Sine Die…for now anyway

I think the dust has sufficiently settled in Annapolis now to comment about the farce otherwise known as the 2006 session of Maryland’s General Assembly – noted by the Wall Street Journal as America’s worst. (You can’t blame me, I’ve never voted for any of them – I was an Ohioan the last time these folks were elected.)

The interim few days also gave me time to peruse some of the media coverage of the last session day, along with overviews of the session as a whole. I culled items from the Baltimore Sun, the Gazette, the Washington Times, and press releases from both parties in order to read up on the spin and the real results.

The session started and ended with a flurry of veto overrides. At the start the Democrats in the General Assembly made the Fair Share Health Care Act (generally known as the “Wal-Mart” bill) part of the state’s law books and further frustrated Maryland small businesses by increasing the minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. To finish the session, the Democrats blocked efforts by the state to take over the failing Baltimore City Schools, mandated the governor must reappoint and have reconfirmed his Cabinet secretaries if he wins a second term (a clear usurpation of executive power); and overturned Ehrlich’s veto of a bill selecting early polling places that the Democrats in the General Assembly picked out, likely to their partisan advantage.

What was most noteworthy and certainly drew the most attention on the last session day was an attempt to modify proposed electric rate hikes that would begin this summer. The proposed increases came about as a sort of payment due from deregulation legislation that was passed back in 1999, under previous Governor Parris Glendenning. To be more specific, long-term contracts that locked in prices paid by consumer electrical suppliers (particularly Baltimore Gas & Electric) were set to expire and current market rates are set much higher. Instead of possibly 6-10% increases every year from 2000-2006, this balloon mortgage of sorts was slated to force a 72% rate hike on BG&E customers – a group that is a huge voting bloc, possibly the largest in Maryland short of party affiliation.

Legislation to modify these increases managed to make it through the House of Delegates, but the Senate could not ratify the bill in time. Cinderella’s horse-driven coach turned into the pumpkin of a possible special session to resolve the matter.

Moreover, the rate increases aren’t limited to just the Baltimore area, as the juice that runs my computer (and heats/cools my house, does my cooking, etc.) comes from Delmarva Power, who’s also looking to increase rates by a significant percentage. The effects of electrical deregulation have obviously become a contentious issue, and a sidebar to it is a proposed $11 billion merger between Constellation Energy (BG&E’s parent company) and Florida Power and Light. That merger was also held hostage to the whims of the General Assembly, which isn’t too friendly to business interests.

Now, generally I’m a free-market sort of person, and what I can’t understand is how deregulation didn’t work in this instance. I suppose the only explanation I can think of is that because the electrical power industry is so capital-intensive and also quite dependent on other natural resources (coal, natural gas, etc.) that new players and competitors have a difficult time getting started. Conversion is the key in this case – something has to be converted to electricity, at least until someone figures out a way to transform natural lightning into a form useful enough to supply your typical 120 volt outlet.

As it stands now, a guy like me is looking at about $300 a year more for electricity. Strangely enough, my electric bills are higher in the winter than the summer, but most people will see big bills come July and August, just in time for the campaign season to begin. For their part, even though the Democrats in the General Assembly passed the deregulation legislation in the first place and it was signed by a Democrat governor, they’re calling it “Ehrlich’s rate hike.”

And that’s a good part of the spin that they try to attach to their achievements during the 2006 Assembly session. Some items cited in their press release include:

$462 million for schools. The problem with saying that is that Governor Ehrlich sets the initial budget, so that was his amount of money – the D’s simply chose not to cut it.

The “Healthy Air” Act. In other words, more regulation on Maryland’s utilities, which will likely benefit those downwind of us moreso than our state. So I guess Delaware thanks us, while our electric rates go up to cover those mandates.

Fighting the “Ehrlich” utility rate hike. Since no legislation passed, and the Democrats run the General Assembly, I’m not certain that I’d call this a “victory.”

Fighting voter supression. In fact, I’d say the bills passed by the Democrats fight it so well that many people are going to vote 2, 3, even 4 times! And what a surprise, they’ll vote for Democrats.

Stem cell research. The devil is in the details. Personally, the only stem cell research I favor is that performed on non-embryonic stem cells. Any why is it up to the government to fund this research? Wouldn’t one think that a private comany would love to come up with a cure for an ailment that affects a large number of people and be able to profit from that? Maybe they’re seeing how the pharmaceutical industry gets treated by our lawmakers and it forces government to step into the breech.

College tuition. I have an issue with the state funding college tuition anyway. Sometimes I think that the purpose of college has become almost the same as that of a vocational school. You go to school to say, become an architect, and unless you apply yourself to the purpose like I did you don’t learn what is truly higher education, that of critical thinking.

A pay hike for “working families”. First of all, how many “working families” in Maryland really work at minimum-wage jobs? Most of these are held by teens or part-timers, where these low wage jobs exist. The market in Maryland is such that the average Joe working someplace makes far more than minimum anyway. But this measure increases costs for everyone regardless of income.

Minority Business Enterprise. At the risk of pissing off readers who trace their ancestries to sub-Saharan Africa or south of our national border, and even those who are physically capable of carrying and bearing children, I have to say that this should be phased out. I don’t believe in discrimination for or against a certain group, and a leg up to “minority” business enterprises, while necessary a generation ago, is no longer required if you ask me. Even if you don’t ask me, it’s my blog and I say so. MBE should have been sunsetted this year as proposed.

Juvenile justice failures. Honestly, with no kids in Maryland’s system, I’m no expert on whether juvenile justice needed to be reformed. This mostly has to do with a veto override in the first days of the session.

Teacher pension improvements. Yes, now Maryland is in the “middle of the pack” instead of the bottom. What they don’t say is that the teachers themselves will be fronting most of the costs. Need to keep that quiet, like the teachers’ unions would ever endorse a Republican anyway.

Tax relief. As the press release says, “Dems proposed and passed tax relief measures for those in need.” In this case, they determined homeowners, seniors, the disabled, military retirees, and heirs of small business owners were in need. I don’t have a problem with the list, but I wonder how many of these bills were Democrat versions of those introduced by Republicans, which did happen in this year’s General Assembly simply to make sure the GOP could get no credit. Really I’d like to see everyone get a tax cut though, not just a selected few.

For the GOP side, they chose a lighter approach in their view of the session. They selected the “Top Ten Silliest Bills” of the 2006 session. Rather than rehash the list (hey, just go read it – it’s funny in a sad sort of way) I wondered just how our local Assembly men and women voted on these bills! That’s way more important to me.

10. House Bill 1292 did not make it out of committee, no local elected officials were among the sponsors of either this measure or the companion Senate Bill 1017.

9. Senate Bill 983, believe it or not, passed 45-0. Both local Senators were among the 45.

8. Senate Bill 136 was defeated in committee. Sen. Richard Colburn (District 37) joined two other Republicans and 13 Democrats to sponsor the bill.

7. House Bill 1037 did not pass through its committee. No local Delegates were sponsors of the bill.

6. Senate Joint Resolution 15 passed 45-0 as well. Again, both of our Senators voted for the resolution. I have to comment on this one. Let me see, the trek of Lewis and Clark started in Missouri, correct? I went to Missouri for my vacation last year and I took two days to drive the distance. So, back in the days of horseback, that was likely a weeks’ trip or more. What the hell does Maryland have to do with this?!?

5. House Bill 1468 died a quiet death, not even getting a committee vote. None of our local Delegates were involved.

4. Senate Bill 735 was approved by its committee but did not face the full Senate. I’m not able to find out if either local Senator voted for the bill in committee or not.

3. House Bill 681 sailed through on votes of 138-1 and 133-0 (a version amended by the Senate.) All of our District 37 and 38 Delegates voted for this. The companion Senate Bill 824 was voted against by Sens. Colburn and Stoltzfus, but they were outvoted 37-8. I guess the saving grace is that an amendment sunsets the bill in 2010.

2. House Joint Resolution 2 was shot down in committee. No local Delegate was a co-sponsor.

1. Senate Bill 235 was selected as the silliest bill by the Maryland GOP. The bill allows pets to have their own trust funds. Now, I like Sen. Stoltzfus, but his voting for this makes me shake my head. Senator Colburn voted no. The measure passed the Senate 33-13 but no House action was taken.

All I have to say is thank goodness it’s over. At least the state can’t pass any more bills that restrict my freedom and grant goodies to whomever is deemed the chosen few until January of 2007, where hopefully the makeup of the General Assembly is such that any bill vetoed by Governor Ehrlich (assuming his reelection of course) would have the veto stand. I’m not that crazily optimistic that the GOP will suddenly become Maryland’s majority party, but we need to start down that road at some point.

Otherwise we might be wishing to become part of a “greater Delaware” and see what adding the “red” Eastern Shore does to that blue state.

Grading the campaign blogs

This year’s campaigns are beginning to shape up and get their websites together. One thing that I like about a number of the websites I link to is the blog portion of the website. A growing number of these sites feature a blog, many times by the candidate him/herself, and some that are also open to a number of folks who contribute to the campaign (such as volunteers.)

As such, I’ve linked specifically to the candidate’s blog in cases where I’ve found that they have a related one linked from their overall site. Today I’m going to take a pass through the ones I’m aware of. All of these are linked from monoblogue, so I’m not going to bother with hyperlinks on this post.

Before I begin, I do owe hat tips to the “Big Three” local bloggers who have pointed me at various times to local candidate sites as I try to secure a database of links to them, letting the people decide for themselves – assuming they would like to spend a few minutes perusing the campaign site and getting to know their positions on issues rather than depend on the 30-second TV ad that’s usually more about tearing the opponent down than stating where they stand positionwise. Most folks who take the time to read monoblogue and the other sites likely don’t fall in that latter category.

The grading here will be subjective, based on the number, character, and variety of posts. I’ll not go into the nuts and bolts of positions stated within each post; even if somebody is completely opposite my point of view, they’ll still be graded highly if the blog and its posts are well-written.

Let us begin with Maryland Senate candidate (and current Lieutenant Governor) Michael Steele’s blog. First I need to apologize for having a dead link to his blog, this has been fixed.

I probably could have kept it as a dead link and gotten the same effect though, there’s been no posts within the last month. Other than a spate around Civil Rights Day (aka MLK Day) there’s not been much placed here. It’s almost like Michael Steele is afraid to say a whole lot after his stem cell gaffe. The last post was basically a shill for contributions.

On that basis, I would have to give Michael Steele’s blog a D. If he’s not going to pay much attention to it, the blog is really not worth having on the site. If someone from the Steele campaign reads this, perhaps they can take pointers from other blogs I’m familiar with and will grade as I go.

Another GOP candidate is Daniel Muffoletto. His campaign website links to a blog but there’s nothing in it except what seems like a test post, thus I didn’t link it separately. He gets a big fat F.

Continuing on the GOP side, Daniel “Wig Man” Vovak blogs on almost a daily basis, generally very short entries about how the campaign is going and the curse he has had placed on Michael Steele. Of late he also notes about how many campaign cards he has handed out (gaining on 9,000.) The blog is extensive and goes back all the way to December for the 2006 campaign.

This is an interesting one to grade out. It’s a little bit like blogging in sound bites, which to me is a minus, but he’s a pretty regular blogger as well and reading on the evolution of his shoe leather campaign is intriguing. So I’m going to give it a B-, which could be improved with longer posts. I’d love to see his psychic/campaign manager toss in a few posts as well.

Now I’ll turn to the Democrat side, starting with Kweisi Mfume. His blog’s also been active awhile, nearly a year. It only had a few posts over the first few months, but lately has been updated on a fairly regular basis.

The site has had an interesting change over the course of 11 months. At the start, Mfume actually did take a few turns blogging and the posts were more of a personal character. In the past few months, though, most of the entries are used simply to link to other resources or news stories about the campaign or relevant issues. This coincided with “Dan” becoming the sole blogger. While many blogs that I read on a daily basis use this approach to highlight news stories they find interesting, I’m not so sure it’s the best format for a political blog. I actually liked the early entries better than the last ones.

The blog does have one plus though as they allow comments. I didn’t take a lot of time to read the comments, but the ability to provide feedback is a plus. In this instance, I’ll grade the blog a C+.

Allan Lichtman is another Democrat hopeful. His blog has a lot to recommend it as far as enjoyability. He and several other folks contribute to the blog, and the posts run the gamut from Lichtman’s accounting of his recent trip to New Orleans to birthday wishes for him and his son. They have even gone to archives of his posts in other places which runs entries back to January of 2005.

It has a good mix of commentary, postings on campaign events and appearances, and shows something about his character and the devotion of those people truly behind his campaign. While I’m most likely 180 degrees removed from him on the issues, I would recommend it as a good reading experience. He gets a very solid A.

Thus far, that is the extent of campaign site blogging on the Maryland Senate race. Next, I’ll turn to a Delaware Senate hopeful, Republican Dennis Protack.

Currently his blog nearly fits on one page, I barely had to scroll down to see it in its entirety. With one post in March on the ports issue (and 5 total since its inception in January), it seems to me another case where, if the candidate is not going to put his (or his campaign’s) full effort into the blog, why have it? The entries themselves are short and fairly well-written, but the interesting thing to me is that each entry ends with a question. It appears Protack is using the blog to solicit comments from the public. That’s noble in and of itself, but the lack of comments show that approach is not working. In his case, I give the blog a D+.

Moving down the Eastern Shore to Virginia, one U.S. Senate hopeful has a blog. Democrat challenger Harris Miller has the site, which is somewhat new – just starting up in February. It holds a lot of promise, in that the few entries (by various contributors, including Miller himself) speak to the variety of issues the challenger holds dear and points out differences between he and incumbent Sen. George Allen. Comments are allowed, and the site mixes news and commentary quite well. With some more diligence, Miller could have an excellent blogsite. As it is, I’ll rate it a C.

Shifting my focus to the various state Congressional races, the only blog that exists for the Delmarva district races (MD-1, VA-2, DE-at large) is a brand new blog by Delaware Democrat Dennis Spivack. The first entry was placed this past Wednesday. The two posts (an introduction post and one on health care) are nicely written.

There’s a few points taken off for not allowing comments, and several marks deducted for placing the blog on Blogspot. With the recent problems there (ask “Hadley V. Baxendale” about that!), the campaign would be much better off simply placing it as part of their overall site. I suppose there’s a “stealth” factor in this as normally leafing through Blogspot you wouldn’t find a campaign blog and several blogs I link to for political commentary reside on Blogspot. And, of course, it’s free.

As it stands, I will give this new blog a B+. Spivack’s team has a great opportunity to turn this blog into a solid campaign aid.

Coming back to the Free State, both Democrat challengers feature a blog on their site. I’ll work in alphabetical order and comment on Doug Duncan’s first.

This is another site that has all the plusses as far as these blogs go. The blog is updated regularly, almost daily. There are a number of contributors, including Duncan himself and members of his family. Comments are allowed, although there’s not a whole lot of them. Most of the posts are commentary on the campaign and issues, rather than just a link to something else. But they also get the word out about appearances and campaign events in a timely fashion. Plus the Duncan political quiz (posted April 6th) is pretty funny. I’ve lived here 18 months and I almost aced it…sad in a way.

Many of the bloggers who I comment on in this post could learn a lot about how to put together a blog in reading the Duncan campaign’s edition. All in all, another excellent blog, certainly the best of the whole lot. A+.

Martin O’Malley also has a campaign blog which has well-written entries and allows comments. A nice variety of contributors add their thoughts, including LG candidate Anthony Brown. The largest problem with O’Malleys blog is the dearth of posts. There’s only about 10 posts covering the time since November of last year. That alone hurts the grade. If the O’Malley campaign really wanted to reach out to the blogosphere, they have potential to do so if they placed more emphasis on posting in their blog once in awhile. I’m giving the site a B-.

The final blog I’ll review is one that links to incumbent Delaware treasurer Jack Markell’s campaign site. The odd thing about the “Blog for Delaware” is that it’s not truly a campaign blog. I would categorize it as more of a political blog that Markell happens to contribute to on a semi-regular basis.

So the grading is difficult to do. Yes, it is pretty well-written as far as arguments go, but there’s not the updating that’s necessary to make this a great campaign blog. It lies betwixt and between, and is most useful as background info rather than a source of campaign news and thoughts. On that basis I have to grade it as a C.

As a review, by political race:

Maryland U.S. Senate:

Lichtman – A
Vovak – B minus
Mfume – C plus
Steele – D
Muffoletto – F

Delaware U.S. Senate:

Protack – D plus

Virginia U.S. Senate:

Miller – C

Delaware U.S. House (at large):

Spivack – B plus

Maryland Governor:

Duncan – A plus (best of show)
O’Malley – B minus

Delaware statewide:

Markell – C

I’ll update the links continually as I find out about them and grade the blogs again every so often as the political season continues. With the filing deadline here and in Delaware not until over the summer, there’s still time for races to shift and new websites to be brought online.

A lot of people have some improving to do, others just need to keep up their good work.

The impact of impacts?

I’ve heard the buzzphrase “growth pays for growth” quite a lot since I’ve been down here. It took the Wicomico County Council to make it happen. I imagine the lineup for building permits is going to be quite long around Memorial Day (the fees take effect in 60 days hence), so any projects inhouse for us that are situated here just got on the fast track – I know enough about developers to know that they aren’t going to want to spend $1,524 per condo unit unnecessarily. To give you an example of a project I’m working on, that fee would cost the owner/developer an extra $62,000. (It’s hypothetical since the building will be in Accomack County, VA.)

I’ll grant you that the going price of $700,000 per in that example isn’t going to be affected much. However, there’s two directions that this can go in since the precedent is set now, and both of them worry me. One scenario I see playing out is that we’re going to see a never-ending call for hikes in impact fees or the expansion in scope to when a school building needs some sort of renovation but the fees aren’t enough to cover it. I realize the “return” provision was placed into the law where fees unused for six years are returned to the developers but, honestly, once government gets its greedy little hands on the money, it’s not going anywhere. There’s always SOMETHING that needs to be fixed on a school. Look at the example of the poor students having to suffer in the late spring and early fall because there’s no air conditioning in their building.

The second downfall I can sense is where the fee structure expands to certain home renovations. As I understand it, the fee only is charged to new housing units being built. I may as well be the first to point this out. What if a landlord changes a single-family home to a duplex or triplex? Would that not impact schools? Could the County Council, strapped for money because of the constant cry for better school facilities, decide in its wisdom that adding a bedroom onto your existing house is a sure sign another future Wicomico student is on the way, and thus merits an “impact fee”?

I listened to “Cato” this morning on Bill Reddish’s show. He did make a refutation to one of my earlier arguments that has merit. It’s true that, whether there’s a fee or not, the market will be the final arbiter of housing prices and the extra $5,000 would likely end up mostly out of the developer’s pocket rather than from the end user. But I’m not sure that’s a good way to encourage the capital infusion necessary for Wicomico County to prosper. It may help out the surrounding counties a little though.

There’s things that bother me about the whole school situation in general, and the impact fee passage is an ideal time to bring it up. It’s my understanding that Bennett High School has 400 more students than what it was designed for. But where do they come up with that number?

In my schooling days, back in the 1970’s, it was commonplace to have 30 kids in a classroom. It was also not a big deal that one school I attended was first built in 1909 as a small-town high school, and even with its later conversion to a middle school, hadn’t been renovated in a major way since the 1950’s.

I’m most familiar with Ohio’s regulations on school buildings. A few years ago, they did a comprehensive study on all the schools in the state and the majority of them had physical plants that weren’t deemed to be up to snuff. So the state went ahead and mandated either renovating existing schools or building new – generally any school over 30 years old was targeted for replacement. To date, this has cost the state almost $5 billion over ten years, and the job is about halfway done. They’ve already completed the work in the district I graduated from. Where there were once 3 public elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and a high school spread among the several small communities that make up the district, now there are 3 schools based on one campus in the rural area where the original high school was built (it’s now the middle school.) And my old school building? Still standing, and soon to become is now a satellite campus for the local community college. Obviously what wasn’t good enough to the state of Ohio for students in grades 5-8 is just fine for adult students. Hmmmm.

It’s surprising that Maryland hasn’t tried something like this. But at the time Ohio started this, they were flush with cash. Now they’re sort of stuck with this program at the expense of higher taxes for state residents.

That aside, new school buildings are nice. They certainly can create a lot of jobs in the architectural field; at one time I had a job at a firm that almost exclusively did schools. But to me, it’s not necessarily the building that makes the school, it’s the teaching that goes on inside. There I have the biggest problem, and you can build a Taj Mahal school without solving it.

But back to the subject at hand. To me, the jury is definitely still out on this impact fee concept. It’s going to be interesting to see which direction this goes in once the 2006 election is past and a new County Council faces the same old problems with the schools, as well as with the roads and the services. My fear is that growth isn’t just going to pay for growth, but eventually for unnecessary largesse as well.

WCRC meeting – March 2006

It was double-barrel speaker action at the meeting this month. Our scheduled speaker Jack Lord, candidate for Delegate in District 38B, was joined by county executive hopeful Ron Alessi. Each table had a few flyers advertising Alessi’s campaign kickoff, and I received one afterward (more on that later.)

The business portion of the meeting was pretty brief. We have $10,000 more in the treasury this year than we did at the comparable time in 2005. Signup sheets were passed out for our booth at the Salisbury Festival next month (the club will be along Market Street). I didn’t sign up yet because I think there’s something else I have planned that day, needed to check my calendar.

Also, the date for our Lincoln Day dinner (in cooperation with Worcester and Somerset counties) is Friday, June 9, at Salisbury University. I thought they mentioned a speaker but I’ll be damned if I caught the name of the person. Yeah, poor reporting on my part. We’ll see how this blog post compares with what the Daily Times says because James Fisher, one of their staff writers, was also present at the meeting to catch the remarks of Lord and Alessi. But one theme of the dinner speakers will be the anti-business climate that Maryland currently is saddled with (read: Fair Share.)

Jack Lord was the first speaker. A brief biography: he is an Eastern Shore native, but has lived in several places. Married for the second time, his wife was also present at the meeting. After graduating high school 40 years ago, he briefly worked for DuPont before being laid off. At that time, he got involved in law enforcement, first as a cadet, then as a State Trooper for 25 years before retiring in the early 1990’s. Now he has a small farm in Worcester County.

He’s termed himself as a “stealth candidate”. This isn’t the first time he’s ran for office, he also ran for the same seat in 2002. What got him involved in politics was the negative attitude toward farmers and agriculture in general of our former governor, Parris Glendening. Glendening blamed agricultural runoff as a major source of bay pollution, and one measure passed under his administration was the “nutrient management plan.” Basically it’s red tape for farmers to deal with. Since both of his delegates, Bennett Bozman and Norm Conway, voted in favor of the bill mandating the plan, Jack decided to make a bid to replace one of them in the House of Delegates. That bid got him through the primary (second of three GOP candidates) but fourth of the four in the general election with just under 10,000 votes, or 19 percent.

In his view, our current delegates “are not representing the area”, basically they’re “voting for whatever (House of Delegates Speaker Michael) Busch wants.” Jack also mentioned the veto overrides that Bozman and Conway voted for (such as the Wal-Mart bill), lack of a solution for the medical malpractice problem, and cited their support of the now ill-fated electrical deregulation, all items he wanted to change if he was sent to Annapolis. Jack made special mention about being able to work with Governor Ehrlich and possibly having the region benefit more with having a representative friendly to the governor’s interests.

Basically, his question that he encouraged people to ask Bozman/Conway voters from 2002 was “what have they done for you the last four years?”

A few questions were raised from the meeting attendees. Key among those had to do with crime (‘there’s not much a state delegate can do” with local crime issues); social issues (unlike the questioner, Lord doesn’t think the incumbents are vulnerable on social issues); and education. While acknowledging education is a problem, Jack also conceded he’s not likely to get much support from them through their union, “I don’t even mess with the teachers.”

One final point he made was that, despite being chair of the Appropriations Committee, Norman Conway has not brought home much in the way of bacon, or in Jack’s term, the Eastern Shore “gets the crumbs.” However, some of the money we do get through our current Delegates is for dubious purposes that can be described as “feel-good, pork projects.” The hopeful stated that it was a question of “pork vs. priorities” for the “common good.”

Ron Alessi then took to the podium for some brief remarks, mostly touching on issues he felt were most important to the county: schools, growth, and jobs.

He stressed that some of the problems with our schools stemmed from a lack of local control, and another root cause of their troubles was a lack of safety within. More community involvement was one part of the solution.

In Ron’s opinion, you “can’t cut growth off.” But you can place it in areas with the proper infrastructure for it. He did note that one advantage to the growth in retirees moving here was that they use fewer services than the average family would. But one other item he pointed out was a need to bring some sort of job creation to the area. Part of that would be saving our economic backbone, the poultry industry, insofar as possible, but the other piece of the puzzle would have to be enticing some sort of business or industry that could keep our college graduates here. A commenter noted that many students come here from the western shore, like the Eastern Shore area, but can’t find a decent job here so they go back to the Baltimore/DC metroplex where good jobs await at high salaries.

Another item Alessi pointed out was Wicomico County’s revenue cap. In his view, we need to work within the money that we have. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that one of his opponents wants to do a “phantom” budget which would be the budget if the revenue cap didn’t exist.

That was pretty much the extent of Alessi’s remarks and the meeting. I did get a chance to speak with Ron Alessi briefly afterward and I did ask him about more concrete job-producing steps, since that’s my pet issue in the November elections. Ron did note something about trying to get more research grants, since I pointed out that technology jobs are not as dependent on transportation issues we have here on the Eastern Shore.

While he may feel we have a pretty good transportation network, I beg to differ. Part of it was my experience living in a city that sits at the junction of major north-south (I-75) and east-west (I-80/90) interstates, lying along the main rail line between New York and Chicago, and right by one of the Great Lakes, where oceangoing ships are commonplace at the port. Toledo has all that convenient transportation yet is still in an economic slump. They still have the same problem with local college graduates leaving town for other opportunities.

But, since I got the flyer, I assume it’s public information that Ron Alessi is having a campaign kickoff on Friday, April 7th at 5:15 p.m. at the City Center Atrium in the City Bistro. I can’t attend myself since I have a prior commitment to my bowling team. But if you have a question for him, go on out and ask him yourself – that’s what I did.

Update: Actually, the DT article wasn’t too bad, although they messed up the district number in the online headline.

Win some and lose some

Two votes in the Maryland Senate have caught my attention. On the “good” side is the failure of a measure to stop the Blackwater development in Dorchester County. Whether you’re for growth or against it, to me it’s a victory for two reasons.

First and foremost, government shouldn’t be allowed to change the rules in the middle of the game or place additional hoops for a developer to jump through. There’s provisions against ex post facto law in both the U.S. and Maryland constitutions. (If you look at the upper right hand corner and the rest of the article, you can guess what I spent a little time reading tonght.) Once the Blackwater subdivision came closer to fruition, a Baltimore County delegate introduced the measure.

The second point is that; to me, private property rights trump environmental concerns in this case. There’s three roadblocks still remaining to Blackwater according to the Sun article: a lawsuit by the environmentalist Chesapeake Bay Foundation, approval by Cambridge City Council, and approval by the Maryland Critical Areas Commission, which “has jurisdiction over areas within 1,000 feet of Chesapeake Bay tributaries.” If this is true, MCAC ought to be hammering the City of Salisbury over their illegal sludge pit rather than worry about that portion of a development that happens to fall close to a small tributary of Chesapeake Bay. But it’s much more satisfying to the environmentalists to ruin someone trying to make a good return on his investment than to nail a fellow governmental agency.

On the bad side of the Senate ledger was an affirmative vote on Senate Bill 1075. (h/t to Delmarva Dealings.) Like I said, tonight I was reading the Maryland Constitution and Article 8 notes:

That the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of Government ought to be forever separate and distinct from each other; and no person exercising the functions of one of said Departments shall assume or discharge the duties of any other.

While Maryland code does require appointments be with the advice and consent of the Senate, it doesn’t imply that it has to be done each term. Oddly enough, this wasn’t a problem until now, mainly because Governor Ehrlich is a Republican seeking re-election and the last several Maryland governors have served two terms. Thus, I feel SB1075 is a violation of the Maryland Constitution, and it would be most proper for Governor Ehrlich to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Now, that would make things interesting come next January if Gov. Ehrlich is reelected, since the bill’s effective date is this June. Makes it more important to get enough GOP Delegates and Senators elected to thwart the Democrats’ chances at overriding a veto.

Odd and ends #4

Just a bunch of little stuff, not necessarily enough in each part to make a full post. So hopefully the total is greater than the sum of its parts.

First of all, I noticed a week or so ago that the Justice For All? blog was having some issues with Google. It appears Hadley has the blog back up and going but without everything previous to this month. That’s unfortunate because one thing I feature on my blog is what I consider the best of my comments elsewhere (“My Feedback”) and JFA has a bunch of them, which are now dead links.

But Hadley is certainly not alone in his complaint, as Michelle Malkin attests.

If you are familiar with the story of monoblogue, you’ll recall that I once had a Blogger account. But I decided to leave Blogger shortly after a post I did in July of last year, and it was for economic reasons. I really didn’t want to consciously support a company whose employees gave over 95% of their campaign contributions to liberals and their causes. (To that end, you’ll notice I have no Google ads.)

It was through some of the other local blogs that I saw the rechristened “Son of Wal-Mart” (aka House Bill 1510) was defeated in committee. Interestingly enough, the vote was 13-9 to kill the bill. Since I’m all but certain that Democrats are a majority on the committee (as they are in the House of Delegates overall) it has to mean that they were feeling heat from someplace. The $64,000 question is whether it was:

a) the negative press on it, including articles in the Wall Street Journal and mentions on Rush Limbaugh’s show

b) the fact that 2006 is an election year for each and every one of the 188 Senators and Delegates in the General Assembly, not to mention two key statewide races

c) the power of the blogosphere, including myself.

While I’d love to think the answer was c) I think the reality staring Democrats in the face made b) the answer. Even though the vast majority of Democrat seats are likely “safe” because of voting demographics, it’s not totally out of the question for enough seats to flip over to the GOP to enable a re-elected Governor Ehrlich to have his vetoes sustained. It’s bad enough for the Democrats that the gay marriage issue was thrown in their lap by a judge; thus, passing “Son of Wal-Mart” this year would truly energize another conservative base of voters.

Speaking of voting bases, it’s starting to look like the long wait for county offices to attract candidates is over. We now have four candidates for Sheriff and three for county executive. The remaining question is how many people will flock to county council seats, especially with the recent turnaround on annexation.

I think Monday’s WCRC meeting will be an interesting one because of this and other issues.

Once again, if you read this blog on a regular basis you’ll find that I’m very pro-growth. One main reason is that my paycheck depends on people wanting to invest in development, whether of a business or residential nature. And it’s not just Wicomico County, but all over the Eastern Shore and beyond.

In our business, we have a lot of regulations to deal with, mostly of a restrictive nature. Honestly, 95% of them are common sense – one example is having fire-rated tenant separation walls so a fire in one unit is less likely to spread to another. The amount of exemption from certain fire code items you gain by installing sprinklers is another sensible restriction.

But in the case of Wicomico County and the whole growth controversy, I’m a little befuddled. Part of the reason is because I’m a “come here” so I have a short point of reference. In my readings of the local blogs, though, I’ve gathered two important nuggets. One is that somewhere, probably locked away in the most secure vault on the Eastern Shore, is Wicomico County’s master plan. Well, it must be locked away, because to hear the local blogosphere, it’s being ignored!

The other item is the subject of “pipestem” annexations. I was under the impression that Salisbury was attempting to streamline and square off their boundaries. But instead they run their boundaries several miles farther out, extending pipestems like so many tentacles and latching themselves further toward Delaware and other county borders.

It seems to me that it’s much easier to annex land in Maryland than in Ohio, mainly because Ohio has a township form of government for unincorporated areas. So when a city or village expands, there’s automatically a government entity that gets smaller and the township trustees generally fight annexations tooth and nail because it shrinks their tax base. Several times in my home area annexation battles have ended up in court. In one case, the battle was over city sewer and water being extended to unincorporated areas in exchange for not fighting annexation – but the township residents wanted no part of the higher city tax rates and sued the city.

Here in Maryland, it’s almost like Wicomico County has a “whatever…” attitude toward annexation, less area to take care of. Since it seems all the state money to run government comes from the same pot, there’s not a net loss to the county by losing territory, but it’s fewer miles of road to fix or less snow to plow.

Growth is an issue I can see both sides of. To me, it’s not growth that’s the problem, since it’s going to happen if an area is reasonably attractive. We happen to be in an area that has a nice climate and a rural feel that many seek. And it’s my opinion that even doubling the population wouldn’t change that.

County executive candidate Ron Alessi alluded to my concern when he spoke of getting good jobs here. But how can that get done? In a perfect world, each house that’s constructed also gets some place for the homeowner to work, as well as the public facilities necessary to maintain the house’s safety, utilities, accessibility to the job through improved roads, etc., etc. But it sounds like we have shortages of most of the other facets that go into a good community.

Delmarva has some assets to a company looking for a good location to place a factory or other facility. It has a nice location for “quality of life” issues and at least Delaware is somewhat business-friendly. The minuses are transportation needs, since it’s difficult to access a lot of places from here with Chesapeake Bay. But if there’s a company who doesn’t have a lot of time-sensitive issues, we’re as good a place as any to locate, maybe better than most.

Rather than kowtow to every residential developer in the region, what are we doing to get more jobs to the area? I’m not saying we need a Kia plant but someone ought to sell the region better to job providers. (Having a more business-friendly General Assembly would help too.) White-collar corporations could be lured to our area’s proximity to DC and the Northeast – close enough for easy access, far enough away so you don’t smell it.

I’m going to end this overall rant with one close to my heart. I sent and received e-mail from Brian Cleary, who’s the Operations Manager for Clear Channel of Delmarva (they run, among others, 96 Rock.) The subject was this year’s “Thirsty Thursday” band lineup at the Shorebirds games. It pissed me off royally when I read:

Sadly, the Thirsty Thursdays with the Shorebirds this year will not feature live bands … last year, we were able to secure the bands for the Shorebirds. However, for a number of reasons, we backed off playing the local music (ratings the biggest factor – the lack of cooperation and enthusiasm from the local acts one of the others), so those bands aren’t really working with us any more…(i)nstead for this year’s Thirsty Thursdays, we will have Whiskey & Cowboy broadcasting their show at the stadium.

Come on, what could’ve been better than beer, ball, and bands? Leave it to somebody to mess up a good thing.

It’s a very sad state of affairs when this is all the better we can do. One thing I got to love quickly about the area when I moved here was the support the local radio stations gave to regional bands. Instead of playing Nickelback for the 300th time, 96 Rock would play a local band’s song in a semi-regular rotation, plus every week they did “Local Lixx” which was an hour of local music. Now, I know some of the local bands dropped the ball (there’s a larger audience on the Internet, particularly but free airplay is free airplay, people. Do you think I wouldn’t like a plug for this blog on Bill Reddish’s show?

It really sucks because last year’s “Thirsty Thursdays” introduced me to some great groups like Control Freaks, Not Alone, Chowderfoot, and 7 Days Torn, among a host of others. There’s just so many good groups out there in our area that deserve support and another outlet for supporting them has vanished. Instead, we’ll be “entertained” by a wannabe morning crew that happens to be on in the afternoons.

Hopefully I’ll still get to see some good bands at “Beast of the East” this year, but since I think 96 Rock brought those bands in last year, it remains to be seen. No one’s announced yet at the site. The band list for “Pork in the Park” is up already though, they have an interesting assortment of groups.

It’s less than three weeks to the real beginning of spring. When the Shorebirds play and we get the twin weekend events of Pork in the Park and Beast of the East, it’s time to get ready for another fun Delmarva summer!

Update on HB1510

Since there was an article today in the Daily Times and I found out in looking the bill status up that a hearing on it was held today, it appears that the so-called “son of Wal-Mart” may be gaining traction. (Also a h/t to Duvafiles is in order.)

We can still stop this attempt to drive business out of Maryland. Get informed and get involved.

The first reading bill text and now the fiscal notes are available online.

Ongoing 2006 election feature

Since we’re now inside 6 months to the primaries in both Maryland and Delaware, I think it’s time to do a public service and begin to link to various campaign websites of all the candidates I can. Tonight I started with the Maryland U.S. Senate race and linked to the three main contenders – Ben Cardin, Kweisi Mfume, and Michael Steele. If you look to the right at the Bloglist, it’s under the category “Let the people decide.”

I’ll start checking into who has actually filed for what races. My intention is to link with as many of this area’s campaigns as possible. So here’s a list of what I consider “area” campaigns:


United States Senate (what I started tonight)
U.S. Congress – Maryland District 1
All statewide campaigns (Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General)
State Senator and House of Delegates – Districts 37 and 38
County offices in Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, and Dorchester counties, particularly County Executive and County Council as applicable to the jurisdiction.


United States Senate
U.S. Congress – at-large
State Senate – District 20 (District 21 is not up this year as I understand it)
State Representatives – Districts 38, 39, 40, 41
County offices in Sussex County.


United States Senate
U.S. Congress – Virginia District 2 (covers the Eastern Shore of Virginia).
Most of their races in 2006 appear to be local mayor/council races, they run on an opposite calendar of local/state elections than does Maryland.

If you come across a link I don’t know about (or if you’re a candidate) let me know at my e-mail address here: You may recall earlier I linked to a press release from House of Delegates candidate Sonny Bloxom – I’m open to that as well (with certain restrictions.) And it’s a good thing I linked to the press release because otherwise I’d have misspelled his name!

Seriously, it would be great to have all the sites here and make this a “one-stop shop” for election info, so that’s my goal for the campaign season.

Update: I found a batch of new links (added tonight) on a site called so a hat tip goes to Ron Gunzberger, who runs the site.

It’s a crime!

Thanks to Delmarva Dealings for pointing out the Daily Times printed my letter to the editor yesterday. Now, normally they call me to verify but I guess they must read the blogs and found I “crossposted” it anyway. Thus, I never heard a thing, and I don’t get the print edition here (we do get it where I work.)

What I’d love to know is why the DT editor chopped it up so bad?!? I write a certain way on purpose. Sure it may be wordy, but as Rush Limbaugh would say, “words mean things.” I take plenty of time to write, because I want to type out my thoughts and opinions in a manner that expresses them completely.

However, if you followed the link and you’re discovering monoblogue for the first time, welcome! Glad you’re here. But I’m betting that if you saw that online link to my site on the DT website, you’ve likely already read my blog from being linked in other places. Of course, the more readers I get, the more likely I can get actual paying advertisers to come to my site…that would be cool. At least then I could make my server fee back.

Actually, the real reason I was getting ready to write a post was something I saw on Justice For All? almost a month ago, but it was almost immediately buried in the avalanche of MDE/zoo/Salisbury Water Treatment plant news. It was a 5 part pictorial called “No Gangs in Salisbury.” To refresh your memory:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Despite the fact that the news is old blogwise, it doesn’t mean we are any less likely to see gang trouble this year. No one wants a repeat of last year’s random homicide incident, only this time involving, say, MS-13 or ABM.

As I see it, the main cause of gang problems in Salisbury is not quite what one may think. I recall seeing a news item last year about several incidents where alien workers were robbed but couldn’t or didn’t report these incidents to the police. The reason most theorized is that these workers were here illegally and didn’t want to draw attention to themselves and their crime by reporting a crime perpetrated on them. So they just bore the loss of hundreds of dollars in cash silently.

Many of these laborers speak little or no English, and don’t have bank accounts. Either they are paid in cash or use a secondary vendor to get their checks cashed (Wal-Mart will cash a payroll check for a modest fee.) It’s not been uncommon for me to complete my shopping at Wal-Mart (particularly the one in Fruitland) and find myself behind a group of Mexican laborers who pull out a large wad of cash to pay for their groceries. Obviously this fact isn’t lost on the criminal element, who see these people as an easy target. Knowing that the foreign population generally carries a large amount of cash and is hesitant to report being relieved of it by threat of force, it almost becomes a sport to see who can get the largest amount of ill-gotten gains.

Then the question becomes: what happens to all that loose untraceable cash? A lot of it ends up in the pockets of those who ply the narcotics trade. And where there’s a thriving drug market, there’s generally gang formation. So you begin to see various garages and other buildings “tagged” with gang graffiti marking their turf and sending hidden messages to competing gangs.

One thing I was curious about and I finally looked into tonight was how one can get in touch with the local police and sheriff’s office. In Toledo, there’s an anonymous tip line one can call if they have information on a crime committed (obviously, if one’s in progress, 9-1-1 should be dialed.) But there’s no such thing here. It’s particularly important that one can call in tips anonymously, since dealing with a gang like MS-13 can be dicey.

Now it could be that the criminal investigation sections of the Salisbury PD and Wicomico Sheriff’s Department do handle anonymous tips, but they don’t advertise that kind of service, nor is it known if they’re bilingual. Let’s face it, until some sort of meaningful immigration reform and enforcement is passed on a federal level, Salisbury’s going to be a bilingual city.

The other thing is something that struck me driving along on Saturday. I was driving down Church Street to work and I saw a group of people fixing up a porch. Since they were mostly Caucasian, I didn’t figure they were native to that mostly minority neighborhood. I’m guessing it was a church group who was doing their part to help a less fortunate member of the community.

So why couldn’t a group adopt a block on a Saturday and paint over some of the gang tagging? Have Home Depot or Lowe’s pitch in and donate a few gallons of paint. It could even be the community service element for those who are sentenced to complete community service, still better if they were unruly juveniles who were quite possibly the ones to deface the building in the first place.

It will have to be an ongoing effort, because the gangs will come back a few times. But they eventually lose interest, or more likely, hit another block where their colors will last for a longer time.

I look at it this way. There’s probably as many if not more gang-bangers and wannabes on the streets than there are cops. Generally cops are better armed, but they can’t be everywhere at all times. So the deciding factor in taking care of the gang problem is the citizens. But the citizens generally want to just get along in life and stay out of the way of the gangs – a healthy fear. That creates a condition which perpetuates the problem.

The suggestions I posted here are just a tip of the iceberg. Much needs to be done at all levels of society (notice I didn’t say government) to eradicate the gangs from all sides. The most effective tool to me would be drying up their money supply, but that’s going to take pressure on all levels of the drug trade.

We’re going to have a new sheriff in town come November. First and foremost on his/her agenda is going to be the gang problem, and the remedies prescribed during the campaign will be tested soon after the oath of office is sworn. Let’s hope they work.

Outstanding comment

I just moderated a comment to a previous post that’s likely better than the post itself, so I’ll link back to that post. It was a comment that does a great job of what I like to see comments do: move the conversation forward.

I didn’t want the comment buried in a post that’s several back in the pipeline. That would be a shame because not everyone reads past the first post or two. So here you go.

Another one to stop

I was doing research for a comment I was going to submit to another website and ran across an interview Senate candidate (and Congressman) Ben Cardin did with a “friendly” site ( and interviewer Jonathan Singer. What leaped off the page at me was this quote:

Singer: Now let’s look at something specific to your state of Maryland. Your state legislature enacted a plan that would mandate that large companies, like Wall Mart (sic), provide at least some healthcare benefits, either directly to workers or through contributions to the state program. Should Congress look at a similar plan?

Cardin: Congress should pass a program that provides for universal health insurance coverage.

It is not acceptable for us to have 45 to 47 million Americans without health insurance. It’s not fair for those who have health insurance to pay for those who do not have health insurance. That was the frustration in Maryland, where you had companies that were not only paying for their own employees but literally paying for their competitors’ employees because of the extra cost for the uninsured.

So the Congress should pass legislation that guarantees that every person in this country has health insurance, and it’s in every one of our interests that that be done.

I wonder if he knows James Hubbard? So, not only would we get tagged with higher taxes and a health insurance mandate here in Maryland if HB1510 passes, but if Cardin wins (and remember, his term would extend beyond the 2008 presidential election and could be the same time as Hillary’s re-election) we might have the same thing nationwide.

Spread the misery around: the unofficial credo of the Democrats.

More on Hubbard

Last night, I wrote about Delegate James Hubbard, who is attempting to expand the Wal-Mart bill to be more fair, if you define fairness as spreading red tape over more entities. Actually, it’s reported as companies with more than 1,000 employees but in reading the actual text of the bill the number 10,000 is changed to one. So I’m led to assume that EVERY company in Maryland is involved.

And that’s not all that’s in this bill. Basically by fiscal year 2010 we’ll have universal health coverage or additional taxes under it. I really love this power grab:




There was already a plan in place for medically uninsurable individuals to be insured by the state. This bill revamps that existing program into MDCARE, which will cover ALL uninsured people, including those deemed “uninsured” because their premiums are over 3% of their income. This is whether you would choose to be uninsured or not.

Let’s see, HB1510 also doubles the cigarette tax to help pay for all this as well, and MANDATES a certain amount be spent on the program. I thought the governor made the budget. Oh, and a sop to the union thugs, MDCARE employees will have the right to collective bargaining (it’s in the bill too.)

Actually, the reason I started this post was to do a little bit of comparison. I went to the Maryland General Assembly website and looked up all the number of bills that Delegate Hubbard has sponsored as a solo sponsor, then compared it to our local representatives.

In the 2006 session, Hubbard has sponsored 19 bills solo (including HB 1510) and co-sponsored an additional 131 bills. Most of his “solo” bills have to do with health care in one form or another.

In Districts 37 and 38, which cover at least some of Wicomico County, here’s how our elected officials compare:

Bennett Bozman, Delegate, 38B: no solo bills, 117 as co-sponsor.
Rudy Cane, Delegate, 37A: no solo bills, 109 as co-sponsor.
Richard Colburn, Senator, 37: 31 solo bills, 98 as co-sponsor. Most of his solo bills are for various county-level issues, like raising the salary of a judge or money toward a project.
Norman Conway, Delegate, 38B: no solo bills, 84 as co-sponsor.
Addie Eckardt, Delegate, 37B: no solo bills, 122 as co-sponsor.
Page Elmore, Delegate, 38A: 12 solo bills, 145 as co-sponsor. All of his solo bills deal with Somerset County issues.
Jeannie Haddaway, Delegate, 37B: 4 solo bills, 118 as co-sponsor.
Lowell Stoltzfus, Senator, 38: 6 solo bills, 40 as co-sponsor.

So the vast majority of bills where our Delegates and Senators are the lone sponsor deal with mundane county-level issues, which is true of most in the General Assembly. Even many bills that are co-sponsored by our representatives are local issues (as an example, Bozman and Conway were the lone two sponsors of a measure on several occasions.)

But Hubbard is looking to use his district seat to bankrupt an entire state by making health care “free.” Remember, health care is NOT a right. And while it may appear to be “free” (or nearly so) health care to those placed under MDCARE, when they lose their jobs because the business they work for is shackled by all the red tape MDCARE will certainly cause, they’ll see who pays for it all in the end – hard-working Free State entrepreneurs.