Backtracking on fracking

Western Maryland is blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner burning natural gas and we need an all of the above approach to energy. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against affordable energy production in our state. Maryland is definitely behind the curve because this administration has decided to politicize the issue rather than take a balanced approach to ensuring we have access to clean and affordable energy sources to power our homes and businesses and grow our economy.

States throughout the country including our neighbors develop their natural gas resources safely and efficiently. Many of these states are realizing an economic boom through gas and oil exploration and are working in concert with groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council to harness these vast resources of domestic energy in an environmentally sensitive way.

Larry Hogan, in response to a WYPR-FM candidate survey, May 2014. (Emphasis mine.)

Three years later, western Maryland is still blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner-burning natural gas, but on Friday Governor Hogan decided it would be better to leave this valuable resource in the ground rather than create jobs and economic opportunities for a section of the state that lags behind the rest of Maryland when it comes to those two very things.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming, though: the temporary moratorium that was in place stemmed from a bill that Hogan allowed to become law without his signature rather than veto it back in 2015. The bill, which as originally introduced was laughably intended to “protect our health and communities,” was amended from a ban extending to 2023 to a prohibition intended to last until October of this year, when the Maryland Department of the Environment was to have regulations in place. But, as Governor Hogan noted in his press conference announcing the new fracking ban, Maryland envisioned the most stringent regulations in the nation – a roll of red tape that would have amounted to a de facto ban if enacted.

And to illustrate the political pressure Radical Green can put on wobbly members of the GOP, bear in mind that the original third reader vote on the 2015 House bill had 45 opposed, but that number whittled down to 33 once the Senate version passed and the House bill (as amended to match the Senate version) went to third reader. The wobblers who changed their votes were Delegates Anderton, Afzali, Beitzel, Carozza, Krebs, Malone, McComas, Miele, Shoemaker, and West. (This list is ten because two Delegates who voted “no” originally were absent the second time, but Afzali changed her vote after the fact to be truly gutless. Interestingly enough, Delegates Anderton, Carozza, Krebs, and Shoemaker all changed back three days later when the Senate third reader came to the House while Delegate Saab opted to join the dark side.) Conversely, the Senate only had two votes correctly in opposition all along, Senators Hough and Ready.

Now we can add Larry Hogan to the list that has wobbled and fallen – this despite a mountain of evidence that hydraulic fracturing, which has been ongoing for over six decades, is safe when done properly. Even the EPA, which put out a final report in the waning days of the Obama administration, noted they found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. Yet many of the circumstances they point out could occur at any chemical plant, and they note:

Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

So should I point out again that over 2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the last six decades without incident? It seems to me that past performance should be a very good predictor of future results, particularly as the technology advances. And if you read the report, you’ll note that the uncertainty of cause even extends to those limited, rare incidents blamed – many times falsely – on fracking and most publicized by Radical Green.

No one denies there is risk with hydraulic fracturing – just as there are documented issues with low-frequency noise and impacts on bat population with wind turbines and potential for environmental impact as more and more solar panels are spread over the landscape to significant effect – but the rewards from fracking, as measured by both local economic benefits and the lessening of reliance on foreign energy supplies, have been found to outweigh the risks in nearly every jurisdiction where fracking is possible, while the recalcitrant others (Maryland and New York) have believed the hype over the facts.

While Maryland is a small part of the Marcellus Shale formation that has produced the resurgent energy industry in a region that first benefitted over a century ago from an oil boom – there’s a reason we have motor oil from Pennzoil and Quaker State and it’s not because the brand names are cute – this is a time when the domestic oil and natural gas industry is in a holding pattern. Crude oil prices in the $40-50 a barrel range and a relatively constant balance of natural gas supply and demand means that Maryland missed the boat by about a half-decade in the current cycle, but an increased potential in natural gas exports – coupled with a multi-billion dollar investment in Maryland’s Cove Point facility for LNG exporting that’s slated to come online later this year - means our state would have been in good position to benefit in a few years’ time once natural gas exploration began and delivery infrastructure was put in place. (People tend to forget that part of the equation, too.) But politics, embodied in the baseless fear caused by a noisy environmental lobby, ruled the day Friday.

Allow me to let you in on a dose of common sense: there’s no way in hell Radical Green will give Larry Hogan any credit for what he did on fracking come election time. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will flock to whoever the Democrats end up anointing in their primary because their main goal isn’t a clean environment but to have statists in charge of government. Yes, the rank-and-file who might send a couple hundred dollars to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation every year may really care about the health of the bay, but when the people who benefit most from it are the ones who determine the annual “grade” for the cleanliness of the Bay one has to wonder how much of their thumb is placed on the scale. After all, if the Bay had a grade of A and was pristine H2O, what need would there be for a CBF?

The oil and gas industry doesn’t depend on a government subsidy – they just want a fair and predictable regulatory scheme. But a state which has no problem bending the energy trade by mandating a certain percentage of electricity comes from solar energy and demanding ratepayers subsidize an offshore wind farm seems to have an issue with the source that’s been proven reliable over time and is known as a job creator.

As a ratepayer and voter, I was willing to accept the slight environmental risk of fracking in return for a more prosperous state overall as well as more inexpensive and reliable energy. (And yes, I know that the area in question isn’t one where I live. But if I ever secure a piece of land nearby and someone wants to pay me for the right to use my land to explore for energy resources, I’m glad to oblige. No one has yet assessed the Delmarva Basins on which many of us live for their energy potential.)

In 2014, Allegany and Garrett counties provided almost 1/4 of Larry Hogan’s margin of victory as he carried the duo by 16,466 votes in an election he won by 65,510 votes. Add in adjacent Washington County and that number becomes 35,274 votes, or over half his victory margin. At the risk of losing thousands of votes in that region, Larry Hogan has acquiesced to an environmental lobby that’s not going to give him any credit, any dollars, or any votes for the decision he’s made.

I suppose Larry Hogan thinks he’s got an all-of-the-above electoral strategy, too. But at a time he could have changed Maryland for the better, he instead foolishly chose to surrender to the naysayers.

More for my friends north of the border

There’s always been some percentage of my readers who hail from the First State, even though I really never covered a whole lot in the way of politics for them. They may have enjoyed my perspective on national issues or realized that the economies of the Eastern Shore and Delaware are well-intertwined because of their common industry base in agriculture and the fact that several areas of each state may rely on the other for basic necessities – for example, people in Delmar, Maryland may go to the Food Lion just across the line in Delaware but the reverse is true if the folks in Delaware want to shop at Macy’s or go to a movie, since both are in Salisbury, Maryland.

Over the last year or so I have probably made most of my readers aware that I now work in Delaware, and the same holds true for my spouse. And particularly in my line of work, I would like the state to succeed as it keeps me employed.

So a week or so ago I decided that it was time to follow up on the Accountability Project I’ve done for a decade in Maryland with one for Delaware. Notice I said a week ago: thanks to the fact Delaware only has about 1/3 the legislators that Maryland does and far fewer bills introduced – plus a very nice tracking system for votes (albeit the tallying leaves something to be desired) - the process for wrapping up a two-year session (as both 2015 and 2016 are considered the state’s 148th legislative session) was rapid compared to doing one yearly session in Maryland. Tonight I did a soft opening and placed the widget on the sidebar, so anyone with interest in the Delaware General Assembly can see how I graded them.

But why now, well after the election? Well, first of all, I was a little busy. Second of all, I never really figured it would be as easy of a project as it was. But I also look at this as a baseline to establish a record for the next election, so they will have more meaningful lifetime scores when I do this for next session.

With the Delaware Edition of the monoblogue Accountability Project, my plan is to do the next iteration in the summer of 2018, shortly after their session ends at the end of June. (One disadvantage I can see: it appears the governor has a much longer window to decide what to do with the passed bills, which may affect disposition.) In 2020 I may have a problem, though, as it’s been proposed to move the gubernatorial primary to April (with the presidential primary) meaning the vote would come mid-session. There may have to be a smaller 2019 edition if this comes to pass.

So this one is for you, Delaware. Read it and weep.

90 Days of Terror, brought to you by the Maryland General Assembly

Sometime tomorrow the Maryland General Assembly will be gaveled back to life and your freedom and wallets will once again be at peril.

While those of us who are familiar with social media know about the push to repeal the “road kill bill” passed last year over the objection of Governor Hogan, to me it’s more telling that the very first House bill out of the chute will be the mandated sick leave bill. The next one is a bid to expand the earned income tax credit, including to those who are childless.

But in reading through the list of pre-filed bills, there’s not a whole lot of exceptionally radical stuff – although the bill to mandate “stop and frisk zone” signage in Baltimore City gives me a lot of pause. There are also a couple of mandated spending bills already on the table, which is par for the course insofar as the majority in the body is concerned.

I suspect this session will be among the most rancorous yet as Democrats, desperate to knock down Larry Hogan’s approval rating, are going to throw everything he wants in a desk drawer and toss out the key; meanwhile, they will certainly do their level best to muck up the works and prepare the state for the 2018 Democratic campaign, which will employ the tactic of portraying Larry Hogan as a do-nothing governor.

I can see this coming a mile away, and actually the direction of legislation may be an indicator of who his opponents may be: legislators always try to bring home a little bacon for their districts, but if the idea is that of making a particular county-level executive look good (think Kevin Kamenetz) then there may be even extra effort to mandate spending for the county – never mind the rest of the state.

Of course, the flip side of the equation is that a whole lot of common-sense legislation will never make it out of committee because it would limit government, enhance freedom, or make things easier for business to succeed. But that’s why I look at the legislation every so often, and doubly why I do the monoblogue Accountability Project because people should know what happens to these more conservative, pro-liberty measures and how they never make it out of committee. If mandated paid sick leave makes it to a floor vote, I would say there’s a 99% chance that becomes one of my votes.

So now is the time to be vigilant, and let’s hope that the Hogan budget holds the line on spending this year. If you’re already going to be accused of cutting everything under the sun, you may as well be blamed for something you actually do.

A look ahead: 2017

Last year I did this in three parts, but to me that may be overkill this time around. Consider that 2017 is not an election year, so if anything we will not see much on that front until the latter stages of the year as the campaigns for 2018′s state elections ramp up. And because all but one of our local officials are first-term representatives in their respective offices, it’s likely they will wish to continue in office. Bear in mind, though, on the Senate side longtime House member Addie Eckardt will be 75 and Jim Mathias (who is in his second term as Senator after one-plus in the House) will be 67 by the time the next election comes around, so they are likely closer to the end of their lengthy political careers than to the beginning. And thanks to Wicomico County voters who passed the referendum this past November, 2017 will be the year we formally set up the elections which will net the county its first fully-elected Board of Education in late 2018.

Speaking of the local BOE, we still have an appointed board until that election and the two members whose terms expire this year are both Democrats who are term-limited. I suspect the local Democrats will try and send up names of people who will run for seats in 2018 to gain that incumbency advantage – as envisioned, though, these will be non-partisan elections. And the final say goes to the state Secretary of Appointments, who over the years hasn’t always been kind to those we preferred, either. Or, conversely, since the incumbents serve until their successors are appointed, we may see a long stalling technique, too. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I’ll bet those who are appointed will use that tenure as a springboard for eventual election.

Elsewhere in Wicomico County as 2016 comes to an end, it appears the city of Salisbury and Wicomico County are working out their issues rather well. The biggest sticking point remains fire service, and it’s relatively likely the city is going to see more of a reimbursement from the county when it comes to that – perhaps to the tune of up to $2 million a year. It’s possible there may be something to cut to make up for this, but as the county has increased its debt in the last few years to build several schools it leaves less room for spending cuts to make up the difference. If the city receives $2 million annually that would equate to about a 3 or 4 cent property tax increase for county residents. There’s also the chance that a tax differential or rebate may be on the table in order to reimburse city residents, as they pay the same tax rate as county residents. Wicomico is one of only three counties in the state that choose not to provide a tax differential to their municipalities.

But there is another factor to consider. Back in June the number of people working in Wicomico County set an all-time high of 52,010, eclipsing a mark that had stood for nearly a decade (July 2006.) That record lasted a month, as July came in at 53,668. While the number of jobs has finally reached where we were a decade ago, bear in mind the labor force is about 1,000 larger – so unemployment is in the 5.5% range rather than 4%. Even so, that extra number of people working – a number which year-over-year between 2015 and 2016 has fluctuated quite a bit but usually comes in at 1,000 or more additional workers in 2016 – means there’s more revenue to the county from income taxes so paying the city of Salisbury may not be such a heavy lift. The question for 2017 will be whether these economic conditions continue and whether Wicomico County will want to spend every “extra” dime on items which are unsustainable in rougher economic times.

That same question goes for the state, but the trend there has been for more spending. Democrats in the General Assembly added millions in mandated spending to the state budget and it’s a sure bet they will try again this year. Add to that the general belief that year 3 of a Maryland political cycle sees the most ambitious agenda put forth – it’s time for those incumbents to bring home the bacon and burnish their re-election chances the next year – and you can bet that paid sick leave will pass, Radical Green will have its day (perhaps with a fracking ban, which would devastate Western Maryland), and any Hogan veto will be promptly overridden. It’s certain that they will leave enough time in passing these controversial bills to do so. We’ve already seen battle lines drawn with the counter-proposal from Governor Hogan on paid sick leave and the social media-fueled drive to repeal the “Road Kill Bill” that Democrats passed over Governor Hogan’s veto in the spring of this year.

The wild card in state politics, though, comes from national politics. It’s not because we had the well-publicized answer to an extremely nosy press – if only they paid as much attention to some of Martin O’Malley’s foibles and scandals! – that Larry Hogan wasn’t going to support his (nominally at best) fellow Republican Donald Trump, but the idea that Donald Trump may actually do something to cut the size and scope of government. (Military contractors, particularly, have reason to worry.) And because Maryland’s economy is so dependent on the federal government, to a shocking and sickening degree, we know that if Trump begins to make cuts it will hurt Maryland the most. Given the typical bureaucrat CYA perspective, it explains perfectly why four of the five jurisdictions Trump did worst in - the only five which came in below his 35% statewide total – were the four counties closest to the District of Columbia (MoCo, PG, Charles, and Howard. Baltimore City was the fifth.) While I am entirely a skeptic on this, there seems to be the belief that Trump will take a meat cleaver to the budget and thousands of federal and contract workers will be cast aside because of it.

And in a situation where revenues are already coming up short of forecast, a recession in the state’s biggest jurisdictions, coupled with the mandated spending Democrats keep pushing through, will make it really, really difficult on Larry Hogan going into 2018. You will be able to judge who has the most ambition to be Governor by who carps the longest about these cuts.

While the Dow Jones stalled this week in an effort to breach the 20,000 mark by year’s end, the rise in the markets echoes consumer optimism - even as fourth quarter GDP forecasts turned a little bearish, consumers still feel a little better about the state of our economy. If we can get the 4% GDP growth Donald Trump promised we may see some of these fiscal crises take care of themselves.

Yet there was also a sentiment in 2016 that the world was going mad: consider all the terror attacks, the seemingly unusual number of and extended shock over high-profile celebrity deaths, and a general turning away from that which was considered moral and proper to that which fell under the realm of political correctness, wasn’t a “trigger” and didn’t violate the “safe spaces” of the Millennial “snowflakes.” (I can’t resist linking to this one I wrote for The Patriot Post.) At some point the pendulum swings back the other way, but in most cases that takes a life-changing event like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. I’d prefer a much softer transition but a transition nonetheless.

As I see it, the key word for 2017 will be leadership: if the current elected officials and new President have it and use it wisely to the benefit of our county, state, and nation “so help me God” things will be okay. If not, well, we’ve seen that movie for about eight or ten years already and we will continue to slouch toward Gomorrah.

Advice for the next MDGOP leader

On Wednesday night I put up a relatively quick post handicapping the various officer races for Maryland Republican Party leadership. But there was one person I may have missed, and his name is Gary Collins.

Over the last few days his social media has been on fire because he had noted his thought about trying for the brass ring, but deciding against it – only to find a lot of people want him to consider it anyway. It seems to me there can be floor nominations (although my recollection is rusty on this) so he may have something of a support base if he decides to try.

Back in the summer, though, Gary was one of the strongest Trumpkin voices screaming for my resignation, and I suppose he eventually got his wish because I did. Now he has to be careful what he wished for, though, because I’m going to give him (and anyone else who seeks the top spot) some free advice from an outsider who was once on the inside. It’s not so much on how to be chair of the party as it is a general treatise on philosophy. So here goes.

  • There are two numbers for the new Chair to remember: 818,890 and 1,677,926. The former number is the Democratic vote in 2014, and the latter in 2016. We can’t count on a weak Democrat that the party can’t get excited about to run in 2018, and you can be sure that the other party will be trying to tie the person who only won in 2014 by about 65,000 votes to the guy who lost two years later, in large part from Democrats and independents voting against him as opposed to being for their own flawed nominee, by over 700,000 votes. (You can fairly say that 1/3 of Hillary’s popular vote margin came from this state.) This is true even though Larry Hogan didn’t support Donald Trump and reportedly didn’t vote for him.
  • Thus, job one for the party Chair is to re-elect the governor and job 1A is to get him more help. You may not like it, and the chances are reasonably good the winner supported Trump from early on. But not everything Trump says or does will play well here, especially when 2/5 of the voters live in the Capital region.
  • Legislatively, this will be the year in the cycle the General Assembly majority is most aggressive. You can bet that paid sick leave will pass and they will dare Hogan to veto it. Even other crazy stuff like the “chicken tax” and a renewed push for the O’Malley-era phosphorus regulations have a decent chance of passing – both to burnish the far-left legacy of ambitious Democrats and to attempt to embarrass Governor Hogan. Meanwhile, if it’s an administration-sponsored bill you can be certain the committee chairs have standing orders to throw it in their desk drawers and lose the key. (Of course, identical Democrat-sponsored legislation will have a chance at passing, provided they get all the credit.) Bear in mind that 2017 will be aggressive because 2018 is an election year and the filing deadline will again likely be during session – so those who wish to move up in the ranks may keep their powder dry on the most extreme issues next session until they see who wins that fall.
  • Conservatives have a lot to lose. Larry Hogan is not a doctrinaire conservative, but he needs a second term for one big reason – sort of like the rationale of keeping the Supreme Court that #NeverTrump people were constantly subjected to. It’s the redistricting, stupid. They got rid of Roscoe Bartlett by adding thousands of Montgomery County voters to the Sixth District (while diluting the former Sixth District voters into the Eighth or packing them into the First) so the next target will be Andy Harris. If you subtracted out the four Lower Shore counties from his district and pushed it over into Baltimore City, you would only lose a little in the Democratic Third and Seventh Districts but pick up the First. The Lower Shore voters would be well outnumbered by PG and Charles County as part of the Fifth District (such a district split is not unprecedented.) Democrats dreamed about this last time out, and they want no part of an independent redistricting commission.
  • One place to play offense: vulnerable Democrat Senators. I live in Jim Mathias’s district, and it’s very interesting how much more of an advocate he was for an elected school board after 2014. He’s always tried to play up his somewhat centrist (compared to most Democrats. anyway) voting record, and I suspect there are a handful of other D’s who may try to do the same. Don’t let them get away with it, because over years of doing the monoblogue Accountability Project I’ve found (with a couple rare exceptions) that even the worst Republican is superior to the best Democrat as far as voting is concerned.

So whoever wins Saturday can feel free to use these ideas. As for me, I have far better plans for my weekend – I’ll wave in the general direction in Frederick as we go by. Fair warning: comment moderation may be slow or non-existent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay strong, Governor.

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

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

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

She was speaking to Duane Keenan from Red Maryland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willful ignorance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing: the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lack of ink in the veto pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WCRC meeting – May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another tribute to greed and power

I bet you thought I was going to write about Donald Trump – but not this time.

Instead, I’m looking to point something out. You know those highway projects we never could seem to get done around here? Things like replacing the old Dover Bridge between Talbot and Caroline counties, widening the remaining seven miles or so of U.S. 113 that is still a two-lane road, or repairing the bridges that were first built with the U.S. 13 bypass decades ago? I wasn’t crazy about increasing the gasoline tax (and still believe the sales tax component should be eliminated, as well as the automatic indexing to inflation) but at least this administration is using that money as it was intended, to improve and maintain roads and bridges. (With the exception of the Purple Line, of course.)

Millions of dollars are being spread across Maryland to fix and enhance the transportation needs of residents who don’t have a handy bus line and don’t live a stone’s throw from the Metro stop. So leave it to those who are close to bus lines and Metro stops to make a bid to game the system their way with this legislative proposal currently in committee.

In a nutshell, the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 (MOTIDA) creates a scoring system that critics charge gives too much weight to projects in urban areas with mass transit. The point scale has a total of 800 points, and it’s subdivided into eight parts: safety and security, system preservation, quality of service, environmental stewardship, community vitality, economic prosperity, equitable access to transportation, and cost effectiveness/return on investment. The latter two are new; the first six are already addressed to some degree with existing transportation plans.

MOTIDA further breaks this point scale down, and what I will do is list the items given in order of their point rank. To me it’s very telling about the priorities of the sponsors, who seem to have gulped down the so-called “smart growth” Kool-Aid:

50 points apiece:

  • reduction in fatalities among all affected modes of transportation
  • expected change in cumulative job accessibility (based on a 45-minute commute – 60 minutes for public transit)
  • enhancements of access to “critical intermodal locations”
  • enhancements vs. per capita costs

40 points apiece:

  • increases lifespan of affected facility
  • advances state environmental goals
  • increases cumulative job accessibility
  • increases job accessibility for the “disadvantaged”

30 points apiece:

  • increases functionality of facility
  • renders the facility “more resilient”
  • promotes multiple transportation choices
  • revitalizes and enhances low-income communities
  • promotes economic development in low-income communities
  • enhancements of access to “critical intermodal locations” – this is counted twice, for a total of 80 points.
  • limit or reduce emissions
  • avoids impact on state resources
  • furthers state/local economic development strategies

25 points apiece:

  • compliance with “complete streets” policies
  • reduce vehicle miles
  • increase usage of walking, biking, or transit
  • enhances existing community assets
  • furthers community and state plans for revitalization
  • supports compact development and reduces sprawl

20 points:

  • cumulative job accessibility for the “disadvantaged” – similar to a 40-point bullet above, so call this 60 points

Then there’s the kicker: not only is the points system biased toward mass transit projects, but then there’s a multiplier involved where scores are increased by a factor of taking the population of the affected area and dividing it by the state’s population at large. Naturally most of the Montgomery County delegation likes this because it adds up to 138 “extra” points on their score while Wicomico County could only get an additional 13. (Poor Kent County can only pick up 3.) Never mind we’re helping MoCo to build their boondoggle of a Purple Line, although to Hogan’s credit he is insisting the county help out more.

Because Hogan is very popular among the voters – in part because he’s working for the whole state, and not just the handful of Democratic strongholds which propelled his predecessor to victory – the Democrats in the General Assembly are doing their level best to tie Hogan’s hands. But the question is whether this bill can get out of committee, and it’s likely the legislators who represent the areas outside the urban cores are working hard to kill this bill. It’s the individual counties and legislators who know what the priorities are in their areas, and considering the last administration balanced its budgets on the backs of those Maryland drivers who fill up their gas tanks it’s time to do that maintenance that’s long been promised.

This bill needs to find a desk drawer someplace and stay there until May.

Update: As is often the case, the bills that need to die live on. According to Delegate Christopher Adams (and verified moments ago) the amended bill passed committee on a party-line 15-8 vote.

A race for 2018?

Bloggers love it when they can tie multiple points together in one cohesive post, and here I have the opportunity to do so thanks to a press release from Delegate David Vogt, who is moonlighting as a candidate for Congress from the Sixth Congressional District. Here’s what Vogt had to say about likely opponent John Delaney and his insistence that Larry Hogan should denounce GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump:

John Delaney should just go ahead and declare his candidacy for Governor so he can stop pretending to represent the 6th District.  Congressman Delaney would rather support an avowed socialist or a career criminal over an accomplished businessman who is tackling the issues that matter.

The Congressman’s time in office has been spent as a rubber-stamp for the failed Obama/Pelosi liberal agenda, and it is no surprise that he is calling on one popular, successful Republican to denounce another.

The people of the 6th District need a Congressman, not a political pundit, and Delaney’s incompetent handling of the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian refugee crisis, and Obamacare shows that he isn’t qualified to be either.

It’s intriguing to me that Vogt feels that way because I have those same suspicions about Delaney’s plans for 2018. In a lot of respects, Delaney is the Democratic mirror image of Hogan with a business background and, aside from the two terms in Congress, a similar political record. (Had Hogan had a specially-gerrymandered district created for him, perhaps he would have gone in another direction after winning his 1992 Congressional campaign. It was a trajectory his old boss, Bob Ehrlich, employed in 2002.)

Obviously Democrats are trying to throw the kitchen sink at Hogan legislatively but try as they might Hogan’s approval numbers continue to rise, reaching a stratospheric 70 percent in the most recent Maryland Poll released today. (H/T: Maryland Reporter.) Yes, that is 7 out of 10. I have no doubt they may chip away at the approval rating as a strategy but Maryland Democrats also have to find a candidate willing to take on a popular Republican governor running for re-election. Will anyone have the same ambitious streak as Martin O’Malley?

There’s one thing missing from the Maryland Poll that would serve as a counterpoint to Hogan’s numbers, and that is an approval rating for the General Assembly. We know Congress is unpopular (although the “throw the bastards out” mentality stops with their own representative) but no one polls regarding our body politic either during or after the “90 days of terror.” With the number of veto overrides and the blockage of some of Hogan’s legislation, it would be intriguing to see how popular the Maryland legislature is.

But returning to 2018: the Democrats have a relatively short bench of willing candidates with name recognition, and it’s unclear just how well Delaney is known outside the Capital region. The only other statewide candidate being mentioned is Peter Franchot, and right now he has a rather sweet gig as Comptroller – maybe not quite to the extent of Louis Goldstein, but if he wants another term or two it’s doubtful Maryland voters would object. At the age of 70 by the time the 2018 election comes around, Franchot would be the oldest governor to win election in at least a century. (AG Brian Frosh is reputedly not interested in being Governor.)

As for Hogan and Trump, that’s a matchup which seems like oil and water. While I’m sure Hogan respects the business acumen of Trump, the bombast The Donald brings is a polarizing feature among both parties that Hogan is likely to avoid. Hogan was indebted to Chris Christie for campaigning on his behalf, but if I were to pick a remaining hopeful Hogan would back he probably lines up best with fellow Governor John Kasich. But Hogan may just steer clear of an endorsement until mid-April, seeing who is still in the race.

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