WCRC meeting – January 2015

For awhile, given the pessimistic weather forecast over the weekend, we weren’t certain this meeting was going to come to pass. But the wintry weather held off long enough for the Wicomico County Republican Club to gather and, despite the lack of a featured speaker, come up with a spirited discussion about recent events and its own internal affairs.

So we began with our usual opening ceremonies, with a somewhat sparse attendance because of the weather.

The recent events in question were the procedures of getting an elected school board here in Wicomico County. Council members Marc Kilmer and Joe Holloway were present and made the case that what was presented to the General Assembly was a compromise which had the backing of the full Council, a step which was lacking in previous efforts. But they also encouraged the public to attend next Tuesday evening’s County Council meeting and provide input before the final package is provided to the Maryland General Assembly for introduction. As envisioned, it would be a hybrid board with the first members elected in 2018 to four-year terms. Members appointed by the County Executive would take office sometime before that so their terms would be staggered.

There really wasn’t much objection from tonight’s group, although my previous objections were noted. Basically, the hybrid idea is a concession to the NAACP, which was concerned about the prospect of a lack of minority representation on the school board. Holloway and Kilmer argued that the hybrid compromise was the way to get everyone on board and increase the chances of passage; they were also credited by some observers of the Council meeting with pushing the process forward, along with the insistence of Council President John Cannon that the elected school board be on a crowded agenda.

The other large task was that of making a change in how the WCRC operates. For years the club had seven officers whose duties weren’t always made clear by the bylaws. At tonight’s meeting we streamlined the future operations of the WCRC’s Executive Committee to just five officers as we reduced the four vice-presidential slots to two. Yet the two vice-presidents will have a significant say in the operations of the club as they will be in charge of several standing committees, with the functions of these committees more clearly spelled out in the club’s bylaws.

It’s a concept I’ve favored for several years, but with the help of Joe Ollinger we have made this a reality. The timing of this was important because we were also getting the Nominations Committee report for new officers for next term and there were only five officers listed. So once the revisions to the bylaws were approved, we could approve the committee report with the five officers. While nominees from the floor are welcomed, the Nominations Committee submitted the following names for each position:

  • President: Shawn Jester
  • First Vice-President: Muir Boda
  • Second Vice-President: Joe Collins
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz
  • Treasurer: Debra Okerblom

Only the latter two would be holdovers, although Jester was First Vice-President under Jackie Wellfonder this year.

The elections will be next month, although I also want to use the time to populate various committees we have now created as standing committees.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other announcements and reports. As a club, we funded the WCRC Scholarship for next year (2016) as the process is already underway for this year’s competition. That led to a consensus as a group that we needed to make fundraising a priority – much easier to spend money than to raise it, even for little things like a storage room for the WCRC’s stash of stuff like tables and chairs. That’s another minor item we were alerted to as an expenditure approved by the Executive Committee.

Ann Suthowski gave the Central Committee report in Mark McIver’s stead, noting that our convention was a “love fest” and revealing that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be a quad-county affair with a special guest most of you know. I wasn’t sworn to secrecy or anything like that, but I will let the official announcement come out rather than spill the beans.

We also received final reports on our Christmas party and headquarters – the former was deemed quite the success because we made money, while the latter had mixed reviews due to its poor location. (I guess it could be the reason the restaurants in that location also failed, but the WCRC has made a tradition out of operating out of recently-failed business locations for its biannual headquarters for many years now.) We were troubled by the lack of support from the state on certain issues, though.

Our next meeting will be February 23 – same bat-time, same bat-channel.

The power of one

The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.

Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.

But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.

Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.

These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.

Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.

(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.

(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.

And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:

We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.

The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.

Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.

Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.

And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.

Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.

The wailing begins

I alluded to this the other day when Governor Hogan announced he was dropping the proposed PMT regulations, and almost as if on cue there was negative reaction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the (so-called) Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition – so-called because it has nary an agricultural group in it.

Allison Prost, the executive director of the CBF, called it “a sad day” for Maryland:

This is a sad day in the long fight to make Maryland waters clean enough for swimming and fishing. Governor Hogan’s decision has hurt the rivers and streams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where 228,000 tons of excess manure will continue to be applied to farm fields each year, and to wash off into nearby creeks and river. The new governor rolled back 10 years of progress when he withdrew the Phosphorus Management Tool, a common sense, science-based solution to the manure crisis.

Agriculture is the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, and is also the cheapest to reduce by far. Many farmers deserve credit for their efforts to stem pollution from their barn yards and fields. But just as those who live in our cities and suburbs are doing more to clean the Bay, so must farmers.

Businesses with technologies to help reduce phosphorus pollution from poultry manure are ready to come to Maryland and help ease the burden of excess manure. But these technologies will only have a significant impact if farmers are required to not apply excessive amounts of phosphorus to their crops. Regulations create demand for problem-solving technologies that otherwise would languish.

Additionally, by withdrawing regulations that would have reduced pollution from coal-fired power plants, Governor Hogan’s decision also has put corporate interests above the people of Greater Baltimore. Nitrogen oxides are linked to ozone which can be harmful to children and sensitive adults. As a greenhouse gas, nitrogen oxides are 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Also, nitrogen from coal plants and vehicles adds millions of pounds of harmful pollution to the Bay each year. The power industry used the same hardship argument in 2006 when the legislature approved the Maryland Healthy Air Act. In the years afterwards, electricity prices dropped, and the industry prospered.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation welcomes the opportunity to work with the Administration to ensure farmers have the resources they need to implement the PMT, and all residents see cleaner water. But we can’t compromise on science, or accept further delays on cleaning up Maryland’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. (Emphasis mine.)

I pointed out that one sentence in the CBF statement because it’s telling about their philosophy, If the market wouldn’t otherwise support these technologies, then they must not be that effective. Put another way: we know broccoli is relatively healthy for us, but not everyone likes broccoli. (Actually, I do when you cook it with a little butter like my mom used to.) It’s a market that languishes in comparison to, say, McDonalds. The CBF would have us compelled to eat broccoli every night because it’s good for us, not because we would want to.

It’s the same with the PMT as the process of spreading chicken manure on the fields supplements the soil. Otherwise, farmers would be forced to resort to artificial fertilizers which actually worsen the problem.

Dawn Stoltzfus, speaking for the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, echoed the CBF sentiments:

We’re deeply disappointed about reports that Governor Hogan has blocked one of the biggest tools to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and local waters in more than 30 years.

Governor Hogan had the opportunity to move forward a long-delayed tool to reduce pollution from manure. Instead, he stopped the regulation to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool, adding another chapter to the history of ping-pong politics and capitulation to the agricultural industry.

Governor Hogan has sent a very worrisome signal indeed. Just hours after being sworn in as Maryland’s governor, reports say he has turned his back on clean water and sound science. He has ignored Maryland’s leading agriculture scientists, who have been working on updating this tool for more than ten years and who have repeatedly stated how its adoption is needed, now.

Phosphorus pollution from manure is getting worse, not better in the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland rivers. The Governor’s action is a threat to the health of Maryland families and to our economy that depends on clean water.

Now you would expect to hear these types of sentiments from Radical Green. But I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction from Delmarva Poultry Industry:

Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. respects Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s decision not to move forward, immediately, with the phosphorus management tool regulation. During the campaign, he pledged that it would not, in its present form, become state policy. His pledge to study the issue further to make sure it is scientifically and financially valid is a wise one that we endorse.

We have said all along that this risk management tool, even according to its developers, could not estimate how much less phosphorus might reach the Chesapeake Bay. It makes no sense to create costly regulations on all farmers throughout Maryland, not just Eastern Shore farmers who use chicken manure, without knowing what the environmental benefits might be.

We look forward to working with Governor Hogan and his team and members of the General Assembly to develop a regulation that will provide improved environmental stewardship by the agricultural community.

Why do we need a regulation? The very fact they are conceding a regulation is needed loses half the battle. I have heard some rumblings about the impotency of DPI, and this statement seems to confirm that sentiment. You would think DPI would be thrilled to have that weight removed from its chest.

Until someone can figure out a better use for chicken waste than utilizing it as the natural fertilizer – a purpose it has served for hundreds of years on Delmarva – the farmers will continue to take the blame. I can understand if a sludge pile is exposed to the elements that runoff water will carry the phosphorus directly to the nearest body of water, but if chicken waste is spread into the soil I can’t comprehend how it travels distances to the waterway. After all, the minimum distance between well and septic leach field is usually 100 to 150 feet, which is supposed to give a large enough buffer of soil to protect the water supply on a semi-permanent basis, yet we’re expected to believe manure spread across a 240 acre field is a threat to a body of water or a stream hundreds of feet away?

Honestly, I think the problem is that those who travel from the urban areas to the beach in the warm months don’t like that occasional reminder that they are out in the country thanks to the foul (or is that fowl) smell. But that’s the smell of the Eastern Shore, at least in one governor’s mind, and to many farmers it’s the smell of a better crop and more money. It’s hard enough coaxing a good harvest from the Eastern Shore in the best of times, so a little natural help is always appreciated.

Think of it as truly organic farming.

Not what we were looking for…

It’s my understanding that Wicomico County Council brought forward a measure to enact an elected school board – sort of.

But in watching the proceedings, it seems that the Council double-crossed us by introducing the element of a hybrid part-appointed, part-elected school board. Five members, one from each Council district, would be elected while two others who represent the county as a whole would be appointed by the County Executive with County Council’s approval. Needless to say, I’m very disappointed in Councilman Joe Holloway – usually a reliable conservative voice – in bringing the concept up. While his reasoning was that of having something prepared for the General Assembly to approve, his hollow statement in support of an fully elected school board after the fact added insult to injury.

The informal vote on proceeding in this manner otherwise put the usual suspects on the side of a hybrid board – John Hall, Matt Holloway, and Democrat Ernie Davis were in favor of that approach (as was Joe Holloway) while John Cannon, Marc Kilmer, and Larry Dodd preferred the strictly elected school board.

While I think the 5-2 split between district and at-large members works well, if you had to stagger terms (which would not be my preference, as we don’t stagger the terms of other county officials) I would instead favor a system where the five district members are elected in the gubernatorial elections (2018, 2022, and so forth) while the two at-large were picked in Presidential years (2016, 2020, etc.) Under this system, everyone in the county would vote on one school board member with the rest of the County Council but would select two in presidential years. Both ballots would be non-partisan, which would give unaffiliated voters one primary vote.

Yet there are many of us who are fuming about a turn of events, particularly after the years we’ve been trying to get an elected school board in Wicomico County and join most of the rest of the state. So the plan is to voice our opinion at the next County Council meeting, to be held the evening of February 3rd. We didn’t come all this way to have the possibility of cronyism continue to taint our county school board so I encourage those with an interest to make it out there in two weeks.

An example of what budget hawks have to deal with

This came in the e-mail today and showed why budget cutting in Maryland is going to be hard – everyone thinks someone else’s budget should be cut but not theirs. So the local arts community will spend the money to feed those who carpool in the hopes of descending on Annapolis to get support.

February 10, 2015 is MD Arts Advocacy Day at the Capital. This important and productive day at Annapolis needs your leadership voice and action.

HOW ARE WE SUCCESSFUL? The large number of attendees with their passionate plea! Every year SWAC arranges a carpool to take as many of us there as possible. It’s more important THAN EVER for a large attendance as we have a brand new Governor and Wicomico County Delegate to influence. Speakers presentation & individual sessions with delegates from our area are on the agenda and SWAC is urgently asking for your participation as a strong showing support from Wicomico County.

WHAT? This is where arts advocates from all over the state gather to speak directly to our Senators, Delegates, and Governor about the importance of the arts. We must reach our elected officials from the entire state with the important mission of funding for the art.

WHY? Exactly because of the number of attendees & their strong voice, great achievement has been made in the past resulting with MD being one of the top three states in the nation for the highest arts funding in the Governors budget of 16 million dollars earmarked for the arts! (Emphasis in original.)

Granted, $16 million is just a drop in the bucket for a $40 billion budget, but cuts have to be made somewhere. Perhaps the arts will be trimmed to $14 million this time as the state faces a massive shortfall for the next fiscal year.

Yet there will be an entire day of artisans and non-profits from around the state beseeching the state to keep their revenue stream going. It’s interesting to me that they stressed the new governor and Delegate (presumably speaking about Carl Anderton, whose district lies entirely in Wicomico County) – it would be my guess that a large percentage of those who would make the trip voted the other way when it came to that portion of the ballot.

In the case of the Salisbury Wicomico Arts Council (or SWAC) who put out this missive, it’s certain they will stress the influence of the arts in trying to revitalize Salisbury’s downtown, pointing to the success of 3rd Friday and the hopes that the new Headquarters Live will be a hit. But each of these events has to sink or swim on its own merits. It took a few years for 3rd Friday to gain momentum, but the window for success may be a little bit shorter for Headquarters Live.

It may only be about .04% of the state budget, but my suspicion is that the arts will have their share of cuts, too. Yet the dirty little secret is that simply level-funding the budget would take care of most of the problem, so if the arts can live with what they have for a year or two the state may be able to grow its economy out of the problem. My advice to SWAC and the others in the arts community: make do with what you have.

Losing momentum?

The big news around these parts today was the announcement that Labinal Power Systems would be closing its Salisbury plant and consolidating operations in Texas. Gone will be an estimated 600 jobs as the plant phases out operations over the next two years.

On top of that, there are rumors that both of the April tourist draws to Salisbury – the annual Salisbury Festival and Pork in the Park – have been scrubbed for 2015. While another local blogger swears this is not true and the Salisbury Festival is simply being repositioned to the fall, one has to ask how that would fit into an October already crowded with other local events. (As for Pork in the Park, my understanding is that it was a money loser as the county had to plow too much into it up front for its continued survival.)

Salisbury’s downtown has been doing well with the increased popularity of 3rd Friday, a successful New Year’s Eve event, the upcoming opening of Headquarters Live - an entertainment venue which is the remodeled former Fire Station 16 – and a popular Thursday – Saturday night trolley service connecting these venues with nearby Salisbury University, but other parts of town haven’t done as well over the last year. The closing of Labinal decreases further the traffic to a once-booming part of the outskirts of Salisbury that formerly boasted the old Salisbury Mall, torn down several years ago for a development that never got off the ground.

Everything is cyclical, of course, and one example is the development around the SU campus. But losing these Labinal jobs would be a major blow to a county already on a long losing streak when it comes to year-over-year jobs. And the problem with such a long transition to a shutdown (almost two full years) is that lag time is going to be longer than some potential employers want to wait for the facility.

We all better hope that Maryland becomes a lot more business-friendly over the next two years. It’s ironic that Senator Mikulski made a big deal out of a large federal contract secured for the facility just weeks before the announced move to Texas. Call it Rick Perry’s revenge.

Wicomico’s Fab Five

Tomorrow a unique chapter in Wicomico County history will begin as our five-member delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates will all simultaneously begin their careers in Annapolis as part of an overall freshman class in the House that’s one of the biggest in memory.

While Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes took divergent paths to get to that point, they will all meet in the same place. And with the exception of Anderton and his slim 52.2% of the vote, there was a clear mandate from their respective districts for these newcomers – combined Adams and Mautz racked up 78.6% of the Wicomico County vote while Carozza was close behind at 77.6%. (Sample-Hughes was unopposed.)

And while only Sample-Hughes and Anderton have previous experience in elective office – Sample-Hughes with eight years on Wicomico County Council and Anderton with nine years in Delmar as a commissioner and mayor – the life experiences of the others can’t be discounted. Mautz and Carozza have worked in government before on the Congressional and state levels, while Adams has represented a professional association in legislative matters. Naturally Adams and Mautz were placed on the Economic Matters Committee, while Carozza garnered a seat on Appropriations. Anderton was placed on the newly-rechristened Environment and Transportation Committee, and Sample-Hughes will be on Health and Government Operations.

So Wicomico is in very good hands, and there’s a lot of work to do.

While the overriding priority for all of these representatives is that of getting our economy back on the right track, the more pressing local issues will come from the environmental and budgetary fronts. The Phosphorus Management Tool may be placed via the regulatory route – and if so may instead be the target of a repeal effort – but it’s a battle more likely to be fought on the legislative front, despite the assurance of a veto from incoming Governor Larry Hogan.

But the real battle will be to return the state’s highway user funds back to the county, a $7 million transfer that Anderton would like to see returned in order to address the tax differential issue in Wicomico. Most of the $1.4 million is ticketed for the city of Salisbury, but Fruitland and his hometown of Delmar would also benefit. Carl may get the double dip as the PMT legislation would be argued in his committee, while he may also get a say in the highway user funds as well.

Over the next 90 days, these five and all the others will go to work and hopefully begin to turn this ship of state around. And as all that is going on, rest assured I’ll be watching the legislation and considering which votes go onto the monoblogue Accountability Project – one of these five is very interested to see how the scores will come out and has peppered me with questions about how this all works, so I may as well explain.

As the session goes along, I watch the process and try to pick out a total of 25 key votes. 22 of these will be floor votes on bills I find interesting and have votes where there is significant opposition, although I have occasionally used a unanimous (or nearly so) vote on something like the capital budget. For example, I think the operating budget vote has been on every version of the mAP, with the “no” vote always being the correct one. That may change if I see Larry Hogan making significant progress on rightsizing state government – if the budget comes in under $40 billion I may be satisfied with a green light. We will see.

In the few years I have done committee votes, the three votes have actually been 30 between ten committees in the House and Senate. In some committees it’s hard to pick just three votes while in others I have to scrape together three. But they are included in the 25 for each member.

25 votes is the magic number because math is easy: four points for each vote. Since I use a system where points can be deducted (one point for an absence and two points for intentionally not voting) working with even numbers is much easier. I also have a rule for House members who can change their votes after the fact that changing to the right vote is only worth half the credit while flipping to the wrong side is a penalty of 1.5 times the vote.

This year will also have the unique situation of members joining mid-session. Since Larry Hogan has tapped a number of  sitting General Assembly members to serve in his administration, there will be a number of vacancies filled after the session begins. That will affect their score for this year but won’t adversely affect their lifetime score for future sessions. Votes which occur before they are seated won’t be marked as absences.

But that is something to be determined 90 days from now. In the meantime, it will be up to our Fab Five to do what they can do to make life better for residents in their districts.

The push for local accountability

A Daily Times story by Phil Davis yesterday noted the push by local elected officials to give Wicomico County the accountability of an elected school board. Davis points out that Republicans are pressing to get the issue on the ballot in 2016 while local Democrats want more hearings and cite an ACLU study which claims minorities can only attain one seat on County Council under the current districts.

But additional hearings are only a delaying tactic and Delegate Sample-Hughes (who was the lone dissenter in the two previous occasions this issue came before County Council) knows it. She should also know that any such resolution will have to have a hearing before County Council and when legislation is brought before the state there will be another public hearing in Annapolis.

As for the ACLU, the reason why minority candidates don’t tend to win in races outside the majority-minority district is twofold: one, their political views aren’t generally congruent with the conservative mindset of the county, and secondly not very many run. In 2014, the only minority to run countywide was Norma Lee Barkley, who was re-elected to the Orphan’s Court for a ninth term. In 2010, Ed Taylor, a former Council member, was fourth out of the four who ran for the at-large Council seat. Both Barkley and Taylor are Democrats; however, Michael Steele easily carried Wicomico County in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2006 while Democrat Brenda Hughey-Jones was fourth of four on the ballot for an at-large County Council seat. Proportionately, minorities make up 30% of the Wicomico County population.

The Daily Times points out that Salisbury has two majority-minority districts out of its five, which is very close to its minority population of 41.4%. However, it should be cautioned that a non-minority can represent a majority-minority district. I know that blows the minds of the ACLU, NAACP, and other similar organizations but it has happened before locally and probably will in the future – particularly if minority turnout continues to decline as it did in this most recent election.

All these grievances, though, are simply a diversionary tactic from the other political side which likes the system in place because they assume Democrats will almost always have the governor’s chair and the automatic 4-3 majority on our Board of Education which goes with that. Even in a situation where a Republican is governor, though, they are still only one turncoat, weak-kneed Republican from a working majority and with five-year terms there’s a good chance the previous Democrat appointed one when a Republican’s turn came up. (We have a couple of them now.) With an elected school board, the chances are the makeup of the board will be far more conservative and that’s what the education establishment fears.

On a personal level, though, this is what I would like to see in an elected Wicomico County Board of Education:

  • Seven members as it has now, with one elected from each County Council district and two at-large (just like County Council.)
  • The elections would be non-partisan. Primary ballots from both parties would have all candidates listed, while the unaffiliated could vote for Board of Education only on their ballot.
  • While most counties do staggered terms, I think it would be confusing – so elect all seven on the Gubernatorial ballot with all other county officers. If we had to stagger terms I would do the two-at large on the Presidential ballot and the five districts on the Gubernatorial.
  • As far as vacancies, since it is a non-partisan office the best way to fill them is to have the County Council vet the candidates, submit a list of three names to the County Executive, and have him or her make the selection. Alternatively, the County Executive could select a candidate and make the appointment contingent on the County Council’s approval and consent.

The reason we on the Republican Central Committee met with our state delegation was because we need enabling legislation from the state to make this happen and wanted their advice on how to proceed. Certainly we would like our Democratic counterparts to get on board but as I said they tend to prefer the system as it is, with all of its faults and lack of accountability. Because the Secretary of Appointments handles this task for the Governor, we are at the mercy of an unelected bureaucrat to determine who is tasked with guiding the education of our children and the spending of tax dollars we contribute to that cause. Jim Fiedler may be a nice guy, but he shouldn’t be making the final selection of our school board members. The voters of Wicomico County should have that say.

Just as a point of reference, I looked up the six current members of the Wicomico County Board of Education – the seat that formerly belonged to Larry Dodd is vacant because he was elected to County Council.

  • Ron Willey, President (D) – appointed in July 2007 and re-appointed in August 2012. His term would expire in 2017 and he cannot be re-appointed (there is a two-term limit.)
  • Donald Fitzgerald, Vice-President (D) – appointed in 2009 and term is expired – he’s serving until a Republican successor is in place since his seat would now logically go to the GOP thanks to Larry Hogan’s election.
  • Marvin Blye (D) – appointed in 2010, his term will expire in 2015.
  • Dr. Tyrone Chase (D) – appointed in 2007 and re-appointed in 2012. His term would expire in 2017 and he cannot be re-appointed.
  • Dr. Carolyn Elmore (R) – appointed in 2011, her term will expire in 2016.
  • Kim Hudson (R) – appointed in 2011, her term will expire in 2016.
  • The vacant seat is a Republican one, with about four years left on the term.

So we have poorly defined terms as members serve until their successors are selected. In 2015 three new members would be added (2 Republican and 1 Democrat), in 2016 two Republicans, and in 2017 two Democrats. It’s confusing, antiquated, and needs to change.

A question of priorities

The “90 days of terror” I call the General Assembly session do not begin until next Wednesday, but once some incumbent members were safely re-elected they pre-filed a small number of bills in each chamber – 39 in the House and 15 in the Senate.

Pre-filed bills are interesting because it gives a glimpse into what those members who introduce them believe to be burning questions. In the Senate, it’s apparent Senator Joan Carter Conway is most worried about the availability of prescription drugs in a state of emergency while Delegate Cheryl Glenn believes the establishment of the Hattie N. Harrison Memorial Scholarship for “students who pledge to work in fields of critical shortage in the State on completion of their studies” is top on her list. (Harrison was a longtime Delegate from Baltimore City who died in office early in the 2013 session.) Respectively, these bills were dubbed SB1 and HB1, presumably since they were the first bills requested for filing.

This stands in opposition to our Congress, which tends to use the lowest number bills for priority items. For example, there is no H.R. 1 yet in the 114th Congress because they reserve the number for the Speaker’s use on a bill he deems a priority. (It was used for the Tax Reform Act of 2014 in the last session.) S. 1 this term is the bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which Congress has tried to pass on several prior occasions.

Of the 54 bills in the hopper so far, most deal with mundane issues. But there are a few interesting Senate bills which could have merit: Senator Jim Brochin is trying to eliminate the annual indexing of the gasoline tax to inflation, while bills to exempt certain non-profits from paying a state-mandated minimum wage increase and to open up the election canvassing process to outside observers were introduced by Senator Joe Getty before he took a position in the Hogan administration. (This is interesting as Delegate Kelly Schulz also pre-filed bills on the House side. I’d be curious to know who would be considered to be the lead sponsor in the cases where that sponsor is no longer in the MGA.)

On the House side, Delegate Glenn also wants to accelerate the already-adopted $10.10 per hour minimum wage from 2018 to 2015 while Delegate Aruna Miller seeks to ban e-cigarettes from indoor venues. On the good side, Delegate Schulz wants to make sure only citizens register to vote, stop Common Core in its tracks, and eliminate one piece of the gun law.

Obviously there will be a lot more than this. Just as an example, one prospective bill that aroused a spirited discussion at an event for Delegate-elect Carl Anderton earlier tonight is Anderton’s as-yet-unreleased proposal to address our tax differential, an idea for which Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton (a possible 2018 opponent) is also pushing - however, the two probably differ on how to accomplish this goal. Once the legislation is written and introduced, it can get a fair hearing.

This also gives me the opportunity to remind readers about a great organization of volunteers called Maryland Legislative Watch, for which I have read and evaluated bills the last two sessions (and would gladly do so again.) They are a key to a more informed public, so I encourage you to check them out. Chances are we will once again see over 2.500 bills introduced and if the first 54 are any guide, it will be yet another intriguing session. And we haven’t even seen Larry Hogan’s legislative agenda yet.

Harris explains his vote for Boehner

Needless to say, many conservatives around the country are disappointed (but not surprised) that the House of Representatives they elected to be the counterweight to Barack Obama decided to elect as its Speaker an insider who has shown little fortitude in fighting for the cause of limited government.

Included in that number who re-elected Boehner as Speaker was our own representative, Andy Harris. He took to social media to explain why, but I think it’s relevant to express my thoughts on why his assessment was incorrect by dividing his statement into portions.

In November, Speaker Boehner was re-nominated by the Republican House Conference without a single opponent stepping forward. That was the appropriate time for an alternative to step forward and be considered by House Republicans.

A lot changed in two months. The House vote occurred on November 13, before Barack Obama followed through on his pledge to take executive action on immigration and before the CRomnibus bill was voted on – in fact, the idea was hatched around that time. It was his handling of these two events and unwillingness to take a stand which included any slim prospect of a government shutdown which angered a number of conservatives. Too many things were taken off the table.

So the timing argument isn’t one which holds water with me.

Today’s vote on the House floor was simply whether Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner was going to be Speaker of the House.

Wrong. There was no chance Pelosi was going to be Speaker. The idea was to bring a second ballot in the hopes that Boehner would see the light, withdraw his name, and allow a compromise candidate to emerge. As Erick Erickson wrote, fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan may have been that guy.

I hope that we can now move forward and work with the Senate to pass common-sense conservative policies. If Speaker Boehner does not deliver on his promises, a Republican House Conference can be called by 50 members and I would join in that call.

Color me extremely, extremely skeptical on that one. We have a four-year track record of a lack of leadership and of kicking multiple cans down the road. And I can already see the excuses.

Over the summer: “We can’t call a conference now – we’re in the middle of working on the FY2016 budget and it would be a distraction.”

Come next fall: “We can’t call a conference now because it would handicap our nominee in 2016. The media would have a field day.”

In 2016: “It’s too close to the election, we can’t risk the infighting and distractions.” And so on. It would be a waiting game where they would hope to outlast our side.

I have no problem standing up for conservative principles to the Speaker and Republican leadership, such as my vote against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, as well as my votes against the Ryan-Murray budget deal and debt ceiling increases.

But you voted for the CRomnibus, while civil libertarians dislike your vote for CISPA and FISA, so both these items you cite are somewhat mixed bags on the whole.

Please know that I will continue to fight for conservative values and Maryland’s First District in the 114th Congress.

You’re not off to a good start.

I go back to something I highlighted in a previous post on this subject, which reprinted a letter from the Wicomico Society of Patriots:

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

Sadly. John Boehner is the kind of leader who would be so petty as to punish conservative opponents – whose constituencies are the backbone of the Republican Party – so he’s no leader at all. If only he would exhibit the same backbone to the opposition. It will be worth checking out what happens to the 25 Republicans who did not support Boehner – locally Rep. Scott Rigell, who represents the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was among those opposed.

As for Harris, the questions have to be asked: is this the first major signal of the slide toward the center exhibited by those who have become comfortable inside the Beltway? And how much of an effect will it have on his 2016 prospects? It’s early but if there’s a sentiment underneath the surface that says a more conservative alternative would get the grassroots support that is needed to overcome Andy’s financial advantage – basically, that campaign would have to begin in the next few weeks given the 2016 primary is tentatively scheduled for April 5.

It’s clear that in its current configuration the First District is a Republican stronghold as Harris won in 2012 with 63% of the vote only to breach the 70% threshold in November – yet against a completely unknown, underfunded, and outclassed opponent Harris got just 78% of the primary vote in 2014. (Harris was unopposed in the primary in 2012 and beat Rob Fisher with 67% in 2010.) So Harris does have his detractors and hasn’t faced a “name” Republican opponent since his primary win (with 43%) over then-Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and fellow State Senator E.J. Pipkin.

There’s also been the sentiment that the Eastern Shore needs “one of ours” in the House. While Harris is not a stranger to the Eastern Shore, one part of the reason we were represented by Frank Kratovil for two years was Frank’s successful case that he had “Eastern Shore values” because he lived here (albeit as a come-here who lived almost within sight of the Bay Bridge.)

Perhaps the two saving graces that Andy will have is distance from the election and the slight chance that Boehner figures out the reason we elected more Republicans to the House. But that light you might see looking toward Washington is that of a whole lot of bridges burning.

The big engine that needs to

It was somewhat lost during the holiday week, but Larry Hogan made the case to the Baltimore Sun that the city of Baltimore needs to take its place once again as Maryland’s economic driver, rather than “declining.

I know that many, many people around here consider the city of Baltimore an economic sinkhole that sucks up an outsized proportion of our state’s tax money, and to some extent that is true. But once upon a time – just a generation or two ago – the city of Baltimore was thriving while the capital region of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were still sleepy, relatively rural backwaters. Baltimore City was the state’s largest jurisdiction until the late 1980s, but now that distinction belongs to Montgomery County while Baltimore City is fourth. Combined, the capital region of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is now nearly 30% larger than the combined Baltimore city and county.

Yet what made Baltimore grow was that people made things there, shipped them around the country and world from its railroad hub and its port, and settled in the region as middle-class workers who could raise families without necessarily securing a college education. In other words, it was a blue-collar city much like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, or other Rust Belt towns. On the other hand, the fuel to the capital region’s growth is an ever-expanding federal government and some of its associated suppliers and contractors. While Baltimore took a lot of things and added value to them in some way, too much of the work done by denizens of the capital region amounts to pushing paper, metaphorically digging holes here to fill them up there.

I doubt that we will ever get to a point where thousands of Baltimore citizens are “makin’ Thunderbirds” as the old Bob Seger song goes – or even the GM minivans they cranked out there for over two decades at the former Baltimore Assembly plant. But with the right conditions, marketing, and incentives (but not subsidies) I think it is possible to put a lot of that region’s workforce back into positions where they add value, using the relatively inexpensive energy produced in the region to aid the process. I was also pleased to see that Larry Hogan was looking to revisit the weak charter school laws which saddle Maryland’s educational system, but there needs to be an emphasis placed on vocational and technical education to create the type of workforce needed to make things efficiently in the way a liberal arts major just can’t. These reforms can go hand-in-hand.

I’ve already suggested that we jumpstart business in Maryland by doing away with the corporate income tax, which only provides for a small piece of the budget and could help create an environment where the returns from other taxes and economic activity from those who find work in the state could easily justify the “investment” in our businesses. But why not try another experiment?

As a general rule, unemployment is higher than the state average in Baltimore City, the Eastern Shore, and the western counties of Maryland. All of these areas could use an economic shot in the arm, but the influence of Big Labor is felt most in Baltimore City. I think it would be a good idea to write a bill creating “right-to-work zones” in these three areas of the state that have higher unemployment than the state average, with the law being written in such a way that it sunsets in ten years – unless it works so well that it could be expanded to the rest of the state and made permanent, as I’m confident it would. Think of it as at least a small temporary incentive for employers to create jobs in these areas, based on the success right-to-work states have in attracting industry.

All of Maryland should be putting out the impression that we are open for business, but it’s only natural that with its existing transportation infrastructure and available industrial land, Baltimore can lead the effort. Too much of our state’s money falls into the category of wealth transfer as opposed to wealth creation. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in order to create a more economically viable Maryland I agree: we need to get Baltimore’s economic engine back on track.

Back to normalcy

It’s not quite as momentous as the 1920 election, where Warren G. Harding made my title part of his post-World War sloganeering, but today the holidays are now behind us, we return to the five-day workweek, and the political world awakens from its slumber later this week as Congress returns to session. (Maryland politicians will wait another week, as the second Wednesday in January falls at its latest possible date, the 14th.) Soon we will begin to see if the solutions that were promised to the voters will be the agenda for the new sessions.

But there are other aspects of “normalcy” we are beginning to see as well, as the power brokers jockey for position in the Republican Party. Case in point: the hue and cry put up by supporters of the next-highest primary vote-getter in the process of selecting a replacement for Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped by Governor-elect Hogan to be his Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. It was up to the Frederick County Republican Central Committee to select three people for a final interview process out of the sixteen applicants, and the three they selected were Barrie Ciliberti, a former delegate from Montgomery County who finished fifth in the primary (the top three advanced); Paul Stull, a former delegate who lost to Schulz in the 2010 Republican primary, closing a 16-year run in the House, and Chris Glass, Sr.

Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the primary, did not get the nod to move on. Her sin? Not being on a slate with Senator-elect Michael Hough, Delegate Kathy Afzali, Delegate-elect David Vogt, and Ciliberti. Instead, she was a supporter of losing Senator David Brinkley – yet she had the backing of Schulz for the seat. A Central Committee chaired by JoeyLynn Hough made the selections.

I’ve been around this block a time or two. As a member of a Central Committee, our focus in selecting replacements was on whether the new person would be relatively conservative and also electable for the next term. Admittedly, we’ve had at least one swing and miss in this regard but the County Council chose not to select our committee’s top vote-getter for a 2011 vacancy. In the instance of picking a Delegate – which we had to help Somerset County do when Page Elmore passed away in 2010 – it occurred at a time when we didn’t want to influence a primary campaign in progress, so we agreed to select his wife Carolyn to finish the term.

In Frederick County’s case, an argument could be made for the former Delegates but personally I would have preferred someone younger than their late seventies, which is the case for both Ciliberti and Stull. But ignoring the voters who picked Peters as the highest vote-getter that didn’t advance – as well as the choice of the Delegate who is leaving the seat to replace her – seems to me a slap in the face to those voters over petty politics and a disservice to the Republicans they purport to represent. It’s a battle which reminds me of the entirety of the District 36 fiasco back in 2013 when Senator E.J. Pipkin resigned.

On a national level, this is reflected in the grassroots movement to dump John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Take as an example an e-mail I received from the Wicomico Patriots:

Now it is time to engage again as Congress returns on Tuesday to swear in the members and to vote for Speaker of the House. Please call or write an email to Andy Harris encouraging him to vote for a new speaker. It only takes 29 congressmen to block Boehner’s re-election as speaker. Once he is blocked, the opportunity is there for a new person to step up.

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

So, Andy Harris, will you listen to the people who got you elected and take the difficult step of voting against Boehner or will you continue to follow him?

Your CRomnibus vote was very discouraging to your conservative base. Do we really think that you and Boehner will suddenly get the courage to block the funding of Homeland Security in February? Do you think that blocking funding for that is easier than refusing the whole 1000 page monstrosity called cromnibus?

No, the excuses keep coming as the can is kicked down the road over and over again. Now is the time for you to stand up and fight for us.

Please do contact Andy Harris at: (202) 225-5311. (Emphasis mine.)

And here’s my own message to the Congressman:

For too long we have heard excuse after excuse from your leadership, accompanied by the promise to fight at the next critical juncture. If the Republicans want to be the opposition party they were elected by We the People to be, then they need to show some opposition on Obamacare, on securing the border and addressing executive actions further encouraging the torrent of illegal immigration, and on spending beyond our means. Collectively, you will be painted as a “do-nothing Congress” by the President, Democrats, and media (but I repeat myself) anyway so just pass those common-sense measures and dare Obama to veto them.

In short, we want a Speaker of the House with the backbone to stand up to Barack Obama so we demand you withhold your vote from John Boehner. It’s worth pointing out that a 2016 Congressional run from a conservative member of the Maryland General Assembly is possible and doable – just as you did against a sitting Wayne Gilchrest when you were first nominated in 2008. Certainly there would be a monetary disadvantage for the challenger, but in my opinion no one should be immune from a serious primary challenge – particularly if he or she isn’t listening to the wishes of the district being represented. A poll cited by Jim Geraghty of National Review Online shows 60% of Republicans would “probably” or “definitely” replace Boehner as Speaker. Even as an Ohio native, count me as a “definite.”

These are two stories to keep your eye on in the coming days. Why do I get a sinking feeling they won’t end well for the good guys?

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