The War on Rural Maryland: a counterattack from the hinterland

In the ongoing quest by Martin O’Malley and his administration to burnish his environmental credentials for a possible presidential run, the farmers of the Eastern Shore have been placed squarely in his crosshairs. I suppose this is MOM’s way to catch the fourteen counties not yet affected by his “rain tax,” although some local municipalities are joining in on that fun without waiting on the mandate.

At the beginning of the month, the administration began once again to try and enact the Phosphorus Management Tool, or PMT. The timing was important because the mandated public comment period comes to a close December 31, three weeks before MOM rides off into the proverbial sunset. Appeals for a public hearing have thus far fallen on deaf ears, so the comment period is really the only opportunity to make our voice heard. (Comments should be addressed to Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Hance. His e-mail address is earl.hance@maryland.gov.)

Needless to say, the environmentalists are thrilled about this prospect, including a “Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition” which doesn’t have a single farming-related entity within it. They note the 48,000 pounds (24 tons) of phosphorus the PMT is supposed to alleviate. Remember that number because it comes up later.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC) chimed in with its appeal, which states in part:

In furtherance of this objective and in the interests of its individual county members, the Coalition opposes the re-proposed regulations and requests MDA to withdraw the regulations for the reasons explained below. In sum, the implementation costs to farmers, the costs to taxpayers, the adverse impacts on local and regional economies, and the overall added strain from more piled on Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”) driven regulations far outweigh the purported reduction in overall phosphorus loading to Maryland waters and other speculative environmental benefits that may result from the PMT regulations.

In reading their ten-page letter to Secretary of Agriculture Earl Hance, the points made by the CCC appear to be as follows:

  • The economic effect on businesses is “grossly understate(d).” While the BEACON study was done in order to satisfy the demand for a study of these effects, its author admits it “was not meant to serve as a comprehensive economic impact study.”
  • Remember that 24 tons of phosphorus these regulations address, at a cost of $61 million over six years in increased expenses from farmers and state subsidies? The flow running through the Conowingo Dam spews out 3,300 tons of phosphorus a year – it’s like sticking your finger in the hole in the dike and ignoring the water pouring over the top. Meanwhile, the pond behind the dam has another 130,000 tons just waiting to be scoured out in a significant storm event.
  • Phosphorus concentration in tributaries of the Susquehanna River north of the dam is over 3.5 times greater than comparable tributaries on the Eastern Shore.

On that last point, it’s helpful to use the illustration the CCC provides:

Phosphorus is loaded into the Bay at an average annual rate of 3,300 tons (6,600,000 lbs.) from the Susquehanna River; not including what is scoured from the full reservoirs in the lower Susquehanna during storm events and on a more regular basis. Maryland’s annual average phosphorus loading to the Bay from agriculture of 985 tons (1,970,000 lbs.) is minimal when compared to the Susquehanna River.

Earlier this month, Exelon withdrew its request for renewal of its hydroelectric license at Conowingo Dam because more study of its effects on water quality downstream were desired. The utility has agreed to spend up to $3.5 million on studies of water quality downstream. It appears they’ve also become aware of the detrimental effects on the Chesapeake Bay, yet the environmentalists don’t seem to be interested nearly as much in Exelon and in the Conowingo Dam as they are the poultry industry.

A Washington Post story over the weekend noted the controversy, including remarks from Wicomico County farmer Lee Richardson, who seems to be something of a go-to guy when it comes to poultry growers. Many of the reader comments on the Post piece, though, illustrate the divide between the urban and suburban hipster whose idea of poultry is the organic chicken they buy at Whole Foods and the beleaguered grower who already has to comply with numerous state and federal guidelines without having to worry about arrangements to truck chicken droppings out of the area. The Post readers blame the industry itself, saying that its not carrying its weight in addressing the concerns about water quality – bear in mind these are the people who were just fine with enacting a nickel-per-bird “chicken tax” called the Poultry Fair Share Act which was supposed to raise $15 million a year.

In that fiscal note from the Senate bill, it’s noted that the Eastern Shore has “over 700″ poultry farmers. For ease of calculations, I’ll set the number at 750. If the cost to farmers is $22.5 million over 6 years – as estimated in the BEACON study – it works out to $30,000 per farmer over the six-year period or $5,000 a year. That’s a significant compliance cost – assuming, of course, it’s really true because government estimates are generally optimistic on revenues and short on expenditures.

So here’s hoping that our efforts can bear fruit and stop this particular piece of madness once and for all. There’s still time to comment.

Another chance to help out

Most people who read this site realize fairly quickly that its bread and butter is political news and commentary; oftentimes it references and considers a proper course of action on legislation which is introduced, debated, and voted on. Having studied our state legislative website for hours on end over several years and watched it evolve from a relic from the 1990s to a more functional site thanks to a fairly recent makeover, I have a pretty good idea of how to navigate through it to get the things I want out of it, but there are still some elements that it lacks.

I also have become aware that Maryland can be a trendsetter in legislation, but there are times where other states which have sessions that are longer or year-round consider legislation that’s sure to be eventually contemplated in Maryland – speed cameras are an example, as other states had them first before we passed the enabling legislation. And being as close to Delaware as we are, there is the potential for a spillover effect from bills they debate and pass as well.

Those who are truly in the loop about such things rely on a small number of websites that specialize in tracking legislation as it moves through the various states and Congress. StateNet, CQ Roll Call, Bllomberg Government, and Westlaw are examples of entities which perform this service for a fee, one which often runs into the five figures annually. While they are very useful sites, that sort of cost isn’t always attainable for a non-profit or advocacy group like a Maryland Pro-Life Alliance, Maryland Citizen Action Network, or Delmarva Poultry Industry. Their needs may be limited to just one state or a small group of states like those comprising Delmarva, along with relevant federal legislation.

You may ask where this is going, so let me let you in on some good news. Now it’s possible to get the legislative information you need in almost real time at an affordable price while helping maintain the political news and commentary you’ve enjoyed for over nine years. Allow me to introduce you to TrackBill.

TrackBill is a system which allows its users find the legislation they are interested in and track its progress through the state or federal legislative body of your choice. As they describe it, “TrackBill is a simple, yet robust, platform empowering government affairs professionals to search, track, and report on legislation in the US Congress and 50 state legislatures. Professional service firms, Fortune 1000 companies, and nonprofit organizations rely on TrackBill to spend less time tracking legislation and more time impacting the outcome.”

So let’s say you are a Maryland Citizen Action Network and you’re interested in legislation relating to education or Common Core. Each day you can receive an update on the progress of any Maryland or federal legislation dealing with these subjects and use that to spread the word about key votes and hearings. Delmarva Poultry Industry can do the same for all three states (Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia) plus other key poultry-producing states to keep an eye on their pet issues. There are three pricing levels:

  • A single state
  • Up to ten different states
  • Nationwide (all states)

Each of those also includes Congress, so even a statewide group has the advantage of knowing about federal legislation as well. This can be useful for keeping tabs on a state’s delegation to Congress.

I will cheerfully grant that this service isn’t for everybody. But TrackBill sought me out to ask if I would consider being their Maryland partner, and I decided to accept this new advertiser on a commission basis. Simply put, for each package they sell through my site (which has its own landing page) I get a percentage, and insofar as I know I’ll be the sole Maryland outlet for awhile.

This is one way to support a startup company which is trying to help out the little guys (packages range from just $999 to $1,999 a year, which is far less than five figures) as well as the one conservative Maryland political blog you’ve come to respect. I don’t do radio nor do I plaster my logo all over stuff at an online store – my energy is focused on providing the best content I can each day.

So I call on those of you who read here and are activists for various interest groups to see and hear what the fine folks at TrackBill have to show you and say. They say knowledge is power, so the more you know the better chance you have of making positive change. Since I get a trial version to play with, I almost can’t wait for the “90 days of terror” we call the Maryland General Assembly to start so I can see what all this website can do. Judging from the little bit I’ve done so far, I think it will be a great resource for all of us!

An update on Turning the Tides 2015

Maybe it should be subtitled: we won, so what’s next?

Regardless, the Maryland Citizen Action Network announced more speakers for their annual event coming up January 10 in Annapolis. The list now includes:

Dr. Alveda King
Niger Innis
Kira Davis
Sonnie Johnson
Scott Blevins
Leonard Robinson III
David Spielman
Dan Bongino
Cindy Strickline-Rose
Christina Delmont-Small
Wayne Dupree
Tony Ristaino

Obviously not all of these speakers are household names, even to me. Instead, they are local experts on topics such as Common Core, border security, political campaigning, and several others. One thing I’ve noticed is that many of them are minorities, which reflects a push toward outreach to that community which is long overdue.

Something they could use, even at this late date, are sponsors. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t be a Bloggers’ Table sponsor but perhaps someone out there who believes in the new media can step up and handle that responsibility. I know I enjoyed the experience a couple years ago when I was there.

TTT2015 will come at an interesting time – just days after the new General Assembly is sworn in, but a week and a half away from the inauguration of Maryland’s first Republican governor in eight years (and just third in the last half-century.) It will give activists an opportunity to brainstorm and hear some ideas on how to make Maryland a better, more competitive state as time goes on. A lot of damage has been done in the last eight years and undoing it will take effort and cooperation between conservative groups trying to combat entrenched special interests who look at the Larry Hogan administration as a temporary four-year aberration before business returns to usual. Simply put, we have to plan this term in such a way as to inflict maximum damage to those interests.

Right after the election, I saw a meme that joked about the old white male face of the Republican Party – I think it was photos of Mia Love, Tim Scott, and Elise Stefanik. (In order, they are a newly-elected black female Congressman from Utah, South Carolina’s junior Senator who was elected to a full term, and the youngest member of the incoming Congress.) Yes, there are still a lot of old white guys in the GOP (including me) but times are changing. I fall neatly along the line between Baby Boomer and Generation X; I tend to identify more with the latter. But the Millennial Generation isn’t exactly waiting its turn, and that’s fine with me.

You can see some examples of this in January in Annapolis.

And now for something completely different: I have exciting news about a new advertiser tomorrow.

‘Made in America’ gains strength in November

It was good news in November for manufacturers, at least as expressed on the employment front – based on the November jobs report and revisions to previous reports, the sector gained 48,000 workers over that timeframe.

Naturally, manufacturing supporters were cheered by the news, with the union-backed Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) noting that Barack Obama is now over 1/4 of the way to his promise of a million new manufacturing jobs in his second term, while economist Chad Mowbray of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) trade group pointed out robust growth in new orders was beginning to translate into new employees.

However, both groups saw some clouds among the silver linings. In the case of AAM, their complaint was the “failure to stop currency manipulation by China and Japan” while NAM cited “headwinds such as rising health care costs and regulatory burdens.”

Each complaint has some validity, but for the majority of manufacturers the specter of operational costs is a key deterrent to expansion or even staying in business. While it’s not manufacturing in a traditional sense – and certainly applies on a more limited scale than federal edicts which can overturn an entire industry – one example could be how the local processing of chicken would take a blow from ill-advised state phosphorus regulations that have the potential to drive the poultry business to different areas of the country. Needless to say, such a result would be devastating to this part of the state, leaving just tourism and some limited local services to provide the employment to support our region.

And while I’m mentioning Maryland politics, I may as well make one other pronouncement here. As I followed his gubernatorial campaign for a year, I paid attention to how Ron George studied and shared his thoughts on the prospect of making things in Maryland. I hope Larry Hogan can utilize Ron’s passion and expertise in his administration. While we would love to score an auto plant or other similarly large employer in this area of the state, a more realistic goal might be to, as Ron stressed during his campaign, fill up the existing facilities and areas several towns on the Eastern Shore have already laid out for manufacturing. To use a local example, adding 100 jobs for Wicomico County residents would immediately shave 0.2% off our unemployment rate, not to mention bring up the standard of living for everyone else.

A week ago yesterday we celebrated Small Business Saturday, but the best way to support them (other than shopping there) would be to make their lives easier by calling off the government regulator’s dogs and encouraging them to grow so that sometime down the road we can be the manufacturing power we once were.

The spread of success

A few days ago I, along with other Central Committee members and “interested parties,” received a memo from the Congressional campaign of Andy Harris. While the information I received probably isn’t public knowledge in its format, it is possible to find all of the facts provided through diligent searching and I believe revealing a little bit of it will help me to make a larger point.

In this memo, Harris outlines the “work (the campaign) did this cycle for candidates in Maryland and around the nation.” Just before the election we found out about A Great Maryland PAC and some of the assistance it gave in promoting candidates or pointing out flaws in the record of incumbent Democrats, but Harris did more – a lot more. As the memo explains:

On the Eastern Shore, maximum contributions through the Andy Harris campaign and Chesapeake PAC were made to delegate candidates Carl Anderton and Kevin Hornberger, both of whom defeated long-time Democrat stalwarts. Carl defeated 28 year incumbent Norm Conway, who also is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a Wicomico County based district. Kevin defeated 16 year incumbent David Rudolph, who is the Vice Chair of the Economic Matters Committee, in a Cecil County district. Every seat on the Shore other than the democratically drawn majority-minority district is now held by Republicans. The lone Democrat State Senator on the Shore, Jim Mathias, regrettably, barely held on to his seat despite investments of time and financial resources in the race. All three delegate seats in his State Senate district went Republican, but Mathias held on by the skin of his teeth.

Another big highlight on the Shore was the defeat of Democrat Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt by Republican Bob Culver. Congressman Harris donated significantly to Bob’s campaign, and Culver was able to pull it out. In addition to these Democrat-held seats, four candidates running in open seats and supported by Harris were able to put their races away with ease. Mary Beth Carozza (Worcester) won 74% in her single member district. Chris Adams (Wicomico) and Johnny Mautz (Talbot) each doubled the amount of votes received by their Democratic challengers. Jay Jacobs (Kent), Steve Arentz (Queen Anne’s) and Jeff Ghrist (Caroline) all ran strong victorious delegate campaigns. With the election of Jeff Ghrist, Caroline County has for the first time in decades a resident delegate.

Every Republican Delegate or Senate candidate who represents a part of the First District received some level of financial support from Congressman Harris.

A good illustration of the impact outside help can make is found with Anderton’s race. Throughout the campaign. incumbent Norm Conway’s bankroll fluctuated in a range of $75,000 to $100,000 on hand. With most candidates, it’s difficult to overcome that much of a financial disadvantage; indeed, it turned out Carl was outspent in the race by more than 4 to 1. While Anderton put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity, having the money to wage a little bit of a media campaign and not completely cede the airwaves made a big difference.

But another local race illustrates the problem a statewide minority party has. That “skin of the teeth” victory by Jim Mathias also was won at great cost – like Anderton, Republican challenger Mike McDermott was outspent by better than 4 to 1. For Mathias, though, the victory was won on the airwaves as he spent $268,850 over the last month at a company called Screen Strategies, which is a really big gun in that it’s worked for several statewide Democratic campaigns and leftist interest groups, including anti-traditional marriage and pro-abortion entities. On just that firm alone, Mathias spent 2.3 times what Mike McDermott spent on his entire campaign. And since it’s a more far-flung Senate district – as opposed to the relatively compact confines of House District 38B in the immediate Salisbury metro area – the impact of media is much greater because no candidate can be everywhere in three counties every day.

What the Maryland Republican Party needs is more people to pull in money like Harris does and spread it around. While Democrats have a registration majority of roughly 2 to 1 over Republicans and 56% of the overall electorate, they hold a margin larger than their proportion in the Maryland Senate and prior to this year’s election did the same in the House – and that’s not to mention their 9 to 1 advantage in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. When Jim Mathias and Norm Conway needed financial help, their party and interests were able to provide it. Unfortunately, it’s only because of Andy Harris that the First District is the one portion of the state where the GOP can counter this – the rest of the state exists more or less on its own. The loss of Dan Bongino in the Sixth Congressional District was troubling because that end of the state could have received the same assistance down the road.

One big, big problem with the Republican Party in Maryland is that they can’t fill out their ballot throughout the state, and even in certain county races. While Republicans have outdone their registration disadvantage in Wicomico County for the past several years, we still could not find candidates willing to go after two open seats, one for Delegate and one for County Council, in majority-minority districts. Granted, one only became open when the current Delegate withdrew at the last possible minute AFTER the filing deadline, but the GOP still could add a name to the ballot for a few days afterward. We tried, but no one would make that commitment. Now that people are becoming aware they could get at least a little financial help, though, that problem could be solved in 2018.

Though they have an uphill battle at best, those sacrificial lambs serve a noble purpose by making the Democrats spend money on their campaigns, money that they can’t send off to a vulnerable fellow candidate someplace else in the state – as many “safe” Democrats did to help Mathias. With few exceptions, Democrats found people willing to carry their banner in Republican-held areas so we had to pay some attention to them.

And there’s always the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle because once in awhile miracles happen – everyone and their brother thought District 38B was gerrymandered into a safe seat for Norm Conway, but the voters proved otherwise.

Those District 38B voters were better informed because they have a Congressman who’s willing to not just vote conservatively in Congress, but help in building a viable conservative movement in Maryland. In the meantime, state Republicans could stand some lessons from Carl on how to win an uphill battle.

Same boss – but a couple new underlings

As many who read this space might be aware I took a pass on this year’s quadrennial Maryland GOP organizing convention, so I have Jackie Wellfonder to thank for this picture of our returning Chair.

It’s suitable for framing and sending to Mike Miller. Two years ahead of schedule, bro.

So while there weren’t as many on the ballot as there were for the very contentious 2010 organizing convention, this year still featured some interesting races with the results being perhaps slightly unexpected. But they could be considered a blow to the libertarian wing of the Maryland Republican Party, as the two candidates most directly tied to their effort both lost – Joe Fleckenstein falling far short against incumbent Secretary John Wafer and incumbent 1st Vice-Chair Collins Bailey losing decisively to Mary Burke-Russell by a weighted 298-249 vote, according to observer Dave Wissing. Bailey was the only incumbent to run and lose, while Burke-Russell wins a position she unsuccessfully sought last year in the wake of Diana Waterman’s ascension to Chair.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Vice-Chair race turned out as I expected, with Larry Helminiak easily winning another term over Greg Holmes.

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic was the 3rd Vice-Chair race, which went to a second ballot when none of the three contenders could garner a majority. On the opening ballot Rob Willoughby held on to a narrow lead over Eugene Craig III with Tommy Rodriguez bringing up the rear. Before the second round Rodriguez dropped out and endorsed Craig, enabling him to come from behind.

Since it may have been that endorsement that made the difference, I asked Tommy Rodriguez why he backed Eugene Craig:

I had great respect for Eugene coming into this race, and I am personally familiar with his charisma and willingness to help our party grow. His Young Guns initiative is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that will help grow the Republican bench and make our party more appealing to young voters.

It was a good enough reason to propel Craig to the victory.

As the party hierarchy preached unity to the convention, though, there was one element which couldn’t resist its sack dance:

Stay classy, guys. I don’t think Collins Bailey will be going away anytime soon, and the libertarian wing of the party may be more feisty than ever during the General Assembly session.

Now that we’ve made it through the convention in a more or less united fashion, the party can begin planning strategy for the aforementioned session. But perhaps the best news of all that came out of the convention was that the party can apparently finally retire its long-term debt. It was something which always concerned me during my tenure on the Central Committee and now that we’ve finally broken into the black we can more easily continue painting Maryland red in 2016 and 2018.

So, to borrow a term from my incoming Delegate, let’s get back to work!

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Tomorrow, unless some last-second nomination is made from the floor and somehow gathers enough support to prevail, Diana Waterman will be elected to a full two-year term as Maryland Republican Party Chair. It would be the first re-election of a Chair in my eight years of involvement, and proves that hard work and success is its own reward. Her tenure has been successful enough to scare off any opposition, so she joins party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal as Executive Board members who presumably have an unopposed re-election.

It’s worth noting that Third Vice-Chair Eric Grannon is the only incumbent taking a pass on another term, and his seat has the most competition with three contenders: Eugene Craig III, Tommy Rodriguez, and Rob Willoughby are all trying for that position.

Each of the three comes at the position with different perspectives. Craig and Rodriguez were most active in the 2014 campaign, as Craig ran for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court and Rodriguez was the campaign manager for the Ron George for Governor bid. Willoughby, on the other hand, comes from a more traditional route as he is the Chair of the Caroline County Republican Central Committee and as such has the longest list of endorsements.

All three are active in social media, with Rodriguez stating his priorities as:

We have an unprecedented opportunity as Maryland Republicans to restore prosperity, accountability and personal liberty to the Free State. As your Vice Chair, I will commit my time and talent towards recruiting the next generation of conservative leaders and building a statewide network of donors and grassroots volunteers who will help them towards victory. Together, we can build a Republican Party committed to growing the middle class, reining in big government and providing the best array of education opportunities in the nation.

Craig has the biggest endorsement in Dan Bongino, a blog post by Jason Boisvert explaining Eugene’s thoughts on priorities, and may have the largest brush with fame of the three candidates. Craig was the first one in the race but both he and Rodriguez may have a difficult time against Willoughby as he is familiar to many more potential voters.

Another intriguing race is the one for Secretary, where incumbent John Wafer has a challenge from Joe Fleckenstein.

While it’s not quite as simple as a description as I’ll give it, basically the job of a secretary is to take notes. (It’s why I do a similar function in two organizations because I also have that mindset as an outgrowth of this gig.) But it also has a vote on the Executive Committee because we changed the bylaws in 2013 to allow this. (I recall it was my former Chair Dave Parker who introduced this as an amendment to a bylaws proposal to also grant the YRs and College Republicans an Executive Committee vote.) Fleckenstein is a steering committee member in the Harford County Campaign for Liberty, reflecting a push by the pro-liberty forces in Maryland to have more of a say in the state party.

In the race for Second Vice-Chair, incumbent Larry Helminiak faces a challenge from Greg Holmes, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from the Fourth Congressional District this year, losing in the primary. Of the three Vice-Chair races this seems to the the most low-key one.

On the other hand, I am being bombarded by e-mails in support of re-electing Collins Bailey to the First Vice-Chair position, So far here is a list of e-mailers from whom I’ve received Bailey endorsements:

  • Christina Trotta, Harford County (and a Campaign for Liberty member)
  • Larry Helminiak (current Second Vice-Chair)
  • Gordon Bull, Baltimore County (ran for Delegate in District 12)
  • Tyler Harwood, Wicomico County (a Republican activist)
  • Mark Crawford, Charles County
  • Grant Helvey, Worcester County Chair
  • Gary Clark, Howard County
  • Carol Frazier, Worcester County Vice-Chair
  • Richard Rothschild, Carroll County Commissioner
  • Kellee Kennett, Worcester County Tea Party
  • Republican Liberty Caucus of Maryland

The list of endorsements for Mary Burke-Russell isn’t as long, but it does include former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar. She also has the backhanded support of Red Maryland‘s Brian Griffiths, who wrote a scathing piece on Collins Bailey yesterday. Griffiths’ piece comes off as remaining sour grapes from the ill-fated Chair campaign of Greg Kline, but Burke-Russell already appears to be one of the “establishment” choices against the pro-liberty insurgency which you can put Bailey, Fleckenstein, and arguably Eugene Craig into. If all three win the MDGOP may be a more activist vehicle during the General Assembly sessions – perhaps they should be.

Without speaking to any of the candidates personally – and not having a vote in the matter since I chose not to take a proxy offered to me – I’m not going to make any official endorsements in the race. I’m on record as supporting Diana now although at the time I preferred Collins Bailey be the Chair. Larry Helminiak has also done a fine job.

I will say, though, that I believe those who have been in office by and large deserve re-election but the voters would still be served well by the challengers. And given certain winners the Maryland GOP would be far more diverse in all respects than its Democratic counterpart, which seems to try and balance based on external characteristics and not diversity of thought.

Baltimore keeps their bags (at least for now)

Back in November I informed you about the bag tax in Baltimore that turned into an outright ban. Well, the same folks who alerted me to the ban let me know that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed the measure, a veto which is expected to survive a Council vote.

I do have to comment about my PR friends’ assessment of the situation, though:

It was outrageous for the Baltimore City Council to think it could play games behind the scenes and pass a bill without any public input. Thankfully, this abuse of power did not go unchecked.

I suspect if they were a cloth bag maker, though, this ban would have been just hunky-dory. Regardless, the needs of Baltimore grocers and retailers will continue to be served in part by Novolex, the plastic bag supplier who hired the PR firm. It’s likely many of those bags come from one of Novolex’s 12 plants, with the closest being in the central Pennsylvania hamlet of Milesburg. With the exception of one Novolex plant in Canada, you’ve got to like that American manufacturing.

Yet the question has to be asked: why does a plastic bag company need a PR firm aside from having to deal with these ill-advised bans and taxes?

At the risk of dating myself, I came of age before the question of “paper or plastic” ever came up, and long before the paper bag became a rare commodity. In my youth, those paper bags were filled by the pockmarked teenage bag boys who took the items from the checkout lady who keyed in the prices (stamped with ink onto the can or box) in rapid-fire fashion on her cash register. That bag boy also took the paper bags out to your car.

So I remember how skeptical people were about the plastic bags because they were so small and it took four or five to hold what it took a couple paper bags to handle – not to mention the fact the bag boy was rendered obsolete. But you rarely had to worry about a plastic bag tearing apart, and while there were lost opportunities in creating book covers and having a handy supply of bags for the burn barrel (yes, we lived in the country) we eventually found plastic bags were much more useful. Moreover, for every plastic bag which ends up polluting a stream or blowing down the street, there are probably twenty to fifty which were recycled or disposed of properly.

But my original question still remains: with the crime, poor schools, and lack of opportunity in Baltimore, why is a plastic bag ban even taking up the time of their City Council? Rest assured they will try it again in a year or two, as will the Maryland General Assembly even with a pro-business governor. Liberals never seem to take ‘no’ for an answer.

So I suspect that Edelman will keep my name on their mailing list and let me know of any other local threats to their plastic bag-making client. Cloth bags just aren’t my style anyway.

A Wicomico changing of the guard

It was an exciting day and a contentious night for the new County Executive and County Council here in Wicomico County. It’s not often the incoming governor pays attention to an event in our fair county.

But the auditorium at Wor-Wic Community College was packed to its 200-plus person capacity to watch our second County Executive (and first such Republican) Bob Culver take the oath of office from Clerk of the Court Mark Bowen.

After the presentation of colors, the Rev. George Patterson delivered an invocation where he prayed that Culver would be “seasoned with wisdom, grace, and humility” as he took this office.

That quickly, since it had to be finished by noon, Culver took the oath flanked by members of his family.

In his remarks which followed, Bob expressed how he was “humbled and honored” by his election, about which he commented that he “wasn’t the only one who wanted to see change.”

His approach was going to be relatively simple, as he believed “good, workable ideas can come from either side,” but at the same time “‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ will no longer be the rule.” On the other hand, change wouldn’t be made for its own sake.

Culver’s brief address, which lasted less than four minutes, concluded with a simple request: “we need your ideas.” He then introduced the Governor-elect.

Along with Culver, Larry Hogan announced “we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Hogan was optimistic about Wicomico County and the rest of the Eastern Shore, promising we “will no longer be taken for granted…you’ll have a seat at the table.”

His first order of business affecting us locally was fighting the Phosphorus Management Tool, new regulations he accused Governor O”Malley of “push(ing) at the midnight hour, on his way out the door.” Hogan wasn’t necessarily opposed to regulations on farmers, but believed they needed to be based on science and not “promised to a special interest group.”

Turning to the new County Executive, Hogan said “Bob is truly a salt of the earth kind of guy” and that he “can’t think of anyone more qualified” to grow the local economy based on his business experience than Culver.

The ceremony wasn’t all that long, but it was lunchtime and many of those who came to the swearing-in went to the next building to celebrate with a reception hosted by Culver.

I must say the catering was outstanding, and people generally left in a good, optimistic mood.

But while Culver was “humbled and honored” by his election, the first County Council meeting under his tenure was definitely on the humbling side.

It began, though, with remarks from the outgoing County Council. In particular, retiring Council member Gail Bartkovich called her tenure “an honor, privilege…and tremendous education.” Interestingly enough, all three of the women who served in the 2010-14 term left County Council, leaving a body of seven men.

Stevie Prettyman acknowledged the large crowd “for a change” and thanked the citizens for their trust in her.

And while he wasn’t going anywhere, John Hall lamented the “loss of wisdom and integrity” provided by the outgoing members. Matt Holloway, who was also staying on, noted this edition of Council had accomplished a lot: building a new Bennett Middle School, supplying water to the Morris Mill neighborhood plagued by well contamination, and continually improving its bond ratings.

Similarly, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who was elected to the House of Delegates, thanked the people for “putting their trust in me as a leader.”

But she foreshadowed the discussion to come by expressing her disappointment that West Salisbury Elementary School would not be in the revised bonding program Culver was asking County Council to approve.

After a quick recess to rearrange seats, the new County Council was sworn in.

Returning members Joe Holloway (third from left), Matt Holloway (center), and John Hall (far right) were now joined by Larry Dodd (far left), Marc Kilmer (second from left), John Cannon (third from right), and Ernest Davis (second from right.) Dodd and Cannon have previously served one term apiece on County Council, though, leaving Kilmer and Davis as the two rookies.

Their first order of business was electing a president and vice-president. Since John Cannon and Matt Holloway were the lone nominees for those respective positions, Cannon took over the meeting with Matt Holloway seated next to him.

The other item on the agenda was the controversial reduction in new county debt from the $16.5 million requested by Rick Pollitt to a new $10.9 million total Culver desired, To accomplish this reduction Bob reduced the bonding amount for ongoing construction of Bennett Middle School, and postponed three other projects: work on the final phase of the Westside Collector Road, work on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and replacement of West Salisbury Elementary.

Projects which would remain, on the other hand, were Bennett Middle School, the purchase of land for dredge material placement for the Wicomico River, the purchase of the newly renovated State’s Attorney office, and renovations to Perdue Stadium.

Culver explained that the Bennett bond could be safely reduced without endangering progress. He also made the case that improvements to the river channel would allow for continued commerce and safer oil transport (as there is a refinery along the river), the purchase of the State’s Attorney office would save $300,000 annually in rent, and that the Perdue Stadium renovations were at the request of the Orioles and would ensure the team remains in Salisbury.

Joe Holloway commented that taking off the school was “probably a good idea” based on his conversation earlier that day with Larry Hogan, with Kilmer agreeing it was likely a “prudent course.” On the other hand, Larry Dodd was “disappointed” that the West Salisbury bond was removed, and Ernest Davis, who represents that district, criticized the deletion as pushing them to the back burner again.

That sentiment was echoed frequently in the public comments Cannon allowed. Over a dozen citizens stood up to blast the decision to drop the bond funding, many complaining about the deplorable shape the 50-year-old building is in and decrying its lack of air conditioning. (It’s worth pointing out the state denied Wicomico County’s request to address the air conditioning for FY2015 because the amount was too small – see page 173 here. Three other Wicomico County schools were granted funds.)

In the end, though, the vote was 5-1 to approve the revised bonding, with Davis opposed. Larry Dodd had to leave early for a family function.

After that vote, Kilmer expressed the sentiment that he wished he saw as much passion about what happens in the schools as he did about the school building. But in his president’s remarks, Cannon was more optimistic, saying “I see good things for Wicomico County.” He also expressed his appreciation for all that Rick Pollitt did in his eight years at the helm.

But it goes without saying that Culver’s honeymoon wasn’t very long. Several people expressed the belief that our place in line for funding would be lost and we could go another several years before the needs of West Salisbury were addressed. But Culver and County Council wanted to see some of the buildings for themselves to assess the needs. Aside from the question one observer brought up about the maintenance issues related by those testifying on West Salisbury’s behalf, it was a night filled with passion for a school of just 309 students.

Look for more battles as the FY2016 budget begins to take shape next year.

Movement down-ticket

On Sunday I marveled at how calm the race for Maryland GOP Chair was, but there is some movement in the races below the one which, to my knowledge, has heretofore left Diana Waterman unopposed for another term.

An interesting race is developing for First Vice-Chair, one which pits incumbent Collins Bailey, a favorite of the pro-liberty crowd, against Mary Burke-Russell, who until recently headed a very successful St. Mary’s County Republican Party. You may recall Bailey was a last-minute nominee for the job in the spring of 2013 after he lost a tight battle with Waterman for party Chair, and Burke-Russell was one of those he defeated for the job in a five-way race.

Besides the pro-liberty endorsements, though, Bailey has the backing of current Second Vice-Chair Larry Helminiak, who noted that:

Though I often have the exact opposite point of view as Mr. Bailey, I have learned that the final decisions arrived at by a board of directors is more acceptable to the membership after both sides of an issue are presented and discussed.

If re-elected to the position of 2nd Vice Chair, I would look forward to spending the next couple of years having open discussions with Collins Bailey.

At this point, no one has stepped forth to challenge Helminiak for his position but that’s likely to change.

Meanwhile, the Third Vice-Chair position has one announced candidate in Eugene Craig III, who last ran for Clerk of the Court in Baltimore County this year. I’m not aware if incumbent Eric Grannon is running for re-election, with the same being true for Secretary John Wafer. However, Treasurer Chris Rosenthal is seeking another term.

If the two who haven’t made their plans known decide to stay on, it would create a powerful argument to maintain the status quo which led the party to some unprecedented successes in 2014. It’s likely more challengers will surface in coming days – I’ll have a better idea when our Central Committee meets Monday night – but as it stands right now the acrimony which has rended the party after previous conventions may not surface. The pro-liberty wing will have representation in Bailey while the so-called “establishment” can point to Waterman as their choice.

It was a formula which held the party together for the 2014 campaign, and it can serve to grow the party over the next two years.

A tone-deaf city government

It took several months longer than anticipated – and we don’t yet know exactly what the toll will be – but last night 80 percent of Salisbury City Council gave 100 percent of local property owners another tax to pay by approving a stormwater utility on a 4-0 vote, with newly-appointed Jack Heath being absent.

Council President Jake Day “doesn’t expect” the fee to be more than $20 a year for homeowners, and expects to raise $1.25 million annually from the “rain tax” – and yes, I think the moniker is appropriate given the business fee will be determined by the amount of runoff they produce. According to the latest Census data, though, there are 13,401 housing units in Salisbury so my public school math tells me that businesses are going to pay almost 80% of the total, to the tune of almost $1 million annually.

Interestingly enough, I was quoted in the Daily Times story from last Thursday from a post I wrote in February when the idea came up, and I think the point is still valid: we don’t know what impact there will be from this tax hike on the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. It seems to me that the timing isn’t very good on this one, particularly as the state and county are working to make these entities more business-friendly and new taxes tend to work in the opposite direction.

I was curious about something, so I took a look at the city’s latest budget that was adopted in May. In it, Mayor Jim Ireton points out that “(t)his budget shows levels of monetary surplus at incredibly healthy levels for both the City’s General Fund and the City’s Water and Sewer Utility.” But it also is using some of the proceeds from the wastewater treatment plant settlement on sewer infrastructure, so why do they need this new tax now? Granted, it’s also stated in the budget that ratepayers get a 2.5% break on water and sewer rates this year, but the extra $20 fee will likely eat that savings up and then some.

The budget also makes the case that the $100 a month, give or take, that a residential property owner pays in property taxes provides a cornucopia of services, a palette which includes stormwater management. So we’re already paying for the service with our property taxes, but instead of adding the penny or two that would cover the additional services the city wants to create a new special fund. Currently the Water and Sewer Fund comprises roughly 1/3 of a city budget which runs about $50 million, with property taxes chipping in about $22 million toward the General Fund. With the city of Salisbury increasing the tax rate regularly, it’s doubtful we’ll see a corresponding decrease in property taxes to offset the new fee.

And while I’m not an expert on the city charter by any means, my question is why can’t the purview of the Water and Sewer Utility (which has a large surplus) be simply expanded to stormwater? Generally infrastructure improvements to the stormwater system involve changes to the remaining utilities as well, so the same work may well come out of two (or three) different funds given the city’s idea. It may be more efficient and less taxing on the city’s residents to amend the charter to add stormwater to the existing water and sewer utility.

So let’s review: the fee would cover something which is already supposed to be paid for, in an amount we haven’t quite determined yet, to achieve projects for which we don’t know the scope but are supposed to address a problem Salisbury contributes little to and is only compelled to deal with because the state refuses to stick up for itself and tell the EPA and Chesapeake Bay Foundation to go pound sand. What could go wrong?

Just remember all this come Election Day next year.

Update 11/26: I actually stumbled upon this as I was researching some items for my next post today, but it’s worth pointing out that Salisbury has justified its adoption of a stormwater utility by saying the town of Berlin has one in place.

The same group, called the Environmental Finance Center – which is part of the University of Maryland but serves as a regional hub for an existing EPA program – did studies to justify the need for Berlin (2012) and Salisbury (2013). The results were pretty much the same, although the suggested fee was higher in Berlin than it was in Salisbury, where they recommended a $40 annual fee for homeowners. Notably, the Salisbury report also recommends fee increases after a period of years – see the chart on page 15. So the problem won’t ever be solved and the program will run an annual surplus that likely won’t be rebated to taxpayers. Moreover, unlike a property tax from which religious-based entities have traditionally been exempt, they have to pay the fee as well.

Also, the fingerprints of the notoriously Radical Green folks of the Town Creek Foundation are on these reports. It’s a group which believes:

We think that true sustainability and resilience – in an increasingly unstable, crisis-prone world – will depend on fundamental transformations of the systems (including the value systems) by which everyday life is organized. These include the systems by which we make and consume energy, food, and materials, and the systems by which we make and enforce social decisions.

We’ve already seen the results of a national “fundamental transformation” over the last six years, and many millions would like to transform back to where we were. But a tone-deaf government just wants to take more out of our pockets rather than prioritize existing resources.

WCRC meeting – November 2014

Now that the election is in the rearview mirror, the Wicomico County Republican Club moved off its campaign mode and began working on next year’s agenda. Among the items of business were establishing a nominations committee and elections committee for next year’s crop of officers, which will be different in several positions, as well as finalizing arrangements for the club’s Christmas Party December 7.

But for the first time in several months we had a guest speaker, even though he was a familiar face to a lot of us. Carl Anderton reviewed his campaign and put forth a few of the items he was looking to achieve in relatively brief remarks before the gathering this evening. Fondly recalling that he had made his intentions known to the WCRC in June of 2013, Carl thanked all those who helped, particularly the crew which knocked on thousands of doors in the district.

It wasn’t easy, though. A campaign that was “hitting its stride” after an early October debate at the Chamber “had to start all over” after a mailing came out depicting Norm Conway as a masked criminal. (Anderton revealed his wasn’t the only district so targeted; a Cecil County race had a similar mailing.) But the local GOP team overcame that obstacle, and once results from two key precincts were known Anderton realized he was over the top. But that “shellshocked” feeling you may have noticed on Election Night was genuine – Carl was “incredibly blessed and overwhelmed” about this “opportunity of a lifetime.”

There will be work to do in Annapolis, though. Carl sarcastically noted he was “excited about the going-away present” of hundreds of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls, particularly since the FY2016 budget is mainly being created by Martin O’Malley. But the important thing to Carl is to “bring back the quality of life on the Eastern Shore.”

Asked about the prospect of an elected school board, Carl said he “absolutely” supports it, and received some pointers from current legislators on how to bring it to fruition.

We also got to hear a little bit from incoming County Executive Bob Culver, who will be sworn in next Tuesday. Culver revealed that we would have a special guest at the ceremony in Governor-elect Larry Hogan.

Bob also noted that he was hard at work already, addressing some changes he’d like to make to Rick Pollitt’s last bond request. He also talked about an elected school board, calling on a new vote from the incoming County Council to back it.

Yet cleaning up county government isn’t the only thing which will change. The physical office of the County Executive would also undergo some renovations to update the look to be more appropriate for a county on the rise. And if you’re worried about taxpayer expense, don’t be because Culver added he’d be footing the bill for the new carpet and paint.

Newly-appointed county GOP Chair Mark McIver called his election “a humbling experience,” adding he was “psyched and excited” to take over the party. One of the first orders of business for the new committee, though, will be helping to select a Wicomico County Board of Education member to replace Larry Dodd, who will become the new District 3 Council member. McIver thought it would be a good goal to create a pool of interested Republicans from which we could appoint members to appropriate entities for their interests. “I want to hear from the Republicans in Wicomico County,” McIver concluded.

But basically once we finalized some plans for the Christmas Party and heard a comment about the “excellent job” the executive board did in allocating contributions to various candidates, we were through, It was a meeting which came in under an hour, but a lot got done in that time span.

The next time we formally meet will be January 26, 2015. Obviously the speaker is to be determined.

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