WCRC meeting – January 2015

For awhile, given the pessimistic weather forecast over the weekend, we weren’t certain this meeting was going to come to pass. But the wintry weather held off long enough for the Wicomico County Republican Club to gather and, despite the lack of a featured speaker, come up with a spirited discussion about recent events and its own internal affairs.

So we began with our usual opening ceremonies, with a somewhat sparse attendance because of the weather.

The recent events in question were the procedures of getting an elected school board here in Wicomico County. Council members Marc Kilmer and Joe Holloway were present and made the case that what was presented to the General Assembly was a compromise which had the backing of the full Council, a step which was lacking in previous efforts. But they also encouraged the public to attend next Tuesday evening’s County Council meeting and provide input before the final package is provided to the Maryland General Assembly for introduction. As envisioned, it would be a hybrid board with the first members elected in 2018 to four-year terms. Members appointed by the County Executive would take office sometime before that so their terms would be staggered.

There really wasn’t much objection from tonight’s group, although my previous objections were noted. Basically, the hybrid idea is a concession to the NAACP, which was concerned about the prospect of a lack of minority representation on the school board. Holloway and Kilmer argued that the hybrid compromise was the way to get everyone on board and increase the chances of passage; they were also credited by some observers of the Council meeting with pushing the process forward, along with the insistence of Council President John Cannon that the elected school board be on a crowded agenda.

The other large task was that of making a change in how the WCRC operates. For years the club had seven officers whose duties weren’t always made clear by the bylaws. At tonight’s meeting we streamlined the future operations of the WCRC’s Executive Committee to just five officers as we reduced the four vice-presidential slots to two. Yet the two vice-presidents will have a significant say in the operations of the club as they will be in charge of several standing committees, with the functions of these committees more clearly spelled out in the club’s bylaws.

It’s a concept I’ve favored for several years, but with the help of Joe Ollinger we have made this a reality. The timing of this was important because we were also getting the Nominations Committee report for new officers for next term and there were only five officers listed. So once the revisions to the bylaws were approved, we could approve the committee report with the five officers. While nominees from the floor are welcomed, the Nominations Committee submitted the following names for each position:

  • President: Shawn Jester
  • First Vice-President: Muir Boda
  • Second Vice-President: Joe Collins
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz
  • Treasurer: Debra Okerblom

Only the latter two would be holdovers, although Jester was First Vice-President under Jackie Wellfonder this year.

The elections will be next month, although I also want to use the time to populate various committees we have now created as standing committees.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other announcements and reports. As a club, we funded the WCRC Scholarship for next year (2016) as the process is already underway for this year’s competition. That led to a consensus as a group that we needed to make fundraising a priority – much easier to spend money than to raise it, even for little things like a storage room for the WCRC’s stash of stuff like tables and chairs. That’s another minor item we were alerted to as an expenditure approved by the Executive Committee.

Ann Suthowski gave the Central Committee report in Mark McIver’s stead, noting that our convention was a “love fest” and revealing that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be a quad-county affair with a special guest most of you know. I wasn’t sworn to secrecy or anything like that, but I will let the official announcement come out rather than spill the beans.

We also received final reports on our Christmas party and headquarters – the former was deemed quite the success because we made money, while the latter had mixed reviews due to its poor location. (I guess it could be the reason the restaurants in that location also failed, but the WCRC has made a tradition out of operating out of recently-failed business locations for its biannual headquarters for many years now.) We were troubled by the lack of support from the state on certain issues, though.

Our next meeting will be February 23 – same bat-time, same bat-channel.

The power of one

The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.

Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.

But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.

Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.

These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.

Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.

(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.

(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.

And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:

We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.

The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.

Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.

Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.

And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.

Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.

Differing transportation thoughts

Last week at Blue Ridge Forum, regular author Richard Falknor stepped aside for a two-part series by writer Peter Samuel, a specialist in writing about toll roads. In part one, Samuel advocated for a reduction in tolls and license fees, which was good, but in return we would have to endure this:

Fairness and efficiency will be best served by moving toward transport systems that self-finance with user fees: more precisely, fees-for-use roads should finance themselves with fees based on the cost of providing road service, road use fees, or tolls based on the distance traveled, the scarcity of road space, and the costs the vehicles impose.

Unfortunately, this raises the prospect of abuse by the state. Imagine portions of U.S. 50 and Maryland Route 90 becoming toll roads from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City, such as the bypass around Salisbury and any future routes around Easton and Cambridge. Sure, you could avoid the tolls and go through town but the traffic would become the same issue it was before the current U.S. 50 portion of the Salisbury bypass opened a decade or so ago. This would also be discouraging for truck traffic.

Maybe the best example of the problem with this philosophy is the Inter-County Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The ICC, as it’s called, was in the pipeline for decades before finally becoming a reality under Bob Ehrlich, with Martin O’Malley finishing it last year. But the ICC isn’t popular with drivers because of its lower speed limit and heavy enforcement of traffic laws, so it hasn’t met revenue projections.

It’s likely Samuel is thinking more of the urban areas with their existing HOT lanes and other means to divide express traffic heading to the suburbs and local traffic which may hop on the highway for a couple exits. But Samuel’s second part discusses the fate of the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

In that case he is correctly diagnosing the problem with mass transit solutions such as these:

Project advocates list all the jobs created during construction, but this is only a measure of cost, and avoids the real question: what value are they creating?

In any enterprise there is positive net value if the users are paying sufficient user fees (fares) to both cover operating costs and provide a competitive return on capital (ROI).

To the extent fares won’t cover costs plus return on capital, we have a clear measure that the value to users falls short of costs, making the project a net loss to any operator.

Rail transit in Maryland presently collects in the ‘farebox’ less than 30 cents on the dollar spent on operating the system and, of course, makes no return on capital invested. Light rail is the very worst with lower farebox recovery (currently under 20 cents per dollar.)

Some of those results could be improved, but almost no rail system in America come close to the black (100 on the dollar + ROI).

If you read further, Samuel likes the concept of the Red Line but is concerned about the construction cost and likelihood of overruns. On the other hand, his thought on the Purple Line is that it should change its form and become a bus-only route. The construction would be far cheaper and the schedule could be more easily adjusted to suit the needs of consumers. That’s an approach which makes more sense, although one has to ask why automotive traffic couldn’t utilize the route then.

At the end of part two, Peter also adds a map of proposed changes, including a westward extension of the ICC which crosses over into Virginia and provides another Potomac crossing west of Washington, as well as an eastbound addition which connects to U.S. 50 near Bowie. Also noted is a “new span Bay Bridge.”

What I would propose, though, is a truly new span Bay Bridge that’s several dozen miles south and connects Dorchester County with Calvert County. There’s no question the environmentalists (and some of the locals) would scream bloody murder, but they would for any attempt at progress anyway.

I think this bridge would encourage more tourism from the Washington area and, if combined with an extension of I-97 to its original destination near Richmond, could open up the Eastern Shore as a new tourist destination as travelers seek an alternate route around the traffic presented in Baltimore and Washington. Adding a bypass around Easton and cutoff between U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 through Queen Anne’s County (paralleling or upgrading the existing Maryland Route 213) could make this route even more desirable. Samuel could even get the cutoff to be a toll route.

There is a lot which can be done in lieu of wasting money on the Red Line and Purple Line because both are destined to be money pits; on the other hand, investing in transportation alternatives which maximize options and freedom makes more sense. As Samuel writes:

Better mobility provides greater employment opportunities, better shopping choices, more specialized health and medical services, more social and family interaction, better education, sporting. and recreational opportunities.

Our travel is not frivolous. People don’t drive the Capital Beltway for the scenery. We travel because the trips provide value.

There would be value in having a second Bay Bridge as well as the other roads for which I advocated. People and goods could move more freely up and down the East Coast, avoiding the bottlenecks presented in northern Virginia and around Baltimore, while the Lower Shore would have more direct access to a route across Chesapeake Bay, allowing for easier movement west and south.

It’s time to think on a larger scale while accepting the reality that people want the freedom to be able to jump in their cars at a moment’s notice and go wherever they wish. Mass transit simply creates dependency on the provider and allows them some level of control of movement. That may be acceptable to some, but the rest of us want to get where we want to go as quickly as possible – on our terms – and this is where government can be of service to the public.

The wailing begins

I alluded to this the other day when Governor Hogan announced he was dropping the proposed PMT regulations, and almost as if on cue there was negative reaction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the (so-called) Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition – so-called because it has nary an agricultural group in it.

Allison Prost, the executive director of the CBF, called it “a sad day” for Maryland:

This is a sad day in the long fight to make Maryland waters clean enough for swimming and fishing. Governor Hogan’s decision has hurt the rivers and streams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where 228,000 tons of excess manure will continue to be applied to farm fields each year, and to wash off into nearby creeks and river. The new governor rolled back 10 years of progress when he withdrew the Phosphorus Management Tool, a common sense, science-based solution to the manure crisis.

Agriculture is the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, and is also the cheapest to reduce by far. Many farmers deserve credit for their efforts to stem pollution from their barn yards and fields. But just as those who live in our cities and suburbs are doing more to clean the Bay, so must farmers.

Businesses with technologies to help reduce phosphorus pollution from poultry manure are ready to come to Maryland and help ease the burden of excess manure. But these technologies will only have a significant impact if farmers are required to not apply excessive amounts of phosphorus to their crops. Regulations create demand for problem-solving technologies that otherwise would languish.

Additionally, by withdrawing regulations that would have reduced pollution from coal-fired power plants, Governor Hogan’s decision also has put corporate interests above the people of Greater Baltimore. Nitrogen oxides are linked to ozone which can be harmful to children and sensitive adults. As a greenhouse gas, nitrogen oxides are 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Also, nitrogen from coal plants and vehicles adds millions of pounds of harmful pollution to the Bay each year. The power industry used the same hardship argument in 2006 when the legislature approved the Maryland Healthy Air Act. In the years afterwards, electricity prices dropped, and the industry prospered.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation welcomes the opportunity to work with the Administration to ensure farmers have the resources they need to implement the PMT, and all residents see cleaner water. But we can’t compromise on science, or accept further delays on cleaning up Maryland’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. (Emphasis mine.)

I pointed out that one sentence in the CBF statement because it’s telling about their philosophy, If the market wouldn’t otherwise support these technologies, then they must not be that effective. Put another way: we know broccoli is relatively healthy for us, but not everyone likes broccoli. (Actually, I do when you cook it with a little butter like my mom used to.) It’s a market that languishes in comparison to, say, McDonalds. The CBF would have us compelled to eat broccoli every night because it’s good for us, not because we would want to.

It’s the same with the PMT as the process of spreading chicken manure on the fields supplements the soil. Otherwise, farmers would be forced to resort to artificial fertilizers which actually worsen the problem.

Dawn Stoltzfus, speaking for the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, echoed the CBF sentiments:

We’re deeply disappointed about reports that Governor Hogan has blocked one of the biggest tools to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and local waters in more than 30 years.

Governor Hogan had the opportunity to move forward a long-delayed tool to reduce pollution from manure. Instead, he stopped the regulation to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool, adding another chapter to the history of ping-pong politics and capitulation to the agricultural industry.

Governor Hogan has sent a very worrisome signal indeed. Just hours after being sworn in as Maryland’s governor, reports say he has turned his back on clean water and sound science. He has ignored Maryland’s leading agriculture scientists, who have been working on updating this tool for more than ten years and who have repeatedly stated how its adoption is needed, now.

Phosphorus pollution from manure is getting worse, not better in the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland rivers. The Governor’s action is a threat to the health of Maryland families and to our economy that depends on clean water.

Now you would expect to hear these types of sentiments from Radical Green. But I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction from Delmarva Poultry Industry:

Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. respects Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s decision not to move forward, immediately, with the phosphorus management tool regulation. During the campaign, he pledged that it would not, in its present form, become state policy. His pledge to study the issue further to make sure it is scientifically and financially valid is a wise one that we endorse.

We have said all along that this risk management tool, even according to its developers, could not estimate how much less phosphorus might reach the Chesapeake Bay. It makes no sense to create costly regulations on all farmers throughout Maryland, not just Eastern Shore farmers who use chicken manure, without knowing what the environmental benefits might be.

We look forward to working with Governor Hogan and his team and members of the General Assembly to develop a regulation that will provide improved environmental stewardship by the agricultural community.

Why do we need a regulation? The very fact they are conceding a regulation is needed loses half the battle. I have heard some rumblings about the impotency of DPI, and this statement seems to confirm that sentiment. You would think DPI would be thrilled to have that weight removed from its chest.

Until someone can figure out a better use for chicken waste than utilizing it as the natural fertilizer – a purpose it has served for hundreds of years on Delmarva – the farmers will continue to take the blame. I can understand if a sludge pile is exposed to the elements that runoff water will carry the phosphorus directly to the nearest body of water, but if chicken waste is spread into the soil I can’t comprehend how it travels distances to the waterway. After all, the minimum distance between well and septic leach field is usually 100 to 150 feet, which is supposed to give a large enough buffer of soil to protect the water supply on a semi-permanent basis, yet we’re expected to believe manure spread across a 240 acre field is a threat to a body of water or a stream hundreds of feet away?

Honestly, I think the problem is that those who travel from the urban areas to the beach in the warm months don’t like that occasional reminder that they are out in the country thanks to the foul (or is that fowl) smell. But that’s the smell of the Eastern Shore, at least in one governor’s mind, and to many farmers it’s the smell of a better crop and more money. It’s hard enough coaxing a good harvest from the Eastern Shore in the best of times, so a little natural help is always appreciated.

Think of it as truly organic farming.

A quick score for the good guys

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline today, in the first few hours after Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor he found a few minutes to inform the Maryland Register that the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations should be pulled from Friday’s edition. However, Phil Davis of the Daily Times notes there is some question about the legality of Hogan’s move, with the lack of precedent cited as a concern. I would rate the chances of a legal challenge from one or more of the state’s environmental groups as good, although Timothy Wheeler of the B’More Green blog noted yesterday:

According to an opinion issued last month by then-Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the rules can be withdrawn or simply held up by preventing them from being published in the register, which is printed and posted online every two weeks.

Naturally that doesn’t mean new Attorney General Brian Frosh wouldn’t side with environmentalists, but it sounds like Hogan has the legal leg to stand on.

So the attention now will turn to the General Assembly, where it’s expected legislation with the same goal will be introduced in the next few days. Because of the way regulatory language is written for the Maryland Register, it’s relatively easy to translate to bill form. And as the Eastern Shore delegation only makes up 9 House seats and 3 Senate seats, their objections mean little when suburban Montgomery County has 24 Delegate and 8 Senate seats by itself. (Out of 124 Democrats in the General Assembly, that county makes up over one-fourth.) Few, if any, of those General Assembly members have been on a working farm – for the most part, their impression of the Eastern Shore seems to be that of knowing where all the speed traps are on the way to the beach.

But just taking the delegations from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City – areas which range mostly from urban to suburban, with little in the way of agriculture – gives that side a bloc of 63 House members and 22 Senators, meaning that prospective PMT legislation has a very good chance of passing. Add in the fact that the relevant committee chairs and vice-chairs mainly represent the three areas in question, with the fourth from a similarly suburban section of Baltimore County, and the skids are probably being greased right now. The Democrats aren’t going to let Larry Hogan get away with an opening victory that easily; it’s in that spirit of bipartisanship that they’ll demand these rules be enacted, you know.

Since word came down on this Hogan action late in the day, the environmentalists didn’t get a chance to formally react but some took to Twitter.

I look at it as withdrawing overly punitive rules when we haven’t even figured out yet whether the last set had an impact. When the entity that grades the Bay also solicits donations based on its assessment, we’re not exactly dealing with an honest broker.

So Larry Hogan’s initial major action as governor was a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a moratorium on these environmental regulations so we can evaluate the effectiveness of what we already have and see if dealing with the sediment that periodically leaches out of the pond behind the Conowingo Dam will make a difference.

Not what we were looking for…

It’s my understanding that Wicomico County Council brought forward a measure to enact an elected school board – sort of.

But in watching the proceedings, it seems that the Council double-crossed us by introducing the element of a hybrid part-appointed, part-elected school board. Five members, one from each Council district, would be elected while two others who represent the county as a whole would be appointed by the County Executive with County Council’s approval. Needless to say, I’m very disappointed in Councilman Joe Holloway – usually a reliable conservative voice – in bringing the concept up. While his reasoning was that of having something prepared for the General Assembly to approve, his hollow statement in support of an fully elected school board after the fact added insult to injury.

The informal vote on proceeding in this manner otherwise put the usual suspects on the side of a hybrid board – John Hall, Matt Holloway, and Democrat Ernie Davis were in favor of that approach (as was Joe Holloway) while John Cannon, Marc Kilmer, and Larry Dodd preferred the strictly elected school board.

While I think the 5-2 split between district and at-large members works well, if you had to stagger terms (which would not be my preference, as we don’t stagger the terms of other county officials) I would instead favor a system where the five district members are elected in the gubernatorial elections (2018, 2022, and so forth) while the two at-large were picked in Presidential years (2016, 2020, etc.) Under this system, everyone in the county would vote on one school board member with the rest of the County Council but would select two in presidential years. Both ballots would be non-partisan, which would give unaffiliated voters one primary vote.

Yet there are many of us who are fuming about a turn of events, particularly after the years we’ve been trying to get an elected school board in Wicomico County and join most of the rest of the state. So the plan is to voice our opinion at the next County Council meeting, to be held the evening of February 3rd. We didn’t come all this way to have the possibility of cronyism continue to taint our county school board so I encourage those with an interest to make it out there in two weeks.

The longest 2 1/2 months

Believe it or not, there will be 78 days between the time Larry Hogan won his election and the day he will be sworn in. Those 11 weeks have seen practically every other unit of government turn over since the November election – for example, Wicomico County changed over in early December while Congress went two weeks ago and the General Assembly last week.

In that timespan we’ve seen much of Maryland turn in a decidedly more conservative direction. But as one Facebook observer pointed out, Larry Hogan has bent over backwards to appease most of the groups in Maryland with his cabinet and executive branch selections, which include at least one O’Malley holdover and several former Ehrlich staffers. The one group he has not tapped, however, is the TEA Party branch of the Republican Party.

And with most of the prime spots already taken, it looks like the Maryland government will shift rightward but only about as far as the middle of the road because there’s not going to be anyone there to really push it hard right. Likely this is by design as the perception of bipartisanship may be necessary to win again in 2018, but then I always work under the assumption that the dominant media will support the Democrats in this state so it really doesn’t matter just how much our side panders to the left. So why not try to beat back the other side with conservatism on all fronts?

Now I also know that there are people on my side and who I call friends who say that we have to work with Democrats on things we can agree on. That’s okay as far as that goes, although I think that list of agreements is a lot shorter than my more moderate friends think it is. There are some functions of government I believe are necessary, though, and to the extent that we can improve them to make them more user-friendly I can deal with it.

But then take budget items like the Purple Line. In the 2 1/2 month lame-duck gap between the election and Larry Hogan’s inauguration that special interest has taken the time and money to lobby for its very existence. History and logic would dictate that the Purple Line would be a cronyist boondoggle to build and a money pit to maintain because ridership will never pay for the cost of running the trains, but I’m detecting a softening of Hogan’s previous hardline stance. A couple billion dollars would fix a lot of bridges and potholes, but those aren’t as sexy as a rail line which proponents will claim will improve the environment – of course, that’s based on full trains which we won’t see.

Everyone who is a prospective victim of the budgetary chopping block will be out in force over the next month or so trying to plead the case that they should be spared the axe, like the state’s arts community. But catering to everyone is how we got to where we are in the first place.

Obviously Larry Hogan needed a little time to make sure he won the election and mull over those people who he will need to run his administration. But this change in government couldn’t come soon enough for those of us who would like it rightsized, and while job one of the Hogan administration has to be that of getting the state’s economy back on sound footing and moving in a positive direction, not far behind that effort should be one to have a FY2019 budget that’s no larger than the one we passed last year.

An example of what budget hawks have to deal with

This came in the e-mail today and showed why budget cutting in Maryland is going to be hard – everyone thinks someone else’s budget should be cut but not theirs. So the local arts community will spend the money to feed those who carpool in the hopes of descending on Annapolis to get support.

February 10, 2015 is MD Arts Advocacy Day at the Capital. This important and productive day at Annapolis needs your leadership voice and action.

HOW ARE WE SUCCESSFUL? The large number of attendees with their passionate plea! Every year SWAC arranges a carpool to take as many of us there as possible. It’s more important THAN EVER for a large attendance as we have a brand new Governor and Wicomico County Delegate to influence. Speakers presentation & individual sessions with delegates from our area are on the agenda and SWAC is urgently asking for your participation as a strong showing support from Wicomico County.

WHAT? This is where arts advocates from all over the state gather to speak directly to our Senators, Delegates, and Governor about the importance of the arts. We must reach our elected officials from the entire state with the important mission of funding for the art.

WHY? Exactly because of the number of attendees & their strong voice, great achievement has been made in the past resulting with MD being one of the top three states in the nation for the highest arts funding in the Governors budget of 16 million dollars earmarked for the arts! (Emphasis in original.)

Granted, $16 million is just a drop in the bucket for a $40 billion budget, but cuts have to be made somewhere. Perhaps the arts will be trimmed to $14 million this time as the state faces a massive shortfall for the next fiscal year.

Yet there will be an entire day of artisans and non-profits from around the state beseeching the state to keep their revenue stream going. It’s interesting to me that they stressed the new governor and Delegate (presumably speaking about Carl Anderton, whose district lies entirely in Wicomico County) – it would be my guess that a large percentage of those who would make the trip voted the other way when it came to that portion of the ballot.

In the case of the Salisbury Wicomico Arts Council (or SWAC) who put out this missive, it’s certain they will stress the influence of the arts in trying to revitalize Salisbury’s downtown, pointing to the success of 3rd Friday and the hopes that the new Headquarters Live will be a hit. But each of these events has to sink or swim on its own merits. It took a few years for 3rd Friday to gain momentum, but the window for success may be a little bit shorter for Headquarters Live.

It may only be about .04% of the state budget, but my suspicion is that the arts will have their share of cuts, too. Yet the dirty little secret is that simply level-funding the budget would take care of most of the problem, so if the arts can live with what they have for a year or two the state may be able to grow its economy out of the problem. My advice to SWAC and the others in the arts community: make do with what you have.

Losing momentum?

The big news around these parts today was the announcement that Labinal Power Systems would be closing its Salisbury plant and consolidating operations in Texas. Gone will be an estimated 600 jobs as the plant phases out operations over the next two years.

On top of that, there are rumors that both of the April tourist draws to Salisbury – the annual Salisbury Festival and Pork in the Park – have been scrubbed for 2015. While another local blogger swears this is not true and the Salisbury Festival is simply being repositioned to the fall, one has to ask how that would fit into an October already crowded with other local events. (As for Pork in the Park, my understanding is that it was a money loser as the county had to plow too much into it up front for its continued survival.)

Salisbury’s downtown has been doing well with the increased popularity of 3rd Friday, a successful New Year’s Eve event, the upcoming opening of Headquarters Live - an entertainment venue which is the remodeled former Fire Station 16 – and a popular Thursday – Saturday night trolley service connecting these venues with nearby Salisbury University, but other parts of town haven’t done as well over the last year. The closing of Labinal decreases further the traffic to a once-booming part of the outskirts of Salisbury that formerly boasted the old Salisbury Mall, torn down several years ago for a development that never got off the ground.

Everything is cyclical, of course, and one example is the development around the SU campus. But losing these Labinal jobs would be a major blow to a county already on a long losing streak when it comes to year-over-year jobs. And the problem with such a long transition to a shutdown (almost two full years) is that lag time is going to be longer than some potential employers want to wait for the facility.

We all better hope that Maryland becomes a lot more business-friendly over the next two years. It’s ironic that Senator Mikulski made a big deal out of a large federal contract secured for the facility just weeks before the announced move to Texas. Call it Rick Perry’s revenge.

Wicomico’s Fab Five

Tomorrow a unique chapter in Wicomico County history will begin as our five-member delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates will all simultaneously begin their careers in Annapolis as part of an overall freshman class in the House that’s one of the biggest in memory.

While Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes took divergent paths to get to that point, they will all meet in the same place. And with the exception of Anderton and his slim 52.2% of the vote, there was a clear mandate from their respective districts for these newcomers – combined Adams and Mautz racked up 78.6% of the Wicomico County vote while Carozza was close behind at 77.6%. (Sample-Hughes was unopposed.)

And while only Sample-Hughes and Anderton have previous experience in elective office – Sample-Hughes with eight years on Wicomico County Council and Anderton with nine years in Delmar as a commissioner and mayor – the life experiences of the others can’t be discounted. Mautz and Carozza have worked in government before on the Congressional and state levels, while Adams has represented a professional association in legislative matters. Naturally Adams and Mautz were placed on the Economic Matters Committee, while Carozza garnered a seat on Appropriations. Anderton was placed on the newly-rechristened Environment and Transportation Committee, and Sample-Hughes will be on Health and Government Operations.

So Wicomico is in very good hands, and there’s a lot of work to do.

While the overriding priority for all of these representatives is that of getting our economy back on the right track, the more pressing local issues will come from the environmental and budgetary fronts. The Phosphorus Management Tool may be placed via the regulatory route – and if so may instead be the target of a repeal effort – but it’s a battle more likely to be fought on the legislative front, despite the assurance of a veto from incoming Governor Larry Hogan.

But the real battle will be to return the state’s highway user funds back to the county, a $7 million transfer that Anderton would like to see returned in order to address the tax differential issue in Wicomico. Most of the $1.4 million is ticketed for the city of Salisbury, but Fruitland and his hometown of Delmar would also benefit. Carl may get the double dip as the PMT legislation would be argued in his committee, while he may also get a say in the highway user funds as well.

Over the next 90 days, these five and all the others will go to work and hopefully begin to turn this ship of state around. And as all that is going on, rest assured I’ll be watching the legislation and considering which votes go onto the monoblogue Accountability Project – one of these five is very interested to see how the scores will come out and has peppered me with questions about how this all works, so I may as well explain.

As the session goes along, I watch the process and try to pick out a total of 25 key votes. 22 of these will be floor votes on bills I find interesting and have votes where there is significant opposition, although I have occasionally used a unanimous (or nearly so) vote on something like the capital budget. For example, I think the operating budget vote has been on every version of the mAP, with the “no” vote always being the correct one. That may change if I see Larry Hogan making significant progress on rightsizing state government – if the budget comes in under $40 billion I may be satisfied with a green light. We will see.

In the few years I have done committee votes, the three votes have actually been 30 between ten committees in the House and Senate. In some committees it’s hard to pick just three votes while in others I have to scrape together three. But they are included in the 25 for each member.

25 votes is the magic number because math is easy: four points for each vote. Since I use a system where points can be deducted (one point for an absence and two points for intentionally not voting) working with even numbers is much easier. I also have a rule for House members who can change their votes after the fact that changing to the right vote is only worth half the credit while flipping to the wrong side is a penalty of 1.5 times the vote.

This year will also have the unique situation of members joining mid-session. Since Larry Hogan has tapped a number of  sitting General Assembly members to serve in his administration, there will be a number of vacancies filled after the session begins. That will affect their score for this year but won’t adversely affect their lifetime score for future sessions. Votes which occur before they are seated won’t be marked as absences.

But that is something to be determined 90 days from now. In the meantime, it will be up to our Fab Five to do what they can do to make life better for residents in their districts.

The push for local accountability

A Daily Times story by Phil Davis yesterday noted the push by local elected officials to give Wicomico County the accountability of an elected school board. Davis points out that Republicans are pressing to get the issue on the ballot in 2016 while local Democrats want more hearings and cite an ACLU study which claims minorities can only attain one seat on County Council under the current districts.

But additional hearings are only a delaying tactic and Delegate Sample-Hughes (who was the lone dissenter in the two previous occasions this issue came before County Council) knows it. She should also know that any such resolution will have to have a hearing before County Council and when legislation is brought before the state there will be another public hearing in Annapolis.

As for the ACLU, the reason why minority candidates don’t tend to win in races outside the majority-minority district is twofold: one, their political views aren’t generally congruent with the conservative mindset of the county, and secondly not very many run. In 2014, the only minority to run countywide was Norma Lee Barkley, who was re-elected to the Orphan’s Court for a ninth term. In 2010, Ed Taylor, a former Council member, was fourth out of the four who ran for the at-large Council seat. Both Barkley and Taylor are Democrats; however, Michael Steele easily carried Wicomico County in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2006 while Democrat Brenda Hughey-Jones was fourth of four on the ballot for an at-large County Council seat. Proportionately, minorities make up 30% of the Wicomico County population.

The Daily Times points out that Salisbury has two majority-minority districts out of its five, which is very close to its minority population of 41.4%. However, it should be cautioned that a non-minority can represent a majority-minority district. I know that blows the minds of the ACLU, NAACP, and other similar organizations but it has happened before locally and probably will in the future – particularly if minority turnout continues to decline as it did in this most recent election.

All these grievances, though, are simply a diversionary tactic from the other political side which likes the system in place because they assume Democrats will almost always have the governor’s chair and the automatic 4-3 majority on our Board of Education which goes with that. Even in a situation where a Republican is governor, though, they are still only one turncoat, weak-kneed Republican from a working majority and with five-year terms there’s a good chance the previous Democrat appointed one when a Republican’s turn came up. (We have a couple of them now.) With an elected school board, the chances are the makeup of the board will be far more conservative and that’s what the education establishment fears.

On a personal level, though, this is what I would like to see in an elected Wicomico County Board of Education:

  • Seven members as it has now, with one elected from each County Council district and two at-large (just like County Council.)
  • The elections would be non-partisan. Primary ballots from both parties would have all candidates listed, while the unaffiliated could vote for Board of Education only on their ballot.
  • While most counties do staggered terms, I think it would be confusing – so elect all seven on the Gubernatorial ballot with all other county officers. If we had to stagger terms I would do the two-at large on the Presidential ballot and the five districts on the Gubernatorial.
  • As far as vacancies, since it is a non-partisan office the best way to fill them is to have the County Council vet the candidates, submit a list of three names to the County Executive, and have him or her make the selection. Alternatively, the County Executive could select a candidate and make the appointment contingent on the County Council’s approval and consent.

The reason we on the Republican Central Committee met with our state delegation was because we need enabling legislation from the state to make this happen and wanted their advice on how to proceed. Certainly we would like our Democratic counterparts to get on board but as I said they tend to prefer the system as it is, with all of its faults and lack of accountability. Because the Secretary of Appointments handles this task for the Governor, we are at the mercy of an unelected bureaucrat to determine who is tasked with guiding the education of our children and the spending of tax dollars we contribute to that cause. Jim Fiedler may be a nice guy, but he shouldn’t be making the final selection of our school board members. The voters of Wicomico County should have that say.

Just as a point of reference, I looked up the six current members of the Wicomico County Board of Education – the seat that formerly belonged to Larry Dodd is vacant because he was elected to County Council.

  • Ron Willey, President (D) – appointed in July 2007 and re-appointed in August 2012. His term would expire in 2017 and he cannot be re-appointed (there is a two-term limit.)
  • Donald Fitzgerald, Vice-President (D) – appointed in 2009 and term is expired – he’s serving until a Republican successor is in place since his seat would now logically go to the GOP thanks to Larry Hogan’s election.
  • Marvin Blye (D) – appointed in 2010, his term will expire in 2015.
  • Dr. Tyrone Chase (D) – appointed in 2007 and re-appointed in 2012. His term would expire in 2017 and he cannot be re-appointed.
  • Dr. Carolyn Elmore (R) – appointed in 2011, her term will expire in 2016.
  • Kim Hudson (R) – appointed in 2011, her term will expire in 2016.
  • The vacant seat is a Republican one, with about four years left on the term.

So we have poorly defined terms as members serve until their successors are selected. In 2015 three new members would be added (2 Republican and 1 Democrat), in 2016 two Republicans, and in 2017 two Democrats. It’s confusing, antiquated, and needs to change.

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.

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