A few thoughts on the prospects to “repeal and replace” Andy Harris (and Obamacare, too)

The other day I noticed on social media that our Congressman, Andy Harris, had put up a post explaining his vote for Trumpcare 2.0, the “repeal and replace” bill for Obamacare. (Most people refer to it as the American Health Care Act, or AHCA.) At the time I saw this there were 1,043 comments on his post and probably 80 to 90 percent of them were negative. I can guarantee you that 80 to 90 percent of his district doesn’t oppose his vote, but thanks to this so-called “Indivisible” movement we are seeing some of the most seriously squeaky wheels get the grease that comes from taking 30 seconds to write the linguistic equivalent of “you suck!” on his wall. So I took about five to ten minutes to write my response, because there was a little research involved.

1,043 comments, mostly from people who probably didn’t vote for Andy in the first place, vowing he’s going to lose in 2018. Y’all need about 139,000 more folks.

In terms of repealing the disaster known as Obamacare, this was the correct vote, We have a long way to go in the process and it’s way too early to say what will happen in the Senate (except that regardless of what it is, Maryland’s Senators will vote no.)

Oh, and by the way, I just checked out that Allison whats-her-name and if she’s praising NARAL she’s not getting too far in this district. Most of us stand for life.

Also, since you are on the subject of town halls up and down the thread, could you get those aforementioned Senators down here to have one? Interesting how I never hear anyone clamoring for that.

I have to admit I was only being semi-flippant when it came to “Allison whats-her-name” because I had closed my window and honestly didn’t feel like looking it up. Her name is actually Allison Galbraith and she makes her living from, of all things, steering companies to government contracts. I kid you not.

But to begin this piece I want to address the two people who replied directly to my comment, whose names are Gail Jankowski and Bill Schwartz. I’m going to quote their opening sentences here, ladies first.

Gail: We will get MORE than enough votes to replace him because more and more constituents are learning just how negatively this AHCA will affect them!

Bill: Maryland is a Blue State and we need to ensure that the first district is fairly represented.

I’m sure Gail and Bill are nice enough people, and in her case she gets bonus points for (at least presumably, judging by the surname) marrying into a Polish family. (By the same token, I won’t take any points from Bill just because his ancestors insisted on unnecessary consonants.) But they seem to have a slim knowledge of political reality.

What the vast majority of people “know” about the AHCA comes from the talking points being fed to them from the media, which isn’t exactly a set of unbiased observers. But the 2018 campaign won’t begin in earnest for another 15 to 16 months, and what I’ve found out over the years, Gail, is that the issue you may think will drive the electorate this far out isn’t always the one that is front and center by the time people really begin to pay attention, let alone when votes are cast. The big difference between the era of the TEA Party eight years ago in the Obama administration and the Indivisible movement now is, while both are having a discussion about health care as a topic in the off-year before the election – although Obamacare was more dominant in the fall and winter of 2009 – the economy was much, much worse back then. If the economy is in good shape come the fall of 2018, the AHCA will be a minor issue by comparison. People generally vote with their pocketbooks, and the reason the 2010 election was such a wave was the pent-up outrage at an administration that addressed health care before job creation and the economy. (The sticker shock effects of Obamacare were the reason for the 2014 wave election, since it took effect in earnest that year.)

So if the economy remains in decent shape, the AHCA will be so minor of a concern by then that Andy Harris will once again get his 60-65% of the vote and cruise to victory. You see, Bill, Maryland is indeed (and unfortunately) such a blue state that our previous governor and the Democrats got greedy – or at least as greedy as their incumbent Democrat Congressmen would allow them to be. I’ve made this point before, but if the composition of the First Congressional District were the same in 2008 as it became in 2012, Andy Harris would be on his fifth term. By erasing the northern half of Carroll County from the previous configuration of the Sixth Congressional District and adding it to the First, it assured whoever the GOP puts up in the First District will win because the plurality of the state’s Republican voters now reside in the First, and it’s by a factor of almost 50% more than any other district. So based on the electorate of the district the First is fairly represented. (The rest of the state? Well, they are just poorly represented, but I’m working on that.)

So now let me turn to another aspect of social media. My friend Sarah Meyers, who describes herself as a proud moderate Democrat (and is a member of our county’s central committee) was distraught about the passage of the American Health Care Act, claiming, “The Republican House just voted to allow insurance companies to deny me healthcare.”

Now I’ll set aside the false conflation of actually having health care provided and paying for it, since there are other methods of doing so out there, but my response essentially noted that she is in the minority of people who are net beneficiaries of the ACA in terms of paying less. Those who get their insurance through their employer are paying far more, a fact that she chalked up to the “greed” of the insurance companies. But the “greed” is tempered by the fact that group insurers have to pay out 80 to 85 percent of their premium income on medical care, leaving the remainder for “administration, marketing, and profit.” Since neither administration nor marketing are free, one can presume these insurers are not rolling in profit. This “medical loss ratio” is part of the ACA and may be one reason why insurers are dropping out of the business.

One of the next arguments I got was that the ACA “saves lives,” presumably because those who could not afford insurance or were no longer being tossed off for the various reasons of pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits, and so forth were being covered. But the evidence of this is anecdotal at best, and rather dubious in the amount of inference that has to be made. It truly depends on the source, but the best scholarly guess is a net wash. Even some of the partisans concede it’s a bogus argument. And while there’s always the emotional appeal of someone who can come out and claim they are a survivor because they had health insurance through Obamacare, it’s pretty difficult to speak with someone who didn’t because Obamacare made their deductible too expensive.

The most radical solution offered up was the old single-payer bromide, from local leftist Chuck Cook:

Single payer is the only solution, and it has been proven to work in every single industrialized first world nation on the planet… except ours. We are the outlier due to conservative ideology that honors the wealth of billionaires over the health of children.

Uh…..no. Honestly, we’re very close to having a single-payer system in place here given the lack of competition in many places and tight regulations on the health insurance industry in terms of how much they can make, what they must cover, and how they conduct their business. Basically it would be a Medicare/Medicaid for All system and you can just ask a doctor (whose Medicare reimbursement increased a whopping 0.24% this year, with Medicaid reimbursement being a fraction thereof) how they like it or check out study outcomes, as the left-leaning Kaiser Family Foundation did recently, noting…

Multiple studies, though not all, have documented improvements in beneficiaries’ self-reported health, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved quality of life following Medicaid expansions. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, which used a research design that is considered the gold standard, compared the experience of adults who gained and adults who did not gain Medicaid coverage through a lottery that allocated a limited number of new Medicaid “slots” for low-income uninsured adults in the state. The study found that Medicaid improved self-reported mental health and reduced clinically observed rates of depression by 30% relative to the uninsured group. The findings related to impacts on physical health were mixed. Medicaid increased the detection of diabetes and use of diabetes medication, but did not have a statistically significant effect on control of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. The researchers note that the study did not have sufficient statistical power to detect changes in these measures, and also that factors including missed diagnosis and inappropriate or ineffective treatments, among others, could mitigate the impact of coverage on clinical outcomes.

…to see if this meets your definition of “proven to work.” For me it’s lacking.

I think both sides agree, though, that the problems with the system are defined simply: access and cost. The government’s solution was twofold: one side was to force everyone into the insurance market whether they wanted to be or not (hence, the “shared responsibility payment”) so that the healthy people would balance out the sick and the other side was to try and make preventative care cost nothing out of pocket, but the problem with that is doctors aren’t going to work for free because they have families to feed, too. And thanks to all of the billing and coding concerns we have with modern government medicine, a good percentage of the staff in any doctor’s office is the overhead required to deal with billing and not there for patient care. (It’s akin to the number of administrators in a school system who don’t educate children.) In other words, “free” is the extra $2,000 on your deductible or $40 a week out of your paycheck.

One analogy often used as a comparison to health insurance is auto insurance, which is also mandatory in most states (New Hampshire is the lone holdout.) However, when you buy auto insurance it does not cover oil changes, new tires, and other mechanical issues. Similarly, the original intent of health insurance was to cover the medical bills in case you were hospitalized, as opposed to supplemental insurance like AFLAC which covers other expenses.

The idea of insurance is that of calculating and sharing risk among as many participants as possible. Let’s say you have a group of 1,000 40-year-olds whose lives are all insured for $100,000 and you know four of them will die on the average in a given year. You then know your premium pool will have to be set to $400,000 plus an amount set aside for the off-chance of a year where more than 4 die, plus administrative expenses, plus a little for shareholders. If you assume those other expenses total $300,000, then each participant would pay $700 a year to be insured for $100,000 if they die, which they may find is a prudent and affordable hedge against that risk as they have families to support. It would be impossible for a group of 2 or 10 to be able to do this, but over a thousand people it’s very attainable.

However, what we now have with health insurance isn’t truly insurance because there is so much mandated coverage and the risks are highly unpredictable. Nor are they being shared among all the participants equally because some are paying themselves through their employer, some are being subsidized for their coverage by the government, and others are completely on the government dime. Because a large amount of the money comes from funds never seen by the buyers (deducted from their checks, or just plain subsidized) they don’t much care what treatment costs, just their premiums and deductibles.

So let me return to the car insurance analogy. You have to have car insurance, and it has to be minimum coverage, but after that the market is relatively free and there are a whole lot of competitors. If you get tired of Allstate because they raised your rates 50% for no good reason, there’s always Progressive. When Flo gets too annoying, Jake from State Farm will be happy to help. If you don’t like them, we have local independent agents. They compete on price, coverage, and service – so why can’t that be the case with true health insurance, too? And what I mean by “true health insurance” is that you select what you want to cover from the options provided by the companies, or you can skip it altogether. (Or, the option for employers to provide group coverage can be left in place as well, as I’ll get to in a moment.)

I can already hear the Sarah Meyerses of the world screaming “but pre-existing conditions!” Yes, there can be high-risk pools created for those at the state level, or even groups of states can create a compact to make the pool even larger and share the cost among more people. If states want to create incentives for employers to provide insurance, that’s fair game as well. I happen to think the Tenth Amendment is the part of the Constitution that’s supposed to be most flexible, allowing states to do a large number of things that should be off-limits to the federal government. I may or may not agree with them, but that is their right to do so. There’s very little need for federal involvement in health care at all – certainly nowhere near the amount we have now.

I’m sorry to break this to Chuck Cook, but the United States isn’t like the rest of the “industrialized first world.” We are a constitutional republic where the federal government is intended to be limited, not maximized and in control of everything. (It’s also worth mentioning that the wealth of our billionaires – and the talent of a lot of other, less well-to-do American people – is quite often freely given to assist in promoting the health of people both here in America and around the world. Here’s a great local example.) So the idea that we don’t have single-payer health care is one of those rare things that’s still a feature of ours and not a bug. That’s not to say it can’t stand some serious improvement, though.

Let’s just see if we can’t make it more in conformance with what our great American experiment in liberty is supposed to be all about, mmmmkay?

There’s something about Andy…

April 2, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on There’s something about Andy… 

It has now made national news that the townhall meeting held by Andy Harris up at Chesapeake College turned into a loud protest brought on by the local, so-called “Indivisible” groups. (Even more amusing is their reaction when Harris called out one woman who continued to be disruptive. It’s from a page called “Shareblue” which is trying to be the Breitbart of the regressive Left.) Now I have attended Harris townhalls in the past (here are three examples; unfortunately two of them no longer have the photos) and they have often began with PowerPoint presentations – this is nothing new. But it seemed like the fringe Left wanted blood, so they reacted accordingly.

In some other forum I made the point that we never get to hear from the other side. Maybe I just don’t find out about it because I’m not on the radical left e-mail list, but it seems to me that our Senators rarely hold townhall meetings and when they do they are in politically safe (for them) areas like Silver Spring.

Yet the argument from the Left is that they are simply doing what members of the TEA Party did during the initial Obamacare debate in 2009. (The “Indivisible” crowd claims to be using the same tactics the TEA Party did.) I will grant the TEA Party stepped out of bounds on a few occasions – one case in point was this protest* in front of then-Congressman Frank Kratovil’s Salisbury office in July of 2009 that I covered (which remains one of the most commented-upon posts I’ve ever done here) – but when it came to a townhall setting, yes, we showed our passion. In comparison to the new alt-Left, though, we were well-behaved.

Then again, local conservatives have had to put up with disruptions from the Left for awhile so perhaps this isn’t a new phenomenon.

As evidence of the difference, I attended a meeting set up by Senator Cardin in August of 2009. It wasn’t initially intended as a true townhall meeting because its target audience was seniors, but a few of those in the local TEA Party (including me) managed to secure tickets – the 100 or so there could have easily been double or triple if the room were set to accommodate them. This explains how the meeting came to be:

Originally the meeting was set up back in March and wasn’t intended to be a town hall; however, once the health care controversy blew up this became a hot ticket. The intention was to get the perspective of residents who are over 50 and live on the Lower Shore, and the ground rules were pretty strict. There would be no questions during Senator Cardin’s presentation, the ratio would be one question for a GraySHORE member for each one from a non-member, and questions would have a 30-second limit.

In the welcoming remarks, it was noted that the state as a whole is getting younger but the Eastern Shore is aging. While the state is a “net exporter of seniors” at least 7 of the 9 Shore counties are net importers. We are also older and poorer than the state at-large. The idea behind GraySHORE was to brief elected officials with policy recommendations.

Something I found intriguing was the mention of Senator Cardin’s career. He has been our Senator since 2007, but served in Congress since 1987 and was a member of Maryland’s General Assembly for almost two decades before that – he was first elected in 1966. Basically, Senator Cardin fits the definition of a professional politician and I thought that was worth mentioning before I got too far.

When Senator Cardin came up, he noted that he was skipping the slide show to get to the questions. He also commented that this size group was a “manageable” group for dialogue.

As he had on prior occasions, the Senator couched the health care question as one of “what happens if we do nothing?” Health care costs were rising faster than income and would double in the next decade. As well, Cardin gave that mythical 46 million uninsured figure as part of his case and claimed that it cost each of us “an extra $11,000 per year to pay for (those not covered).”

The idea behind reform was to bring down costs through wellness and prevention and through better recordkeeping, while creating individual and employer mandates through the bill. It would provide a “level playing field” for private insurers and remove the caps on coverage, but above all reform “must reduce costs and be paid for.” Cardin compared the idea to Medicare, which has worked “extremely well” over its lifespan and was put into place because insurers wouldn’t cover the elderly or disabled. (Emphasis added for this post.)

It should also be pointed out that most of the TEA Party objections centered on policy and not necessarily personality. Bear in mind that the first TEA Party protests were over the stimulus proposal because the bill that eventually came to be known as Obamacare (which used as its shell a bill passed in the House but completely gutted by the Senate in order to satisfy the Constitutional requirement that bills dealing with revenue had to come from the House – a legislative sleight-of-hand if there ever was one) hadn’t been introduced yet. That came later on in the summer. So at the time this was done there were a number of competing bills for the Senate to consider.

And did the TEA Party raise a ruckus over that summer? Certainly, and they asked a lot of questions. But listen to how this went down. My guess is that the context of this video is one where it was taken after some townhall event or other public appearance by Kratovil. The questions are certainly pointed, but the key is that the audience is listening to Frank’s side of the story. They may not believe it, but they are being respectful. Now imagine if the lot at Chesapeake College were to be in that same situation with Harris – I doubt Andy would get a word in edgewise.

In truth, I think the “Indivisible” group would have began no matter which Republican secured the nomination and won the election – out of the field of contenders for the 2016 GOP nomination Donald Trump was probably the second-most philosophically close to the left (with onetime New York governor George Pataki, a pro-choice Republican, the only one being closer.) Remember, Trump is the one that added the “replace” to repeal of Obamacare.

I will grant that several of Trump’s Cabinet choices are relatively conservative, but for the most part they are also outsiders and I think he was looking more for that aspect of “draining the swamp” by intentionally selecting people outside the Beltway axis than selecting those who are for rightsizing government. But the leftists would likely be out in some force for John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, et. al. – just not to this extent. About the only two 2016 aspirants who would have attracted as much ire as Trump would have been Ted Cruz (because he would have governed from a truly conservative philosophy) and Scott Walker (based on what happened in Wisconsin.) Maybe Bobby Jindal would have been a third.

But here’s a message for those who believe Andy Harris can be toppled in 2018: Go ahead and nominate the most radical leftist you want to Congress, and you will watch Harris spank him or her by 20 to 25 points. Thanks to your favorite former governor, this district basically has the bulk of Republicans in Maryland and considering Andy had almost 80% of the primary vote (over a candidate with legislative experience, a previously unsuccessful candidate, and one other “regular” person) I don’t think you will get too far.

And I know you will point to Frank Kratovil’s 2008 victory over Harris as proof a Democrat can win here but bear in mind that the redrawn district took away the portion of Anne Arundel County Harris won by about 3,000 votes and added Carroll County, where Republican Roscoe Bartlett won by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, or 25,000 votes. Even though the First District doesn’t take in all of Carroll County, I think that with the post-2010 First District Harris would have won in 2008 with over 50% of the vote.

Your caterwauling doesn’t help your cause. And if you want to use the TEA Party as your measuring stick, it’s worth noting that their success was really fairly limited insofar as national electoral results go. The problem with those on the far Left is that they are trying to sell the same stuff that didn’t work for their other “answers” to the TEA Party like the Coffee Party, Occupy Wall Street, and so forth, and most Americans don’t buy it. They wanted repeal without replacement, immigration laws to be followed and the border secured, regulatory agencies reined in, and – most especially – they didn’t want a third Obama term via Hillary Clinton.

Of all the things that fuel the Indivisible movement, they can’t get over the fact that under the rules in place Hillary lost despite getting more votes. Well, to borrow a phrase from another liberal movement, it’s time for you all to move on.

__________

*As longtime readers know, many of my photo archives were lost with the demise of an Adobe website where I used to link to them rather than place them on my website server – at the time my storage there was limited. In a stroke of remarkable fortune, this Kratovil protest piece was on the front page of my site when the Wayback Machine did its occasional archive so I recovered these photos earlier today – the post is once again complete and coherent.

Backtracking on fracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state of a non-state

February 28, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Delaware politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The state of a non-state 

The result of a special election in Delaware’s 10th Senate district, way up there in New Castle County, was discouraging to First State Republicans who were thisclose to regaining the State Senate for the first time in decades. Instead, the Democrats reached into their vastly deep pockets and bought themselves a seat, spending about $100 a vote to hold on to the State Senate in a district they were already about 6,000 votes in based on registration. (While they didn’t have a majority of the registered voters, they had the most significant plurality. In fact, the results indicated either unaffiliated voters slightly favored the GOP or the Republicans did a little better turning out their voters – just not good enough.)

Perhaps the most interesting takes were from libertarian Delaware-based writer Chris Slavens. Taking to social media, he opined the time was now to work on an old idea for which the time may have come: a state of Delmarva that takes in the remainder of the peninsula. My thought on this: what would the makeup of this new state really look like – would it be a red state?

Let’s start with the basics: based on the 2015 Census estimates this state would have a total of 1,444,288 people.

  • 945,934 in Delaware (556,779 in New Castle County, 215,622 in Sussex County, 173,533 in Kent County)
  • 453,226 in Maryland (102,382 in Cecil County, 102,370 in Wicomico County, 51,540 in Worcester County, 48,904 in Queen Anne’s County, 37,512 in Talbot County, 32,579 in Caroline County, 32,384 in Dorchester County, 25,768 in Somerset County, 19,787 in Kent County)
  • 45,128 in Virginia (32,973 in Accomack County, 12,155 in Northampton County)

Having that number of residents would allow for two Congressional seats, with the most likely and logical divisions being either New Castle + Kent County (DE) or New Castle + Cecil + Kent (MD) + the northern extent of Kent (DE). It’s most likely they would split evenly, with a Democrat representing the Wilmington area and a Republican winning the rest.

On a legislative level, there’s somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison because of the nature of each state’s districts – Delaware’s 41 representatives and 21 Senators represent smaller districts than the 12 Delegates and 4 Senators who come from Eastern Shore counties in Maryland. (In reality, there’s a small portion of Harford County that gives the Eastern Shore its delegation of 12 and 4, as the 35th District straddles Cecil and Harford counties.) Meanwhile, the Eastern Shore counties in Virginia are represented by one Delegate and one Senator they share with the other side of the bay. It’s only a fraction of a Delegate district.

Regardless, in terms of raw numbers, Delaware’s Senate is split 11-10 in favor of Democrats – however, Maryland balances it out with a 3-1 Republican split among its districts to push the GOP ahead 13-12. But Eastern Shore Virginia voters send a Democratic senator to Richmond so the parties split 13-13 in this case.

As for their lower houses, the Democrats control Delaware by a 25-16 margin but that would be tempered by the 11-1 edge Republicans have on the Maryland Eastern Shore. With a 27-26 advantage, Republicans would control the Delmarva House 28-26 when the one Republican Delegate is added from Virginia.

That closeness would also be reflected in election results. In 2016, the Delmarva race would have been watched to practically the same extent as New Hampshire, which also had four electoral votes and was razor-close. Based on the totals in all 14 Delmarva counties, the result would also have mirrored that of the Granite State:

  • Hillary Clinton – 322,702 votes (47.58%)
  • Donald Trump – 320,387 votes (47.24%)
  • Gary Johnson – 21,690 votes (3.2%)
  • Jill Stein – 8,351 votes (1.23%)
  • all others – 5,094 votes (0.75%)

In most states, the margin would have triggered an automatic recount. But imagine the attention we would have received from the national press on this one! Hillary carried New Castle County, of course, but the other county she carried was on the other end of the “state” and population range – Northampton County, which is the smallest of the 12.

Even the Congressional race would have been close. I am using the three Congressional race results (Delaware – at-large, Maryland – 1st, Virginia – 2nd) as a proxy for a Senatorial race.

  • generic Republican – 316,736 votes (48.8%)
  • generic Democrat – 308,891 votes (47.59%)
  • generic Libertarian – 14,739 votes (2.27% in DE and MD only)
  • generic Green – 8,326 votes (1.28% in DE only)
  • all others – 398 votes (0.06%)

This despite a voter registration advantage for the Democratic Party, which holds 441,022 registered voters (43.24%) compared to 317,263 Republicans (31.1%) and 261,735 unaffiliated and minor party voters (25.66%). Note, though, that the unaffiliated total is bolstered by nearly 34,000 Virginia voters, none of whom declare party affiliation.

So if there were a state of Delmarva, there would be a very good chance it would rank as among the most “purple” states in the nation, with frequent swings in party control. (Because each state elects a governor in a different year, there’s no way to compare these totals.*) Most of the counties would be Republican-controlled, but the largest county would have its say in state politics. Yet it would not dominate nearly as much as it does in the present-day state of Delaware as the additional population leans to the right. Moreover, practically any measure coming out of the legislature would have to be bipartisan just by the nature of the bodies.

But if a state of Delmarva ever came to pass, everyone’s vote would definitely count.

* Based on the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli race in Virginia (2013), the Hogan-Brown race in Maryland (2014), and the Carney-Bonini race in Delaware (2016) it comes out:

  • total Democrats (McAuliffe/Brown/Carney) – 292,196 votes (50.41%)
  • total Republicans (Cuccinelli/Hogan/Bonini) – 273,928 votes (47.26%)
  • total Libertarians – 7,342 votes (1.27%)
  • total Green (DE only) – 5,951 votes (1.03%)
  • total others – 235 votes (0.04%)

Note that Carney provided 248,404 votes of the Democrats’ total since he ran in a presidential year, while Hogan put up only 100,608 GOP votes to the total because he ran in an offyear election. (Virginia’s aggregate was less than 15,000 votes.) That’s why it’s hard to compare, because Hogan actually prevailed by a larger percentage margin than Carney did.

Speaking up about speaking out

There was a little bit of play in the news over the last few days about the refusal of Congressman Andy Harris to hold a live townhall meeting, instead opting to hold “tele-townhall” meetings where constituents in certain parts of the district can be on a conference call with their concerns. Naturally, the handful of liberals and Obamacare lovers (but I repeat myself) are calling Harris a chicken who’s afraid to come before those he represents. (And they know about calling Harris chicken. This is an oldie but goodie.)

So I had a comment on social media about this.

The (Daily Times) letter writer is misrepresenting the idea of why Andy Harris is holding back on in-person townhall meetings. First, it’s been stated in news reports that he wants to have a GOP replacement plan in place before he discusses the subject in an open forum, which makes sense in that respect – anything else is purely speculative. Obviously there is sentiment for keeping the ACA around, but there are also some who want the repeal without the replace.

And it’s also worth pointing out that Harris, far from being “a paid tool of the pharmaceutical industry,” received more in individual donations during the last election cycle than PAC donations. 62.5% of his contributions were individual, according to FEC records. Compare this to a Congressman like Steny Hoyer, who received only 28.2% of contributions from individuals, and ask yourself who’s being bought and paid for by special interests.

Yes, the writer tossed that Big Pharma tidbit in, so I had to set things straight once again.

Speaking of setting things straight, there is a pro-Obamacare group who is putting together a series of what could be called “empty chair” townhall meetings through the First District. Since they already knew Andy’s stance on having townhalls under the logical circumstance of not having a bill to discuss, what better way of sandbagging him than to have meetings and making him out to be afraid to face his constituents?

Yet I am quite confused about the one in Salisbury, which is scheduled for sometime this Friday. (One Facebook page says 3 p.m. but the other info says 6 p.m. Of course, they must know my calendar because I have a church event so I can’t make it.) If it’s at 6 p.m. there’s a pretty good chance the media will cover it.

But since the true intent of these sponsors is not just to keep the Affordable Care Act around, but allow it to morph into their true dream of single-payer, cradle-to-early-grave government health care for the masses (imagine the VA and its issues on steroids) it may be a good idea for some of the folks who provided the opposition at last Saturday’s pro-illegal immigration rally to show up at this event and ask our own questions about the not-so-Affordable Care Act. I’d like to have their excuses for why it’s failed in its intention to insure all Americans, why the exchanges set up in state after state have gone bankrupt, and why the insurance that’s been deemed acceptable has to cover so much when many in the market were pleased with their catastrophic-event plans? I’m sure you can think of others, not to mention that obvious lie about being able to keep your plan and doctor.

Anyway, we know the Left is still completely butthurt over Donald Trump becoming President – so much so that they are taking inspiration from the TEA Party.

I sort of stumbled across this site, which is a clearinghouse of town hall events held by members of Congress. It sounds innocent enough, and yes there is a public service aspect to it. But if you go to their “about” page, you find the real idea is distributing “a practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda.” So I downloaded my own copy of the “Indivisible Guide” for reference, and right up front the writers admit the following:

The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism — and they won.

We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.

To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents. The guide is intended to be equally useful for stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.

Of course, an event like Friday’s isn’t quite the same as a Congressional townhall because the panelists aren’t worried about re-election – and quite frankly, the vast majority of those who will be there wouldn’t vote for Andy anyway. In this case, the idea is to sow just that little bit of doubt in the minds of those who are otherwise strictly given a dose of propaganda. Notice that the event is targeting to a community that is more dependent on Obamacare and government assistance than most.

In this day and age of trying to eradicate the Obama agenda against America, the left is fighting the rear-guard action they didn’t think they would have to. The fun thing about the Indivisible page is their “action page” where “Actions are listed provided their hosts agree to resist Trump’s agenda; focus on local, defensive congressional advocacy; and embrace progressive values.” Front and center on this page are these area events, so the truth is out.

So let me ask a question: where’s their complaints about our esteemed Senators? Where is their local townhall meeting?

Perhaps the “silent majority” that elected Donald Trump better start speaking up.

Thoughts on renewable energy and handouts

February 11, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on Thoughts on renewable energy and handouts 

With the whole Trump transition, controversy over various nominees, and other distracting background noise, there are a lot of subjects which have been placed on the back burner – one of them is renewable energy.

I noted a few days back that two pipelines stalled under the previous administration were kicked back into gear once Trump came into office, but at the very end I alluded to two battles shaping up in the Maryland General Assembly. One was the overturning of Governor Hogan’s proper veto of the “sunshine tax,” which I discussed a lot on the Facebook page of the Maryland Climate Coalition (a motley crew of environmentalist wackos, leftist faith-based groups, and a union or two.) The other is their misguided attempt to ban fracking in the state (SB740/HB1325) which has 23 of the 47 Senators as co-sponsors and over 60 members of the House of Delegates.  (Think of the sponsor lists as a handy guide for voting for their opponents in 2018.)

A couple days later, I received an e-mail from someone at the National Council for Solar Growth (NCSG), which I gather is a non-profit because she wrote “We’re in a dash to get as much exposure as possible in fear that our funding may soon be pulled. :(” According to their website, they are a 501 (c)(3) organization “with a mission to educate homeowners and businesses about the economic and environmental benefits of PV solar,” and some of the benefactors listed are the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, along with the Global Solar Council and PACENow, which is a financing mechanism that adds an assessment to your property tax bill.

One thing that is worth reading on their website is a case study on return on investment, using a home in Massachusetts as an example. This family spent $55,000 on a 10 kW system, which is probably double the amount some homeowners would require. But once you knocked off rebates, tax credits, solar renewable energy credits, and net metering, supposedly the cost came down to just under $30,000. Realize, of course, most of this “savings” is a subsidy by state and federal governments. In Maryland’s case, the “sunshine tax” that Hogan vetoed would increase the number of solar renewable energy credits utility companies have to purchase – basically they created an artificial market where none existed. In the case of this Massachusetts family, their upfront cost was defrayed by $3,725 and it would continue at that pace for another nine years.

All told, the family would put in about $30,000 but taxpayers and ratepayers would kick in $54,750 – $21,225 up front and $33,525 over the next nine years. The case study also said the family was receiving income of about $350 monthly from the utility company for net metering. It seems like a sweet gig, which is probably why I see Solar City trucks all over the place. But would they be as prevalent if the public money spigot were shut off? I think not, and remember our friend was fretting about NCSG losing their funding. The market may not be sustainable at this point, nor will it become so. Over time, the panels will begin to lose efficiency and may not end up saving them anything.

And then I started thinking about some of those who have been financing the Left over the years, particularly a “green energy” guy like Tom Steyer. Instead of working to mature the market and taking the risks inherent in building it while allowing people to choose whether they wish to participate or not, those financing Radical Green have instead been backing the idea of forcing people to adapt via government fiat. Don’t want to buy a solar energy system for your house? Well, we will just make the utility companies pay for it and they’ll just pass the cost onto you. Can’t find enough private financing to build the market? We’ll just lobby for our own carveouts and earmarks in the name of “saving the planet.” Instead of assisting those interested, they impose their preferences on everyone.

I think a great example of this is the electric car. Once upon a time, way back when, there were rudimentary electric cars produced. But people found it was cheaper and easier to use the internal combustion engine, and the American love affair with the automobile began. As opposed to mass transit, for one thing the automobile equates to freedom of movement: you are not at the mercy of waiting for the next train or bus nor are you restricted to going only to places they serve.

So I suppose it’s a concession from the Left that they decided electric cars are worth an “investment.” The problem is that they aren’t necessarily suited for freedom of movement in the respect that they have a limited range – it’s almost like you have a leash on yourself unless you know of places you can charge up, and that’s not even really an option because, as opposed to five or ten minutes at the local Wawa filling up, you would need at least a half-hour to charge enough for 90 miles. But the government is still trying to bring that market up to speed, to turn a phrase.

Consider the Chevy Bolt, which GM bills as an all-electric vehicle with a range per charge of 238 miles. It’s built on the same platform as their sub-compact Spark, but instead of setting you back about $17,000 as a Spark would a Bolt retails for $37,495. (Some of that is returned in a federal tax credit of $7,500 – again, no one is giving tax credits on the regular Spark. My older daughter and son-in-law would love that, since they both own a Spark.) But to do things right, you would need to install a home charging station, which costs about $1,000 – of which 30% is rebated in another federal tax credit. It requires at least 40 amp, 240 volt service so a rule of thumb is that you will use about 30 kWh to go 100 miles. Driving 1,500 miles a month (not uncommon around here) and that means additional electrical consumption of 450 kWh, which is about 50% of a typical home’s usage for a month. So much for net metering.

So let’s recap: you’re using far more electricity, limiting your range of motion, and costing taxpayers about $8,000 for dubious gain. (And I haven’t even discussed how they get the materials for the battery – hint: it’s not very eco-friendly.)

In essence, what has been going on for the last thirty years is that we have transferred billions of dollars from hard-working taxpayers to those who profit from a belief that mankind can save their planet from the scourge of climate change, which is laughable on its face. As I have said for years, I have no real issue with energy efficiency but that should be sought on a market standpoint, not because we are forced into it or made to pay for it. There are certain things which create abundant energy quite cheaply and reliably: coal, oil, and natural gas. At one time – before my time – we were told (falsely, as it turned out) that nuclear power would be so cheap they wouldn’t have to meter it.

With a government that’s spending $4 trillion a year, isn’t it time to let these giveaways to Radical Green go away? And before you argue about Big Oil and its “subsidies,” read this. America’s economic engine needs reliable and inexpensive energy to run at peak efficiency, and on this cloudy day with relatively calm winds I’m not seeing much from those other sources.

The replacement

For whatever reason, these days I get a lot more e-mail from the Democratic Party than I do the Republicans. (Perhaps the GOP stuff ends up in my junk mail somehow?) A lot of the time the Democrats’ stuff is comedy gold, although they are getting more than enough mileage out of vilifying the already easy to vilify Donald Trump.

Now I’m going to do something I try not to do here, and that is accept their word as gospel for the sake of argument. Lord only knows what kind of Astroturf George Soros, Peter Lewis, and other big-money far-left donors can gin up for rent-a-mobs, but as I said this can suffice as their case. This is an excerpt from an e-mail I got today.

Republicans are frantically trying to dodge their constituents who want answers about what’s going to happen to their health care.

Virginia Congressman Dave Brat recently complained that “since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go.” Another Virginia Republican, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, skipped out on “office hours” with her constituents after dozens showed up to ask about her Obamacare replacement plan.

When Arkansans showed up at Senator Tom Cotton’s office to ask about their health care, staffers locked the door and turned them away. Sixteen constituents showed up at Congressman Peter Roskam’s office in West Chicago to voice their concerns about repealing the Affordable Care Act and were told their meeting had been abruptly canceled. Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado was caught on camera sneaking out of a constituent event through a side door to avoid his constituents’ questions about health care.

After more than 200 people submitted questions for a Facebook town hall with Sen. Thom Tillis, the senator logged off 11 minutes into the 30-minute event.

The Affordable Care Act is more popular than ever. Millions of Americans are reaping the benefits of access to affordable care — and 30 million stand to lose their health care if the law is repealed.

Again, this all may be “fake news” but here’s something that’s not fake: those who don’t want Obamacare repealed are probably the few profiting off of it at the expense of the many, which constitutes a great deal of working America. Since the RCP average has tracked the question in 2009, there has never been a majority in favor of Obamacare. To say it’s “more popular than ever” is true to the extent that it’s less of a dog than it has been.

And the other “fake news” is that oft-repeated claim that Americans will lose their health care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and that’s not so. It’s federal law that emergency care has to be provided regardless of ability to pay. Nor is this considering how many people have decided to take their chances with the tax penalty since it would be less expensive than health insurance.

So this is a message to Republicans who are getting cold feet about repealing Obamacare: find yourself a fire and warm them up – let’s do this thing. The Democrats are so full of crap their eyes are brown: America wants Obamacare to be gone!

Yet there is the question of cost, because medical expenses are, well, expensive. I have a theory on that, though, and it relates to a similar phenomenon in another aspect of life.

Look at the cost of college tuition as an example. To some, the cachet of a degree at a prestigious university is irresistible, and they will pay whatever it takes to get it. Some people who are more academically suited to a state university still demand to go to an Ivy League school, and those schools know this. They also know that a) these students will likely go many thousands in dollars in debt, and b) they get paid up front by the federal government. Whether the student pays back his or her loans or not is immaterial to them because they got their money, and because of that these schools are padding their tuition and fees because they can. Maybe it’s to increase their endowments, but oftentimes it’s to provide non-educational amenities.

Let me share a story with you. I went to college from 1982-86 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It was selected because it had the program I sought to major in and was in-state so my tuition was lower – although higher than most others, as it had the reputation of being the best state school in Ohio academically. (So there was a little bit of cachet factor, too.) Very nice campus, relatively solid education. I would have been happy to see my older daughter go there, but she had other plans.

My wife at the time was a non-traditional student who had gone to another school before having the older daughter in question (I’m her stepdad.) So, after we married, she enrolled at the University of Toledo, which is more of a commuter school. Yet one thing they had was a state-of-the-art recreation center, paid for by the state since UT is a state school, too. I got to enjoy the facilities on occasion since my ex was a student, and they were nice. Soon enough, all of the other state schools were getting in line to have similar facilities put up and sometime in the 1990s, well after I graduated, Miami got theirs. While it may have been beneficial for the small percentage of those who majored in physical education, the real reason these were put up was so each of these state universities would have something to attract students. More students = more tuition and fees = job security for the thousands of university employees. And as I said: they got their money up front, never mind the students were saddled with debt for a decade or more. (As I recall, I didn’t finally pay my student loans off until 2001 or so.)

Now look at the medical field. Obamacare placed it in a similar position to that of state universities because it was flush with federal cash – as originally envisioned, people would either have their medical care paid for directly by the federal government (Medicaid) or they would give insurance companies a captive audience with relatively few choices via the exchanges. Insurance companies, in turn, were supposed to have “risk corridors” and other accounting tricks and bailouts to make them whole – the only people who would be left holding the bag would be the ones who actually paid for the insurance, and many of them on the individual market received subsidies from Uncle Sam, too as well. No wonder it cost a trillion dollars a year.

The weakness of the Obamacare system is that there’s no real incentive to cut costs. Yet there are two groups of beneficiaries who stand to lose the most if the ACA is repealed: those who are getting the subsidies or “free” insurance from the government and those providers who have been able to just keep raising prices because there’s a massive pot of money they want to get their paws into. Therein lies the rub: Obamacare is now in a place where it cannot be just cut cold turkey – there has to be a year or two transition period, and of course that gets into election time.

It’s worth reminding readers that Obamacare has its roots in what some dubbed Romneycare: the insurance mandate Massachusetts put into place several years before. To be quite honest, that is where the solution lies. Perhaps it would be appropriate to block-grant funding to states for a interim period of up to three years and allow them to tailor their own programs and set up funding mechanisms. States can choose to have all the bells and whistles or they can choose to invest their resources elsewhere, and that’s the way it should be. I think this would take care of most (but not all) of those who are getting the largest benefits. The others can vote with their feet if they so choose: government is not supposed to be all things to all people.

On the cost side, I think any and all federal insurance coverage mandates should be scrapped, allowing states to set their own systems and priorities. Now it can be argued that having 50 different systems would be difficult for a health insurance provider to navigate, but auto insurers already do this. There are advocacy groups out there that suggest how states can streamline the process by being similar to other states, so I suspect most states will have health insurance requirements that are fairly similar. Maryland may have the extreme in required coverage on one end while Texas may be the flip side. Because of this, I’m not sure selling insurance across state lines is necessarily doable in the respect that I can’t buy a Texas policy living in Maryland. But states should be encouraged to allow insurance products that reflect everything from the catastrophic coverage health insurance was originally to the Cadillac plans that pay for everything, even your hangnail or gender reassignment surgery.

So, the replacement for Obamacare is a more free market and freedom of choice to participate. Sorry, Democrats, but Obamacare has to go to help make America a healthy nation again. If Andy Harris has a townhall, hopefully he will stand his ground and make the case for repeal.

Thoughts fit for a Prince

January 28, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on Thoughts fit for a Prince 

Like many on my social media feed, I was stunned to learn of Friday’s sudden passing of Maryland political figure Joe Steffen, who reportedly died from a stroke and cardiac arrest at the age of 57. As a regular follower of his writings, I seem to recall this wasn’t the first stroke or heart issue Joe had endured, but this was one he did not survive.

While a lot of people are relating their experiences with Joe, including accounts of lengthy late-night chats and other time spent together, my time with Joe in person was relatively fleeting. I think the last time I ran into him was at last spring’s Maryland GOP convention in Annapolis, and I seem to recall as part of the general chit-chat I asked him how his books were coming. But the fact he could set aside his political career and write something that was totally 180 degrees out of phase with that part of his life – as opposed to books in the political realm – was admirable. Yet Joe had finished two novels in what he called the Death, Wish trilogy and was working on the “prequel” third part at times over the last few months. (Death, Wish debuted in 2013 and Dead, End came out last summer.) So I guess we’ll never know how Charlotte got to be the main character in Joe’s work.

But one thing that has inspired me to this day is that he would occasionally update his word count as he progressed with his novels, and that’s where I got the idea with my social media for updating with the running total of the word count on my forthcoming book to keep people in the loop on my progress. Perhaps it was also a tangible reminder to him as well, but I liked the idea so I’ve taken it on.

Since Joe was such a fixture on social media, though, I did engage with him quite a bit on some of the most unlikely subjects. One subject in my wheelhouse was baseball, as Steffen was a fan of the Oakland A’s and I like to follow my Detroit Tigers as well, so I would chime in at times during baseball season. And while his musical tastes weren’t exactly like mine, he often selected what he called “Get Your Ass In Gear” songs that I enjoyed hearing, too.

The one thing that seemed to endear Joe to many of the same people I engage with in the political realm, though, was his rebellious attitude toward party politics in Maryland. I don’t know about you, but at a wake of a Maryland GOP Fall Convention back in the bleak post-election landscape of 2010 – an election where the TEA Party wave that swept the nation somehow missed our state – this was my one cherished memory: the Renegade Room.

Somewhere on that document is my signature, too. Yet Joe insisted to the end that he didn’t dislike defeated 2010 candidate Bob Ehrlich – he just lost all respect for him. Obviously this and a lot of other statements from Steffen led to a lot of friction with certain quarters of the Maryland Republican Party, including areas where little guys seem to congregate.

Anyway, I went to his blog site and it turns out his last post is only about a week old. And it was interesting that the seminal event he picked out insofar as defying the conventional wisdom that there was no way a Trump election victory would occur is the day Donald Trump hired David Bossie, our National Committeeman. With that move, Steffen believed Trump had just won the election – turns out he may have been correct.

So if there’s one good thing we can look back on and smile about regarding Joe’s life, it’s knowing that he managed to live until “Borat” was safely out of office.

Now I’m sure there will be a formal service and whatnot for Joseph Steffen, but in reality he will be remembered by most in an informal manner for years to come when people continue to toast his memory with the adult beverage of choice. Yet there will be a few special people, including the princess of his world, who will remember him fondly for a lot of other things after the weeping of the immediate present is finished. It’s those people who deserve our thoughts and prayers upon Steffen’s sudden passing.

All this serves as a reminder that we all have our time in this world (after all, Joe was only about a half-decade older than I am now) but those who make the most of it are the ones long remembered. I don’t often write pieces like this – in fact, the last time I did was for my late brother almost seven years ago – but seeing the outpouring of shock and grief on my social media page, and having the respect for him that I did, even if from afar, I felt it was something we all needed. And in Joe’s memory, I did it in 851 words.

A 30-day cut in terror?

January 14, 2017 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A 30-day cut in terror? 

Last year, Delegate Mark Fisher did what only three others in the decade of my monoblogue Accountability Project have done: compiled a perfect 25-for-25 vote score. Unfortunately for him, 2016 brought two such scores and based on his overall record and other factors my Legislator of the Year was fellow Delegate Warren Miller, who compiled the other perfect mark.

But Fisher has put up an interesting proposal that reflects a desire to limit government, at least as part of an e-mail I received. Here are a couple excerpts:

Each year, Maryland has a 90-day Legislative Session.  Over 3,000 bills are proposed each year that seek to limit your freedoms and stifle prosperity.  And so the question arises:  How does Virginia, a much larger state, survive with only a 60-day Session during even years – and a 46-day Session during odd years?

The answer is simple – Annapolis elites believe that your prosperity comes from government.

(snip)

But, it doesn’t have to be this way.  A shorter, 60-day legislative session combined with a modest salary of $18,000.00, like Virginia, is a good start.   When a legislature has less time to meet, there’s less time to meddle.

It’s true that other states have differing rules on their legislative sessions, as does Congress. But in all honesty, the state legislature really has just one job, and that’s to approve the budget. Instead, they do meddle in a lot of things and more often than not, they remove county authority in favor of the state. While there’s a stated goal among many to be “One Maryland,” the reality is that the Annapolis perception of “One Maryland” is a lot different than the reality we live with. Our Maryland is slower-paced, doesn’t rely on the federal government for employment, and would prefer local control of many entities, such as planning and zoning and our schools. We also have competition that’s unique to our part of the state for business and retail establishments, as those across the Mason-Dixon and Transpeninsular lines in Delaware toil in a state known for being business-friendly and without a sales tax.

Yet if Fisher wants to cut into the sum total of legislation, he doesn’t necessarily need to shorten the session. Perhaps there needs to be a regulation in place that creates a sunset date for all new bills so that they need to be revisited every few years. (Some bills already feature this, so they have to be dealt with at appropriate times.)

I think he has the right idea on this one, but I’m sure it’s an idea that goes nowhere given the state of our state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A push for new jobs

January 3, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on A push for new jobs 

Two weeks ago, in the waning days before the Christmas holiday, perhaps 40 to 50 brave souls dealt with the cold weather to state their case for job creation in western Maryland and beyond. I don’t think the Maryland Energy Citizens and Energy Nation Rally drew a lot of interest outside the energy field beforehand (except perhaps from me) and in doing a news search for the event I found exactly zero coverage. (The photos I’ll use here were Tweeted by Energy Citizens.)

It was a modest gathering to be sure, but those who showed were interested in regulations that would allow for job creation – directly in Allegany and Garrett counties, and eventually spilling over into other parts of the state as the infrastructure needed to move the natural gas to market is placed. And there was one group who understood this well.

The folks in the orange shirts were members of the Laborers Union, which would stand to benefit from the infrastructure being built. In the universe of the left wing, oftentimes Big Labor and environmentalists stand on opposite sides because the union side understands better the economics of utilizing our energy resources to provide the clean and reliable power we need to keep the economic engine going, while environmentalists seem to think that the wind will always blow and the sun shines every day so we can rely on those sources. With their entrenched opposition to energy progress through additional exploration and infrastructure construction, Radical Green would shortly have us in the same boat as the New England states when it comes to energy costs, especially at this time of year.

Yet in the days since I’ve learned of a study from the University of Chicago that has attempted to quantify benefits and costs of fracking, with the study being summarized thus:

The benefits include a six percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a six percent increase in housing prices. On the costs side, fracking reduces the typical household’s quality of life by about $1,000 to $1,600 annually – excluding the increase in household income.

As a point of reference, the average household income across the two counties is about $42,000 so a 6% increase would be a net gain in household income equating to approximately $2,500. And considering energy jobs tend to pay more than average, the 10% increase in employment would be a boost to the median so the benefits could work out to $3,000 or more while the somewhat dubious “quality of life” costs would not be so affected.

I noted above that there was no coverage of the rally by the local media, but that very day the Baltimore Sun chose to run a laughable screed by Senator Cardin about the prospect of the incoming Trump administration abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement; a diatribe that included this howler:

In 2015, investment in renewable energy was nearly $350 billion worldwide, more than fossil fuel energy. Even though gas and oil have hit record low prices, current and projected prices for renewables are low too, making clean energy solutions remarkably competitive.

The huge piece of information unspoken here is how much of that renewable energy “investment” was picked from the pocket of unsuspecting taxpayers, nor does it account for the amount of the market carved out for renewables artificially by state mandate. Nor should it be our intention to follow Europe and take the blue pill, thinking mankind has one iota of effect on the global climate in the long run.

Sadly, it may be almost as much of a folly to believe that a small group of common-sense protestors will have an effect on a group of legislators who mistakenly believe that restrictive regulations will encourage job creation or that a fracking ban will benefit the state. But I encourage them to keep trying anyway because people who can see the long-range picture will realize you are on the right side of this.

A look ahead: 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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