington and New Castle County of Delaware may feel better with a more urban state like New Jersey. But then what happens to institutions like the University of Delaware, which is in New Castle County?

Obviously the politician in me likes the idea of a greater Delaware that would become a “purple” state where Republicans have a good shot of taking control. Since New Castle County boasts a population of 556,779 (according to the latest estimate) out of a state that has 945,934 (based on that same data) it’s always going to run the state of Delaware. (If you think Maryland is bad, remember no jurisdiction has more than 15% of its population. New Castle County is over half of Delaware’s.) Adding the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia would basically negate the Democratic-leaning population of New Castle with a broad area nearly equal in population but definitely more conservative-leaning.

Yet even if we can’t be part of Delaware, there are a number of things that can be done to bring us closer. My favorite (and this has been tried before) is to eliminate the sales tax from Eastern Shore counties in Maryland. (The same could be done in Virginia, although being separated by about 40 miles of Maryland makes the “Del” and “Va” a less likely pair of rivals.) Creating a business zone based on Delaware laws as applicable for the Eastern Shore could be of assistance as well.

But while this idea has plenty of benefits, it probably won’t happen in my lifetime because political power is more important than the people, It’s still a shock to me that the people of Great Britain were allowed such a referendum in the first place – obviously the liberal EU assumed everyone loved them. I expected a result more like the bid to split California up into six states, which failed to qualify for this year’s ballot. The last state to be split up was when the Union-leaning western part of Virginia seceded from the Confederate state of Virginia in 1863 – Virginia was eventually readmitted but not reunited with its former territory, which is now West Virginia. To create a new state or expand Delaware it would take the approval of all parties involved and that’s not going to happen because they need our money – and when it comes to politics we know they follow the golden rule: he who has the gold, rules.

It is nice to dream, though.

Willful ignorance?

According to multiple news reports on both the state and national level – apparently this was, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a “big f’ing deal” – Larry Hogan is now an official member of #NeverTrump. Welcome aboard.

Hogan said he doesn’t plan to vote for Trump, but was coy on his choice otherwise. “I guess when I get behind the curtain I’ll have to figure it out,” Hogan said. “Maybe write someone in, I’m not sure.” That sounds vaguely familiar, although even as moderate as Hogan can be I would imagine he’s not a Hillary supporter.

Certainly the governor would prefer to keep his questioning confined to affairs of state, but after being bugged about his choice for months once his endorsed candidate Chris Christie exited the race he obviously threw up his hands and gave the most honest answer he could. Of course, it wasn’t good enough for the Democrats who want Hogan to condemn Trump for his statements so they can beat up the downticket candidates this year, but the goal shouldn’t be to satisfy a party that’s nominating a candidate who, if she were not Bill Clinton’s wife, would likely be in prison for her actions as Secretary of State.

What’s interesting to me about this whole thing is that Hogan’s appeal cuts across many of the same lines as Donald Trump’s does. Both had crossover attraction in their election, as thousands of Democrats voted Hogan in 2014. Many of them switched parties two years later to cast a ballot for Donald Trump. At the end of last year the Maryland GOP had 971,806 voters but gained over 29,000 by the end of April to eclipse 1 million for the first time at 1,000,915. (As of the end of May they had 1,004,083.) Unfortunately, the Democrats are growing even faster as they gained 68,000 in the same December-May period. So there may be a little bit of a political calculation going there.

(Contrary to popular opinion, however, the Libertarian Party has not gained in Maryland despite Republican threats to leave if Trump was nominated. In the month after the primary they actually lost 87 voters.)

It’s worth noting that Donald Trump got 54.1% of the GOP primary vote, which translated to 248,343 votes. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton received 62.5% of the Democrat vote, which turned out to be 573,242 votes. Even Bernie Sanders outpolled Trump with 309,990 votes. GOP turnout was right about 45%, so Trump would have to get a whole lot of unaffiliated voters to have a shot. Having Hogan come out publicly against The Donald probably doesn’t assist that cause.

But the more important number to Hogan is 70 percent, which is roughly his approval rating right now. I don’t think Trump can touch that number in Maryland, and while there may be the most radical 10 percent of Trump supporters who won’t vote for Hogan in 2018 because Hogan is withholding his support, that’s only about 25,000 voters at risk – not even 1/4 of his victory margin in 2014. If 70 percent of the population likes you, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll be re-elected. (This is why the Democrats have tried to pin Trump to Hogan every chance they get.)

While I suspect that his reasoning may be a lot different than mine, I’m pleased to have Governor Hogan on my side on this one. The GOP still has an opportunity to correct course at the Cleveland convention, and I think they better take it.

The seduction of good intentions

In yesterday’s Salisbury Independent, County Councilman Marc Kilmer discussed his concerns about a tuition assistance program proposed by community leaders and supported by County Executive Bob Culver. The aim of this Wor-Wic College proposal would be to assist Wicomico County high school students by supplementing their available financial aid, with an estimated cost once the program is underway of $665,000 annually.

One of the examples cited by the backers of the Wor-Wic Economic Impact Scholarship is that of Garrett County at the far western end of Maryland, which has a similar program. I’m sure those on County Council have seen this document, but the Garrett County Commissioners have produced a (somewhat dated) report on the Garrett County Scholarship Program, which they began way back in 2006 – so the 2014 report had several years’ worth of data to evaluate its success.

A couple things to bear in mind are that Garrett County is not one of the wealthier counties in Maryland, and in terms of its economic strength it would fit in well with the rural counties of the Eastern Shore. As the report authors note, the county is in a transition “from an economy traditionally based on agriculture, forest products, and mining to a more diversified economy based on tourism, commerce, light industry, and construction.” But it is also far smaller than Wicomico County in terms of population, with just over 30,000 people – imagine the city of Salisbury (but not the outskirts and densely populated nearby incorporated and unincorporated areas) spread out in a far larger geographic area, as Garrett is the second-largest county in the state when it comes to land area. It doesn’t have a large populated area, either, as the largest towns of Mountain Lake Park and Oakland (the county seat) hover around 2,000 residents apiece.

According to the commissioners’ report, between 1/3 and 2/5 of the eligible students in the county took advantage of the program, but in raw numbers the total was less impressive: from a fall 2008 peak of 138 recipients, the number declined over the next several years to a low of 79 in the fall of 2013 (the last year detailed by the report.) Yet the program comes with a significant cost due to some of its qualities: for FY2013 the price tag was $427,365 and for FY2017 the county has budgeted $500,000. However, the county also assists students who are dual-enrolled in one of its two high schools and Garrett College as well as a handful who are enrolled in non-degree certificate programs, as well as encouraging students to take more than the minimum 12 credit hours to maintain eligibility. They pick up that tab.

While the programs as envisioned here in Wicomico County and the Garrett County program have somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison to them, I think it’s fair to say that the local proposal is probably going to cost more than envisioned. Expanding the Garrett scholarship to non-degree certificate programs, while a sound idea, is an example of the mission creep that often occurs with the government getting involved. It’s also worth pointing out a spike in costs came when Garrett College tuition increased significantly in 2009.

Unfortunately, the one relevant piece of data we don’t have is whether these scholarship recipients remained to take (or create) jobs in the Garrett County region. According to state records, though, the workforce in Garrett has actually declined from 15,666 to 14,475 over the last decade (April 2006 – April 2016) for a drop of 7.6%. Conversely, Wicomico County declined from 49,566 to 47,504 in that same period, for a decrease of 4.2% – so by that measure the Garrett County program may not be very successful. (Yet the Garrett unemployment rate has only risen from 4.7% to 5.7% in comparison to a jump from 3.7% to 6% in Wicomico.)

One way of expressing the cost of this program is to equate it to property taxes. For each penny of property tax, Wicomico County collects about $570,000 (this is assuming I am reading the budget correctly, of course. But it sounds about right based on my experience.) So this would be a little over a penny out of the 95 cents or so the county collects out of every $100 of property valuation. The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would pay about $20 a year toward this goal. If that seems worth it to give students a break, then support the scholarship program.

But if I may make a couple suggestions: I think the total expenditure should be capped and given out on a first come, first served basis. I understand not everyone makes snap decisions well, but in order to be fiscally responsible we can’t let this mushroom beyond its small percentage of the county budget. I would also reserve a number of slots for certificate programs Wor-Wic offers, similar to that element of Garrett’s program. Since a P-TECH school is not yet in the cards for Wicomico County, this can be the next best thing if done correctly.

It’s not likely any member of my family will take advantage of the program, but Kilmer is right to be a little skeptical of it at this stage. The county did set aside the money to begin the program once the questions are answered, though, so it’s possible an upcoming high school class will be the first to have this option.

Announcing: the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the tenth year in a row, I have graded all 188 legislators in the Maryland General Assembly based on their voting patterns on a number of key issues. Beginning with sine die back in April, I started looking into both floor and committee votes trying to find those which reflected conservative principles, with an eye on civil liberties as well. The final product, all 27 pages, can be found right here or in its usual sidebar location.

You’ll notice the look is a little different this year, as I decided to scrap the old two-column format and just give it more of a standard form that’s easier to read. I also changed the font to something a little more stylistic. On the charts themselves, I decided to eliminate the committee votes from the main chart and instead added two new pages for those votes so that all of the legislators on the committee can be more directly compared.

As for the votes themselves, the overriding theme to me was fiscal. Democrats don’t like not being in the governor’s chair to spend money, so they are trying to use their legislative majority to force Governor Hogan to spend more. To the majority, there are two advantages to this approach: not only can they give handouts to favored constituencies, but they can prevent Hogan from finding the savings he can use to cut taxes and fees. Their goal seems to be putting our governor in a position where he has to raise taxes, which is music to the ears of people like Mike Miller and Michael Busch.

So you’ll notice quite a few floor votes deal with these sort of mandates. There are also quite a few intended to strip power from the Executive Branch (which wasn’t an issue just two short years ago) and tie the hands of businesses because government needs something to justify its existence.

I note in the conclusion that there were far fewer correct votes this year, and a large part of that was the mix of bills I selected. Last year I had an average House score of 39.82 and Senate count of 41.15. This was because a lot of Democrats got scores in the 20s, and that was based on their support for marijuana and civil liberties legislation I favored. This year, not so much as the averages plummeted to 27.1 in the House and 23.26 in the Senate. Being a more hardline fiscal conservative this year (because they addressed the issues they were with me on last year) changed a lot of Democratic scores from 24 to a big fat zero. On the other hand, I had only seen two perfect scores in nine previous years but got two in one session this year for the first time.

I’ve been warned that the third year of the cycle is always the most ambitious for policy, although liberals are dangerous any year. There are a few things that were stopped this year that we will surely see in 2017, such as paid sick leave. I also expect a bid to extend the fracking moratorium as part of a broad environmental package – the wackos were strangely quiet this year but I think 2017 brings some interim deadlines and reports on Bay cleanup. Add in the trend to mandate more spending and 2017 will be an interesting time.

One final change comes in the sidebar. I’m leaving the 2015 report available as part of a long-term process to show trends for the 2015-18 term. As one example, I think the candidacies of Kathy Szeliga and David Vogt affected their voting patterns – you’ll be able to judge for yourself now.

Feel free to print yourself a copy for your use, just don’t forget where it came from.

Harris weighs in on transgender issue

In a letter to local school superintendents within his district, Congressman Andy Harris urged those officials to maintain the stance of respecting the privacy of those who use gender-specific facilities:

I realize the tenuous position the Departments of Education (DOE) and Justice have put you in through the “guidance” provided in their letter, dated 13th of May, to school districts. I urge you to continue to respect a student’s right to privacy – including girls that do not wish to undress in the presence of biological males or whose parents feel likewise. Please know the Obama Administration will not have the last word on this issue.

(snip)

(T)he Obama Administration sent the May 13th letter to school districts across the country containing “guidance” that would require all public schools to accommodate students using restrooms of their choice regardless of their biological gender. Violation of this “guidance” is, of course, under the implicit threat of withholding of federal funds and/or legal action by the DOJ. On this issue, I believe the Administration is misinterpreting federal civil rights law, and violating state’s rights. There is no statutory authority for this “guidance.” (Emphasis in original.)

Although he’s not a lawyer, Harris goes on to cite a pair of court cases that are already underway to reinforce his belief that school systems have nothing to worry about insofar as federal funding goes. And he may be correct on this point, as it will likely be months (if not years) until this winds its way through federal courts – in the meantime it’s a safe bet that most school districts will cave on this and further blur the lines between genders, all to cater to perhaps one or two students in a 1,000 student school who are truly suffering from gender dysphoria as opposed to the couple dozen who may be doing so as a rebellion against authority or to get their jollies. I thought we were supposed to celebrate differences, so what is wrong with the one or two in question having respect for their peers and using a unisex restroom as available? I suspect most kids in a school would know the situation of the student in question.

The next question, though, is when this will come down to the state level and, more importantly, when it will be impressed on Christian schools (such as the one Kim’s daughter attends) that these accommodations need to be made? It’s already becoming fair game for just anyone to use her restroom, such as at Target.

Of course, I have heard the argument that a truly transgendered person would be indistinguishable from their opposite sex in mannerisms and it’s likely they are already using the restroom of the gender they identify with. Fortunately, modern restroom design would either provide that a guy who identifies as a woman uses a stall (because a women’s room is all stalls) or that a girl that identifies as a guy uses the stalls available in the men’s room because they can’t use a standard urinal.

I think the issue is more in the realm of locker and changing rooms where it can become obvious that the biological equipment is different, and it presents an uncomfortable experience for both sides. So what is wrong with the right to privacy, particularly since the Left thinks it applies to a woman’s body in other situations?

The simple truth is no matter what surgery you subject yourself to or how many hormones you take, 99.99% of us are either male or female. (There is a very tiny group that is intersex or has a degree of those characteristics, perhaps 1 in every 2,000 births.) You simply can’t change the fact you are XX or XY at birth and it doesn’t matter whether you feel more feminine on some days – guys, stay out of the girls’ locker room. The policy in place for many, many years worked for a reason – because it was logical and respected obvious differences.

Hopefully Harris is correct about the federal government’s impotency, but that doesn’t mean school administrators will do the right thing as illustrated above.

A lack of ink in the veto pen

I have generally associated Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend news dumps with the party of our current President, but Governor Hogan took advantage of the impending holiday weekend to announce he’s allowing 39 Senate and 45 House bills to become law without his signature. Hogan is vetoing just six bills at the end of this session, with two of them being crossfiled versions of a bill that would increase renewable energy mandates that will be featured on my monoblogue Accountability Project. In his veto letter for HB1106/SB921, Hogan conceded the idea was sound but that this measure took things too far when ratepayers are already shelling out a collective $104 million in compliance fees in 2014, the last year for which data was available.

The renewable portfolio standard wasn’t the only mAP bill Hogan vetoed – two other ones had to do with transportation and the fallout from Hogan’s decision to pull the plug on Baltimore’s Red Line. Back in April, Hogan vetoed the infamous Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 only to have General Assembly Democrats rise up and override him. The veto vote was the one I used for the HB1013 slot of the mAP.

Hogan also chastised General Assembly Democrats for their support of SB907, which would have mandated a $75 million annual payment toward a replacement for the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Hogan noted that this project is already in the pipeline, calling the legislation “absolutely unnecessary.” This will also be an mAP vote.

A third bill that I didn’t use as an mAP vote – but which also deals with transportation – was HB1010, which would have created the Maryland Transit Administration Oversight and Planning Board. Governor Hogan called it “a sophomoric attack on sound transportation policy,” noting also that the board would be stacked with members from the urban counties.

The other two bills Hogan vetoed were comparatively minor. One dealt with a proposed mixed-use project at Morgan State University in Baltimore, while the other claimed the proposed Maryland Education Development Collaborative ran afoul of the state constitution by placing General Assembly members in a position where they would be doing executive functions.

I’m sure some part of the equation whether Hogan vetoed the bills or not had to do with the likelihood of a veto being sustained, so here are the margins of passage for each of these bills:

  • HB1106: House 92-46, Senate 32-14. Override possible by 11 votes in House, 5 in the Senate.
  • SB921: Senate 31-14, House 91-48. Override possible by 5 votes in Senate, 9 in House.
  • SB907: Senate 33-12, House 90-50. Override possible by 7 votes in Senate, 7 in House.
  • HB1010: House 87-51, Senate 28-19. Override possible by 6 votes in House, but Senate can uphold veto if all 19 maintain their votes.
  • SB540 (Morgan State): Senate 41-0, House 113-22. Override likely: Senate would need to find 19 votes and House 35.
  • SB910 (MEDC) passed without objection in both houses, but will likely have GOP support for a veto. If so, they need 5 Senate Democrats or 7 House Democrats to join them.

Given those results, I’m quite disappointed Hogan didn’t veto more bills. Not only does it put Democrats on record opposing a popular centrist governor, but it also slows down the General Assembly and hopefully makes the more centrist members of the majority rethink their support of bad legislation. It was pointed out to me recently that Hogan won 71 legislative districts but only 50 Republicans were elected to the House – thus, in theory the GOP can get a majority for the first time in generations in 2018. Dream big. (Sometime I should look into this claim.)

One other issue with this is that Hogan’s slow veto deliberations removed any opportunity to petition the most egregious legislation to referendum. However, I say this knowing that we aren’t taking advantage when opportunity knocks – I honestly believe felon voting should have been petitioned to referendum (as an act this year thanks to the veto override vote, it could have.)  Let’s see if 80 percent really oppose it.

So it will turn out that the vast majority of bills on my mAP – all of which I opposed for the floor vote – will become law anyway. I think we’re reaching way too far across the aisle in this state considering how little we get in return, so in my view Hogan should have really played hardball. At some point a number of these bills are going to bite us, but now we won’t even get the luxury of a repreieve for a few months. Thanks, Larry.

The third party alternative

For decades, millions of Americans have complained that their Presidential choices consist of someone more evil against someone slightly less evil. Since we don’t have compulsory voting, those people have taken the option to skip voting altogether, with Presidential election turnout in 2012 estimated at 57.5%. Put another way, “none of the above” trounced both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as they each only picked up around 29% of the registered voters.

But the fact that neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to be completely pleased with their presumptive nominees has brought out those who believe the Libertarian Party is best poised to make a little bit of inroads among the voting population. This seems to happen every cycle, but by the time the votes are cast the Libertarians are usually stuck with between 1/2 and 1 percent of the vote, By comparison, independent efforts from Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 garnered a vastly larger percentage of the vote, and those of us who are a certain age recall liberal Republican John Anderson and his 1980 Presidential bid, which got 6.6% of the vote against incumbent Jimmy Carter and eventual winner Ronald Reagan. (Perot received 18.9% in 1992 and 8.4% in 1996, both times denying Bill Clinton a majority of the vote.)

Of course, with the unpopularity of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who both have significant shares of voters on the principled edges of their respective parties declaring their intentions to not vote for the nominee, there is the luster of an independent run by a conservative like Ted Cruz or a socialist like Bernie Sanders. The idea falls apart, though, thanks to early ballot access deadlines in several states and “sore loser” laws preventing defeated Democrats or Republicans from going back on the ballot a second time in a particular cycle for the same office.

So here in Maryland there are only four party lines: Republican, Democrat, Green Party, or Libertarian. Each has a place on the ballot, and since I’m nowhere near caring who runs for the Green Party my focus for this is on the Libertarian ticket, where their nominating convention will be held in Orlando this weekend. Their field of 18 recognized candidates actually exceeds the original GOP field, but for all intents and purposes the balloting is going to come down to three: Gary Johnson, John McAfee, or Austin Petersen.

Johnson has the highest profile, but I suspect the purists of the LP are a little leery of him because he ran and governed as a member of the Republican Party. He originally sought the GOP nomination in 2012, but left early on to pursue and secure the Libertarian nod, getting the LP past the million-vote barrier in a Presidential election for the first time. He’s already selected former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as his running mate, making it a ticket of two former governors.

John McAfee is the guy whose name is synonymous with computer software, and in some respects is the Trump of the Libertarian field. He seems quite brash to me and of the three I would give him the least chance of winning. But it’s a convention and anything can happen.

There are a number of conservatives openly rooting for Petersen to win (Erick Erickson is the latest) for various reasons, not the least of which is a platform which is rather tolerable to those Republicans disgruntled with Trump. (One example: “Encourage a culture of life, and adoption, and educate Americans about the ‘consistent pro-life ethic,’ which also means abolishing the death penalty.”) I could get behind the pro-life portion, although I differ with Petersen on the death penalty believing there are circumstances where one forfeits his right to life by committing heinous deeds. Another more in a mainstream libertarian vein (that I can agree with): “Allow young people to opt out of Social Security.” I give Petersen the outside chance of winning, but I suspect there’s just enough support for Johnson/Weld to give them the nod.

Regardless of who wins, though, the pattern will probably work this way: over the summer the LP will poll in the high single-digits and may crack 10% nationally in some polls. But sometime around October these campaigns reach a point where voters decide they really want to back the winner, not some guy polling 10 percent. They’ll forswear their allegiance to the LP for the chance to say, yes, I backed Trump or Clinton in the election. Or in a lot of cases they’ll just say, “screw it, I’m staying home because my guy has zero chance.” Given that the support for the LP seems to be coming more from the Republican side right now, that attitude could lose the Senate for the GOP.

So on Tuesday we will know just who the LP nominee is, and the #NeverTrump group will have to decide if he (or, the slight possibility of she) is worth losing party privilege over.

WCRC meeting – May 2016

The fact that Memorial Day occurs on a somewhat rare fifth Monday of the month this year provided the WCRC with an “extra” meeting this year, and they took advantage by scheduling something that’s becoming a tradition: the annual Legislative Wrapup. All six Republican members of our local delegation (from Districts 37 and 38) were invited – but thanks to a number of calendar conflicts, only two of them came. It was ladies’ night for the delegation as Delegate Mary Beth Carozza and Senator Addie Eckardt gave their accounts of the recently completed session. (Delegate Chris Adams made the attempt to stop by, but came just after we wrapped up.)

So once we did our usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, Eckardt got the meeting underway by praising the state’s $42 billion budget, which needed no new taxes for balance. The reason for this was that the Hogan cabinet was finding more efficiencies in their respective departments, enabling the state to become more business-friendly. One way they were doing this was through fee reduction, although Eckardt noted that some Democrats were fretting that fees were getting too low. Yet the budget allowed for a reduction in the structural deficit and did not feature a BRFA, the omnibus bill where spending mandates are often buried. This year’s spending had “full transparency,” said Addie.

But the push to reduce taxation was one goal of the Augustine Commission, explained Addie. Sadly, the broader tax reform package could not pass thanks to the question of passing a package mandating expanded paid sick leave - despite the fact changes to the earned income tax credit would have helped thousands of working Maryland families that I thought the majority party deigned to represent.

On the other side of that Augustine coin, Addie continued, was the idea of being responsive to constituents; to “change the tenor of government.” This went with a drive to bring things to the county level, as Addie noted “local control is important to me.”

One complaint Eckardt had about the session was the “crusade to get the Red Line back.” It led to the passage of what’s known as the “Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016.” (I call it the “Revenge for Not Funding the Red Line in Baltimore” Act.) While the bill overall is terrible, Eckardt noted it was amended somewhat to give local jurisdictions a little more priority.

And while she was pleased Wicomico County would be receiving an additional $8.7 million from the state for various projects, Addie was more passionate about a series of initiatives to bolster mental health and combat addiction around the state. She was also happy to see the Justice Reinvestment Act pass, which was a bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform. The state was also doing more to address mental and behavioral health, particularly since she claimed later in the evening it took someone who was addicted and incarcerated two years to re-integrate fully. This led to a discussion about what the state and local governments were doing to deal with the issue of homelessness, to which Muir Boda revealed the city of Salisbury would be embarking on a Housing First program modeled after one in the state of Utah.

Between Eckardt’s main presentation and the later discussion about mental and behavioral health issues, we heard Delegate Carozza’s perspective. She began by praising the club for being a group of workers and doers when it came to advocacy, with the optimistic view that “this is our time…Governor Hogan is turning the state around.” But that was a process which would take at least eight years, said Mary Beth. As an aside, she also believed that Kathy Szeliga was “the candidate that can win” the U.S. Senate seat, which would also lay the groundwork for Larry Hogan’s re-election campaign.

Both she and Eckardt, added Carozza, were in the position to support the budget thanks to their respective committees. They could succeed making suggestions for “walling off” funds for supplemental budget proposals, of which there were two or three each year. And while this budget allowed for what Carozza termed “a well-rounded tax package,” only a minor tax break for Northrop Grumman made it through. But the “good news” out of that was that it was making Mike Busch and Mike Miller talk about tax relief, making it a stronger possibility we may see some in 2017.

As for some of her priorities, Carozza was happy to see the bomb threat bill she sponsored make it through the General Assembly in its second try. (A similar proposal was introduced by then-Delegate Mike McDermott in 2013, said Mary Beth.) She commented about how the broad community support, combined with the “sense of urgency” provided by a series of bomb threats making the news earlier this year, allowed the bill to pass easily. Another bill she was happy to shepherd through was the ABLE bill, which allows the disabled to save money for dealing with their medical-related expenses without jeopardizing their means-tested benefits.

She also stressed that killing bad bills was a part of the job as well, citing the defeat of the poultry litter and “farmer’s rights” bills where she praised Delegates Carl Anderton and Charles Otto as they “led the charge” against those measures. Mary Beth also took the unusual step of personally testifying against the assisted suicide bill and worked to amend the sick leave bill to exempt more seasonal employees. On that bill, she predicted “we’re going to see it again next session.”

Even after hearing all that information, we had some business to do, like the treasurer’s report and Central Committee report that Dave Parker delivered. He called the recent state convention the “get over it, people” convention, noting the party seemed pretty well unified afterward. Even local radio host Don Rush had difficulty finding disunity among a group of Republicans who were his guests last Friday, Parker added. On the other hand, “Hillary can’t close the deal” on the Democratic side.

I added my two cents about the convention to his report, pointing out the National Committeeman race was perhaps the biggest bone of contention and that was relatively minor. But the Fall Convention may be interesting because we will be electing a new Chair, and the question is whether it will be someone who will work more for Larry Hogan’s re-election or to bolster the GOP numbers in the General Assembly. A Hogan win, I added, would make redistricting the key focus for the second term – personally, I think we should strive for single-member districts and Eckardt agreed based on its impact to minorities.

Shelli Neal updated us on the Greater Wicomico Republican Women, who would be holding their next meeting June 16 at Adam’s Taphouse. They had two tickets to the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield to raffle off as part of a membership meeting for the newly-christened organization.

Another fairly new creation was the Wicomico Teenage Republicans, which had “a great start of a club” according to Nate Sansom. While their next meeting was slated for this coming Friday, they planned on taking a summer break and reconvening in August once school started back up. With a group of “passionate people, happy to be involved,” Sansom believed his group would focus on statewide campaigns like Kathy Szeliga’s as well as the local We Decide Wicomico campaign for an elected school board.

Representing the statewide College Republicans, their Chair Patty Miller was hoping to reach each county Central Committee at one of their meetings over the next few months and “see what they need from us.” Her first stop will be this week in Calvert County.

Jim Jester reminded us the Crab Feast would be September 10, but stressed the need for more volunteers – particularly to handle admissions and the silent auction.

Shawn Jester pointed out the WCRC Scholarship winners had a brief story in the Daily Times. But, since the subject was volunteering, he was also looking for people to help out at Third Friday, which we missed this month because no one was available. On that note, a signup sheet was passed around. (We will also need help for upcoming events such as the Wicomico County Fair, Good Beer Festival, and Autumn Wine Festival.)

After all that discussion, and seeing that we had a legislative update where the topic wasn’t addressed, I added one thing to the conversation. General Assembly Democrats sponsored a large number of bills this year that mandated spending. To me, this is an effort to handcuff Larry Hogan when it comes to budgeting but also leaves less room for tax reform. Many of these bills may become law without Hogan’s signature, but they will be law just the same. It’s an issue that I think needs a strategy to address, perhaps a reverse BRFA to eliminate mandates.

We are going to try and get the guys who didn’t show up this month to come to our June meeting, so stay tuned. It will be June 27.

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