A return

I wanted to remind people that I do take advertising, and last night I placed the return of District 38C candidate Mary Beth Carozza on site. It brings up the point that three candidates now believe advertising on monologue is an effective campaign tool, so hopefully after the election businesses will follow.

But since I have the floor I may as well bring up a few other upcoming events.

For example, a number of candidates – both Republican and Democrat – will be making their case to SU students (and whoever else wants to hear) at Red Square at Salisbury University tomorrow, October 2. I believe the hours are 10 to 2, although I’ve also seen 11 to 2. Eight years ago I covered a similar event there, but this time it will be during the week so participation should be better. We’ll find out.

Then this Saturday is Wicomico County’s Super Saturday, where an extra push will be made for our local Republican candidates. The culmination of that day will be a Fall Harvest Party for District 38B candidate Carl Anderton, with guest speaker Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. That runs from 5-8 p.m.

A few days later, Republican County Executive candidate Bob Culver is having a aptly-named “Pull the Pork Party” at the Ward Museum on October 14 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Speaking of fundraisers, this site is a relatively informative one for upcoming political fundraisers around the state. The reason I bring them up is because Jim Mathias last night had a high-dollar fundraiser at Brew River which was assisted by our “incumbent protection” friends across the bridge at Rice Consulting. Earlier that morning, Norm Conway had a high-dollar fundraiser, also through Rice Consulting, in his real district with his true constituents – downtown Annapolis at the Calvert House. Next week he will be slumming with the rest of us in Willards (which is now also outside his district) but we know where his loyalties lie now, as the people of his own district must not be good enough for supporting Norm to the degree in which he’s accustomed. But somehow I think he’s getting the Willards Lions Club as an in-kind donation, although the rest of us are paying.

Now for something a little more non-political. I’m supposed to get a little more about this in coming days, but I was encouraged to mention that the Eastern Shore Pregnancy Center is hosting their Tenth Annual Labor of Love fundraising banquet on October 16 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center the evening of October 16.

October will be a busy, busy month.

Buy now, or pay more later

Due to the need to comply with the law that states a business with a presence in the state must collect sales tax, for Maryland residents today is the final day of shopping on Amazon tax-free. The opening of a distribution center in Baltimore made the change necessary.

This affects me to a small extent because I’ve been an Amazon Associate site for a number of years. I doubt I would be the one to collect sales tax, but I’m sure my small cut of the action won’t be increased by the extra six percent things on Amazon will cost to Maryland residents. (In fact, government will be making more money than I do in most cases.) In the past, though, Amazon has ended associate programs in states where they collect sales tax, so it’s very possible that this little revenue stream of mine will go away effective tomorrow.  (At the moment, it appears that it will not.) It might be great for people who found a job in one of these Baltimore distribution centers, but those of us who made a little bit of coin in this manner aren’t happy.

On another front, it would be interesting to know how many people with relatives or close friends in Delaware that they visit frequently will be simply slapping their address on the shipping label, although I suppose having a method of payment with a Maryland billing address may bring up the charge as well. Surely we all know someone who went to Delaware to purchase a big-ticket item in order to avoid paying a couple hundred extra dollars in sales tax to Maryland, so I have no doubt people may do the same thing for Amazon. With Delaware being so close and most in this area knowing someone who lives there I would suspect this will become a bit of a trend.

In the meantime, the box on my right sidebar awaits – get while the gettin’s good.

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?

Hearing from a Patriot

We’d built up the event for months, so it was no surprise we filled the room for our first-ever Patriot’s Dinner featuring former Congressman, author, fill-in radio host, and most importantly Lt. Col. Allen West. It was the culmination of an afternoon of events which featured a reception with Republican youths from around the area, VIP events for West’s Guardian Fund and the Maryland Republican Party, and the dinner itself.

West promised to speak for about 25 minutes and answer questions afterward, directing his remarks toward the “criticality” of our situation. He first asked if this was really the home of the brave when we outsource our fight against Islamic terrorists to the Free Syrian Army while decimating our military capability to levels unseen since before World War II. West pointed out that Barack Obama was bombing his seventh country, but chided Congress for its lack of bravery because “no one is asking if we are at war.”

“If someone is dropping a bomb on my head, we are at war,” said West, continuing that Congress was failing its Constitutional obligation to declare war. West was very critical of both Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, calling them “the two biggest violators of the Constitution.”

West went out to state that in many respects, we we not keeping our Republic, as Benjamin Franklin warned us we had to, but sliding into a monarchy. We need people who would be the “loyal opposition” to tyranny, added the Colonel. Moreover, we’re failing to meet this challenge because we aren’t educating ourselves on how to keep this republic. Even the verbiage has been altered, as West later went on to talk about the co-opting of the word “liberal,” noting “true conservatives are classical liberals.”

Turning to the state of the Republican Party, Allen explained that the sole reason for the GOP’s founding wasn’t to abolish slavery but to maintain Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal.” Unlike the era of its founding and its shackles of physical bondage, the black population today was under the “shackles of economic hardship,” a condition West termed was “even worse than physical bondage.” The letters G, O, and P should stand for growth, opportunity, and promise, said West. “We believe in equality of opportunity.”

West also had harsh words for the welfare state. There should be a safety net, he opined, but that safety net “is meant to bounce you back up.” Instead it’s become a hammock, and like all hammocks over time it begins to rot and eventually will collapse under the weight.

Allen also made the case that the promise of America was to keep us safe. He decried the “cowards” who preach political correctness, maintaining the argument that “political correctness will only get you killed.”

Finally, West challenged the group. “I’m pointing a finger into your chest,” he said. “Stop being worried about them calling you names.” He challenged us to engage 5 of our more liberal friends and set a goal of changing the minds of three. Noting Barack Obama has only a 40 percent approval rating, he called those 40 percent the “stuck on stupid folks,” lastly repeating Franklin’s assertion that “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”

After the standing ovation, West took questions. Naturally the first one asked if he would consider being Vice-President, to which West replied “if God determines I will be in that position.”

On a question relating to our military, West repeated his point that we are in “one of the weakest states we have seen,” adding that, “the world is Machiavellian.” West compared the release of Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl – “in the socialist mind, Bowe Bergdahl is a hero” – to the fate of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has languished in a Mexican jail since April for accidentally bringing a gun into the country. West criticized the fact Tahmooressi wasn’t brought up in the June meeting between Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, thundering that he’d demand Tahmooressi, along with his gun and his car, back in the country before Nieto was let in.

The next questioner wondered if it was too late to reverse this tide, with West noting we’re “almost at the tipping point.” Allen added that there’s “no self-esteem (gained) from sitting in the hammock.” Instead, we needed leaders to emerge like Dan Bongino, who West’s Guardian Fund is supporting because Bongino “has a lot of fight in him.”

Two questions about the state of our monetary system followed, dealing with the prospective collapse of the dollar and its effect on gold and silver. West pointed out that, in his belief, “we do not have a free-market economy,” feeling instead that “the bubble is coming” because of a circular exchange of money primed by the continual printing of dollars. He felt there was a strong possibility that if a Republican in elected in 2016, the Federal Reserve will suddenly end this practice just to do damage to the economy under a Republican president. West also opined we may have to return to the gold standard.

When asked about the lack of bold leadership, Allen made it simple: “Start electing them.” Pointing to the candidates at the head table, he added, “start building your farm team.” We need to communicate our ideas with the American people, West added, noting that the other side “plays chess while we play checkers.” Referring to the campaign placed against him in his 2012 Congressional re-election bid – a race made difficult because Florida Republicans redistricted him to a new district – West also believed that “if I’m their number one target, I feel good about it.”

The piece of advice he would give about minority outreach? “Talk to them about who they really are,” said Allen, who also challenged their mindset about rights, asking if not God, who do your inalienable rights come from? It led into the final question about education, where West made the case that “the most important elected position is school board” and couldn’t believe ours was appointed. West also believed the time had come to establish more of our own universities, using Hillsdale College and Liberty University as examples to follow.

As part of the leadup to West’s speech, he was presented with a Benghazi bracelet by Bev Bigler of the Worcester County Republican Central Committee. The poem “The Battling Boys of Benghazi” was also included with the program.

This was part of their effort to keep the Benghazi incident (and subsequent questions about a coverup) fresh in mind.

A number of elected officials and candidates took time out of their busy schedules to attend the proceedings, with some taking advantage of the moment to pose with Lt. Col. West. It was interesting to have a contingent from southern Maryland there, with those clad in red at the table in the preceding picture’s foreground part of the campaign team of District 27 State Senator candidate Jesse Peed. (Peed has the uphill battle of taking on Senate President Mike Miller, a man who desperately needs to be retired.)

So the months of preparation, back-and-forth communication between the several parties involved, and last-minute scrambling to get the details just so made for an entertaining and informative evening. There may be a thing or two for me to add to this post, but I think I can speak for the Central Committee in saying that we enjoyed the living daylights out of it, but are glad it’s over so we can focus on the election.

The exodus – will it increase?

It’s funny – I was at a bit of a loss to find something to write about today when Kim and I received a letter in the mail from a friend of hers. In it was the note which said “Miss you but I love Florida!” The friend in question moved down there a year ago to take a job in her industry.

Admittedly, there is a lot to love about Florida in terms of weather. The one year I spent Christmas down there I was sitting on my parents’ porch in shorts because it was 80 degrees out. That was somewhat of an anomaly for the season, but the fact is the Sunshine State doesn’t see a whole lot of snow and cold. Florida in 2014 is sort of like southern California in 1964, as millions moved there for the perpetually sunny and nice weather as well as the chance to create opportunity for themselves.

That got me to thinking about how many people I know have left this area, many for Florida or the Carolinas. Sometimes to me it’s a wonder that people stay around here given the broad litany of complaints people make about the region. On the surface I think it has many of the same qualities which attracted me in the first place – although last winter’s snow and cold made me think I was back in Ohio again.

But there is an economic side, and that factor has influenced the decision of many who have left the state to go to areas where taxes are lower and business opportunities more plentiful. Job creation hasn’t seemed to be job one for those in charge of the state because we’ve lost jobs while other states have picked up the pace.

Over the last few days I’ve talked quite a bit about the state’s budget shortfall, particularly in terms of what it means for the governor’s race. Sadly, I would estimate there are probably 20,000 Hogan votes that have left the state during this last cycle because they couldn’t hang on any longer or found better opportunities. On the other hand, ask yourself: if you lived in another state, what would you move to Maryland to do? About the only answer I could come up with was be in government, whether for Uncle Sam or a local branch office thereof. Even those who like the region seem to be moving to Sussex County, Delaware – it grew at a faster pace than the state of Delaware as a whole over the last three years while all nine Eastern Shore counties were short of Maryland’s (slower) overall growth rate, with three counties of the nine declining in population. A lack of local good-paying jobs is a complaint we’ve heard here for years.

I think the fear among many in my circle of friends – many of whom were raised here and care deeply about the state – is that another four to eight years under the same sort of governance will seal the state’s doom, much like the economic basket case that is California. That was a state which had all sorts of advantages in terms of attracting families but has squandered many of them away through their treatment of job creators. Like Maryland, it’s a state that seems attractive on the surface but living there is another thing, from what I’m told. (I’ve never visited the state, so it’s all second-hand knowledge on this one.)

Electing Larry Hogan could be the start of a comeback, but the problem isn’t just something which can be solved by a single chief executive. Rooting out the entirety of the issue would take a generation of conservative leadership with a General Assembly re-purposed to solving problems rather than protecting turf or enacting worthless feelgood legislation. But if nothing, not even the first step, is done this time, the exodus is sure to continue and increase.

The Hogan side of Franchot’s assessment

After yesterday’s lengthy post about Peter Franchot’s assessment of the state economy, I wondered how the Republican running for the state’s top job would react. Fortunately, I can distill his statement down to a couple short paragraphs:

(Wednesday’s) report is utterly devastating and confirms what we have been saying, that Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown have taxed and spent our economy into the ground. Overtaxed Marylanders are earning less, small business profits are disappearing and people have less to spend on goods and services.

As governor, I’ll put partisan politics aside and work across the aisle to undo the damage of the past eight years. We’ll work together to reign in reckless spending and waste so we can roll back as many of the O’Malley and Brown’s 40 straight tax hikes as possible. It’s time for Annapolis to live within its means so people can keep more of their hard earned money.

I was fine with that until the part about “work together,” particularly with regard to an event last week with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:

The Democrats want to tell you that Governor Christie and I are far-right extremists. Our similarities stem from the fact that we are commonsense Republicans that are prepared to reach across the aisle in order for progress and prosperity. That is why Governor Christie was overwhelmingly reelected in the blue state of New Jersey to a second term. And that is why Marylanders are ready for a Republican governor in Annapolis.

Unfortunately in this partisan day and age, for a Republican reaching across the aisle means getting your arm bit off and used as a club to beat you with. Remember, the reason for Christie’s initial popularity was his get-tough stance with the state’s unions, and I honestly don’t see those sort of stones with Larry Hogan.

It’s obvious we have a problem in this state, as Franchot pointed out. But the problem isn’t just in the governor’s office, it’s in the bowels of the General Assembly as well.

Remember the “doomsday budget” session of a couple years ago, and the big deal many in the General Assembly made that spending “only” went up $700 million instead of the $1.2 billion they eventually received? Imagine that fight every year.

Depending on how many Democrats are returned to Annapolis, the budget that Governor Hogan would send out might only get 50 or 60 House votes, so the overriding question is what tradeoffs will we have to endure? Or will Hogan surprise me and take the bully pulpit, going over the heads of the General Assembly and the press to convince the people to demand action on a leaner budget? We know the unions wouldn’t take cuts lying down, so are those on the side of sanity going to go to Annapolis and tell Big Labor to pound sand when they mass in protest like they did a few years back? Fifty isn’t much against 5,000 and their box lunches.

(By the way, I should point out the link above was one of the posts where I lost all my pictures when Photoshop folded into Adobe Revel and rendered all my photo links obsolete. I spent a good half-hour fixing it for presentation last night because it was important to convey the sort of protest Larry Hogan can expect if he stands his ground.)

I certainly hope Larry wins and comes out with budgets which reflect sanity and not just a 4-6 percent increase each year. But be warned it won’t come without a fight. And we can live with Larry’s middle-of-the-road, reach-across-the-aisle tendencies if we can get some conservatives to Annapolis to keep him in line, with the rest of us having his back when he makes those promised cuts.

A dose of economic reality

Bear in mind the following words are written by a Democrat in Maryland. It’s an extremely long blockquote of an entire release but I thought readers deserved full context.

We convene today to write down our already cautious revenue projections for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 by more than $405 million. Far more important than what a $405 million shortfall means for the state budget is the painful reality that it indicates for the budgets of Maryland families and small businesses.

We’re writing down individual income tax receipts – the largest individual source of state revenue – by over $350 million, between the shortfall in individual income tax receipts carried over from Fiscal 2014 and our write down of expected revenues for Fiscal Year 2015.  Six years removed from the economic collapse, and far too many families and small businesses are still waiting for the recovery they keep hearing about.

We can classify a year or two outside the ordinary as simply abnormal. But more than a half decade later, we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse, much less made up for the wages they’ve lost over the past six years. We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.

The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. Wages and salaries are essentially stagnant. Local, independent businesses are struggling to meet payroll, cover their costs and turn a profit. Working families have cut back their spending because they just don’t have the money, they’re scared of losing their jobs, or, in many cases, both.

In a consumer-driven economy, it should come as no surprise that when consumers are struggling, businesses inevitably feel that pain, particularly in an environment where margins have often already been trimmed down to the bone. Add that to Maryland’s unemployment rate – traditionally a major strength – not keeping pace with improvements seen in the country as a whole.

Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades – during the tech boom of the late 1990s and the 1980 recession. In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, far below the rate of inflation for the same period.

Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing. The housing market has failed to rebound in a sustained and meaningful way, particularly with Maryland second worst in the nation in home foreclosure rates.

Combined, these economic indicators led to a Maryland economy that didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013. As we know, an economy that isn’t growing is actually retracting. This all means uncertainty for families and businesses. They are unsure about their prospects and, as a result, unwilling to make the purchases and investments our consumer-driven economy needs to grow. As great a state as we are and as robust an economic system as we have, uncertainty serves as a serious deterrent to economic growth.

Whether it’s sequestration, unpredictability in the tax and regulatory environment or an inability to make long-term federal budgeting decisions, most of the uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions. While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.

We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result. The fact remains that we’ll only see the economic growth we’re accustomed to when we get the private sector economy growing. We can only make that happen if we provide a sense of predictability for Maryland families and small businesses.

As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. We have to be more forward-looking about how we borrow money as a state.  We simply can’t sustain our current patterns of debt accumulation without provoking actions that could do further harm to an already fragile economy — amplifying the significant fiscal and economic challenges we already face.

As we all know, a sustained economic recovery is going to come down to jobs, both here in Maryland and throughout the nation. As long as we see continued weakness in wages and job growth, consumers will inevitably pull back, causing businesses to struggle and the economy to underperform.

We simply cannot create any unnecessary road blocks that would make employers reluctant to invest, grow and hire. But if we maintain a cautious mindset and provide a sense of predictability to Maryland families and small businesses, our economic bones are strong enough and our people are resilient enough to withstand this write down and the economic challenges it represents. (All emphasis mine.)

That’s the entirety of a press release put out by state Comptroller Peter Franchot as the Board of Revenue Estimates calculated our state would yet again be short on revenues to the tune of $405 million, or slightly over 1% of the current budget.

But let’s read between the lines, in the passages I highlighted.

(W)e need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal.

No we don’t. What we need to do is realize our policy prescriptions over the last eight years or so have done little to help the local economy. States are succeeding in this country, whether it’s through ambitious exploitation of energy resources like North Dakota or smart, pro-business policy such as the sort Texas seems to use. (Heck, Rick Perry even encouraged Maryland businesses to relocate to his state.) To attain growth, it has to be encouraged and the only thing we’re encouraging the growth of in this state is government.

The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. 

Peter Franchot became Comptroller in the same 2006 election we elected Martin O’Malley as governor. Perhaps that should give an indication as to why these conditions persist.

Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.

This is reflective of national conditions, since real household income has declined since reaching a peak anywhere from 7 to 15 years ago, depending on income quintile. And with wage-earners having to string together a series of part-time jobs to make ends meet thanks to the impact of Obamacare and a higher cost of living, the budgets of Maryland families are indeed stretched to the breaking point.

(M)ost of the (economic) uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions.

Families continue to wait for the other shoe to drop. Spend over $100 million on a botched website? Don’t worry, we’ll make up the shortfall by figuring out some new revenue stream. This is the state that experimented with the “tech” tax some years ago before the computer business threatened to bolt, so they decided to tax millionaires instead – and watched many move out of state. Even taxing rain to supposedly help clean up Chesapeake Bay has become a boondoggle as different counties decided on different approaches, while a select few counties (including Wicomico) figure they are next on the firing line to be stuck with the “rain tax” like 10 other Maryland counties.

While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.

This is a very prescient statement, but Franchot is only looking at it in terms of tax revenue from federal workers. Surely he’s less inclined to speak out about the fact that it’s actually Uncle Sam – not income tax receipts – that is the largest source of state revenue. I know the unsuccessful campaign of Charles Lollar made overtures about slaying that beast, but it’s just as bad to be dependent on the federal government for operating revenue as it is to make it as much as a significant economic driver as it tends to be for the Capital region. Meanwhile, jobs which create real value – whether it’s extracting natural gas in Garrett County, making steel in Baltimore, or growing chickens on a rural Somerset County farm – get short shrift from an administration which has tried to thwart that sort of growth at every turn.

Whether Peter Franchot wants to admit it or not, the damning economic statement made by a Comptroller who still endorsed the candidate who most represents this failed status quo in Anthony Brown makes the case that a new broom needs to sweep Maryland politics clean. If you haven’t heard about GOP candidate for Comptroller William Campbell, it’s time you did.

And Anthony Brown? I’m sure he knows that Franchot is pretty much correct in this assessment, which is why he’s trying to paint Larry Hogan as a Republican extremist (there is no such thing) and not talk about his own accomplishments or plans. “More of the same” just won’t sell for a large number of Maryland’s working families.

Another prediction of job creation

In the post I recently did about wind power, I pointed out that beginning in 2017 Maryland electric ratepayers will begin a 20-year process of chipping in $1.7 billion in subsidies to the developer of an offshore wind farm off the Ocean City or Assateague coast. Yet a new study claims that Maryland could reap far greater economic benefits over the next two decades if offshore drilling is allowed in the region, with even larger payoffs for Virginia and the Carolinas by virtue of their longer coastlines. Nearly as important are the thousands of jobs which could be created – something wind energy producers can’t match.

There’s no doubt that these rosy scenarios presented by Dr. Timothy J. Considine of the University of Wyoming and the Interstate Policy Alliance (which includes the Maryland Public Policy Institute) were made up to encourage the loosening of restrictions on offshore drilling. Yet they also take into account the cost of environmental factors in a reasonable way, which balances the picture. It turns out that Maryland is one of the better cost/benefit performers of the six states (Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) included in the study.

It also goes without saying that our Senate representatives are foolishly dead-set against the idea, signing onto an August letter which claimed detrimental effects on tourism in the highly unlikely event of an oil spill. (A few Maryland House members signed a similar letter.) While tourism is a good thing and we’d like to encourage more of it, the value which could be added to our economy from oil and natural gas is far greater.

At this early stage, the next move seems to be simply testing to update decades-old mapping which suggests there’s a potential for millions of barrels of oil offshore. Any actual drilling is probably years and several court battles away, as it’s almost a guarantee that Radical Green will throw the legal kitchen sink at any attempt to drill for oil in the Atlantic. May I kindly suggest they go pound sand.

But if they insist on building wind turbines offshore, it should be noted that oil rigs and wind turbines can coexist and once the oil is tapped out the platforms can be put to good use. These uses don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in terms of current economics it’s difficult to match the high subsidies required to get companies to even consider offshore wind when compared to the clamor of energy producers to see just what’s underneath all that Atlantic coastline. If Larry Hogan really wants the “all of the above” energy approach, he should embrace the prospect of offshore oil exploration.

Predicting the spin cycle

I’m back in the swing of news, and this gem from DaTechGuy hit home because it’s so, so predictable. The stories he cites are the ones which can be used to prop up Barack Obama’s approval numbers or distract from what’s really going on – in the grand scheme of things, is the NFL scandal really that important or newsworthy? It’s pretty sad when actions on the field take a distant back seat to actions which happened months ago far off the gridiron.

But how long have we known the mainstream media is in the tank for liberals? I mean, Dan Bongino’s supporters have stated chapter and verse that at least one major newspaper in his district ignores him, and it plays right into the outsider image Dan is trying to cultivate in this election. Chances are that same paper will endorse opponent John Delaney, as most local newspapers tend to endorse incumbents over challengers unless the incumbent is a Republican and even less likely when the Republican is a TEA Party adherent.

I’ve seen this over and over again over the last twenty to thirty years I’ve studied the media. And notice how that cadre of news dinosaurs tut-tuts at any challenger to its dominance, whether it was conservative talk radio a generation ago or the rise of the internet media in the opening years of this century? I may not have the circulation of a Baltimore Sun or even a Salisbury Daily Times, but the potential is always there for something I say to be cast before a huge state, national, or even global audience. Their lack of a monopoly on news is what frightens the other side.

So it’s quite predictable that their coverage dictates what is considered news to the masses, but at the same time people aren’t being informed as well about important issues of the day. In my youth I would read the local paper cover-to-cover, and it would be maybe 32 pages – a 12-page section of national and state news with the last 2 pages being editorial content, a 16-page second section with local news, 4 pages or so of sports, a few pages of classified ads, and the comics, and a 4-page “Peach Section” with the features, a smidgen of entertainment news, and the TV listings. It seems now the lines between all of this have been blurred, with entertainment and sports news hitting the front pages and editorials being placed willy-nilly as part of the news.

In short, the avalanche and overload of information we’re fed on a 24/7/365 basis may be allowing the most important stuff to slip by unnoticed, and that’s a shame.

Twisting in the wind

No, I’m not talking about a political figure today. Instead, I received an e-mail from the American Wind Energy Association telling me about the state of the wind industry and how its costs are falling rapidly. (This blog post at Into the Wind, the AWEA blog site, has the same information.)

If you look at points 1 through 4, they make varying amounts of sense. With the maturation of the market, it’s no stretch to assume that costs would go down just as they would for any technology. Personally, though, I disagree with the premise that additional carbon emissions are necessarily bad, particularly when the idea is to blame them for climate change. Nearly two decades of steady temperatures combined with the increasing emissions seem to me a fairly good testament that increasing emissions aren’t the problem.

It’s point number 5 that’s the payoff for me, because I knew it would be coming sooner or later.

5. Policy support is still essential for the U.S. to keep scaling up renewable energy

The Lazard study also highlights the need for clear, long-term policy support for renewable energy. While projects located at some of the best wind resources in the country are now cost-competitive, it notes that this is still not the case in most regions. The most recent expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) resulted in a 92% drop in new wind projects from 2012 to 2013.

The PTC helps correct for flaws in our electricity market design that do not value wind’s benefits for protecting the environment and consumers. Wind energy creates billions of dollars in economic value by drastically reducing pollution that harms public health and the environment, but wind energy does not get paid for that even though consumers bear many of those costs.

Wind energy also protects consumers from price increases for fuel, but that is not accounted for in the highly regulated electricity market because other energy sources get to pass their fuel price increases directly on to consumers who have little choice in the matter.

Policies like the PTC correct for those market failures to reach a more efficient market outcome. The PTC has expired, however, for any project not started by the end of last year. An extension is now urgent to avoid shutting down the U.S. manufacturing base, and to ensure that more wind farms are built so that more consumers can benefit from these record low prices.

Yet what if the lack of subsidy isn’t a market failure as they describe? In the original blog post there’s a graphic which shows that every time the tax subsidy is cut, the amount of wind capacity installed plummets. Between that subsidy and the various renewable portfolio standards enacted by many states (including Maryland) it seems to me they artificially prop up the wind energy market, which can’t stand on its own otherwise. This approach is the same argument which posits a carbon tax is necessary because fossil fuel users aren’t paying for the supposed destruction of the environment and public health they create, but discounts the increased standard of living brought on by the usage of reliable sources of electricity to, among other things, improve public health.

Another thing worth pointing out about these studies and reports is that they look strictly at land-based wind turbines. While they are falling in price, researchers around the world are finding that residents nearby are complaining about a litany of health issues derived from the constant noise. Naturally, naysayers would contend that other methods of power generation, such as fracking, also have ill effects but these are anecdotal as well.

So while offshore wind would seem to be a solution, the cost is far more prohibitive. Maryland’s 2013 offshore wind bill, for example, subsidizes the effort through both an increase in the required renewable energy portfolio and $1.7 billion in direct subsidy over 20 years, parceled out as an $18 annual surcharge to residential consumers and a 1.5% hike for businesses. (A business paying $1,000 a month, such as a restaurant, would have to add $180 a year.) Naturally this doesn’t take into account the penchant for our General Assembly, once a new tax or surcharge is enacted, to declare it’s not enough and raise the tariff accordingly. I give it no more than 5 years before someone demands to raise the fee to $30 or $40 annually and hike commercial users up to a 2% or 3% a month surcharge just to keep the business in Maryland’s waters.

It would seem that wind power is a logical way to create electricity in certain locations and situations, but for general use it has the drawback of not being as strictly reliable as fossil fuels are. The fact that we have to create a renewable energy portfolio tells me that the market has otherwise spoken.

We really haven’t heard about this as an issue for the 2014 election, but I would presume the Brown administration would continue on this path as they promise to:

Expand our renewable mix with investments in (read: subsidies for) Maryland-based solar and wind, which can both create new jobs and reduce air pollution that affects the health of everyday Marylanders.

It would be my hope that Larry Hogan would revisit this effort, backing legislation to eliminate this expensive renewable energy portfolio and repealing the prospect of higher electricity rates come 2017 – at the very least, recast this scheme as an opt-in program just like consumer choice has already created with companies like Ethical Electric, which I wrote about last year. Let the market decide how much it wants to support the renewable energy boondoggle, and how many of us simply crave the reliability of knowing that when we flip the switch, the light will turn on.

Never surrender

I’ve been seeing some comment about a blog post recently penned by outgoing Delegate Michael Smigiel regarding the Maryland GOP not assisting Mike McDermott in his Maryland Senate run against Jim Mathias. There are two damning allegations therein, so I’ll speak to both.

First, we have the financial angle:

The Republican Party found it possible just two years ago to support three Republicans running for local county council seats to the tune of $40,000 in a Cecil County race! Now in a pivotal State Senate Race they can not offer the same support? Correct that, they can not offer any support? Even if the party claims financial inability, where are the dollars from Congressman Harris who two years ago gave $40,000 to the party to help those local candidates? Where is the help from the State Senators who have no challengers in their races but have tens of thousands of dollars in their war chests?

I know Smigiel has some sour grapes against certain Cecil County Republicans, but a quick check of campaign finance records finds only a few thousand dollars in contributions to these candidates from the local Republican club and Central Committee – nowhere near $40,000.

As for Andy Harris, he’s already assisted Delegate candidate Carl Anderton (as have others) and it may be he’s going to chip into McDermott’s cause as well.

But the last sentence of Smigiel’s is a valid question, particularly in light of his next paragraphs.

Republican State Senators have been told by the Democrat Senate President, “If you get in the McDermott v. Mathias race, you will be punished.” So Republican Senators with the ability and the desire to help are not helping because of a concern over their own political comfort. Shame on any Senator in a position to help who fails to help out of fear they may be punished by the Democrat Senate President.

I call it Political cowardice to kowtow to the Democrat leadership on the decision of whom the Republicans should support for election to State wide office.

The Party and individual members of the Senate need to stand up to Democrat leadership and show they will not be intimidated into allowing the Democrat leadership to keep the growth of the Republican party stifled. Rhetoric about freedom and liberty rings hollow when you fail to stand up to tyranny when confronted with it in government. Republican Senators need to stand up and be counted. If you have no opponent and have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank you need to donate to and assist in every way possible in elected fellow Republicans. If you are threatened with loss of your committee seat or any other punishment by the Senate President, then make it public and double your efforts on behalf of the Republican candidate.

So is this a Senate or a fiefdom? Bear in mind that Senate President Mike Miller (Maryland’s version of Harry Reid) has a Republican opponent himself, Jesse Peed. Those of you reading this in District 27 should note accordingly.

I did take a peek at Smigiel’s last filing, which was the May filing, and it showed he had about $21,000 remaining in his account (with loans outstanding.) Obviously we have nothing newer to go by, but I haven’t seen any transfers out from his account yet.

Now I don’t know anything about the inner workings of the Maryland General Assembly but I do know bullshit when I smell it. Simply put, the way those bodies are conducted during the 90 days of terror we endure each year reeks to high heaven. Bills which would do a lot of good are stashed in the desk drawers of committee heads, arms are twisted in grotesque ways to get other less palatable bills to pass, and the public’s voice is often ignored.

Thus, it doesn’t really surprise me that such a punishment threat as Smigiel alleges might exist, but we need someone to stand up and say so. There are some who are no longer in office who could verify such statements because I’m sure these threats aren’t new. Maybe Senator Simonaire would have something to say since he was the lone voice of opposition to Miller’s re-election as Senate President.

As for the would-be Senator McDermott, he’s come out with some interesting items of his own lately. I had intended to take a look at them, but there’s one thing I need to put it all together so it can wait a few days. It’s all good.

District 37 House: the five contenders

For my final look this round at local races, I decided to do both Districts 37A and 37B in one feel swoop, mainly because the District 37A is already set in Sheree Sample-Hughes. She had a free ride once Delegate Rudy Cane dropped out days after the filing deadline, but it’s also worth seeing how she’s set financially to begin her sure re-election run in 2018. I’ll get to her in due course.

Meanwhile, in District 37B there is one real race. Although the top two would normally be declared the winners, a state law prohibits two members from the same county in this two-person district which spans four counties. So the two contenders from Talbot County, Democrat Keasha Haythe and Republican Johnny Mautz, could finish 1-2 but only the winner would be seated. I’ll begin with that race.

Download (PDF, 5KB)

While Johnny Mautz has far outraised his opponent, the cash on hand is surprisingly close because Mautz had to survive a primary while Haythe did not – in fact, she has only filed one actual report (the Pre-Primary 1 report in May) while spending less than $1,000 in the last two reporting periods. She attested to this through Affidavits of Limited Contributions and Expenses, better known in the game as ALCEs. Obviously she’s had some spending since she has a website, but it doesn’t rise to the level of filing the paperwork.

Keasha’s report is fairly vanilla, although it would be interesting to know who pays for her website. As far as the small amount she’s raised, the $1,000 contribution from Rudy Cane’s account provides the most insight. She’s the perfect contrast to Mautz as all her contributions are local.

On the other hand, Mautz’s report reminded me of Mary Beth Carozza’s in District 38C because a huge portion of the seed money for both has come from connections they’ve made in Washington, D.C. But while Carozza’s local share has increased over the last several months, Mautz maintains his tremendous haul from friends in the Capital region. Over 60 percent of his total individual contributions come from outside the district, but not much comes from businesses and none from LLCs.

Mautz has also picked up some non-individual donations: $1,000 from the Republican Leadership Council of Talbot County, and PAC donations from the Maryland Farm Bureau, Licensed Beverage Association PAC, and the Maryland Dental PAC. He’s also received transfers from two federal accounts belonging to current Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia and former member Jim Saxton of New Jersey, as well as $500 from the NCPA Legal-Legislative Fund (which represents community pharmacies) and a cool $4,000 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

But the eye-popper is the fact Mautz has gone into six figures for spending – more than any other candidate in either District 37 or 38. Over $63,000 has gone just for printing and nearly $14,000 for media, generally to local businesses. (The folks at Bay Imprint and Poore House have made a lot of money from Johnny this election.) One other interesting expenditure is $9,750 to Public Opinion Strategies for a poll back in April. (Full disclosure: Johnny’s payment to me for his sidebar ad should be on his next report.)

So Mautz is the undisputed spending leader in this race. In contrast, the other Democratic contender, Rod Benjamin, is running the ultimate low-budget campaign because he’s neither raised or spent above $1,000 as a serial ALCE filer.

Download (PDF, 5KB)

So that leaves me Christopher Adams, who’s also paid for advertising here. His figures are a little bit hard to follow, since a lot of his contributions and expenditures are tied up as loans. He took out and paid off a $20,000 loan from Value Enterprises, LLC and borrowed from his own personal coffers to replace the $20,000. So in truth he’s raised $11,370, with an 11% portion from LLCs and about 1/4 from out-of-district.

Adams has spent on some interesting items, with the biggest being $19,000 to Scott Strategies. He’s also transferred out some good-sized amounts on other entities and races: $500 apiece to the Caroline and Dorchester County Republican Central Committees (although the latter is mis-identified as the Democratic one), as well as to District 38B hopeful Carl Anderton. As far as media goes, I’m a line item along with an ad in the Salisbury Independent, among other things. But if you threw out the loan repayment, Scott Strategies would be well over half Christopher’s spending.

Finally, let’s look at the unopposed Sample-Hughes.

Download (PDF, 5KB)

As you can see, the biggest part of her contributions is the $6,000 she received from the coffers of Rudy Cane. It’s worth noting that Cane’s campaign account was closed out as he distributed over $47,000 to several groups – local candidates Sample-Hughes, Haythe, unsuccessful Salisbury City Council candidate April Jackson, and Wicomico County Councilman-elect Ernest Davis all got something from Cane, as did the House Democratic Committee Slate ($13,242.40.) However, Rudy also gave $20,000 to Shore Up! (a local advocacy group) and distributed $13,000 between three local churches.

Sample-Hughes also received small donations from several local Republicans, such as her fellow Wicomico County Council members John Hall and Matt Holloway, along with Sheriff Mike Lewis. The Maryland Farm Bureau PAC chipped in $500 to her as well. She received very little from businesses, nothing from LLCs, and hardly anything from outside the area.

One thing I noticed is that her fundraising expenses were barely covered by the money raised, but aside from that it’s the sort of a report one might expect from an unopposed candidate. Fortunately, that $6,000 from Cane is about all she’s got so any 2018 contender isn’t far behind in the money race yet.

So that’s how District 37 shapes up. The next report is due October 24, just days before the election.

Next Page »

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  • More Campaign 2014

    Contested races only.

    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

    ___

    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Christopher Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

    ___

    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

    ___

    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

    ___

    County Council at-large

    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

    ___

    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

    ___

    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)