Odds and ends number 75

It’s been almost three years since this was a regular feature on my site, but it appears I may have to bring this back to deal with all the stuff that I receive and deem to be somewhat newsworthy - just not enough to devote an entire post to. Ideally I can use it to clean out an e-mail box that gets too full of stuff that otherwise sits for awhile. As always, we’ll see how it goes but it’s been long enough that I had to go look up where I was in the series.

If you recall when I discussed the state convention last week, Maryland National Committeeman Louis Pope was pleased with the national GOP’s fiscal situation and it was also announced that the state party was finally out of debt. So it’s interesting to find out our national Democratic counterparts are doing what they do best: spending money they don’t have. Even with Martin O’Malley still in the race, they can’t just raise taxes to cover the difference.

It’s doubtful that Hillary’s campaign will be hurt, but Democrats are also salivating over retaking the Senate as the seats won by the GOP in the first TEA Party wave of 2010 come up for re-election in a Presidential year. That’s where a shortfall could come into play.

Speaking of the state convention, the sponsor of the amendment which actually stripped the voting rights of three auxiliary organizations now questions his own standing in introducing the amendment in the first place. It’s the ultimate in do-overs, but we have to ask whether he would have been as honest had the proposal passed.

Now Tony Campbell wants a special convention to right what was made wrong.

In discussing this with a former Chair, one thing that I learned is that seldom does an individual vote matter on the Executive Committee – there is rarely a time when a vote is close enough to make a difference. The only instance he could think of where a vote was close like that was the vote of no confidence in former Chair Jim Pelura back in 2009. That was still a relatively lopsided vote, 20 to 10, but the county chairs only voted 14 to 10. It was the six leadership and auxiliary votes that padded the margin.

(It’s also a rare time of late that I cite the balky and ad-bloated Red Maryland site, but you’ll notice the reason for the exception.)

So I think we should deal with this in due course. Perhaps we can do like we do for government “shutdowns” and give the auxiliary organizations their votes later as back votes once we rectify the situation, as I know we will.

Staying with the Maryland GOP, a few days back I received a list of 61 Republican leaders throughout the state who are backing Delegate Kathy Szeliga in her U.S. Senate bid. As you may expect, there are a lot of General Assembly members on the list: locally it includes Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Mary Beth Carozza, and Charles Otto as well as Senator Addie Eckardt and County Executive Bob Culver. 42 of 50 Republican Delegates and 13 of 14 GOP Senators are on the list. (George Edwards of western Maryland is the recalcitrant Senator.)

But I noticed one name among the local delegation was missing: it looks like Delegate Johnny Mautz has kept his powder dry for the moment. I can’t figure out if he just didn’t want to sign or if he’s backing someone else – with his Congressional staffer connections, he would be a logical backer of Richard Douglas. Just grist for the mill.

I haven’t even started to make my mind up on the race, but I will say Kathy has a long way to go to get my support – if only because her campaign website is still bare-bones a couple weeks after she jumped into the fray. That’s the type of lack of attention to detail that can sink a campaign.

Ethanol hasn’t been in the news much lately, but I thought it was worth pointing out that one of my favorite energy writers, Marita Noon, recently detailed how Ben Carson has moved to the right side of the issue. API’s Linda Rozett adds her two cents as well, making the case that dairy subsidies didn’t work out well so neither are ethanol carveouts creating the desired effects. Look, when we have plenty of oil there’s no real need to use food for fuel, despite what the corn growers who are enjoying the artificial price support may say.

Of course, people like me who believe food shouldn’t be used as fuel tend to fall into the category of climate change “deniers.” The folks at Organizing Against America For Action are excited about events in Paris. (Not the Friday the 13th ones, although this could be just as detrimental to millions.) In an e-mail exhorting supporters to “call out” skeptics, they say:

Remember when getting an elected official to even mention carbon pollution or climate change was a big deal? We’ve come a long way.

Today, the momentum for action has never been greater. Climate change denial in America is at an all-time low, and hundreds of companies have come out to support rules on power plant pollution. As if that wasn’t enough, religious leaders like Pope Francis are insisting that there is a moral obligation to address climate change.

In just two weeks, more than 160 nations, representing more than 90 percent of the world’s carbon pollution, are joining together for an international conference to tackle climate change, while we still can.

I dare them to call me out. YOU ARE A FRAUD. We’ve been holding steady on global temperature since the turn of the millennium, and if anything the indications are we are getting colder, not warmer. Throttling back the economies of the developed world will only weaken the rest of the planet.

Yet there are people talking common sense:

Climate change deniers are trying to spoil this big moment by undermining America’s commitment to act on climate change.

Some senators, like James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell, are going out of their way to undermine American commitments. Senator Inhofe, famous for bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof that climate change doesn’t exist, has committed to crash the talks and be a “one-man truth squad,” telling the international negotiators how little he believes in climate science.

Senator Inhofe isn’t alone. Back at home, climate change deniers in both chambers of Congress are working to overturn the carbon pollution standards for power plants.

Good. I hope they succeed in overturning the job-killing restrictions. Just call me the Republican uncle, except I can do more than recite talking points.

Killing – not of jobs, but of fellow public housing residents – may not be out of the realm of the 6,000 drug convicts the Obama administration is releasing, and thanks to Judicial Watch we also know that they will be welcomed into public housing. I will grant that probably 99% of them will be more or less model citizens, but that still leaves a few dozen miscreants to cause trouble. I think Judicial Watch has reason to be concerned, as do those residents who get them as neighbors. Perhaps the same sort of notice granted when sex offenders move nearby is in order, at least to start. Call it a probationary period.

Finally, let’s end on a happier note. I wrote about a similar event last year, but over the weekend we were encouraged to participate in the Made in the USA Christmas Challenge by the Patriot Voices advocacy group. While most of the electronics we use are made overseas, it is possible to purchase gifts made in America. (One familiar group has some suggestions.)

It’s worth noting, though – as of this writing, just 116 have signed up at Patriot Voices. That’s not very many patriots, so hopefully more people than that are conscious of the advantages of supporting our businesses.

So there you have it – you are more informed and I have a clean inbox. I love it when a plan comes together.

Scraping the bottom

Earlier this week the Tax Foundation released its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. Despite Governor Hogan’s insistence on improving business climate and efforts to adopt some of the Augustine Commission’s reforms, Maryland once again has the dubious distinction of being a bottom-10 state.

Yes, that sickening orange color tags us as a state to avoid insofar as business taxes are concerned. In truth, we’ve only dropped one spot from the 2015 index so while we could have made a few minor improvements other states are improving at a faster pace. (Maryland seems to tread water – over the last four years we have oscillated between #40 and #41.) Moreover, we still lag behind all of our neighbors with Delaware again leading the region. The First State maintained its #14 ranking.

There is one important caveat to Maryland’s decline which could push them out of the bottom 10 next year. Late last month Governor Hogan announced a significant cut in the unemployment insurance tax, which is one of the factors (albeit the least-weighted) the Tax Foundation uses to determine its rank order. But other states are trying to push the envelope more quickly by reducing corporate and individual tax rates, something Maryland has talked about but not acted upon. (The Tax Foundation’s weighting process is explained on page 16 of their full report.)

While reducing regulations doesn’t always require legislative approval, the tax nut is a harder one to crack. The requirement to balance the budget means that revenue no longer extracted from corporations and small businesses alike can’t be used for profligate spending. At a time when government getting an increase that’s less than expected brings screams about draconian cuts from the left side of the aisle, heads truly explode when less real money is allocated. Even if you get 97 cents when you used to get a dollar, liberals act as if you just shot their unicorn with a scary-looking AR-15.

There’s a reason I bring up 97 cents as a particular figure. According to the state’s FY2016 budget, the corporate income tax accounts for 3% of the revenue; thus, eliminating it entirely would mean a corresponding budget cut. (We’ll leave aside the obvious competitive benefit to the state, which would eventually attract more business and increase revenue via other means such as income and sales taxes.) While it’s true that having a poor corporate tax ranking doesn’t completely eliminate the good – Delaware’s #50 ranking in corporate taxes only drags its overall rank to #14 – eliminating the tax would make it plain that Maryland is indeed “open for business.”

Eliminating the tax would also eliminate what’s become an annual debate about combined reporting. Proponents of its adoption, mainly Democrats, claim large businesses are not paying their fair share because they use the accounting trick of claiming their income arises from low-tax states. They may make actual profit in Maryland but don’t report it because they have operations in other. more tax-friendly states. The most recent iteration of the idea came last year, with the tradeoff that would have eliminated filing fees for small (less than 10 employee) businesses. In that respect it was a money-loser for the state; however, the research showed in better economic times the effect would be beneficial to state coffers.

Interestingly, Salisbury has a new mayor that epitomizes the opposite end of the chicken-and-egg approach: last week in the Salisbury Independent, Jake Day was quoted as noting:

“Economic development isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “It includes more activities. It’s now about culture. About quality of life issues. The arts and people. Parks, bike trails, bike lanes. And if you don’t get those right, don’t even talk about workforce development and industry and business development efforts, because you have to have those things to attract anyone.”

This portion of Delmarva boasts a lot of natural beauty along its rivers and coastlines, a well-regarded university, and a proportionate share of arts and culture. Perhaps the traditional bricks-and-mortar manufacturing or legacy service industries won’t come to Salisbury, but it’s been obvious over the last ten years that the beauty, academics, and culture isn’t exactly making this a hotbed of economic activity either. There needs to be a more balanced approach to development because it takes a fair amount of money to create and maintain parks, bike trails, and bike lanes – particularly if the money is granted from the state as it often is. We may be competitors to certain other urban areas around the state, but development somewhere else in the state or even another state, depending on the grant source, is paying the lion’s share for the bike lanes to be installed here. (In some cases, local gifts have helped.) Funding will also be required to maintain parks and develop new ones like Pirate’s Wharf along the Wicomico River.

There are thousands who have moved here over the decades as adults, and for the most part they came here for one of two reasons: they came to school or they came for a job. And if they came for school, there’s no guarantee they will stay if jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities aren’t available.

Simply put, Maryland has a long way to go in overcoming the poor reputation they have for growing and attracting businesses. It’s a lot easier for those on the Western Shore to prosper when there’s a ready-made source of confiscated wealth in close proximity. (If all those people had to find honest work Maryland would be just like West Virginia, with high unemployment. Because it’s well away from that honey pot of confiscated largess, the lower Eastern Shore already is in that same high-joblessness boat.)

I learned the other day that the Augustine Commission determined 1/4 of Maryland’s GDP comes from the federal government. If we can rightsize the federal government over the coming decades, Maryland will be negatively affected in what would be of overall benefit to the nation. It’s time to wean our state off the opioid of living off the federal employees and make strides in diversifying our economy. For that reason, making our state more business-friendly simply has to occur.

About that TEA Party…

My “10 from 10″ post this morning regarding the 9/12 Rally back in 2009 got me to pondering where the movement has gone in the intervening years.

If you’ve been a reader around here for a long time, you may recall that I covered a significant number of TEA Party-related groups that sprung up in the local area over the next couple years. Not only did we have the TEA Parties themselves that went on in both 2009 and 2010, but also groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Wicomico Society of Patriots. They went on for a couple of years but essentially died off from a lack of interest. (On the other hand, we still have the Worcester County TEA Party and 9-12 Delaware Patriots.)

Having been involved to a limited extent with the Wicomico groups, I can tell you that some of the players who remain active have gone “establishment” to the extent they remain active in the local Republican Party. Three of those most heavily involved have served on the Central Committee – unfortunately, that’s the only election where some of the TEA Party leaders have found success. While many in the area take TEA Party values to heart, they seem to vote for the names they know.

This erosion of the brand is also reflected on a national level. I used to write quite a bit about the TEA Party Patriots and expressed hope that the TEA Party Express would bring some of its star power to the region. In the last few years, though, the national movement has suffered from infighting as well as a concerted media effort to impugn the brand. I don’t hear nearly as much from the group these days, as their function has by and large been superseded by SuperPACs that fight for specific candidates or causes.

If you consider the high point of the TEA Party as the 2010 election, where the political landscape dramatically shifted in a more conservative direction in the wake of two consecutive leftward shifts as well as the adoption of an unpopular Obamacare entitlement program, then the nadir came two years later with Barack Obama’s re-election. A conspiracy theorist could point out that the 2010 election results put the Obama campaign on high alert, meaning they pulled out all the stops to ensure re-election with a little help from a compliant media. But one could counter by noting the movement wasn’t strong enough to topple frontrunner Mitt Romney and they shot themselves in the foot by staying home on Election Day. (As it was, though, Romney did get more votes than John McCain did in 2008.)

So while you can credit TEA Party principles for winning the day in 2014, the actual movement itself seems to be receding to a low tide. Since TEA is an acronym for “taxed enough already” it’s been pointed out by the Left that taxes really aren’t that bad, at least in comparison to the rates in place for administrations from Hoover to Carter. (This is a neat little chart to see the differences.) Ronald Reagan dropped rates twice: from 70% to 50% in 1982 and eventually down to 28% with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. It had been over 50 years since the top rate was less than 50%.

But that only considers income tax. Certainly as a 100-year body of work our current rates are on the low side, but back then we didn’t have the maddening plethora of taxes and fees we do now. Some are consumption-based taxes like sales tax on goods purchased or per gallon of gasoline, while others are considered some sort of “sin” tax like additional levies on cigarettes or alcohol, a combination that Marylanders endure to a larger extent than several of their neighbors. Even speed cameras could be regarded as a sort of “sin” tax, since supposedly the only ones who pay it are the ones who are speeding well above the posted limit. (Try as they might to convince us that it’s about safety, we all know they need the Benjamins. Why else would they have to install cameras in more and more dubious “school zones”?) Nor does that consider property tax, which tends to be the preferred vehicle for raising money for the public schools. In most states where districts have taxing authority, it’s not uncommon to see a school district seek three to four additional property tax levies a decade as they strive to raise funds for buildings and operations. (Maryland is different because counties pay for their portion of school funding from their general funds, so there are no ballot issues to deal with property taxes.) To make a long story short, we still consider ourselves taxed enough already.

As far as a formal movement goes, though, for the most part we are back to where we were around 2008. There is a lot of frustration with the direction of both parties, but this time rather than a movement without a leader people are going the route of a looking for a leader for what they consider their movement – hence, political outsiders Ben Carson and Donald Trump have been ahead of the Republican field for most of this campaign. (As further proof, the other side is still believed to be behind Hillary Clinton.) Carson is cast as the Godly, principled man who would quietly and reverently lead our nation in need of healing, while Trump comes across as the brash general who would kick butt and take names, restoring America to its top of the heap status.

Conversely, those who are conservative but came up through the standard political channels have fallen out of favor this cycle. In any other cycle, we would look at governors like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, or Bobby Jindal as frontrunners – instead, all three are out of the race. In terms of political resumes, the front-runners on both sides have even less to go on than Barack Obama did, and that’s saying something.

So it’s hard to tell where the TEA Party trail runs cold. I think a number of them have coalesced behind Donald Trump despite the fact The Donald is not a movement conservative. One recent rumor is that a Trump/Cruz ticket is in the works, which would perhaps appease the true believers. Trump’s success has belied the predictions of TEA Party leaders that he will be a flash in the pan.

But it appears the days of rallies like 9/12 are behind us. Such a pity.

A modest proposal: pause all immigration into the USA while we sort things out

By Cathy Keim

Due to the Paris attacks a week ago Friday, immigration is a hot topic – especially the Refugee Resettlement Program which brings in about 65,000 refugees annually Now it is being primed to bring in 10,000 Syrians or more this year.

About 30 governors have requested that Syrian refugees not be admitted to their states. Speaker Paul Ryan is bringing a proposal to the House to stop admitting Syrian refugees. This sudden light shining on the Refugee Resettlement Program caused the Volunteer Agencies (VOLAGS) to have a conference call last week to tell the press how safe the program is.

I joined in on the call and heard some interesting information. The VOLAGS were condescending, insulting, and deceptive in their information but also attempted to tug at the heartstrings with sad stories and shame anyone who questioned bringing Syrians into the USA.

Keep in mind that the VOLAGS are paid by the head to bring the refugees in and to get them settled somewhere. Several of the VOLAGS have religious names such as Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, but they cannot share their faith because they are supported in the 90%+ range by federal tax dollars. So one has to ask why is a “religious” organization working as a government contractor when that explicitly rules out any ability to share their religious faith with the refugee? They might as well remove the deceptive “religious” title.

I missed the first few minutes of the call, but when I joined the reporters were being assured that many refugees have been resettled for many years and we have never had an incident so our record is good. In fact, the VOLAG representative stated that their refugees are vetted much more thoroughly than other visa holders such as students, tourists, and businessmen. Hold that thought, as we will come back to it.

Addressing the governors’ moves to refuse refugees, the representative stated that the refugees are legal residents so they can move wherever they want. The governors cannot stop them once they are in the country. Later she stated that refugees must always inform Homeland Security of their new address every time they move until they become citizens, but they can move wherever they wish. (Many do migrate a second time to be closer to family or other of their countrymen. Baltimore has had a difficult time retaining the refugees that they have brought in to repopulate the inner city.)

A reporter asked if the VOLAGS keep crime statistics on the refugees. The representative cheerfully replied, “No, but I can count on one hand the crimes committed by refugees and I have worked with them for years!” This is an astonishing claim since Ann Corcoran at Refugee Resettlement Watch frequently reports on crime issues among refugees.

The spokeswoman sneered at Texas and Alabama for saying they didn’t want any Syrian refugees. She said Texas had received 238 refugees in 3 years and Alabama had received 105 refugees last year, which had an insignificant impact in her words. She compared states denying access to state services with George Wallace refusing to integrate the University of Alabama.

The reps said that the poor attitude exhibited by these governors would have a negative impact on how the refugee community interfaces with the community. Here was the example given: In Minneapolis – St. Paul where they have a huge Somali population, they have had problems with refugees trying to travel abroad to fight. The FBI meets regularly with the community and has a good rapport with them, so the families contact the FBI to stop their young men when they try to leave to fight. If the governors keep acting in an unwelcoming way, this kind of trust with be disrupted!

Wow, that is a real success story. Young men that have been raised most or all of their lives in America want to go abroad to join the jihadists, but mom calls the FBI to keep them home. Why do I not find that comforting?

In a bid for sympathy that had a threatening edge to it, the rep told how these refugees have suffered greatly due to terror and war. It is wrong to deny them the ability to join family members in the states these governors represent. Prohibiting them from joining families that are already here working, paying taxes, and being good neighbors is wrong, but these are survivors won’t be stopped. They will join their families no matter what the governors said.

The final threat was that these refugees have been through so much and have had to wait for so long in refugee camps, that if the process is delayed anymore then they may just undertake the risky trek to Europe rather than wait for America to let them in. The trek is dangerous and it will be our fault if they don’t survive it.

She also pointed out that we couldn’t deny access just to Syrians. How can you tell if they are Syrian, not Lebanese, or Jordanian? This implies that if we try, then they will just declare themselves to be from another country and who can tell? That seems to refute the thorough vetting claims, but we won’t quibble here.

Now let’s address a few points that the VOLAGS didn’t mention.

It appears that out of 2 million Christians and 80,000 Yazidis in Syria, the Refugee Resettlement Program has brought in 53 Christians and 1 Yazidi and less than 10 Druze, Baha’is and Zoroastrians combined. The reason for this is that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees decides which refugees come to the USA. The UNHCR chooses refugees from people that are in the camps that they sponsor. The minorities do not dare go to those camps because the other inhabitants will persecute them, thus they have no access to apply to the refugee program. Now you know why we are not helping the persecuted Christians.

Here is another interesting fact. If we bring a refugee to the USA, it will cost about $64,000 to take care of him for five years, but it would only cost about $5,300 for five years if he relocated in his native region, thus we could help twelve times as many people for the same cost. Since our money is limited, would it not be better to spend it more wisely?

Now back to those student visas that the rep so correctly pointed out as being dangerously unvetted. The numbers of foreign students are huge.

The Institute of International Education recently wrote regarding student visas for the academic year of 2014/2015. Here are some highlights:

  • 974,926 foreign students were admitted for this past academic year, almost double the overall level before 9/11.
  • After China, India, and South Korea, the leading country of origin is Saudi Arabia with 59,945 student visas. In addition, we took in 10,724 from Turkey, 11, 338 from Iran, and 9,034 from Kuwait.
  • Using the 44 predominantly Muslim countries we identified in our piece on green cards from Muslim countries, I counted 156,781 student visas from those same predominantly Muslim countries. This means that Muslims likely account for 16% of the foreign students, and that doesn’t include India. Roughly 10% of the Indian population is Muslim and we bring in a whopping 138,000 students from there.

Is there any wonder why U.S. college campuses are replicas of some European countries in terms of the anti-Jewish activity and pro-Palestinian activism?

Even more amazing is that in 2010 President Obama unilaterally shut down the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), which was implemented after 9/11 to properly vet and track those who come here from risky countries on a student visa.

Daniel Horowitz asks,

(W)hat is tolerant about importing an ideology that is stridently intolerant, incompatible with democracy, and promotes ethnic and religious supremacism? What is humanitarian about transforming America into Europe where Jews, ironically and tragically, are forced to flee because of the growing Islamic intolerance?

We need to pause immigration and take the time to have this discussion rather than continuing heedlessly onward with ever increasing numbers of unassimilated immigrants.

2015 Maryland GOP Fall Convention in pictures and text (part 2)

A new day dawned yesterday after a night of partying I described in part 1. Too bad it was about the last time we got to see the sun.

Instead, I went down to grab breakfast and remarks fron three U.S. Senate candidates. It should be noted that a fourth, Anthony Seda, “has never reached out” to the MDGOP, according to Diana Waterman.

After an opening prayer where Delegate Deb Rey prayed that we “cruise to victory,” we did the speeches in alphabetical order. This meant Richard Douglas spoke first.

Richard noted the news was still filled with images from Paris, Belgium, and Mali, saying it underscores that “terrorism…remains a concern.” He added that the authorization to use military force passed after 9/11 remains in effect today.

He added that growing up abroad made incidents like the building of the Berlin Wall and Cuban missile crisis “indelibly etched in my mind.” But he assured us we are stronger than Russia – we just have a leadership problem. No one is pushing back on Russia, China, or Iran, he continued.

Douglas pivoted to domestic issues with a mention of the Bladensburg Cross, a court case he’s assisting on and one for which he predicted “we’ll take the wood to the humanists.” It led into his thought that the job of a Senator was not to pontificate, but to act. In Maryland, it meant not just doing what he could at the federal level to eliminate the rain tax and entice industry. One example of the latter was the Howard Street Tunnel, which is too shallow to accommodate double-decker rail cars. It’s a problem the current Senator has had 30 years to address.

“People who have three squares a day…don’t riot,” Douglas noted. With foreign policy experience and what could be described as a populist agenda, Douglas vowed “I intend to go to the Senate to make that place better.”

The son of Greek immigrants, Chrys Kefalas opened by saying, “I’m a story that’s brought to you courtesy of the American Dream.” He then detailed a life of precocious entrepreneurship as a teenage business owner who parlayed that success into law school and eventually jobs with Bob Ehrlich, both as Congressman and as governor. One of his accomplishments with the Ehrlich administration was pioneering criminal justice reform.

After a stint at the Eric Holder Justice Department working on a “smart on crime” initiative, Kefalas is now a vice-president at the National Association of Manufacturers. “Manufacturing is coming back,” said Chrys. America has the advantages of innovative and productive workers as well as affordable energy. Taxes and regulations were holding us back, he explained.

Yet he was quick to recognize “you are the ones who are going to make the party strong…the campaign is about you.”

Kefalas added that the task of the nominee is to win, and he would do so with his positive vision. In this “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to win the seat, Kefalas believed “I can get more Democratic crossover support than anyone else in the primary.”

“We need to expand the map in Maryland,” he continued. Through him “we have a path to victory.”

Kefalas concluded by noting his recent engagement, stating “I am a gay Republican.” But “we move our country in a better direction when we are together.”

Kathy Szeliga emphasized her working-class background and that she and her husband Mark “believed in the American Dream.” For most of her life she’d played the various roles working moms did.

But Kathy stressed her more recent past, talking about how she and fellow Delegate Nic Kipke “brought some new ideas to Annapolis.” She also learned how to work across the aisle there.

With a new governor, Szeliga added, things were moving in the right direction – for example, we “repealed that darn rain tax.” (Actually, we only eliminated the ‘shall’ but kept the onus on counties to pay for the improvements.)

As for her Senate run, Kathy believed “there was a time that Congress worked,” but now government is too big, too gridlocked, and too distant. Indeed, “now is the time to turn Washington around…the American Dream is fading.”

Her pet issues if elected would be quality of life, security, and schools. Most of her remaining time was spent discussing the security aspect, noting that “terrorism is real…we must remain vigilant.” She vowed to support law enforcement as well.

Addressing her prospective opponents Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, Szeliga opined they don’t understand the dangers we face from “radical Islam terrorists.”

In closing, Kathy pointed out her initial run of 61 endorsements and stated, “together we’re gonna get this done in 2016.”

So after Diana Waterman thanked her “three amazing candidates,” I had some time to spend in the exhibit hall before the morning session.

There I ran into Tanya Tiffany from MDCAN.

It’s a good moment to remind readers about the upcoming Turning the Tides Conference coming up January 8-9, 2016. I asked her if they would have a Blogger’s Row as in past editions and she said they were looking for a sponsor. They’re also changing the format a little bit to be more like previous editions, so it should be informative and more like “Maryland’s version of CPAC.”

With the convention opening, we were welcomed by Senator Steve Waugh.

In his remarks, Waugh focused on the fact this part of Maryland “gave freedom of religion to the world” with the passage of the Tolerance Act in 1649. In the here and now, Waugh believed Governor Hogan “made the perfect call” regarding Syrian refugees, noting “you must ensure our safety.”

In another bit of history, Waugh pointed out that 15 years ago Calvert and St. Mary’s counties were about 2-1 Democrat but now both have a GOP majority.

Since Larry Hogan was at the RGA meeting and Boyd Rutherford had a previous personal engagement, it fell to Secretaty of Human Resources Sam Malhotra to extend the governor’s greetings. He went through a laundry list of accomplishments by the administration over its first year, but concluded with the remark “I can’t wait for the next seven years.” He believed we were in the process of changing Maryland from deep blue to “baby blue” to purple to red.

Congressman Andy Harris supplemented Malhotra’s remarks by saying he’d work hard to get five more Senators in Larry’s second term. “What a difference a year makes,” he added, also maintaining “this is not a deep blue state.”

As far as Congressional leadership, Harris believed it was the right time to change leadership. Paul Ryan can deliver our message, as opposed to John Boehner. “I don’t believe he communicated well,” said Harris. Andy also believed Speaker Ryan had his priorities in order, putting family first. “It doesn’t take a village, it takes a family,” said Harris.

Turning to the economy, the Congressman was waiting for the “last shoe to drop,” meaning an inevitable interest rate hike. If rates rise to their historical rate of 2 1/2% it would mean $500 billion a year in interest payments alone – more than we spend on defense. “The economy is not going to get better” under Barack Obama, he added.

Obama’s administration is also promoting the message that law enforcement “is our enemy.” Yet this is a time where we had a real enemy. “What Paris showed us is that 9/11 is not over,” said Andy. Add in the Russian airliner and the Mali attack, and it was no wonder France took action. Hollande “figured it out” that Obama wouldn’t take charge. “This is a setback to him,” explained Harris.

The narrative that ISIS is contained falls flat to Harris as well. “ISIS is here in the United States,” said Harris. “We have to declare war on ISIS.” Moreover, “we have to fight the war on ISIS as a war to win.”

Looking back to the state party, Harris believed we were on a roll and the Democrats were worried. Now we have to recognize the importance of local elections and raise money for the local Central Committees. “Only 350 days until Election Day,” Harris concluded.

We then heard from Steve Waugh again, who gave the Senate portion of the legislative update. “The magic number today is 19,” he said, referring to the number of Senators required to sustain a veto.

He predicted the next session “will be all about Baltimore,” adding that the budget will also come through the Senate this year. Other items to watch out for: paid sick leave, body cameras for police, K-12 education funding, a bottle tax, and “death with dignity.” We also have to figure out how to come up with over $1 billion to service O’Malley’s debt, Waugh added.

While the Democrats would try to sandbag Governor Hogan by laying traps for him to spring in 2018, Waugh advised us to “stay focused on the message.”

Wearing her Delegate hat, Kathy Szeliga urged us to join the Governor’s press list so we could spread the word about his successes. She harped on the $17,000 per pupil Baltimore City Schools spends, saying we were committed to education but also to accountability. How much is enough?, asked Szeliga.

She added there were some successes from the House on the Second Amendment as we ended ballistic fingerprinting, made it easier for armored car personnel to get permits, and removed some accessories from the SB281 ban list.

Finally, Kathy urged us to “answer back” to Democratic fundraising.

Shifting gears, we heard from Lucas Boyce of the RNC regarding their new philosophy to “engage, embrace, entrust” and the Republican Leadership Institute. Diana Waterman was working to bring some RLI graduates to work here in Maryland.

Boyce wrapped up the morning session, so we adjourned for two seminars and lunch. The first seminar I went to featured Nicolee Ambrose.

There we discussed two somewhat disparate but vital topics: grassroots organizing and public speaking. On the latter, we did a pair of “American Idol” style auditions where “contestants” were judged and advised on a two-minute speech. It’s really hard to talk for two minutes.

I didn’t take a photo at the second one, but Justin Ready spoke on some of these same topics and more.

Not taking Justin’s photo means I have a cleaner lead into the National Committeewoman’s report Nicolee delivered to start the afternoon.

Nicolee pointed out some of our engagement events featuring Alveda King and J.C. Watts in Baltimore City, adding that getting Republican totals to 25% there makes us a red state. She also announced the winners of our voter registration contest for various-sized counties.

Ambrose was happy about going “2 for 2″ with her Super Saturdays, winning with both Michael Esteve in Bowie and Muir Boda right here in Salisbury. “This man was an animal” when it came to door-knocking, said Ambrose of Boda. She also praised Patrick McGrady for winning for mayor in Aberdeen.

A man who hosted a “phenomenal” house party, according to Diana Waterman, Louis Pope gave the National Committeeman’s report.

He focused more on the national scene, saying the RNC was “far more viable” than at any other point in history. And although this success wasn’t being picked up by the mainstream media, the ground game was “going exceedingly well…our turnout machine is working.” Now we had 32 GOP governors, added Pope.

Noting the CNBC debate showed “how unbelievably biased” the media is, Pope opined the primary season would be over by April 30. After that, it was “absolutely essential” that we come together. “Next year’s election will be a battle royal,” said Pope. The RNC has “a very deep playbook” on Hillary, Louis added.

On a local level, Pope urged the Central Committee members to raise money this year for the 2018 elections, since there’s not much competition for funding. This year’s campaign, though, will require “sweat equity,” said Pope.

We heard a quick report from College Republican Chair Christine McElroy, detailing their successes – including the Salisbury University CRs co-sponsoring our Lincoln Day Dinner. But she also revealed the sad fact that 77% of millennials could not identify even one of their home state Senators.

Party Executive Director Joe Cluster went over voter registration, pointing out the five counties (including Wicomico) where the GOP is closest to overtaking Democrats. “The numbers are moving in our direction,” said Cluster. He also touched on goals for precinct captains, opportunities to help Governor Hogan on boards and commissions, and the Baltimore city elections.

In her Chair’s report, Diana Waterman paid tribute to the late Frank McCabe, for whom the party would have a dinner later that evening. But she stressed the need to pass the first bylaws amendment, believing if we fail to adopt this the General Assembly will take the right away. “It is for your protection,” said Diana.

First we had to deal with one resolution in support of a Constitutional amendment to reform redistricting. It passed by a voice vote, with just one or two objections.

In introducing the first bylaw amendment, Mark Edney of Wicomico County stressed that “we have a problem with the process.” The proposal provides a process but is not specific.

While there was spirited debate on both sides, in the end the measure had enough votes to pass. On the weighted voting scale it was 369-170, which exceeded the 2/3 majority required. (In terms of actual people, the vote was 182-85. Only Baltimore City, Frederick, Queen Anne’s, and Washington counties had a majority objecting.) All nine in Wicomico County voted in favor, although I believe we will create our own specific guidelines.

On the “loser pays” amendment, an attempt to change it to cover both sides was proposed but was superseded by a motion to table the amendment, which passed with a resounding voice vote.

And then we had bylaw amendment #3. I thought it would pass with little objection, but the fireworks began right away. Most of the argument centered on whether the Black Republican group was established enough – those arguing against the amendment frequently referred to the Young Republicans, which reached a low point in chapters and membership shortly after getting an Executive Committee vote.

At first we voted on a motion to recommit to the Bylaws Committee, which drew the argument that it came from that committee. But Heather Olsen explained that the committee got this at the last minute and only checks for conformance, not on merits. In the end, the motion to recommit failed 217-324, or 114-156 in bodies. Wicomico was split 5-4 against recommitting.

Then we tried to table it, but that motion was rejected by voice vote.

The next move was to amend the bylaw to strip the voting rights from every one of the auxiliary organizations. That started new debarte, including a motion to continue debate that lost soundly in a voice vote.

The final motion to amend passed 359-178, with the amended bylaw change passing 408-83. (Body counts were 178-91 and 206-41.) Only Calvert, St. Mary’s, Wicomico, and Worcester voted against both.

Once that vote was in, the bylaws committee report was done “after 2 hours and 3 minutes.” Before we adjourned, Diana Waterman told us it should never be said we don’t allow enough debate.

But I suspect the debate will go on. I’ll have more thoughts later this week.

Oh, and another thing. We did a straw poll, with Ted Cruz the winner.

  • Ted Cruz – 62 votes (24%)
  • Marco Rubio – 52 (20%)
  • Donald Trump – 49 (19%)
  • Ben Carson – 26 (10%)
  • Carly Fiorina – 18 (7%)
  • Rand Paul – 15 (6%)
  • Chris Christie – 14 (5%)
  • John Kasich – 12 (5%)
  • Jeb Bush – 11 (4%)
  • Mike Huckabee – 2 (1%)
  • Rick Santorum – 2 (1%)

2015 Maryland GOP Fall Convention in pictures and text (part 1)

(All work and no play? You can skip to part 2.)

As I said before, like the prodigal son I have returned.

I counted 26 pictures in my folder. As a rule of thumb I try to keep pictorial posts under 20 so you get two parts, with this covering Friday night and part 2 looking at Saturday. While the latter was more contentious, there was some news from Friday night that I will get to in due course.

Upon arriving and checking in, I was greeted by a Ted Cruz volunteer and a cute two-girl welcoming crew. Bad time for a glitch on the cell phone camera, but it set the tone for the evening.

They were gone by the time I went down to register, but in the adjacent room I saw Ben Carson. Well, sort of.

You could meet his son at one of the suites, though. I just wasn’t sure where that was so, alas, it was one I missed. (I guess the younger Carson did, too.)

I didn’t stay in the exhibit room too long. Most suites don’t start right away so I usually attend the Executive Committee meeting to see what’s news.

Most of it is devoted to reports that are repeated to one extent or another during the Saturday session, but I did learn the party was working on another Student Legislative Day for kids around the state.

The best tidbit came from State Senator Bryan Simonaire, who, after relating how working with Governor Hogan was “tremendous” – in part because there were no tax increases on the floor for the first time in 10 years – he revealed a piece of legislation he was considering. (I think Bryan forgot the “travel tax” Hogan vetoed and the increased court fees he adopted. But I digress.)

Bryan went over some of the pros and cons he had heard about changing the date Republican Central Committee members take office. By law, we don’t start until after the General Election that occurs after the primary. This made sense with the old September primary, but leaves a long lame-duck period from a June primary.

Yet many of the county chairs argued “five months was no big deal” and added that it was unfair to those who weren’t coming back to end their term before the election they were working toward. They wanted the members who weren’t coming back to stay on. The proposal was “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” added one party officer.

Despite the criticism from the county chairs, most of whom objected in a show of hands, Simonaire appreciated the dialogue but stated, “I am moving forward with it.”

A couple folks we did not hear from on Saturday gave reports. Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo, who now heads the Maryland Heritage Council, explained his goal was to change the narrative that “Republicans are racist” and convince Hispanics their “natural home” is the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Kory Boone of the Maryland Young Republicans was pleased to report that they had grown to seven chapters with new ones in St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties.

Speaking of St. Mary’s County, their District 29 suite was the first hospitality suite I stopped by. I was hungry to try some “SoMD stuffed ham.”

The District 29 delegation was there, including Delegate Deb Rey.

She was selling raffle tickets for a Beretta rifle as a fundraiser, to be drawn at another fundraiser on January 7. (That week or so will be busy for our General Assembly members, who can’t do fundraisers during the 90 days of session.)

Having my helping of ham, I could go get some seafood at Richard Douglas’s Senate suite. There were a number taking part, and to be honest it was better than the pizza next door at the Montgomery County suite.

If Douglas wants to be the “new blood,” one of those he has to beat was directly upstairs in a suite she was sharing with Andy Harris.

Along with the Congressman, Szeliga was there talking to the aforementioned Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo. I did mention to her that I was sad about missing her trip to Salisbury, but noted my cohort Cathy Keim covered it well for me. Hopefully Szeliga will be back here soon.

Just across a short hallway was the suite belonging to the Ted Cruz campaign.

Let’s get this out of the way: now that Bobby Jindal is out, among the remaining GOP field I would lean most toward Ted Cruz. They also had outstanding chili there. I just hope their field people are up to the task.

Their suite wasn’t very busy, either – not like Marco Rubio’s.

My photo doesn’t do their gathering justice.

I get the sense that Rubio is the “establishment” choice now that Jeb’s campaign is cratering. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s my gut instinct.

In taking so long to go through the suites I did and renew some acquaintances, I missed the ones on my floor – one of which belonged to this guy.

So it was not a slight on my part, as my plan was to do the ones on my floor last. Most of them respected the 11:00 or so closing time to get cleaned up and allow the neighbors some sleep, so I was just too late.

Since they were winding down, going to bed is what I did. In part 2 this evening I look at Saturday.

A MDGOP Fall Convention preview

It’s been awhile since I was entitled to go to the state convention, but what a few hundred Wicomico County voters tried to do was undone by a much smaller number last month, so I have returned like the prodigal son.

My first convention back will be in Solomons, which as I recall was the home of my favorite convention, the spring 2012 one where we elected Nicolee Ambrose as National Committeewoman in a contentious vote over Audrey Scott. This one will probably not have the same amount of angst, although we may see issues with the three bylaw amendments on the docket.

The first is a lengthy proposal to create a process for Central Committees to fill legislative vacancies. After the debacles we saw last year as Governor Hogan picked members of the General Assembly to fill out his cabinet and lead departments, it became a priority to come up with a way of doing so lest the General Assembly take our power away (which still could happen.)

In a nutshell, the amendment allows a county to create its own process but leaves as a default the state-prescribed method. In looking it over briefly, the fight may be over the call to submit “name(s)” to the Governor, as some would prefer the Central Committee submit just one name as was custom until the most recent round of appointments.

That controversy led to the second bylaws amendment, which a perverse sort of “loser pays” arrangement for entities taking legal action against the state party, just like Carroll County did last year. I think this one will create the loudest arguments, to be honest.

Third is a proposal to give the Maryland Black Republican Council full voting status on the Executive Committee. If so, they would join the Maryland Federation of Republican Women, the Maryland Federation of Young Republicans, and the Maryland Federation of College Republicans as voting members of that committee. (Conversely, the Teenage Republicans and Heritage Council are non-voting members.) As I recall, we had a lot of rancor about giving the YRs and CRs an Executive Committee vote a couple years ago, in a voice vote that was literally cast as we were being ushered out the door. So we’ll see.

The one resolution that I’m aware of (barring others introduced from the floor for our consideration) deals with the redistricting commission, so that should be no issue. I don’t think there’s 10 percent of the party that likes the way we do it now.

But all work and no play makes Republicans a cranky bunch. Fortunately, unlike the last couple conventions I attended, we will have no shortage of hospitality suites to check out.

A list sent out by the state party shows no less than a dozen different suites. While the host counties of Calvert and St. Mary’s and Montgomery County have their parties, the headlining parties will be competing affairs between supporters of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Not to be left out, all three major U.S. Senate hopefuls – Richard Douglas, Chrys Kefalas, and Kathy Szeliga, who is piggybacking with Congressman Andy Harris – will have suites on separate floors. Add in local Congressional candidate Charles “Sam” Faddis and the aforementioned Black Republican Council, throw in a couple wild card suites, and it should be a fun evening tonight.

Naturally some of the conservative blogosphere will be there, so we’ll see what sort of coverage we can drum up. Whether the era of good feelings brought on by Larry Hogan’s election will subside this time or wait until spring when we elect a new National Committeeman and National Committeewoman along with slates of convention delegates and alternates remains to be seen.

For now I’m just going to enjoy the moment because, I hate to admit, I sort of missed these gatherings during my hiatus. Glad to be back.

A crappy way to start the evening

You know it’s been a bad day when this is what you see first thing on social media, and it refers to “has been to run” as past tense:

I cannot tell you what an honor it has been to run for President of the United States of America. My parents came to this country 45 years ago searching for freedom and a chance.

When I was born, we lived in student housing at LSU, and never in their wildest dreams did they think their son would have the opportunity to serve as Governor of Louisiana or to run for President.

They raised me to believe Americans can do anything, and they were right, we can. But this is not my time, so I am suspending my campaign for President.

Going forward, I believe we have to be the party of growth and we can never stop being the party that believes in opportunity. We cannot settle for The Left’s view of envy and division. We have to be the party that says everyone in this country – no matter the circumstances of their birth or who their parents are – can succeed in America.

One of the things I will do is go back to work at the think tank I started a few years ago – where I will be outlining a blueprint for making this the American century.

We must show the way forward on growing our economy and winning the war against terror, and especially defeating radical Islam.

I realize that our country is off on the wrong track right now. Everyone knows that, but don’t forget, this is still the greatest country in the history of the world – and every single one of us should start every day by thanking God that we are fortunate enough to be US citizens.

Now is the time for all those Americans who still believe in freedom and American exceptionalism to stand up and defend it. The idea of America – the idea that my parents came here for almost a half a century ago – that idea is slipping away from us. Freedom is under assault from both outside our borders and from within. We must act now, we do not have a moment to spare.

Now is that something you’d hear from Donald Trump or any Democrat? Don’t think so.

This truly saddens me: here was a candidate who I agreed with to a large extent on all of my key issues. Looking at them piece by piece Jindal was in my top five on every one. Every. Freaking. One. The wonk in me loved his detailed plans, which seems to come naturally if he led a think tank.

But if there were two things for which I would fault Jindal’s campaign, it would be these.

First of all, he got in too late. Granted, hindsight is 20-20, but a person who doesn’t have a great deal of name recognition needs to overcome that with an early start. Jindal was the first to announce after Donald Trump did on June 16th. Consider this: of the five candidates who announced after Trump, two are now out (Jindal and Walker), one’s never been a factor (Gilmore), and the stock of the other two has fallen such that Chris Christie fell out of the main debate this time and John Kasich is losing friends quickly with his debate performances. Jindal should have jumped in right before Memorial Day – that month probably lost him 5 or 6 points early on, and if he had been in that range he would easily have made the initial prime-time debate. He never got past the “kiddie table” debate where Carly Fiorina did.

The second is never adequately countering the prevailing “Louisiana is a failure” narrative. Making budget cuts is never popular, and Jindal took pride in having less spending even now in his final year of his second term, then his predecessor did. I think it’s a badge of honor in terms of right-sizing government but if you read the liberal Louisiana media each day it’s a drumbeat of bad news. Simply put, Jindal refused to raise taxes and that was his cardinal sin in the eyes of the media in Louisiana. The low-information voters were the ones giving him low marks on the polls despite the job creation record Jindal had.

Of course, the last time a very outspoken conservative governor was placed on a Presidential ticket, she was absolutely trashed in the media. But if a non-governor wins the nomination, he or she would be wise to consider Jindal as the VP choice given his executive experience. There’s no doubt the media is in the tank for Hillary so we may as well be pedal-to-the-metal conservative on the GOP ticket. Screw the establishment.

As for me and my choice, I may keep my powder dry and options open. Indeed, some candidates scored better than others but more information has come out and perhaps some issues take higher precedence with recent events. So we will see.

An argument for change

A few weeks ago freshman Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska made what is called his “maiden speech” on the Senate floor, and it was a thoughtful critique of the Senate’s rules and the partisan arguments that the body has devolved to.

He cited a number of Senate icons: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who Sasse praised for his curious nature; Margaret Chase Smith, who was unafraid to question those in her own party – even when she agreed with them on principle; and Robert Byrd, who cared most about the Senate as an institution. I realize this is about a 30-minute speech, but you can break away from the Ravens or Redskins game today to take the time to listen – and avoid having the foibles of those two losing teams spike your blood pressure.

In all seriousness, though, two of the points Sasse makes regard the constant travel and fundraising as well as the reflexive talking points they need to recite to create soundbites for the voters back home. It’s really not supposed to be that way, and to me Sasse’s speech can be part of an argument I have made over the last several years.

When you consider what the legislative branch was originally supposed to be, it’s clear that the House was supposed to be of the people, who, if they found out the person they sent to represent them was a scoundrel, only had to wait two years to toss them out. To those who argued at our formation, it seemed like an appropriate enough time for representatives to establish themselves and still be accountable.

On the other hand, Sasse notes that an argument was made by some of the writers of the Constitution that Senators should have lifetime terms. As it was, they agreed Senators should have lengthier tenures of six years.

Yet the key differences between the House and Senate as originally applied was the latter’s equal representation from each state and their selection by the respective state legislatures rather than the voters. Each state, regardless of population, was entitled to two members of the Senate – it was the result of a compromise between larger states which thought they should have a larger share of the say in our affairs and smaller states which felt like they should get their voices heard as well. Thus, little Delaware and its fewer than 60,000 inhabitants at the time would have equal status in one house of the legislature with Virginia, which had a population over ten times greater. While we now have the concept of one person, one vote for our states to abide by in all their legislative bodies, including their equivalents to the national House and Senate, the Senate was excepted.

Prior to the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, the Senate was inhabited by whichever two people the state legislature deemed worthy for the job – thus, you had statesmen and scoundrels alike, with absenteeism an ongoing issue. As part of the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, direct election of Senators by the people was proposed and ratified. Fast forward a century and what do you find? Statesmen and scoundrels, who now have to hustle for campaign cash to be re-elected every six years and don’t always show up, either. While the argument can be made that the Senate is far more accountable now, it doesn’t seem to give the people any more faith in Congress. So why not revert back to the old way?

For one thing, we’ve seen the interests of states recede in our political system. More and more, the states are becoming simple lines on a map that give out different colored license plates because the federal government runs roughshod over their interests. Indeed, there is a Constitutional supremacy of the federal government but this should stop at affairs each state should be equipped to handle on its own.

Sasse alluded to the short-term thinking of the Senate in this era, and that’s also reflected in the body’s makeup. Several successive “wave” elections have radically changed its makeup, reflecting voter preference of the day: the leftist tide that ejected the Republican majority and brought Barack Obama to office at the end of last decade yielded to the rightward TEA Party wave that retook the House for Republicans in 2010 and the Senate four years later. Had the Senate been insulated from the fickle nature of the voter, change would have been more gradual. Certainly, ascending Republican fortunes on a state level would be gradually shifting the Senate rightward, but at a slower pace.

Restoring the pre-Seventeenth Amendment method of selecting Senators would also make state legislative elections far more important, as chances would be great that at least one Senator would come up for reappointment during a term. States that value diversity, moreover, could make their own waves with their appointments and not leave it to the will of the voters. Also, without the worry about advocating a politically incorrect viewpoint – lest their opponents make a campaign commercial out of it – Senators would be more free to speak their minds and engage in the style of debate Sasse advocates.

It’s generally the Left which advocates for getting money out of politics, so what better way would there be than to take the direct election process for Senators out of the hands of the voters entirely? Just in Maryland alone, it’s a certainty that the candidates running for the open Senate seat on the ballot next year will spend $15 million or more to get through a contested primary and general election because they have to secure more votes (at least in the Democratic primary, where much of that $15 million will be spent) than Sen. John Barasso did to easily win his 2012 election in Wyoming. To keep his Senate seat from Wyoming, Barasso got 184,531 votes – that total would have placed him a distant second in the 2012 Democratic Senate primary here in Maryland, let alone being an also-ran in the general election. And Maryland, in turn, is small potatoes compared to states like California, Texas, or Florida.

This may seem like a counter-intuitive argument to make from one who has forcefully argued that our local school board should be elected for accountability’s sake. But I agree with Sasse that the bureaucracy in the federal government has become its fourth branch, one which is contributing to the imbalance between the legislature and executive branches. Currently we have an executive run amok, although he’s just the latest in a string to do so. It’s a philosophy expressed by the phrase attributed to Clinton advisor Paul Begala: “Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool.”

Directly or indirectly, the people were made responsible for at least a portion of two of the three branches of government, electing a House of Representatives and a slate of presidential electors that rarely stray from the party line of how the state as a whole voted. Their interests were balanced out by the states, represented in the Senate, and the judiciary which wasn’t selected by the people but by the executive with the permission of the Senate. (This insulated them from undue influence.)

In the manner of “progress” we have moved to a system where Senators are just another class of politicians. Certainly I have my favorites among the group, but as a whole I think we may be better served by going back to the original system. We realized the mistake of the amendment following the direct election of Senators (Prohibition) and repealed it in short order, so there is precedent for removing this error as well. Let’s bring back the balance.

Szeliga makes Salisbury announcement

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

This afternoon about fifty people gathered at Headquarters Live in Salisbury for the Kathy Szeliga for U.S. Senate announcement tour. It was a political who’s who for the Eastern Shore with Delegates Carozza, Otto, Anderton, and Adams there to support their fellow delegate, Kathy Szeliga, as she formally jumped into the U.S. Senate race. Also present were State Senator Addie Eckardt, County Executive Bob Culver, County Councilman Marc Kilmer, Sheriff Mike Lewis, and State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello.

Congressman Andy Harris started off the introductions for Delegate Szeliga, who once served as his chief-of-staff. He was enthusiastic in his support for her Senate bid.

Businesswoman Michelle Fager was next on the podium proclaiming Kathy Szeliga as the poster girl for the American Dream. Fager related the story about how Szeliga started with very little, but began building a construction company with her husband while raising two sons and going to college.

College Republican Elizabeth Swan followed saying that Delegate Szeliga’s life story inspires college students to believe that the American Dream is still alive.

Finally we reached the main speaker. Delegate Szeliga gave a stump speech emphasizing her common man background. She met her husband in Ocean City thirty-six years ago when he was a Bonfire busboy and she made subs. They eloped a few months later when she was only 18. They believed in the American Dream and worked hard to achieve it.

Once they had a construction company, she realized the amount of regulation and paperwork that inundates small businesses. She is for reining in government because of this experience.

She went on to work as Andy Harris’ Chief of Staff when he was a State Senator and then was elected to the House of Delegates in 2010.

In her remarks, Szeliga noted things are finally moving in the right direction in Maryland with the election of Governor Hogan, so now it is time to switch to Washington. As a grandmother, she added, you look at your grandchildren and wonder if they will have the opportunities that you had or will they just have a pile of debts? Is the American Dream fading?, asked Szeliga.

It is not too late to turn it around, she said. Szeliga is running with three goals: to improve the quality of life, improve security, and improve the schools. As she described it, the federal government is too big, too distant, and too gridlocked. The paralyzed federal government can’t meet our basic needs in the areas of health care or fighting terrorism.

America is exceptional, Szeliga continued. Americans are motivated by love of life, love of family, and love of country, and she will work for these goals. She asked for our votes so that she can go to Washington.

Given yesterday was Veterans Day, Szeliga also pointed out she is an Army brat. Her father served 20 years in the Army, and she didn’t meet him until she was one year old because he was deployed when she was born. Moreover, her grandfather signed up on the day after Pearl Harbor and fought in North Africa during WWII. With that in mind, she believed we needed to fix the VA.

Szeliga made a point that Michael has brought up on occasion regarding vocational education. We need kids to consider honorable jobs like plumbing rather than just assuming all the good jobs require a four year degree – after all, you can’t outsource your plumbing to China. Every child is unique.

I asked her about a bill she sponsored last year, HB 1513, better known for being the effort to change the composition of the Harford County Republican Central Committee.

Kathy seemed quite perplexed why I would bring up old stuff. I said I was asked to inquire about that. She said that bills often get proposed to start a conversation, but once they get discussed and unintended consequences become evident, then they are dropped. That bill never went anywhere when it was realized that it was not worth pursuing. This is good that many bills never make it out of committee because many of them do not deserve to move forward, but they do allow conversations to occur.

I also asked her about this quote:

GOP lawmakers in Washington currently are divided over an effort to tie government funding to cuts for Planned Parenthood. Asked about the debate, Szeliga said she would support legislation to keep the government open even if the measure did not address funding for the organization, which performs abortions and other medical procedures.

“I think it is unwise to shut down the government,” Kathy said. She said that when government is shut down the taxpayers are just giving the government workers a paid vacation, but the contractors and small businesses don’t get paid and it is hard on them.

She would be willing to shut down the government in exceptional cases, though.

I should add there were no questions from the floor, so I asked my questions privately later. It was a love fest, not a serious PR time, although the Daily Times had a reporter there and WBOC and WMDT had cameras there.

The Salisbury stop was the last on a three-day announcement tour. And while he wasn’t there to make the announcement in person, it should be recorded that City Councilman-elect Muir Boda made his first endorsement as an elected official:

Kathy has served diligently in (the) Maryland House of Delegates and earned her right as a leader in the House of Delegates serving as the Minority Whip. She is an extraordinary legislator and I believe her experience and her abilities will serve her well in the United States Senate.

With all of that said, I wholeheartedly endorse Delegate Kathy Szeliga for the United States Senate. Kathy stands out above all others in the field who are running for the Senate and I firmly believe she is the best choice for Maryland to represent us in the United States Senate.

So her campaign is coming together, although polling would suggest she’s slightly behind another (undeclared) candidate for the nomination. With fundraising reportedly off to a strong start, though, Szeliga should be considered among the top tier of challengers for now.

Szeliga makes Senate bid official

Beginning a three-day announcement tour in Annapolis yesterday, Delegate Kathy Szeliga made what many considered the worst-kept secret in Maryland politics official: she’s tossing her hat into the ring for a seat in the United States Senate. But it’s not just any seat: if you believe the Washington Post, it’s the Mikulski seat.

Regardless, she becomes the first elected Republican to seek the seat, which will probably draw a crowd: ten years ago, the last time an open Senate seat came up, nearly thirty hopefuls – elected officials and perennial candidates alike – took their shot at the brass ring. Eventually surviving the primaries were Rep. Ben Cardin and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, with Cardin prevailing by ten points on Election Day.

The 2016 version of this scrum may bring three Democratic House members together, as Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are already in and Elijah Cummings is thinking about it. (In turn, this will make next year’s General Assembly session interesting as several state legislative members consider the vacated seats.) On the other hand, the GOP side is currently occupied by Richard Douglas, who ran in 2012 but finished second in the primary behind Dan Bongino, onetime Ehrlich administration lawyer Chrys Kefalas, disabled Navy veteran Anthony Seda, and Szeliga. There is also the possibility Harford County Executive (and former State Senator) Barry Glassman may get in, according to this piece at Maryland Reporter.

Some suspected Maryland’s lone Republican member of Congress, Andy Harris, would make a bid but it appears he’s backing his onetime chief of staff. “I know her to be a tough, smart woman from Baltimore who’s not afraid to take on the political establishment to get real results for Maryland families,” said Harris in a statement.

Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for the candidate to fire up the e-mail appeals. If this is her basic message, she seems to riding the populist wave (as opposed to full-throated conservatism.) Here’s a sample.

We have a paralyzed government incapable of solving even our most basic needs. I for one can no longer standby (sic) waiting for those we’ve sent to Washington to solve our problems, because they haven’t. And I’m not naïve enough to think I can just ride into the Senate on a white horse and do it all by myself. It’s going to take a lot of new people who aren’t professional politicians to step up – average citizens with college degrees and others without. Goodness knows, they can’t be any worse than the gang running things now!

Deep in our hearts, most of us – regardless of political preferences – believe in the promise of America and the power of the American Dream. We are agents of change motivated by our love of God, family, state and country. We want to rediscover a way of life as it used to be; when things really did work.

I want to serve in the US Senate to champion those forgotten Americans who are decent, responsible citizens yearning for the opportunity to work hard, pay the bills, raise a family, live a full life and yes, dream again what we seem to be losing – the American dream.

Unfortunately, when she comes to Salisbury tomorrow I can’t be there, so I’m doing the next best thing and sending my cub reporter. I think Cathy will give me the coverage I need as a vital race begins to take better shape.

The lab of democracy

November 10, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

You wouldn’t think much about South Dakota, which is a state squarely in flyover country and fated to be close by – but not the center of – several economic, cultural, political, and geographic phenomena. It lies just off the booming North Dakota oil fields, dosen’t have a major league pro sports team like neighboring Minnesota does, misses the campaign excitement of Iowa just across the Big Sioux River, and is one state east of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

Yet South Dakota has one neighbor that it’s trying to emulate, and the impetus behind that is, in part, from a candidate who’s been destroyed electorally in that state by running as a populist liberal, Rick Weiland. He’s a guy I’ve quoted, featured, and snickered at on occasion here, but give him credit for not giving up. At least he’s not tossed me off the mailing list – perhaps bad press really is better than no press at all.

After having his doors blown off in the midterm Senate run last year, he put his energy into a website called TakeItBack.org, which has lent itself to an initiative called South Dakotans for a Non-Partisan Democracy. Its goal is to scrap partisan elections in the state via a referendum on next year’s ballot in order to match its neighbor to the south, Nebraska. Not only is Nebraska the only state to have a unicameral legislature, but they elect all of its members on a non-partisan basis with the top two finishers in the primary advancing to the general election regardless of party.

Given that South Dakota has Republican domination, certainly the cynic can easily argue Weiland is just trying to fool the voters, albeit with the backing of a popular local talk radio host. Yesterday they announced the initiative had more than enough signatures to make the ballot for 2016 – South Dakota is a state which allows citizen-driven referenda without a corresponding act from the legislature.

I’m sure this is a rhetorical exercise because Maryland doesn’t allow citizen initiatives, but it makes me wonder how the Maryland conservative movement would fare under such a system if it were introduced here? Obviously there are thousands upon thousands who almost reflexively vote for the first Democrat they see on the ballot, but what if that security blanket were taken away? The Justice Department didn’t want to find out in one city, but eventually relented.

We didn’t have a primary in the recent Salisbury election, but if we had (as was the case in previous elections) the lone white candidate would have been eliminated in District 1 (a majority-minority district), one minority candidate would have moved on in District 2 (also a majority-minority district), and a minority candidate would have been eliminated in District 3. Racial minority hopefuls ran in three districts but won just one seat in these non-partisan elections.

But Salisbury scrapped its partisan primaries some years ago, allowing candidates who are unaffiliated to run on an even playing field with those having partisan backing. Arguably this may have helped Muir Boda, although he was successful in far greater measure based on the work he put in. We’ll never know if not being specifically identified as a Republican would have helped or hurt his cause, although having a slew of statewide Republicans helping him may have yielded a clue to the discerning voter.

Unlike South Dakota, which doesn’t have a Congressional gerrymandering issue because there’s only one House member from the state (it’s less populated than Delaware), Maryland Denocrats stand in the way of non-partisan solutions because they run the show. They even complain about the Hogan redistricting commission because (gasp!) drawing boundaries in a way that makes geographical sense could make the Congressional delegation 5-3 Democrat – never mind it’s a closer proportion to voter registration than the result of the current scheme Martin O’Malley put in place. While the House of Delegates comes relatively closer in proportion to registration numbers, the districts there were still drawn in such a fashion that safe GOP districts on average have more population than safe Democrat ones.

If my home state can do a redistricting reform, so can Maryland. If going to non-partisan elections is a worthy goal – and I suspect some of my unaffiliated friends may agree – the first step should be getting the districts in order.

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