The Buffalo Billion fraud and bribery scheme: corruption and pay-to-play, a symbol of everything they’re doing
Commentary by Marita Noon
When New York’s Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo gushed over SolarCity’s new solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, the audience likely didn’t grasp the recently-revealed meaning of his words: “It is such a metaphor – a symbol of everything we’re doing.”
The 1.2 million square foot building, being built by the state of New York on the site of a former steel plant, is looking more and more like another political promise of help for one of the poorest cities in the state that ends up enriching cronies without ever achieving any potential for the people.
Yes, it is a symbol of everything they’re doing.
Previously, during her first senatorial bid, Hillary Clinton also promised jobs to the economically depressed region of the state of New York – 200,000 to be exact. Citing a report from the Washington Post, CBSNews states: “Jobs data show that job growth stagnated in Upstate New York during her eight years in office, the report said, and manufacturing jobs dropped by nearly a quarter.” The Post’s extensive story reveals that jobs never materialized – despite “initial glowing headlines.” It claims: “Clinton’s self-styled role as economic promoter” actually “involved loyal campaign contributors who also supported the Clinton Foundation.” Through federal grants and legislation, she helped steer money to programs, companies, and initiatives that benefitted the donors but failed to reverse the economic decline of the region.
Now, new corruption charges reveal the same pay-to-play model linked to Cuomo’s upstate “Buffalo Billion” economic revitalization plan – and the promised jobs also look they will never materialize.
Back on January 5, 2012, Cuomo announced a $1 billion five-year economic development pledge for Buffalo. It was to be the governor’s banner economic initiative with the SolarCity factory as the cornerstone and a pledge of 1,460 direct factory jobs. Other companies, including IBM and a Japanese clean-energy company were also lined up.
With the state-of-the-art solar panel factory ready for equipment to be installed, the wisdom of the entire program is being scrutinized – and is coming up short.
First, on September 22, two of Cuomo’s closest aides – along with several others – were charged in corruption and fraud cases involving state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Addressing the press at his Manhattan office, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara asserted: “that ‘pervasive corruption and fraud’ infested one of the governor’s signature economic development programs. Companies got rich, and the public got bamboozled,” reports The Observer. Bharara described the bid-rigging and bribery arrangement: “Behind the scenes they were cynically rigging the whole process so that the contracts would go to handpicked ‘friends of the administration’ – ‘friends’ being a euphemism for large donors. Through rigged bids, state contracts worth billions of dollars in public development monies, meant to revitalize and renew upstate New York, were instead just another way to corruptly award cronies who were willing to pay to play.”
The 79-page criminal complaint notes that campaign contributions to Cuomo poured in from people connected to the bribe-paying companies as soon as those businesses began pursuing state projects.
One of the companies that received the lucrative contracts was LPCiminelli – run by “Cuomo mega-donor” Louis Ciminelli. He allegedly offered bribes to Cuomo confidante Todd Howe – who has admitted to pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers to rig bids on multimillion-dollar state contracts linked to Buffalo Billion projects.
Ciminelli received the $750 million contract to build the SolarCity plant. The Buffalo News cites Bharara as saying: “the state’s bidding process for the factory being built for SolarCity at RiverBend in South Buffalo turned into a ‘criminal’ enterprise that favored LPCiminelli, where company executives were given inside information about how the deal was to be awarded.”
Part of Cuomo’s deal with SolarCity – in which the state owns the building and equipment with SolarCity leasing it under a 10-year deal – requires the company to meet a timetable of job-creation quotas or pay hefty penalties. Even before the building was complete, however, the company slashed its job commitment from 1460 to 500. According to the Investigative Post, SolarCity claims it will still employ the original number, but due to automation, the majority of them will not be at the Buffalo plant. With the state’s $750 million investment, that works out to $1.5 million per manufacturing job. In a press release, Cuomo promised 1460 “direct manufacturing jobs at the new facility.”
Even the 500 jobs will only materialize if the plant actually starts production – currently slated for June 2017. SolarCity’s future is, as Crain’s New York Business puts it: “uncertain.”
Amid the company’s myriad problems are the facts that it has never been profitable, nor does it have manufacturing experience.
In February 2014, SolarCity’s stock price peaked at about $85 a share. Today, a share is less than $20. Microaxis gives it a probability of bankruptcy score of 48 percent. Crains reports that it posted a $251 million loss in Q1 2016 and a loss of $230 million in Q2. To “stop the bleeding,” Elon Musk (a donor to both the Obama and Clinton campaigns and the Clinton Foundation), who owns more than 20 percent of the company, announced that Tesla (of which he also owns more than 20 percent) would purchase SolarCity – this after as many as 15 other potential buyers and investors looked at the company and decided to pass. SolarCity even considered selling the solar panel manufacturing business.
Both SolarCity and Tesla are, according to the Buffalo News, facing a “cash bind” – this despite receiving billions in federal and state grants and tax credits as I’ve previously addressed. Tesla is described as “cash-eating electric vehicle and battery making businesses.” For SolarCity, its model – which finances its solar panel installations in order to make a profit on a lease that can be as long as 30 years, while it collects the lucrative government incentives worth billions (a practice for which Solar City is currently under Congressional investigation) – requires constantly raising new money from investors. Once the Tesla deal was announced, SolarCity’s lenders started to pull back.
The Buffalo News reports: “Stock in SolarCity…now trades for $4 a share less, or 19 percent less, than what Tesla is offering – a gap indicating that investors are uncertain the deal will be completed.” Additionally, the deal is being challenged by four separate lawsuits – which could delay the deal. Addressing the merger, one analyst said: “We see a lot more that can go wrong than can go right.”
Then there is the manufacturing angle. Originally, the Buffalo plant was going to manufacture high-efficacy solar panel modules developed by Silevo – a company SolarCity bought in 2014. Crain’s reports that it will instead produce complete solar roofs: something it says “Dow Chemical recently abandoned after five years because it could not find a way to make a profit on the technology.” But then, the Buffalo News says: “The initial production in Buffalo is expected to include photovoltaic cells that SolarCity purchases from suppliers and are used in the products that will be assembled in the South Park Avenue factory.”
Whatever the plant builds or manufactures, getting it operating will be expensive – even with the New York taxpayers owning the building and equipment – and will drain scarce cash from SolarCity at a time when its financing costs have increased.
Buffalo residents wonder if they’ll be stuck with the world’s largest empty warehouse and without the promised jobs.
No wonder the entire project is in doubt. Because of the Cuomo administration corruption allegations, other proposed job-creators, including IBM, have pulled out until the probe is completed.
For now, Cuomo is not a part of the criminal complaint – though his name is mentioned many times – and he claims he knew nothing about it, nor does he think he’s a target of the ongoing federal probe. “It is almost inconceivable the governor didn’t know what was going on,” Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, said. “And if he didn’t know what was going on, you can argue he should have known.”
Bharara has suggested that the better name for the program would be: “The Buffalo Billion Fraud and Bribery Scheme.”
Yep, the Buffalo Billion project is a “symbol” of the political promises and crony corruption – “everything we’re doing” – that takes taxpayers dollars to reward political donors and then walks away when the jobs don’t materialize.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.
I find the controversy over Governor Hogan’s executive order mandating that Maryland public schools begin classes after Labor Day and wrap up by the following June 15 to be a good opportunity for commentary, so I decided to add my couple pennies.
First of all, this isn’t a new idea. In 2015 and 2016 legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to create a similar mandate. As proof of how Annapolis works, the 2015 versions only got House and Senate hearings but the 2016 versions picked up the remaining local House delegation as sponsors (only Delegates Mary Beth Carozza and Charles Otto were local co-sponsors in 2015) and got a Senate committee vote. (It failed on a 5-5 tie, with one of the Republicans on the committee being excused. The other two voted in favor.) There was a chance this legislation may have made it through in 2017, but apparently Hogan was unwilling to take the risk. He took the opportunity to make a news event at a perfect time – when most local districts were already a week or two into school, Larry announced this from the Ocean City boardwalk on a pleasant beach day – and showed he was willing to stand up for one of his principles, that being improving opportunities for small business. (At a minimum, with Hogan’s edict kids are off for 11 weeks for summer vacation.)
In reality, what Hogan has done is shift the calendar backward by about a week: for example, Wicomico County public school kids had their last day of school June 9 and returned August 29 and 30. But the thought process is that families are more likely to take a vacation in July and August than they are in June, so because Ocean City is a great tourist attraction the state should follow Worcester County’s lead and begin school after Labor Day. (They simply went an extra week into June, concluding on June 17 this year.)
Granted, our family has enjoyed a post-Labor Day start for a number of years since parochial schools have more calendar flexibility: our child began her summer vacation after classes ended June 3 and returns on Tuesday the 6th. Growing up, I seem to recall the city schools I attended began after Labor Day and went into June but the rural school I graduated from began classes in late August and was done by Memorial Day. (We had a longer Labor Day weekend, though, because our county fair runs that weekend and the Tuesday after Labor Day was Junior Fair Day. Thirty-odd years later, it still is.) The point is that each of these localities knows what works best, so I can understand the objection from those who advocate local control of school schedules. And talk about strange bedfellows: I’m sure many of those praising Hogan’s statewide mandate locally are also those who have fought for local control of our Board of Education - after at least ten years of trying, we finally have a chance for local control (as opposed to appointments by the Governor) over our Board of Education through a referendum this November. (I recommend a vote for the fully-elected Option 2 on Question A.)
So I agree with the objections on those grounds, even though I personally think a post-Labor Day start is a good idea based on the school calendar typically used. (If I truly had my way, though, we would adopt a 45-15 style plan so that summer break is somewhat shorter and kids spend less time relearning what they forgot over the break.) What I don’t see as productive are those who whine about how this would affect preparation for particular tests – that shouldn’t be the overall goal of education. Obviously they would be the first to blame the calendar (and by extension, Larry Hogan) if test scores went down. But Hogan’s not alienating a group that was squarely in his corner anyway, as the teachers’ unions almost reflexively endorse Democrats, including his 2014 opponent, and mislead Marylanders about education spending. It’s increased with each Hogan budget - just not enough to fund every desire the teachers have.
Come January, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats attempt to rescind this executive order through legislative means, daring Hogan to veto it so they can override the veto and hand him a political loss a year out from the election. While most Marylanders are fine with the change, the Democrats are beholden to the one political group that seems to object and those special interests tend to call the tune for the General Assembly majority.
Yet the idea that the state feels the need to dictate an opening and closing date to local school districts is just another way they are exerting control over the counties. We object when they tell us how to do our local planning, so perhaps as a makeup for this change our governor needs to rescind the PlanMaryland regime in Annapolis.
In the middle of reading a story about a possible breakup between two conservative factions in the House, I found what should be a very, very fascinating tidbit to folks in these parts. According to Phillip Wegmann at the Daily Signal:
“I’ve heard of no mass exodus (from the Republican Study Committee),” a GOP aide said, “just a few members here and there who don’t feel they use the resources [RSC] provides often enough to justify paying the dues.”
The right candidate for RSC chairman could change that dynamic though, the aide speculated. “I’d imagine a Chairman Andy Harris would make (House Freedom Caucus) folks more likely to stick around.”
Harris, a Maryland Republican, is a potential candidate for RSC chairman, according to multiple Capitol Hill sources. He has remained tight-lipped about his plans, however. Harris’ office did not respond to multiple requests by email and phone from The Daily Signal.
The race for RSC chairman will officially be decided after the November election, but members have been talking about it at least since July when Flores announced this year’s process. When lawmakers return in September, interested candidates will meet with the study committee’s founders. Because the House is in recess all of October and most of November, that only leaves next month for campaigning.
No congressmen have declared their candidacy officially, but a senior GOP aide told The Daily Signal that both Harris and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., are building support inside the caucus for a bid. (Emphasis mine.)
I realize we are going by the word of an unnamed “GOP aide” – for all we know, he or she may work for Andy – but assuming this is true, it is an intriguing prospect for Andy’s national profile. Because he is far more conservative than most Maryland voters are perceived to be (and certainly Democrats are happy to help that perception along) it’s quite likely that a statewide position isn’t in the cards for Andy. However, he does represent a conservative district that is quite pleased with his record based on the fact he’s received over 75% of the primary vote each time since his 2010 election against challengers who ranged from neophyte to crackpot to serious enough to have some name recognition in portions of the district.
While the RSC has maintained a reputation as the conservative hangout for the House, the fact that membership includes the vast majority of the Republican caucus seems to give a perception that the RSC is now the “establishment.” At the beginning of the current iteration of Congress, the more conservative members decided they needed their own group because they felt the large size of the RSC was watering down its conservative message – hence, the House Freedom Caucus was born. While Harris wasn’t a founding member of that group, he is one of 42 members of the Freedom Caucus as well as an RSC participant.
As leadership will likely be rearranged in the wake of November’s election, Andy Harris may be presented with a number of opportunities. Given that the state’s blatant gerrymandering has placed Harris in an exceptionally safe seat, he has used the opportunity to try and build up the GOP farm team in his district – but now could be a spokesperson on a larger stage. (However, I am holding him to something he promised when first elected – six terms and out.) Love him or hate him, we will see if the back half of Harris’s Congressional service becomes a springboard to a leading role in the national conservative movement.
This evening I may have made some of the more radical Trumpkins happy: I resigned from the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee and as an officer of the Wicomico County Republican Club. It was the time of my choosing.
My original draft of this piece was much more angry and bitter, but I think now on reflection that it’s just a mounting frustration with all things political. I can see the iceberg as I’m standing on the deck of the Titanic but no one hears my warnings.
This is the time of year that I normally would begin the process for putting together volunteers to help out at the Wicomico County Fair, Good Beer Festival, and Autumn Wine Festival. But after a lot of thought, I realized that I would be lying to myself if I thought I could sit at a Republican table and hand out signage and trinkets for a candidate who I cannot support in Donald Trump. It got me thinking that we supposedly have all these new people who are willing to support Trump but would not support previous Republicans we worked hard to elect, so they can take over that duty.
In the last few months I have made a number of steps on my life journey, deepening in my faith. Now I understand I should be the forgiving sort, and if the reported conversion of Donald Trump to be a “baby Christian” is the truth, then I am pleased to hear it. But there also have to be deeds associated with the words, and the problem I have with Trump is that his version of the truth changes like most people change their socks. I find the lack of consistency to be an issue; while I know no one is perfect I would at least like to see him work in that direction. To borrow from the message I listened to Sunday on 3 John, Trump to me is still more of a Diotrephes and not enough of a Demetrius.
Because of that change, I’ve also realized that the party I have occupied for most of my adult life (aside from the two years I was classified as a Democrat because of my own Operation Chaos I did as a college student) has moved away from me. A party steeped in conservatism and willing to stand up for Judeo-Christian values would have laughed Donald Trump out of the race before we even counted the votes in Iowa because he has very little of either. And while the GOP talked a good game over the last eight years saying what they would do for the sake of government restraint via conservative principles if they were given enough power, their rank-and-file voters (well, the plurality of rank-and-file voters) decided to select a candidate who is, on balance, not for limiting government or for conservative ideals. This group of 44% of the Republican voters instead elected a television star and huckster whose claim to fame is a brand that’s always for sale; a man to whom practically everything is negotiable at some point. Call me hardline, but I have principles that are not negotiable.
Trump is correct in noting that he was running for the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party, but until he came along during most of my life it was understood that the Republicans were the conservatives. Not anymore.
So I have become a free agent. A party that embraces Donald Trump is no party for me. Certainly I will lean heavily to the right, but I think it’s time I freed myself from the shackles of having to be a spokesperson for a party that nominated so poorly for the top of the ticket.
While I am at it, I have to make a couple other observations. There are a lot of Trump supporters who are vowing not to support Larry Hogan in 2018 because he won’t vote for The Donald – a stand from Hogan that I applauded and let him know that I did. So let me ask them: are you going to find a primary opponent? I can’t wait to see that one. While I’m not the greatest fan of everything Hogan has done, I must say that you Trump backers are looking up the wrong hill to die on. If you want to push Hogan to the right, it’s called giving him more conservatives in the General Assembly, not tossing a governor who has a reasonable chance at a second term where he can do a lot for the GOP - like redistrict the state in a fair manner.
I also have something to say to the “party over everything” people, mainly those heavily involved in the Maryland GOP, who keep saying “not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary.” I’m not voting for Hillary either, so neither side gets a vote from me. What you can’t seem to get through your heads is that, if Hillary is indeed elected in November, the moment she won the election was the moment you helped to nominate the extraordinarily unpopular, boorish, often truth-challenged Donald Trump to be the GOP standard-bearer. Not only did I not vote for him in the primary, I spent many weeks in the summer of 2015 researching candidates and can tell you that all but maybe one or two of Trump’s opponents would have been far better on top of the ticket. You chose to ignore me (and a lot of others who said basically the same thing) so you’ll get either a humiliating loss in November or a Republican president who will likely govern like the worst of Democrats, with the added “bonus” of making Congressional Republicans vote against their President. There were always a handful who voted against Bush’s government expansion, but most sold themselves out based on “party over everything.” And what did it get us? Farther away from the ideals of our Founding Fathers, that’s what.
Unfortunately, the damage is yet to come: a lot of good people will be hurt by the short-sightedness of the portion of the GOP electorate that picked Trump. But I’m done carrying their water as a party officer, just as several of my friends and cohorts have already done. I was hoping against hope for a convention miracle; alas it was not to be.
This decision, however, will lead to a few changes here: no longer will I cover the Wicomico County Republican Club or the state party conventions. I may attend events after the election, but for now I think it’s better I do my own thing.
I guess the way I look at it there are three possibilities here: either Trump is going to lose to Hillary, he will beat Hillary and govern exactly as I predict he will, or he will be a great President and I will have assessed him incorrectly. Truly I wouldn’t mind being wrong for the sake of this great nation, but I have no evidence to believe I will be.
Finally, if I offended any of my erstwhile peers by my manner of springing this on you as the meeting tonight drew to a close, I’m truly sorry. But I believed I owed you an explanation. Some have been supportive and others not so much but that’s what I expected. It’s been a fun and rewarding ten years in the local Republican Party (not to mention another decade I did the same in Ohio) but all things must pass. So let it be.
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 $3 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.