186,000 reasons to smile (and one to worry about)

In the quest to get America back to making things, it was good news to find that manufacturers added 17,000 jobs in December. That brought the 2014 growth in that sector to 186,000, continuing the steady growth in that sector since the job market hit bottom there in 2009-10. When you consider that 2012 predictions saw the manufacturing sector losing jobs through this decade, having a very positive number nearly halfway through is a good sign.

Naturally Barack Obama tried to take some credit for this during a speech at a Ford plant near Detroit last week. As I noted in a piece I wrote for the Patriot Post, it’s ironic that the plant was idled due to slow sales of hybrids and small cars built there, but the auto industry has played a part in the resurgence of manufacturing jobs in America. This is particularly true in the construction and expansion of “transplant” auto plants in the South by a number of foreign automakers.

But there has been criticism of Obama from his political peers. As a carryover from my American Certified days I often quote Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, because his organization is strongly influenced by Big Labor and presumably supported Obama in both his elections. Yet Paul is none too happy with Obama’s progress:

Manufacturing job growth slowed to 17,000 in December, which portends some of the challenges an overly strong dollar, weak global demand, and high goods trade deficits may bring in 2015. While President Obama is touting factory job gains and our Congressional leaders are looking for ways to rebuild the middle class, what’s missing for manufacturing is good policy.

Congress and the president need to hold China and Japan accountable for currency manipulation and mercantilism, and invest in our infrastructure. New innovation institutes are a good thing, but their presence alone won’t bring manufacturing back. And as the president enters the final half of his second term, he’s falling way behind his goal to create one million new manufacturing jobs.

The innovation institutes Paul refers to are public-private partnerships being created around the country in various fields, in the most recent case advanced composites. But Obama lags behind on his promised 1 million new manufacturing jobs for this term as it nears the halfway mark as he’s created just 283,000. It’s great if you’re one of those newly employed workers, but his policies are leaving a lot of chips on the table. In fact, National Association of Manufacturers economist Chad Moutray frets that:

…manufacturers still face a number of challenges, ranging from slowing global growth to a still-cautious consumer to the prospect of increased interest rates. With the start of the 114th Congress, manufacturers are optimistic that there will be positive developments on various critical pro-growth measures, including comprehensive tax reform, trade promotion authority and a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and focusing on important infrastructure priorities like building the Keystone XL pipeline and addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

While manufacturers would like to see these measures, attaining some of them may be tough sledding in a conservative Congress. There are a number of representatives and conservative groups who don’t want to give the President fast track trade authority, wish to see the Export-Import Bank mothballed out of existence, and will not consider increasing the federal gasoline tax – an action for which Moutray uses the euphemism “addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.” These actions may benefit the large manufacturers but won’t help the bread and butter industries solely serving the domestic market like the 24-employee machining shop or the plastics plant that employs 80.

Turning to the state level, our local manufacturing (so to speak) of poultry has a big week coming up. On Wednesday morning, the final deadline to submit new regulations to the Maryland Register for the January 23 printing will pass. You may recall that the December 1, 2014 Maryland Register featured the new Phosphorus Management Tool regulations as proposed (page 1432 overall, page 18 on the PDF file.) The new regulations were not in the January 9 edition, so January 23 may be the last chance to get these published under the O’Malley administration due to the deadline being set in MOM’s waning days.

Yet I’m hearing the rumors that a legislative bill is in the works, to be introduced in the coming days by liberal Democrats from across the bridge. Doing this legislatively would perhaps buy a few months for local farmers because such a bill would probably take effect in the first of October if not for the almost certain veto from Governor Hogan. If Democrats hold together, though, they would have enough votes to override the veto in January 2016, at which time the bill would belatedly take effect. Still, it will be difficult to stop such a bill given the lack of Republicans and common-sense Democrats in the General Assembly. To sustain a Hogan veto would take 57 House members and 19 Senators, necessitating seven Democrats in the House and five in the Senate to join all the Republicans.

We haven’t received the data yet to know whether the installation of Bob Culver as County Executive was enough to break an 11-month job losing streak year-over-year here in Wicomico County, but his task would be that much tougher with these regulations put in place.

A question of priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris explains his vote for Boehner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re not off to a good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to normalcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s my own message to the Congressman:

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

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

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

A look ahead: 2015 on the national front

You know, it’s disgusting yet telling that I could use much of what I said last year word for word as my prediction for 2015, like these paragraphs:

We will see absolutely zero effort to reform entitlements, whether Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. This will be another year they hurtle toward insolvency, probably going splat just in time for Generation X to reach retirement age in about 15 years. (That would be me – I’m on the cusp between Gen X and Boomer.)

Nor do I care how many articles of impeachment are drawn up: the House leadership doesn’t have the courage to pursue it, nor would they ever get the votes in the Senate to convict. They could find Barack Obama in bed with a dead girl, live boy, a bloody knife in his right hand and a signed confession in his left and the Democrats would swear the boy set him up and the girl stabbed herself thirteen times – in the back – and not convict him.

It doesn’t matter how poor the economy is, either. The government won’t dare stop priming the pump to the tune of a trillion dollars a year in debt, parceling out $80 billion or so of “quantitative easing” monthly. When the Dow and its record highs are the one factor of success apologists for Obama can point to, anything which maintains that facade will be continued despite the possibility of long-term inflationary catastrophe – again, probably in time for Generation X to retire.

Just as ineffective is our foreign policy, which has been a muddled mess as old friends are ignored and longtime enemies coddled. We may have an idea of what the hotspots may be, but events have a way of occurring at the most inopportune times and places for American interests.

Here’s the problem. We have a Republican Congress once again, for the first time since the 2006 elections. But it’s all but certain to me that they will be the do-nothing Congress, as the lame-duck session showed. Many would want me to have faith in the leadership, and I understand the political reality being what it was led us into the budget deal that enshrined the government spending for the rest of the fiscal year (except for the Department of Homeland Security, funding for which is supposed to expire in February to set up a fight over Obama’s amnesty.) But why do I think Republicans will cite some obscure (and probably push-polled) data which tells it to avoid that messy immigration fight and just fund DHS for the rest of the fiscal year so they can have the fight in September? Then they’ll tell us we’re too close to the 2016 election.

Each time Congress has been begged to act, they have kicked the can down the road.

But that leads me to another point, and it’s been gnawing at me for some time now. Unfortunately I’m not sure just how it gets resolved.

Supposedly we are the United States of America. But are we really…united?

Over the last decade, we have been continually divided – red against blue, religious against agnostic (or religion vs. religion in the case of Christians and Jews vs. Muslims), and now at its most pronounced, black against white. Some consider those who are the enforcers of law to be the criminals, as are those elected officials who create it.

There’s a deep distrust of our fellow man these days, so we all retreat inward and look suspiciously at those who we don’t know. Thousands of people are on high alert with their guns at the ready against someone…they don’t know who that Other is, but many of us are tense and on edge, almost as if we are on a war footing. I imagine my ancestors may have felt the same way about the prospect of Japs or Nazis marching into our neighborhoods during the two world wars.

The person who will have the most impact on 2015 on a national scale is someone whose role we don’t know yet, but he or she will emerge either as the healer we all need or the person who tears the fabric of our society to bits. It may be a little hyperbolic, and I’m not going to go all Book of Revelations on you or assume that Jefferson’s quote about the tree of liberty is our fate, but we are rapidly approaching a point of no return if things continue the way they are. To borrow a term favored by Radical Green, our current path is unsustainable.

Too many people have come to the way of thinking which believes there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicrats and the Demoblicans. The only clear winners seem to be the small elite which runs Washington and Wall Street, leaving the shrinking middle class to fend for itself. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be; certainly that’s not the way I want it to be. But as more and more Americans say about that perception: it is what it is.

Truly I hope I am wrong in my assessment of how things will be on a national scale, particularly when so much good can be done on the local and state levels. But it can all be undone with a single spark that lights our national tinderbox, so it seems to me the thing to do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

Who’s out may be as important as who’s in

Recently I’ve posted about three likely entrants into the 2016 Presidential race – Jeb Bush and Dr. Ben Carson on the Republican side and Jim Webb representing the Democrats. Naturally with an open seat the interest in the job increases, since there’s no incumbent with his built-in advantages to contend with. This opens the field to a lot of potential contenders who passed on the 2012 race for various reasons. Recall that many of those who ran in 2012 on the GOP side are still active in the political arena – Newt Gingrich with his production group, Rick Santorum with Patriot Voices, Mitt Romney with endorsements and help with financial support, and Rick Perry with his RickPAC, among others.

Obviously Democrats were silent in 2012, but it’s been known that grassroots movements have sprung up for Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (who’s trying to tell her supporters “no”) while Martin O’Malley began his own PAC for 2014. Joe Biden claims he “honest to God hasn’t made up my mind” about running.

On the GOP side, these aforementioned contenders have one thing in common: except for Perry, who did not seek another term and leaves next month, they are not currently serving in office. (On the other hand, among the Democrats only Webb and Clinton are out of office, although O’Malley joins that group January 21.) Yet the GOP has an extremely deep bench of current governors, many of which are in their second term and have national name recognition: in alphabetical order, the group includes Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich in Ohio, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

In recent years, our presidents have tended to be former governors: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter all came from that background. Obviously their tenures in the Oval Office were a mixed bag of success, but Americans tend to be more confident that those who ran a state can run a federal government. (The only recent exceptions to this were 2012 with Mitt Romney and 1988, where Vice-President Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Maybe being governor of Massachusetts works as a disqualifier.)

With the large potential field of governors, it may be just as important to know who’s out. When you have a state to run for another four years, the excuses for trips to Iowa and New Hampshire are fewer. It’s not to say that governors who want the brass ring won’t try and make that effort, but as we’ve seen with Martin O’Malley and his frequent journeys to New Hampshire and Iowa in his second term, there is the potential for losing focus on your real job. It was enough to cost his anointed successor his election, for the dubious gain of polling at 1 percent or less in most 2016 Presidential polls.

There are perhaps 15 to 20 figures in national politics who could potentially run for President on the Republican side – far more than the Democrats boast. Of course, only one can win a party’s nomination, but beyond that there are only three or four who can be in the top tier and raise the money necessary to wage a national campaign. (It’s something that Martin O’Malley is finding out firsthand on the Democrat side, since he’s not one of those.) It’s been claimed on a grassroots level that the last two Republican campaigns were decided when the “establishment” settled on one candidate before the activists did – that group split their allegiances and votes several ways until it was too late. By the time Rick Santorum outlasted Gingrich, Perry, et. al. he was no more than the highest loser because at that point the nomination was just about sealed for Mitt Romney. Romney may have been the best candidate for 2012, but he wasn’t good enough to get the nearly 3.6 million who passed on voting for Barack Obama a second time to come on board.

People like to keep their options open, but since the announcements of who’s in seem to be receding farther and farther from the actual election, it may help those of us on the Right who would like to select a candidate to know who won’t be running. Obviously there will be a few ardent supporters who will pine for that candidate to reconsider – as far-left populist Democrats are finding with Elizabeth Warren – but we could save a lot of wasted money and effort by finding out who won’t make a half-hearted attempt at an early date.

Ready for…another shot?

Since the 2012 election came to an unsatisfying close, there’s been a portion of the Republican Party who wondered how Mitt Romney would have done with an open seat as opposed to facing an incumbent with those built-in advantages. That group must be the people behind the Ready for Romney movement.

Not much more than a website with a brief “about” page and donate button, the simple fact that some Republicans want Romney to stop being coy about it and make the commitment for a third consecutive run may be enough to make Mitt a front-runner. Historically, a major-party nominee who has lost before doesn’t fare too well – since 1900 William Jennings Bryan (Democrat. 1896 and 1900), Thomas Dewey (Republican, 1944 and 1948), and Adlai Stevenson (Democrat, 1952 and 1956) have lost two straight elections. Republican Richard Nixon bucked the trend but there was an interceding election as he lost in 1960 before winning eight years later. I don’t think anyone is clamoring for nearly 80-year-old John McCain, though.

Yet the question is whether Romney can turn things around for a Republican Party which has cleaned up at state and Congressional-level midterm elections in the last two cycles only to lose their way in the Presidential year. It seems like Republican leadership has already deemed Romney as one of the three most “electable” candidates (the other two being Jeb Bush and Chris Christie) while discounting the chances of one of the other sitting GOP governors, firebrand Senators who have developed a following like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Marco Rubio, or the outsider Dr. Ben Carson. Since the polls now are pretty much name recognition anyway, the true desire for another dose of Romney may be overstated.

The last time I compared Presidential candidates Mitt Romney was near the back of the pack, even worse than he was in 2007 during his first try. There were a number of candidates who I thought were better, but they all seemed to fall by the wayside for a number of reasons. The same is probably going to be true this time because there is an establishment Republican cadre of donors who will back Romney while smaller donors will spread their money among the half-dozen or so conservative favorites.

For these reasons and more, I sort of hope Mitt returns to being a private citizen to stay. The candidate we need for 2016 will have to be a broad reformer who will hit the ground running because he (or she) won’t have much time to waste. 2017 will, by electoral necessity, have to be a very busy year and it’s guaranteed the Democrats and the press (but I repeat myself) won’t be giving much of a honeymoon.

Pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

To the left, the world is not enough

I’ve probably given as many pixels to failed candidate Rick Weiland as anyone outside his native South Dakota, but it’s because I think he’s very useful as a gauge of reactionary liberalism in a part of the nation which has maintained a streak of populism surprising for such a rural area. While the South has gone almost completely Republican, those in the rural Midwest will occasionally elect Democrats they deem to be centrists or populists on a statewide level. South Dakota has rejected Weiland several times, but it doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying and to me that exhibits precisely how the far left operates and why it’s important to hear about their desires. (He could also use the money since he can’t manage his campaign funds, but I digress.)

So yesterday, in the wake of the debate about CRomnibus, I received a missive called “We can’t breathe!” from which I quote in part:

The revenge of the money changers is in full swing in Congress today.

Let the big banks have their swaps back. Let Las Vegas advertise itself with your tax dollars. Increase by 1000% the amount billionaires can contribute to buy off our political parties.

Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold – now they’ve got all of us – and it’s way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!

Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. They think they can’t be stopped.

But WE can stop them!

24 states allow initiatives and referendums – 24 states where you can show them exactly what you think of their choke-hold on the rest of us.

So let’s put what they are doing to us on the ballot in those 24 states and find out who is right.

(snip)

Help us close down the debt on my just completed Senate campaign, and fire up our initiative and referendum team. Because we are going to turn our little state into a laboratory for direct democracy.

A laboratory and an export market.

Let’s put Citizens United, Ferguson, and Big Bank plutocracy on trial at the ballot box.

Because when you go down fighting instead of whimpering, a funny thing often happens: people notice, then they think a little, and pretty soon they’re fighting too.

If you have to vote on it you have to think about it.  So let’s put our ideas directly on the ballot and pick a fight. (All emphasis in original.)

This is the mirror-reverse of the strategy Maryland Republicans tried in 2012 to petition already-enacted legislation to referendum, which failed. Looking back, I wonder if the Maryland Republican Party isn’t kicking itself for not placing the “bathroom bill” or 2013 gun bill on the ballot this year – we may have even had a more shocking victory by repealing both laws. (The counter-argument, of course, is the “sleeping dog” school of thought which liked the Democrats’ low turnout – perhaps the inclusion of those ballot measures would have hurt Larry Hogan’s chances by bringing out more liberal Democrats.)

It’s also true that, even in the face of a Republican wave election, four states that had a minimum wage increase on the ballot, including the aforementioned South Dakota, passed these measures while electing Republican Senators – in Alaska and Arkansas the Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate were defeated on that same ballot. (Nebraska was the fourth state.) Again, this shows the streak of populism which occurs in the Midwest.

Obviously Weiland sees a trend, exhibited in his home state, where direct democracy can succeed in accomplishing those things a representative republic would not. As the minimum wage example shows, people can be fooled into voting against their best interests – that’s why we were founded as a Constitutional republic.

Weiland’s mindset is shared by a lot of people, though. Witness the populist appeal to Southern voters espoused by the writer of the linked New Republic piece, Michael A. Cooper, Jr., who pleads with his party:

Speaking as a southerner, we need help, not from the DCCC but from government to deal with issues like homelessness and drug addiction.

These aren’t esoteric concerns Beltway liberals tut-tut about like global warming or political correctness, but true pocketbook issues which unfortunately tend to affect the poorest among us. Conservatives would prefer these issues be dealt with on more of a faith-based level through private charity but it can also be addressed by local and state governments. (By the way, thanks to Jackie Wellfonder for bringing the New Republic piece to my attention just in time for me to add it in because it fit the point so well.)

Just as the right has its TEA Party movement which has cooled to the mainstream Republican party – and for good reason – many activists on the left are embracing their new savior as Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose populist screed against Wall Street has won the backing of elements of the Democrat Party who think Barack Obama sold them out and Hillary Clinton is too close to the right wing. They are also fed up with the government, but stare at the problem from the other side of the fence because they want the power of government to regulate corporatism out of existence, or rein it in as fascism dictates.

Meanwhile, while these Warren acolytes whine about what Barack Obama is not providing them, they fail to see that many of their goals are being realized anyway. Truly it’s the Right that’s not being served.

As the new year arrives and Republicans take over Congress (along with the governor’s chair in Annapolis) we will begin to see all the stories and tales of woe unreported on over the last six years. There’s a lot of work to do, and Republican leaders in Congress didn’t get off on the right foot by passing CRomnibus. We must demand, now that we’ve granted them the opportunity to complete the FY2016 budget in regular order as they’ve wished to do for several years, that our priorities be the ones funded and the mistakes of the last six years deleted.

Perhaps we can also do our part in using the referendum system in advancing conservative causes as well. Two can play that game, and it’s just as important to motivate our voters as it is for the other side to buy theirs.

The District goes to pot

It’s definitely a peripheral story to the overall House adoption of CRomnibus, but one provision which was passed in the bill prohibited the District of Columbia from enacting a recently-passed district referendum allowing the decriminalization of marijuana. Because the District isn’t one of the 50 states, Andy Harris remarked that the supporters of the law could leave. As quoted in Politico:

“That’s the way the Constitution was written,” Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland said in an interview Wednesday. “If they don’t like that oversight, move outside of the federal district to one of the 50 states that is not covered by the jurisdiction of Congress as a whole.”

Needless to say, Harris’s Facebook page is littered with protests – not about his vote on the overall CRomnibus, which he voted in favor of – but about the vote against pot, presumably from District residents who didn’t care for his vote and claim he’s in the pocket of Big Pharma. Ironically, most of these comments are on a post alerting constituents to the opportunity for public comment on fee increases at Assateague National Seashore.

Yet this re-ignited a thought I’ve had before – one which wouldn’t necessarily make Republicans happy, but one which I think would more truly reflect the intent of our Constitution. In Article 1, Section 8 it established one of the duties of Congress as:

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cessation of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States…

The key is the portion in parentheses, While the District was originally laid out as the maximum ten miles square, carved out of Maryland and Virginia, the Virginia portion was retroceded to the commonwealth in 1847. But since many government functions exist outside the District, the question becomes one of whether the District in its current form has outlived its usefulness. For decades denizens of the District have griped about “taxation without representation.”

Because the Constitution only dictates a maximum size and not a minimum size, perhaps the solution lies in retroceding all but the immediate seats and symbols of government – the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall, and various memorials – back to the state of Maryland, with the city of Washington having the same status with its Maryland affairs as does Baltimore City. Instead of a half-million or so, living in the District would only apply to a handful of citizens. This could be made effective in 2020 so there would be time for transition and Congressional and local representation could be redetermined for the somewhat larger state of Maryland. The effect would be similar to the Vatican City as part of the overall city of Rome.

Naturally Republicans in Maryland and nationally would be dismayed because the advantage in voter registration and representation already enjoyed by Maryland Democrats would be enhanced. But if we want to make the pot-smokers happy that they aren’t under the control of Congress – which really shouldn’t be concerned about the affairs of a city of a half-million in a population of over 300 million – perhaps this is the better solution.

It’s a better solution than making the District the 51st state, as some have wanted, or simply giving in and elevating their status by allowing them a House member and two Senators. The intent was creating the seat of government, not a state which would be placed above others by virtue of being the national capital. While we’ve ignored the Constitution numerous times over the nation’s history, here’s a chance to restore the intent of the Founders.

Update: I should mention that Harris gave his side of the marijuana story in the Washington Post today.

A lack of standards

In 2007, Congress passed (and President Bush regrettably signed) a bill which was, at the time, a sweeping reform of energy policy. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the EPA was supposed to regulate the Renewable Fuel Standard on an annual basis, with the eventual goal of supplying 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022 – the 2014 standard was set at 18.15 billion gallons (page 31 here.) By the way, this is the same bill that did away with incandescent light bulbs.

Unfortunately, for the second straight year the EPA is late with its update and last month they decided to take a pass altogether on 2014. Mark Green at the Energy Tomorrow blog writes on this from the petroleum industry perspective, while the ethanol industry took the decision as news that the EPA was staving off a possible reduction in the RFS.

We all know hindsight is 20/20 but it should be noted that, at the time the EISA was written, the conventional wisdom was in the “peak oil” camp, reckoning that American production was in a terminal decline. Yet we’ve seen a renaissance in the domestic energy industry over the last half-decade despite government’s best attempts at keeping the genie in the bottle. So the question really should be asked: is the Renewable Fuel Standard worth keeping in this new energy era, or should the market be allowed to function more freely?

It goes to show just how well the government predicts activity sometimes. They assumed that the technology behind creating biofuels from agricultural waste would supplant the need for corn-based ethanol in time to maintain the amount required and also figured on gasoline usage continuing to increase. Wrong on both counts; instead, we are perhaps in a better position to invest in natural gas technology for commercial trucks as some fleet owners already have – although long-haul truckers remain skeptical based on better diesel engine fuel economy, which ironically came from government fiat - than to continue down an ethanol-based path.

But the larger benefit from removing ethanol-based standards would accrue to consumers, as corn prices would decline to a more realistic value. Obviously the initial plummet in the corn futures market would lead to farmers planting more acreage for other crops such as soybeans or wheat as well as maintaining virgin prairie or placing marginal farmland, such as thousands of acres previously reserved for conservation easements, back out of service.

Poultry growers in this region would love to see a drop in the price of corn as well, as it would improve their bottom line and slowly work its way into the overall food market by decreasing the price consumers pay for chicken.

I believe it’s time for Congress to address this issue by repealing the RFS. Unfortunately, it would take a lot to prevail on many of the majority Republicans in the Senate because they come from the major corn-growing states in the Midwest and agricultural subsidies of any sort are portrayed as vital to maintain the health of rural America. Yet the corn market would only be destabilized for a short time; once the roughly 30% share of the crop used to create ethanol (over 4.6 billion bushels) is absorbed by the simple method of planting a different crop or leaving marginal land fallow, the prices will rise again.

Until the common sense of not processing a vital edible product into fuel for transport prevails, though, we will likely be stuck with this ridiculous standard. Corn is far better on the cob than in the tank, and it’s high time the EPA is stripped of this market-bending authority.

Under the radar

After he lost the 2012 Senatorial primary to Dan Bongino, Richard Douglas has kept a somewhat low profile. Eschewing a possible run for Attorney General this year, Douglas has instead focused on particular issues such as the Bladensburg Peace Cross earlier this year and his latest, a criticism of Maryland’s two sitting Senators for a lack of action on freeing Marylander Alan Gross from a Cuban prison.

In today’s Daily Record (11/19), I was astonished to read the Capital News Service whitewash of the Maryland U.S. congressional delegation’s record of failure on Alan Gross.

Marylander Gross remains in a Cuban jail because Maryland’s weak, irresolute U.S. Senators have done precisely nothing to force our weak, irresolute President to make Cuba howl. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski have used none of the tools available to majority-party senators, or in Mikulski’s case, to the chair of the Senate’s most powerful standing committee, to bludgeon the Obama White House into meaningful action to free their fellow Marylander.

To try to force presidential action, Cardin and Mikulski could easily have blocked Obama legislative priorities, Obama executive nominations, treaties, senior bureaucratic promotion lists, and spending bills. But they didn’t, and these are glaring omissions in the Capitol Hill playbook. They confirm that Cardin and Mikulski have pulled their punches with their ideological teammate in the White House.

Whitewash can’t conceal the truth. Maryland’s U.S. Senators and the White House have shown weakness and a lack of resolve on Mr. Gross. That same brand of weakness and lack of resolve helped put Russian troops in Ukraine, and allows Islamist terrorists to murder Americans almost at will.

In January, the new Republican majority in the Senate could finally force President Obama to break a sweat over Alan Gross, five long years into his imprisonment. We’ll see. But what a pity that Maryland’s U.S. Senators, clucking furiously on the sidelines, have utterly failed to use the tools which the Framers gave them to force Obama to do his job.

Douglas was quite critical of Cardin in his 2012 run, but hadn’t really had much need to be critical of Maryland’s senior Senator. It’s Mikulski’s seat which will be at stake in 2016, though, and Douglas’s statewide experience may lead some to ask whether he’s thinking of challenging Mikulski. With the Senate political landscape being almost exactly the opposite of 2014′s (where Republicans will have at least 24 seats to defend against just 10 for Democrats) the chance to pull an upset in Maryland is intriguing in the wake of Larry Hogan’s win.

Naturally, the prospect of a rematch of the two top GOP contenders from 2012 means Dan Bongino will be in the conversation as a possible contender. But will Bongino want to undergo yet another campaign, the third one in five years?

With the experience Douglas boasts as a former Chief Counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former General Counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an election where cleaning up Barack Obama’s foreign policy messes may be a key issue, the prospect of someone with Richard’s expertise going up against Mikulski – or a new Democrat should Barb decide to retire – is quite interesting. Surely we will see in the coming months if it’s a race Richard wants to run.

The values voters speak

Obviously I’ve been concerned about the upcoming Maryland election, and we’re probably four to six months away from the formal beginnings of the 2016 Presidential campaign on both sides of the aisle. But over the weekend, while Allen West was speaking to us, a few of his former Congressional colleagues were addressing the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington in an attempt to gain support. Ted Cruz narrowly topped the field in their annual straw poll, drawing 25% of the vote and besting fellow contenders Ben Carson (20%), Mike Huckabee (12%), and Rick Santorum (10%). Leading a second tier were Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul, both with 7% of the 901 votes cast.

Also worth talking about were the issues this group was most concerned with: protecting religious liberty topped the list, with abortion a strong second. Interestingly enough, protecting natural marriage was the top vote-getter as the number 3 issue on people’s lists, but was seventh as a choice for number one contender and a distant third as a second place issue. Whether people are begrudgingly accepting same-sex unions due to isolated votes and ill-considered judicial decisions overturning the expressed will of the people or see it more as a religious liberty issue based on the experiences of those who object is an open question, though.

The other open question is just how much this voting bloc will take in terms of being ignored. There is a bloc of the Republican Party which says that social issues are to be avoided because it alienates another, supposedly larger group of moderate voters. Needless to say, Democrats exploit this as well – the Maryland gubernatorial race is a good example.

Even the Baltimore Sun concedes that “(p)ortraying Larry Hogan as a hard-core right-wing Republican is part of Brown’s strategy.” This despite Hogan’s insistence that Maryland settled the abortion issue 22 years ago in a referendum, just as they decided same-sex unions in 2012. To believe the other side, these votes were overwhelming mandates; in the 1992 case they have a point but not so much the same-sex unions one which passed by less than 5% on the strength of a heavy Montgomery County vote (just six counties voted yes, but it was enough.)

Yet I believe the abortion balloting is open to question because attitudes about abortion have changed. According to Gallup, the early 1990s were the nadir for the pro-life movement so perhaps the question isn’t the third rail political consultants seem to believe. To be perfectly honest, while there’s no question where I stood on the more recent Question 6 regarding same-sex unions I would have likely been more neutral on the 1992 version at the time because in my younger days I leaned more to the pro-choice side. I didn’t really become pro-life until I thought through the ramification of the right to life for the unborn and how it trumped the mother’s so-called right to privacy. Exceptions for rape and incest I could buy – although I would strongly prefer the child be carried to term and given to a loving adoptive family – but not unfettered baby murder just as a method of birth control. Now I’m firmly on the pro-life side.

So when Larry Hogan makes these statements about how certain items are off-limits because at some past point voters have spoken doesn’t make those who have faith-based core beliefs overly confident in a Hogan administration as an alternative to Anthony Brown. They may hold their nose and vote for Hogan, but they won’t be the people who are necessary cogs in a campaign as volunteers and financial contributors.

On the other hand, there is a better possibility we could see action on these fronts with the federal government, even if it’s only in terms of selecting a Supreme Court that overturns Roe v. Wade (placing the matter with the states where it belongs) and understands there is a legitimate religious objection to same-sex nuptials and funding abortions via health insurance as mandated by Obamacare.

We’ve been told for years that conservatives can’t win if they stress social issues. But on the federal level I’ve noticed that even when Republicans haven’t been addressing the social side we have lost, so why not motivate a set of voters which serves as the backbone of America?

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