A further obstacle

Perusing social media last night, I saw that Delegate Christopher Adams linked to an article by Bob Zimberoff in the Easton Star-Democrat. Since I have a website, I’m revising and extending my remarks in my comments therein.

Zimberoff’s article talked about the rush to get building permits in Caroline County. It wasn’t thanks to a business boom or new economic opportunity – terms for which neither apply in the Eastern Shore’s sole landlocked county – but a deadline builders were rushing to meet.

(Developer Blaine) Williamson wasn’t the only one to hurry to get a permit. In all of 2014, the Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes issued 40 total permits for construction of new residential units. In 2013, 34 permits were issued.

Already in 2015, 46 permits have been issued in Caroline as of June 30. Of those 46 permits, 30 were issued in June. According to Sara Visintainer, chief of staff for the Caroline County Commissioners Office, another 30 applicants started the permitting process in June but failed to receive permits because of financial burden or other considerations.

Every few years, the state of Maryland adopts the most current editions of several building codes, including the International Residential Code. While the code has mandated that new homes have fire sprinkler systems, previously counties were able to opt out of the requirement. (I thought I had written about one such effort before, and it turns out I was right.) Apparently that exemption is no longer allowed, and it’s sending a chill throughout the housing industry. I return to the Star-Democrat:

At Williamson Acres, modest starter homes list for $150,000 to $160,000.

“That’s the market value. That’s all I can sell them for,” Williamson said. “It costs so much to build them now, I’m not making much money. When you add the sprinklers on, I would actually be losing money.”

(snip)

With five vacant lots and three permits to build, Williamson said he intends to leave two lots undeveloped until regulations change or the housing market improves. Even with the BAT septic mandate, Williamson could profit $5,000 to $10,000 from selling new homes, but the sprinkler mandate effectively eliminated a chance at financial gain.

“I’m not going to build a house knowingly losing money on it,” he said. “The sprinklers are the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

So here is the situation. You will have a rush of construction over the next few months as those houses which got their permits prior to June 30 get built out, but then in a few months the market will slide as the dearth of new permits takes hold. In other words, this artificial boom will be short-lived.

My previous piece on the controversy here in Wicomico County back in 2011 noted the dubious benefits against the costs of the home sprinkler systems, but there is also the issue of how the cost may discourage rural development because it’s more expensive to use a well as a source as opposed to a municipal water system. To Radical Green, though, that’s a feature and not a bug, and you can bet your bottom dollar those who write the codes are squarely in the Radical Green camp – after all, those who believe we can build our way to absolute safety regardless of cost would also be the most fervent believers in the nanny state. We obviously want some element of safety and energy efficiency in our construction, but there comes a point when cost outweighs benefit and in a single-family residential setting sprinkler systems can be a deal-breaker.

Delegate Adams and his counterparts will be well-served in attempting to restore the exemption counties used to enjoy. Something tells me it wasn’t the rural legislators and regulators who took the exemption out, so you can call this a side skirmish in the War on Rural Maryland.

WCRC meeting – July 2015

Sometimes we make the best advance plans and they go for naught. It happened to the Wicomico County Republican Club tonight when not just one, but both of their scheduled speakers had to send their regrets thanks to Uncle Sam and an Annapolis meeting. So we heard from neither Jake Day nor Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio tonight.

But we did get some business done and firmed up a number of dates for future reference.

Alison Pulcher filled in for Jake Day a little bit as his campaign manager, officially sending his regrets by noting he was “really sad” that he couldn’t be there. One question which was asked is why the onetime Republican switched parties, with Pulcher responding her belief that he has “ideologies on both sides of the plate.” She herself was impressed with the passion on both sides of the aisle here, as she isn’t a native to the region.

In his Central Committee report, Mark McIver confirmed the Lincoln Day Dinner is slated for November 7 and will feature Andy Harris. But he also asked for a moment of silence for longtime WCRCC member Blan Harcum, whose farm was the scene of an incident today that left Mark “devastated.”

After that silence, McIver was asked whether the Central Committee had any involvement with the local liquor board, which they do not. But it was a point that we should check into as appointments were allegedly made at the behest of one of our local Senators, and not the one who is of our party.

The conversation then turned to the elected school board as McIver was one of those chosen to testify in an open work session before County Council. Intentionally or not, it was somewhat stacked with Democrats and opponents of an elected board.

Marc Kilmer chimed in, announcing public hearings were scheduled for September 10, 22, and 29, and October 15. They would be distributed between the Pittsville/Parsonsburg area, Delmar, the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and First Baptist Church in Salisbury. The only confirmed date/location so far is September 22 at the WYCC.

Kilmer conceded, though, that things may be beyond our control. When it comes to getting the legislation necessary for the transition, “the only person that matters is Jim Mathias.” Custom requires that all Senators representing a county should be on board with legislation affecting it, and Mathias shares representation with Addie Eckardt, who supports the elected board.

Since the two newest school board members were there, it was asked if they could make the point to the incoming superintendent that this was something they may have to work with. The process will begin soon, but one thing I didn’t know is that the new administrator has to win state approval as well. I suspect we may not get the school board’s first choice.

Because we lost an officer when Joe Collins was selected for the Board of Elections, we had to select a new 2nd vice-president and Dave Snyder stepped forward. He was elected by acclamation.

The next announcement was that the Wicomico County Fair was coming up August 14-16. I had a signup sheet out for fine Republicans to work at our table, and I’m pleased with the response. Ann Suthowski suggested we let the elected and appointed officials know we would be there.

Another event on the horizon is the Crab Feast, which is coming together. We should have the liquor license this week, so “our biggest fundraiser” was just in need of volunteers to help with setup, cooking, takedown, and the silent auction. We are set for September 12 otherwise, and the tickets are just $30.

That was pretty much the extent of a tidy meeting which came in under an hour. Next month we hope to reschedule Jake Day (and maybe Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio) – regardless we will reconvene on August 24.

Mission impossible?

Consider this an open letter to the 16 or 17 Republican presidential campaign teams.

From the sound of it, we are planning to do our Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner in early November. Originally we wanted to get Larry Hogan as our speaker, but so did everyone else and then he announced he’s fighting stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Given the length of the course of treatment, it’s not likely he’ll be doing a great deal of traveling and public appearances during that time – however, should he decide to drop by the door is certainly open. I’m sure Larry would be gracious, even if it wasn’t his endorsee Chris Christie doing the talking.

Yet it’s always been puzzling to me as to why we in Wicomico County can’t get a better “name” speaker. After all, we are the “crossroads of Delmarva” and that has to count for something, right? Not only that, we have a wonderful venue at Salisbury University that we have used for several years – the food is always good.

So I look at this as a great chance for a presidential candidate who wants to think a little bit outside the box and perhaps swipe a few votes with some retail politics. We’re not all that far from New Hampshire and there are several attributes the schedulers may want to consider:

  • Between Maryland and Delaware there will be 54 Republican convention delegates (38 for Maryland, 16 for Delaware.) Even though Iowa and New Hampshire have a more advantageous position on the primary calendar, they only account for 53 delegates between them.
  • There is a potential audience of 102,793 Republicans within the four counties that make up the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and Sussex County, Delaware. That doesn’t count unaffiliated and crossover Democrats who are desperate to not vote for Hillary.
  • All of them are within the Salisbury media market, and it’s not like the news in Salisbury has a lot of content. You may get wall-to-wall coverage if you show up.
  • We have a pretty good fundraising scheme in place which we used for the Patriot’s Dinner with Lt. Col. Allen West last year.
  • Lastly, not every Lincoln Day Dinner actually has a Lincoln. We do. He might even bring some Union troops along.

Generally our Lincoln Day dinner gets between 100 and 150 people – but I see no reason we couldn’t get 300 to 400 with the right candidate. The optics of a sold-out venue would be a shot in the arm for any campaign, so why not take advantage? You can’t let Donald Trump be the last one to show up at a Maryland event.

Back in 2012, the all-but-lost cause of Newt Gingrich came to Salisbury and drew plenty of regional attention, so here’s my earnest plea on behalf of the good Republicans of Delmarva: retail politics may well go a long way here. Do it while you’re still in the race this November and it may pay off in a year’s time.

Besides, isn’t the old adage “ask and you shall receive?” I’m asking nicely.

Larry Hogan’s maintaining an O’Malley legacy

By Cathy Keim

So who needs Martin O’Malley when Larry Hogan will carry on his work?

I was astonished to read that Governor Hogan is expanding the You’ve Earned It! mortgage assistance program from the original $20 million to an additional $70 million. (Hat tip: Gwen Cordner.)

The program is aimed at assisting potential buyers, particularly members of the so-called “Boomerang Generation,” who are employed and have good credit but are saddled with student debt that is proving a barrier to homeownership. These young people are more likely to live with their parents than were young people one or two decades ago and they are saddled with significantly more student loan debt than their predecessors.

The student loan debt in America is over $1 trillion dollars and growing. The federal government supports 95% of student loans and is making billions of dollars of profit on them. There is no incentive by the Feds or by the colleges and universities to cut the spigot. As tuition rises each year, the students borrow more money only to find out when they graduate that there are no jobs for them to earn enough to support themselves and pay their loans.

Another neat trick is that you cannot get out of paying back your student loans by going bankrupt. There is no escape. Is it any wonder that young people who are graduating with a national average of $29,000 in college loan debt must live in their parents’ basement because they cannot pay their loans and live independently on a barrista’s salary?

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Dr. Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity links the tuition increases to “the 50-fold growth in federal student financial assistance programs since 1970. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett was mostly right when he said federal aid programs enabled colleges to raise tuition fees, helping to fuel the academic arms race.”

Why do so many people need a college degree? Many of the jobs that require a college degree did not require it in the past. We can thank the government for that also. Businesses used to administer tests to see if the potential employee had the skills necessary to fill the position. The government struck down testing as unfair, so many businesses switched to a college degree requirement as a way to screen applicants without running foul of the government.

Over time the value of the bachelor’s degree was diminished and now many jobs require a master’s degree forcing more students into school longer and causing more debt.

This situation is a serious problem for all of us. We need our younger generation to be buying consumer goods, especially cars and homes, to keep the economy humming. They must do their part, even if the government has to step in to “help” them again. It helped them acquire student loan debt and now it can help them acquire mortgage debt.

But the story doesn’t end there. These mortgages must be for homes in a certified sustainable community. And who determines what is “sustainable?” This group:

Sustainable Maryland is a certification program for municipalities in Maryland that want to go green, save money and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term. Sustainable Maryland Certified is a collaborative effort between the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the University of Maryland and the Maryland Municipal League to replicate the success of theSustainable Jersey initiative throughout the Mid-Atlantic States, beginning in Maryland.

To become a certified sustainable city, the city must have a green team comprised of municipal workers, city leaders/businessmen and diverse citizens. This is a standard tactic to get leaders onboard a project and others will follow because if “Joe” is on it, then it must be ok. The city can apply for tax credits and grants to bring improvements such as bike paths or renovating old buildings. The municipal workers on the green team get paid for their efforts (it is part of their job), but the citizens are volunteers because their hearts are in the right place.

(Note: Salisbury is registered, but not certified yet. Snow Hill and Berlin are certified sustainable cities.)

(Editor’s note: one of the Sustainable Maryland “primary partners” is the Town Creek Foundation, which never met a Radical Green program it didn’t like.)

Once these debt-laden former students are ensconced in their subsidized mortgage home, they will be ready to marry and produce the next generation of liberty-loving citizens. The next generation will be taught in the fully implemented Common Core method, which will ensure that they never hear of their heritage as Americans. They will be assessed and evaluated from pre-school to the workforce. The thousands of data points gathered will ensure that they are nudged gently into the correct attitudes so that they will fit into the new world order. Teamwork and cooperation will be their strong suit while individuality and thinking deeply on any subject will be discouraged.

The water in the pot is almost to a boil. If we don’t jump this presidential election, I fear it will be too late.

39th annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

Bereano’s Corner was in roughly the same location, but there was a lot of strangeness about this year’s event.

Our tent was in a new location. Some liked the idea of being along the marina, but the traffic walking by wasn’t as brisk as we had when we were in the middle, next to Bereano.

It did have a great space for signage that many took advantage of.

Being on the grass, we also had our share of bloodsucking biting flies. Speaking of bloodsuckers, the Democrats were less than thrilled with their location as well. Normally they have been the corner tent in this line.

But they did have the keg, not that I had anything from it. They also had an interesting table within.

While I am part of working America I’m not a member of this AFL-CIO affiliated organization, so it’s no surprise to find them in the Democrats’ tent. There were a handful of folks walking around with their red shirts on, but Big Labor didn’t have the presence here they did during the O’Malley years. Maybe they are laying low until next year.

There were quite a few businesses there, although it was a different mix than I recall from previous years.

Some enterprising youth took the occasion to be their own business people. Those in orange were “runners” and on their shirts it read they were working for tips.

Hopefully they made more money than those who annually charge $10 or $20 for parking in their yard. I don’t think business was as brisk for them because attendance seemed off from last year.

Government and public entities were well-represented, too. Interesting how the environmentalists are cozy with the economic development group.

I think the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore was next to the Democrats, but Salisbury University was really trying to make a splash.

While there were a lot of differences in this year’s rendition of Tawes, some things never change. Lobbyist Bruce Bereano always has the biggest tent.

Another constant is a ton of good food, particularly of the fried variety. This was my spread.

Not a salad in sight – in my dietary defense, I skipped breakfast. But it was all very good, aside from a little lack of fileting on one of the sandwiches. It was a trifle bony.

(No, I don’t like crabs – so don’t ask.)

This event also draws media like the food on the ground draws seagulls. Here’s Delegate Carl Anderton being interviewed by local television.

Both local Salisbury stations were there doing live shots and interviews.

And while the faces may change, the political aspect never does. You have the newcomers trying to make a good first impression, like U.S. Senate hopeful Chrys Kefalas and his millennial posse.

By the way, I had to look up that Kefalas is 35 because he appears a decade younger.

You have old hands looking for new positions, like Congressional candidate Mike Smigiel (in the center). He had a batch of “I Like Mike” buttons.

County Councilman Larry Dodd is on the right, and I apologize for not recalling the gentleman on the left’s name.

And then there were established officeholders like my 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project Legislator of the Year, State Senator Justin Ready. He’s talking to Jackie Wellfonder, who probably has some sort of social media record for photos with the most officeholders and general friends of hers.

I think I’ve already seen her picture with our Lieutenant Governor, Boyd Rutherford. He’s the distinguished-looking guy in the center.

One final difference was the weather. While it was relatively comfortable, with a gentle breeze, the clouds rolled in toward the end.

I left about 20 minutes before the scheduled 4:00 close, and by the time I got to my car about 1/2 mile away it was raining lightly. Before I got out of Crisfield it let loose and poured, so those who stayed to the bitter end either got under a tent or looked like drowned rats (or both.)

It was a fitting end to an event which was good, but perhaps a little off kilter. In fact, I was discussing the future of this gathering with someone who compared it to the Salisbury Festival – a venerable event that didn’t change and eventually withered away. Since the cost went up this year (to $45 a ticket) we’ll see how it affects the plans for next year.

As for me, I’d like the center location back.

Utopian school bill passes House and heads to Senate

By Cathy Keim

On July 8, 2015, the House passed HR 5, the Student Success Act, which is the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This behemoth of a bill weighing in at 800 pages will guarantee that every child that graduates from high school is ready to attend college or start in the workforce without remediation. Yes, you read that correctly.

The hubris of our Washington elite putting into law that every child that graduates from high school will need no remediation is amazing. Just that one statement alone assures me that the 800 pages are filled with bureaucratic overreach.

What kind of measures must be in place to assure that grandiose statement? This is the same government that cannot get patients seen at the VA hospitals in a timely fashion, yet they are proclaiming that every child that graduates from high school in these United States will be stamped proficient to advance to the next step of their lives by the Department of Education.

I can think of only one way that they might even pretend that this could be true and that would be by dumbing down the system so that more children could meet the criteria, but even that is not going to convince me that the government can achieve their goal.

Just try to think of anything in real life that can be achieved 100% of the time. You can’t come up with much, can you? (Remember that NCLB declared that there would be 100% proficiency in reading and math in the entire US school system by 2014.) You can check out American Principles in Action’s 24 points for plenty of details on why this is a terrible bill.

HR 5 was brought up in February 2015, but was pulled because the Republican leadership could not get the votes to pass it. They have used the time tested ruse of bringing it back in the summer when parents are not paying attention to school issues.

It narrowly passed, 218 to 213, with every Democrat voting no, and 27 courageous Republicans joining them. This is similar to the TPA battle where a few Republicans joined the Democrats in opposing another awful bill.

Of course, their reasons for opposing were completely different, just like the TPA fight. Once again it gives me pause when I find myself on the same side as the Democrats.

One of the reasons given for conservatives voting for HR 5 was that the Senate version, SB 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, (ECAA) is even worse. The reasoning goes that by voting for HR 5 it preempts the Senate version, so that even if the Senate passes their bill, it will be forced into conference rather than the Senate bill coming directly to the House.

From past experience we all know that what comes out of the conference back room will very likely be worse than what went in.

Andy Harris voted yes on HR 5. I called his office to inquire what his reasons were for voting yes, but I have not received an answer yet.

I called Senators Cardin and Mikulski’s offices to inquire if they had any statements out about this bill. Senator Cardin’s office said that he supports the bill in general, but is concerned about the Title I funding following the child since it might allow money to go to schools that don’t need it rather than to the schools originally intended.

(Editor’s note: one selling point given for the SSA is that it would allow certain parents who have children in failing schools a choice in where to send their children for their education, although the choices are limited to just public and public charter schools. This is the meaning between the lines of Cardin’s remarks.)

Senator Mikulski’s office said she did not have a statement out yet, but that she is against No Child Left Behind. Since ECAA is a reauthorization for NCLB, which actually expands it, we will just have to see how she decides to vote.

Generally speaking the Democrats seem to be against this bill due to the Title I funding shift potential and also because they fear it could lead to universal vouchers.

The Republican leadership crows that HR 5 is returning education issues back to state control. If so, why do they need 800 pages to do this?

The Senate should take this bill up in the coming weeks, so please call your senators and explain to them why they should vote no. Their offices need to be bombarded with parents telling them to not expand on No Child Left Behind.

However, the best reason is the one given by former Delegate Michael Smigiel, who is running for Congress in the First Congressional District. When I asked him whether he would support HR 5 he replied, “I would do away with the Federal involvement in education as it is not authorized by the Constitution. The individual States should determine educational standards for their own States. I led the fight against Common Core and argue and voted against No Child Left Behind.”

While that is the correct reason for opposing ECAA, our current leadership is not impressed by the concept. Until we can elect sufficient Constitutionalists to represent us, we will have to rely on a massive phone campaign to get the attention of the DC crowd.

Regulatory reform comes to Maryland

I harbor no illusions that my post from the other day regarding the declining optimism of Maryland business owners goaded him into action, but today Governor Hogan announced the formation of a Regulatory Review Commission (RRC), charged over the next three years with “(f)ixing our burdensome antiquated, broken and out-of-control regulatory environment in Maryland.” The ten members of the RRC are volunteering their time to “focus like a laser beam on these issues”, said Hogan.

It’s interesting that the Democrats are claiming the Augustine Commission (which was created in the waning months of Martin O’Malley’s second term) was intended to address these issues and saying Hogan shouldn’t need three years to address the problem. How soon they forget that Larry’s Change Maryland organization was convening business summits over the last three years to gain the business perspective, not to mention the fact it was their administration which put out a number of these job-strangling regulations in the first place.

To me it’s just sour grapes. Ask yourself: had Anthony Brown won, would curtailing regulations be a priority? Thought not. The Augustine Commission report would have been filed and ignored.

But I hope the RRC has the latitude to go beyond just regulations and into other areas like taxation and, more importantly, looking into where other states succeed. Take a state like Texas, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created (as a net gain over jobs lost, not as a one-for-one swap) over the last decade. What attracts these entrepreneurs and leaders, and what assets can Maryland use to emulate their gains? Granted, a good portion of the Lone Star State’s gain came from abundant energy resources that Maryland can’t match, but there are other areas we may be able to do as well or better if we make that a goal. Unfortunately, over the last eight years our state took its cues from states like California and New York, places where capital and population have been fleeing.

Another question is just how cooperative these Democrats, who are already trying to take credit for the little bit done in 2015, will be to the RRC’s agenda as they submit their findings.

Take the “rain tax” as an example – a Democrat introduced the vastly watered-down bill that eventually passed, so they will surely henceforth try and take credit for ending the “rain tax.” But the mandate for affected counties to have a watershed protection and restoration fund did not go away (page 4 here) – it’s just up to the county to fill it, and most will likely retain some version of the “rain tax.” The actual repeal of the “rain tax” on this Hogan-sponsored bill was killed in committee by the Democrats therein on a straight party-line vote. (I used that vote as one of the committee votes on the monoblogue Accountability Project.) So it’s a fairly safe bet the Democrats are only paying lip service to the issue of regulations now because to them more is better – that’s how they’ve run Annapolis for most of the decade I’ve lived here and probably my whole life before that.

So the RRC can’t just exist in a vacuum. Now that Larry Hogan has experienced the way Democrats in the General Assembly basically gave the finger to his mandate, he will need in the coming months and years to take a page from the Reagan handbook and go straight to the people. Democrats may claim the last election was about “divided government” but the motivation was clearly behind a more conservative direction for the state.

While I would have preferred a more rapid formation for the RRC, this is a definite feather in the cap for Larry Hogan. Let’s hope that it’s not just for show but instead gives us an agenda even the Democrats can’t stop.

Falling on hard times

For the last month (and some time beyond) there has been a war of words between supporters of the former Chair of the Maryland Young Republicans, Brian Griffiths, and backers of the current Chair Kory Boone. It’s a situation which brings back thoughts of the Ws being missing on the computer keyboards when George W. Bush came into office in 2001 – in fact, Boone’s reaction is reminiscent of Bush’s as he is being rather silent about the whole thing.

On the other hand Griffiths continues to speak out, admonishing the new leadership by saying on his Red Maryland website that “(i)t’s a shame that they are wasting their time in office with minutiae and nonsense instead of being the ‘competent’ slate that they promised everybody they would be. Maybe it’s time to drop the vendettas, stop focusing on national YR politics, and see the big picture.”

Let me preface this by saying I was once in a smaller pair of shoes in my life – for a year (2000) I was president of the Toledo Metro Area Young Republican Club. And I’ll cheerfully admit that it was a learning experience for me and they probably would have done better if someone else had stepped up to the plate. But I was asked, so I accepted – maybe if my life at the time had been more settled it would have gone better.

One thing I learned, though – and the same thing is holding true in Maryland – is that Young Republican clubs tend to be cyclical. A crop of interested people start the club and they become the core group which runs it for a half-dozen years. But then that group ages out, moves away, or actually succeeds in winning elective office and suddenly no one is there to take over. About 6 to 8 years ago we had a Lower Shore YR chapter but it eventually became inactive. As it stood, dwindling interest meant the time was right for new leadership, and Maryland will get it.

But the change isn’t coming easily, and Griffiths doesn’t seem to be embracing it. Despite his promise that “I intend to make this (recent MDYR convention) my last Maryland YR event,” he’s since spoken out about proposed bylaw changes and fretted about losing the opportunity for Annapolis to host the 2017 national YR convention, an event which Griffiths admitted he was skeptical about in the beginning.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen about the financial state Boone inherited when he took over the leadership of the MDYRs. In a recent audit made available online, MDYR treasurer Eric Beasley essentially threw up his hands:

Given the lack of information (about the recent financial past), the MDYR Treasurer cannot establish a historical trend and create realistic goals for the organization to prosper in 2016 and 2018.

These issues highlighted above can be directly linked to a lack of efficient record keeping and management within the organization. Due to the severity of the issues, The MDYR Treasurer will be requesting all bank statements which are not available online and sending the entirety of financial information to a 3rd party auditor for review. The auditor will not be an active official within the Republican Party or any Republican-affiliated organization, elected or appointed. The individual will also have extensive experience with maintaining financial information.

Even if you chalk this up to sloppy record-keeping, the fact that the group is down to one chartered local group and a dearth of members (a paid membership which allegedly excluded Griffiths) is enough to make one believe that, first of all, the group really can’t be damaged anymore by the actions of its current leadership – if that were indeed the goal, which I doubt – and secondly, at least someone gave enough of a damn to want to steer the group in a new direction. Perhaps their fundraiser was a failure, as Griffiths charges, but they at least tried to have an event and spread the word that the YRs are active in the state.

When he came to our Central Committee meeting last month, Kory noted his goals for his tenure were to “establish local chapters (and) get local people elected.” First of all, the fact that he came to our local meeting to introduce himself was an improvement over the previous chair, who only seemed to show for events where he could somehow promote the Red Maryland brand, and secondly, Boone expressed goals that seem rather attainable with some field work and promotion.

The last crop of Lower Shore Young Republicans had among them a current staffer for Congressman Andy Harris (who also serves as president of the Wicomico County Republican Club), a former WCRC president who is now a County Councilman, and another who attempted to secure a Delegate seat in a difficult district but put up a good race. With Salisbury University being the logical feeder group of College Republicans (their incoming President went to WiHi here), there’s no reason a YR group can’t make it here if the state leadership shows some support – and it will eventually accrue dividends for the local GOP.

Brian Griffiths had his time in the sun, so it’s time for him to let someone else lead.

Oh, and by the way, those who harp on reaching out to the minority community may wish to know Kory is a member of same, from the desolate frontier (at least in GOP terms) of Prince George’s County. It’s not important as to how he does the job, but to those for whom perception is reality that’s a bonus.

So I look forward to seeing what Kory Boone can do.

Is the Hogan business mojo wearing off?

It’s only one survey of 280 small (perhaps micro-scale) businesses in Maryland, but a recent poll conducted by a company which should be familiar to regular readers calls into question the effectiveness of Larry Hogan’s efforts at improvement in Maryland’s business climate in his first few months in office.

In cooperation with the Kauffman Foundation, Thumbtack.com has done annual, quarterly, and now monthly surveys of small business sentiment around the country. (I’ve written about their surveys on business friendliness in the past.) While it comes in a more graphical form than I can readily share here, some items I gleaned from the most recent Maryland and national data follow:

  • In terms of revenue and overall financial outlooks, Maryland businesses are less positive than the rest of the nation in the former and fall right at the national mean for the latter. The good news, though, is that over 70% of these businesses have a positive outlook over the next quarter.
  • Less than half, however, rate their financial situation as “very good” or “somewhat good.” Maryland’s total is 45.9% compared to 48.1% nationwide.
  • Maryland businesses are more pessimistic about profitability than their national peers; still, over 60% think they will do better. On the other hand, their perception on business conditions is actually better than the national average – 53.4% in Maryland think they will be better in three months’ time, while only 51.9% nationally share that outlook.
  • Finally, 24% of Maryland micro-businesses anticipate hiring over the next three months, while just 22.1% do nationwide. But while only 2.1% of businesses nationwide thought they would need to furlough workers, that percentage was 2.5% in Maryland.

As I noted above, this data was compiled at different intervals. Until March, this was done as a quarterly survey; now it is monthly. But one asset of this approach is that I can go back to the beginning of the year, and in their release accompanying the information Thumbtack.com noted:

In June, respondents nationwide indicated reduced optimism about the economy for the third month in a row, though sentiment about current and future conditions continues to be higher than that reported one year ago.

Key findings for Maryland include:

  • Maryland small businesses reported a sharp decline across each of the metrics tracked by Thumbtack, with the strongest declines coming in their expectations about future financial conditions and the economy.
  • Maryland experienced one of the largest overall business sentiment declines in the country in June; the state is now below the regional and national averages for small-business sentiment and ranks 30th overall nationwide.
  • Sentiment is still higher than it was one year ago, reflecting a broad-based increase in perceptions of economic conditions by small businesses across the country.
  • For the second month in a row, small businesses nationally expressed increasing pessimism about future economic conditions, which have been the largest contributors to the decline in overall sentiment.

Thus, it sounds like Maryland is reflective of a national trend.

But it’s also worth noting that the 2015Q1 survey showed broadly higher numbers across the board – revenue outlook has declined 10.9 points, financial outlook 5.2 points, profitability 11 points, and business conditions 8 points.

In addition, those who thought they may be hiring declined from 26% to 24.1%. Only the respondents’ assessment of their financial condition stayed relatively unchanged, declining just 1/10 of a point.

Unfortunately, these were the types of numbers we came to expect in the O’Malley administration. Obviously Hogan apologists would argue that their guy has been in office less than six months and it takes time to turn the ship of state around. And they would be correct, as the Augustine Commission agenda sailed through the General Assembly with its effective date in October.

Yet to me much of that was a simple rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. While we can’t do a whole lot about the national economic climate, one thing Maryland could have done was allow these entrepreneurs to keep a little more of their money by reducing personal income tax rates; meanwhile, they could accommodate the entire elimination of corporate taxes with modest budget cuts of 3% or less. (The corporate tax brings in just over $1 billion of a $40 billion budget.) This would encourage larger businesses to consider Maryland for their growth and create more spinoff work for these micro-businesses.

Think of it this way under my scenario – Justin relocates from New York to work at the new Maryland corporate headquarters of XYZ Company, which was attracted here by the zero corporate tax rate as well as the other benefits Maryland brings. He needs a guy to fix his laptop, someone to watch the kids while Justin and Mrs. Justin are at work, and so on and so forth. Imagine what 250 Justins can do for a community and how many extra jobs they create. (I’m sure someone somewhere has done a study on this but today I’ll work without a net.)

The point is that addressing regulation and red tape is great, but the financial incentive has to be there as well. Among states with flat corporate tax rates, Maryland ranks among the highest. On a personal income level, Maryland’s rates appear to be a little better but that doesn’t add in the local county tax. (Granted, other states may also have the same practice.)

Let’s just say this: with an agenda that includes financial incentives as well as some cooperation from thoughtful Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly, by this time next year we can have a far more optimistic business community and in a few months after that they can better enjoy the results of hard work because the state takes a smaller cut.

Exploring a race again

Every so often the name of Richard Douglas pops up on my site or in my e-mail box. Of late it’s been because of his defense of the Bladensburg Peace Cross, but he was a much more frequent subject in those days when he ran a spirited race for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2012. While Dan Bongino eventually won, I was impressed as well with Douglas and would have happily backed him had he prevailed.

The latest item to come to my attention, though, is a clear indication that Douglas considers the 2012 effort as unfinished business, and he is again using the star power of Ambassador John Bolton to fund a Senate exploratory committee at a reception July 16 in Washington, D.C.

Would-be backers should be cautioned, though, that exploring without committing has occurred before with Douglas. In late 2013 Republicans were delighted to see his interest in running for Attorney General only to back away in January of 2014. It may have been a missed opportunity for the Maryland GOP, but honestly the Senate seat would likely be a better fit for Douglas anyway based on his background.

If you believe that knowledge of foreign policy is the starting point in creating a good Senator, then Douglas would be a good choice and the backing of Bolton emphasizes that point. While both he and previously announced candidate Chrys Kefalas share a legal background, Kefalas has worked mainly on domestic and social issues.

I would have to assume that the question of whether Douglas makes his campaign formal will depend greatly on how much he raises with Bolton. Certainly there are some donors out there who backed him before but Richard basically financed his own effort last time, and that’s not going to cut it for an open seat where the leading Democratic contender had over a million dollars on hand back in March. Douglas has the advantage of experience in running statewide – and that’s a modest plus – but a guy like Chris Van Hollen will simply run a Congressional front porch campaign and just carpetbomb the media markets with 30-second ads running against the Confederate flag and those racist, homophobe hayseed hicks who will scream “Second Amendment!” until it is pulled from their cold, dead hands in front of their tax-shirking church.

In short, the exploration needs to be smiling and dialing. Of course, if all hell breaks out around the world because of events those like Douglas and Bolton have warned us about we have a fighting chance. I figure we will know all we need to know by summer’s end.

Announcing: the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the eighth consecutive year, covering sessions since 2007, I have completed my annual guide to the voting record on key issues from the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.

There will also be the sidebar link I maintain for future reference.

This guide not only features the General Assembly’s voting records on specific votes in graphical form for easy comparison, but also my take on the bills they voted on this year. Suffice to say it was a very unusual year, perhaps as much so as the last initial session from an incoming administration in 2007 – the first year for which I did the mAP.

I began this project in 2008 as a continuation of the former Maryland Accountability Project, which was a similar attempt to catalog legislators’ votes that ended with the 2006 session. (Here is a cached version of its website, which is no longer active.) Over the last eight legislative years I have focused on over 200 votes by the General Assembly. Once committee votes became publicly accessible in 2010 I began adding those as well. This year I looked at 52 separate votes – 22 floor votes and 30 committee votes, or three from each of the ten voting committees in the General Assembly.

So what can you do with the information?

Well, while the mAP is by its nature reactive because it documents events which occurred in the recent past, we can learn from history. While I can count the number of legislators who have attained a perfect 100 percent rating in any given year’s legislative session(s) on one hand, the sad truth is that Maryland has far too many who have a lifetime score of 10 percent or less cluttering up the General Assembly. Our job is to learn who they are and educate the voters of that district as to why their legislators are voting against the interests of their fellows. That’s why the bulk of the mAP is a summary of why I, as someone who favors liberty, would vote in the way I denote in the report.

On the other hand, there is a group I consider the Legislative All-Stars, those who score 90 percent or above or at least lead their legislative body if none reach 90 percent. (Alas, it was not a bumper crop this year.) If the Maryland General Assembly had those legislators as a working majority we could vastly improve our state’s lot in life.

Before I conclude, I want to once again thank someone for her work, a task which perfectly complements the idea of this one but occurs during the legislative session. Elizabeth Myers (who I have interviewed before for my old TQT feature) runs Maryland Legislative Watch, which covers every vote a legislator makes during session and recently updated the site to provide this information for legislators all the way back to 2005 for Delegates and Senators. It may seem like competition but we actually work together in the respect that MLW provides a lot of raw data and I give context on key issues. The Maryland Legislative Watch data is also useful for showing just how many votes are unanimous and how much of the legislature’s time is devoted to local issues; these are the ones which incumbents generally point with pride at bringing home the bacon.

You can judge for yourselves whether legislators vote the correct way on the issues I present. I simply provide this service to Marylanders as a way of being more aware of how the sausage grinding in Annapolis turned out this year.

And while we are still three long years away from the next legislative election, this can be a guide to use to correct the representatives you think are voting in an errant way. Let’s just say some of my local ones need a little chat and leave it at that for now.

So make use of the information. Hopefully creating the 2016 version will have far fewer twists and turns than this one did, since I originally planned to release it four weeks ago – but it’s done and all I ask is a link to my site if you use it somewhere.

And call me crazy, but I am seriously considering doing this same exercise for Delaware since I now work in that state. In one respect it should be easier since they only have a total of 62 legislators, but I have to learn their system so it’s still under consideration as their legislative session comes to an end this week.

Not too late for change

It was 2009, and Americans were still captivated by a shiny and new (or articulate, bright, and clean, if you prefer) President. Yet deep in the nether lands of liberalism there were people already thinking about how to maximize the political gains they could make. In November of that year I wrote about a scheme dubbed the “10-0 project” where Maryland Democrats would gerrymander their way to having all eight Congressional seats by pairing up the few Republican strongholds in the state with large Democratic enclaves, such as wrapping the First District into Baltimore City. The person who developed that plan bragged how it split the McCain voters out so that no district had more than 40 percent McCain support.

While the redistricting plan developed after the 2010 census wasn’t quite that extreme, there were still some of the shenanigans of rerouting the Sixth District toward Washington, D.C. to pave the way for that district to turn Democrat (canceling out the GOP strongholds west of Frederick) and dissecting other heavily GOP areas in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties into multiple districts. They also made the First District a nearly impenetrable Republican fortress, an R+13 district in a state which is nominally D+26.

But while we are past the halfway mark to the 2020 census, there are still those out there who believe the state’s Congressional lines were drawn for partisan advantage rather than true representation. Last week a number of plaintiffs – one from each Congressional district – utilizing the assistance of Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit alleging the current setup “harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State’s congressional delegation that only the voters should make.”

As relief, the suit seeks to have the current districts tossed out and a new district plan drawn which better conforms to the Polsby-Popper compactness test. As it stands currently, Maryland has the worst score of any state, but the plaintiffs allege (through a map they created) that significant improvements can be made. (Unfortunately their map is somewhat confusing because the district numbers assigned on it are quite different than the ones in use now. As an aside, if this map were adopted we would likely be placed in the equivalent of the Fifth Congressional District while both Andy Harris and GOP challenger Michael Smigiel would land in what’s basically our Second Congressional District shifted more to the north and east.) Regardless, the plan appears to keep more counties and areas together rather than the Rorschach test we have now.

While Judicial Watch has stepped in, though, it’s obvious that the battle will be an uphill one. As the suit notes, this is not the first time there has been an objection to the Congressional redistricting plan, and the current scheme was maintained through a misleading referendum in 2012. Thus, the chances for success aren’t very good.

But this should come with a parallel effort to change the system once and for all by putting it into the hands of an independent commission comprised of citizens from each district or even each county. As an example of this, Wicomico County had a commission to redraw County Council districts and its end product had few complaints regarding compactness or gerrymandering. (The most unusually-shaped district here is the one mandated to be majority-minority.) Let them come up with the maps away from the General Assembly and have our legislature give them a simple up-or-down vote. The same goes for state legislative districts, which also should become exclusively single-member districts – no more jungle elections where the top two or three get in.

In our case, unless it sees significant growth, the Eastern Shore will likely always have to share its Congressman with someone else. But that someone else should be close and accessible neighbors – surely the folks in Carroll County are nice people but they really don’t belong in our Congressional district. If we have to take some of Harford and Baltimore counties to make up the population that’s understandable.

Maybe in the next Census I’ll draw a real map that shows the way it should be done. But if Judicial Watch somehow gets its way I can always move that timetable a little closer.

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  • The Road to 2016

    Maryland Primary Election will be April 26, 2016.

    President:

    Republican:

    Jeb Bush
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    Carly Fiorina
    Jim Gilmore
    Lindsey Graham
    Mike Huckabee
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    Jim Webb

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    U.S. Senate - Maryland

    Republican

    Chrys Kefalas

    Democrat

    Donna Edwards
    Chris Van Hollen

    U.S. Congress - Maryland District 1

    Republican

    Andy Harris (incumbent)
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    Colin Bonini
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    Democrat

    John Carney (incumbent)

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