A more agreeable tone?

November 21, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Ohio politics, Politics · Comments Off on A more agreeable tone? 

The election of Donald Trump was a surprise to most pundits, who were expecting Hillary Clinton to win both the popular vote and the Electoral College. But her plans were spoiled when she lost three states she expected would be her “blue firewall” even if she lost in Florida: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those 46 electoral votes assured her defeat when they accrued to Trump’s column (although Michigan may still switch as a recount is likely required.) Add in a surprisingly lopsided win in Ohio for Trump as well as the expected blowout in Indiana, and the Rust Belt was pretty solidly in Donald Trump’s corner.

Much has been made about the droves of working-class voters that seemingly came out of nowhere to propel Trump over the finish line, and a survey released by the Alliance for American Manufacturing bears this out:

The national survey, conducted by The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research (firms that poll for Democratic and Republican candidates respectively) found that 85 percent of those surveyed support a national manufacturing strategy. Support for a manufacturing strategy is robust among both Trump voters (89 percent) and Clinton voters (83 percent).

Manufacturing may have been an election-determining issue, as Trump won manufacturing households by 18 points with Clinton winning non-manufacturing households by 4 points.

It comes as no surprise that by more than a two-to-one margin voters believe manufacturing is critical to our future and reject the notion that high-tech or services could take its place.

“The biggest surprise on election night came from the Industrial Heartland,” (AAM President Scott) Paul said. “Manufacturing is the engine that drives the heartland’s economy. The good news is that Trump and Clinton voters alike want to get it back on track.” (Link added.)

Unfortunately, the survey doesn’t cite the evidence ascertaining the voting patterns of manufacturing and non-manufacturing households, but my presumption would be that a “manufacturing” household is one where a family member either currently works in the sector, is retired from it, or was previously in the sector but lost his or her job. Thousands of voters fit in this category: using my native Ohio as an example, Trump did far better overall than Mitt Romney did in key manufacturing centers like Toledo (Lucas County), Lorain (Lorain County), Cleveland (Cuyahoga County), Akron (Summit County), Canton (Stark County), and Youngstown (Mahoning County).

  • Lucas County: Romney 68,100 (33.9%), Trump 74,102 (38.7%)
  • Lorain County: Romney 58,095 (41.9%), Trump 65,346 (47.8%)*
  • Cuyahoga County: Romney 184,475 (30.2%), Trump 179,894 (30.8%)
  • Summit County: Romney 111,001 (41.4%), Trump 109,531 (43.8%)
  • Stark County: Romney 86,958 (49.2%)*, Trump 96,345 (56.4%)*
  • Mahoning County: Romney 41,702 (35.5%), Trump 52,808 (46.8%)

*winner in county.

In total, Trump amassed 27,695 more votes in these industrial counties, and while he only won 2 of the 6, he averaged a 5.4% improvement overall. Having a little residual knowledge of how Ohio politics works, seeing how Trump was close in the initial count was a good sign for him – oftentimes in the urban counties the closer election districts report first (they are more heavily minority) so a Republican almost always starts out behind. It’s a matter of whether they get too far back to reel in the leader as the suburban and rural precincts begin to come in. And like the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the rural areas of Ohio are also an indicator for GOP candidates who need to rack up totals in the 65 to 75 percent range to make up for the losses in urban counties. Trump did this in spades, garnering an astounding 80.7% in Mercer County along the Indiana border – part of a group of adjacent western Ohio counties where over 3 out of 4 voters were Trump backers. (Of the few Ohio counties that went for Hillary Clinton, just one was a non-urban county and that comes with a caveat – Athens County is the home of Ohio University. Somehow, as a Miami graduate, I’m not surprised.)

It would be my guess that the AAM will be much more Trump-friendly than they may have appeared at first glance as a union-backed creation. The President-elect is promising heavy investment in infrastructure (a priority of theirs) and has a view on trade much more in line with the protectionist playbook the group has created.

And certainly I don’t want to say the manufacturing jobs are gone for good; however, those workers who are of a certain age (basically my age or older) may not share in the rebirth of manufacturing like they hope they might, if only because the ship of state which has sailed since the days of NAFTA and the rampant offshoring of the era will be difficult to turn around right away. Not only are trade and infrastructure key factors, but so is reducing the tax burden on American companies. On the other hand, the prospect of punishing American companies that move offshore may hasten their plans and create more headaches in the short run.

Donald Trump won his electoral votes in the Midwest by promising a return to the good times of a half-century ago, when it was possible for a guy to graduate high school and get a job through family or friends with a union shop that would keep him employed for the next forty years or until he decided to take his pension and retire. Those days are a memory. But we can still be a nation that makes stuff, and it would be to our advantage to become that nation as the world becomes a more competitive place.

Compare and contrast: government vs. the private sector

July 30, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, National politics, Ohio politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Compare and contrast: government vs. the private sector 

A few days ago I mentioned the manufacturing advocates the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) in a post regarding their convention plans. I wasn’t surprised to see they were very pleased with Hillary Clinton’s remarks, including a plan to “pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.” Ah yes, the old “investment” in infrastructure, where taxpayer money will be shoveled to cronies and unions in an effort to build things we may not need or use (like facilities for public transit, bike paths, and so forth) at the artificial “prevailing” wage. Spend five dollars, waste two or three more – they don’t care because it’s all on the credit card anyway.

It sounds to me just like the promises regarding the “stimulus” package from Barack Obama, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Those “shovel-ready” jobs actually turned out to be, among other things, government backstopping certain public-sector jobs that may have been destined for the chopping block. Only a small portion of the over $800 billion spent actually went to infrastructure, but ARRA was sold as an investment in infrastructure. So pardon me if I expect little good to come from Hillary’s plan.

Anyway, last night I read a contention that was more interesting (and realistic) from American Enterprise Institute scholar (as well as professor of economics and finance) Mark J. Perry. Here is the money line:

The bottom line is that America’s abundant and low-cost natural gas and electricity have more than offset higher labor costs in the U.S. and have contributed to the strongest profitability in a generation or more for U.S. manufacturers. Within three years, and possibly even sooner, it will be cheaper for most U.S. companies to manufacture goods for the American market at home, compared to producing those same goods in Asia. (Emphasis mine.)

Of course, that prediction is fraught with peril. We could regulate our way out of the energy boom by continuing to mandate the use of expensive, inefficient renewable energy sources (or, in lieu of that, transfer payments from utility providers), we can maintain the oppressive tax climate that has been one of many reasons companies are choosing to go offshore – any bean counter will tell you it’s better to pay 15% tax than 35% – or actually enact the increasing minimum wage that unfortunately Donald Trump is now supporting. Any or all of these are possible regardless of who wins the Oval Office.

And that’s the shame of it all. Over the course of the nation’s history, we have seen America become a great industrial power only to lose its advantage to upstarts like Japan and China. (Then again, we wrested the title from the British in the 1800s so things are always fluid.) These Asian nations took advantage of newer technology and less expensive labor to attract American manufacturing jobs that were in older, less efficient unionized plants, despite the fact these items would have to shipped back thousands of miles to their primary market.

But here we have the chance to get some of this back, and my fear is that too many people want to keep the status quo in place as a political issue rather than solve the problem. We talk about being a free market insofar as trade is concerned, but I contend that we need to work on freeing our own market:

  • Toss out these federal and state regulations and carveouts that only benefit special interests or large, established competitors trying to corner their respective markets.
  • Encourage the adoption of right-to-work laws so unions are forced to compete and sell the benefits they provide for the cost to workers.
  • Instead of debating whether the minimum wage should be increased or not, we should be debating how quickly we phase it out. The true minimum wage is zero, which is what workers who are tossed out of a job when companies can’t afford the increased labor costs will earn.

In reading the GOP platform (and I’m just going to ignore the Democrats on this one, since they aren’t selling themselves as free-market, limited-government types) I saw some attention paid to these issues, although their approach seems to be more of just controlling growth and pruning around the edges than a wholesale reduction. Needless to say, that platform could be completely ignored by the elected members of the party from Donald Trump on down if the idea of enriching their friends, rather than the supporters of the other side that have engorged themselves over the last eight years, remains in place.

Sadly, over most of the last century it hasn’t really mattered which side was in power because government has grown regardless of who was in charge. (The one exception: the Harding-Coolidge era of the 1920s, when the federal budget was drastically reduced – and annually balanced – after World War I. In a time where we are stuck with Trump, Clinton, or maybe Gary Johnson, what we really needed was a Coolidge. Bobby Jindal was probably the closest we had in the GOP field.)

I began this whole process by talking about infrastructure, and there’s a legitimate need for prudent spending on upgrades where it is appropriate. Sometimes there is a need for a new federal or state facility. But I have also seen how the government uses infrastructure to maintain a cash cow, with my favorite example being the Ohio Turnpike I grew up close by.

You see, the original plan was to eliminate the tolls once the bonds to construct the road were paid off in the 1980s. (This was promised when the highway was built in the early 1950s – my dad remembers them staking it out a few miles from his house.) But then they decided that some new exits were necessary (which they were) so they decided to build those. Then it was adding a third lane in each direction between Youngstown and Toledo (a process still going insofar as I know, since I haven’t been that way in a couple years), then renovating all the rest areas (twice in thirty years, and ditto), and so on and so forth. Forget the promise to remove the tolls once the highway was paid off – they constantly spend money on projects that weren’t within the original scope, perpetuating the agency that runs the Turnpike.

In theory, we could spend money from now until doomsday on government-sponsored projects. Some contractors would benefit, but others would be left out in the cold because there’s a certain procedure required to bid on and win public works contracts. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of our funds – and by that I don’t mean the money in the public till but the money that we earn for our collective pockets. If we really want to get manufacturing going and bring it back to America, we need to maximize their potential for meeting our marketplace. They may make mistakes, but that should be up to the market to pick winners and not the government.

The ticket for job creation

October 4, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Ohio politics, Politics · Comments Off on The ticket for job creation 

When I wrote my brief little synopsis on Friday regarding manufacturing, I noted in my promotion that it made me think of former gubernatorial (and future State Senate) candidate Ron George, for whom the most appealing part of his campaign was the emphasis on bringing industry back to Maryland.  In response Ron wrote:

Your article is spot on. Note also the companies that are taking their manufacturing jobs out of China and bringing them home to many southern and midwest pro business states. Our Maryland midsize cities need it back.

Governor Larry Hogan needs help by voters in these areas pushing representatives and candidates for low taxes for manufacturing at the state and local level. The increase of the number of new workers paying the payroll tax will itself greatly increase state and local revenues. Keep it up Michael Swartz.

So I decided to revise and extend my remarks. Those of you who have read here awhile probably have a good idea about what I’m going to say, but I do have new readers all the time so a refresher is in order.

I have no doubt that Maryland can compete for businesses large and small once they eliminate the mindset that employers are cash cows to be milked dry for revenue and embrace the thought that their main goal is to be profitable. I definitely show my age and home state bias, but the mantra I grew up with under Ohio Gov. James Rhodes was that “profit is not a dirty word in Ohio” and to get there we wanted people to make things, just as this 1966 advertisement in my hometown newspaper states. Those things Rhodes touted a half-century ago are still valid today for attracting industry – low taxes, financial incentives, a well-trained workforce, and easy transportation. Plus aren’t we the land of pleasant living?

In the first case, Maryland can make a splash at the cost of three cents per dollar of state spending by completely eliminating the corporate tax. Even if it were phased out over a two- or three-year period, the fact that progress is being made should vault Maryland higher on those business-friendliness lists those whose business is to attract business refer to.

As for financial incentives, I’m leery about having the state in the investment business because I don’t believe they should pick winners or losers. At this time, though, they already have the Maryland Venture Fund although it’s geared more toward startups.

Supposedly Maryland has the best educational system in the country, although I’m a little skeptical of that claim based on some of the recent graduates I’ve seen. One thing we need to focus more on, though, is the idea that vocational education can be valued as much as college prep. Maybe Johnny and Susie’s parents think otherwise, but even “A” students sometimes show not all high school students are college material.

But people with the aptitude to run machinery, know how to tinker and fix things, and are good with their hands don’t need a degree from State U to succeed – and oftentimes have the advantage of not being thousands in debt. To be perfectly frank, to succeed in my chosen profession of architecture one should not need a college degree if they are willing to spend several years learning the craft from the bottom up as one of my former employers did. Somehow they have picked up the idea that five to six years of college schooling plus a couple years in an intern development program is the only way to create good architects, and that’s simply not so. This is why money should follow the child, so they can explore the maximum number of educational options out there.

Finally, there’s the aspect of transportation. Maryland is a state in a great location, but in our case on the Eastern Shore we have the lousy luck of a large body of water limiting our ground-based options. We can either go north through a tangle of traffic lights and small towns along U.S. 13 north or go south through a different gauntlet of traffic lights and small towns. Of course, any improvement to that situation requires the assistance of Delaware or Virginia.

Yet the alternative of going west remains with a third Bay Bridge span. Environmentalists can stop reading after this sentence because I will give them a stroke over the next paragraph – just pick it back up two grafs down.

To me, the best place for a third span runs between Dorchester and Calvert counties, southwest of Cambridge along Maryland Route 16. Obviously roadway improvements would need to be made, but imagine the ease it would bring for traveling between Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. No longer would it be an arduous three-hour journey to travel perhaps 50 to 60 miles west as the crow flies. Would it go through some environmentally fragile areas? Yes. But I believe the benefits would outweigh the costs.

I know people will complain that bringing industrial development to Maryland in general and the Eastern Shore in particular would ruin the rural lifestyle, but lifestyle is what you make of it. The carrying capacity of the Delmarva Penninsula is probably at least double its population; a number that will increase with advancements in technology. Regardless, we are nowhere near the density of the I-95 corridor and that should remain the case for the foreseeable future.

I’ve often said that if an area doesn’t grow, it dies. I used to use North Dakota as my poster child for this until they got an energy boom and began attracting people seeking work in a lucrative field. While Maryland can get some benefits from doing the same and allowing fracking, perhaps the best way to make their mark is to adopt the old Ohio mantra that profit is indeed not a dirty word and take the bold steps needed to shake its anti-business reputation.

To enjoy the land of pleasant living, you have to be able to make one.

And then there were sixteen…

July 22, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Ohio politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on And then there were sixteen… 

I know I’m a day late to the party, but I think most people with political sense already had Ohio governor John Kasich priced into the presidential market, so to speak. So what does he bring to the table and does his late announcement make sense?

If you look at the GOP race, it is chock full of governors. Let’s make a list, shall we?

  • Jeb Bush had two terms as Florida’s governor which mostly overlapped his brother’s tenure in the White House.
  • Chris Christie is in his second term as governor of New Jersey.
  • Mike Huckabee served two-plus terms as Arkansas governor, becoming governor when Jim Guy Tucker resigned in 1996 and winning election in 1998 and 2002.
  • Bobby Jindal is finishing his second term as Louisiana’s governor.
  • George Pataki was governor of New York for three terms, with 9/11 being the biggest milestone.
  • Rick Perry became Texas governor when George W. Bush resigned to become President, and won full terms in 2002, 2006, and 2010.
  • Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010, survived a 2012 recall attempt, and won re-election in 2014.

Aside from the failed recall, Kasich comes in on roughly the same career trajectory as Scott Walker – both are Midwest governors who tangled with Big Labor, although Kasich’s reforms were not as successful.

So what does he have that others don’t? Kasich was a Congressman for nearly two decades, which eliminates everyone else in the field except Jindal, who had a much shorter run. But in reality, he’s coming in on the centrist side of the GOP spectrum, which is already somewhat crowded with Christie, Pataki, and to some extent Jeb Bush. Among non-governors, it’s territory that is familiar to Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham. Certainly there are many trying to woo that segment of the Republican party.

But while centrists may be the ones donating money, the question is always whether they will show up to vote. Primaries, more often than not, are contests where the more conservative candidates win because their backers are more passionate. Ask Senator Castle from Delaware about that sometime. The establishment knows this, which is why in a state like Ohio the GOP does its level best to clear the field beforehand. (In 2010, despite there being a Democratic incumbent, John Kasich was the only Republican in the primary.)

Ohio has had eight presidents, and with the exception of William Henry Harrison, all of them were Republicans. (The elder Harrison was a Whig.) It’s a must-win state for the GOP, which is one reason why the Republicans are having their convention next year in Cleveland.

So don’t sleep on Kasich. I doubt he will be my first choice, but over the next few weeks I’ll see how he looks on my issues.

District 38C House: Davis vs. Carozza

It’s a lot like yesterday’s report on Senate District 37: the Republican has a wide fundraising lead on a Democrat. But in this case, we’re looking at an open District 38C seat with no incumbent. And while the Democrat in the race, Judy Davis, had a primary opponent in Mike Hindi, the little money she raised was enough to get her through the primary to face Mary Beth Carozza, who was unopposed for the GOP bid.

You can see just how wide of a gap there is by looking at the comparison chart below. Again, be patient with Google Docs as I’m using .pdf files for these inserts.

[gview file=”http://monoblogue.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/House-38C1.pdf”]

What also jumped out at me in this comparison was the amount of money coming from outside the district, which for the sake of simplicity I define as the 218xx zip code area. Both Davis and Carozza received over 40% of their contributions from outside the region, with Carozza just a few dollars shy of 50 percent. Yet it’s interesting where this out-of-district money came from.

In Mary Beth Carozza’s case, a lot of her money comes from connections she made in Washington during her tenure there as a legislative assistant and George W. Bush administration appointee. Her work for the Ohio Congressional delegation was rewarded by a number of contributions from the state, where she hosted a fundraiser last year. In her first report that covered the inception of her campaign to the initial days of 2014, over 70% of her funding came from out-of-state, mainly from the Washington, D.C. area and Ohio. Those Ohio connections, as well as work for Maine Sen. Susan Collins, proved valuable in the category of federal committees, as Mary Beth received money from the Buckeye Patriot PAC, Dirigo PAC, and Promoting Our Republican Team PAC, as well as the campaigns of Mike DeWine, Steve Stivers, and Pat Tiberi. DeWine is a former Senator from Ohio who is now the state’s Attorney General, while Stivers and Tiberi currently serve in Congress representing parts of the state.

But as the campaign has evolved, the percentage of money raised locally has increased. In her last report, Mary Beth raised about 80% of her money locally.

On the other hand, there was a spike in out-of-district collections for Judy Davis when her son hosted a fundraiser for her in New York City, as well as another one in the most recent reporting period from a variety of sources. In all, however, it’s obvious that Carozza has a more broad and deep base of support from private individuals, although Carozza can boast a smattering of support from business and LLCs that Davis hasn’t had. Carozza has also collected the one Maryland PAC donation, from the Maryland Farm Bureau PAC.

Both Davis and Carozza have had modest contributions from local political clubs, but it’s worth noting that three campaigns have transferred money to Mary Beth’s account: former Wicomico County Council candidate Muir Boda transferred $40, Worcester County Commissioner Judy Boggs added $100, and Delegate Kathy Szeliga pitched in a total of $350 in two separate donations.

Something I found interesting among the expenditures is that Mary Beth apparently has a campaign office to work from, as she pays rent for it monthly. She’s also a big Staples customer, as she bought equipment there to set up the office.

But the more important line item was the over $35,000 she spent getting the word out on her campaign – everything from printing up all manner of signage to newspaper ads to social media. (And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, there’s a little something for me in there as well because she’s advertised here.) Carozza’s burned a lot of gasoline, too. Judy Davis has gone along a similar path, but to a lesser extent.

Carozza seems to be using a few outside consultants: of note, she’s spent $395 a month on Morton Herbert, LLC of Towson for, among other things, website design and maintenance, and used Campaign On for the direct mailing ($4,593.27.) And while it’s not a large expense, she paid $480 to Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP. Maryland political insiders know that better as Bob Ehrlich’s law firm.

One other interesting disparity: Carozza paid Edward Blakely of Annapolis a total of $706 for two campaign videos, while Davis had one done by Chase Whiteside of Cincinnati as a $3,000 in-kind donation.

But on the whole, these aren’t the most exciting of campaign finance reports. It’s interesting that Carozza had a number of fairly well-known Republican names donate to her campaign at the start, but that’s been mainly replaced by a local grassroots effort over the last few months. Unlike some of the others profiled, in the case of both Davis and Carozza there doesn’t seem to be a vested interest in all that outside money aside from getting someone they know and have dealt with over the years elected.

Next week I’ll shift westward to look at Districts 38A and 38B.

Addressing the challenge

Many years ago, when I was a mere political babe in the woods, I volunteered to help out a candidate by the name of Maggie Thurber. At the time, she was running for a full term as Clerk of Courts in my former home of Lucas County, Ohio, having won the office in a huge upset two years earlier. She went on to win that election and one more, plus serve a term as a County Commissioner before leaving politics.

She parlayed that political success into a stint as a radio host and also has blogged for several years at a site called Thurber’s Thoughts, although now that seems to be used as additional material for her work on Ohio Watchdog (a subsite of Watchdog Wire.) And that’s where I pick up the story.

I happened to come across a piece she wrote regarding the “Live the Wage” challenge, something set up by this website. This movement is backed by the same people who connived Maryland into raising its minimum wage earlier this year.

The premise of this challenge was to buy groceries and gas on $77 a week, which was the amount deemed to be left over once taxes and housing expenses are paid. Thurber writes that:

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland gave up. He started on a Sunday, but ran out of money by Thursday, he explained in a column for Politico. He said he skipped meals to save money and ate smaller, less healthy meals.

“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else,” he wrote. “That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story (sic) last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, spent his money foolishly, paying $7 for sardines and crackers, $5 for a Burger King Whopper, $2 for a cup of coffee and his “last couple of dollars to buy trail mix,” he explained on his Facebook page.

It’s obvious to me Strickland and Ryan didn’t take this seriously; otherwise they would have done as well as Thurber and her husband did. She bought a week’s worth of gasoline for $44 (using points from her local Kroger grocery store) and spent $82.83 on a basic menu of groceries for the week, with a couple splurge items. As for the leftover money?

We approached the challenge as if we had both lost our jobs and taken minimum wage jobs to get by. Under this scenario, we’d have some items on hand, like paper towels, detergent, aspirin, condiments and corn to make popcorn for snacks.

But with $27.17 remaining in our budget, or going without our two splurge items, we’d be able to purchase those supplies as we needed.

Of course, the banshees came out of the woodwork in the comments section and shrieked that she should live like this for a year or so before talking. Well, these (very well-paid) politicians didn’t even try hard to make it through a week – what does that say about their compassion, let alone their eating and cooking habits?

As I noted above, Thurber expanded on this Ohio Watchdog piece on her own site, which gave politicians a new challenge:

Don’t you think it’s funny that no one ever tries to live like a small business owner for week? To feel what it’s like to try to make a payroll, deal with government forms and mandates, handle local government rules and regulations, deal with happy and angry customers, supervise a work staff, promote your business, do the accounting and somehow find time for family and friends and an actual life outside of work?

One day in the life of small business owner is much more difficult and stressful than trying to live on $77 a week.

That’s the reality of this ridiculousness – and that’s why the whole “live the wage” publicity sham is such a travesty.

I talk about business climate a lot on this site because, as a state, Maryland is far too dependent on one industry – the federal government. In that, it mirrors the city of my birth which is overly reliant on the auto industry. But in catering to the auto industry you at least do things which benefit other businesses around the state, and overall Ohio is a diverse state with several distinct metro areas as well as a significant rural component.

In contrast, Maryland seems to work only toward enriching government and those businesses connected to government by hook or crook. So raising the minimum wage was no big deal to most of Maryland – it’s a world of almost automatic annual raises and the job security one receives when you work for a government which rarely, if ever, cuts itself. People can shoulder that burden more easily along the I-95 corridor.

But when you come out to the forgotten parts of Maryland, a minimum wage raise means jobs lost – there’s no other way around it. There were efforts to waive or slow down the increase for counties here on the Eastern Shore, but they were rebuffed in the General Assembly.

And if you think buying groceries on minimum wage is difficult, just try it being unemployed. That’s going to be the result of these shortsighted policies once the political stunts and game playing are forgotten.

Cleveland rocks!

To me, it was good news from the RNC: the 2016 GOP convention is slated for Cleveland. For those of us on the East Coast, it’s a city within driving distance and in my case I would have a ready-made place to stay because part of my family lives there. The “mistake on the lake” could achieve the daily double as well, since the Democrats also have their eye on Cleveland for their convention – if so, it will be the first time in 44 years both parties have held their convention in the same city, with Miami being the site of both 1972 conventions. Cleveland last hosted a national convention in 1936, when Republicans picked Alf Landon to face Franklin Roosevelt. (They also hosted the 1924 GOP convention, which nominated President Calvin Coolidge for a full term.)

But to me it’s a milestone of a city going through the pains of revitalization, A few weeks ago, on my Sausage Grinder blog, I wrote a piece reviewing a study done in Cleveland about how the city is attracting more and more young workers. Frustrated by high real estate prices on the coasts and finding good jobs in the “eds and meds” fields, Cleveland is becoming a destination of choice around the region. Yes, that Cleveland.

If the GOP wants to send a message about their vision for America, they should focus on the process Cleveland is using for its rebirth. The city is a laboratory to study mistakes made and methods which work, as it serves as a microcosm of sorts for the country at large. Built up in an era when brains and brawn were needed in equal supply to create the goods which helped a young America prosper and witness to an exodus to both its suburbs and more favorable regions which all but killed the city, Cleveland can still be a survivor. As I wrote in my piece, Cleveland is a place “where manufacturing is in the blood.” I think making things in America again is the key to a national renaissance.

Certainly Dallas and Kansas City, Cleveland’s two main opponents in the fight to be convention host, have their own stories to tell. But there’s a political factor to consider: Texas and Missouri have been fairly safe Republican territory over the last several elections, but Ohio has gone with the winning Presidential candidate a remarkable 13 elections in a row – so any Republican advantage there can be vital. On a state level, the GOP has been dominant for much of the last quarter-century, albeit with less-than-conservative politicians occupying the governor’s chair – George Voinovich, Bob Taft, and John Kasich have left a lot to be desired insofar as the conservative movement is concerned. But if Kasich secures re-election this year, he will be the fourth two-term Republican governor in a row stretching back to the days of James Rhodes, who served four non-consecutive terms beginning in 1963.

So if I’m blessed enough to get an opportunity to cover the proceedings – or even be a delegate or alternate – I think it would be fun to give the perspective of a transplanted Ohioan. It’s something I can scratch off my bucket list in fairly familiar surroundings.

An overstatement by Sauerbrey?

Writing recently about the concept of “prevailing wage,” two-time gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey used the letter to the editor to praise her apparent choice for governor, David Craig. Here’s the letter in its entirety, as posted on Southern Maryland News Net. I received it as an e-mail under Craig’s campaign letterhead.

I want to point out a specific passage for comment, in particular the one where Sauerbrey speaks about Craig himself and attributes statements to him.

The 2014 General Assembly has passed legislation to apply the prevailing wage to additional local government projects that receive partial state funding. The prevailing wage which is essentially the union wage, artificially inflates labor costs by ab (sic) estimated 30% to 50%.

I commend Harford County Executive and Gubernatorial candidate David Craig for speaking out on the impact of the new law on his county, as well as the impact of prevailing wages on the state budget. Every local elected official concerned about getting the most value on public projects should want to let the market determine employee wages as is done in the private sector. County Executive Craig points out that the prevailing wage adds an additional $30 million cost to his county’s $300 million capital budget for school construction.

It may not surprise you that I have some familiarity with school construction. In the 1990s, thanks to a court decision, the state of Ohio went on a multi-billion dollar spending binge to construct new schools in practically every one of Ohio’s 600-plus school districts. (I spent seven years working for an architectural firm which specialized in schools, although I had left that company before the boom in school construction began.) In 1997 the state created an exemption to prevailing wage regulations for schools, and in that debate numbers similar to the 30 to 50 percent savings were bandied about by proponents of the measure eliminating prevailing wage.

Also mandated at the time, however, was a report to be delivered five years later, in 2002. In this report, the research indicated savings were more in the ten percent range. While that is a great savings to the taxpayer, it’s not the panacea proponents were anticipating when the bill was passed. Granted, with the vast volume of work going on at the time there was less incentive for low bids – perhaps an economic climate such as today’s would yield more significant savings.

While Sauerbrey uses the hyperbole of the 50 percent savings in her letter, it should be pointed out that David Craig’s statement within seems to ring true – out of $300 million, the $30 million addition seems to line up with the data from Ohio’s study.

But regardless of the actual savings, there is a philosophical argument to be made against the concept of an artificially-created “prevailing” wage, simply because it doesn’t necessarily reflect the true conditions of the actual labor market. I can completely understand the contention that projects completed under prevailing wage (more often than not by union shops) have a better quality to them, as one advantage of using union tradesmen borne out in my experience is that they are better trained, so the question is one of whether they are worth the premium. In some cases I would say yes, but I’m not sure schools are structures complex enough to justify the extra cost – certainly not to the extent of a health care facility or technology-heavy factory where fit and finish can be most important.

I also find it interesting that on the one hand Democrats tend to be for cherished union giveaways like prevailing wage, but do nothing on the other but encourage illegal aliens to come in and undercut the market for construction labor. I haven’t seen them yet this spring, but sooner or later somewhere on Delmarva there will be three or four union carpenters holding up the “shame on” banner because someone hired non-union labor most likely mainly made up of illegal aliens. And what else do those hapless guys have to do?

In a perfect world, many advocacy groups agree that the Davis-Bacon Act which spawned the concept of prevailing wage would be repealed. (At one time even the General Accounting Office argued for repeal.) There is even a bill in the House of Representatives to do the same, although no action has been taken on it since introduction. (And why not?) Eliminating the federal law may well trigger some states to do away with their own versions, although if you assume Maryland politics will remain as they’re currently composed for the next couple decades you won’t find us on that list. (As I pointed out yesterday, we threaten liberals’ existence on the government teat and they know it.)

But it should be a job for General Assembly Republicans to try and roll back this year’s changes in the next session. In the meantime, while 10 percent may not seem like a lot, imagine a ten percent cut in the state budget – it would roll our expenditures back to FY2013 levels and just about negate the need for our sales tax, which is 11% of revenue according to our most recent budget. That wouldn’t be a rollback to 5%, it would be eliminating the whole enchilada to match Delaware. Or we could cut our income taxes in half.

Ten percent is a lot, even in the limited realm of state construction, and to me it’s better that the people have it than the government. In the case of the capital budget, it’s less bonding we have to pass along to our children. So let’s hope a Governor Craig would have the stiff spine to fight for such a change to prevailing wage, even if Ellen Sauerbrey was a little overly optimistic on its effects.

Blocking access

October 16, 2013 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Ohio politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Blocking access 

This week marks nine years since I moved to Maryland from Ohio. While at the beginning this website delved regularly into Ohio politics as a base of comparison (since that was most of my experience at the time), over the years I have worked away from the goings-on in the Buckeye state. But an article regarding the state’s bid to decimate the third party movement piqued my interest, and shamefully it’s backed by the legislative Republicans – all but one GOP State Senator voted for it.

It’s definitely worth pointing out that, in my estimation and memory, the Ohio Republican Party is more Republican than conservative. John Boehner is a good example of an Ohio Republican in that principles come in a distant second to party. Instead of showing leadership in good government, Ohio Republicans cynically shamed the overall GOP by creating one of the most gerrymandered Congressional districts in the country in order to place two liberal incumbents in the same district. (This used to be my district and part of my family lives there, so I have a vested interest.) I guess it should be expected from a party which bent over backwards to avoid primaries for their chosen, “electable” (read: moderate) candidates.

Of course I understand that third party votes generally tend to be siphoned away from the Republican side as opposed to the Democrats. Libertarians have just enough philosophical differences from the Republicans that they tend to draw support from the GOP pool, whereas the Green Party and Democrats are basically two peas in a pod. It’s noticeable to me that the Green Party in Maryland runs relatively few candidates in our state when compared to the Libertarian Party, despite the fact there’s supposedly far more liberal voters than conservative ones.

Yet the Ohio proposal is very draconian for a group which accumulated less than 2 percent of the vote last year. Yes, much of it probably came out of Mitt Romney’s total and it could have cost him the election. But is that the right thing to do? I don’t think it is.

Aside from the insurgent campaign of Ross Perot and the Reform Party, which proved to be a one-year flash in the pan back in 1992, the last time the two-party structure was challenged was the mid-1800s, when the Republican Party was born. All that movement did, though, was supplant the Whigs, which faded from the scene. In the years since, both parties have found agreement on methods to insulate themselves from the prospect of a challenge from other political parties.

I look at it this way: if the Republicans can stand on their ideas they should not be afraid of any challenge. If they want to prevent the rise of a conservative third party, though, they might want to reaffirm themselves to conservative, limited-government principles.

The declaration of (courting) independents

It doesn’t seem like this issue will ever die.

You might recall that after our Maryland GOP Spring Convention earlier this year I posted a piece critiquing the thoughts of Don Murphy, a former Delegate and longtime party activist who has been fighting a crusade for many years to open up the Republican primary to unaffiliated voters, perhaps with the idea of welcoming them to the party eventually. His reasoning seemed sound: a number of like-minded Northeastern states open their primaries because they have a plurality of unaffiliated voters.

But the MDGOP appears to be interested in revisiting the process, as Erin Cox writes in the Baltimore Sun, and it may set us up for yet another contentious convention this fall in Annapolis. And while Brian Griffiths uses the evidence of past election results in his post on Red Maryland today, I honestly believe that’s a little bit of a red herring argument.

In Maryland today, the registration numbers lay out as follows (from the June report):

  • Democrats: 2,073,619 (55.6%)
  • Republicans: 959,120 (25.7%)
  • minor parties – Libertarian, Green, Americans Elect, and other unrecognized: 59,644 (1.6%)
  • unaffiliated: 636,716 (17.1%)

Four years ago at the same point in the cycle, the percentages weren’t a lot different. There are now 300,000 more voters in Maryland, but numerically they line up similarly:

  • Democrats: 1,942,336 (56.9%)
  • Republicans: 909,848 (26.7%)
  • minor parties and other unrecognized: 80,034 (2.3%)
  • unaffiliated: 478,817 (14.0%)

A number of the unaffiliated are likely former Independents, which is no longer a separate category.

And I’m sure some fret that eventually the unaffiliated will catch up to the Republicans – a 3% gain every four years coupled with a 1% loss in Republicans would put that date sometime early next decade. My contention, however, is that there are a significant proportion of Democrats who are so because their primary is the only race they can vote on.

But opening up the GOP primary to unaffiliated voters isn’t going to be enough of a draw for voters who have no local Republican candidates on the ballot for whom to vote. For example, in Prince George’s County’s 2010 primary – perhaps the most unbalanced in the state – once you departed the federal and statewide races there were exactly zero contested GOP races at the legislative level and just two local races (both for Central Committee seats) where the GOP had more contenders than winners. I admire the Prince George’s GOP for their efforts (my “partner in crime” Heather Olsen hails from there) but what would help them more than anything are candidates willing to stand up and hoist the GOP banner. Allowing unaffiliated voters into the GOP primary wouldn’t change the game.

Now I’m sure those who favor the idea will argue I used the most extreme example. Yet even if every single voter not connected with the Democratic Party decided to become a Republican, AND we could attract the 10 percent or so of Democrats statewide who are affiliated that way because their daddy was a Democrat but vote straight-ticket Republican – we’re still a minority. Barely, but still looking at a deficit and up against the hardcore elements of a power-drunk party.

Personally, though, I think the idea seems to come up when the Republicans are threatening to run conservative candidates for office. When I was living in Ohio, their Republican Party always seemed to anoint the most moderate candidate and overtly try and eliminate any more conservative primary competition for that person. And what did we get? Sixteen years of ruining the Republican brand with tax-and-spend governors, particularly Bob Taft. (Unfortunately, John Kasich isn’t doing much better now that he’s been spooked by the unions.)

Here in Maryland, the talk of opening up the primary died down when Bob Ehrlich won and through the three cycles where he was the all-but-endorsed choice of the Maryland GOP apparatus there was no chatter about adding unaffiliated voters to the mix. But now that we have a more spirited competition between several good candidates, the powers-that-be are presumably trying to make sure the most moderate, “electable” candidate prevails. As a conservative, pro-liberty Marylander who would like to see a governor tell the Democrats it’s his way or the highway, I would like a leader and not someone who sticks his finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. Mitt Romney and John McCain were supposed to be “electable” in a way that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, et. al. were not.

If unaffiliated voters want to vote in a primary, it’s very easy to change your registration to Republican. Get good candidates worth voting for and they will come.

Update: A non-scientific poll by Jackie Wellfonder at Raging Against the Rhetoric found that support was perfectly mixed: 44% for, 44% against, and 12% undecided out of 75 who responded.

‘Naked, petty politics’ as usual

There’s really not a whole lot I can add to what two conservative kingpins have had to say about the decisions our government has made regarding sequestration cuts, but it’s also my job to make readers aware of them.

I wanted to begin with a quote from Maryland pro-liberty standardbearer Dan Bongino, who said in a release regarding the closing of the White House to public tours:

The President is a guest in the White House, the people of the United States are the Homeowners. Closing the White House to public tours, despite the negligible impact on the budgets of the U.S. Secret Service and the EOP (Executive Office of the President) is clearly a petty, naked gesture of pure politics rather than sound budgeting.

The White House closure reflects a continuing pattern with this administration of placing petty politics over public good. Inviting a group of multi-millionaire celebrities, and Obama campaign donors, to the White House to celebrate a family birthday, while at the same time closing the doors to America’s schoolchildren is a disgrace. During my tenure as a Secret Service agent securing the White House grounds, it was an immeasurable honor to see the excited faces of schoolchildren from all across the country as they witnessed the majesty of our White House for the first time, an experience sidelined for the sake of ‘Downtown (sic) Abbey’ political insiders and multi-millionaire celebrities.

I’m sure spellcheck nailed him on that last sentence, but the point remains.

I thought this was a nice quote from Dan, but it didn’t seem like enough to carry a post well – that is until I read Byron York’s piece on Townhall.com and knew I had the required yang to the yin. The money passage is as follows:

All those Obama administration officials complaining about across-the-board cuts dictated by sequestration could come up with plans to make the same amount of cuts in ways that would create fewer problems for federal workers and services. Then they could ask Congress for permission to do so. Lawmakers would say yes, and things would be fine.

But it’s not happening. And the fault is not with Congress.

In recent weeks, House Republicans have been virtually begging administration officials to ask for permission to move money around. If one program could be more easily cut than others, those Republicans say, just ask us, and we’ll let you do it.

“We sent out on Feb. 28 a letter to every Cabinet officer asking them what changes they’d like to have — pluses, subtractions and so on — to give them an opportunity to show us at least one program they would like to have cut, which would then save on sequestration,” Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in an interview recently. “We did not receive a single answer.”

It all became clear with that revelation. If you really want to address the spending problem, you go to Congress  and say, “look, we hate to do this, but we think we can do with less and here’s how.” But if you want to play ‘naked, petty politics’ you come in with the attitude that we are going to make the cuts as painful and public as possible. No White House tours for you!

This reminded me of my Ohio days. In the Buckeye state, school districts aren’t generally countywide but normally serve a municipality, township, or group of townships – the school district I graduated from was once five smaller township-based districts which merged in the mid-1960s into one of the geographically larger districts in the state. They also have taxing authority, and money not supplied by the state or federal government comes in the form of a property tax levy, which normally has to be renewed or replaced with one at a higher rate at regular intervals of three to five years. The same is true for income tax levies, which some districts (including my home district, which has both income and property tax levies) have resorted to.

If a levy failed, which it often did, the scare tactics would begin with the second or third attempt to pass. Never did they say that they would cut administrators; instead the ominously promised cuts began with non-required bus service – not that it affected many children in our far-flung school district – then progressed to teacher layoffs, and if those didn’t work athletics were placed on the chopping block. Usually that was enough blackmail to get a levy to pass.

I’ll grant this is an imperfect and somewhat anecdotal example, but the prevailing attitude of government is rarely one of learning to do with less. With the prospect of budget cuts, agencies and departments think more about preserving turf than being public servants and stewards of taxpayer money. In this case of the federal government, we are talking about a budgetary rounding error of less than 2 percent of spending; insofar as state government goes, our governor disingenuously brags about making “cuts” on every budget yet spending somehow increases each and every year.

With all the caterwauling about a 1.5% federal budget cut in the news lately, you would think that Warren Harding had returned from the grave! But if we cut the present federal budget proportionally to what Harding did over the two years he was President before his death (granted, we were coming out of World War I so the military absorbed a significant share of these cuts) we would balance the budget without raising taxes; in fact, we could return to the Bush tax rates and still be in surplus. I think we could even get the White House tours back.

Of course, I’m certainly aware that we now have an entitlement system which was still in the dreams of progressives when Harding and his successor, Calvin Coolidge, were in office during the Roaring Twenties. That’s not only created a huge obstacle to necessary budget cuts but also given birth to an entitlement mentality among many millions – you would think they were bureaucrats who are owed a living.

But the road to sanity has to begin someplace, and the sooner we embark onto it the less painful it will be in the end.

One last weekend…

November 2, 2012 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2012, Campaign 2012 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Ohio politics, Politics · Comments Off on One last weekend… 

…and everyone wants help! Many of those appeals come from giving the national campaigns a hand in Ohio and Virginia.

(Update: read to the end for vital new information.)

For example, the Maryland GOP (on behalf of Mitt Romney) is going to those battleground states. But they’re also backing events in Harford, Montgomery, Washington, Cecil, and Queen Anne’s counties as well. Most will be Saturday, although the Harford event runs through Monday and the Queen Anne’s sign waving is later this afternoon.

And for those on the Shore who may want to help in Virginia, my friend Melody Scalley is organizing her own Saturday’s worth of activities in several Tidewater-area locations: Norfolk, Newport News, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake. It looks like they’ll be canvassing in 2-3 hour shifts during the day Saturday and one shift in Norfolk on Sunday afternoon. As before, you can contact her at (703) 258-4200 to help out.

Since the extended early voting comes to an end today, volunteers can shift from the polling places out to the neighborhoods.

There’s also been an important change in absentee balloting. An Executive Order signed by Governor O’Malley states:

Registered voters who are out of their county of residence due to Hurricane Sandy are authorized to apply for an absentee ballot up to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 5, 2012. The State Board of Elections is authorized to electronically deliver absentee ballots to such voters. Completed ballots must be mailed on or before Election Day and received by the local board of elections no later than November 16, 2012.

So those displaced by Sandy will be treated similarly to military voters.

While I’m thinking about voting, here’s more to ponder:

It appears that about 1 in 10 voters overall will opt to vote early, despite the loss of two days earlier this week. Through Wednesday a little over 225,000 voters had already voted early. Compare that to just 11,793 total absentee ballots requested throughout the state.

It’s interesting to note as well that as of Wednesday 41% of Democratic absentee ballots had come back, compared with 34% of Republicans and 31% of unaffiliated. Democrats also have the upper hand insofar as early voting goes, as 7.4% of them statewide have made their choices compared to 4.9% of Republicans and 3 to 4 percent of unaffiliated and minor party members.

What this could mean on election night is that ballot questions and Democratic officeseekers will probably grab an early lead because these votes are actually counted during the day and released right after the polls close. So issues like gay marriage and in-state tuition for illegal aliens may have a seemingly insurmountable 60-40 lead early on, but as rural precincts tend to come in first those leads should evaporate – even as early voting covers about 10% of the electorate, in a Presidential year turnout in Maryland runs around 60 to 70 percent. In both instances, though, it may be a long night.

Update: There is another non-political – but certainly more important – volunteer effort going on tomorrow morning. This comes from my former local blogging cohort Julie Brewington, with emphasis mine:

Please come and help our Neighbors in Crisfield to Recover from Hurricane Sandy TOMORROW!

Please come dress in work attire, waterproof boots, and gloves. Bring a rake if you have one.

Saturday, Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. – Crisfield City Hall Parking lot, 319 W. Main St.

Even if you don’t have any equipment or special skills, we can use your help. To volunteer you should be physically fit and able to do manual labor. Water will be provided, but be prepared to work on sites that do not have basic sanitary services or utilities.

We will endeavor to select sites that are safe, but you must use your own common sense to protect yourself from dangers such as falling trees, submerged holes, and the general danger of being on a worksite with other untrained, unskilled volunteers. You assume all responsibility for your safety by volunteering and we will ask you to sign a release of liability of the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce, the City of Crisfield and the homeowner or property owner we are helping before assigning you to a work crew.

Equipment and skills we need

If you do have skills or equipment, we are in need of the following equipment along with persons who know how to use them:

Chainsaws
Large pickup trucks
Skillsaws
Power drills
Axes
Rakes
Plywood
Gloves
Gasoline for chainsaws

Supplies Needed (Drop Off At The Ambulance Squad Coming Into Town)

Bleach and cleaning supplies (mops, buckets, etc)
Household goods
Gently used clothing
Respirators
Portable Heaters
Blankets
Contractor clean up bags or large black trash bags
Bottled water
Rakes
Plywood
Gloves
Gasoline for chainsaws

Mold Removal is Needed. Please visit this site for Mold Removal Kits, with Household supplies and bring them if you can.

Saturday Volunteers are asked to print and bring signed release.

We will have blank release forms, but anyone wishing to volunteer tomorrow is asked to (sign a) volunteer release form to participate in our cleanup effort. We need to keep track of our volunteer ours for disaster relief purposes. Thank you!

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